5 ways to apply knowledge management tools to a strategic technology plan

Legal departments must identify ways in which they can classify, archive, mine and use the knowledge inherent within their systems

In last month’s article, I discussed how to apply risk management tools to a strategic technology plan. This month, I will discuss the final layer of technology planning: incorporating knowledge management (KM) tools to the plan. KM can have varied meaning among departments looking to incorporate the discipline. For many, simply identifying good content for re-use is sufficient. Other departments may seek to fully automate routine activities or build sophisticated systems to manage business decisions or processes.

In the context of a strategic technology plan, applying KM tools means identifying ways in which the department can classify, archive, mine and use the knowledge inherent within the department’s systems. This could entail making small configuration changes to the technology already within the plan. Or, the department may need to augment the current tool set with additional technologies.

Following are examples of how departments might choose to apply KM tools to a strategic technology plan:

1. Identification and classification. Providing a mechanism for staff to store, share and reuse work product is a near universal objective. Doing so mitigates the risk of losing historic work product and the knowledge inherent in that material if the author, for whatever reason, is no longer able to perform his work duties. Some departments ask their staff to flag work product they consider “exemplary.” One approach is to simply add a flag field to a storage system. A more advanced approach would be to use an auto-classification tool. The key objective is to provide a means to more easily locate relevant content when it is again needed.

2. Search and retrieval. Perhaps another “universal” truth is that there is no shortage of staff who feel they cannot easily locate content within and among the systems at their disposal. Not only do individuals struggle to locate material in a general “concept” search, but also individuals report that it can be difficult to find their own historic work product even when they know it exists “somewhere” in the system. Often, this concern may be addressed by training users how to take advantage of current systems’ search features. However, many departments are seeking to improve upon native search tools as well as to provide the elusive “Google-like” search across the entire set of the department’s systems. Federated and enterprise search tools are becoming more common among departments with large data and document volumes or with many dispersed systems.

3. Know who. “Know who” is a concept that broadly means empowering staff to be aware of who to contact (or hire or avoid—and so on) or to know more about a person who is relevant to an activity. A very common know-who approach is the traditional expert database. Departments often leverage their matter management system to store and track information about experts, judges and other professionals with whom they routinely interact. This concept is further extended when departments track information about historical interaction with contacts such as judges, regulators, arbitrators, opposing counsel and even claimants or opposing parties. Large departments with dispersed staffs also employ the know-who concept to help internal staff identify in-house experts. These types of systems, however, require the department to explicitly enter the relevant data. In recent years, the legal industry has seen the rise of tools that automatically mine staff members’ contact lists or even contact history (email) to identify “who knows who.” 

4. Know how. A know-how system, broadly, employs an individual’s or group’s knowledge about how to do something. The goal is to capture the expertise of the individual and provide it to another, thereby lessening the learning curve and/or avoiding the loss of the knowledge if the expert were to leave the organization. It is only possible to scratch the surface when discussing examples. For transactional practices, know-how about contracts may be captured within document templates, document assembly systems and clause banks. Many litigation practices employ know-how through systems that replicate lawyer thought processes such as early case assessment or other decision-tree applications. IP practices rely heavily on docketing software and calendar rules that apply extensive knowledge of expiration/due dates, court timelines and other filing or government agency processes and requirements. Many practice-specific systems contain know-how features that need only be turned on or configured. More sophisticated application of know-how, however, takes careful design and maintenance and may require dedicated tools.

5. Current awareness. Although many lawyers subscribe to newsletters, review industry or trade journals, monitor legislative and regulatory activity, or follow trusted bloggers, there is certainly more information available than most individuals have the time to follow. Current awareness tools help staff identify external information relevant to them in a timely and organized manner. One of the most popular approaches is to use news aggregators and RSS feeds to identify and organize relevant external content. Some departments, however, have taken the idea further; they store the content alongside summaries, opinions or analyses and may even use workflow tools to disseminate the information to other parts of the organization.

The possibilities to apply KM tools are vast. Although many KM tools are conceptually appealing, they do require care and feeding to maintain. As discussed in my earlier articles, tying the technology back to core department goals and objectives is critical. The department must identify what knowledge helps the department to achieve its objectives and right-size the tools accordingly. Applying an appropriate set of KM tools to department technologies will not only improve the return on investment in the system(s) themselves, but also will advance the department’s strategic objectives.

In next month’s article, I will conclude the series on strategic technology planning by discussing common pitfalls in the planning process.

Contributing Author

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Rebecca Thorkildsen

Rebecca Thorkildsen is a director of legal solutions with Pangea3. Leveraging more than 17 years of experience consulting to the legal industry on technology, management...

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