Bylined article by Knowledge Management Resources Lead Jordan Galvin and Global Director of Knowledge Management Philip Bryce.

With thousands of lawyers and dozens of practice groups spread among multiple jurisdictions around the globe, devising more than just point solutions can feel daunting for global firms. This is why knowledge management (KM) teams are essential to meet firms’ innovation goals.

Much has been written about the legal industry’s efforts to provide greater value to clients at a lower cost. But the special challenges that large, global law firms face when implementing this innovation mandate are often overlooked. Increasingly savvy clients want their firms to leverage meaningful data, streamline their workflows, and provide greater clarity and reliability on pricing. Doing so requires outside counsel to properly collect and store data, standardize work product to the extent practical, automate where possible, and develop holistic solutions that meet the aforementioned goals and promote client collaboration.

With thousands of lawyers and dozens of practice groups spread among multiple jurisdictions around the globe, devising more than just point solutions can feel daunting for global firms. What’s more, most lawyers don’t have the bandwidth to focus on innovation. And most IT professionals—if they are not lawyers themselves—are not familiar enough with lawyer and client needs to design solutions without heavy lawyer involvement. This is why knowledge management (KM) teams are essential to meet firms’ innovation goals.

KM serves as the bridge between practicing attorneys, business services teams and IT. Because many KM professionals are lawyers themselves, they have a level of subject matter expertise that allows them to relate to practicing lawyers, anticipate their needs, and communicate the value of products and initiatives. KM professionals also share an understanding of, and adaptability to, new technology, and can help the firm make wise investments by advising which tools will serve real business needs. As a liaison, a KM team solves several innovation struggles within large law firms.

Problem #3: Bridging the Gap Between Lawyers and IT

Lawyers and IT professionals often communicate as though they do not speak the same language. This often means too much time spent getting projects off the ground, frustration on both sides, and solutions that may not address the whole (or the actual) problem. KM professionals can close this divide by understanding the ways in which lawyers work and translating their needs into technology requirements. The KM team can also act as an intermediary between the development teams and the lawyers after implementation, ensuring that developers learn how the lawyers use the solutions, what issues they have, and where there may be opportunities for improvements.

Because KM and IT teams are often reliant on one another for the success of their projects, it is important to cultivate a good relationship between the two groups. Even if KM and IT work under separate leadership, they need to treat each other as though they are all on the same team.

Problem #4: Responding to Clients

The beginning of this article mentioned that the innovation mandate was client-driven. And it’s with the client that we find KM’s fourth major contribution to a firm’s innovation initiatives. When a client asks its outside counsel what they are doing to promote quality and efficiency and reduce costs, the KM team can be a valuable partner in responding to these inquiries. 

However, recent years have seen the client-KM relationship go beyond requests for information and toward collaboration that leverages both sides of the client-law firm boundary. One way KM at a large firm might work with clients is by providing KM as a service. By sharing its thought processes and projects, a law firm’s KM team can essentially serve in the KM role within a corporate law department. Additionally, just as KM devises means of sharing and centralizing content and communication within a law firm, it can do the same for communication and content between the firm and the client.

A great way to find opportunities for KM-client collaboration is by attending the many knowledge management or legal operations conferences held each year. These conferences—such as CLOC or ARK KM—are usually well-attended by clients who have a keen interest in innovative KM solutions. Moreover, the laid-back atmosphere at conferences lends itself to really getting to know the client, what their pain points are, and how KM can help create desired solutions. 

Innovative legal service delivery can be especially tricky to get right at a large, global firm. Such firms operate in multiple jurisdictions, comprise thousands of employees, and must meet lofty expectations of countless clients. A KM function is the string that ties together the needs of disparate regions and practices, weaving in technology and efficiency initiatives where appropriate.

Jordan Galvin is a US-qualified lawyer and serves as the Knowledge Management Resources Lead for Mayer Brown. She is passionate about empirically evaluating legal services and delivery mechanisms, and collaborating across teams to create scalable solutions. 

Philip Bryce first became a full-time knowledge management lawyer at a major US based law firm in 1999, putting him among the first wave of US law-firm KM leaders.  Since 2015, he has been the Global Director of Knowledge Management at Mayer Brown. He received his undergraduate degree from Tufts University and his law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law. He served as a law clerk for the late Hon. T.F. Gilroy Daly in the District of Connecticut and as a practicing litigation associate with a large law firm before moving into a full-time KM role.


Reprinted with permission from the June 29, 2020 edition of Legaltech News © 2020 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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