How SME law firms can gain the knowledge edge

Ian Truscott
Head of Content
Ian is the Head of Content at iManage, a 20 year veteran of content management, and a former industry analyst.
09 August 2021

In law firms large and small, lawyers spend 90% of their day working in documents and emails to capture and convey knowledge. Knowledge is the core value they deliver, and the lifeblood of their firm. It defines the firm’s capabilities, differentiation, and the value it offers its clients.

To succeed, law firms need to harness the collective knowledge of their firm to deliver better results for clients. Research published in the Harvard Business Review found that:

Employees who can reach outside their silos to find colleagues with complementary expertise learn more, sell more, and gain skills faster … that firms with more cross-boundary collaboration achieve greater customer loyalty and higher margins.

The research holds true; successful law firms of all sizes can activate individual skilled lawyers’ expertise and turn this into a resource that someone can quickly share across the organisation. Turning individual knowledge into institutional knowledge gives them an edge.

To gain a deeper understanding of knowledge work in law firms, iManage recently commissioned Metia Group to conduct in-depth research, with close to 1100 global respondents from across the legal industry to gain a deeper understanding of knowledge work and discovered that:

  • 68% of survey respondents said the information in digital documents and files is the most important thing to their business.
  • 28% of survey respondents said that most or all of their documents are scattered and siloed across multiple systems.
  • 30% of respondents said that documents reach their organisation via five or more channels.

Trapping knowledge on hard drives, siloed systems, and emails means lawyers are spending valuable time searching for the right precedent, clause or expert. And, without automation, fee earners end up being tied up in mundane, repetitive, or duplicate tasks. The survey also found that 95% of respondents said they somewhat or completely agree that “optimising the resources, processes, and tools they use to support knowledge work will be key to helping their organisation reach its goals.”

Aside from the firm’s core activities, addressing the broader digital capabilities around knowledge work is especially relevant today, with a change in expectations around remote work for employees and clients, as we deal with the digital transformation of the workplace that the pandemic has accelerated.

Traditionally law firms have been cautious about adopting technology to do this and bring efficiency to this process, with unique requirements for the secure use, ethical walls, and accessibility of these documents and particular needs around workflow and collaboration. Therefore, the edge that knowledge can give a firm sits in digital repositories that have much more in common with the physical filing cabinets they replaced decades ago than the technological capabilities available today.

Modern document management that embraces new technology advancements, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, can transform this static archive, unlock the knowledge held within its folders and create value for the firm. Forward-looking law firms are now looking to leverage this and move beyond managing documents and emails to make knowledge work.

And yet, in the Metia study, 30% of respondents stated that their company is under-investing or not investing at all in knowledge work technology. Only 23% of respondents considered that their organisation is ahead of the curve regarding digital capabilities supporting knowledge work.

We’ve found that large law firms with big IT teams, infrastructure, and dedicated resources have been the first to take this approach. They’re using it to their advantage, capturing this knowledge, sharing and activating it across the business, turning individual knowledge into a competitive advantage for their firm. While still maintaining security standards and processes that protect client trust.

Using modern document management, they can manage email, documents, and communications together in context to matters rather than trapped in the channel. They enable global collaboration and workflows while empowering remote workers with mobile solutions and local document synchronization. They are removing the friction of adoption by allowing lawyers to work in familiar tools like Microsoft Office and enabling lawyers to find knowledge, not just search for it, using personalized search. All within a trusted ‘need to know’ secure environment.

As with any technology advancement, these solutions are now available to a broader market, specifically those that are cloud-based. Moving to the cloud enables smaller firms with smaller IT investments and teams to deploy turn-key solutions that can almost instantly level up their knowledge technology.

In turn, these SaaS platforms are levelling the playing field of opportunity for all firms, whether they have 50 lawyers or 5,000. Within a secure, compliant environment they can reap the productivity benefits of modern document management, making their organisations more innovative, differentiating themselves by quickly offering new services, broadening their practice, and providing clients value. And ultimately growing their business, with an edge.

This article first appeared on LPM

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