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Knowledge Management in Law Firm Libraries

There are a number of articles about how libraries can be part of law firm-wide Knowledge Management projects and initiatives. Ted Tjaden has written a particularly good article on the subject: “The Evolution of Law-Related Knowledge Management in North America – Opportunities for Law Librarians”. However there is very little literature out there on how law libraries can use knowledge management processes within the library.

Private law libraries tend to be small, so they may not feel the need to have a formal KM program. That said, most law libraries are already practicing some sort of informal KM, even if it is as simple as asking the other members of staff “so what were you working on today?”

The aim of KM in a law firm library should mirror the aims of the law firm: to maximize the quality and efficiency of the service provided to the firm’s clients. One important goal of KM is to reduce the amount of time spent repeating work or locating information that should be easily available. Fortunately for librarians, they are naturally predisposed towards organizing information so it is easily found.

Figuring out what information needs to be shared among the library staff members is probably the biggest challenge. Useful information is often either the information that staff members assume that everyone already knows, or the information that they cannot imagine anyone needing to know.

Law libraries do not need to use specialised software to manage their KM needs; existing software can be used for library knowledge management initiatives. Possible tools include wikis, Sharepoint, and existing library software. If the law firm has a document management system, the library should take full advantage of it, rather than having important documents stored on a single person’s computer. Keeping documents on the DMS means that they are automatically backed up and can easily be shared with other people.

Knowledge management initiatives that can be of use in a law firm library include:

  • Policy and procedure manuals. Manuals help with training new staff and getting staff back up to speed after leaves. (From personal experience, the procedure manual I wrote for my maternity leave replacement was incredibly helpful to me when I returned from a year’s leave.) These manuals should be revised on a regular basis with new hires being encouraged to add information and make suggestions. Codifying these procedures can be a useful exercise in itself, as it forces you to consider whether the current system is the best way of doing something.

  • Frequently asked questions.

  • Lists of contact people (along with helpful notations such as “person X is an expert in the area of Y”). These may be vendors, subject experts, or helpful contacts in government and other organizations.

  • Lists of passwords. Even if the password is for a database or service that is used by only one person, it is good to have it in a central location. This is helpful not only if the password holder leaves the firm or is incapacitated, but also as an easy way for a library staff member to determine if the organization has access to a particular resource.

  •  Database of reference questions. These allow for continuity with reference questions. In my library we have had reference questions that took months to answer; if staff members were away during that time, making sure information on a in-progress question was shared allowed other members of the library to work on the question for seamless service.

  • Bibliographies. These can include a bibliography created as an answer to a reference question or one created by a library staff member as a pathfinder to help with research.

All of these tools should be kept in a central location where they can be easily accessed and updated by library staff.

External users can also benefit from library-based knowledge management initiatives. For example, the library can take the information it has stored on answered reference questions and turn it into a client-side database. The Courthouse Libraries BC has done this with their excellent Asked and Answered which the they “originally developed as a private tool for Courthouse Library staff.”

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Comments

  1. anjali dandekar

    What a great article, Susannah. Thank you so much for your useful tips like FAQs, policies & procedures manuals, lost of key contacts, etc.

    Ted Tjaden’s article is excellent, I liked his suggestion of 7 faces of legal knowledge management and its relationship with law librarians. I agree with his pointers towards law librarians getting involved in law related KM activities beyond the traditional library and legal researcher roles.

    I also liked the concept of ‘the aim of KM in a law firm library should mirror the aims of the law firm’.
    I always find the BC Courthouse Libraries Asked and Answered database – very useful and informative. It helps to pay a visit to this treasure trove of collection of tricky legal questions. Especially the answers about Charitable Use Act, Reconstituted Debates, Thin skull & crumbling skull cases, etc. Thank you

  2. Kristin Hodgins

    While going through your list of library KM initiatives, I was surprised and pleased to discover that my library already does most of these things, even if we don’t refer to it as knowledge management (but we should). I have been focusing lately on developing KM tools and processes for lawyers and legal information and as a result have developed tunnel vision when it comes to KM. It’s important that law libraries position themselves as not only stewards of KM but also as generators of KM content as well.

    I would add that while the title of this article refers specifically to law firm libraries, the information contained within it is certainly applicable to other law and special libraries as well.