Interview with knowledge managers, Helen Barker from Diageo and Katharine Ward from Vodafone

Interview with knowledge managers, Helen Barker from Diageo and Katharine Ward from Vodafone

Lightbulb and brain representing power of knowledgeWhy does an in-house legal team need a knowledge manager?

How important is knowledge management to the smooth and efficient functioning of an in-house legal team? What value can a dedicated knowledge manager bring? We talk to two knowledge managers - Helen Barker from Diageo and Katharine Ward from Vodafone - about their roles and the benefits that their skills and expertise bring to the business.


Tell us about your background and your current role and team

Helen Barker: I’m counsel for knowledge management at Diageo. Diageo is a global company which sells a variety of premium drinks in more than 180 countries. The global legal team is approximately 250 strong, of which around 125 are lawyers. Our lawyers are based in 21 markets but this translates into many more jurisdictions. I am the only knowledge manager, I sit within the global legal team and my role is to support all of the lawyers globally, from the large well-equipped teams to the smaller, more remote teams with less resources.

I originally qualified into a commercial law firm department where I worked for a few years. After moving to a different part of the country, I worked as a professional support lawyer (PSL) for 18 months and then moved into my first in-house knowledge management role. I was there for over five years before moving to Diageo.

Katharine Ward: I’m legal knowledge manager for Vodafone. We are a multinational telecommunications company with 100,000 employees in around 30 different countries. We have around 400 professionals in our global legal team; 100 of these are group corporate services and the rest are based across our local markets.

I sit within the global central team. We have some large local teams, for example Germany and the UK, but there are also smaller teams, such as Malta and the African markets, with two or three lawyers. My role involves having a core base of knowledge and making connections to help facilitate the different global communities. In particular, we need to ensure that the people in the more isolated places have content and know-how they can draw on.

I’m not a lawyer. I did a post graduate degree in information management, followed by a masters. I worked in a number of different corporate information centres running libraries, doing information audits, providing training and running legal research workshops. When I moved to the UK I ran a market intelligence service for three years before moving across to the legal team to take on a PSL role that had become more about information and knowledge management. A knowledge manager doesn’t have to be a lawyer and often specialist information management skills are critical. Having a mix of skills is very valuable.

What is the role of the knowledge manager within the in-house legal team?

Helen Barker: the core task is to create and maintain a knowledge sharing platform, for example on SharePoint. The value is being able to gather together all of your know-how and precedents and put them in one central, globally accessible place. Importantly, this also gives you control over documents so that you don’t end up with multiple versions of a document. There is a broad array of information to pull into the platform and keeping it up-to-date is a job in itself. A knowledge manager needs to manage the volume of information, focussing on what is useful and distilling it down.

The second major part of the role is training. My overall aim is to provide a broad range of training that meets lots of needs, helps the team improve their skills and keeps them up-to-date.

Katharine Ward: I’d agree that the role is about centralising and organising information. You have to make it easy to access that one central point of knowledge and raise awareness of where it is. If a lawyer uses a template they need to know that it’s up-to-date. We make clear who the authors of content are so there is accountability for currency. You don’t want to be in the firing line when something out-of-date has been used.

You can have too much information and you need to rationalise it. To avoid confusion, it is better to have one version of a document with alternative views rather than multiple collections. Knowledge managers need to be the ‘umbrella’ under which everything comes together, and help to join the dots otherwise the teams will do it in silos. You don’t have to do everything yourself, but spotting duplication or ways in which to bring people and projects together can be a key part of the role. It’s a challenge.

To support the lawyers, we put together simple knowledge maps, basically ABCs, charting where to go to find training, know-how and experts. The maps break it down to a basic level, which is what people want—they don’t want noise and clutter.

Stakeholder management is an important part of the role. I try to build networks so that I have a good relationship with the heads of legal in each of the markets. Influencing stakeholders and getting buy-in at the right level is crucial. I have a very good relationship with our General Counsel—her buy in and support is critical.

What value do knowledge managers bring to the business?

Helen Barker: by being able to find accurate information quickly, we can save a lot of time and reduce risk. When you join a business you discover a lot of silos—knowledge managers can draw people together and encourage them to share information, ultimately reducing work. One word springs to mind when I think about the role and that is ‘facilitation’.

From my experience, you don’t want vast swathes of know-how if you can’t keep it up-to-date. You need to focus on what is valuable and sustainable and establish who is the best person to draft your know-how. A knowledge manager has a facilitating role that understands how you can use technology to create better connections between the team and properly share the knowledge.

Katharine Ward: I agree that it’s about co-ordination and facilitation. We bring value by joining up the dots. We aim to bring all the individual initiatives back together and link them to the global side of the business and its strategy. A lot of in-house teams have lawyers doing little bits of knowledge management but it’s not as efficient, up-to-date or as organised as it could be. Having a dedicated person to focus on knowledge management makes a huge difference. We make a lot of what we do business facing so that the business can self-serve. This releases lawyers from low level work so they can focus more on strategic work and really add value.

Helen Barker: I also make sure that I have good connections and relationships with my knowledge management counterparts in the panel law firms. By having general conversations about what they’re doing and what we’re doing, you see where the synergies are.

Katharine Ward: yes, those connections are really important because knowledge managers sometimes understand what a firm can offer much better than the partners. When we did our original panel, the knowledge management and value added requirements were a key part of the pitch sent to firms. In a recent panel review, the knowledge management contribution focussed on where the firms had done something well and this helped them to stay on the panel.

Helen Barker: the role is also central to developing a really good set of training materials, maintaining and improving skills and doing that in a way that is focussed on the business. The business gets the best outcome as people aren’t doing external courses that don’t quite meet business needs. In multinational businesses there is of course a huge wealth of training provided but there are certain legal skills and topics that they don’t cover, it is these areas that I focus on providing training in.

Katharine Ward: I agree. We try and maximise what our HR teams do but then look to see where the gaps are and whether the gaps can be filled by internal or external experts. We’ve had law firms that are very good at offering law-centred soft skills training.

Helen Barker: I feel that my role is valued. Our General Counsel is very supportive and sees knowledge management as a priority. I think the message from the top is absolutely crucial. It’s about making knowledge management part of everyone’s everyday role so that they are thinking about the wider team and not re-inventing the wheel. If you haven’t got somebody at the top showing how knowledge management is important then its success is always going to be compromised. There is only so much influence you can have without authority.

Katharine Ward: knowledge management skills are often underestimated. It’s not just about updating databases; it is more strategic. Sometimes you get a tag as a ‘non-lawyer’ which I don’t like. People assume I can't do something, but actually I can!

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.