6 must-know insights about the state of Knowledge Management from Nikki Shaver, CEO and Co-Founder of LegalTechnology Hub.
We need to talk about Knowledge Management.
If knowledge is power, you can say Knowledge Management (KM) teams are the superpower of the law firm. Once considered internal librarians, the department has transformed over time into the Swiss Army Knife of the firm, managing overall efficiency, technology, digitization, operations, and more.
One of the industry leaders with real insight into the evolution of KM is Nikki Shaver, CEO, and Co-Founder of LegalTechnology Hub. We sat down with Nikki for a direct, honest one-on-one conversation about KM — how it’s changing, where KM teams are driving value, and what the future of the function looks like.
Here are the top 6 things you should know.
Prefer to hear our full conversation with Nikki? Check out the full on-demand webinar.
1. Knowledge management teams get things done
Looking at the scope of KM’s responsibilities, ranging from tech adoption, change management, and yes, knowledge management, you might wonder why these teams are tasked with so many projects. Why does KM’s scope continue to expand? Why are they trusted with so many broad responsibilities? Nikki suggests it’s because of their reputation for getting things over the line.
“KM teams get things done. They’re one of the departments that is renowned in every firm I’ve worked in for actually getting projects done. For that reason, they are often also given carriage of enterprise-wide projects, where it becomes extremely important to be able to manage work across multiple stakeholder departments and execute at scale,” Nikki explains.
2. Legal ops and knowledge management are related but different
Is KM basically the legal ops team of a law firm? It depends.
“If you look at [legal ops] as the team that helps to scale the legal business or make scalability feasible, then KM is instrumental in that,” Nikki explains. “But I think legal ops is more complex than that on the corporate side. If you look at the 12 CLOC core competencies of legal ops, it includes KM actually — and process improvement, technology, litigation support, and data analytics, all of which I would argue could fall within KM at law firms. But it also includes information governance and records management, which doesn’t necessarily fall to KM in law firms.”
She went on to further highlight another significant difference: Financial management is a huge aspect of legal ops — managing the budget and spend of the legal team, relations with outside counsel, and RFPs.
A question of branding
Nikki also shared that it’s becoming complicated to distinguish KM or innovation from legal ops as some firms have re-branded those teams (or parts of the team) as legal ops. There is little consistency at the moment around the way that law firms name and define these “new-law” types of functions.
“Some [Firms] see the term legal ops as a way to kind of replicate what’s happening on the client side and therefore create connections between the firm and the client, but legal ops teams at firms do really different things. Some of them are a re-named KM or innovation team. Some of them are matter management or enterprise data management or they work closely on pricing and strategic client management.”
3. Knowledge management has evolved organically into a tech-centric function and a driver of innovation
“So traditionally, KM is all about content — managing the intellectual property of the firm and making sure that lawyers have the key legal work product and whatever is necessary for them to undertake legal work product at their fingertips,” Nikki tells us.
This means organizing and managing content, creating content when it comes to precedents and templates, checklists, guides, and practical guidance. The tech needed to effectively do the job is becoming a lot more sophisticated.
“As KM evolved, much of that work of making content accessible to lawyers and then also, increasingly to clients, involved technology. Knowledge products and knowledge delivery systems were all informed by technology. So you had KM teams who were delivering solutions through technology,” Nikki explains. “Very often now, KM is one of the key innovation and tech drivers in a firm, and looks at process improvement because the notion of process improvement evolved out of what KM teams were doing anyway.”
A reputation that sometimes lags behind
“[Some firms] don’t understand that many KM teams now have legal technologists and software developers and data analysts, which means that the right projects might not go to the KM team unless they re-brand internally. So that’s why I think you’ve seen a lot of KM teams rebrand under the banner of innovation or practice innovation as their remit expands within the firm,” Nikki explains.
4. KM teams are using workflow automation — and even developing their own apps
“Core KM tools have always included things like knowledge hubs, knowledge repositories, enterprise search, intranets, and so on. Some of the more exciting things you’re seeing are workflow automation, expert systems, and apps — developing apps for clients and for internal use,” Nikki tells us.
Through legal workflow automation, KM teams can map out and automate entire processes that get the otherwise-manual work done, with minimum day-to-day input from legal professionals. As a result, legal teams have more capacity to focus on the more strategic, higher-complexity work. At many top firms, these automated workflows are evolving into apps designed by KM and innovation teams using a no-code legal automation platform. These apps can then be used to increase a firm’s efficiency or can be packaged and sold to clients.
5. KM teams are transforming from cost centers to revenue-drivers
Building client-facing apps is one of the key ways that KM teams are going from cost center to revenue generator.
“I think the best thing now for KM teams to do is to find a way so that they are not always considered a pure cost center. Many of the products and solutions that KM teams now build are in some way client-facing,” Nikki shares. “As we’ve seen in the ecosystem, there are now opportunities in many firms for client-facing products and solutions. And firms should be charging for those.”
Proving value by connecting efforts to revenue
Historically, firms have become used to giving away some things — from knowledge to handbooks, and even sometimes actual automated workflows. Nikki emphasized that when things are given away for free, it’s easy to undervalue them. Charging some cost for the client-facing solutions that KM is building directly generates revenue. That makes it a lot easier to prove the value of KM.
“KM can create a situation where it is no longer simply a cost center, but also genuinely bringing in at least enough revenue to cover its own headcount,” Nikki explains.
“But even if you’re not generating revenue from client-facing products, find a way to set down the metrics around the value that you bring. For every project you do, map out the process to understand where there is lost time that is not being billed by associates. If you then introduce a product to increase efficiency, look at the process again and see if there is there less time now not being billed, or if you’ve increased the speed of workflows and allowed associates to bill time elsewhere. That gives you a hard value that you can then ascribe to the KM team.”
6. Do not undervalue Knowledge Management
When we asked Nikki what firms often miss or get wrong about KM, she emphasized that KM teams are sometimes still not recognized for their full value and their increasingly crucial role in firms.
“KM is an essential function. Law firms that do not have a high-functioning KM team simply will not function as well and will not produce the same quality of legal output as firms with a high-functioning KM team. It has become even more essential since the pandemic, when you see for example pessimistic security measures and matters being locked down, because you need the KM team to act as a central body who is ensuring secure documents are not released to the wrong people.”
She went on to add, “Do not undervalue KM. They are becoming more and more important as the industry evolves, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”