A GLOBAL survey of leading law firms has revealed important trends in the way knowledge management is utilised.
The Global Law Firm Knowledge Management 2006 Survey, compiled by ALM Research and Curve Consulting, included responses from 71 of the world’s leading law firms. On the basis of the survey, the report said it was “clear from the survey results that law firms have embraced knowledge management as a critical function”.
The average firm responding had 611 lawyers, 193 of whom were partners, and 787 support staff working in an average of 9.3 offices.
The key findings of the survey suggest that firms have broadened the scope of the knowledge they manage, but with a focus on knowledge that only relates to the practice, not the business, of law.
There is not enough alignment of knowledge management with the firm’s business objectives, with only 61 per cent of firms implementing a formal knowledge management strategy, the survey said.
The head of knowledge management within a firm, typically known as the director of knowledge management or the chief knowledge officer, usually reports to the executive director or the managing partner. All firms polled have dedicated knowledge management organisations, although their size differed significantly across regions of the globe.
A heavy dependence on informal collaborative relationships with other functions in the firm suggested it was a challenge for knowledge management organisations to engage the firm and implement initiatives that were applicable to other areas of the firm, the survey said.
According to the survey, most firms claim they have a knowledge management culture, though not enough is done to reward lawyers for contributing to this area.
“The time-based billing model is the greatest cultural barrier to knowledge management,” the report said. And despite the need for more encouragement of knowledge management from within firms, firms were unlikely to give fee relief or billable hour credit to lawyers for contributing to the practice.
The survey found that although law firms have sufficient technology tools to implement state of the art knowledge management systems, the challenge still lies in how best to use those tools.
The top objective of knowledge management was to improve client service delivery, both as an outcome of better knowledge management, and through giving clients access to the firm’s knowledge management “know how”, the survey said.
Clients expected firms to be active in knowledge management, and were focused primarily on the outcome of a firm’s approach to knowledge management as it applied to client service delivery, rather than on directly accessing a firm’s knowledge management systems and processes, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, the survey said.