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Knowledge management efforts falter since they are perceived as a tax on a lawyer’s personal “income”

Think of experience and learning as a lawyer’s income – they work and they get paid in knowledge – and then think of efforts to harvest and give away that knowledge as a tax. This analogy occurred to me when an interviewee in a consulting project offered an explanation for the failure of knowledge management to take hold. “Lawyers don’t want to contribute their ‘intellectual property’ to the common good.”

“It’s mine, mine, and I don’t want to give up any of it!” That conveys the stickiest obstacle: lawyers who have worked long and diligently to master an area of law and its practices feel that their hard-earned knowledge is their personal recompense (and retirement pool, i.e., job protection). Knowledge management efforts tax it, a redistribution that not only helps those poorer in knowledge but also takes time for the taxpayer to file. Sure, all of us benefit from governmental services, but who volunteers to pay more taxes?

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2 responses to “Knowledge management efforts falter since they are perceived as a tax on a lawyer’s personal “income””

  1. That’s but one obstacle to KM, albeit an important one that the knowledge-hoarders themselves often willfully refuse to acknowledge. The “tax” analogy is particularly explicit in the legal field, but it happens in many other places as well.
    One antidote, useful as part of a concerted let’s-get-serious-about-KM plan, is to pay for knowledge sharing. When a bit of “knowledge” is reused, both the contributor and the user are rewarded — in money, internal recognition, promotion opportunity, etc. You get what you measure, and the measures that matter are money and pseudo-money (e.g., recognition, which leads to future money opportunities).

  2. This thinking, while not at all uncommon, stems from a misunderstanding of Bacon’s quote “Knowledge is Power.”
    This is unfortunate since knowledge is the only commodity that increases when you give it away. Is the knowledge personal, or does it belong to the firm or organization under a work for hire theory? This attitude won’t change until sharing, mentoring, and training are understood to be a part of the job, and rewarded.