Last week I was able to meet with Dan Ranta. Dan is the KM guy for ConocoPhillips. I had seen him give a presentation on KM in the energy industry and followed up with a personal contact. As a result I spent some time at his shop, picking his brain, seeing his stuff and learning a ton about KM.

The bottom line here is that KM in the energy industry (and many others) is light-years ahead of legal KM. Dan has been into KM for over a decade and driving ConocoPhillips KM for going on five years. Where legal KM is in its infancy at best, Dan’s KM project is well beyond mature.

Some thoughts about where Dan is and how legal KM can benefit from his experience.

1) KM is KM. An interesting observation is that oil companies can be viewed as professional services firms (engineers to be specific). Their KM needs are the same as legal’s. They have professionals who store tacit knowledge in their heads and need to share and catalog this knowledge.

2) The billable hour sucks (again). Dan’s team has cataloged $1.5 billion in savings this year (and it’s only October). Their KM team takes stories submitted and confirms the cost savings of specific knowledge sharing. If an engineer in Alaska discovers a method for cutting production costs by modifying a design, the sharing of this knowledge across the network replicates that savings across the organization. Law firms will struggle with this concept, as ‘savings’ means less time to complete legal work, which means lower billables and revenue. A key piece of Dan’s system is compensation rewards for those who save the company money. Law firms will actually benefit from more efficient work processes, but since the efficiencies benefit clients and are not rewarded via compensation, law firms will struggle to drive this type of knowledge sharing and change.

3) Culture always wins. Dan had a great slide showing the Pacman of culture devouring the Dot of strategy. A point well made. Pushing a great KM tool in a lawyer’s face won’t change the way the lawyer works. For Legal KM to succeed, it must find a way to work within the culture of firms, which also means the billable hour.

4) Dan pointed me to a great resource. Although ILTA puts on a great show, next year I’ll be attending the APQC conference instead. This show is about our clients’ KM. And it’s KM a number of steps ahead of where legal is. To borrow a phrase from the recent Iron Man movie, “Sometimes you’ve got to run before you walk.”

Kudos to Dan for sharing his programs and ideas.