Knowledge Management and Legal Project Management

On October 26, 2010 I attended day one of Ark Group’s two-day Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession conference in New York City. Day one was really a pre-conference workshop on Legal Project Management (LPM), which was wonderfully facilitated by Joshua Fireman, VP and General Counsel of ii3, and Andrew Terrett, Director of Knowledge Management at Borden Ladner Gervais (Terrett is also Certified Project Manager (PMP), which was especially relevant to the workshop).

Joshua and Andrew did a very nice job of presenting a high-level overview of project management, including key definitions, why lawyers need project management, key PM concepts, PM application to legal services and the role of KM in LPM.  The second half of the day was spent in work groups hypothetically implementing PM in a case study.

What is the Role of KM in Legal Project Management?

I won’t get into all the details because others have written a lot about the KM – LPM connection (e.g., see David Hobbie’s recent posts; Joel Alleyne, who was at the workshop, also has some interesting thoughts about KM-LPM in his blog), but I’ll address one question that came up: What is the role of KM in LPM?  It’s a broad question and (not to be too lawyerly) but I think that the answer is that it depends.

It depends because legal KM is diverse.  I’ve talked to many people involved KM in the legal profession over the years, and I can say with certainty that no two firms approach KM in exactly the same way.  For that matter, few KM professionals approach KM the same way. Most, however, would agree that there are many different roles or postions in the KM universe.  Among them, there are two types that come to mind when addressing the issue of whether KM has a place in LPM: “content people” and (for lack of a better term) “strategy people.”

An example of a content person in legal KM might be a Practice Support Lawyer (also Professional Support Lawyer; PSL).  PSLs have subject matter expertise and may be concerned with, among other things: research, analysis, document drafting, and the like.  Their work is important and focuses on the practice of law, rather than the business of law.

A KM strategist may have legal subject matter expertise, but is not primarily concerned with content.  They are concerned with the bigger KM picture: the business of law (not just the practice of law), process, procedure, workflow, efficiency, managing change, improving quality, etc. An example of a strategy person in legal KM might be a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) or Director of Knowledge Management (DKM).  This is not to say that a CKO or DKM is solely concerned with strategy, but it is surely a major concern.

So, it depends.  If your focus is legal content, then you likely think that KM and LPM have no (or very little) connection.  If your focus is broader and more strategic, then you probably connect the dots and see an opportunity to apply PM principles and practices to further your broader goals.

As an aside, because I often hear comments that suggest it, I’d like to debunk the idea that the concept of “knowledge manager” is synonymous with (or even implies) the concept of “knowledge management.”  I would go as far as to say that, in some ways, “knowledge managers” do not necessarily even engage in what many would consider “knowledge management.”  The problem is in the vagueness of both terms.  At it’s broadest, just about every worker who has an “office job” (or uses a PC, for that matter) is in some ways a “knowledge manager.”   If we narrow the concept sllightly, one could argue that a knowledge manager is more akin to a “knowledge worker.”  While I don’t claim to have THE definition of KM that ends all debate, I think that it is widely accepted that KM is one or more (or perhaps a combination) of the following: a discipline, process, approach, system, methodology, concept, etc. (see more here).  Knowledge management (the discipline, etc.) is more than just managing knowledge (an activity).  A “knowledge manager” is a person who (sometimes) has a role in KM and manages knowledge (or sometimes information, or data, but we won’t get into that now).

Back to the point: KM and LPM.  My suggestion, above, that KM strategists are more likely to see the connection between KM and LPM is not to suggest that they (CKOs, DKMs, or others) automatically are (or can be) project managers just because they are strategists.  That’s not the case.  Project managers are, in most cases, highly trained in their profession.  It all comes down to one’s skill set.  Some CKOs and DKMs are, in fact, project managers (Andrew Terrett, for example).  But, they are not PMs because they are CKOs/DKMs.  They are PMs because they’ve been trained as such.  The point is that in some circumstances, KM has a potential role in LPM.  Some KM professionals can manage projects.  Even if they cannot, they can apply PM principles and practices to the legal profession and take advantage of the opportunities presented by them.  And even if they cannot, they can acknowledge the opportunities and potential benefits and suggest or promote LPM in their organizations.  Whether they should and whether it will be successful is another question.  The answer is: it depends.

Knowledge Management, Technology & Social Media for Lawyers and Law Firms

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4 thoughts on “Knowledge Management and Legal Project Management

  • October 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    LPM is a core business processes – central to matter management and its efficiencies. It is now understood that access to relevant knowledge should be integral to a given process – including the LPM process and matter management in general. So the firm's KM director or KM lawyers should see the emerging LPA zeitgeist as a golden opportunity to further their KM agenda. That said, the logic of having KM 'people' in the firm, conduct, promote and 'own' LPM processes in the firm is coincidental and opportunistic (in the most positive sense) – not necessarily inevitable. Remaining relevant is one motivation for some KM'rs. But I know of firms that welcome LPM initiatives from KM people, simply because they have no one else on board that's better or more qualified. And sometimes, that is good enough.

    – Shy Alter

  • October 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Great points, Shy. Thanks for the comment. By the way, Joshua (as always) did a great job yesterday.

  • October 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    I am still having trouble getting my arms all the way around KM as a career path–can you point to a article or post that might give me a snapshot of a typical; day or week in the life of a KM worker/manager?

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