km card copyright patrick didomenicoI am constantly reminded of the importance of communicating effectively.  And I am repeatedly convinced that a simple message delivered in a simple way is most effective.

Last Thursday, I participated on a speaking panel with Lisa Gianakos, Director of Knowledge Management at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLC.  The topic was “Leveraging KM Technologies and Methods to Grow Legal Project Management.”  Since we weren’t sure about the audience’s familiarity with knowledge management or legal project management, we started with an overview of both.  I handled KM, Lisa handled LPM.

This was only the introductory part of the presentation, sort of let’s-make-sure-we’re-all-on-the-same-page stuff, so that we could move on and address the main part of the topic, KM technologies and methods.

The presentation went well and the audience seemed interested and attentive (at least nobody fell asleep).  I was shocked, however, by what people wanted to ask me about after the session.  The questions and comments were not about enterprise search, SharePoint document repositories, document automation applications, or other KM technologies.

Everyone said, “Can I see one of those cards?

They were referring to a simple business-sized card that I held up when during the presentation.  I created the card (depicted above) to help communicate knowledge management to lawyers.  During the presentation, as I do in my daily practice, I flatly rejected the complex and often jargon-filled definitions that some try to articulate.  I even add some KM-deprecating humor by sharing one of my favorite Dilbert comic strips about KM (an oldie but a goodie).

The Right Stuff…

When talking with lawyers, I describe KM in simple, meaningful terms that they immediately understand and remember.  Depending on the context of the conversation, I typically use one of three approaches.  I often use the tried and true “right information” line.  That is, KM is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.  This is not a definition of KM, it is (one of the things) that KM is about.  The “right information” line communicates that we aim not to inundate our lawyers with stuff they don’t need when they don’t need it.  Instead, we want to help them get — either in a push or pull manner — what they need when they need it.  This could be by organizing information on an intranet, pushing information to attorneys at the appropriate times, or any number of other methods that KM uses.

Who We Know…

A second way I communicate simply is to say that that KM is about is “who we know, what we know, and how we do things.”  This is another common mantra among KM professionals.  Again, notice the word “about.”  I don’t claim that this is a definition of KM.  It is one of the many things that KM is about.  I’m not sure that defining KM to busy lawyers is all that important, really.  After all, do we ever “define” HR or IT or any other function of our law firms?  We usually just describe what people with those functions do or can offer.  The “who-what-how” approach helps us communicate that KMers are focusing on how to leverage relationships, knowledge and experience to benefit our lawyers and the firm.

Connections  Are the Key…

My favorite (and primary) way to communicate KM to lawyers — and the representation in the KM card, above — is to speak in terms of connections.  It’s about “connecting people with people, connecting people with knowledge and information, and the processes, procedures, and technologies required to make those connections.”  I like this approach because it is broad, yet meaningful.  It allows me to talk about various aspects of KM from culture to technology, without eyes glazing over.

I carry the KM cards with me at work (and elsewhere).  When I need to explain KM to someone, I talk about connections.  After my elevator speech, I hand them a card as a take-away mnemonic.   “Here’s an easy way to remember what we do,” I say,  “the KM department’s email address is on the back.”

The more “complex” definitions of KM are fine when talking to people in KM circles and getting into the depths of knowledge management, but when talking to busy lawyers, spouting some convoluted, jargon-bloated, “nonsense” is the surest way to lose their attention.  Lawyers are no strangers to jargon.  They know it — and will reject it (and you) — the second they hear it.

This card has been highly effective in helping communicate what KM is all about.  It has also become a part of our KM brand and the “KM experience.”  I include it in presentations, and I ask my KM department members to have the cards handy when they promote the department and our mission.

I would love to hear from you about how you communicate KM to your lawyers.

By the way, several people also asked me where I had the cards made.  They are from an online printer called Moo.  The cards are really high quality and look great.  I use the rounded corner cards.  The graphic quality is great.  Here’s a link for 10% your first order.

