is a consultant at Tikit Ltd (www.tikit.com), legal IT suppliers, and at Idar Ltd (www.idarlearning.co.uk), e-learning providers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Knowledge Management in the legal sector continues to suffer from three main problems:
- The frequent difficulty knowledge managers encounter in trying to extract the knowledge from the best practitioners;
- The need to keep things up to date, especially considering that legal knowledge is often most valuable in the most rapidly changing fields;
- The need to measure the effectiveness of knowledge systems: are lawyers understanding and interpreting the know-how correctly?
In an article in the September/October 2007 issue (http://www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/?p=58) Clare Line and Ann Hemming illustrated the success of transaction simulation as a training tool. It seems that it is not that hard to get lawyers to share their knowledge by audio-visual means, where they can see the practical benefits to their teams – they do not have to write! Writing is time consuming and therefore unwelcome to time-stressed people. Many of our most successful lawyers are excellent – and prolific – talkers and presenters. We already make use of this virtue, especially in capturing seminar talks in video. We can do much more to make use of it, in role-playing, in delivering transaction-based know-how, and in voice-over commentaries which apply the words of experienced lawyers to the transaction simulations, seminar videos, or other material:
- it is much quicker, for the person delivering the knowledge, to do it by talking than by writing;
- nuances of emphasis, and of tone of voice, carry significant extra meaning which is hard to communicate in documents;
- it is (mostly) more palatable to users, who can access the relevant nuggets of know-how online, while the media-rich format makes the material easier to assimilate;
- it allows us to capture the "water-cooler" type of knowledge.
Keeping it up to date
All know-how gets out of date, but some gets out of date faster than others. Whether or not a piece of know-how has been formally updated, it must be possible to incorporate searches of the online resources (PLC, Westlaw, Lexis-Nexis, Justis, BAILII, and so on) to see any new cases, regulations, legislation, or commentary that may affect the know-how.
This ability is not just a way for users to update the material they are looking at: it can also be used by those charged with maintaining the know-how, whether originators or not, to see if changes are needed to the material (most publishing houses offer automatic updating alerts and feeds as well).
One way to handle the online research component within know-how is to incorporate a search that provides access to the critical law in its widest sense – whether case law, legislation, regulatory sites, or whatever – relevant to each topic discussed in the know-how. This might include direct citations, carefully considered topics, known short-cuts such as PLC's Topic IDs, and so on, in a well-crafted query. Passing this query to a search federator, or ideally an enterprise search engine, the user can just click a research link to see the latest state of play. What is stored in the know-how is not the answers to the research at the time the know-how was created, but a carefully crafted way to find the up-to-date answers and present them to the user when they are using the know-how.
There is now a range of reasonably-priced and sophisticated tools available to help with building such products: for example, Adobe's (www.adobe.com) Captivate and Articulate; for network capabilities, Atlantic Link (www.atlantic-link.co.uk) and Wimba (www.wimba.com); for online offerings, Brighttalk (www.bright-talk.com). Many of these multi-media products are developed as part of an e-learning offering, allowing PSLs and managers to track usage and to incorporate assessments within the products. e-learning authoring tools allow PSLs and others to create effective, assessed know-how easily and quickly. The development of hybrid know-how tools can be supported by a growing number of experienced authors and technicians, so that a firm can get up to speed with their developments quickly and efficiently. Law firms (Addleshaws, Ashurst and Beachcrofts are just a few at the top end of the alphabet) are showing great interest in using these tools, so they can form an attractive part of a client facing KM strategy. Technical support for doing the work is readily available from outside suppliers; there is no need to devote expensive and scarce internal resource to the "techie" pieces.
It is, therefore, entirely practical to pull together the vital components:
- the videos of interviews, presentations, seminars, transaction simulations, etc;
- the voice-over and interjected commentary, including practice notes;
- interactive elements (discussion sites, blogs and wikis);
- crafted searches to pull in the external resources and updating elements.
For the kind of integration outlined here, there are three key project management jobs:
- getting a scope and programme of work agreed for each job, so that the required technical stages – filming, processing, editing, adding other-media pieces such as research, and packaging – can be scheduled with the right sort of people; this is a task which can be outsourced to a specialist;
- deciding on the content, which is naturally the province of the firm's lawyers or PSLs; this is a task which would be done in-house;
- providing the back-up editorial work to put the research links in place, which can be done by PSLs, or by specialists in legal information whether internal or external.
The specialist module in money laundering compliance, produced and sold by Vinciworks (www.vinciworks.com and www.onlinecompliance.org) using its Legal Learning Management System (and working with 14 of the UK's largest law firms), illustrates how some aspects of legal know-how can be turned into a standard product, the cost of which to a law firm is a small fraction of what it would cost to produce internally. We believe that this is just the start of a trend where compliance and risk management initiatives will impact on the firm's KM policies.
Specialist internal know-how is unlikely to become commoditised in this way. There is, however, scope to integrate know-how not just with the additional research component, as we have outlined above, but also with the assessment and effectiveness monitoring typical of e-learning, thus linking with professional development programmes. This will require the design of each piece to be carefully controlled to ensure that each module can be accessed in convenient, cumulative time-slices, rather than in one large indigestible chunk. This is where instructional design skills and project management skills are really important.
For many areas of know-how deployment, we suggest that firms can make use of techniques already in use in their organisation for training, and combine them with the access to legal research that today's enterprise search engines make easy. This will make know-how easier and quicker to extract from its current holders, and easier to deploy to users at the time they need it – when they are doing the work – rather than in specific sessions which might be poorly, or sporadically, attended.
Much of the work can be outsourced, reducing costs and increasing consistency and quality.