Welcome to BigLaw KM

I’ve been doing some soul searching about launching a blog on knowledge management in large law firms (“BigLaw”). Is there anything left to discuss?  After all, there are already several popular blogs that touch on BigLaw KM with some frequency like Ron Friedmann’s Strategic Legal Technology and Mary Abraham’s Above and Beyond KM.  A couple of other excellent blogs that also target legal KM and related topics are 3 Geeks and a Law Blog and Dewey B Strategic, and then there are the business-of-law blogs, the legal tech blogs and the general law practice blogs that others have tracked. Blog coverage that touches our little corner of the world isn’t lacking, but perhaps there is still room for a blog that really maintains the perspective of BigLaw KM insiders and concentrates on the issues that touch them, especially if it becomes something of a hangout for this specialized community during those lengthy gaps between the ARK, ILTA, LegalTech conferences and the other relatively few opportunities we have to see each other in person. Maybe if I provide a little provocation, others will read and respond? Wouldn’t that be nice?

LegalTech is just around the corner, and I expect it to produce plenty of grist for the blog mill in the near term, but at a more macro level, the iterative nature of blogging is well suited for exploring the waves that are either building up or already breaking across the bow of BigLaw KM. I see four of them in particular that I expect to blog about frequently (although in these stormy conditions there are surely other big rollers forming in the distance or about to go “rogue”):

Frictionless Content. Think about the history of content. It used to be almost exclusively physical – paper documents, books, periodicals, etc. – and now it’s mostly virtual (i.e. electronic). The same goes for the physical containers (file folders, cabinets, libraries, etc.) for storing, managing and accessing that content. But the virtualization imperative did not stop there.  It eventually turned its disruptive attention to the electronic platforms as well. Servers first went virtual inside institutional entities and now have  escaped to the cloud. File formats wedded to specific applications and vendors have given way to universalized web formats and standards. “Device-specific” has yielded to “device-agnostic” for content access. Physical and institutional locational barriers to the movement of and access to digital content have mostly crumbled, and long-established conventions for vetting, credentialing and standardizing content have been upended. Simply put, content is becoming frictionless and unbounded by the fetters of space, systems, devices, institutions and laws. So how do you manage frictionless content? Should knowledge managers be working toward making content more frictionless or less? Is BigLaw KM itself also succumbing to the virtualization imperative and doomed to become another outsourced “_____ as a service” function like document review, word processing and other office services? Let’s discuss…

Knowledge Securitization. I’ve coined this term partly – but not completely – as a play on words. Yes, I’m mostly talking about the security issue that’s starting to scare the bejeezus out of BigLaw. Three words (“need,” “to” and “know”) are completely harmless in isolation but, when brought together in outside counsel guidelines, presage the end of legal KM as we’ve known and conducted it for years in BigLaw. Yes, we need to talk a lot more about that “securiti…” part of the term, but the “…zation” part is meaningful too. In the finance world, securitization is a method of generating monetized value from mortgages and other illiquid assets. In legal KM, securitization is how we might derive value (reuse, training, guidance, etc.) out of otherwise restricted client-related documents and information. I have my own ideas about how to “securitize” this client sensitive content, and I look forward to sharing some of those with you and soliciting your reactions on this critical topic. (Bonus points to you if you noticed the combustive relationship between Frictionless Content and Knowledge Securitization.) Let’s discuss…

Computational KM. Obviously, you’ve heard of “KM” and, doubtlessly, you’ve been buried in all the hype about AI, cognitive computing, machine learning, Watson, etc.  Computational KM is my way of bundling together the topic of how the emerging computational tools of prediction, extraction and recommendation integrate with KM. And, yes, I think Computational KM is a game-changer for what it means to be a knowledge manager in BigLaw, even if it may not be quite the game-changer that some have predicted for what it means to be a BigLaw lawyer.  Let’s discuss…

Analytical KM. The last wave to brace ourselves for on the good ship BigLawKM is what I’m calling Analytical KM. We all know that analytics is about using tools to crunch large amounts of data for visualizing trends, providing behavioral insights, identifying waste and inefficiencies, and isolating risks. Knowledge managers are being called upon to assume greater responsibilities for mastering analytical tools, just like they are expected to master and support search tools. However, Analytical KM is much more than knowledge managers producing graphs and reports. At its core Analytical KM is about managing the processes, people and systems needed to collect, edit and enrich the metadata that becomes the input for the analytical output. While creating and capturing substantive documents is a classic first-level KM task, defining, applying and managing the metadata about those documents (and the entities referenced in those documents) is a metalevel and therefore analytical KM task. As demand grows for increasingly sophisticated analytics in BigLaw, the corresponding need for complete and accurate client, matter and firm metadata also grows. In particular, Analytical KM encompasses the processes, personnel and tools (including computational KM tools) required to effectively mine metadata from the matter lifecycle and effectively analyze the metadata that supports first-level KM (search, guidance, etc.),  practice management, risk management, LPM and matter pricing,  business development and marketing. Let’s discuss…

Lest the emphasis on the foregoing “waves” be taken as some kind of academic and tech-heavy exercise in navel-gazing, rest assured that I have plenty to say about the practicalities of doing KM in a BigLaw environment as well. BigLaw is, well…big, and that means many offices and multiple languages and different cultures (let alone different legal regimes) to worry about. The facets for slicing BigLaw by practice and office are daunting under the best of circumstances and downright maddening when the particularized preferences of individual partners must also be factored in. Now layer in the dynamics of managing your own support staff and maintaining positive relations with other administrative functions – e.g., begging IT for support, divvying responsibilities with library, business development and professional development, navigating ambiguous or non-existent governance and retention policies for the US, EU and other jurisdictions –  and you’re left with an absolutely dizzying welter of issues to be discussed. So…let’s discuss!

P.S. This is my first stab at blogging. Be kind to the newbie, please, and let me know what you like and don’t like about the site. What’s missing (other than content, of course)? All suggestions, especially topical ones are most welcome, so please leave a comment or contact me directly.

6 thoughts on “Welcome to BigLaw KM”

  1. Congratulations on your new blog, Brent! And welcome to the conversation — there is no shortage of topics and your insights will be a terrific addition.


  2. Brent–

    Thanks for getting out there and blogging. I know that with your experience and insight it’ll be a valuable space for legal km.

    I wanted to focus on your “analytical km” discussion, which I agree with in the main. I can validate your comment that law firms and law departments alike are coming more and more to rely on and value data about matters, which after all is some of the key information about legal work. With the new analytics tools like Tableau and new sources of complimentary external data, the capacity to usefully aggregate, digitize, and analyze information about our work is increasingly important and, potentially, a source of competitive advantage.

    I think you are selling kmers a little short in that you focus on our role in developing and preparing the data for analysis. I’ve noticed in more than a year of work in this area that one’s subject matter expertise is a vital part of creating a visualization that provides significant business value. A true data scientist has subject-matter expertise in addition to data manipulation and analysis skills. It’s our data about complex work which we have lived, and that provides us a key role, should we choose to take it, in conducting business intelligence, matter analysis, and data analytics. It’s a lot easier to acquire expertise in data analysis than in legal substance.


    1. Thanks, David for the support. My next post will touch on your comment, but suffice it to say that I completely agree with you that SME is critical for successful execution of analytical KM, and that’s true on the metadata preparation/management side as well as on the analysis side. Stay tuned for more!

    1. Amen, brother! “Securitization” represents the single biggest threat AND opportunity for BigLaw KM. I intend to blog extensively about the topic.

Comments are closed.