Welcome to a new series of posts about legal knowledge management, called KM 101. My goal is to provide a concise guide to KM topics — both in general and legal specific. Just as important, I hope that this will be a conversation. I welcome comments and encourage you to agree, disagree, and enhance the topics. All comments (other than spam) will be allowed.
What is Knowledge Management?
Let’s get right to it. KM is vast and far-reaching. There is no agreed-upon definition of KM, but there are some good ones out there. I prefer the plain-language definitions. Jargon is the enemy.
Legal KM: In Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer, Gretta Rusanow writes, “knowledge management is the leveraging of your firm’s collective wisdom by creating systems and processes to support and facilitate the identification, capture, dissemination and use of your firm’s knowledge to meet your business objectives.” It’s a little jargony, but I still like it.
KM in general: A pretty straight-forward definition of KM comes from Melissie Clemmons Rumizen in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management. Rumizen writes that KM “is the systematic process by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared, and leveraged.” Good, too.
Leverage: The word “leverage” is commonly used when describing KM (see above). I don’t like that word, but I guess it works. So, allow me to “leverage” the work of someone who has put some effort into identifying definitions of KM. Ray Sims of Sims Learning Connections wrote a piece called “43 knowledge management definitions – and counting…“. Here is a graphical representation, or word cloud, of the words used in Ray’s blog post. And Ray has completed an analysis of the compiled knowledge management definitions. It’s an interesting read.
It’s also interesting that people don’t even agree on the nature (i.e. “the what’) of KM. They initially describe it as:
- a process
- an activity
- an effort
- a method
- a system
- a tool
- a technology
- a strategy
- a framework
- a system
- a concept
- a philosophy
- an art
- a discipline
- a practice
- a set of principles
Some people avoid the “what” question all together by saying what KM is “about.” A common refrain is “KM is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time.” Also, “KM is about not reinventing the wheel.” KM is “about” many other things. We could go on and on, but we won’t.
One of my favorite summaries is that KM addresses: who we know, what we know, and how we do what we do. The “we,” of course, refers to the members of a law firm. I like this approach because it is (a) results-oriented, and (b) open-ended. It is not restricted to traditional KM ideas, like precedent repositories and contact lists. Rather, it opens up the aim of KM to all sorts of ways to solve the problems and challenges that a law firm experiences. Instead of asking “how do we re-use our work-product?” we may ask, “how can we practice more efficiently and effectively?” or “how can we provide better service to our clients?” or “how can we reduce costs and make more money?”
The bottom line is that KM is all these things, and more. The way KM is structured at different law firms varies greatly. For some, KM is hierarchically within the information technology department, or combined with the library, or loosely scattered around the firm, with KM attorneys in each practice group. For others, KM is an umbrella that covers areas like library services, professional development, practice support, etc. Almost always, KM works closely with law firm leaders — both lawyers and non-lawyer administrators.
Please join in the discussion. Leave a comment.
- How do you define knowledge management?
- How is knowledge management structured at your law firm or organization?
- What issues or ideas would you like to see addressed in future posts on KM 101?
Coming Soon in the KM 101 series:
KM 101: Tacit and Explicit Knowledge
LawyerKM :: Knowledge Management & Technology for Lawyers and Law Firms