200170689-004Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese proverb.

As knowledge management professionals, we want to encourage sharing and the dissemination of knowledge throughout our organizations.  We know how hard it can be to do that and to encourage people to do the same.  You may have set up wonderful systems and resources to help promote this, but sometimes it may seem that you just can’t reach everyone with the “good word” of KM.

Don’t be frustrated.  Be creative.

As a KM professional, you are a “go to” person in your firm.  People come to you for answers.  This is a great opportunity for you to not only respond to their needs, but to promote the KM way of doing things.  In other words, don’t just give someone a fish, also teach them to fish.

Take this opportunity; do it regularly.  Integrate it into everything you do – make it a part of your standard operating procedure, a part of who you are as a KM professional and person.  Always be ready to teach someone to fish.  Here are a few examples:

  1. If you’re in a role that requires you to respond to requests for research assistance (e.g., professional support lawyer, paralegal, reference librarian, etc.), in addition to giving them the fish (“here is the list of cases that you asked for”), also include a link to resource.  This may help the requesting attorney find something on their own the next time.  Of course, I am not suggesting that you adopt a “go-find-it-yourself” attitude.  But giving people self-service tools is always a nice option.
  2. If there is no “lesson” related to the request, as in the above example, then offer a different species of lesson fish.  Perhaps you know that the requesting attorney is typically interested in certain areas of the law.  Regardless of what they ask of you, use the opportunity to add a post script to the response (“I thought you might be interested in this new resource we just added to the Firm Intranet…”)
  3. My favorite is the “email signature” approach.  You can add a “Did you know”-type footer to your emails.  So, regardless of the communication, you are always promoting some KM tool or concept.  For example, “Did you know you can find model documents using the firm’s enterprise search engine [link]?” or “Find contacts and connections for business development with [insert name, and link to, CRM system].” or “Have you checked out the firm’s electronic library [insert link]?”  or “Check out our Knowledge Management resource page [link] on the firm Intranet.”

And don’t just stop there.  Encourage others to teach people to fish.  Even though they are not “KM professionals,” others in your firm may be your biggest KM proponents – especially lawyers.   The next time a lawyer thanks you for introducing them to that great new KM resource or tool, ask them to spread the word to their peers (“Thanks for the note, please tell your fellow attorneys about it.”).  It is often more compelling when customers (the lawyers in your firm) sing the praises of your KM efforts to other potential customers (the lawyers in your firm who are not yet KM converts).  That’s why you see customer testimonials on infomercials.  The Shamwow Guy is pretty convincing, but it’s those actual customers who “can’t live without it” who really sell the product.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  I’d love to know how you teach people to fish.  Please share your story or thoughts in the comments.

Here’s a little tip that I have been doing for years. Before I travel, I check my LinkedIn connections in the area where I’m going.  It helps remind me who I’m connected with and it gives me an excuse to catch up with an old friend or colleague.

Here’s my step-by- step method for pre-trip connection planning:

1. Go to LinkedIn’s Advanced Search page.  The link is in the upper right-hand corner, next to the search box.

2. Select the location where you’ll be, using a zip code, and a range (e.g., 50 miles) indicating that you’re looking for contacts within a certain distance of the zip code.  Depending on where you’re going, you’ll want to adjust this setting.

3. Decide who you want to connect with.  You can narrow your search by industry, members of LinkedIn Groups, and degrees of contacts.  I usually opt to filter out everyone except for my first degree connections. 










4. Review the list and reach out.

Online (social media) connections are great, but there’s nothing like a good old face-to-face meet-up.  The nice thing about tools like LinkedIn is that they’re not only great for keeping in touch online, but they can facilitate an in-person meeting as well.

On a recent flight from Chicago to New York, I realized that there is a lot of important information to process when traveling.  There’s also a lot of unimportant information – noise.  I sat in the emergency row, so I had even more to process than some of the other passengers (e.g., the emergency exit door weighs 50 pounds and it needs to be completely removed prior to exiting).

