Effective Knowledge Management Initiatives for Paralegals

Knowledge - a critical asset for legal professionals

Legal knowledge is what can differentiate one firm from its competitors. The same is true for legal departments. Acquiring, updating, and accessing knowledge is a critical skill-set required for containing legal risk exposure and legal costs. Performing legal knowledge management for a firm is an important part of a paralegal's job. 
Legal Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is a concept borne out of the opportunities and challenges brought by the information age that we now live in.
—— What is knowledge management? ——
Knowledge management is more than managing databases and legal document depositories. It is about identifying all the types of knowledge your organization and co-workers posses and continuously generate. It is also about clients and the industries in which they operate. It is about regulators, opposing counsels, and judges. In other words, knowledge management is not only about content and processes, it is also about people and how they use the available tools to more efficiently share and access knowledge.
There is explicit knowledge, the one already on paper, and tacit knowledge, the one used on a day-to-day basis but which is not fully articulated.
Lawyers and paralegals have always managed their knowledge in both forms, but until recently, no tools were available to systematically capture and update the available knowledge. The big challenge in this regard is to balance the added overhead cost in time and effort that these tools bring with them with the benefits that they can unlock, especially in larger organizations where the members of the organization are often highly specialized.
—— Databases of legal opinions and best practices documents ——
Work product repositories are key elements to capture and disseminate a law firm's knowledge. Usually, these databases are built by the IT department, but paralegals play an essential role.
In some practices, paralegals define the database format and content. They can, for example, decide which documents are captured in theses repositories. In other instances, paralegals are only responsible for maintaining the content of these databases and for regularly collecting and publishing documents.
These tasks can take a significant part of our time and are difficult to bill.
However, by making sure that databases are up to date and that the documents we add to them have been approved by the relevant hierarchy, we also must ensure that lawyers will feel confident to delegate substantial, interesting and billable drafting work to us.
—— What other knowledge could we help capture ——
  1. Methodology: for example, partners can work with junior lawyers and paralegals to capture the mechanics of the due diligence process used in past cases and projects while working on mergers and acquisitions. Once created, these methodology repositories can help significantly decrease the level of effort and sometimes frustration we face when we are given inconsistent or no instructions on how to conduct a new project. They provide a clear approach for us to use and can lead to a significant improvement in the quality of the work produced by us and, as a consequence, to better results for the firm, too.
  2. Past projects and lessons learned: as paralegals, we constantly draw on our prior experience. The depth of knowledge about past projects influence the way we will perform in the future. Capturing knowledge about past projects can include a description of the project, associated documents, as well as the skill-set and expertise of the members of the project team.
  3. Knowledge about third parties: we work with many third parties over time and acquire knowledge about them, if we store and organize this information, we can save time and decrease the number of duplicate inquiries regarding possible contacts, in state or foreign jurisdictions, for example.
  4. Knowledge about the firm's market position: this information may be useful to managing partners to develop a taylor-made business strategy for a certain market, strengthening the firm overall.
—— Content organization ——
The way we categorize content will determine the ability to retrieve it in the future.
Categorizing content based on a firm and well thought-through taxonomy is critical for being able to quickly and efficiently retrieve the information later. Obviously, it must take place at the content capture stage, as it is often to expensive and time-consuming to do it at a later stage. Developing a taxonomy is a complex and time-consuming challenge. Paralegals can be heavily involved in this process. If you take part in the developing of a taxonomy, make sure that it can be applied to content in all systems and applications and meet the needs of all practice groups and offices of your firm, now and in the future.
—— Size of the knowledge management organization ——
The biggest issue in this economy is that a knowledge management organization needs sufficient dedicated resources to be implemented efficiently.
Otherwise, it will rely too heavily on paralegals, and with the demands of client work, knowledge management will tend to become a secondary task. In many cases, without dedicated resources, be it full-time or part-time, the knowledge management initiative risks floundering over time.
—— Relationship with IT ——
The firm's technology platform plays a major role in supporting the capture and delivery of knowledge at your firm.
If you're involved in the knowledge management initiative of your firm, it is important to have a good working relationship with the IT department to ensure that you have the right technology tools that can pull together knowledge from different sources into a single user interface.
Working closely with the IT department will also guarantee that knowledge is not stored in many disparate systems and applications with a high risk of duplication of content in those systems, resulting in many inefficiencies.
It will also ensure that some content should only be made available to a limited number of staff working with the client to protect confidentiality. Similarly, there should be different levels of access to your firm's financial information for example.
—— Billing and compensation system ——
In a firm where paralegal compensation is based solely on the number of hours billed, there is usually no or only little room for non-billable time spent on knowledge management. Thus, knowledge management initiatives have only succeeded within organizations that have make it a criterion in the assessment of the performance and the compensation of paralegals and that have rewarded the staff involved in the initiative accordingly.
Technology has allowed the expansion of the work-oriented hours that we can put in without feeling unduly burdened.
With knowledge management, law firms and law departments are now trying to redefine the workday, so as to eliminate the time wasted in the normal course of the business day. Recapturing this time will allow a radical improvement in our productivity. Let's hope that this productive increase will also benefit our paychecks!

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