Why Knowledge Management is “Business Critical”

Leona Blanco is the National Knowledge and Information Manager for the Australian offices of Clyde & Co. Tim Perry and Bryan Jung of Practical Law interviewed Leona at a recent roundtable, and explored what it takes to be an effective knowledge manager. Knowledge management professionals and librarians across the Asia-Pacific region attended. In this article, Bryan Jung has provided a summary of their conversation.

In her spare time, Leona Blanco operates a tour company. Together with her husband, who is Spanish, she leads tours to Hispanic countries. They were due to take a group of fifteen to Ecuador and Galapagos on the 30th of October but unfortunately, like many others this year, had to cancel their travel plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Being a tour guide is not so dissimilar to Leona’s role as National Knowledge and Information Manager at Clyde & Co. in Australia. This year, the pandemic not only impacted Leona’s travel plans, it prompted her, and other legal knowledge managers, into crucial roles at their firms.

Career journey to becoming a Knowledge Manager

Leona was a commercial litigator before going into knowledge management. When Leona started working as a knowledge manager around twenty years ago, she was looking for a role that offered greater flexibility so she could spend more time with her children. She thought becoming a knowledge manager would fit the bill.

At the time, the typical knowledge manager’s role revolved around collecting, organizing and refining precedent documents for a firm’s lawyers. Files were stored on an office server that provided patchy access.

Document management was largely a manual process. Unlike the technologies in the market today, there were no ‘smart’ tools available to automate precedent creation. Precedents were assembled by copying and pasting, or manually typing, swathes of text from one Word document to another.

Style guides and numbering conventions for documents were all created from scratch. In the firm’s library, legal texts were primarily published on paper, and loose-leaf materials were updated by hand.

Knowledge management turned out to be a perfect fit for Leona, who is warm, bubbly and outgoing. Over time, as technologies evolved and knowledge management techniques became more sophisticated, Leona found herself relying on the same core skills she developed as a practicing lawyer: problem solving and communication.

Leona likens her role to that of a concierge working a “help desk for law and legal tech”. She eases her lawyers’ pain points, by finding the right sources for information, and connecting them with the right people within the firm. This is not always a straightforward task in a global organization.
The role of a knowledge manager in a global law firm requires far more than knowing where to look for the right case or template. Leona holds the view that a good knowledge manager is equal parts “maven”, “connector” and “salesperson”.

According to Leona, a knowledge manager acts as an interface between lawyers, secretaries and IT, interpreting and communicating each stakeholder’s needs to the others. She describes a knowledge manager’s duties as “raising awareness, aligning knowledge actions with business priorities, promoting a knowledge sharing culture and engaging senior leadership.”

Supporting the business of law with knowledge

Remote working hasn’t phased Leona much. In a way, she has been working remotely for years—a function of being responsible for the knowledge management function in a firm with four offices spread across a vast country. And during the pandemic she has had the benefit of paralegals working onsite to take care of manual tasks that need to be performed in the office, such as photocopying. Overall, she is pleased to see her team learn to work more efficiently while working remotely.

One of Leona’s biggest disappointments this year is not being able to host in-office events. In the past, her team has been involved in activities such as knowledge cafes and Ted Talk learning sessions, aimed at fostering a collegial, learning culture at the firm. Leona sees being a culture carrier for knowledge and innovation at the firm as an important part of her role.
Keeping abreast of court and regulatory updates has been one of Leona’s top priorities this year. She communicates these updates to the firm’s lawyers by email, a wiki created in her firm’s knowledge management collaboration space, powered by HighQ, and a weekly newsletter.

The efforts of Leona and her team to keep the firm’s lawyers up-to-date on the latest pandemic-related regulations have made the knowledge management team – in the words of a senior executive at the firm – “business critical”.

Leona is pleased to receive this recognition, because it hasn’t always been easy to catch the attention of the firm’s busy management team over the years. She is eager to build on the profile that her team has earned this year, by continuing to innovate and providing essential practice information to her firm’s lawyers.

In one memorable instance this year, Leona was able to do just that when one of her firm’s lawyers needed to attend a dawn raid without prior experience in the area. She was able to find a practice note on Practical Law that got him through the day.

Knowledge management as a pathway for young lawyers

With the legal profession undergoing rapid digital transformation, Leona foresees a bright future for knowledge managers, and she is bullish on knowledge management as a career option for young lawyers.

In the not-too-distant future, she thinks artificial intelligence will render many traditional knowledge manager duties, such as precedent creation, redundant. Much of this work will be automated. The importance of online legal resources will increase even more, and better search algorithms will make finding relevant content easier. However, there will still be a need for agile, resourceful and articulate people to help lawyers, IT staff, and paralegals exploit the full potential of the latest legaltech.

The knowledge managers of the future will require strong technical skills but they will require good communication skills in equal measure, and their currency in trade will be relationships just as much as know-how. Knowledge managers will be at the leading edge of a transforming legal industry, coordinating, organizing, translating, guiding the way.

You can read more about Leona and her experiences during the pandemic via our whitepaper on ‘Legal Business Operations: Gearing up for 2020’.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on 3 December.

Bryan Jung is a lawyer and writer for Practical Law Hong Kong. Prior to joining Thomson Reuters, he practiced law in Canada and worked as an in-house lawyer at a listed group in Hong Kong.

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