Comments From Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Modern Law Firm

I am attending the Ark Group conference entitled Knowledge Management in the Modern Law Firm (in Chicago – cold and windy but a great city).

On day 1 (Monday), there were a number of key points I took away, including:

1) Strategic planning: a number of presentations discussed the need to ensure that your knowledge management (KM) initiatives are aligned with the firm’s strategic goals and directly support those goals. Examples were given where user feedback (e.g., “What is it that makes your work more difficult?” and “What is it that can make your work more efficient?”) from firm members helped to shape KM projects to better solve user’s “pain points” and ensure that the projects would have impact (see here for Mary Abraham’s post on this topic).

Most attendees thought that the recessionary climate would challenge knowledge managers, given that most firms will be watching their costs. There will therefore likely be greater need to justify spending on projects to show they will either increase profits, meet client need’s, reduce risk or raise the firm’s profile.

2) Enterprise search: Most firms acknowledged that their users were frustrated with the difficulty of finding documents within their own document management systems. Discussion over enterprise search and “smart” search was touched upon by a number of speakers (think West KM, LexisNexis’s Total Search, Recommind and Interwoven Universal Search). Although many firms still try to create separate databases or libraries of their valued-added documents (model and precedent agreements and research and other work product) and add controlled language descriptors to those documents, the growing volume of documents to be managed makes this more and more difficult. Therefore expect to wider adoption of smart search to use technology to help find documents (include auto-tagging or auto-profiling) and less manual processing of documents.

[I was surprised by the number of large firms that were not yet “matter-centric” (in organizing their document management systems by client and matter) or that did not have standard sub-folder structures across all matters].

3) Convergence: The word “convergence” was used throughout the day to describe the growing inter-relationship between KM and other administrative and practice areas within a firm, including the intersection between KM and IT, library/research, marketing (RFPs and Business Intelligence), professional development and training, and practice group support. A number of the larger US firms present had people in a CIO role that helped to ensure coordination and effective “cross-pollination” of ideas and initiatives. Regardless, “communication” between departments was an important element to make KM projects more effective.

4) Litigation KM: There was a fair bit of discussion on litigation KM and whether it differed from transaction business law KM. Although litigation files do involve unique facts, most firms are organizing litigation precedents so that (particularly more junior) lawyers can get a sense of what certain types of court documents look like, even if the factual or legal issues are different. There was a fairly wide range of practice on handling litigation precedents, from fairly heavy vetting and application of taxonomies to a “document dump” approach that left it to the user to determine relevancy or applicability. Regardless, firm’s with good litigation precedent databases found that tapping into “workflow” to capture precedents was key, along with getting the cooperation of litigation paralegals and assistants.


  1. Thanks for the mention, Ted. If your readers are interested in thinking further about strategic KM, I’d direct them to a thoughtful paper produced by the Queens University Business School several years ago: Creating a Knowledge Strategy for your Organization. In honor of Canada Day 2008(and the virtues of Canadian content) I summarized its key points in my blog post, Is Your Knowledge Management Strategic?

    – Mary