Knowledge management in action

Scarce resources drive in-house counsel to do more with less. Technological innovations assist in maximizing legal operation management, which includes efficient knowledge management.

Knowledge management in action
Gary Goodwin

Scarce resources drive in-house counsel to do more with less. Technological innovations assist in maximizing legal operation management, which includes efficient knowledge management.

At the organization for which I work, we use Office 365 as part of our overall IT platform. This includes Microsoft Teams and the mind-mapping application MindMeister. We found that using mind maps greatly enhances the capture of tacit knowledge and disseminates this knowledge throughout the organization.

KM helps organizations identify, select, organize and disseminate important information and expertise. It is an integral part of overall legal operations management at the strategic, management and front-line staff levels. Having efficient KM systems at these levels then allows counsel to focus more on high-value strategic legal issues.

Small legal departments must work with the resources they are provided. The existing IT systems can be carefully torqued to provide that additional legal value that all departments want. Using the existing Microsoft Teams forms a critical part of the overall change management of the organization. We incorporated the mind maps as a part of Microsoft Teams to allow staff to interact and chat about the various legal issues they face.

Mind maps explain how ideas interrelate. Once a single idea is placed in the centre of the map, various sub-concepts can then be drawn. The mind-mapping application easily allows mind maps to be drafted and refined. The user easily moves around new ideas and sub-concepts.

Using a mind map application allows the viewer to see how various ideas interact with one another. Each idea provides context for other ideas. Providing context for information allows the viewer to move from information to knowledge and, hopefully, to wisdom. Simply using a search mechanism for text loses context.

Legal departments incorporate legal operations into their overall function and processes to innovate further and change with the times. Lawyers and law firms sometimes resist change and hold on to the more traditional way of doing things. However, innovation requires trying numerous things to see what potentially works.

Knowledge management helps to quickly get legal information to front-line staff. If staff can find the answer to some basic legal questions, then this frees up legal time for other work. This is a form of demand management with limited legal supply.

The difficulty in bringing in KM shows knowledge’s messiness and how it can be found in all areas of the organization. Trying to get someone to write things down in a systematic way can be difficult. We needed a way to move tacit knowledge; i.e., bound up in people, into explicit knowledge, people talking to other people, who would then incorporate this new knowledge as their own tacit knowledge. Gaining wisdom from this knowledge requires both context and overall understanding.

The new corporate structures impose another difficulty and hamper KM. A central office allowed a person the opportunity to wander down the hall to a mentor and ask questions about a certain situation. Having one’s office offsite reduces this potential interaction. I moved out of the office this past August and telecommute from home most days. We can book a hotel room and reserve an office when necessary to attend face-to-face meetings. Since necessity is the gender-neutral parent of invention, I needed to interact with staff on another level. This suggested the need for an ethereal coffee room. Microsoft teams provided the necessary ethereal coffee chat room to interact with staff.

Finally, most of a corporation’s information can be bound up in precedents and procedural manuals. This type of information lacks the important concept of context. A mind map can provide that necessary context.

We initially started using a cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 environment. Microsoft teams then became the collaborative platform for staff to interact. Teams use several apps including MindMeister to facilitate anyone in drafting their own mind maps.

The benefits became immediately apparent when we started working with a long-time partner on a water supply and quality project. The partnership has lasted for a couple of decades. However, owing to staff turnover, I was the only original member. When the project renewal came up recently, it became difficult to get everyone on the same page. The project required a cross-functional team of water biologists, engineers, conservation professionals, marketing, management and legal.

This project illustrated how tacit knowledge locked with various staff leaves once the staff leaves. This knowledge loss and my impending retirement in another year or more gave me the impetus to start collecting as much of this tacit knowledge as possible.

Using a mind map allowed us to arrange all the various tasks and previous history together on one easy-to-read summary. We could also link relevant files directly to an idea. Putting all the necessary tasks and issues on one page allowed everyone to obtain the necessary context to move the project forward.

In addition, mind maps helped design the new legal help portal. Although anyone could search and find a document, they may not have the context. Using a legal help mind map allows staff to search out issues based on a need if they were not quite aware of what they should be searching for. So, for example, instead of laying out documents for the various departments, we laid out opinions and documents based on user need. For example, the portal includes discussions about Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation. Staff can click on the link and download an easy-to-follow algorithm that explains when the need for CASL consent arises.

The initial legal portal handles the most common series of questions we receive. The benefit of using teams allows staff to ask questions and this thread can then remain with the topic. This helps knowledge transfer from implicit to explicit. Staff can then internalize this new knowledge.

Part of change management includes enticing people to use the portal on a regular basis. Once we receive a question that could have either national or continual importance, we post this as part of the portal. Part of the chat process allows us to attach a name to a response and this pushes a notification out to the intended recipient. So, instead of an email that can get lost in the system, this push notification forms part of the chat, which then becomes part of the tacit knowledge being collected for followup questions. Staff can also add their own experiences to provide even greater context.

The measurement of success for such a KM system is clear when staff say they can find the information they want or that it is easy to understand. We can also calculate the financial benefits. We count all the legal time and staff time saved once they had the answer for which they were looking and could quickly and easily implement the knowledge into their workflow. You can then calculate how often this same question comes up on an annual basis and multiply it by the hourly rate for the lawyers and staff multiplied by the hours spent. You take the net present value of that figure for as long as you feel that an issue would continue to have relevance. For a question such as occupier’s liability, for example, this value could last for a decade or more.

This type of approach shows a dollar saved figure in the thousands for each issue made available for staff. Savings provided by legal knowledge management illustrates the further value of in-house counsel using this approach.

Gary Goodwin is in-house counsel for Ducks Unlimited Canada in Winnipeg.

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