Many large law firms are trying various approaches to knowledge management (KM). The goal is to capture and re-use know-how. In a meeting of KM professionals earlier this week I had an “aha” moment….
First, two observations/concerns:
(1) I have always been concerned that without tying KM efforts back specifically to client-facing activity, that law firms will not continue to support KM.
(2) Most in-house counsel struggle with how best to capture and re-use the work product and expertise of their outside counsel.
The “aha” moment is that inhouse counsel should cause their outside counsel to create “debriefings” at the conclusion of most large matters. Such debriefings would require some or all of the lawyers who worked on a matter to:
– Summarize the matter, probably using a series of pre-defined questions
– Collect the final version of the most important documents, and, where necessary, explain in a cover sheet how the document relates to the matter
– Explain how this matter relates to other work the firm has done for the client
– Provide a list of the lawyers and any outside experts or consultants who worked the most on the matter
Clients could benefit directly from this type of KM effort, especially if they asked all their outside counsel systematically to perform such debriefings (sometimes called “post-mortems”). There would, of course, be some issues to resolve such as the most appropriate way to store and access this information.
So how should the client cause this to happen? One could argue that law firms should do this as a client service. But realistically, given billable hour targets and a tradition that any work done specifically for a client is billed to the client, it makes sense for clients to pay for the de-briefing. Clients often spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a specific legal matter. For a very small additional expenditure, clients could cause law firms to create a systematic de-briefing that the client would then have readily available for its own re-use, or for the re-use of outside counsel.
Of course, law firms would benefit as well because they would have incentives (the usual billable hours) to do the work and because they themselves would find it valuable to have their own work systematically “cataloged.” But if most clients did this, they would benefit indirectly from the collective effort of law firms. Costs for all clients should fall if firms are more readily able to re-use know-how across matters and clients.
While there would be details to work out (e.g., sharing the debriefings and documents across outside counsel), a “pay for KM” system would work to the benefit of both inhouse counsel and law firms. [Strategic Legal Technology]