ILTA White Papers

Knowledge Management

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KM BRINGS VALUE TO AFAS a portal built on AMS Legal’s extranet that shares reports from Seyfarth’s matter management system about the status of matters and tasks. Many commentators on AFAs and the continuing attraction of the billable hour model consider trust between law firms and law departments a key issue. One of the benefits of an hourly bill is that a general counsel can rely on it as an accurate indication of the level of effort actually expended on the project. Sharing more and more timely information with the client about the status of matters, as these two firms are doing, is one way of increasing the client’s trust that the firm is handling the work properly. The American Lawyer reported in January that Winston & Strawn provides partners, via a dashboard, the status of expenditures and costs versus budget on their matters, with green, yellow and red light indicators providing increasing levels of warning. The firm’s Chief Operating Officer Scot Ferrell confirmed that their system, based on Microsoft Silverlight, displays on their firm intranet those matters and statuses specific to the partner viewing the dashboard. These three examples highlight potential portals have for internal and client-facing use. Their usability, low client-side requirements, and flexible display options make them powerful tools for sharing information. COLLABORATION Knowledge management departments are also leading efforts to ramp up collaboration with new Web-based tools. Applications such as wikis, blogs and discussion boards upend the traditional approach where specialized knowledge managers organize others’ content. Rather, they let the users add the structure and organization necessary for browsing or searching. Wikis and similar platforms hold user-added content but also serve as communication devices. Wikis are used at some firms to improve the efficiency and “refindability” of content across a department or practice. In effect this use is comparable to the knowledge collections mentioned above. Wikis and related tools have also been implemented as client service tools on matter teams, where they enhance efficiency and effectiveness by gathering and disseminating the collective wisdom of a team on matter-specific subjects. Because wikis are Web-based, and are continually updated to show the latest take on a particular issue, they often can be used to coordinate activities across offices and even between client and counsel, between different counsel, or between counsel and other service providers. CONCLUSION Even before AFAs became prominent, knowledge management, with its focus on the core product of our knowledge-based industry, had a significant role in law firms. So long as knowledge managers can clearly link their work to enhanced efficiency, effectiveness and, ultimately, profitability, that role can only be expected to increase. ILTA The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily of Goodwin Procter LLP. Knowledge Management 37

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