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Book Review: Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer,
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This review is from: Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer (Paperback)
The first book on KM expressly written for lawyers came out this year. It is Knowledge Management and the Smarter Lawyer by Gretta Rusanow. The publisher is American Lawyer Media, the leading legal news publisher in the U.S. This book is a guide for implementing KM programs in law firms. It paints a rosy picture about how KM can help a law business. "If knowledge management is done well, leveraging the knowledge that differentiates you from your competitors will lead to reduced costs, increased revenue, increased profitability, a more satisfying work environment - and the best lawyers, the best clients and the best work." (p. 31)
Rusanow provides this definition for KM: "[K]nowledge management is the leveraging of your firm's collective wisdom by creating systems and processes to support and facilitate the identification, capture, dissemination and use of your firm's knowledge to meet your business objectives." (p. 7) She says that firms need to develop KM strategies. Such strategies may mean starting small with a pilot project in a practice group. Rusanow acknowledges that larger KM initiatives require management support.
Rusanow sets the record straight that KM is not simply a technology solution. She suggests that attorneys should spend time creating a knowledge base of precedent documents as part of a KM program. Precedent documents are form documents that would be commonly used by other attorneys. The idea is these documents will improve efficiency so lawyers will spend less time "reinventing the wheel". The trouble is, in law, wheels come in so many shapes and sizes. Rusanow recommends that senior attorneys should be creating the precedent documents while associates would alter them to fit circumstances according to their clients' needs. This way of doing things would change the way firms conduct their business. Senior attorneys may not want to lose time that they could be billing to their clients.
Rusanow identifies the time-based billing model as "probably the single greatest barrier to knowledge management." (p. 194) She says hourly billing promotes inefficiency because it rewards slow work, but KM is about efficiency. She advocates alternative billing methods such as billing by transaction. The American Bar Association's Commission on Billable Hours has explored such options, but it seems that the ubiquitous practice of hourly billing is firmly entrenched in the legal community. For reasons not related to knowledge management, many attorneys would like to do away with billable hours. These reasons have to do with quality of life issues. There is great pressure on attorneys to meet billing quotas, frequently more than 2,000 hours a year. Regardless, hourly billing looks like it is here to stay.
All in all, Rusanow's book seems to offer more cheerleading than evidence that her version of knowledge management will work. The 484-page book includes only two references to other sources. One is a Nonaka article, The Knowledge Creating Company, and the other is a report produced by her own consulting agency, Curve Consulting. Rusanow should have included references to the works of other KM theorists, including Working Knowledge by Davenport and Prusak.
It will be interesting to see how well this book is accepted by the legal community. It is unlikely that its concepts will be implemented wholesale because of its position on time-based billing. One thing it will do is open up the idea that KM is more than a technology solution.
Another book on KM for attorneys, Effective Knowledge Management for Law Firms by Matthew Parsons will hit the presses in 2004. Oxford University Press will publish it.