As the practice of law evolves, law firms grow, and client demands change, it has become evident that the need for firms to manage the intellectual capital within their organizations has become imperative. Law librarians have been working in knowledge management (KM) through organization of both internal and external knowledge for years. It follows that the library would be the department within the firm to take on the responsibility of managing that intellectual capital through KM.
The law firm library has become the center for knowledge management within the organization. Library staff work with practice groups to facilitate the sharing of knowledge within and among the groups. Besides working with the groups to develop non-technical initiatives, the staff also works on developing technologically driven systems that allow knowledge sharing. These systems are web based and accessed via the firm's intranet. In this scenario, the library moves beyond the boundaries of what a library is defined as today and operates as a leader within the organization in support of the practices.
Implications/strategies for library areas
- Facilities (See the "all electronic library" scenario for additional information regarding facilities.)
Space is needed for additional staff members who are dedicated to KM. The facilities include offices that allow KM staff and librarians to meet with individuals and small groups for planning sessions. KM initiatives also require state of the art computers and a network with high speed Internet access.
Content for KM initiatives includes the following:
- Information stored in databases throughout the firm (Outlook, Elite, Interaction, HR database, etc.) that, when put in context via the firm's intranet, become knowledge.
- Databases that are created specifically to contain knowledge (i.e., Research database that tracks reference/research requests).
- Prior work product stored in the firm's document management system.
- External information resources used to develop knowledge regarding clients, legal issues, etc. These services can be primary or secondary legal resources, news resources, public records, etc.
Additional staffing is generally needed to support KM initiatives. This staff is knowledgeable about the practice of law and the technology used to manage knowledge. The staffing may be different depending on the size of the firm and the KM initiatives being undertaken by the firm and may be outsourced depending on need. Skills needed by library staff or provided through partnering with other departments within the firm or by outsourcing include:
- The ability to lead the firm in the visioning process that needs to take place in order to move forward with KM. It requires high leadership aptitude with a high degree of skill in communication, problem solving, change management and negotiation/collaboration.
- The technical skills needed to develop resources/systems for knowledge sharing. Since the intranet is the central resource for KM in the firm, technical skills are necessary for the development process of the various systems that come out of the KM initiatives. Along with technical skills, skill in communication, project management, and systems thinking are also required.
- The ability to lead in the evaluation, implementation and training of electronic resources. The skill in evaluation of user interfaces and content, along with experience in training and performing research are also required.
- The ability to act as KM consultant during KM initiatives as well as provide services as research librarians, trainers, and content/collection developers.
o A full understanding of the firm's practices and the support needed within each practice area.
The services consist of individual KM initiatives that result in database systems/online collections available via the intranet/extranet that are managed by library staff. Examples of such collections include:
- Attorney work product retrieval system
- Attorney expertise system
- Expert witness database
- Judges biographical database
- Local counsel database
- Client/matter resource
- Intranet practice group page
- Intranet research page
- Current awareness service
- CLE support
The library as knowledge center requires library staff to develop skills in several areas. Besides the need to stay current in their specific areas of expertise, they include leadership, communication, negotiation, change management, marketing, content evaluation, user interface evaluation, technical know-how (networks, web-coding, portals, etc.), and training adult users.
Knowledge management is expensive. Besides the increase in staffing costs, expect the following in the way of costs:
- The cost of space for additional staff.
- The cost of lawyer time as they work on non-billable KM initiatives.
- The expense of KM software as needed.
At the same time, the firm should realize cost savings as attorneys and staff use the resources developed to provide client support.
- Increases access to the firm's intellectual capital
- Increases the effectiveness of the individual practice groups
- Enhances consistency and quality of service to the firm's clients
- Increases requirements for new technology tools
- Increases cost of total operation
- Higher salaried staff
- Electronic materials more expensive
- New technology tools come with cost
- The library staff may not have the credibility needed to implement a successful KM initiative if they do not have a law degree.
- Requires champion who may not be present within the firm.
- Strengthen relationships with attorney practice areas
- Increase technical proficiency
- Develop communication and marketing skills
- Develop expertise in particular practice areas
- The information professional is seen as a leader within the organization.
- Provides recognition opportunity.
- Chances of failure are high if the firm's leaders do not support
- There may be competition for control within administrative departments and/or practice groups.