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  • Jenni Tellyn and Melanie Farquharson

Help! We don’t have a big budget for Knowledge Management, how can we still do it effectively?



Hands counting coins

The year’s budgets have been set at the nation’s law firms and hard choices are having to be made about how to allocate resources in the coming year.  At 3Kites, we act for the full gamut of law firms; from the Magic Circle and US Big Law firms to high street and regional firms. Everyone is grappling with the same fundamental challenges: how do we get busy lawyers to change the way they work to enable us to leverage our collective expertise more effectively and deliver great client service profitably? Whether they look at their processes, their technology stack or their people/culture or (usually) a bit of all three, the struggle is real for all firms.


And that challenge can feel even bigger for those running firms where there has historically not been a keen focus from management and those who hold the firm’s purse strings on the rather unsexy topic of Knowledge Management (“KM”).  Even without an officially dedicated director of KM, knowledge manager or professional support lawyer, firms are, of course, still doing KM day to day, however informally.  It can be hard to join the dots of the day-to-day activities and really see results across the board without someone who is accountable for driving those efforts and who sees the big strategic picture. These activities are likely to be dispersed around the firm and can feel invisible to management unless they are happening in their practice area.


So, what can be done if the firm doesn't have the budget or feels too small to employ a full-time KM professional? Here are some ideas to start the conversation at your firm and make progress without incurring long term labour costs.


What even is KM?

KM is a broad church and extends way beyond the traditional activities partners may have in their heads as to what it means.  It clearly does cover drafting (or providing access through a third-party vendor to) template forms so lawyers have a thought-through and consistent starting point for new work.  It covers delivering training on legal topics and keeping lawyers up to date with changes in law and practice in their specialist area and it does cover providing robust legal research tools.  But it also now extends some of those things to the firm’s clients, reworking legal service delivery processes to ensure profit margins are bigger, and ensuring the technology is available to help capture and share knowledge at the firm really works for the lawyers using it.  Conducting an education exercise to allow the firm’s owners and management to appreciate what KM could help it achieve is a great first step.


Where should you begin?

The key to understanding what KM activities your firm should undertake is to understand what challenges your firm is facing and what the lawyers and their clients want/need. Undertaking a survey and/or an audit of the current knowledge generation, capturing and sharing activities, where any gaps are felt most keenly and where the day-to-day pain points are for staff trying to deliver your client service is a great starting point. For example, uncovering which teams are struggling with realisation or profitability, or where juniors feel they need more legal training, or where untapped thought leadership opportunities lie, can give a focus for starting to channel KM activities. Tapping in to any formal or informal “client listening” processes can also be rewarding to hear from the horse’s mouth what the clients feel might enhance the firm’s service to them.


Who can galvanise your people to participate?

When you have educated your key stakeholders on what KM could do for the firm and started to get a handle on what KM activities may need to be carried out, it’s important to pull together an achievable plan for how you will take forward some initiatives and how they will be prioritised.  You may have some natural “knowledge champions” who emerge as part of the knowledge audit process and some people who are good at sharing their wisdom and taking the time to look beyond their immediate matters to solutions which could advance the greater good.  They could already be playing a hybrid “professional support lawyer/knowledge lawyer: fee earner” role, devoting some time to non-billable KM activities.  Or your firm’s culture could have baked in the expectation that all fee earners spend some quality time on KM.  However it is achieved, you will need this on-the-ground support for any KM initiatives you wish to embed at the firm.  Often, these activities are effective as far as they go, but they are known to falter as fee earners get busy on client work and tend to be only localised in their effect. If bigger systemic issues are to be tackled successfully and firms are to achieve lasting change to the way they deliver client service and leverage their collective knowledge, we see firms needing someone to lead the firm’s KM efforts and be accountable for taking a strategic bigger picture approach to get return on the firm’s investment in KM.


What if we can’t afford or are cautious about employing a permanent KM Director?

Appointing an experienced senior leader to drive the implementation of transformative KM and innovation initiatives can feel like a daunting step, especially for firms who have traditionally had a lean back office. Without this leadership, it can be hard to make a knowledge-sharing culture change stick.  We have seen firms who invest in a fractional KM director role for a short- to medium-term period see real lasting change.  This usually means having access to an experienced KM practitioner for a number of days a month to kick start the education, audit and implementation activities, working with the lawyers and business services teams to get to know the firm and what it needs. Alternatively, if a partner in the firm is keen to take KM forward, they may benefit from guidance and support from a senior KM professional.  Once the KM foundations are set in place and the knowledge champions network strengthened, it is often possible for the role to be handed to an internal or new candidate (if the benefits of doing more joined up KM activities have been demonstrated) for the firm to take forward independently. 


If you’d like to discuss how a fractional KM director could help your firm to understand what KM can do for your business, please get in touch with the following details:


Click here for more information on what a fractional KM director role could encompass for your business.

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