When it comes to knowledge management in law firms, you can’t be more on the money than Lew Platt’s infamous statement: “if only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.” Although speaking of his own firm’s challenges, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO’s 2013 quote has taken on a mantra status, as year on year, the challenge of managing a company’s collective knowledge has become more complex; with firms battling against ever-increasing amounts of data, the rise of alternative legal service providers and the rapid digital transformation of the sector.

At the heart of the difficulties facing law firms’ knowledge management is the fact that law is the ultimate knowledge-based industry - firms exist and profit off the combined ‘know how’ and expertise of their employees. This collective knowledge enables practices to be successful, as it aids their ability to offer legal services which are known to win cases, offering them an edge over competitors.

What exactly is knowledge management?

Legal knowledge is simultaneously valuable and fluid, meaning law firm knowledge management has become one of the biggest trends of the past decade, and is particularly relevant for firms experiencing growth, or those within the mergers and acquisitions market. But the definition of knowledge management (KM) can be as varied as the process itself, with different sectors and organizations adhering to their own interpretation of the term. 

At its essence however, law firm knowledge management is about how legal entities capture and leverage the combined know how (or knowledge) of individual workers, so a law firm acts as a united team rather than a group of individuals. For instance, in Linklaters’ report ‘Knowledge to Action’, knowledge management is defined as “….a toolkit of different methods, techniques, approaches, ways of working and behaviours that are all designed to enable and increase organisational efficiency.”

For any forward-thinking firm, this knowledge management “toolkit” is increasingly reliant on the technologies and systems they choose to use. Once slow to embrace digital transformation, the legal industry has become so competitive over the last few years that those not using AI and analytics technologies are - as suggested by the American Bar Association - “scarcely able to compete for new business.” Subsequently, advanced technologies such as practice management systems, CRM software and document management solutions have also become vital, enabling employees to easily find information when they need it, benefit from an enterprise-sized pool of knowledge and collaborate with colleagues on cases.

The nature of knowledge management

As all law firms know however, knowledge isn’t a static asset that is easy to control. Although lawyers are the ultimate knowledge-workers, knowledge can become siloed as individual workers can be unable to access vital information from another colleague at the crucial moment. To further complicate matters, lawyers increasingly tend to share information via email, which can make capturing and preserving knowledge near impossible, particularly for large enterprises. 

The average large law firm experiences a turnover of around 30% of attorneys in a five-year period, meaning knowledge can easily be lost for good. If a practice doesn’t have an efficient system in place for law firm knowledge management and is unable to capture, manage and action employees’ individual expertise and insights, then invaluable knowledge could soon be benefiting competitors. 

Technology enhances knowledge management

Considering the importance of knowledge management in law firms, it’s not surprising that there’s a wide range of specialized software and knowledge management tools currently available on the market. 

Thomson Reuters’ Solcara Legal Search, LexisNexis’ Lexis Search Advantage and IBM's ROSS are just some examples of software designed to optimize searches across law firms, giving employees access to all the relevant information, including internal collective knowledge and the wider industry information in circulation.

For example, ROSS uses AI-powered natural language search features to scan through all existing legal documents and build a portfolio of content relevant to the query in question. Solcara Legal Search and Know How searches information at its source, meaning internal sources are included and can bolster the knowledge library at hand, and accompanying relevant external sources are filtered down to judge, opposing council and jurisdiction.

This category of software significantly speeds up the manual research process, making it more efficient and relevant, and creates a knowledge base that is easily accessible and not dependent on individual employees.

Other legal technologies also provide these benefits, such as legal research tools, including Fatcase, Ravel and CARA, due diligence software, including DiligenceEngine, KIRA, RAVN and eBrevia, and transactional platforms including KM Standards and Exemplify. All these are powerful additions to a knowledge management tech stack and have incredible ROI opportunities within their specific knowledge-related stage of legal proceedings.

Another key benefit of legal technologies is that they take knowledge out of silos and ensure employees can access the right information precisely when they need it.

