Legal Applications of Knowledge Management

Hello again!  Thank you for joining us for the newest edition of This Week in Contract Management.  I came across a thought provoking article regarding Knowledge Management (KM) that warranted attention.

Familiarity with the concept of Knowledge Management is mixed.  Given its name, a variety of generalities can be assumed.  However, when considered in the context of the software world, it becomes less concrete.  There are those out there who are familiar – and, of course, those who are not. And, I'm sure you're asking – what does this have to do with Contract Management?  Well, allow me to explain.

In terms of understanding Knowledge Management, let's take a step back.  Michael E. D. Koening, a frequent contributor to KMWorld and a current Professor and former founding Dean of the College of Information and Computer Sciences at Long Island University, defines Knowledge Management as "the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.  Knowledge Management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise's information assets.  These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers."  Lisa Quast, a career coach and frequent contributor to Forbes Magazine, adds three reasons why Knowledge Management is so important in today's business world:

  • Facilitating Decision-Making Capabilities
  • Makes Learning Routine
  • Stimulates Cultural Change and Innovation

When considered in the legal industry, one rich with the need to retain information assets, Knowledge Management, and specifically, Knowledge Management software, have not been embraced as rapidly as the KM world would like.  However, there is hope – this trend is changing.  In the article that I've referenced above, Research Analyst and Senior Writer, Judith Lamont of KMWorld, the leading publisher, conference organizer, and information provider serving the Knowledge Management, content management, and document management markets, provides thoughtful commentary on how and why there is increased adoption of KM technologies within law firms.

Says Lamont, "Knowledge Management software solutions tailored to the legal profession are becoming more common and lawyers more receptive to them."  She adds, "Even though the legal field is a knowledge-based business, lawyers have not been early adopters of KM technology.  Like many other groups of users, only more so, they have little patience with systems that do not match their way of working.  The requirement to enter metadata, profile documents or adapt to a new way of classifying and storing documents generally results in non-compliance and a wasted investment."  Which is to say – if it isn't intuitive, easy and doesn't help me to do my job – I'm probably not going to use it.

The transition begs the obvious question – what has changed or is changing that is positively impacting user adoption? If you're a KM vendor, you are, of course, happy with this transformation; however, you want to specifically understand what is happening so that you can further leverage this to increase your footprint.  As a company that utilizes elements of Knowledge Management within our own contract management software application, we, as well as our client champions, also want to know. I would suspect that if Knowledge Management is important to your organization, you too may find the answer interesting.

The answer is not that there is some new organizational mandate which requires use of the technology – or new study which espouses its many benefits - though, let's face it, both would be helpful.  The answer is much simpler.  The software is easier to implement and it's easier to use.  I, as an end user, can readily understand the technology, use it, and can leverage it to be more efficient.

Case in point: MetaJure, a leading Document Management System based in Seattle, Washington, is a benefactor of this increased adoption. Lamont, in her article, interviews James Kosa, a partner with Deeth Williams Wall, a Toronto-based law firm specializing in intellectual property and technology, who recently implemented MetaJure's technology. Kosa states, "Prior to Metajure, we had a hard time finding our documents and supporting information.  While we store everything in a centralized file structure, it is still difficult to find things.  This is a problem for us and our clients.  With Metajure, however, important information can be readily located and leveraged by our entire team.  A simple search provides direct access to the information in question.  Similar technologies including Sherpa Technologies and Cloud Nine are experiencing comparable increases in user adoption – for the same reasons."

We, as a contract management vendor, apply various aspects of KM to our approach to storing and finding documents.  And, like Metajure and similar companies, we have a keen eye on making things easier for both the administrators of our system as well as our end users.  We would argue – convincingly or not – that our problem is even more complex as we tackle not only the storing and finding of information, but also automating various aspects of the contract management process including contract creation, approval, overall management and reporting.

Gartner's analysis of the legal industry in the context of contract management suggests the following challenges:

  • An increase in global velocity requiring faster execution of the contracting process
  • Increased demands on governance, risk, and compliance management
  • Digitization of paper contracts, embracing e-signature
  • Companies expansion into new markets (including merger and acquisition activity)
  • Increase personalization of customer requirements

So, how are we making things easier for our administrators and end users?  Glad you asked!  By providing an easy-to-use contract request wizard, all pertinent contract information can be collected to enable metadata searching and to introduce an intuitive contract document hierarchy.  Landing pages are configured to be clean, intuitive, to offer only the information necessary, and to be "audienced" for specific user types.  Contract templates can be easily identified and the creation of contracts can be automated based on a variety of different factors. Standardized clause playbooks can be introduced and these clauses, along with the templates can be rated to determine higher usage trends.  Support for the efficient exchange of contract redlines between your organization and your counterparty aid in negotiation efficiency. Contract approvals are routed directly based on unique identifiers important to specific organizations and can be quickly processed via handhelds and other devices.  Signature processes can take place fluidly through the use of e-signature. Obligations can be readily added to the system, scheduled, and escalated when necessary.  And, reports which capture wide ranges of information important to various aspects of an organization can be scheduled to be delivered directly to the inboxes of those who need to know.

Additional initiatives are also taking place within the industry including contract categorization so that contract information can be more readily mined to better understand exposed legal positions and actions which must be taken. Companies such as Brightleaf, Seal Software, Legal Sifter and Raven are taking this a step further as they leverage artificial intelligence to automatically identify important contract information.

So, what's the lesson?

Today's business world is fast paced – and only getting faster.  The demands placed on resources continue to grow – providing an ample opportunity for technology to be leveraged for increased efficiency.  Key to the technology's adoption is its ease of use – not for the individuals assessing the ROI of the application or its management benefits, but rather for those who actually use the system.  Whether it's retaining organizational knowledge or properly managing contracts – to be successfully embraced by the end users – the technology must readily integrate into their way of working and to provide tangible productivity benefits.

Rob writes on contract management and business applications for Contracts 365.