Please enjoy this blog post co-authored by Adam Dedynski, Knowledge and Development Professional Support Lawyer, White & Case and Jenni Tellyn, Knowledge Management and Learning Consultant, 3Kites Consulting Ltd.
The steady stream of new joiners and leavers at law firms has turned into a torrent. As we move into the next phase of living with Covid-19, plans for career reassessment that had been put on hold are being reactivated and there is a marked increase in activity in the employment market. This blog seeks to provide practical examples of ways KM teams can add value at each stage of the lawyer lifecycle from onboarding, through refresher sessions after career breaks and at exit from the business to mitigate knowledge loss.
When thinking about what your onboarding content or processes should be, you could focus on the KM team structure (who’s who and what the team does), or the services and technology the team is responsible for. When structuring your onboarding content, consider:
- Timing. If there is a formal HR-driven induction process that KM slots into, you might not have a choice as to when to time the KM induction. It’s tempting to schedule it when new joiners arrive and before they get swamped with work but it may be better to wait a week or two so they have context for the information you deliver;
- How much detail. New joiners receive a lot of information so your content should be high-level but think also about adapting or tailoring it for different scenarios (for example, a presentation to a particular office should include reference to any regional resources or people). However, an in-depth training session about a piece of KM technology on someone’s second day is unlikely to be impactful (but do think about when the best time is to schedule that follow-up);
- Clarity. When providing a snapshot of KM make it clear and engaging through the use of visuals and applied case studies/stories, follow a logical sequence, and consider doing something interactive;
- Who. Someone with a birdseye view of KM should be involved in delivering your content but including high-level content lends itself well to sharing the inductions workload amongst your KM team;
- What/why. Explain what knowledge means at the firm and why it’s important (someone could be brand new to KM or have come from another firm with a different approach);
- Expectations. Flag how people can get involved and what the firm expects of them (such as sharing knowledge, using a chargeable knowledge code to get credit for KM work or following certain processes). Doing this from the outset helps embed a positive knowledge culture;
- Client-facing KM. Talk about any client-facing activities that KM plays a role in (such as delivery of client bulletins on hot topics, client training or extranet portals). There can be a misconception that KM is only internally-focused and talking about client-facing KM work will resonate with your lawyers;
- Accessible. Make sure that your content is easily available either on an intranet home page or linked to anything HR has in place. Think also about how different offices and jurisdictions access content; and
- Feedback. You can’t improve on what you deliver unless you find out from your new joiners what went well and what didn’t, so send a survey or make some calls when they’ve settled in to find out whether you hit the right mark.
You can present your content in many different ways, depending on your firm culture, systems and processes. Approaches you could take include:
- Create an internal brochure, handbook or intranet page (setting out what the team does and the different KM services or technology);
- Deliver regular live presentations (taking into account different time zones and variations in levels of knowledge resources in different offices or practices, if relevant);
- Pre-record content (this can be particularly effective if your team doesn’t have the capacity to deliver regular live presentations or if your firm has a large geographic spread);
- Send a welcome email or joining pack highlighting key information (look into automating this process so it doesn’t become too burdensome);
- Align with any existing processes that HR has in place (there might be a lateral hire introduction programme, for example); and
- Because people learn differently and continuously, consider delivering content in various formats such as podcasts, bitesize infomercials or blogs, or create a learning series.
It is increasingly important to support lawyers returning from periods away from the firm (such as parental leave, client secondments or other long-term absence). It helps them settle back into the firm more quickly and confidently and supports them to get up to speed on legal developments that they may have missed. Designing processes for welcoming extended leave returners requires close collaboration with HR colleagues so notifications of lawyers going on leave and arrangements for staying in touch (if appropriate) can be handled sensitively. These ideas can help support a leave returner:
- If they want to stay in the loop, hard copies of current awareness bulletins could be delivered to their home address to save them checking work emails;
- Email alerts from library e-services may be paused to make their inbox more manageable;
- You can create a template returner induction document to record firm news, key new processes/technologies, links to recordings of firmwide training and links to new practice notes and precedents. This can be kept up to date by the central KM team and be downloaded and added to with practice specific resources by knowledge lawyers in the returner’s team highlighting key cases/legislative changes, etc.;
- Make sure returners are invited to upcoming client BD events and that new team organograms are shared so staffing changes during their period of leave can be easily digested; and
- Diarise a re-induction session when HR notify the team of a return date and use any “keep in touch” days before the official return date to give a refresher on key systems, run through the returner’s pack and potentially get the returner involved in know how projects to keep them busy with useful work before their client work commences.
Energy and effort is well spent in creating and enabling a positive culture of knowledge sharing throughout the career of your lawyers. However, when a lawyer does leave the firm, it is worth thinking about the KM angles to the exit process because it can be a good time to harvest knowledge before they leave (whether that be documents or feedback about KM services you have offered them during their time with the firm). It is important to try to mitigate the “partial amnesia” your organisation will suffer if knowledge leaks out with leavers unimpeded. It can feel like a backward step in your KM efforts to have to reinvent the wheel, re-solve problems you already tackled or, at worst, suffer negligence claims if things on client engagements fall between cracks.
In general, KM teams are pretty good at storing and retaining knowledge that has been written down. Tacit knowledge, however, is way trickier to capture and potentially even more sorely missed when a lawyer leaves a firm. Techniques such as holding “fishbowl conversations”, “an audience with…” training sessions, mentoring of replacements, and KM exit interviews can all be deployed to try to tap into the tactics and negotiating acumen in the heads of more senior lawyers.
Coming up with a consistent global process can be challenging in international firms due to notice periods varying and leaving dates shifting. That said, when lawyers start to scale back new client work they may have spare time to devote to KM activities and partners who are due to retire may wish to play a role in creating a legacy collection or database.
Partner with HR and find out how KM teams can leverage or slot into existing exit processes. For example, to tailor emails that are sent to exiting lawyers outlining tasks they need to complete, to include sharing knowledge with the relevant knowledge lawyer, to give back library books, to participate in matter debriefs, and to include an information governance reminder on taking confidential forms and templates with them. On partner retirements, it is useful to tap into BD client succession processes.
Firms have always been keen to emphasise that their people are their greatest asset and in this volatile talent marketplace it is more important than ever that they do all they can to attract and retain their best people. KM teams can play a vital role in this effort through the support and structure they can offer throughout the lawyer lifecycle. During the Covid-19 pandemic, KM teams have also proved the important role they play in firms’ responses to changing circumstances and getting involved in helping to onboard and retain talent and preventing knowledge loss is just another way to show our value.
See these ILTA blogs and webinars:
Best Way to Onboard Lateral and New Associates with KM Resources (Blog – 5 Jan 2022)
KM for Newbies (Blog – 27 Jan 2020)
Onboarding and Training New Knowledge Management Professionals (Webinar – 23 May 2019)
Jenni Tellyn is a knowledge management and learning consultant with 3Kites Consulting Ltd. She works with law firms to provide independent advice, strategic direction and project leadership for a wide range of knowledge management projects.
Adam Dedynski is a knowledge and development professional support lawyer at White & Case.