Knowledge Management in a Law Firm: Yes, It’s a Thing

giammarco-boscaro-380903-unsplash What does knowledge loss cost a law firm? If an attorney leaves a firm, usually knowledge loss is considered in the context of the loss of an individual attorney’s area of expertise and their relationships including the clients that might leave with them. The problem of knowledge management in a firm, however, transcends relationships and even the attorneys themselves.

In an article on legal knowledge management, the focus is on what has historically been called records management with an extended nod to efficiently managing electronic assets such as email. This addresses part of the problem of retaining expert knowledge in a traditional framework.

Forward-looking firms expand their definition of knowledge management to include the value of many types of knowledge – not all of which is legal or relational – and what might be lost to the firm if that information isn’t captured, preserved and able to be transferred as an asset.


  • Automation: Begin to consider automating functions once considered human – think legal secretaries. One lawyer who lost the secretary upon whom he relied for support will be doing that job until a replacement is identified at a high cost of losing his billables while doing a job below his pay grade. What parts of that job can be automated or supported virtually to allow a bridge between the different humans who will be sitting in the desk thus retaining important functions beyond individual persons?
  • New tools for capturing, preserving and transferring knowledge: It’s not just what your employees know, it’s how they know it. If you wonder how your wunderkinds think, find out. Give them tools that capture their thought processes so you can replicate how they see the world. Those tools exist, and they allow younger associates to learn how their more experienced counterparts make decisions and craft arguments.
  • Corporate culture: A professional world is often a world of egos and personal value. No, an individual is not irreplaceable, but another valuable individual is different. It’s important to capture the essence of the value of a high-profile, charismatic person to replicate the style as well as the substance of that individual as part of the culture of the firm that you want to preserve to retain your competitive advantage with clients.

As in many other professions and industries, it is difficult to completely inoculate your organization from knowledge loss. Particularly in fields such as the legal profession where personal privacy and data security are acutely critical, capturing and retaining your expert knowledge has unique challenges. Yes, your departing employees will take relationships and tacit knowledge with them. You can’t prevent that. You probably already create barriers to prevent personnel of all types from taking digital assets with them. Beyond that, your employees are storehouses of value some of which may be captured and preserved to retain your edge in an increasingly competitive and cost-sensitive environment.

Is it time you do a thorough knowledge scan of your law firm to find out what you need to preserve and where you need to bolster your assets?

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


When They Don’t Follow the SOP

Point of SuccessA retired friend of mine, an engineer by profession, wrote a wonderful book last year looking back on his career that is full of the humor and irony of a life of assessing and mitigating damage at chemical plants. If you are a member of the broom brigade in the elephant parade, you’ve got stories. And he’s got stories.

One story in particular caught my attention as it highlights the challenges of managing the overzealous employee who – by virtue of wanting to improve upon the written instructions – took it upon himself to shorten the wait time in a chemical process. Okay, you see this coming, don’t you?

The story goes thusly:

Most manufactured chemicals are very sensitive. During the processing that creates them from a variety of other materials, any variation in the reaction conditions can lead to impurities, byproducts or even an undesired final product. This is particularly true with pharmaceuticals which are by their nature complicated and usually involve long, multiple steps…

Occasionally a batch (2,000 gallons) of the initial material in the production chain came up off-quality. It would have a haze of insoluble byproduct that was very difficult to remove and thus led to reworking expense as well as scheduling nightmares. The engineers went to work to identify the problem with the sub-standard batches. They checked all the measuring instruments and devices, recalibrated them, confirmed the cleanliness of all the equipment, verified the quality of the incoming materials, redid all the intermediate analytical checks, and so on and so on. In analyzing the data, they realized that one individual – let’s call him Al – charged all the off-specification batches. Charging is the process of adding all the materials involved in the chemistry into the reaction vessel.

Al was a very good guy, a conscientious operator, experienced and trustworthy. So, we descended on him to watch how he charged the materials. It seemed very straightforward. The medium of choice was water and the first process step required Al to add it to the vessel. While the water was being added, he began adding the other materials which came out of 50-pound bags. We found no problem with how he did this. There were no scraps of bagging material accidentally being added, no other problematic events.

