Session Report–Creating An Optimal KM Value Strategy

30 Aug

Post by David Hobbie, ILTA KM PG

Formal Description:

“A sound KM strategy is essential to success. Whether you are just starting a KM program or you’ve been at it for years, you’ll take away insight into how your colleagues have formulated or refreshed their KM strategies to optimal levels, and what did and didn’t work.”

John Gillies, Director of Practice Support, Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP

Sally Gonzalez, Senior Director, HBR Consulting

Steven Lastres, Director of Library & Knowledge Management, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

Facilitator – Patrick DiDomenico, Chief Knowledge Officer, Gibbons P.C.


This was the fifth session on the knowledge management track, “KMPG5.” Together with the thorough attached slides, it was an excellent, practical overview of how to develop, obtain support for, communicate, and prioritize your firm’s knowledge management strategy, in other words, how to set up and get beating the heart of your knowledge management activities.   Another key strategy resource, that was repeatedly referenced, is the ILTA KM White Paper article that Ms. Gonzalez and Oz Benamram wrote this year, “Forming a KM Strategy For Your Firm.”

I personally (and publicly!)  resolved to talk more to my partners about the value of KM after this session.

Some highlights have already been covered at Above and Beyond KM.


Sally Gonzalez has spent 30 years in law firm technology and knowledge management. She has worked in the UK, Toronto sisters firms, and US firms. (Full disclosure: my firm from time to time employs HBR, including work by Ms. Gonzalez).

John Gillies (occasional author on this blog), has been with Cassels Brock for four years, where he created their knowledge management program.

Steven Lastres, Debevoise & Plimpton, is director of library and knowledge management.  They also handle external content integration into the portal, through Osmosis, Lexis & Westlaw.  Steve is also a leader in encouraging law librarians to view themselves as legal technologists, as by connecting to legal technology organizations such as ILTA.

Why Have A Strategy?

If you don’t have a strategy, like Alice down the rabbit hole you’ll get to where you don’t want to be.

You need to have a very concrete plan of action.

Strategy becomes basis of communication. It helps articulate what knowledge management is. KM is morphing into support for legal project management and process reengineering. Oz Benamram (KM thought leader and CKO at White & Case) feels very strongly that as you strategize, you get an important advantage, building lawyer support and understanding.

Without a good strategy, your only other options are supporting pockets of enthusiasm, or playing “follow the leader” and doing what White & Case or FreshFields is doing.

Pockets of enthusiasm will wear out. If you don’t do your own thinking on strategy, you will end up with a KM program that doesn’t fit the needs of your firm.

Strategy can provide a way to address others’ enthusiastic but ill-advised ideas.

When To Develop A Strategy?

If you don’t have a plan, now is the time.

It will start to age as soon as it is published. It should be “refreshed” as often as yearly, not less than every eighteen months.

How to Develop A Strategy

As noted above, the slides spell out steps in strategy development. The basic framework is the same from firm to firm. The art behind the science is translation of the framework to the specific circumstances of your firm.

Don’t put boundaries on what you want to do. Make strategic goals a stretch target. You can get realistic in the planning process.

You need to start with some dialogue about what knowledge management could be at your firm.

Don’t limit KM at the start of the process. Identify the business drivers and needs coming from lawyers, clients, and administrative departments. What are the problems that need solving? That will limit the areas of activities.

What are our aspirational peers doing in these areas?

It is a circular process. You might come up with lots more ideas than you end up with. There should be lots of strategic interviews. In the handout there are practical examples of what those questions look like.

Steve Lastres did an online poll on what lawyers wanted, in addition to personal interviews.

KM strategy can be a hard topic for for lawyers.  Ask how their  work would be, how would your day be easier, if knowledge management were fully fleshed out. What impediments would it help overcome? How would it make lawyers more productive?  How would it help us beat out the competition? How will it reduce risk? You’ll need their words to justify the strategy.

About a third of “impediment” answers are typically problems for which there is an existing solution. What will fix that is (creative) awareness and training.

KM and professional development are closely intertwined in the UK and Canada.

The time frame of a KM strategy is typically three years. (Ed.—This is twice as long as eighteen months the period during which Tom Kolopolous said the rules change in technology, due to Moore’s Law and its doubling of processor (and other) speeds)—perhaps today’s strategic plans need to be shorter?)

Implementation Plan

A “Programs” structure can organize projects into themes and moves coherently towards goals. Different kinds of projects get executed over three
years.  A consistent, well-thought out implementation plan will keep things moving steadily.

White & Case’s plan has 70 projects under 5 or 6 programs. Programs keep projects organized and readily explainable or justifiable.

Prioritization is a key element of an implementation plan.  It’s how you figure out what is worth doing.

Page 3 of the slides lays out one prioritization method.

Identify the value and the ease of implementation of each project.

Value is assessed through looking at:

  • Support for the firm’s strategies;
  • Meeting clients’ needs;
  • Economic payback /ROI;
  • Desired behavior changes; and,
  • Addressing competitive advantage/remedying disadvantage.

Ease of implementation is assessed through looking at:

  • complexity of work;
  • clarity of requirements;
  • familiarity of technology;
  • behavior changes needed; and,
  • existing acceptance.
The specific substance of the value to the firm assessment comes from the discussions with attorneys.
Map out projects via post-it notes on a grid of charting high/low value and high/low ease of implementation.  Then divide into quadrants, “Field of Gain” (high value, easy to do, these are the “Quick Wins”), “Field of Dreams” (High value, hard to do, these are the long term strategic imperatives.). “Field of Distraction” (low value, easy to do), “Field of Pain” (low value, hard to do).
Start with field of gain, set for delivery in the first 6 months, set delivery 12-18 months for field of dreams (but start working on them right away).

Do this prioritization at least once a year, during budgeting time.

The same approach as above works with strategy refresh. The interviews and so forth take less time because people know what to expect now.

Lawyers are starting to see more technologies. You now get more “why can’t we do that.”

If you spend more than 30% on technologies, you will fail.


It can be very useful to have an outside view.   Consultants have seen many other firms’ strategies and can provide valuable assistance.  John Gillies hired Joshua Fireman of ii3.

Consultants can be a guide and help, but if they do it for you the resulting strategy will be a doorstop.

In the absence of a consultant, some good KM articles can also help you get a broader perspective, listed on the last slide (Ed.-I would also recommend ch. 2 in APQC’s “The New Edge In Knowledge”, reviewed earlier on this blog).


Consider creative formats that make the strategy visually easy to grasp.  Osler developed a useful visual, a pyramid, with a vision (“Easy access to practice tools and resources”) up top; goals in the middle; and key initiatives at the bottom,  with client demands / business drivers coming in from the left.

White & Case used words: “Leverage the firm’s collective knowledge to improve the quality and efficiency of client service”, with a tripartite goal:

  • Connect people to information
  • Connect People to people
  • Improve processes and attorney productivity.
You need to have plans in different levels of detail, that are used for different communication purposes.

Getting Buy-In

All the way through the process you are obtaining buy-in and identifying people who can help sell the strategy. Call on the existing relationships. If your firm has a user group, they can help.

Patrick DiDomenico suggests letting the lawyers speak for the KM person, particularly if it’s the practice group leader.

You have to provide KM committees with the ammunition they need.

Show them what you can do with what you are proposing to do. Show a tangible result, even if it’s just a picture.  How do you get something done?

Communication has to be a concrete piece of every project.  A person has to be presented with a new idea 7 different times.   What are the channels you will use?  Even smart lawyers won’t be offended if you tell them multiple times.


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