I have read some great articles recently that rightly celebrate the efforts of KM teams in responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19, and being an essential resource for their firms. To expand on this, and to continue to bang the drum, I would like to share my thoughts on how KM teams successfully drive law firm business. ‘KM teams’ is used broadly in this article to include law librarians and researchers, and others working in similar roles.
1. The right resources
In a fast-moving marketplace, research resources are ever-increasing in terms of their number and the level of intelligence they can provide. KM teams will continuously be monitoring for new resources and tools, or developments to existing ones, to assist with firms’ business development and client work. KM teams effectively project manage the process for onboarding new resources and phasing out those less desirable, or no longer required. The intelligence gained from the right resources can produce leads and new work, particularly when used effectively in conjunction with firms’ internal systems and processes. KM professionals are well-networked and will help firms to achieve this competitive advantage.
2. Curated news
Access to the right resources is important, but how do lawyers get alerted to that gem of information buried in a database? It becomes even more important when such information could be crucial to achieving a business development win, or key client task. KM teams are skilled at translating such needs into search strings and filters to extract the relevant information and delivering these in a user-friendly format. Examples are wide-ranging and can include monitoring of statutory developments, or the investment activity of clients.
Many KM teams have now successfully integrated news aggregator tools to streamline this process further with better filtering and curation of content. It is also worth mentioning that more focussed alerts help to increase lawyers’ productivity by reducing the time they would spend wading through more general vendor emails. A more recent development in this area is the provision of curated news alerts directly to clients by KM teams, as an enhanced service.
3. Resource management
KM teams are often involved in the process of renewing and taking on new resources and are skilled at securing the best commercial terms for their firms. In some firms, this process is carried out in partnership with procurement teams. The KM team’s input is vital, however, to ensure resources are cost-effective and provide value. This is achieved through their deep understanding of the research resources and their potential overlap with other products. It’s also worth noting that many of those working in KM will have worked through more-challenging times, and are therefore equipped at keeping budgets under control by negotiating the best deals and sniffing out waste and duplication.
4. Access to resources
For many years, KM teams have been improving access to resources by removing barriers. Notable drains on lawyer productivity include: not being able to locate key resources; not having the right level of access; and, negotiating login screens. In terms of finding resources, KM teams provide search facilities so lawyers can quickly check for relevant resources by title or topic. LibGuides are also widely used and allow KM teams to provide lawyers with one-stop-shop pages for topics, practice groups and sectors.
KM teams have also worked with IT departments to provide automatic login solutions, such as single sign-on (SSO) and IP access. While some, have implemented solutions to capture login details and populate these automatically.
When lawyers need access to a resource for an urgent matter, KM teams will choose the fastest route possible to resolve this, which could involve reassigning a licence, or suggesting an equivalent resource.
We shouldn’t forget that KM teams also pride themselves on their customer service and will happily fix issues, or provide lists of resources tailored to the needs of their users.
5. Research and training
The bread-and-butter of many KM teams is providing a research service. In many firms, researchers’ time is chargeable so they contribute directly to the firm’s revenue. This can also be cost-effective for clients of the firm who have a fixed-fee arrangement, as research can be carried out more proficiently, which potentially means less time is wasted or written-off.
Research services are often part of the workflow for business development work and their contribution can be monitored by comparing research tasks with internal ‘new win’ emails (thanks to the AALL White Paper on ROI in Law Libraries for this tip). I would boldly offer that a comparison of the two would find many prominent links.
From a productivity perspective, KM teams have processes or tools to capture and categorise research requests, so previous efforts can be reused on new queries to save reinventing the wheel.
Training also falls into this category, as providing sessions on resources helps to sharpen the competency of lawyers in this area, which is another productivity gain. To encourage higher competency levels amongst trainee or junior lawyers, many KM teams adopt a “show and not tell” policy in relation to research tasks. The idea is to provide them with the help they need, and also show them ‘how’ for development purposes.
I have enjoyed pulling together my notes to produce this article and I hope you’ve found it useful too. The themes that have been discussed, as drivers of law firm business, fall under the headings: actionable-intelligence, business development, productivity, cost management and billing. To continue the conversation, I would be interested in your comments on these themes, particularly if you are surprised to see these referred to in the context of KM, library and research services.
As we see KM teams branching into new areas within law firms, and adding value in diverse ways, I feel advocating our profession is more important than ever. If you would like to help promote legal KM, please consider joining our LinkedIn Group: Be-Aware of Legal Knowledge Professionals.