Our firm defines KM as “delivering more value to clients by putting the knowledge of all attorneys at the fingertips of each attorney” and includes within “knowledge” the following three “P”s:
- Work product: model and sample documents, how-to guides, checklists, and other practice aids.
- Project-related information: profiles of cases and deals.
- People-related information.
This post focuses on the third “P”: people-related information. KM projects that focus on the first two Ps typically get more publicity and recognition within firms, probably because the output is more tangible; it’s usually obvious if a practice group has forms and matter profiles, but less obvious if the firm has a way to locate expertise. But connecting attorneys to the right people to answer questions and help clients achieve their goals can be the most powerful KM resource of all.
Below are some ways to achieve the third “P,” referred to from here on as “people-finding.”
Internal expertise. This is a critical part of people-finding, and much has already been written about it by excellent authors. See for example, the listing in Gwyn McAlpine’s November 23 ILTA KM blog post under Enterprise Search / Expertise Location.
External expertise. Clients frequently want referrals to attorneys in practices that a firm doesn’t provide or to professionals in fields other than law, such as accounting, banking, or consulting. A strong people-finding resource should help attorneys tap their colleagues’ referrals to find external experts. The main challenge is deciding which referrals to collect and post, given that gathering every last name from every attorney is neither feasible nor worthwhile. Our firm limits the scope by simply including in the referral tool only those attorneys and other professionals whom firm lawyers have recommended in response to internal requests for help. This approach both limits the work and, more importantly, ensures that each referral is supported by a firm attorney who has recommended the name to a colleague with a client question.
Experience with judges, arbitrators, and others. Information about judges, arbitrators, mediators, and experts can be useful for litigators. For example, when drafting briefs in support of a substantive motion to be heard by an unfamiliar judge, it would be useful for the litigation team to know that the judge does not take kindly to requests to exceed page limits and will not allow counsel to repeat at oral argument any of the points already set forth in the briefs. Similarly, if a litigation team is bullish about a client’s chances to defend a case at trial, the team will want to avoid using a mediator who is known to “split the baby” between the parties and instead seek someone who has a reputation for pressing for an outcome that is in line with the actual merits of the case. And when retaining a testifying expert in a matter in which opposing counsel is known to be aggressive in deposition and cross-examination, the attorney will want to know how the witness has performed in similar circumstances – whether the witness can retain composure under pressure and testify clearly and persuasively.
A strong people-finding resource enables a firm’s litigators to quickly locate information about each of these key players in the litigation process. A judge’s profile should note the firm’s attorneys who have clerked for or appeared in front of the judge, the matters the judge has presided over, and perhaps even link to external profiles of the judge’s cases and decisions. The resource should enable attorneys to search arbitrator or mediator names to find out which of the firm’s attorneys have experience with them. And expert profiles should outline expertise, link to CVs, and note the cases they’ve appeared in.
Who-knows-whom. A final category of people-finding is providing attorneys the ability to find out who at a firm knows a specific person or knows people at a specific company or other organization. Two ways to do this are (1) an enterprise search for the person’s or company’s name in documents or time entries, and (2) a search in ContactNet or similar tools to see if the name occurs in a colleague’s public contacts or the email addresses of emails sent to or from the firm.
People-finding is a critical component of a strong KM program. Enabling attorneys and other professionals to find internal experts is a great start; enabling them to find external experts, information about key players in cases, and who-knows-whom is even better.