Until recently lawyers could use their document management systems for research and to find example documents to use on new matters. Under post-GDPR security regimes, many firms are locking down their DMS to reduce the risk of personal data being exposed, and these searches no longer yield the same results. As DMS systems are being locked down, so the need for separate knowledge databases is increasing.
There are two approaches to building a knowledge database. The first is to take examples of well managed matters and migrate these documents into a separate location. These “matter bibles” are often converted to pdfs containing all the documentation produced on a case. In a post-GDPR world these bibles need to be redacted to remove any reference to the organisations and individuals involved. The end result of this work is a useful database of lessons learned, but requires lawyers are conversant with all the aspects of the original case and only extract relevant information. Also, the effort to redact the information requires specialists who could be working on more useful projects.
The second approach requires more effort than the “redacted bible” option but adds more value to the knowledge database by reducing risk, increasing quality and reducing drafting costs on new matters. Instead of simply sanitising documents as they are moved into the knowledge database, firms can enhance them by adding drafting information and including optional clauses. Instead of having multiple examples of the same legal document, firms create a single document with information for multiple uses. As well as making the knowledge database smaller and easier to navigate, sanitising while enhancing the content during the migration process ensures that new matter documents are drafted at a consistently higher standard.
The “managed model” approach requires that new documents being added to the knowledge database go through a quality assessment process before being accepted. Larger firms can have 50 or more variations of popular legal documents, such as Share Purchase Agreements and these can be used by lawyers from different disciplines such as Private M&A and Real Estate. To make the most use of the Models, each lawyer needs guidance on the options available and how they apply to their use case. To manage the document on-boarding process and ensure the knowledge database has high quality model documents and clauses, firms need to develop knowledge workflows.
When a lawyer submits a new model or clause to the knowledge database, they should go through a gatekeeper. The gatekeeper may be responsible for the entire database, or gatekeepers can be assigned against specific content. The knowledge workflow needs to identify the correct gatekeeper based on information supplied by the author. This could be as simple as the author selecting the target practice or could include more rules such as identifying the type of document. If a gatekeeper receives similar submissions, they include these in a single managed model by adding new content as optional clauses and providing additional drafting information.
Knowledge databases can be enhanced further by providing expiration dates to models and clauses. When these dates are reached, authors and gatekeepers can review the content to ensure its continued suitability and relevance. Failure to review content can lead to it’s removal from the knowledge database ensuring that the quality of the content remains high.
Where a model contains a large number of optional clauses, or a model is heavily used, then document automation can be employed to reduce drafting costs and the possibility of errors. Matters that create many documents based on the same data can be streamlined by grouping automated documents into matter specific document packs.
Knowledge management is becoming increasingly relevant and having a sanitised, managed repository of know-how can have a significant impact on a firms’ operations and ultimately its success in an industry that relies on reputation.