Doing more with less: Knowledge Management in a low cohort year.

Large law firms can often be strangers to lean economic years; while profits per partner may dip associates and staff are usually in abundance. Late 2022 and early 2023 have seen the impact of the most recent global financial downturn that initiated some large AmLaw firms to announce reductions in staffing. The National Association for Law Placement (NALP)’s 2022 recruiting report indicates that this may be part of a leaner trend in associate cohort hiring for 2023 and 2024. Currently offers to 2023 summer programs are down 2% and 44% of the law firms surveyed reported making fewer offers than the year prior (per the NALP report). While this may be “born out of the pandemic” to be the “new recruiting normal,” it is also an opportunity for legal support teams, e.g., Knowledge Management, Innovation and Business Development to leverage their knowledge of how the business side of the law firm works and improve that functionality.

Blogs, conferences, and social media are filled with stories about AI and its evolving role in the practice, and business, of law. Some suggest that AI may replace certain associate work, thus reducing the need for as many associates. However, little is said about the time and effort it takes to bring these AI tools up to a standard allowing lawyers to build trust in the results provided by these tools. Similar to the promises of Enterprise Search, Legal AI tools show promise but as with Enterprise Search, will require resources (personnel, budget, etc.) to provide the answers practitioners will trust. At the same time clients are still expecting firms to perform at the levels they expect and are accustomed to receiving.

As has been experienced in the past with financial belt tightening, the purchasing and rolling out new technologies slows as well. With adoption being the perpetual problem, the idea of coaxing more tech budget from the partnership in a down year is an anathema. That said, the mantra should now be “time for that ROI.” This presents an opportunity to make use of the firm’s existing data, experience, and knowledge, and deliver services with minimal interruption (and maybe even bolster those systems going forward).  Firms already have installed many systems that are not being used to their fullest such as: experience management tools, enterprise search and document automation systems.  All of these systems and databases are in production but waiting to have their fullest potential realized. Additionally, unlike AI, the data is already available, sitting in a repository, a local shared drive, or other siloed locations just waiting to be leveraged. Much of it is finalized: filed pleadings, closed deal documents, successful (or unsuccessful) pitches and proposals. Though much of this data may have already been loaded into previously purchased and installed system it is possible a re-evaluation of the classification process is needed.

If data is missing, or appears to be misclassified, you need  an evaluation of where the data lives in the firm and who is responsible for it. Collaborate to identify data being tracked in multiple places and assess who has (or should have) the single point of truth. Adding approved taxonomies, similar to those evangelized by SALI will ensure that teams are using the same definitions and the same data such that only one team needs to capture it while the others can leverage the collected information. This has the additional bonus of harmonizing your data with external sources that use the same schema, eliminating the need to constantly map your data to a vendors definitions.

The Firm’s Customer Relationship Management system is an integral part of the firm’s operations.  It is not only receiving and importing data, but that that data needs to be kept up-to-date: removing duplicates, using a workflow to reflect professional development, tracking who knows who and where alumni move after they leave the firm. This data will help the firm cultivate a network of contacts to partner on projects or identify new client opportunities.

If done properly, most of these systems should already be set up to succeed. Searches should produce documents and answers to questions. Duplicative (and burdensome) FAQs and databases across practices should be eliminated or harmonized, and metadata added to assist in findability. KM and Marketing teams have been training, aligning and future-proofing systems and data, so let them be the coaches. Covid drastically changed how law firms think and work. The added pressure of reduced headcount and tension from AI-assisted tools will only compound that change.

The advent of more fully integrated AI tools will certainly have an impact on legal practice. But, in the near team, that impact will be imperfect and incomplete. And, since both those factors fly in the face of any attorney’s work style, now is the time to use the firm’s existing knowledge and experience to lead to greater success with fewer people.

LKO Information Management Consulting, LLC is committed to identifying and helping your teams leverage these opportunities.  To find out more please contact us at


The Evolution Of The Law Firm Library From Space To Service

Libraries were once the central research centers of law firms; places where all of the relevant materials to make or break the case where stored and used.  Librarians were then seen as the custodians of the materials and the go to people to find information among the vast print resources housed there.  With the move to digitized, searchable content available from any computer, anywhere, anytime what is to become of the information experts?  They need to evolve beyond the walls of the space.  Breaking the tie is critical; redefinition of the professional, key.

Librarians are one of the only professions where the very title and definition of that title are tied to a physical space.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a library as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings or films) are kept for use but not for sale” and a librarian as “a specialist in the care or management of a library.”  We are so much more and the time has come to redefine ourselves as information specialists, able to locate, assimilate, and summarize large volumes of digital and print information into actionable results.

The first step in the evolutionary process is admitting that the change is needed.  Sitting complacently by while first year associates use Google to find the answers to complex legal problems or failing to provide proactive information to practice groups looking to expand will mean our demise.  We need to get out in front of the information tidal wave and establish the value we bring to the firm.  We have been trained to rely upon reputable sources to find the needle in the haystack, quickly and cost effectively.  Our knowledge goes beyond legal content where our skills can be applied to a variety of subjects and disciplines, adding value for client teams, administrative groups, and project teams.  We need to make sure everyone at our firms know what our services are and how they are evolving with the addition of new resources and technology tools with which to access information.  Development of a communication strategy and plan are key.

Next, the definition of our services comes into play.  What do we do, for whom, and at what cost, both in time and dollars?  Definition of services, service level expectations, and quality results are key to this evolution.  We need clearly published service options that highlight our expertise and lead to leveraging of those services across the firm.  Tying our experience to well-established services and service expectations will increase the likelihood that those services will begin to redefine our roles.  Let’s change the perception of our profession from caretakers of information to purveyors of information both on demand and in anticipation of request.

We also need to redefine our service audiences.  Traditionally, library research teams supported attorneys in the execution of cases and matters.  While that role is still key for the research team, it should be one on many hats we wear.  We should be actively involved in business development, gathering business intelligence, tracking industry trends, and clearly defining our role and contribution in RFP’s and other client facing materials.   We should also be expanding our role to contribute in the areas of practice and professional development.  We should be aiding practice leaders in gathering peer data, assessing the legal market, and identifying trends.  We should be offering CLE accredited training courses in legal research techniques and the application of research tools to legal business problems.  We should also be contributing to the efforts of our administrative teams, whether it be gathering lease costs for a potential move, gathering information on potential lateral hires, or providing background on potential vendors.  Information is power for case teams, administrative teams, and management and we need to establish ourselves, once again, as the most effective avenue to that information.

Lastly, we need to strike a balance between proactive and reactive information provisioning.  Gone are the days when we can rely upon our attorneys and staff to ask for information; we need to be anticipating their information needs.  Identification of these information needs is difficult, but doable.  We need to be aware of regular practice management, firm management, project team and other meetings and the goals of those meetings.  Once we know our audiences and their objectives, we can begin to develop reports that help facilitate decision making by those groups.  If we know our firms want to grow internationally, we can provide management with legal market data in those potential markets and lists of competitive firms.  If we know we are starting a multidisciplinary practice to support clean energy, we can provide the working group with information to support the effort.  Being aware the business direction the firm is taking sets us up for successful contribution to those efforts.

Bringing it all together cohesively and effectively is key to our evolution.  Let’s redefine librarians as “information specialists who facilitate access to information anywhere, anytime, and in any format, leveraging that information to provide research results to direct inquiries and in proactive support of their organizational goals and objectives.”  Let’s once again become the go-to information resource for our entire firms, breaking free of the four walls that once defined our libraries and our profession.