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  • Jenni Tellyn

Reflections from the ARK KM Legal Europe conference

KM Legal Europe logo

Another week, another Knowledge conference! Here are our reflections on the highlights of the ARK KM Legal Europe conference which went up against the Disney expo at the Excel centre this week.

There was inevitably a heavy focus on generative AI and the place it is coming to occupy in the KM team’s roster of projects. We discussed making it “real” and the expectation management that needs to go on as it moves through the Gartner Hype Cycle (currently near the peak of “Overinflated Expectations” and hopefully not destined to dwell too long in the “Trough of Disillusionment” as the limitations of immature tools are explored!). Because of the processing power of large language models and their ability to learn very quickly over limited document collections compared with more established machine learning tools, there is clearly great potential for the pilots firms are experimenting with to yield faster results than might be usual in legal tech projects.

Using the generative AI tools as “reasoning engines” in extractive use cases seemed to be more attractive in many firms’ experiments than the more hair-raising “creativity” inherent in the generative use cases. One panellist suggested regarding some of the creativity of the tools as a “crazy drunk friend” coming up with left-field ideas which on the face of it seem outlandish but may give a different perspective or more diversity of thought on a piece of work when the user has already formulated their view on what the answer to a research question may be.

Beyond the discussions about AI the perspective of the client was a key focus and we were reminded always to be open and curious to hear what clients actually want from firms’ KM teams. Open listening and being flexible to adapt were key ideas and we were invited to consider whether clients really want to come in person to one hour training sessions at law firm offices like they did pre-pandemic when there are more inclusive ways to connect with geographically spread-out teams now. Do all clients really want or use expensive information sharing portals? One of the most valuable things for clients can be firms collaborating with them to solve problems and for firms to share with them how they tackled a system implementation or a KM challenge so the client can learn from the firm’s experience and perhaps avoid some of the pitfalls they might otherwise encounter when doing something new. PSLs sharing experience or lending the client virtual or in person KM resource to tackle, for example, a library reorganization could make a real impact. How often do KM teams really get to the bottom of what clients want after a pitch is won and the matter teams get stuck into delivering the legal work? Partnering closely with BD colleagues to remain plugged in to the relationship is key.

Getting a seat at the firm’s strategic table was another theme and we have worked with several firms recently to consider the “elevator pitch” of each member of the KM team to enable them to take every opportunity to sell the team’s services when having serendipitous conversations at the apocryphal “water cooler”. Being able to boil down the impact the KM team and its individual members have on a lawyer, business services colleague, new partner or client’s day to day work is key to making the most of those opportunities to spread the KM love around the firm. Being brave, relevant, clear about your mission, strategic, agile and, above all, human felt important in trying to establish a credible presence as a KM team. As Addleshaw Goddard’s Richard Gaston said in his session, no one really cares about KM and so it might be important to “hide the wiring” from internal and external clients and focus instead on the solutions you are delivering.

Ian Rodwell from Linklaters talked about “KM out in the wild” taking place outside the firm’s many systems. We were invited to consider the role of storytelling in tacit knowledge extraction and making the most of those chances to strengthen the “weak link” relationships with work “acquaintances” from different teams/offices and how firms could approach the challenge of enabling “osmotic learning” in their organizations when working in a hybrid way. We heard comments about how KM teams had used the “non-territorial” spaces between teams like kitchen areas and games rooms to place themselves in the way of their flocks and seek out interactions when they are harder to come by in a hybrid world. Ideas such as getting off the lift at the wrong floor or holding “after call” debriefs to simulate the “off the record” interactions one experiences at the end of a face-to-face meeting highlights how being more “deliberate” about hybrid working can help it to work more effectively.

We got a chance to focus on the KM team’s role as enablers of innovation (not that this felt like a new thought as “making things better” and responding to change has always been the bread and butter of KM teams’ work). Where Innovation teams might be striving for the new and improved, KM teams are perhaps the ones best placed to understand what needs to be new and improved! We heard about the role of KM teams as connectors and translators; the bridge between the lawyers and IT and other business services teams. And how important change managers are in helping to tackle the perennial adoption challenges everyone faces. Unsurprisingly, carrots were preferred over sticks when seeking engagement with KM initiatives, whether these be promoting knowledge investment hours, gamifying initiatives to tap into competitiveness, or simply getting the timing of initiatives right so firms are receptive to ideas.

Finally, the thorny topic of KM’s involvement in data projects, the importance of good data hygiene and of nailing down the source of truth of data points used in firms’ systems were tackled. This is a vast area and could have had a whole conference devoted to it! The panellists shared their experiences of using data to present on the return on investment in knowledge, of bringing dynamic dashboards of knowledge in context to lawyers combined from a variety of the firm’s systems and of how to blend the structured and unstructured data in systems with the tacit knowledge in lawyers’ heads.

The new roles springing up in KM teams for data analysts, project managers, and data stewards to help with the mammoth data cleansing tasks which are often required in these multidisciplinary projects were highlighted (as well as being sure to involve secretarial staff as key allies in data projects). Prompt engineers were starting to be seen in firms too to hone the skills required to ask AI tools the right questions to generate good results. Library and research teams have been found to be a good source of expert prompt skills, building on their years of experience of understanding how to formulate searches across sources to get the best results.

The promise of generative AI tools in helping to harness firms’ data and query large quantities of it in a fraction of the time it takes to do so now was alluring. It will be interesting to develop use cases tackling the tiresome inputting of data which no one has the time or inclination to do accurately or consistently as well as configuring the outputs into easily digestible and therefore useable data visualisations.

As always, the event gave participants the space to pause and reflect and facilitated the sharing of different perspectives on the common challenges KM teams grapple with across the globe. If “no one really cares about KM”, it was welcome to recognise the often demoralising nature of the mission to bring solutions to lawyers who don’t have the headspace to hear Knowledge leaders alongside their fee earning work. The group therapy aspects of knowing you’re not alone in your efforts and picking up some tips on new ways of navigating resistance were perhaps worth the entry fee alone. The expert content shared and networking opportunities provided were the cherry on the cake!

Read Reflections on the Briefing Knowledge Leaders Conference here

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