I had the honor of presenting to at the Texas Library Association Conference here in Houston today. The topic was on Library and Knowledge Management’s collaborative roles within a firm, and how they can work together to bring in better processes, automate certain manual procedures, and add analyze data in a way that makes it (and as a result, KM and Library) more valuable.

Below are the thoughts I wrote down to discuss six questions. These questions were raised at the ARK KM meeting earlier this year and, although the audience was substantially different, I thought it would be a good reference point to cover what is expected of us, and how we can contribute to the operations of the firm in unexpected ways. Thanks to Sean Luman for stepping in and co-presenting with me after Toby suddenly had a conflict.

[Note: Click here to see the Prezi that went along with the presentation.]

How Do We Assist the Firm In Using the Knowledge Base?
Law firms collect enormous amounts of information every day. Much of this information sits in databases, shared drives, email, Document Management Systems (DMS), Client Relationship Management Tools (CRM), and other repositories. Some of it is valuable, but much of it is not. So when we ask about the Knowledge Base, we really need to ask ourselves:
1. How do we make it easy to put good data in?
2. How do we make it easy to pull good data out?

How Do We Assist Our Attorneys in Doing the Same Work More Efficiently?
If you ask most lawyers how they work, they will talk about how they are the expert in “X” field and that nearly everything they do is original or “customized” work. That the client’s needs are so unique, that it takes their expertise to understand it and make it happen. On the other hand, if you ask the client what their lawyers do (and remember, many of them worked at law firms before going in-house), they would say that a lawyer pulls out an old document, or a standard form and changes the name of the old client and inserts theirs. Then bills them for four hours of work at $800.00 an hour. Although there is some cases where the work is truly unique and customized, most work in law firms is repetitive legal work. Although clients have let firms slide for years on the “customized” vs. “commoditized” work, many clients are now pushing back on their lawyers and demanding that they work more efficiently, and if they don’t, the client demands for the lawyers to “write-off” the portion of the bills that they think comes from inefficient processes.

This is a golden opportunity for KM and Library to step up and help. It’s not a new concept. Libraries and KM have been attempting to bring efficiencies into law firms for 20+ years. However, the billable hour model did not support the concepts of streamlining processes, creating clause libraries and Best Practices Documents, or creating checklists to make the work go faster and smoother. Most lawyers (although they would not publicly admit to it) would think that thinking of their work as commoditized work was beneath them, and that all the work they did was customized, therefore, streamlining wasn’t an option. Richard Susskind has a book on this topic and has spent the last four years traveling around the world talking about how lawyers that continue to think this way will soon find themselves without clients.

How Does KM/Library Drive the Strategy for Legal Project Management?
Project Management is the big buzz word in law firms these days. Although many discuss it in different ways, it really boils down to the idea that all of the work performed is done so by the appropriate people and or technology. Work should be pushed down to the most effective/efficient level. KM and Library have a role to play in Project Management because there are many jobs that the firm has to do that the library could take on, or that KM could automate. Whether it is called Six Sigma or Lean Sigma, Legal Process Management, or Alternative Fee Arrangements, all of these ideas mean that all work performed on a matter is performed at the appropriate level (no Partners doing Associate work, etc.) and that the work is performed at the right time, and in the right order. Librarians and KM workers that understand and step up to take a seat in this process will find themselves to be a very valuable piece of the overall project.

How Do We Provide the Best Information for Business Development & Legal Practice?
Since 2008, the push in law firms has been to cut overhead. Although firms are still watching the bottom line in 2012, there is a new focus on how to develop new business and start increasing revenues. KM and Library is strategically position to assist business development projects because these groups sit right in the middle of a wealth of internal and external information. Biz Dev looks for opportunities in Lateral hiring, Cross-Selling to Existing Clients, Attracting Clients Away From Other Firms, and Being Ready for Alternative Fee Deals when they come around. Library/KM helps strategically position the firm for these opportunities by finding methods of identifying prospects and working on processes that push the key information into the right hands at the right time. The two pieces that KM/Library can be most effective is in the areas of Automation and Analysis.

How Do We Partner With Other Departments to Provide Insight regarding Our Clients and Potential Business Opportunities?
The “Administrative” side of the law firm (Marketing, IT, Biz Dev, Practice Development, Professional Development, etc.) has a very important role to play in the new environment of the law firm. Not only do they need to make sure that the law firm runs smoothly, but they also need to look at ways of increasing potential opportunities.

Marketing, for example, is constantly needing information about what our clients are doing, down to the individuals within our clients’ companies. They are also charged with keeping our attorneys well prepared, usually at a moment’s notice to discuss what is going on with the client, and any potential risks the client may currently be facing. Again, a perfect Library/KM opportunity to have a strategy that focuses on identifying external resources and internal knowledge in a way that creates an end product that can be assembled quickly and allows for quick analysis as the need arises. Portals and Enterprise Search tools are one of the biggest areas that Library and KM can offer to support these needs.

How Do We Do It All With Fewer Resources?
Library and KM (as well as any department in a law firm) is still feeling the pains of the recession. Less staff… less budget… fewer resources… all the “new normal” of law firm administration. Unfortunately, we can’t sit back and say “sorry, we can’t support that because you cut our budget.” It means that you have to think creatively about what it is that you are doing. It means getting rid of old projects and processes that either aren’t working, or aren’t worth the amount of effort that your having to put in. Again, think of the “push processes down to the lowest appropriate level” of work and determine if automation can be brought in for processes that are now manual processes. Can existing software do more than you are making it do? Can we remove duplicate work? Can we set up self-help systems that allow those seeking the information to go directly to that information? If you think that everything you do has to be customized, then just like the attorney, you will soon find yourself without clients, and without a job.