Then the head scratching began. Al was apparently doing everything correctly. And yet the problem persisted. Then one genius suggested instead of focusing on the errant operator, we should see how the other operators did the charging process. Upon doing this, a glaring difference immediately appeared. The written instructions, created years ago, directed the operator to add the required amount of water to the vessel and only then begin adding the other components. Whomever designed the equipment installed a feed line that was not very large. As a result, it took about an hour to fill the required amount of water. So, what did the other operators do? They followed the instructions literally and took an extra break to fill their time.

We went back to Al.

“Why do you charge the materials while the vessel is filling?” we asked.

His answer would have warmed the heart of any supervisor.

“To be more efficient,” Al said matter-of-factly. “Why waste that time? This gives me a head start on the whole process.”

It really hurt to tell Al to stop being so concerned and dedicated, and to take an extra break just like all the other operators until all the water was in place. Needless to say, his feelings were hurt.

He took the extra break and the quality problem disappeared. The solution was perhaps not elegant, but it did the job. We all believe that greater efficiency is good, but we forget, at our peril, that it does not exist in a vacuum. –

From Stories from My Working Days by Richard Sakulich

Following the SOP and Reinforcing the SOP

In following the SOP, Al’s one apparently minor, inconsequential deviation was costly. A few lessons:

  • When your product does not meet specifications, are you checking to make sure all your employees are following the SOP to the letter? It is usually written exactly as required for a reason.
  • When the SOP is not followed to the letter, but the deviation is – as in the case of Al – the result of an overzealous employee trying to improve on the process, how do you handle it? In this case, Al was simply and gently corrected as his “cutting corners” was intended to be helpful. Don’t lose a good employee by embarrassing them or punishing them.
  • When the well-written SOP is not followed, it may require a slight modification to explain the process and avoid deviations. In this case, an extra sentence could be added to the instructions explaining, “The water must be filled before any chemicals are added, or the final product will not meet specifications.”

Even the best plans and most well-written SOPs will encounter an Al or two. And when this happens to you, note the process variation and address it in the SOP. There is always another Al waiting to improve upon perfection.

How do you address employees who don’t follow the SOP exactly as written?

Richard Sakulich’s book is not yet available for general purchase but if you would like a copy, contact me at and I will forward your request to him. This is one of many great tales in “Stories from My Working Days” that will leave you giggling.

The Shift: From Training for Information to Training Information Processing

scott-webb-765610-unsplash  Prepare for a shift in the continuous knowledge management process. As your organization is growing, learning, innovating and bringing on new people, what you know and what you will need to know is constantly changing. The people who know what you need are always changing, too.

Much is being written about the differences in learning styles between Millennials and their younger colleagues about to join them in the workplace. We’re adapting to the fact that learning is more

·      On demand

·      Virtual

·      Mobile or platform-agnostic

·      Flexible

·      Bite-sized

A much bigger shift is on the horizon. NextGen workers really aren’t the same as their predecessors in ways that will cause a tectonic shift in training.

That’s because it is not just the “how we train” that’s changing. The immediacy of all knowledge and the instinctive information-seeking behavior of the youngest working generation also changes the content of our training. Instead of hiring people for what they know, companies will be hiring people for their ability to access what they need to know, how they are able to process it, relate to others and how they apply it. This impacts training in a multitude of ways beyond just making sure our training programs are short, accessible, relevant and just in time.

The next generation of learners – those just entering the workforce fresh out of college this year – have stronger virtual communication skills, online collaboration skills and intellectual independence than any generation before them. They multitask across platforms continually. You don’t need to show them or tell them how to do something. If it is online either inside or outside your organization, they will find it for themselves and figure it out on their own. These skills cross all demographics. This brave new streak changes the role of training from teaching people what to do and how to do it and morphs your training into the role of guiding them in how to apply it to meet your business goals.

Thriving companies will be teaching two main skills that will antedate all else: 1) critical thinking and 2) strategic thinking skills. In fact, a recent Food and Drug Administration guidance for compliance training stated that the #1 skill required today is the ability to think critically.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of training may be a bit premature. However, the reality of the death of “training as we’ve known it” is already a fact. Beyond guiding employees to the information that they need to know, companies will be working with colleagues to develop a culture of cultivating natural intelligence in ways that complement artificial intelligence to make the best possible use of the voluminous amounts of data available to them to make great decisions in real time across the organization.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash


In an Age of Over-Regulation, Are Compliance & Safety Mutually Exclusive?


