Knowledge management is a discipline that, while already being addressed by many law firms, is still relatively in its infancy and will grow and develop more soon. It will also be influenced by many factors, including changes within the law firm, and developments in IT and AI. As such, it is difficult to define knowledge management, as it can mean something very different depending on the person defining it.
The aim of knowledge management is to help create, share and use knowledge more effectively. If done properly it gives any law firm a competitive advantage over its competition. In search for that competitive advantage law firms typically look for different types of technologies to support knowledge management.
Building a repository of documents and precedents is often a key step in the plan to develop a knowledge management strategy. This may have many advantages, particularly when it comes to an increase in efficiency and the effectiveness in which the collation and recollection of key information can be accomplished. A repository can also help limit the effects on a firm when experienced lawyers decide to leave, essentially taking their knowledge with them.
The effectiveness of firm repositories though, often held on firm intranets, is primarily reliant on key terms on which searches can be based. This does not necessarily prove to be perfectly reliable as often search results can come back with either too many documents, many irrelevant, or unhelpful documents that do not directly correlate to the issue at hand. It also relies on a human to review and verify if the data results do in fact provide the information sought.
The build-up of a repository is just the accumulation of data. Data can be seen as facts, figures, and information, which without a proper context does not necessarily amount to anything meaningful. On the other hand, knowledge involves a mental process that requires learning and understanding and demonstrating that understanding.
A very simple example of this can be evidenced by simply looking at the process of qualifying to become a lawyer. All law graduates will work from the same recommended texts, lectures, and access to online material, but it is the student who can best extrapolate the key points and illustrate their understanding best by articulating this in their argument that will likely succeed.
However, in recent years more and more tools and platforms with specialized content have become available, which in addition to a repository, can make the life and workload of a lawyer easier. These include tools that allow for the automation of document production, review, and comparison as well as targeted search results to include additional know-how, research, and analysis, and even translation.
These tools can prove vital, especially in the realms of corporate law, contract management, and mergers and acquisitions. But even then, their usefulness may be limited to other practice groups.
Relying on technology for legal translations itself can be tricky. In the Middle East, for example, many laws are still issued in Arabic. Unlike several jurisdictions where the drafting, debate, and subsequent redrafting of the law is in the public domain and can be used to understand the intent and aid the application of the law, most middle eastern countries do not provide insight into the drafting process. Oftentimes this can mean the first time a law firm gets to see a new law is when it is issued and takes effect.
The issues of technology-based translations become evident when you consider that the Arabic language has a finite number of words. Most translations are done by way of a word-by-word literal translation. The English language, however, is ever-growing. Add to that the fact that the same word can have varying meanings depending on the context it is used. An Arabic translation then, without the context can become very misleading and it takes a lawyer knowledgeable in that field to properly extract an effective application of the same.
As mentioned at the onset of this article, knowledge management is an area in which growth can be expected. It is also clear that there may not necessarily be one approach that is perfect for all firms, or even for all practice groups within a law firm. While technology no doubt has a part to play in the development and growth of knowledge management it is clear that the need for skilled and experienced individuals is also a key factor in the successful application of a knowledge management strategy.
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