Read next: The ultimate law firm technology trend: Legal Knowledge Automation

Why template management is key to law firm knowledge management tech stacks

Law firms generate a huge number of documents daily - from contracts to agreements, and memos to applications. Due to this, document assembly and management tools have become integral to future-proofing knowledge management systems.

1. Streamlining the document creation process

1. Streamlining the document creation process

The obvious benefit of document and template management for firms is increased productivity. For instance, Templafy’s template management solutions have been shown to increase document creation time by up to 50%, with dynamic templates automatically pulling personal and case relevant information into the document being created, and in the correct areas. Lawyers no longer need to waste billable hours creating a document from scratch or editing dated versions. 

2. Taking legal knowledge out of private inboxes

2. Taking legal knowledge out of private inboxes

By making the creation of documents easier and less time-consuming, document assembly tools help encourage lawyers to move away from sharing knowledge via email to relaying this knowledge in document formats, meaning information can be more easily stored, accessed and reused enterprise wide. This makes the document creation process more efficient, allowing lawyers to focus on higher value work. It also means firms can build a more complete knowledge base that’s not limited to individuals.

3. Leveraging the power of strong integrations

3. Leveraging the power of strong integrations-2-05

With its cloud-hosted library and deep integration with DMS and DAM software, Templafy is a platform where users can easily find any template or asset, which is needed to create compliant documents. These integrations also ensure the versioning of each document is being tracked, meaning duplication is avoided, there is less risk of overriding important changes, and more seamless collaboration.

Templafy’s centralized admin platform ensures that information required for documents (such as links, boilerplates and legal disclaimers) is always updated. It also allows document and knowledge managers to roll out these changes enterprise-wide, without IT assistance and at the click of a button. Employees can trust that they will always have access to the most up-to-date versions of everything they need.

The future of knowledge management: going beyond internal KM optimization

Much of the industry focus on law firm knowledge management has been on making internal processes more efficient to increase productivity and quality of work alongside reducing billable hours through automation. However, many experts argue that to really get an edge over competitors, firms need to be thinking about technologies that enhance the way knowledge is presented to clients and external audiences. 

Speaking to CIOReview about the future of knowledge management, Scott Rechtschaggen, Chief Knowledge Officer at Little Mendelson, asks:

Will these knowledge management solutions provide a competitive advantage in the long run? How long will it be before knowledge managed-based services are just table stakes? How long will it be before every organisation, including every law firm, can claim that knowledge management is embedded in their based business operations?

The rise of design thinking in law firm knowledge management

Similarly, Nicky Leijtens, Professional Support Lawyer at Dutch practice NautaDutilh, has raised the point that law firms need to realize clients consume content in the same way the everyday individual does - receiving information through design-led platforms such as Airbnb, Uber, Facebook and Spotify. 

Typically, law firms are very mature when it comes to text heavy documents, so firms “must become design thinkers” argues Leijtens “that explore and understand client needs and develop new legal service delivery methodologies.” This is increasingly important in order to be customer-friendly, and provide information in an accessible manner.

Templafy helps place design at the center of document creation

Working with legal service providers including Magic Circle firms law firms, Templafy has seen firsthand the growing need for law firms to change their game when it comes to presenting cases and services to external parties.

Templafy brings all the relevant visual assets, correct content and slides directly within the applications employees work in, to aid the assembly of well-designed and on-brand documents which are simple to create.

Employees no longer have to spend hours checking document formatting, legal compliance, brand consistency or the latest style guides - Templafy’s platform does this for them, so internal and external communications are user-friendly and always compliant. This means design elements always appear as they should, and firms can invest in impactful design strategies which they know will be implemented.

Knowledge management is complex, read how to enhance it and empower lawyers to work efficiently with knowledge management applications.

Interested to know more about the rise of legal design in law firms?

Sign up for our webinar “The rise of Legal Design” with guest speaker Antti Innanen, Partner at Dottir Attorneys and our own Legal Counsel Jean-Marc Chanoine. Antti is a pioneer in the field of legal innovation, and he is a frequently requested presenter at various legal tech and design seminars such as Legal Geek, Legal Hackers and JDHorizons.