What struck me is that even in an environment where certain information is so critically important — life and death in some instances — the airline also muddied the water with frivolous information.  Interspersed with “what to do in case of a water landing,” for example, I learned that I was flying on a McDonnell Douglas S80 aircraft and that we would be flying at 31,000 feet.  My immediate reaction: “Why are you telling me this?”  These are two pieces of information that are completely irrelevant, unimportant, and distracting.  That’s the problem – distraction.   By including this distracting information, the airline runs the risk of passengers missing the important stuff.   How much did that door weigh, again?

The same applies in your organization.  If you clutter your message with frivolous information, there’s an increased chance that people will miss what you really want them to know.  To increase the likelihood that you’ll effectively communicate what’s important, think “simple and minimal.”

“Simple” is about making things easy to understand.  Speak or write in plain language, not KM jargon.  Use as few words as possible to effectively communicate your message.  When writing for the web, or your Intranet, remember: people don’t read – they skim the content.  Make it short, sweet, and skim-able.

Steve Jobs, the Master of Simplicity, relayed the idea when he said, “This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And, we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us, no company is.  And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”  He wasn’t talking about internal communications, but rather about marketing Apple’s products.  Nevertheless, the same principle applies.  Keep it simple.

“Minimalism” is about eliminating distractions.  As eloquently stated by Joshua Becker in his book, Simplify, “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things that we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.”  Like Jobs, Becker wasn’t referring to internal communications, but again, the principle applies.  Effective communication is clear, concise, and uncluttered.

For more about simplicity, minimalism, and communication, check out Knowledge Management and the Simple Stick.

The Master

Recently, before a conference I attended, someone said to me, “Oh, I know you hate PowerPoint presentations. So do I. This will be horrible.”

To the contrary, I don’t hate PowerPoint presentations (or Apple Keynote presentations, for that matter). I do feel a bit tortured  when someone misuses PowerPoint to kill an otherwise good and interesting presentation. I’m not alone, of course. So many of us have been subjected to so many bad presentations that some people have sworn off PowerPoint altogether.  But for you presenters out there, my advice is: don’t give up hope.  Just give up the bad practices that make bad PowerPoint presentations.

So here are a few points I think are important.  I certainly won’t cover all there is to know about making presentations.  I’m no expert, but there are some great expert resources out there (see below for a list).

Don’t Read Your Slides

Everyone knows this. Everyone says, “don’t do it.”  Everyone hates when others do it. So why do so many people still do it?   Continue reading »

For some reason, more and more and blog posts have enumerative titles like “The Top 10 Most Popular Social Networks,” and “Top 5 Myths about Facebook.”   A  Google search revealed over 530,000 blog posts published in 2010 that have “Top 10″ in the title.  In the spirit of the beloved enumerative blog post, here are five reasons why we love these lists:

1. They’re short

Who has the time to read lengthy blog posts?  Enumerative posts are usually short and concise (I have a thing for concision).  They have numbered headings, so they’re skim-able.   By the way, lack of time to read good stuff is why I love to use Instapaper, a bookmarking tool that let’s you quickly mark web pages to read later.  It’s dead simple.  Set up a free account, install the bookmarklet, and click it when you’re on a web page that you want to read later.  When you have the time, visit Instapaper (on the web, iPad, or mobile device) to get a nice text-only, super-readable version of the article.  Here is a New York Times article about it.*  But I digress.

2. Anticipation

I get all excited when someone promises me a list.  I can’t wait Continue reading »

On Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 2:00 p.m., I’ll be moderating a panel called “How to Increase the Use of Knowledge Management Tools” at the 2010 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Aria Hotel & Casino.

The panel is made up of three fantastic speakers:

Attend this informative and practical presentation and you’ll learn how some of the top legal KM professionals ensure the successful use of KM tools at their firms.  Tips include: effective communication, training, branding & marketing, and measuring & feedback.

