Reflections on the Briefing Knowledge Leaders Conference
This is always a good event. It manages to combine interesting speakers with multiple opportunities for discussion on topics that Knowledge Management professionals care about. It helps that the Knowledge Management community is almost by definition keen to share, as witness the noise levels in some of the breakout sessions.
This year’s key speakers covered the global economic outlook (from Ross Walker, Chief UK Economist and Head of Global Economics at NatWest), life in the legal arms of the Big Four (from Mark Ford of EY) the impact of Generative AI (Kieron Champion of Fireman & Co) and improving your gravitas, from Antoinette Dale Henderson.
In between the excellent keynote speakers, there were breakout sessions and as sponsors of the event we were privileged to facilitate some of the discussion groups.
The value proposition for knowledge. I think Knowledge leaders still find it frustrating that their firms’ management often don’t recognise the importance and value of Knowledge as a function. Of course, it is incumbent upon the Knowledge leaders to communicate their value and to keep doing so, even when it feels like the message should be obvious by now. But even in organisations which are clearly knowledge-based businesses, the management will often underestimate the time and effort required to deliver on even the basics of up-to-date precedents, legal training, and an accessible knowledge collection. To a considerable extent this can be impacted by the firm’s structure and the reporting lines for Knowledge. If Knowledge reports in to management via another function such as Risk, HR or Marketing, its value will often be played down compared to other aspects of that function.
Much of what the Knowledge team does is essentially long-term investment, and the payback can be hard to measure, but as the conference participants noted, we often see a cycle of firm’s taking Knowledge seriously for a few years and then, perhaps when the Director of Knowledge moves on, allowing it to fall backwards, with no central co-ordination or focus. Sure enough, often after a few years firms realise that they need their Knowledge support to work better and look for a new leader again.
In any event, it has always been important for Knowledge leaders to communicate the message about the value of what they deliver to their firms. This doesn’t always come naturally, and being open about what you plan to deliver and then about the outcomes from your plan brings with it a focus that can be uncomfortable. But that it not a reason not to do it. Indeed, Antoinette Dale Henderson spoke powerfully at the conference about the importance of stepping into your gravitas and finding your voice.
Knowledge functions have long struggled with how to focus their time, given the many projects and demands that come their way, in addition to the day-to-day knowledge activities. But Knowledge is particularly well placed to get involved in significant firm-wide projects of varying types, since it is often able to bring a deep understanding of how lawyers work (with the ability to see the bigger picture of efficiency and profitability) and has a good grip on the firm’s data landscape.
The “fit for purpose” intranet was also a topic of discussion and a timely one as we are currently helping several firms to address unsatisfactory intranet platforms and to seek ways to enable their staff to collaborate more effectively. Good governance, robust taxonomy, and bringing the intranet to where the lawyers do their work were recognised as important. In addition, clarity about the intranet’s role among other content-sharing/collaboration platforms (like MS Teams and the document management/know-how system) was emphasised. There is still a place for an intranet in firms (contrary to some schools of thought) but it’s vital that the purpose of the intranet is nailed down at the outset of any design project so you know what you’re building and why.
Generative AI is a classic and extremely topical example of an initiative (it hasn’t yet reached the stage of being a project in many firms) where Knowledge’s role can be especially valuable. Being on top of the new and sexy initiatives can be good for profile raising. The conference resulted in some very interesting conversations about the potential use cases in law firms. It is likely that for quite a while Generative AI is going to be more expensive and require more human input than the hype would lead you to believe. As pointed out by one of the keynote speakers, Kieron Champion, successful outcomes will depend on content strategies, content curation and governance, data models, taxonomies, and metadata. All of these are four-square within the skillset of Knowledge teams and neglecting these Knowledge fundamentals will hamper firms’ efforts to get the best out of AI-powered tools in future.
A particularly enjoyable feature of the conference was the opportunity for discussion of Knowledge Leaders’ bugbears, like how to deal with practice areas that won’t play ball when it comes to firm-wide knowledge systems (either work around them, or wait until they see the benefits that other teams are getting (perhaps when it comes to GenAI – and welcome them back into the fold at that time), how to motivate PSLs (recognition and gratitude can go quite a long way), and whether legal tech is becoming a hindrance rather than a help, because there are so many products which only address very narrow use cases (and how are fee earners to remember which tool to use for what?). It is always reassuring to know that others have the same worries, and whilst nobody has the magic wand which resolves all the issues, sharing tips and ideas can be a great help. Indeed, “group therapy” as one speaker remarked.
If you’d like to know more about how 3Kites can assist your firm, then please contact laura.howells@3Kites.com.