A Memo to the IT Department: The Lawyer’s Wish List for Knowledge Management Projects – Article

[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. I thought I’d complete my thoughts on knowledge management (KM) with this short, very informal article I wrote in 2004. It’s a simple “ten tips” article, again pulled from a seminar presentation I gave. What’s interesting to me now is that it introduces two ideas that became very important for me as I discussed KM (and, frankly, other legal tech issues). First, bridging the wide communications gap between lawyers and IT people is vital. Second, there is an element of creativity in what the best lawyers do that often is not appreciated by the designers and implementers of legal software. If you can identify and honor those creative elements, your chances for successful projects increase dramatically. ]
A Memo to the IT Department: The Lawyer’s Wish List for Knowledge Management Projects
If you are a lawyer in a firm of any significant size, you have been or will one day be involved in a “knowledge management” project. You will hear of the enormous benefits it will bring to you, how law firms are in the “knowledge business,” and that it will cost a lot of money. You may not hear some of the other benefits because you are thinking about what “a lot of money” may mean. You will hear more buzzwords than you can imagine and you may start to think that you heard some of the same talk about the document management system (DMS) the firm implemented a few years ago.
At worst, you may feel like your firm wants to run a vacuum cleaner on your brain, suck out everything that you know and then discard you. You may see the potential benefits, but your most fervent hope is that the new system does not make it any harder than it already is for you to do your work.
If you had the time in your busy day to jot down your wish list for a KM project, it would probably look something like this:
1. Honor My Uniqueness. Even if you really don’t think that what I do is unique, I certainly do. I’ve developed ways of practicing law successfully in a high stress environment. If you come in and act like you can do it better than I can or that what I do is no different from any other lawyer, I will push back.
2. Understand My Practice. Many technology people assume that every lawyer’s practice looks like a litigator’s practice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Make the effort to learn what I do, who my clients are, what documents I produce and what my typical work day is like.
3. Ask Me What Must be Fixed. Lawyers are great at spotting problems. You’ll need a thick skin, but sit down with me and ask me what can be made to work better and what simply does not work. I will tell you.
4. Ask Me Questions About Anything You Do Not Understand. I know that lawyers talk too fast, use a lot of jargon and assume that people are more familiar with lawyers do than they really are. Stop me. Ask the questions you have. I’ll slow down and explain, or tell you to come back when I have the time to explain. I don’t care if you keep coming back and asking more questions as long as we can move to a good result. On some days, I’ll be happy for the interruption.
5. Listen to What I Tell You. I will think that I gave you my key points in order of importance. I will expect to see that you have addressed these issues. If you fall down on this point more than a few times, I simply will not trust you and will be reluctant to contribute.
6. Quick Responses are Usually Good Responses. If we talk about a feature or a wish I have and you take several weeks to get back to me, I may forget what I told you or I may criticize you for doing exactly what I told you to do. Lawyers like people who are responsive. Lawyers are also comfortable working with drafts of documents. Show me a quick prototype or mock-up and I’ll be more helpful.
7. Make it Easy. I guarantee you that your vision of how a page should be laid out and my vision will be very different. However, I’m more likely to be convinced that my vision is correct. I will not be so insistent if you give me ways to do common tasks in a very easy way, such as by clicking on a special button, giving me a custom menu or other means.
8. Keep in Mind That Lawyers Are Creative. In many cases, KM efforts treat lawyers as if our main skill and need is to locate and re-create old documents. That could not be more wrong. The best lawyers see connections in what appear to be unconnected things and solve problems before others even see that a problem might exist. Lawyers need to look at things in a number of different perspectives, “slice and dice” information, trace out relationships, brainstorm and use a number of creative processes not often associated with lawyers. If you lock me into an elaborate and inflexible category system or, worse, put me into a world limited to Boolean queries, I simply cannot do my work.
9. Understand the Demands of a Billable Hours World. The efficiencies you can create for me have real consequences in a billable hours compensation system. Some of the resistance you see to your best ideas may come from my unresolved issues about compensation and the like. Help me understand the implications better and we can work well together.
10. Limit Your Technical Jargon. We have enough jargon of our own. We care much more about the results than the process you are using. If you meet me half way on your jargon, I’ll try to meet you half way on mine.
Conclusion. It’s not too difficult to work with me. Treat me as an individual, not a “knowledge worker unit.” Seek out my opinions and listen carefully to what I have to say. Show that you want to help me make my job easier and do it better. Try to talk with me and not at me. We can get farther by working together instead of against each other.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.dennskennedy.com/blog/)]
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