Whether you attribute it to Sir Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes or any number of other historical candidates, the saying ‘knowledge is power’ seems an apt aphorism for law firms to keep in mind when it comes to their knowledge management (KM) departments.
And it seems that, at the final Briefing conference of the last decade, held in November 2019 at Fletchers & Farmers in the City, legal is perhaps beginning to pay closer attention to what the KM function can do for the bottom line.
Asking for the skills
In ‘The (r)evolution is coming’ session, Christopher Tart-Roberts, chief knowledge and innovation officer at Macfarlanes, outlined his team’s journey towards its current function as a client-facing, change-making engine. On a personal level, Tart-Roberts explained how, as a fee earner several years ago, he had “doorstepped” Macfarlanes’ managing partner to leverage the benefits of artificial intelligence already being used in financial applications for wider firm efforts. That, in turn, led to the merger of knowledge and innovation functions “Nothing was ‘broken’, but there was an opportunity to do more and be distinctive,” he said. And that distinctive value is becoming increasingly client-facing, he explained.
“My KM team runs matters and bills time. Some members of it even spend up to 50% of their time doing chargeable work.”
Tart-Roberts also explained the potential for new routes into the legal profession through ‘tech traineeships’ and expressed a need at Macfarlanes for more productisation expertise. Appropriately, the topic of talent and skillsets was one of the key questions in our ‘polling station’, conducted by Briefing’s own ‘pollster-in-chief’, Rupert Collins White (actually Briefing’s creative director).
When we asked attendees to pick the top skillsets they’d hope to be hiring in 2020, top spot went to PSLs, at 11%, followed by data and analytics, legal project management and technology, all at 9% each (see graph opposite). Coming in a little lower were research, sector expertise and those crucial product-related skills, all at 7% – results that suggest that KM functions still feel the need to buttress their market knowledge, process and efficiency, and tech knowhow, but also are aware of the need to start selling and productising knowledge, too.