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We do not need legal KM anymore, do we?

By Valérie M. Saintot.


Long story short, we need knowledge management (‘KM’) more than ever before. In this post, promptings will be offered to the readers to scout two specific perspectives about legal knowledge management. You will be invited to reflect on the evolution of (legal) KM and how mature your KM practices are. Recent technological mega fast-forward developments with large language models and knowledge graphs promise to transform the way unstructured legal data are meta tagged and mobilised, mechanically, or generatively. Yet so much is possible and much needed at people level before all hopes and fears are placed in generative AI. To attain legally sound and operationally reliable off the shelf solutions, legal professionals can start by humanly embodying mindsets and cultures which can in due course be augmented by AI driven solutions. Technology can help deliver wonders and even more so when the human in the loop performs at an advanced level of human mastery.  It is even more the case if legal professionals, out of an act of will, embrace a collective intelligence approach in their daily practices. The drive for this blog post is to go back to a few basics to consciously evolve the way we manage our legal knowledge. In turn, appealing legal working environments, caring for being more human centric and inclusive of legal professionals of all generations, young and very senior, could see the light.


Recently, I was in contact with young lawyers preparing their bar exam. These most engaged young professionals were not impressed by the working cultures they were experiencing in their legal teams where they started to practice. The most reported dissatisfaction was a highly hierarchical culture and a rather regular sense of loneliness in daily production of output with pressure of long and billable hours. They attributed these unfortunate experiences to a limited recourse to collective intelligence to solve problems, being forced to reinvent the wheels, and not profiting from the nudging and mentoring of more senior colleagues. Many said they will complete their studies and pass their bar exams but whether they would project themselves long term to work in law firms was not yet obvious. They actually approached me asking what else can you do after you pass the bar exam.


Legal KM could play a most motivating part in addressing the culture legal professionals could live up to and help tackle a wide range of known challenges in the legal profession, spreading from mental health issues and to lack of sense making or insufficient sense of collaboration around solving wicked legal problems.


To nurture proactive agency in the bigger debate about the impact of generative AI on the legal profession, it appears of highest value to be very potent in the physical world. In turn our projections in the digital world would make sense and add real business value and contribute to preserving democracy, remain prosperous, and keep peace on the planet. Falling short of this ambition will create a deceiving phygital world, hard wiring bad cultures and harmful personality traits which were loose coded until the tsunami of emotions released by generative AI. Activating the full potential of legal KM is not a project for the fainthearted. Like many of the legal work which is supportive of the legal business, it is often perceived as secondary. This is an error which will be fatal for those teams who do not outgrow this limiting view of the world.


This first Lex MAZE Blog post focuses on two basics perspectives in relation to (legal) knowledge management recalling key foundations:

  1. An evolutionary overview of (legal) knowledge management

  2. A mapping KM dimensions (tacit, explicit, internal, external) for legal


Future posts will offer diversified insights into legal KM practices and could serve as impulses for your own work and self-reflection.


1. An evolutionary overview of (legal) knowledge management

It is not uncommon to reduce legal knowledge management to information management systems, whatever their names and electronic locations (from Intranets to Enterprise Content Management Systems, to wikis and other generic or specific databases tailormade for legal processes, more or less integrated in the overall legal operation platforms possibly in use).


It is also familiar to see legal KM as a quantitative exercise leading to create all sorts of dashboards to monitor and report about production efforts and output rather than as a unique mean to assist legal professionals in delivering hard core legal content faster, better, availing useful and ready to use legal knowledge.


A running hope is to wait for the miraculous days when machines will effortlessly be able to just do it all: produce original knowledge, legally sound output, recycle relevant past output fitting the current needs, be politically astute, with no to limited need for quality control!? Social media clickbait hint at lawyers being replaceable by machines. It is interesting to look back at the evolution of the interaction machine-(legal) KM to realise that until this day comes, there is enough time to first upgrade people biological operating systems.


Figure 1 entitled ‘Evolution of (legal) KM’ summarises my experience as KM practitioner.

It shows three generations of KM from the 90’s till today. It mirrors what others report. The first generation focused on having databases and digital location to stored explicit knowledge contained in documents. The database was more important than the people using them. The second generation of KM saw more importance laid on the practices from a more interpersonal perspective in terms of processes and KM possible outputs. The third generation covers the second decade of 21st century and is all about exploring the creation of insights when people are meaningfully using technology to augment their ability to mobilise relevant knowledge to help them outperform what alone they would not have managed to deliver as well and as fast.


