“Knowledge management and knowledge strategy are not well
understood at the senior management level in law firms. Yet economic
pressures today make this practice management technique an even
more important activity, which should be managed and accountable at
the senior partner level. A handful of law firms are doing this now and
the trend will likely continue. Our Group hopes to facilitate
that trend.” –
Jack Bostelman, ABA Knowledge
Strategy Interest Group Chair.
KMWebinars Logo
Editor’s Note: I was recently appointed as Vice Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Knowledge Strategy Interest Group. I asked the founder and Chair of the Knowledge Strategy Interest Group, Jack Bostleman to provide his thoughts on knowledge strategy in law firms and describe the upcoming initiatives of the ABA, LPM Knowledge Strategy Interest group.

What in your prior experience inspired you to take a
leadership role in promoting Knowledge Strategy?

Jack Bostelman
My “day job” for 30 years was
practicing transactional securities law at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York.
From my days as a young partner, I found myself acting as the de facto
knowledge sharing coordinator within the firm. Back in the late 1980s, I had
the idea of hooking up our fledgling desktop PC network and document management
system database to the search engine running on the firm’s mainframe computer,
used at the time only for e-discovery. This created a powerful way for users to
search for documents in our system. It’s hard to believe, but at the time the
DMS had no search function, and even later for a long time couldn’t search
across office libraries. My band-aid and bailing wire system was a success and
I suppose cemented my de facto status.

Over the ensuing years I wore a number
of internal hats that allowed me to push further on a variety of
knowledge-sharing initiatives, including overseeing the IT department and
acting as firmwide coordinator of our securities practice. We also were an
early beta site for what ultimately became West KM’s automated document
categorization feature. We combined those categories with data collected within
practice groups about matters to create search filters to augment enterprise

When I took an early retirement at
age 55,  becoming a knowledge strategy consultant focused on AmLaw 200 firms seemed to be a natural next step. (Jack
is president of, San Francisco based KMJD Consulting) .

What inspired 
the  creation of the Knowledge
Strategy Group?

When I was starting my consulting
business a few years ago I looked around for professional organizations
focusing on knowledge strategy or knowledge management. To my surprise, I
couldn’t find any that focused on the subject from the perspective of law firm
leaders and client-facing lawyers, as opposed to in-house KM professionals or technologists.
I’ve been active in the American Bar Association for 20 years. When I switched
from the Business Law Section to the Law Practice Division when I changed
careers, I decided to try to organize a knowledge strategy group under the ABA’s
auspices. Happily, my proposal was accepted by the Division’s leadership.  We now have a terrific advisory board that is helping us pursue a number of new
initiatives, including publications and webinars. Our goal is to get the
knowledge strategy message out to as many law firm leaders and practitioners as
we can reach, and to stimulate dialogue about the subject. 

What is the biggest challenge to implementing knowledge
strategy in law firms?

An issue I have observed for a long
time, which I now understand is rooted in the lawyer personality – skeptical,
autonomous, low resilience (resistant to change), high urgency (work only on
client work) and low sociability (bad at teamwork) – is that most lawyers have
not been willing to invest the time and effort to create the efficiencies and
other benefits of knowledge strategy. Recognizing the effect of these
personality issues is the first step in coming up with strategies to overcome
them. And there ARE successful strategies for overcoming them. Our Group seeks
to raise consciousness in this area. 

Knowledge management and knowledge
strategy are not well understood at the senior management level in
law firms. Yet economic pressures today make this practice management
technique an even more important activity, which should be managed and accountable
at the senior partner level. A handful of law firms are doing this now and
the trend will likely continue. Our Group hopes to facilitate
that trend. 

How it is  Knowledge Strategy different from Knowledge Management?

As we say in our Group’s charter,
“Knowledge Management is about how lawyers share what they know
about client work, about clients, about markets for their firms’
services and about their firms as businesses. It’s a broad topic…
. Knowledge Management becomes Knowledge Strategy when all these
elements are considered together as a core function managed by the firm’s
senior-most leaders to support the firm’s strategic goals.” In other
words, the active involvement and support of senior management in selecting KS
initiatives that align with the firm’s strategic goals, giving the most bang
for the buck, and then pushing these initiatives on the firm’s lawyers is the
difference between KM and KS. Involvement by firm leadership is also one of the
ways to overcome the lawyer personality issues I referred to. 

Why  do lawyers and firm leaders need to think
seriously about Knowledge Strategy?

There are huge pressures today on
law firms to do more with less, and to manage their services more predictably
and transparently. KS can be a game-changer. It takes time and effort by both
management and practicing lawyers but the pay-off in efficiency, quality and
service levels can be huge and a real differentiator. And it can improve the
firm’s bottom line at the same time. I normally advise that a firm start with a
single practice group – one that is already somewhat successful and visible
within the firm and has some interest in these kinds of improvements. When that
practice group takes it to the next level through successful KS initiatives,
the other practice groups want the same thing and become more motivated to try. 

What programs are being offered by the Knowledge Strategy
group in 2015-16?

During our inaugural year we are
launching a monthly free webinar series, starting in January. These are aimed
at practicing lawyers who have no prior knowledge about KS but are interested
in figuring out how to do more with less, both at the individual level and at
the practice group or firm level. These will be 30 minutes and recorded.
They’ll be free and open to ABA members and non-members alike. Our first few
webinars will have content for firms of all sizes. Later some webinars will
have a solo/smaller firm focus and others will have a larger firm focus. We are
hoping to build a community through our registrant list, and will be setting up
moderated discussion groups so lawyers will have a place to go to ask questions
and share ideas.
We will also be publishing some articles, which will also be
available on our website. We have already written two 50-page white papers,
each outlining 10 specific KS initiatives that a firm could pursue which are also posted on the website. One paper
is for larger firms; the other for solo/smaller firms.

Free Webinars: Information  and registration for our first webinar on Jan. 28 at 12:00 Noon, Eastern,
can be found on our new website. The title of that webinar is:
 “How to Compete with IBM Watson JD:  Future-proof your practice by
improving efficiency now – Part 1”.
This Part 1 will focus on the
business case for KS. Part 2 in February will offer practical KS tips and tools
lawyers can use in the practices. 

Program December 9th :
Our Group is also sponsoring a 90-minute ABA CLE program on Dec. 9 at 1:00pm,
Eastern, entitled “Improving Law Firm
and Practice Group Efficiency Through Knowledge Strategy:  The Top Ten
Ways to Improve Client Service and Profitability”.
I will moderate. Our
panelists will be two of our advisory board members, Jean O’Grady (Director of
Research and Knowledge Services, DLA Piper) and Delilah Flaum (Partner at
Winston & Strawn). Pricing and registration can be found here.