I had the pleasure of attending the ARK Group KM Legal 2018 conference in London, May 15-16—two days of presentations on the latest in KM trends and happenings, including discussion of the new global standard for Knowledge Management set by the International Standardization Organization or ISO.
This year, as a new approach, ARK co-hosted KM Legal and Knowledge Management 2018, the wider KM event for other sectors outside of the legal industry. At the start and end of the conference, a couple of sessions were presented to the combined group, with the core programme split into the two distinct streams. This seemed to work well, although I have to admit there are often times when I think learning from other sectors is something that legal should embrace—are we really so different after all?
Key highlights I took away from KM Legal 2018
Make newsletters informative, not information overload
Law firms aren’t quite as exciting as Netflix, but their content equivalent, newsletters, could be a bit more exciting than they are. Most firms create quite a few newsletters on key topics and send them to clients. The downside is that clients receive lots of newsletters in their email and they are pretty much all the same! Interest and loyalty will only be built by helping to address the issue of information overload—not adding to it—so that means writing in plain language, visualisation, and giving your audience something unique and relevant, based on what you know they will find interesting. And you can monitor what they find interesting by analysing your newsletter data, then testing, tracking and repeating or eliminating based on the results.
Innovation requires more than technology
We were reminded in one talk of Gartner’s ‘Hype Cycle’ and how this applies to AI in the legal industry. Through peaks of expectation, disillusionment and then enlightenment and productivity, we are on a journey. We all get excited; we talk about it a lot (but perhaps actually do very little); we eventually work out how to use the new technology for our benefit. But legal tech is not, and I definitely agree with this, innovative in itself.
One interesting point for me was the clear recognition by everyone that KM in legal is more than just legal technical know-now. This is music to my ears, as I have maintained for a long time that we need to consider all types of knowledge within the business and in doing so can learn from peers in other sectors.
Effective KM does cover and consider all types of knowledge:
- Processes and approaches
- Relationships within teams and different departments
- Systems and technology
- The business and the client
- Organizational mission, values and culture
But of course, managing the scope of KM and ensuring it doesn’t become so unwieldy as to be unmanageable is also key.
Technology is a catalyst for change and part of any strategy for growth and innovation, but it needs to sit alongside new roles and approaches to make a difference in practice. We heard that to be innovative, technology on its own is not the answer. You must change at least two of people, processes, price and technology.
KM resources and investments must reflect organizational needs
The good news is that KM is an important link between lawyers and other areas of business services such as marketing, IT and finance. The KM function serves as translators between them, and as such, active questioning and listening should be a routine part of every knowledge manager’s role. This was a key message at the conference, and while it isn’t a new message, it’s become more critical with the current excitement and expectations around legal technology and advances in machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence. Now more than ever, KM professionals need to make sure that law firm investments reflect true goals and needs.
How to encourage KM support and participation
A repeating theme was around the question of incentive for KM work—how do we encourage lawyers and other important contributors to recognize and engage in the practice? How do we get them to actually add to the knowledge base, use it in their daily work and improve it? Time-recording, links to objectives and building a lawyer-led approach to KM were all discussed.
We discussed the increased use of ‘innovation hours’ or something similar for lawyers and how these work in practice. I’m still not sure anyone has the answers, although some examples of creating and rewarding people for contributing insights that bring real monetary value to the firm were interesting. Others discussed having a bank of KM hours allocated to prioritised projects, seconding people into KM projects and reducing their billable time to allow them to commit the effort required. However, chargeable hours still rule the day when it comes to performance discussions behind closed doors, which remains a barrier to achieving KM goals.
Examples of AI in KM
It was also interesting to hear some real examples of AI in action. Feedback on practical applications was shared, mainly around due diligence, and results are starting to be delivered where this has been used. Early adoption and plenty of training and teaching on artificial intelligence have produced some impressive results, but it’s not without challenges and not all firms have the resources to dedicate to this type of project. It clearly does take time and effort to ‘teach’ the technology.
While much remains about understanding and addressing all of the risks AI can bring, a few examples have started to demonstrate that success can be attained by managing expectations, providing good training and communication, managing relationships and being patient. I’m sure we’ll hear more of these stories in future conferences.
Distributed ledger technology, aka Blockchain
We heard a very interesting talk about Blockchain and how it can be used to manage and maintain the authenticity of the UK National Archives. The proliferation of digitisation means that even our history is at risk of becoming ‘fake” news. I won’t attempt to repeat here how it works, but essentially Blockchain—or distributed ledger technology—allows the creation of unique records, date-stamped and distributed, based on the key principles of being impossible to change or be tampered with, meaning history can’t be altered. I’ve started to get to grips with blockchain for cryptocurrency (sort of!) and I can see how it can relate to contracts, another very real and interesting use of this technology.
Perhaps if we use blockchain to protect our history, the only way history can be changed in future will be through time travel, and I’m guessing that’s a few years off yet!
My over-arching takeaway from KM Legal 2018 is that you need the right combination of people to deliver results, whether you’re implementing new KM initiatives or new AI technology. You need to justify the investment, get stakeholder buy-in, have good project management skills and implement the right systems and processes.
If you have any further questions on the conference or KM in general, please don’t hesitate to ask.