This evolutionary overview is a generic representation of what appears to have happened. What is interesting is to evaluate for yourself your own (team) practice by asking some questions. The below list is super incomplete but a decent set to start with:

  1. How explicit is your legal KM strategy?

  2. How and where are your KM policies and practices discussed, aligned to your needs, agreed, and codified, etc?

  3. To which extent technology is adapted to your legal KM needs?

  4. How much budget and FTEs can be dedicated to legal KM in your environment?

  5. How aligned is your digital KM processes with your other legal operations?

  6. Are people dedicated to legal KM in your teams?

  7. If so, are their respected for their work and added value and represented in strategic discussions?

  8. How are newcomers induced into the art of legal KM in your teams(s)?

  9. How often do you take a step back to think if your legal KM practices are fit for purpose?    

  10. What is your legal KM vision for the next five years, including in relation to generative AI?


Such short set of questions can help with creating a useful inquiry mindset and define the KM needs in the space you are responsible for.


2.  A mapping of KM dimensions and cycle

There is nothing like a well-functioning compass to navigate complex or unknown territories. To avoid reducing legal knowledge management to a boring activity that needs done and you delegate to a B-team you cannot use for better work, it is very much worth reflecting whether you are giving due attention to legal KM. Could it be that your disinterest is a correlate of your ignorance or lack of time to understand the ins and outs of legal KM?


A general framework widely acclaimed by practitioners and over time academically confirmed can be found in the work of Nonaka and Takeuchi. The work of these authors is unavoidable go to for usable insights into the why, how, and what of KM in organisations. Nonaka and Takeuchi have created the ‘SECI model of KM’ (see the ‘To go further’ section below). It is one of the most influential models of knowledge creation and transfer in teams and organisations. It explains how tacit and explicit knowledge is converted into organizational knowledge.


The model is fully applicable to legal teams. By understanding and applying the model, legal professionals can create more knowledgeable and innovative teams.


Figure 2 below replicates an adapted version of the original model. It shows a cycle where tacit knowledge becomes explicit. It also displays how knowledge shifts from individual to collective level. It describes the cyclical dimension of knowledge creation. When understood, this model can become a highly effective (generating relevant knowledge) and efficient (most economical approach) knowledge production iterative process.


Here some few questions to self-reflect about your own practice:

  1. When you look at the model, what comes to your mind in terms of maturity of your understanding and practice of legal KM?

  2. How much do you let KM sharing happen versus how much do you pro-actively shape legal knowledge exchanges?

  3. What are the in-house and external professional fora where you actively foster the conceptualization of your legal practice?

  4. How do you ensure that scattered explicit legal knowledge is combined and shared?

  5. How well-oiled is the integration over time and space of your practical legal KM knowledge and know-how and how do you keep expanding your practice of the law continuously?


What is possibly not mentioned in the SECI model is the culture and mindset required to fully tap the potential of caring for the four quadrants of the model.


If legal professionals would explicitly invest their attention to work according to this approach, many of their challenges would get tamed with resolve and grace. It would be most rewarding humanly and interpersonally. If the goal of any optimisation, automation, and newest technology is to gain time, save costs, increase value creation, why not go for it AND demand that the savings/gains are invested to generate more respectful and healthy work environments across generations of legal practitioners.

To go Further Books

  • Nonaka, Ikujirō, Takeuchi, Hirotaka, (1995). The knowledge-creating company : how japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. Oxford University Press.

  • Hilger, J., & Wahl, Z. (2022). Making Knowledge Management Clickable: Knowledge Management Systems Strategy, Design, and Implementation (pp. 1-311). Springer.


Websites


 

About the Author

Dr. Valérie M. Saintot, LL.M., is a lawyer (since 1994), mindfulness teacher (since 2005), visiting lecturer at Bucerius Law School (since 2021), and adjunct professor (since 2022). She has worked in the private sector and EU public sector. She has been featured as legal design thinking pioneer in the first book in Spanish on this topic (2022). Valérie is an active member of the Liquid Legal Institute and recently contributed to the update of the Legal Digitalization Guide. She has authored articles on the visual navigation of the law and legal knowledge visualization.

She has extensive experience in (legal) knowledge management. She is also actively promoting the transformation of legal ecosystems to take advantage of (G)AI and technologies to actively preserve peace and democracy. She promotes mindfulness-based leadership to face with resilience and discernment the many societal transformations under way. She is also a passionate international keynote speaker (www.valeriesaintot.com).


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