I have to tell you that coming away from the ARK conference on Knowledge Management, I was a little disappointed with the direction that many of the law firms are taking with the idea of Knowledge Management (KM). Some of the presenters were showing products that were very “flashy” and useful, but weren’t really what I would consider “KM” resources.

Many of them were “Client Services” products… or were fancy dashboards attached to accounting or time and billing resources, but not really what I would think of when it came to capturing “knowledge” at a firm. Don’t get me wrong, these projects were very cool, they were very useful for getting information in the hands of clients or attorneys, but to call them knowledge management resources would be stretching the truth a little bit because they didn’t really capture and reuse existing firm knowledge in the traditional meaning of knowledge management.

The biggest problem with KM in a law firm seems to be the fact that those creating the knowledge (aka attorneys) either have to actively participate in the KM process, or allow for some type of automation in the KM process. Unfortunately, the attorneys seem to neither want to actively participate, nor do they want their information/knowledge to be automatically captured. This makes for a tough position for KM to be in.

There were two comments that caught my attention, and made me wonder if KM just needs to be scrapped at law firms altogether.

  1. When asked about “who” creates the documentation behind a firm’s model documents resource, the answer was that this would be a good opportunity for those in KM who were former practicing attorneys. (Translated: “You’ll need to have someone in KM do this, because no one else in the firm will.”)
  2. When discussing how the library can be advocates for KM in promoting the internal resources developed by KM groups in capturing firm knowledge, one of the members of the audience said that if he discussed these products to the partners in his firm, he’d be fired because no one is interested in this type of Knowledge Management resources.

As long as you have a cool dashboard to present information from third-party systems, and can tap internal financial or time and billing software, then you have a successful KM tool. If your dashboard requires anyone to actively participate, or give permission to automatically capture information being created by individuals within your firm, then abandon that project immediately. You’re only setting yourself up to fail.

The entire conference seemed to be about keeping KM relevant, by expanding the definition of KM and taking it in the direction of Law Practice Management, or Alternative Fees, Accounting and Financial Interfaces, or Client Development Resources. All noble things for a law firm to do… but again, completely outside the scope of what KM was meant to bring to the firm. As Mary Abraham put it in a tweet:

“Why is #KM obsessed with PM? Because desperate knowledge managers are searching for a raison d’être.”

As you can probably tell, I am a little depressed after hearing everyone basically say that in order to stay relevant, you need to abandon most of your objectives and principles and turn KM into something else. I’m hoping that I’m wrong.