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The past year has brought a huge increase in technology adoption for lawyers, and remote working has become familiar. These changes have made it easier to see the potential for technology and innovation to change legal practice, and the discipline of knowledge management (KM) is more relevant now than ever before. A deliberate and organised approach to knowledge creation, capture and use is critical to achieving competitive advantage. Below, we predict what lies ahead for legal knowledge management in 2021.
The contract lifecycle is a key area where legal teams can use knowledge management to make a difference to enterprise costs and even boost the bottom line. Better contract management can unblock processes and allow sales teams to conclude agreements faster and more efficiently, with better understanding of risks.
The information within contracts is also one of an enterprise’s most important data sets. Contracts are the DNA of an organisation: their provisions are fundamental to enterprise risk and value. In 2020, there was an increased shift away from the traditional print-sign-scan approach to contracting, with many businesses using electronic signature platforms. Building on this, in-house legal teams may focus on capturing data in a more structured way when contracts are created. This will permit faster and more decentralised access to core terms relevant to risk, as well as operational terms such as contract renewal dates. Contract management systems can also support more efficient process, for example tracking the average length of time which teams spend negotiating particular clauses and permitting that information to feed back into the legal team’s decisions regarding contract template drafting.
A greater choice of automation and contract management systems will further allow businesses to create no-code and low-code contract templates more easily, providing secure document storage and commercially relevant analytics.
In 2020, legal teams dealt with a rapid shift to remote working. New challenges are ahead, as businesses find new ways of combining on-site and remote working practices, seeking the best of both worlds. Expensive offices can be replaced by distributed workspaces where there is more room for collaboration, with more meeting rooms and more cloud infrastructure to support digital communication.
Knowledge management can help teams which operate partly on-site and partly remote to avoid new information silos. Structured opportunities for digital conversations can also help to boost opportunities for informal knowledge sharing, which may otherwise fall between the cracks in a remote working environment.
Legal information remains highly confidential, and all firms carry a high risk of cyber threat. KM may focus on supporting the alignment of collaboration strategy with an organisation’s cyber risk and information governance policies, helping to avoid gaps and risks during any period of change.
Growth in adoption of collaborative software, such as Teams, Slack, Miro and Mural, have attracted new digital communities, and knowledge systems will be able to capture and analyse a larger amount of relevant data. Creating new knowledge system integrations, which are more adaptable and dispersed, will be an area for lawyers responsible for KM to explore in 2021.
The risks and opportunities associated with decarbonisation and climate change are of huge and growing relevance. Across all areas of ESG, challenges for legal teams include the rapid pace of regulatory change, the time and cost involved in finding information within their organisation’s own business and supply chains, as well as managing increased corporate reporting obligations relating to modern slavery, climate risk, payment practices, diversity and more.
Knowledge managers may focus on finding the data streams which underpin ESG requirements; on ways to track intangibles and emerging risk; and on automation, analytics, dashboards and digital portals to make such information accessible.
Digital transformation in law requires lawyers with mixed skill sets, including data analysis and visualisation, change management, communications and design. The future will see more blurring of traditional hierarchies, whereby more recent graduates bring essential skills in tech and innovation, as well as willingness to challenge the status quo. Established practitioners can benefit from new perspectives.
Knowledge managers can help to create collaborative communities where lawyers can safely share knowledge, breaking down some of the boundaries between departments and traditional hierarchies.]
As legal service providers are exposed to new competitive forces, from alternative legal service providers and automation providers, in-house teams may expect more from their law firm’s digital client experience. This, combined with costs pressures, will drive greater efficiency and automation within law firms. Any such investment in creating a system at scale is likely to require the input of the recipient clients. Engagement with users is the key to building effective systems. and continued growth in client-app development, using legal knowledge in more effective ways, may see innovative collaborations between law firms and clients. The countervailing influence of competition rules on the ability of particular sectors to automate and agree standardised approaches will, however, be an area to watch here.]
Tremendous work is underway within the KM community to grow awareness and practice around the new international standard for knowledge systems. Increased understanding of the aims and methods of knowledge management will help organisations to achieve tangible benefits, and to support change and innovation programmes. This is particularly valuable for law, which is essentially a knowledge discipline.
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Lisa McClory is a legal knowledge management consultant. She has practised as a solicitor and Professional Support Lawyer at Slaughter and May and has worked as a Legal Knowledge Consultant at KPMG Law. She has founded Fractal Legal, an independent legal knowledge consultancy, offering support to in-house teams and law firms on lawtech and knowledge innovation.
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