Articles Posted in Knowledge Mgt.

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Four general counsel who have had distinguished careers have come together through a law firm’s efforts as an advisory group. In January of this year, Rees Smith encouraged Carl Krasik, Lawrence Stein, William Mutterperl, and Michael Bleier to offer no0cost advice to any executive of a client of the firm. The article that describes this in Corp. Counsel, June 2011 at 18, explains that some of the questions members of the quartet have answered have to do with law department operations and management, such as outside counsel cost control.

This initiative of Reed Smith marks an innovation and a welcome addition to the wisdom of management. I wonder whether these experienced resources will continue to restrict their guidance to clients of the firm.

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Danette Galletin, the law department administrator at The Williams Companies, sketched at Mitratech’s Interact some things that department has done to accumulate and disseminate knowledge. One is to start a law department blog, which they use mostly to post communications to the group of 70 lawyers and 31 support staff. Another is the template library which contains best-practice forms that a group picked. Lawyers are not required to use the forms but they are a resource.

As a third tool Galletin added that the Williams law department hosts a wiki. The way she described it made it seem like an intranet site that anyone can add to fairly easily. It has all sorts of pages that have accumulated knowledge. Some are links to law firms the company uses; others to useful blogs; some have annotated agreements; a portion is devoted to Legal Aid; and others house all manner of nuts and bolts about how to do something.

Each page (subject) has a moderator and they use garden gnomes as a motif: everyone has to tend it for the knowledge garden to flourish. They thank solid contributors with a “Gnome of the Month” award. There’s no place like gnome!

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Every law department that tries to institute a knowledge management program thinks of department-wide efforts. “Let’s set up an intranet for the legal department!” “Let’s put in document management!” “Let’s create a memo repository!” Those across-the-board efforts almost always peter out, lead to spotty participation, and usually languish (See my post of May 19, 2011: collective action problems.)

If a department has several lawyers who handle similar problems, such as government contracts, that group will have a far better chance of implementing some kind of knowledge capture and dissemination. They have more reason to pitch in for the common good. What they collect is more tailored to their needs, and peer pressure operates more acutely (See my post of July 25, 2005: knowledge management and communities of practice; Sept. 10, 2005: practice groups and communities of interest; and Jan. 2, 2009: grass roots knowledge management.).

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Frank Fletcher, the general counsel of Nero AG whom I cited in a post a couple of days ago, wrote me. “We used MediaWiki, available at We have been happy with the software except on occasion links to documents have become corrupted.” That is useful background, and thank you, Frank.

Christian Liipfert added this in a comment on my post: “Marcus Stamm from Lucent, also in Germany, did a presentation at the ACC Annual Meeting in 2006 on their use of TWiki. TWiki is open source source and available at no cost.

I remember also a law department that used a Google product, Knol, to host a wiki (See my post of Jan. 2, 2009: Google’s Knol.). So, here are three choices for a law department that wants to test drive a wiki.

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Speculation here about a proliferation of apps for in-house lawyers was on the mark (See my post of June 15, 2010: apps that screen out distractions; Feb. 1, 2011: cottage industry of apps for matter management; and March 29, 2011: HTML5 enriched apps.).

Eversheds has released an app for the iPhone and Blackberry that provides answers to commonly asked questions regarding employment contracts, ranging from recruitment, to the contractual terms themselves, and to termination. Moreover, according to Legal Tech. Insider, April 2011 at 8, “the really interesting aspect is that this is a global app with answers covering 25 countries including the UK, EU member states, Hong Kong and the USA. The app also includes information on family friendly employment rights and restrictive covenants.” Will such informative apps cost money for in-house users? I suspect not, over time. Must they register for updates. Probably

Law firms and law departments take note! Multitudes of apps for the delivery of specialized material and FAQs will appear this year and out into the future. Soon, client versions will appear so that law departments can inform their internal clients through an app. After that will come customizable and annotatable apps. After that ….

