Over the last decade, technology has transformed knowledge management within the legal industry. But even through this digital evolution, the goal of the knowledge management function remains the same

Over the last decade, technology has transformed knowledge management within the legal industry. But even through this digital evolution, the goal of the knowledge management function remains the same. One of the most succinct statements of this goal is from Google saying that the aim of knowledge management is “...to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” No small task considering that in 2016 about 90% of the digital data ever to exist in the world has been created in the two previous years and only 1% of that data has been analyzed, according to McKinsey & Company.

Luckily, law firm knowledge managers aren’t responsible for organising all the information in the world, but even when narrowed to a single law firm, the job can be daunting. Which is why applying artificial intelligence (AI) to this monumental task seems to be the natural next step. The thought of AI might be intimidating or seem like a far-future solution, but as the technology continues to develop, it also becomes more accessible than ever.

To explore the AI and KM pairing, Adam Eastell the chief legal and strategy officer at Eigen Technologies joined Sally Roberts, a client success consultant at HighQ, to host a webinar, How to use AI to scale knowledge management.

Why is knowledge management important?

In the age of the internet, where answers to most questions are a mere web search away, the benefits of knowledge management within a law firm should not be a surprise to anyone.

With better access to knowledge, your firm improves:

  • Efficiency in using existing knowledge rather than starting research from scratch
  • Delegation to lawyers who can easily find checklists and established documentation to free up partners to focus on higher-value work
  • Quality and consistency of work product delivered to clients, developing client loyalty
  • Lawyer knowledge as KM keeps the firm up to date with the most current information
  • Risk management allowing lawyers to refer to previous matters quickly and efficiently to identify potential risk for clients

The evolution of KM systems

From the days of individually owned, fiercely protected library card systems and transaction bibles, knowledge management has evolved into something much more useful and accessible. Even so, there’s a long way to go.

As consumer grade products like Google set a lofty expectation for ease of use, law firms struggle to find a way to get to that level. The problem is, the knowledge database is only as good as the information that has been contributed to it. Add to that the challenge of patching together legacy systems and it’s no wonder that a Google-style solution seems like a fantasy.

The challenge is that most legal data is digital and often it is trapped in text that is difficult to analyze and make useful. This is not an issue that’s unique to legal, but a law firm’s success relies on their knowledge and the quality of their work product. If they can’t mine that knowledge, there's a risk that they will miss an opportunity. As Adam says in the webinar, legal documents are complex and breaking down that information into refined bits of data that can be manipulated is very difficult and frankly, almost impossible without the use of technology.

How AI can be used to scale KM

Without AI, law firms must use manual extraction to collect vital data, which can be time consuming and costly. It seems that knowledge managers understand that manual data collection isn’t sustainable. According to research from Prism Legal, 80% of knowledge managers have identified AI and data science as a priority for 2019.

While the promise and value of AI is real, knowledge managers must be realistic about the amount of work that goes into setting up an AI system. Subject matter experts must work with and train AI tools and that often means that the firm must be committed to achieving the end goal, despite a heavy investment in front-end setup.

However, after that initial investment you will be able to scale that subject matter expert’s knowledge using AI. Once you’ve done it once, you won’t need to do it again and you won’t need to use as many people. You can then take that AI process and repeat it over and over again throughout other practice groups and the firm at large, which means huge efficiency gains and better data extraction.