I have spent the last two days at the ARK Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession conference in Midtown Manhattan.  It was a very good conference, as usual.  I very much enjoyed listening to and meeting with many brilliant and fascinating people to talk about KM in legal.  However, after this conference I have come to one inescapable conclusion.  Knowledge Management does not exist in the Legal Profession.

Now, before everyone I met tears up my business card, un-invites me from their LinkedIn network, and crosses me off their holiday party lists, let me clarify.  KM clearly exists, but I am no longer sure that it is A thing. The sessions were all over the map, touching on nearly every aspect of the practice of law.  We had a couple of master classes on the “new normal” business environment, we had an introduction to Lean, a CIO roundtable, discussions about change management and practice innovation, and a talk about what’s happening in law schools and how what we do affects them and vice versa.  There were a couple of people yammering on about Social Networking, some freak was showing slides of dissected brains, and this one guy was completely obsessed with pricing.  (It was like, ALL he could talk about. Leverage this. Utilization that. I was like, “Dude, enough already, go get your own conference!”)

I am pretty sure the words “forms and precedents” were only uttered once, in passing, on the first day, but I’m a little deaf and they may have actually said “worms for presidents”. (Although, that makes even less sense now that I’ve actually written it down, than it did in my head.) My point is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find anything in the legal profession that you can point to and say with any certainty, “THAT is NOT, in any way, shape, or form, KM related.”

I was reminded of the old story/myth/parable of a philosophy professor standing in front of his class with a large glass jar.  He fills the jar with golf balls and asks the class if the jar is full.  When they all agree it is, he pulls out a bag of pebbles or marbles and dumps them in the jar too.  He asks again, the students again agree it is now full, and he pulls out a bag of sand and repeats the process. After the students declare the jar finally, absolutely, 100% full, he opens a couple of beers and pours them in the jar. His point is something about filling up your life in the right order.  Maybe you should focus on golf balls, before beer?  (Questionable philosophy at best.)   But if we imagine the jar is a law firm and the golf balls are all of the people in the firm and the things that they do, then KM is the marbles, the sand, and the beer.  KM is expanding, branching out, and filling up all of the empty spaces in firms.  I think my new definition for Legal KM might be, “All of the things for which responsibility is not otherwise immediately clear, plus all the things that marketing doesn’t want to do.”

Which brings me to an open question for my fellow KMers: If you were building a taxonomy for your firm, would you put Marbles, Sand, and Beer beneath Knowledge Management, or would they each be their own top level categories?

Photo of Ryan McClead Ryan McClead

Ryan is Principal at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy specializing in innovation strategy and cross-platform solutions and support.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for more than 15 years. In 2015, he was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, he was an Innovation Architect, Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, a Fashion Merchandiser, and Theater Composer, among other things.