Here is the description of the program from the ILTA web site:

What does your firm do to ensure that KM tools are fully adopted and used properly? A firm-wide e-mail announcing your new “KM solution” is not enough. This session is targeted to firms with established KM programs, but where there is an ongoing struggle to ensure the KM department is visible and understood. You’ll learn to market, sell and make the business case for your KM tools.

You can download the presentation materials and get more information about the session on the ILTA website.

If you have questions for the panel prior to the session, you can contact them via the links above, or via Twitter.  Please use the hashtags #ILTA10 and #KMtools in your tweets.

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

Everyone knows FYI — short for “For Your Information.”  People have a habit of sending emails with FYI as the subject, or forwarding emails with FYI as the only thing they contribute.

I dislike FYI — and try to avoid using it myself — because it is ambiguous.  This blogger really hates it.  Most of the time people use it, they actually want you to do something or take some action – they don’t just want you to have the information.  Maybe they want to speak with you about the content of the email.  Maybe it’s information about an upcoming meeting — a time change, perhaps — that you need to know to alter your behavior.

Another problem with FYI is that it implies low priority, or unimportance.  If I have 30 new email messages in my inbox, and one simply has FYI as the subject line, you can be sure I’m reading it last.

As much as I dislike it, I know that it’s here to stay.  So, as they say, “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.”  I’m not sure that I’ll completely adopt the FYI practice, but I’ll join in the concept by proposing a counter acronym: YAR.

YAR is short for “your action required.”  Unlike FYI, the meaning is clear.  And unlike FYI, it’s not to be used as the only thing in an email subject line or the only thing that you contribute to an email forward.

YAR is an indicator.  It’s like the “urgent” flag that you can add to emails in Microsoft Outlook.  But it’s right there in the email itself.  If you see YAR in an email, you should read it first, because you have something to do.

How do you get people to respond to your emails?

Have any other tips to help promote clear communication?  Please share.

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

google-buzz-logoGoogle Buzz is barely out of the digital delivery room, so it may be a bit premature to start a meaningful review of the web’s newest baby.  But I’ll do it anyway.  Well, “meaningful” may be a bit of a stretch.  How about “cursory” or “preliminary?”

In case you are an under-rock dweller, here are the basics: Google announced a new web application called Google Buzz, which integrates with Google’s Gmail service.  There is also a Google Buzz mobile device application, which is accessible by pointing your mobile browser to  Here are some shots of how it looks on the iPhone:

iphone-buzz-2 iphone-buzz-3 iphone-buzz-1

Buzz is being rolled out over time, so if you don’t have it yet, don’t panic.  Be patient.

It’s impossible to resist a comparison to Twitter.  But, Buzz is more than just a Twitter clone.  It’s sort of a Frankenstein’s Monster of  web applications: part Twitter, part instant messenger, part email, part discussion forum, part social media aggregator, part rich media delivery tool, and part location-based social network.  Too much to cover here.

If you really want to understand it, your best bet is to watch this brief video:

You can also read this good article about it from the New York Times.

A few notes on the good and bad of Google Buzz…

The Good:

  • Google Buzz is integrated into it’s popular (176 million users strong) Gmail email service.  This means more of a centralized hub for this new pastiche of communication.  It also means that it won’t be ignored (like Google Wave? and Google Latitude?) because the Buzz link appears right under Gmail’s inbox link.
  • Integration with Twitter.  If you connect your Twitter account (also Picasa, Flickr, and Google Reader) with Buzz, your tweets flow to your Buzz stream. Double your pleasure.
  • Integration with Google Reader.  Increasingly, Reader is becoming the filter from which I find interesting content on the web.  With Buzz, I can use the Reader “share” feature to send items right into my Buzz stream so others can enjoy the good content, as well.  You can follow me on Google Reader here.
  • Mobile access & LBSN features.  Google’s first swing at Buzz for mobile is impressive.  It shows a list view and a decent map view of nearby Tweets Buzzes (see pics above).  This will help Google overcome their failed attempt at LBSN (i.e., location-based social networking (see Google Latitude).  Lookout FourSquare?
  • The @ factor.  Like Twitter, you can direct a Buzz to a user by using the “at” symbol as a prefix to an email address.  So, to send someone  a Buzz, type in the Buzz box.

