Plus Ça Change, ….

Incremental change, disruption, new approaches, … we’ve talked about these issues for a long time. A long time! I plunged into the legal KM “pool” at the turn of the century, and it seems that, 16 years on, we’re still talking about many of the same issues. Granted, there are differences now, one of the most notable being that there were no legal-specific search engines available at the time. But although such search engines are available, their high all-in cost is such that, even now, only the larger firms and in-house departments have them available.

Recently, I attended a meeting of legal KM professionals where the focus was on the integration of KM and business development. It struck me that many of the issues that currently challenge our colleagues are the same ones that we faced back at what now seems like the dawn of time.

Several of the people who think most deeply about these issues, including, notably, Jordan Furlong, Ron Friedmann, and Noah Waisberg, have recently written on the topic of change that is occurring (mainly) in law firms (Why law firms should focus on adaptation, not disruption, Disruption? More Like Incremental Change for Big Law (Perspective), and Will IBM’s Watson transform contract review and law practice?, respectively.) Another related article of interest, in addition to one on Ron’s blog entitled Do Large Law Firms Have to Start from Scratch to Automate?, is Half of GC Expect AI Impact in 5 Years, on the interestingly named site

Jordan Furlong, among other things, identifies a number of law firms, and alternative service providers, that are taking innovative steps to deal with the changing landscape. Ron Friedmann writes very perceptively (as usual) on how disruption actually works and how disruptive forces are currently playing out in the legal space. And Noah Waisberg focuses specifically on IBM Watson and whether it will prove to be the one true way, like the gourd (or the shoe?) in The Life of Brian.

Jordan points out that, while there have been early adopters of innovative approaches in law, such as, first, the computer and then email, the market has not rewarded them or punished the late adopters. Change in law firms continues to be glacially slow, and clients do not seem to be pushing change as much as one might expect.

I’m reminded that the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) launched the “Law 202 Initiative,” which it describes as follows: “In 2010, ILTA launched its multi-year, multi-platform initiative that explores the sea change taking place in law firms.” I thought at the time that we were entering upon an exciting phase of significant change in Law Land, where we would expect significant upheavals… and yet not much has really changed. We’re now much closer to that 2020 date than when the ILTA initiative was launched, but it strikes me that the innovations that can be identified today by these authors may end up changing things little more than computers and email did.

So, in the meantime, it seems to me that it’s long overdue for us to try and really address the bread and butter issues that we were struggling with back in 2000, such as precedents, knowledge sharing, and the integration of KM with Marketing and BD. If we could figure out those basic ones, then we would probably have a good start on addressing the other, more complex ones.


  1. I suppose it’s not all that surprising that Law Land has not experienced a sea change. I suppose if technology turns out to be a tsunami, that could be different.