Tuesday, February 20, 2007

KM is for Mid-Sized Firms Too

LLRX has a just published a fantastic article by Jason Eiseman, titled Creating Intranet Applications for Knowledge Sharing Within Law Firms.

Like Jason, I'm a big believer in bringing web 2.0 and open source applications behind the firewall. For those of us in mid-sized law firms, the choice to selectively integrate open source can often mean substantial cost savings, and keep us competitive.

Many KM practitioners, myself included, were very impressed with Oz Benamram, and MoFo's award winning AnswerBase. BTW, kudos to MoFo for releasing this application for public viewing. And similar kudos to Tom Baldwin & Sheppard Mullin for releasing this video showing their SharePoint 2007 portal.

For the mid-sized firm, one might be left to think that KM is only for firms of size. True, we don't have a team of dedicated programmers at hand, but in many cases, lean and innovative can compensate. At my Canadian firm of 75 lawyers, we do internal blogging, wikis, and are working on some cool things with internal RSS. In 2004, we launched a federated search product that offers a one-stop search for all of our in-house KM collections, and all our public web content too. What did these projects cost? A: my time. How does that compare to the efforts at MoFo? It doesn't, and to be honest, I don't think it has to.

As our firm grows, I know the future includes more off-the-shelf products like those employed by Tom & Oz. But for me, a couple things have become apparent. First, it is always possible to innovate in a mid-sized law firm. And second, even if your applications end up ported over to a vendor product later on, dipping one's toes into the waters of KM change is never a bad idea. Innovation & KM success are often just as much about building a culture of change as they are about cool technologies.

Not every KM application is going to be a homerun, so from my perspective, the equation really should be about risk. Risk is often the biggest difference in tactics between a mid-size and a large scale firm. At the mid-size firm, we cannot afford six figure mistakes - and why innovation through OS can make sense. At a larger firm, purchase cost is the least of their worries. Making a bad choice and deploying any technology across 18 offices and 1k+ attorneys could have devastating consequences. Big law CKO's may prove me wrong here, but my guess is that many larger firms will shy away from (or at the very least, tread carefully around) in-house and OS solutions. That's ok, as this is not intended to be a critique; simply comparing tactics.

Jason's article was a good reminder that there are many roads to law firm KM. And for those of us in firms of less than 1k ... or less than 100 ... the key is to stay innovative, keep an open mind, and make sure our tactics match our situation.


Blogger Jason said...

Thanks for the review. Thanks also for validating some of the ideas in the article.

Like you, I'm in a mid-size firm (about 150 attorneys), and much km work and intranet applications are done by me.

Hopefully we can spread the word that there's an important role librarians can play in intranet and km work in law firms.

10:06 AM  

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