Scarce resources drive in-house counsel to do more with less. Technological innovations assist in maximizing legal operation management, which includes efficient knowledge management.
Here at our organization, we use Office 365 as part of our overall IT platform. This includes Microsoft Teams and the mind mapping application, Mindmeister. We found that using mind maps greatly enhances the capture of tacit knowledge and disseminates this knowledge throughout the organization.
As we know, KM helps organizations identify, select, organize and disseminate important information and expertise. KM forms an integral part of overall legal operations management at three various levels, strategic, management and front line staff. Having efficient KM systems at these levels then allows counsel to focus more on high value strategic legal issues.
Small legal departments work with the resources provided by the organization. The existing IT systems can be carefully torqued to provide that additional legal value for which all departments search. Using the existing Microsoft Teams forms a critical part of the overall change management of the organization. We incorporated the mind maps as a part of Microsoft Teams in order to allow staff to interact and chat about the various legal issues they face.
Mind maps explain how ideas interrelate. Essentially a single idea placed in the center of the map allows various sub-concepts to be drawn. The mind mapping application easily allows drafting and refining various mind maps. The user easily moves around new ideas and sub-concepts.
Using a mind map application allows the viewer to see how various ideas interact with one another. Each idea provides context for other ideas. Providing context for information allows the viewer to move from information, to knowledge, and hopefully, to wisdom. Simply using a search mechanism for text loses context.
Legal departments incorporate legal operations into their overall function and processes to innovate further and change with the times. Lawyers and law firms sometimes resist change and hold on to the more traditional way of doing things. However, innovation requires trying numerous things to see what potentially works for that particular organization.
Knowledge management assists in getting legal information to front line staff quickly. If staff can find the answer to some basic legal questions, then this frees up legal time for other work. We see this as a form of demand management as overall legal supply can be limited.
The difficulty in bringing in KM shows knowledge’s messiness and how it can be found in all areas of the organization. Trying to get someone to write this down in a systematic way can be problematic. We needed a way to move tacit knowledge, bound up in people, into explicit knowledge, people talking to other people, who would the incorporate this new knowledge as their own tacit knowledge. Gaining wisdom from this knowledge requires the dual vectors of context and overall understanding.
The new corporate structures impose another difficulty and hamper KM. A central office allowed a person the opportunity to wander down the hall to a mentor and ask questions about a certain situation. Having one’s office offsite reduces this potential interaction. I moved out of the office this past August and telecommute from home most days. We can hotel and reserve an office when necessary to attend face-to-face meetings. Since necessity is the gender-neutral parent of invention, I found it necessary to interact with staff on another level. This suggested the need for an ethereal coffee room. Microsoft teams provided the necessary ethereal coffee chat room to interact with staff.
Finally, most of a corporation’s information can be bound up in precedents and procedural manuals. This type of information lacks the important concept of context. A mind map can provide that necessary context.
We initially started using a cloud based Microsoft Office 365 environment. Microsoft teams then became the collaborative platform for staff to interact. Teams uses a number of apps including Mindmeister to facilitate anyone in drafting their own mind maps.
The benefits became immediately apparent when we started working with a long-time partner on a particular water supply and quality project. The partnership has lasted for a couple of decades. However, owing to staff turnover, no one remained that was around when the project started except for this counsel. When the project renewal came up recently, the difficulty in trying to get everyone on the same page became apparent. This particular project required a cross-functional team of water biologists, engineers, conservation professionals, marketing, management, and legal.
This project illustrated how tacit knowledge locked with various staff leaves once the staff leaves. This knowledge loss, and my impending retirement in another year, or more, gave me the impetus to start collecting as much of this tacit knowledge as possible.
Using a mind map allowed us to arrange all the various tasks and previous history together on one easy to read summary. The additional benefit of the program allowed us to link relevant files directly to a particular idea. Spreading all of the necessary tasks and issues on one page allowed everyone to obtain the necessary context to move the project forward.
In addition, mind maps helped design the new legal help portal. Although anyone could search and find a particular document, the context would be lost. Using a legal help mind map allows staff to search out issues based on particular need if they were not quite aware for what they might be searching. So for example, instead of laying out documents for the various departments, we laid out opinions and documents based on user need. For example, the portal includes discussions about the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation. Staff can click on the link and download an easy to follow algorithm that explains when the need for CASL consent arises.
The initial legal portal handles the most common series of questions we receive. The benefit of using teams allows staff to ask questions and this thread can then remain with the particular topic being discussed. This builds upon the knowledge transfer from implicit to explicit. Staff can then internalize this new knowledge.
Part of change management includes enticing people to use the portal on a regular and continual basis. For the time being, once we receive a question that could have either national or continual importance; we post this as part of the portal. Part of the chat process allows us to attach a name to a response and this pushes a notification out to the intended recipient. So instead of an email that can get lost in the system, this push notification forms part of the chat which then becomes part of the tacit knowledge being collected for follow-up questions. Staff can also add their own experiences in order to provide even great context.
The measurement of success for such a KM system can be immediately apparent in the feedback provided by staff able to find the information they want or having it presented in such a way that it is easy to understand. We can also calculate the financial benefits. We count all of the legal time saved and all of the staff time saved once they had the answer they were looking for and were able to implement the knowledge into their workflow quickly and easily. You take any particular issue and determine how often this same question comes up on a annual basis multiplied by the hourly rate for the lawyers and staff multiplied by the hours spent. You take the net present value of that figure for as long as you feel that a particular issue would continue to have relevance. Perhaps even a decade or more when it comes to questions of occupier’s liability for example.
This type of approach shows a dollar saved figure in the thousands for each issue made available for staff. Savings provided by legal knowledge management illustrates the further value of in-house counsel using this approach.