By Jessica M. Hackett, Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C.
The project started simply enough. I got a call from the Advocacy Department Chair inquiring whether we could create an intranet site to combine the resources of the department’s more-than-ten practice groups and subgroups. We needed an area to house the department’s meeting minutes and a list of helpful links to commonly used resources, among them library, marketing, client relationship policies, and, of course, KM. Out of habit, I asked, “Is there anything else KM can do to help?” He responded, “Well, I know you all do these great forms and practice guides, but I can never find them.” Ouch.
These legal-knowledge resources, known as precedent in some circles, are housed on the various practice groups’ intranet sites. Our firm is not alone in housing precedent on practice group sites. Indeed, I conducted an unscientific poll of legal KMers and found that this is the norm; precedent is kept by the group who creates it.
But, Can They Find It?
This begs the question: how hard could it be to find an automated form? Just go to the practice group site, look under forms, and there, you will find it! Surely you will find it there. Right? For our firm, the answer is yes – so long as someone has placed the content on the correct page of the correct site and your practice group actively participates in posting content. Also, I am sure you can even find some, if not most, of these items by using our not-so-brand-new enterprise search.
During my meeting with the Advocacy Department Chair, we devised a plan. We would put links to all of the practice groups’ precedent (for instance, forms, practice guides, and exemplar documents) in one location. We would let the groups that own the content keep their materials; we would simply have a global links list of every resource for every group and subgroup. Each link would have metadata regarding the source practice group, jurisdiction, legal topic, and format – indicating form, practice guide, or other resource. The goal was to direct all groups to one source that allows them to see everything that is available. We would remove the barrier of not knowing whether you are searching for a form, an exemplar document, or practice guide. One group would no longer hoard its stellar brief on recent developments in personal jurisdiction for federal courts. Knowledge would be exposed. It would be shared by all.
Which Came First?
Tackling one practice group site at a time, a large endeavor for a firm that has been open for more than 125 years and has had a formal KM department for more than a decade, one thing became clear: some groups have been more active than others in using their practice group sites. Then I made another discovery: the more active the group, the more content on the site. This makes sense, but I wondered whether the lack of content caused the lack of traffic or the lack of traffic caused the lack of content. It became an exercise in the classic question of “which came first: the chicken or the egg?”
I set out in search of answers. In her article “Another Look at Precedent Management” published in the July 2013 Digital White Paper “Knowledge Management: Intelligent Business at Its Best,” Marybeth Corbett observed that “[t]he demand on billable attorney time is the biggest barrier to robust precedent collections.” Baker Donelson attorneys do get billable and hourly credit for contributing to the production of precedent. This program is available to each practice group without preference. With this consideration off the table, I could not help but wonder what other barriers cause a lack of participation and content. How can I encourage more participation causing or caused by (the jury is still out) more content?
We will soon debut the global list on the brand new Advocacy Department site. I suspect that seeing side-by-side where each practice group stacks up against the others will drive participation and content. This will also give KM the opportunity to formally reeducate every attorney in the department on the topics of practice group sites and precedent management.
To disrupt the status quo, our KM department will purchase gift cards to be used as raffle-type prizes for some of our less active practice groups. The cost of entry will be one item of content. An attorney increases the chances of winning for each item submitted. Of course, in true KM fashion, content will be vetted before the attorney gets credit.
What Do You Think?
ILTA KMers would love to hear from you. Can you solve the riddle of which came first: content or traffic? What is your firm doing to encourage the creation of content? How is your firm directing traffic to content? Do you have any innovative ideas for encouraging traffic and content?