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Legal Tech

How AI-Enabled Knowledge Management Can Help Small and Midsize Law Firms Level Up

By Laura Wenzel

Beyond technology decisions, a knowledge management initiative requires a culture shift for most small and midsize firms. Here’s why it’s worth it.

Legal professionals at small and midsize firms are facing an array of changes, challenges and opportunities coming at them from multiple directions. Against this busy backdrop, firm leaders might find themselves so focused on day-to-day responsibilities that they haven’t given much thought to how they manage knowledge within the organization.

However, recognizing the importance of the firm’s collective intelligence — and giving it the attention it deserves — is one of the best ways to scale your law practice and take firm operations to the next level.

Why Small and Midsize Firms Should Prioritize Knowledge Management

Small and midsize firms are feeling pressure around realization, which is also affecting utilization. In practice, this means they are less likely to bill clients for work they know clients will feel is of no value, which necessitates finding new ways to do that work more efficiently.

Additionally, there is a trend toward “pushing down” assorted legal tasks — e-discovery, for example, or initial research — to more junior members of the firm to free up time in the attorney’s day to focus on higher-level activities. It’s impossible to achieve this “downward push,” however, unless the more junior people actually have the knowledge, skillsets and tools to carry out the tasks properly.

Changes are afoot regarding the kind of clients small and midsize firms are engaging with, too. Corporate clients who previously would have engaged solely with large law firms are now carving out pieces of business to give to more cost-effective small and midsize firms. Before doing so, however, those clients want to know those smaller firms can operate at the same level as “the big guys” when it comes to security, efficiency and intelligent use of technology.

This is where a knowledge management initiative that harnesses the firm’s collective knowledge comes into play.

First Steps of a KM Initiative: People and Process

Regardless of the level of complexity of the use cases they’re looking to tackle — or the current level of maturity of their systems — there are things small and midsize firms can start doing today that will help set the foundation for this new initiative to tap into the firm’s collective knowledge.

The first step is making sure the firm has a single repository for documents, emails and other work product, so that all of the firm’s best work can be kept in one spot. If you will eventually use AI-enabled technology to leverage that collective intelligence, that centrality is critical. If, by contrast, that information resides on people’s laptops, in network drives and other disparate silos, all that valuable knowledge is essentially invisible to your organization.

The next step is creating a culture where all users are disciplined and diligent in terms of using this single repository for storing their documents and emails. Put another way: Having a single centralized repository isn’t going to unlock much value unless people are actively using it.

Technology, then, is just one piece of the puzzle. People and process are also involved — and there needs to be a culture shift within the organization. People need to see the connection between having and using a single repository to store work product, and the value that will actually deliver to the firm as far as allowing them to work more securely, efficiently and productively.

Three Tips for Picking the Right KM Platform

When it comes to knowledge management technology, what should firms look for? The key requirements are ease of use, security and scalability.

Ease of use matters because if the technology isn’t simple and frictionless, it will be an uphill battle to get the user adoption you need — and if you don’t get the user adoption, you won’t have all the firm’s best work product in one location, ready to be leveraged.

Security and governance are paramount. That means recognizing that not every user in the firm should have access to all the material in the organization. This security, however, cannot come at the expense of the user experience. Often, security and ease of use are inversely correlated, but properly designed platforms will offer both.

Scalability matters because if you’re a small or midsize firm in growth mode, there’s no reason not to invest in a platform that can grow with you. Just be certain the vendor has taken the time to build in the security, accuracy, and the guardrails needed to leverage fast-evolving AI technologies with confidence.

Every small and midsize firm wonders what is necessary to take its business to the next level. Unlocking the firm’s collective intelligence is one of the strongest ways to leverage existing knowledge, successfully scale operations and propel the firm forward.

Image © iStockPhoto.com.

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Laura Wenzel

Laura Wenzel is the Global Marketing & Insights Director at iManage. Her passion and collaborative approach empower high-performing teams to deliver data-smart strategies, build brands, create resonance and drive a positive customer experience.

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