The Bad:

  • Direct messaging? As noted, there is an @ function, but it is not readily apparent whether there is a direct (private) message shortcut function (the equivalent of using the “d” in Twitter).  You can send a private message to “a small group of your closest friends,” (see the video) but doing so is just a tad cumbersome.  Shortcut, please.
  • Searching email also searches Buzz items.  Gmail’s ability to quickly search your email items is one of it’s best features.  As of this morning, search results included Buzz results.  Not good.  Google should be able to fix this (and there may already be a filter for it).  But the default search should exclude Buzz results, or Google should simply include a button to select the content to search.
  • Buzz to email.  Some users have already complained of being  inundated with email because Buzzes are going right into their inboxes (rather than into the separate Buzz location).  This is designed to happen when someone comments on your Buzz or sends you an “@ message” – so that you don’t miss it.  There should be an option to disable this feature.
  • Speaking of comments… everything in moderation, please.  This is not Twitter: people can comment on your Buzzes.  Sounds great, unless you follow someone like Robert Scoble or Pete Cashmore (of Mashable), then it’s WAY too much information.  A recent Buzz by Scoble elicited 100 “likes” and 145 comments.  Scrolling down through all those comments to the next Buzz took a while.  And I hate to say it, but a lot of those comments were meaningless blather.  Buzz needs a “show/hide” comments link (default view to hide) to avoid this.
  • Long posts: Again, this is not Twitter.  There is no 140 character limit on what you can Buzz about.  Scoble said he likes this, but I disagree.  Twitter has gotten us used to short messages.  140 characters may be too short, but I don’t want to read War and Peace in someone’s Buzz post.  Maybe there is a limit, but I couldn’t find it.
  • A butterfly?  (See the video) I get it, I get it: social butterfly.  But shouldn’t Google have used a bee or a hornet as the mascot?

As a preemptive strike, I’ll just say that the Google Buzz integration with Gmail had better not mess up my Gmail contacts!!!  There’s already enough frustration with that as it is.

That’s it – quick and dirty.  If you’re using Google Buzz, then let’s connect.  Find my Buzz information on my Google Profile.  I’ve also created a LinkedIn Group called Google Buzz where people can discuss it (in a less buzzy, old-school discussion- forum-type of way), so join that too.

So, what are your thoughts about Google Buzz?  Please comment below.

LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

There are many reasons to love Twitter.  One reason is that we love to share, and we love to help others.  And we love to get credit for sharing and helping. After all, there are no “anonymous donors” on Twitter.


Finding that great article, YouTube video, or funny picture is exciting enough, but when you get credit for sharing it and starting the viral spread of such amazing stuff in the Twitterverse, well it just feels good.

It’s the Jukebox Hero Theory of Social Media: I didn’t write the song that I just selected on the jukebox, but I’m damn proud when it comes on and people are singing along and thinking “Oh! I love that song!”

Well Twitter People, that song was my selection.  Of all the other songs I could have played, I chose that one. It’s awesome. I found it.  And I shared it with you.  You’re welcome.

By the way, there is no such thing as the Jukebox Hero Theory of Social Media – I just made it up.  But as it turns out, there is some research behind the concept of how helping people makes you feel good.  According to Allan Luks and Peggy Payne it’s called the Helper’s High, “a feeling of exhilaration and a burst of energy similar to that experienced after intense exercise, followed by a period of calmness and serenity.”  They discuss it in their book, The Healing Power of Doing Good.

So, why else do you Tweet?

You can buy that really cool t-shirt on Zazzle.  It’s not mine and I have no financial interest in it.  I just think it’s cool.  Plus I wanted to get credit for letting you all know about it.  Because it makes me feel good.

LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms

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