Jason Marty, the Global Director of Knowledge Management at Baker & McKenzie, spoke at KM Chicago on legal knowledge management and the KM efforts at Baker & McKenzie, one of the world's largest law firms. Jason didn't dive into the details of any one KM project, rather he spoke about how Baker & McKenzie has approached knowledge management in light of the legal environment and Baker's business drivers.
The best take away from Jason's talk was the internal standard that "knowledge is meant to be shared." After describing some of the typical concerns for knowledge management within the legal environment and some of the challenges that Baker & McKenzie have experienced, this simple statement changes the conversation about what knowledge management efforts need to do.
Another take-away from Jason's talk was that in their KM efforts, they rely on professional responsibility imbued in lawyers from their early days in law school. Lawyers are expected to take everything with a personal responsibility for their actions (professional responsibility), so while control and permissions are critical, the KM systems are not overly-complicated by access control lists. I am frequently disappointed when KM implementations get bogged down by the need to prevent people from naively or maliciously using the wrong content. The approach that Jason described leaves that layer of defense to the people actually using the content.
The remainder of this article discusses Jason's perspectives on the legal knowledge management environment and on more specifics associated with Baker & McKenzie's knowledge management program.
Setting the scene for legal km in general, Jason juxtaposed what he perceives as being important to legal km and corporate km. At the top of the legal km perspective is precedent or models. When exploring new matters, lawyers need to find a basis in the law and practice of how things have been done in the past, and from there make decisions about how to pursue the new matter. The next-most important thing in the legal world is work product or opinions that have been rendered. The next components for legal km are expertise and how to. (Process has to be in this list because it should not be forgotten, it is just not quite as important as in the corporate world.)
In the corporate world, Jason suggested that the order of importance looks something like how to (process), what has (history), where (location), and who (community). He also acknowledge that this might be an extreme. For example, professional services firms might be more closely aligned to some of the legal km needs. I'm glad Jason highlighted these differences, and I expect that every company is going to have a different perspective on what is important to their KM efforts. This goes back to something I learned a while back: the organization is the consumer of KM, so the effort needs to focus on what is important to the organization.
Also with respect to the general legal community, Jason described typical opportunities for and barrier against knowledge management in the legal environment. On the positive side, particularly in the law, knowledge management of some form has been happening for a very long time. Very few attorneys draft their opinions and documents completely from scratch - they have been using and reusing precedent and previous work product. Traditionally, however, this has been a more manual approach, so there are opportunities for technological and systematic help. There is demand from clients to offer legal services more efficiently and consistently, just like service consolidation elsewhere in the corporate world. This is highlighted by the well-known DuPont Legal Model. Large law firms have some of the same aspects of other large companies: distributed teams, specialties, recognized experts.
On the other side of the opportunity / barrier fence are the aspects that can get in the way of KM, if they are not handled well. The biggest cultural aspect is that lawyers have traditionally operated in a solo-practitioner mindset, even when they are part of a huge firm. This suggests an extreme version of "not invented here" syndrome, where the practice of law is regarded as an art and cannot be "automated." This is why the "knowledge is meant to be shared" standard is so critical. Even if you are the firm's expert on a topic, you should at the least understand that other people in the firm will need access to your work product. Another important barrier is the fact that a global firm operates in dozens of jurisdictions and with clients who compete with one another. It is not appropriate for firms in this situation to share everything. Baker & McKenzie's response to this from a KM perspective is to focus on projects that apply to multiple jurisdictions or practice groups.
Baker & McKenzie's formal Global KM efforts started in 2001, though as is the nature of large firms, there are some areas of the organization that have been doing KM activities for ten or fifteen years. After learning what to do (and what not to do) for KM in the legal environment, the Baker KM efforts are supported at the highest levels of the organization, and Jason Marty reports to the chief operating officer of the firm. The KM program is aligned primarily with their global practice groups (expertise areas), as they believe these are the areas where KM will have the biggest impact on the company overall.
The Baker KM program currently comprises a set of policies that describe what KM does and doesn't do for the organization. Primarily, these point KM in the direction of providing support to the global practice groups and major business initiatives. They want to avoid the problem of attempting to solve local problems (limited-scope problems) with their limited resources. The other component of the KM program is the accountability aspect: how to judge and measure the success of the KM effort in terms that make sense to Baker & McKenzie. Part of accountability includes incorporation of KM-related metrics into office, practice group and personal goals. Interestingly, Jason mentioned his own accountability metric: If I'm expecting the lawyers to use KM tools, I had better be using them myself.
Jason discussed two deeper examples of where KM is being used within the firm. The first is the global practice library, which is essentially their best practices / content library that acts as the premium content library for the firm. As discussed in their scope and standards, this project evolved from one of their global practice groups into a system that is useful for all the practice groups. The second example is their training capture project. While the KM group isn't the training organization, they have developed mechanisms for archiving training documents, videos and lessons learned, so that when training is offered within the company, people can benefit from past examples and experience.
[Note: Jason previewed these comments and suggested made a few small changes, which I made.]