Structuring and sharing knowledge to benefit client relationships

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Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to find what you need quickly and easily? While this is not always possible, efficient and effective knowledge management – structuring and managing an organisation’s knowledge and information and sharing it with individuals within that organisation – certainly helps.

Identification of knowledge

The first thing to do, before considering the challenges and the myriad benefits of knowledge management and knowledge sharing, is to look at what we mean when we refer to the term “knowledge”. “Knowledge” can constitute a variety of different things depending on the individual organisation or sector concerned. In law firms or in-house legal departments, where information and know-how are key resources, there are usually a number of sources of knowledge, ranging from template collections, books and handbooks, journals, internal and external databases, press releases, official notifications issued by public authorities and, above all, the knowledge and experience of the lawyers. While these sources might be different for other organisations or in other sectors, the thinking behind knowledge management and knowledge sharing is always the same.

In a world where the amount of information available is growing at an exponential rate, relevant knowledge needs to be identified, collated, processed, standardised (where required), updated and made available to internal “clients” quickly and in a form tailored to their needs.

It is also a good idea for internal clients to be aware of the benefits of actively sharing knowledge across their organisation. Successful knowledge management has long involved the use of digital tools such as databases, collaboration software or alerter services.

Access to knowledge

Knowledge management is an ideal means of encouraging digitalisation within an organisation while also improving internal and external client satisfaction and strengthening client relationships through the sharing of knowledge and know-how. While it is certainly not a good idea to share highly complex contracts with clients (as this is unlikely to improve the satisfaction level of the respective client), law firms should consider to provide clients with information and thoughts on new legal developments or other items relevant and which they come across in their day-to-day business. Compiling this type of product for clients requires significant “thought leadership”, i.e. being able to identify current and future trends, opportunities and challenges which may potentially affect clients. This knowledge can also be shared in a variety of forms and through a variety of channels, such as traditional client briefings, push or pull services, apps and web apps and, as we all learned during the pandemic, online seminars, workshops and presentations.

External clients benefit directly and indirectly from such knowledge sharing. The indirect benefit is conveyed through the positive impact good knowledge management has on internal clients and the quality of the legal work products.

Standardisation of knowledge

Standardised “preliminary” products are a far more efficient way of preparing legal documents, thereby reducing costs and allowing lawyers to devote more time to complex legal issues.
Automated documents also facilitate higher efficiency. After completing an online questionnaire, entering text and selecting relevant options, the software produces an individualised document almost instantly, which can then be further edited by the user (depending on complexity and bespoke elements). This type of semi-automated process has become increasingly popular in recent years, with the main benefit being that one questionnaire can be used for an entire set of documents to ensure consistency across all of those documents and to maximize efficiency. Automated document production solutions can be complemented by other web-based solutions, which help automate internal processes, decision-making and responses to frequently asked questions.
The benefit of making such tools available to external clients is that they are thus enabled to compile knowledge fit for their own purpose from anywhere and at any time. This saves a significant amount of time, ensures consistency within and across documents, removes any need to review standard clauses and ensures that documents meet general internal requirements.
Despite the fact that these “preliminary” products contain standardised content, they are still regularly updated. A suitably qualified expert always ensures that documents are subject to ongoing review to take account of any new legal and other developments.

The way lawyers create documents is changing. Instead of starting with a blank Word document as in the past, a variety of platforms can now be used for document creation (see above). It is still the case, however, that most documents need to be created from scratch. And here too, existing knowledge must be easily accessible. It makes sense, for instance, to be able to access research sources, literature references or even pre-formulated clauses and suggestions for alternative wording when writing a text. One potential solution might be a digital assistant that recognises what you have written and says something like: “Other people who have already written this paragraph before you have written it like this”. This would be a collaborative system similar to the suggestions on various online shopping platforms that “Customers who bought this product also bought …”.

Knowledge organisation

Valuable knowledge is not limited to pre-formulated products and solutions. It is generally a good idea to adjust the form knowledge takes and the method by which it is made available by taking into account different content and target groups. In terms of knowledge which is constantly being updated or which quickly runs out of date, or just as a starting point for any type of knowledge, the best option for consolidating and structuring knowledge is to use a low-cost and easy-to-use tool, such as a wiki space. Wiki spaces are easy to set up and exceptionally flexible. The system features can be used to assign keywords to documents and subject areas, to create a record of research activities and to link information to internal and external sources. The chat feature keeps communications within the wiki space or even restricts them to an individual document, thereby avoiding the need for excessive emails. Internal or external links can be provided with additional content. A subscription alerter service ensures that there is no risk to miss any new entries or important notifications. Access can be limited to specific user groups where required.

Users will generally need to be able to perform some kind of search.

Google means that people now expect to be able to instantly access all information they need at the touch of a button, making a good enterprise search tool absolutely essential.
This ensures that it is possible to search a range of internal and external sources at the same time. Search algorithms may be applied to give greater weight to specific resources and to rank/weight search results. The tool also disregards spelling mistakes and allows Boolean operators. A results filter is also essential, particularly where there is a considerable number of hits. Where necessary, a simple search feature may be enhanced by chatbots which can understand user natural language input.

Recognising the value of knowledge
The other key benefit of knowledge management and knowledge sharing is their significance in terms of education and training. Law is a constantly evolving area and staff turnover is a reality. Knowledge management and knowledge sharing are therefore key components in the value chain.

Any organisation employing good knowledge management practices and fostering a culture in which everyone is encouraged to share knowledge is perfectly positioned to respond to new developments and changing expectations, and to consider these not a problem but take them as a challenge to be relished.

ursula.von.golitschek@cliffordchance.com

lisa.weil@cliffordchance.com

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