In going through my old blog files, I found this item from another website where I was writing about five years ago and thought it particularly relevant for our SOP, compliance and regulation series. So without further ado, this blog asks the question: In an age of over-regulation, are compliance and safety mutually exclusive?

In aviation, safety is always the primary concern. In fact, aviation’s safety record is so stellar that it is considered a model for healthcare. That is quite a testament.

However, a retired pilot friend recently bemoaned that the emphasis on FAA rules and regulations has overtaken concern about safety, and aviation is not better for the change.

“Now we’re only concerned about compliance. We have a cast of thousands as support staff. When I started flying in 1964, Part 91 federal regulations were about 30 pages. You could memorize it. Today, it is hundreds, if not thousands, of pages and nobody can possibly know everything that is in there. We are less safe today than we were 50 years ago,” he complained.

Making and keeping track of all those regulations costs aviation a lot of money. It requires a boatload of federal regulators to oversee them, and costs private carriers a bundle of money to hire people to monitor every jot and tittle of the laws. One misstep, and they can shut you down. And, he opined, neither the passengers nor the airline employees benefit from this over-regulation.

Will Healthcare Follow Aviation Again?

Just about everyone in healthcare knows about the vaunted aviation checklist, and how it has become standard procedure in many operating rooms today. Books are written and consultants make good livings just teaching the checklist approach to safety. The checklist is a great tool. Healthcare is better for following aviation down that path.

But is healthcare going to benefit by following the FAA down the road to over-regulation? We can trip on our path toward safety by using regulations as stumbling blocks instead of using some common sense rules to pave a smooth road to improved quality and performance.

So Many Rules They Can’t Be Followed

I recall a conversation from a training class at a major pharmaceutical company. We were training hourly line employees on procedures that affect product safety. To a person, they had one complaint: standard operating procedures were becoming downright cumbersome and made it very difficult to follow, let alone implement, them.

One veteran employee said when an incident occurs, someone writes another procedure and adds it to the book of procedures. Nothing else in the book is deleted or changed, and so it is becoming nearly impossible to follow. In fact, the employee complained that SOPs are written in response to each incident, meaning that many new SOPs only relate to one isolated incident each. The SOPs are losing their meaning and rationale. It is just a jumble of unrelated knee jerk reactions to specific incidents.

The employee concluded the company was creating more problems than it was solving by having a procedure manual that could not be followed. There are now so many rules to follow, the rules can no longer be followed, the employee complained.

Is All of Healthcare Headed Toward Unwieldy SOPs?

With the passage of the Accountable Care Act, known colloquially as ObamaCare, many believe that we are headed down a path of over-regulation. Where common sense and good medical practice once dominated the industry, healthcare practitioners (formerly known as nurses and doctors) are overwhelmed with rules regarding how they practice, to which the actual art and science of medicine is taking a backseat.

At a recent visit accompanying a friend to a physician’s appointment at a hospital center, we observed that we were two of only four people sitting in a new waiting room with 25 chairs, two large receptionist desks – one that seated four and another with 12 stations – and a physician accompanied by a nurse and a receptionist carrying around a brochure rack deciding where to place it. Let me say that again. A highly skilled specialist was carrying around a brochure rack with his nurse and receptionist trying to find a place for it.

In this brand-spanking-new hospital wing where our doctor’s office had been moved since our last visit (from a very modern, extremely functional office building now sitting vacant in the parking lot), we also observed not one – but two – printers behind the one receptionist desk and a wall of file drawers. We filled out our medical information on a clipboard, which we have done for each of his visits for the last three years, to have it inserted into his manila file folder.


The Trend Is…

By personal experience as well as professional observation, the trend is toward more regulation, more staff to assure compliance with the rules, and an ongoing steady stream of physical and electronic paperwork to track patients and processes in all sectors of the industry.

Instead of continuing to ramp up our regulatory oversight into the stratosphere, perhaps it is time to – if I can paraphrase my retired pilot friend – throttle back and re-evaluate what we are really trying to accomplish.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash