Absorbtive capacity is much discussed in the management literature, as well as in the Acad. Mgt. Rev., Dec. 2005, at 999. Absorbtive capacity “Refers to the ability of organizations and their units to recognize new external knowledge, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends.”
For a law department, it refers to how easily its personnel spot ideas from conferences, articles, consultants, or its own efforts and then makes use of them. Is the department a sponge for new ideas or a raincoat that sheds new ideas?
“The ability of units to absorb new external knowledge depends on the levels of prior related knowledge.” This suggests to me yet another advantage of larger law departments: there are more hooks of familiarity to attach onto new ideas and help them grow. For example, a larger department may have a newsletter or a wiki. It is more likely to have cross-functional work teams and may hold learning conferences for its internal staff and external counsel. More of its members may belong to external groups or professional networks.
Knowledge management tools and activities, in other words, help a law department absorb new external knowledge and size enables both the activities and accumulation of prior ideas. The definition may be easy to grasp but to measure it poses enormous problems.