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KM as a KPI – Knowledge Management and the Business of Law

By Lynn Tellefsen Stehle posted 11-15-2023 11:59


At progressive law firms, “innovation” has evolved as a strategic imperative that in part determines a firm’s ability to differentiate itself and to grow in an increasingly sophisticated and competitive legal services market. Once a loosely defined dream state spurred by technological advancements, today “innovation” has evolved to become a highly visible and strategy-focused operation uniting a cross-disciplinary team of highly skilled professionals who in large part, decide what, how and when technology should be deployed to achieve the firm’s goals. A firm’s Knowledge Management team is often at the center of innovation. 

All firms want to optimize their operations in a way that continuously maximizes profit margins while satisfying the collective knowledge needs of its professionals across practice groups globally, in an ever-changing group of professionals and practice areas, from business development to litigation support, to the corporate library and finance. 
Knowledge Management has evolved from an adjunct operation to the library or competitive intelligence unit being tasked with a plethora of research and “special projects” to drive innovation that no other department could satisfy to embody a sophisticated and multi-faceted team that serves as a conduit to effectuating innovation, supporting all facets of a firm’s operations, from client development and marketing to litigation and practice support, to business development, finance, human resources, legal recruiting, facilities and more.

KPIs Drive KM 
KPIs provide targets for teams to shoot for, milestones to gauge progress, and serve up the data that in turn produces insights that can help people across the firm make better decisions. Today, many firms have determined that integrating KM as part of their strategic focus benefits the whole firm. But how do we know if firms are investing in these mostly inward facing operations? One signal is the assertion to their clients that KM is in fact a strategic focus that in turn benefits their clients.

Several firms now list their KM function on their website for clients to consider as part of their service delivery. Doing so may indicate a firm’s commitment to deliver efficiently on the goals and to be measured against by their clients. It demonstrates a firm’s commitment to deliver on the promise and therefore KM itself serves as a KPI. This is already happening at several firms. Among those firms for well-designed and implemented KM infrastructures is Baker Donelson which has created a highly sophisticated KM function that optimizes legal project management operations internally and externally, encourages and facilitates collaboration, and enables it to deliver continuous value to clients. Beyond fundamental efficiencies across legal operations, the firm offers its clients customized solutions to their business problems.

KM Informs a Firm’s Strategic Roadmap

KM helps firms to plan for and actualize their strategic priorities and, if functioning well, informs and facilitates the often-challenging change management process that many firms struggle with after adopting new technology. In fact, in my own work at Nexl, I help law firms to align our CRM-ERM focused platform with their people and processes, to effectuate and report on mission-critical strategic initiatives predicated on relationship management and intelligence. 
Technology alone – no matter how advanced – cannot architect or effectuate the change management processes that major administrative initiatives need – from finance to marketing. In fact, as unpacked in this ILTA blog post, law firm IT departments are increasingly dependent upon a firm’s KM team to determine priorities, and future technology roadmap, timelines and dependencies. 
And data alone is not enough. Today, many firms are drowning in it rather than making sense of it to direct their next move. Compliance, information security risks and other data-sensitive issues exacerbate and frustrate the creation of systems and protocols to deliver the appropriate level of data access to discrete users across a firm’s ecosystem, as well as serve up the right information to the right people (both internally and externally) at the appropriate time. Learn more about how to bring data-sensitive solutions to your firm in this ILTA blog post.

Collaboration is Key

As information technologists and legal operations subject matter experts, KM professionals organize, regulate, and monitor information systems across a firm’s ecosystem. They analyze data, gather user feedback, and make it as seamless and efficient and effective as possible for all user groups in the firm to provide an opportunity to operate at the highest level. 
Collaboration itself is likely the primary KPI of the modern law firm’s ability to innovate, both for its own sake and that of its clients.

KM is the Ultimate Law Firm KPI
KM is the ultimate KPI allowing firms to measure their ability to support the needs of their own professionals and fee earners as well as allowing assessment of their ability to satisfy the needs of their clients and prospects—today and tomorrow. 
Evaluating KM as a KPI will differ from firm to firm depending on its size, the scope and maturity of its operation, and its resources and technological trajectory. Notwithstanding, one common element is that measuring on these guideposts will improve the KM function.
Ideally, appraisals will include quantitative and qualitative data.  On the quantitative side, metrics that govern support and performance, such as user adoption rates, reduced time spent searching for information and the number of users interacting with KM. Qualitatively, one appraises increased client and employee satisfaction, better access to and use of information, higher quality work product, levels, and patterns of use.