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It is a red-letter day for me when someone publishes a book on law department management. So, I celebrate by quoting from promotional material I just ran across from the International In-House Counsel Journal (IICJ). The book is 160 pages, it costs $200 and I believe quite a bit of its contents come from articles previously published in the Journal:

“IICJ are delighted to announce the publication of a new book written specifically by leading commercial lawyers for commercial lawyers covering all the key issues presently relevant to the in-house counsel function. The book contains 29 in-depth articles written by leading global counsels and topics range from negotiating external fees to running the in-house department as a profit centre. Click here for more information and how to secure a copy.”

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A knowledge-based theory for legal departments, and its link to transaction cost economics

“According to the knowledge-based theory of the firm, the raison d’être of firms is to generate, combine, recombine, and exploit knowledge.” This quote comes from the Acad. Mgt. J., Dec. 2001 at 1212. Further, “whether a firm performs activities in-house or through market contracts depends on whether doing so makes the generation and exploitation of knowledge more efficient.” If legal departments fundamentally traffic in knowledge, then the decision to make that knowledge in-house or buy it from law firms would fall squarely in the sights of a knowledge-based theory for legal departments. So would the development of bench strength, knowledge management, process codification, and training of clients, to name a few implications when we focus on a law department’s knowledge creation and application.

Moreover, management scholars have integrated that theoretical framework with a second theory of the firm (or department): transaction cost economics (See my post of Nov. 19, 2009: Coasian analysis with 6 references.).

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If lawyers take the time, they can record the lessons they learn from their practice. Among the many forms recordation takes, this blog has recognized guidelines, checklists, and annotations. Here, to make explicit my tacit posts, I have collected them.

As to checklists (See my post of Jan. 26, 2010: checklists with 9 references.).

Guidelines differ from checklists in that the former discuss what to do, the latter just list steps to take (See my post of July 2, 2007: when a law department lawyer should or may retain a firm; Feb. 16, 2008: when to retain a law firm; Aug. 26, 2008: pro bono involvements; April 22, 2009: Cisco’s guidelines for patent preparation and prosecution; March 4, 2010: Law Society guidelines as the services of management consultants; March 9, 2010 #2: Council on Litigation Management’s travel rules; and Aug. 25, 2010: protocols for trademark usage.).

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For large collections of documents, law departments can improve on indices and search tools. If the documents have meta-tags, which capture their higher-level attributes, it is easier to find related documents, manage them such as under retention policies, connect them to other information such as comments, and link them to processes.

All desirable, but to get busy employees to add meta-tags manually becomes very hard, according to KMWorld, April 2011 at S13. Software developers, not surprisingly, offer tools that automate the creation and maintenance of meta-tags.

Metatags can’t be just any old attributes not can terms wander all over. A taxonomy helps assure that information is classified consistently. One person’s “class action” can’t be another person’s “law suit” and a third person’s “litigation.” Matter management systems create taxonomies through fields and drop down selections.

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A piece in the London Rev. of Books, March 3, 2011 at 11, wrestles with the claim of a recent book that over-use of the Internet robs us of intelligence, happiness, memory, and creativity. The reviewer disagrees regarding all but creativity. My reduction of his discussion goes toward mini-Internets: knowledge management systems in law departments.

If a law department pours much of its professionals’ learning into a retrievable database, will that over time dumb down them down? Creativity seems to consist of deep engrossment over time with a full stock of stored facts and frameworks. Out of that stew a mysterious bolt of neural lightening inspires a new idea.

If the Internet’s vast storage and instant retrieval atrophies these mental faculties because we ourselves don’t master the material and ponder it, even sub-consciously – a big if, according to the book reviewer – might the same degradation take place as law departments store more learning electronically than neurologically? The reviewer thinks that creativity, where cranial crumbs over time mold into new bread, suffers most from excessive reliance on the Internet, and perhaps a similar risk looms for KM systems.