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How Legal Departments Can Use Knowledge Management to Innovate

How Legal Departments Can Use Knowledge Management to Innovate-04

The role of in-house legal departments is changing fast. Now legal teams are expected to be sources of innovation and contributors to the bottom line. Knowledge management will be one of the keys to reaching those goals. But what does effective knowledge management look like for legal teams? And how will Legal know when it is succeeding on this front?

First, let’s define what we mean by “knowledge management.”

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What is Knowledge Management for Lawyers?

When we talk about knowledge management in general, we are referring to the creation, use, sharing and maintenance of the organization’s collective knowledge. 

When companies can share and implement legal knowledge across departments, this will enhance the efficiency and profitability of the entire organization. It will also allow Legal to spend its time focusing on the more high-value and urgent matters the company faces.

How Does Knowledge Management Influence Innovation and Competitiveness?

Since legal departments now need to be innovative and cost-effective, they also need to understand how to implement a knowledge management system with one or more of the following operational elements: (1) content management, (2) expertise location, (3) lessons learned, and (4) communities of practice.

1. Content Management

Content management means making the organization’s documented knowledge and information readily accessible company-wide, often through the use of dashboards, portals, and content management systems.  

For Legal, having standardized templates (such as simple fill-in-the-blank contracts for routine transactions) easily accessible to all departments can be a huge boon to overall productivity. In addition, effective content management can free a legal team from advising on numerous similar matters within the company, thus acting as conservation of Legal’s finite resources. As such, a Workflow and Content Automation tool might be your best bet. 

2. Expertise Location

Locating the right expert in your company, for whatever pain point that is being addressed, should be a simple and streamlined process. Much of the time, this will result in the legal department supplying the appropriate expert, which is to be expected. However, members of Legal should also be prepared to seek out experts in non-legal areas, such as sales or procurement, when the need arises.

Commercial software packages will often be of assistance here, with their abilities to (1) manage queries within the company, (2) direct those queries to the appropriate experts, (3) ensure no one expert is overloaded with queries, and (4) rank queries by priority.

Listen: Eliminating Silos In Tech-Driven Legal Departments - Legal Departments of the Future Podcast

3. Lessons Learned

A lessons learned database acts as a repository for how-to knowledge, where the knowledge can be recorded for the purpose of reference within the organization. For legal teams, this means the ability to capture information such as the working methods of a specific outside law firm, or how certain types of cases are likely to proceed in litigation. This effectively saves operational knowledge when the inevitable staff departures take place.

4. Communities of Practice 

Communities of practice are groups of individuals within the organization who come together to enhance knowledge and learning, often referred to as “practice groups” within law firms or legal departments. Their purpose is to discuss lessons learned, best practices, and any problems or opportunities that arise within the industry.

These communities are critical for training and development, since they create the virtual “water cooler effect” for companies and take advantage of the social nature of learning.

How Can You Jumpstart an Innovative Legal Department?

There are several avenues for legal departments to employ knowledge management for the purpose of innovation.

Technology: Technology will be key to implementing a legal-specific content management system. In addition, technology can help with expert location and the digitization and automation of certain processes, such as e-billing and contracting.

Legal Knowledge Sharing: There is already a trend toward keeping more legal tasks in-house, while outsourcing only select matters (usually unique and complex) to outside firms. This requires a willingness on the part of legal team members to centralize and document their knowledge.

Legal Operations: An emerging field that has come into its own in recent years, legal operations refers to the activities that enable lawyers to focus on what they do best: providing legal advice. These non-legal activities include project management, strategic planning, and technology expertise.  For a company with a dedicated legal operations team, they can focus on opportunities for automation and the strategic use of service providers. 

Follow some of these practices to help your legal team innovate on the knowledge management front. And for guidance on implementing technology for this purpose, check out our ebook, The Definitive Guide to Buying Software for Legal.

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