Knowledge Management is Disappointing and Has Failed – Crowd Sourcing Comments for My KM Book

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been crowd-sourcing comments for my KM book that will be published by the ABA in early 2014.  Last week, I crowd-sourced comments about who leads KM in law firms.  Thank you to those who commented (both on the blog and in emails directly to me).  This week, it’s all about disappointment and failure.

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I’m not talking about the various failures that we all have experienced in KM (or other) efforts in our careers.  I’m talking about the failure of KM itself.  As I noted last week, some may take the data I highlighted from the ILTA KM Surveys to mean that “KM is dead.”  For those of us who believe that KM is alive and kicking, we know that some believe that KM has failed – or maybe just hasn’t lived up to its initial hype.  Yet it persists.

One quite well-know commenter on the legal profession, Richard Susskind, points out in Chapter 2 of  The End of Lawyers?  that KM is an “apparent failure.”  In addition to on-line deal rooms and “the use of auctions for the selection of legal advisers,”  Susskind notes that “[a]nother disappointment in law firms, and indeed in most commercial organizations, has been in the field of knowledge management.  It has promised much and delivered a good deal less.”

My initial reaction is that while his point is well taken, it is not knowledge management that has made any promises, but rather, it is the people who held out KM as one thing or another, promised results, and failed to deliver.  Promising results from a discipline, like knowledge management, is like promising results from an idea.  It is not the idea, but the execution of the idea, that generates results.  Similarly, it is not KM, but how we implement the concepts and principles of KM that can greatly benefit law firms.

I have some other thoughts  on the topic, as you might guess, but I would love to hear from you.  Is knowledge management disappointing?  Has it failed?

Please either leave a comment to this post, or email me directly (patrickdidomenico at gmail dot com) with your thoughts.  My intention is to include your comments in my book (although I cannot guarantee inclusion, as I do have an editor).  You can submit your comments anonymously, if you like.  But I would like to give credit where credit is due.  If you submit a comment and I use it in the book, I will cite you appropriately (unless you don’t want me to).

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4 thoughts on “Knowledge Management is Disappointing and Has Failed – Crowd Sourcing Comments for My KM Book

  • December 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    A culture of trust and cooperation is a prerequisite for KM to work. Distrust and internal competition (rampant and growing in many law firms if various law blogs and legal news stories can be believed) lead to knowledge hoarding, which dooms KM implementation efforts.

  • December 9, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Based on my experience as a partner for 30 years at a major NY law firm and my more recent experience as a management consultant to leaders of AmLaw 200 firms, I believe KM’s success or failure depends entirely on the extent to which senior lawyer management leads (and is seen as leading) the effort. Prior to 2008, KM and its benefits were under-appreciated by law firm leaders. When led by technologists, KM gets the least valuable results. When led by a non-practicing lawyer who reports to the firm’s executive director, modest results can be obtained, but nothing that’s really game-changing. Those non-practicing lawyers also become burned out after pushing hard but not getting traction with the lawyers. Only when senior leadership pushes will significant benefits occur. This is due to the lawyer personalities that have been the subject of other discussions (skeptical, autonomous, change-resistant, urgent to do client work, unsociable). Lawyers will change their approach when they see their leaders and colleagues continually pushing for the change. Post-2008, financial pressures are causing firm leadership to be more open to change, including greater receptivity to KM (though they don’t know it by that name, rather “best practices,” “practice management,” “efficiency improvements” or something similar). A few firms are now putting partners in charge of their KM efforts. Those will get results. Good luck with your book!

  • December 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Very good point. Are lawyers seeing the KM light? Are they seeing that “a rising tide lifts all ships,” or are they hanging on to the stereotype of competitive lone wolves? You would think that most lawyers joined firms (rather than going solo) to receive the benefits of what law firms have to offer, namely support from colleagues and coworkers.

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