It's not difficult to set up an efficient system.
By Daniel Evans and Storm Evans
"KNOWLEDGE management" is a buzzword used to describe something that seems to vary in every conversation.
Let's try this as a definition: Knowledge management is a process designed to capture substantive knowledge about the practice of law in a way that will allow that knowledge to be recalled, reused, or applied when needed.
Knowledge management also allows the codification of processes used within the law office so that new employees can be trained easily and so that rarely used processes do not have to be reinvented.
Some examples might be:
* The creation of a document drafting system that automatically prepares articles of incorporation, deeds, wills, or court pleadings when basic information is entered like names and descriptions of property.
* The retention of memoranda of law, opinion letters, briefs, and other documents containing the results of legal research or analysis, indexed so that the documents can be retrieved by subject, author, party, or key words.
* The retention of sample petitions, letters, notices, and other forms that can be saved in word processing form and copied and modified for similar transactions in the future.
* The creation of a spreadsheet that performs a particular type of tax analysis or financial analysis that may be useful to more than one client, and that may be used and reused for multiple clients.
* Putting all of the forms needed for a particular type of transaction into a loose-leaf notebook, so that they can be easily found and used when needed.
An example might be all of the probate forms and tax forms needed to probate a will, apply for an employer identification number for the estate, file the inventory for the estate, and file the inheritance tax return for the estate.
Software to consider:
Document management: (Store and retrieve documents):
Document assembly (Create standard documents and track knowledge about information needed in particular circumstances.):
Case (practice) management (track people, cases (matters), calendar events, to dos, e-mails, and link that information to associated people, cases, etc.):
* Pulling together all of the statutes, regulations, administrative rulings, rules of court, and forms needed for a particular practice area and putting them into an Intranet in HTML or PDF format, so that they can be shared and easily referred to by one or more lawyers and paralegals.
* Making a checklist of things to do for a particular type of transaction and putting it in the case management system or intranet (whether the server in your office or in a remote location) with all of the related forms.
* Creating an expert system to analyze particular legal problems and apply complex rules, such as:
* Annotating master forms of wills, trusts, contracts, and other forms so that there is a record of why particularly clauses were written the way they were written, or why they should or should not be used in particular situations.
* Using features within the billing system to identify how frequently and on what dates to bill a client.
* Using the case management software to alert you when you have not worked on a file recently.
* Creating document assembly processes for standard correspondence so that all names and addresses are retrieved from the case management system.
* Using the comments feature in the document management software to capture issues related to a document but not specifically spelled out in the document. The search tools in the document management software can find information in those comments.
Notice that these examples of knowledge management don't all require the same kind of software. In fact, some (such as organizing forms in loose leaf notebooks, or annotating forms with comments in margins) don't require software at all.
What all of these examples have in common is a need for a plan and for the discipline to stick to the plan. So, for example, if you decide to bring together a lot of different forms in HTML and PDF formats and store them (and share them) through an Intranet, it can't be a one-time-only project, done over one weekend.
Every time a form is improved, and the improved form has to be saved on the Intranet. Every time a statute or regulation is changed, or a new court decision creates a new practice opportunity, the statute, regulation, or statute has to be included in the Intranet. This isn't something that can be done once, admired, and then ignored. It has to become a necessary part of the practice, and integrated part of the work flow.
You don't update your knowledge systems after you finish the client work, you update your knowledge systems while you do your client work.
Daniel Evans is a trust and estates lawyer, Storm Evans is a consultant; both hail from Philadelphia.