Innovation in Law Firm Knowledge Management: What's New to You?
“Innovation” is the buzzword du jour in the legal industry. Every law firm, in-house law department, legal services provider, and legal vendor claims to be innovative. But what do they mean? Ironically, perhaps, using this word to describe an organization’s products, services, or offerings has become trite. Whenever I see the latest claim of innovation in the legal industry, I can’t help but think of the classic line spoken by Inigo Montoya to Vizzini in the 1987 romantic comedy film The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Innovation can be misunderstood, it is often simple and unremarkable. Innovations are sometimes under-the-radar and not always headline-worthy. We should also remember that innovation is not the goal. The goal is to create something useful, which adds value. Labeling something “innovative” is just that -- a label. It describes the end result of something that someone has created.
Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.” Some have described innovation in a more business-oriented sense and define it as “the creation and capture of new value in new ways,” in addition to the “successful introduction of new product, service, business model or process.”
What Does it Take to be Innovative in Law Firm Knowledge Management?
Innovation in knowledge management is relative. What is new (or innovative) in your law firm will depend on where you are in the journey along the KM maturity model. For example, before I joined Ogletree Deakins, the firm had been engaging in some KM activities, but there was no formal, established KM department. The fact that the firm hired a full time, dedicated KM leader was innovative for the firm. Compared to other firms with already established KM departments, this was not an innovation. Had we stopped there, today the fact that we have a chief knowledge officer would be old news and not at all innovative. So, in this way, innovation is about progress and building on a solid foundation.
Focus Areas for Knowledge Management Innovation
A successful, and truly innovative, knowledge management program is multi-faceted. While KM programs will inevitably have certain things in common, no two programs will be identical. Supporting the strategic direction of the firm, however, is a fundamental principle of knowledge management. Another core concept and goal of KM is to help an organization operate more efficiently; to avoid the need to “recreate the wheel.” This can be accomplished in many ways. The best way to identify innovation opportunities is to look for pain points. Try to solve problems that your clients, lawyers, or co-workers are experiencing. As a basic example, if lawyers are wasting time drafting boilerplate documents from scratch, you can create a searchable repository of model, sample, and form documents that can be replicated. For more mature firms that already employ such approaches, seek out tools that can automate the drafting of documents using artificial intelligence technology.
Create Value, Not Innovation
Innovation needn’t be exciting or cool, and innovation for the sake of innovation should not be the focus. What’s new to one organization might be old to another. The importance is not the novelty, but the usefulness to the organization. Focus on creating value rather than on creating a buzz. If what you create is useful and new, then that’s a valuable innovation.