Highlighting the benefits that can be experienced by fee earners and your senior firm leaders is the key to knowledge-sharing success, says Sophie Brookes, a PSL partner at Gateley. In this Q&A, Sophie explains how knowledge sharing has been firmly embedded within firm culture at Gateley.
1. Your afternoon presentation at Professional Support Lawyer 2017 explored barriers to knowledge sharing. What do you think are the most common barriers to knowledge sharing success in a law firm?
Many of the different barriers come from a common theme of change management. People generally, and lawyers in particular, are resistant to change. They're concerned about the impact change will have on their time and that they'll be asked to work in unfamiliar ways.
2. How do you think these barriers can be weakened or removed?
By working with people in a collaborative way, demonstrating the positive impact and benefits for them so they are more receptive to the associated change, knowing it will make their life easier. It's important to have an open mind about what success looks like: it might be a well-accessed database, full of useful documents or it might be better dialogue between fee earners about their practical experiences and technical knowledge. Change doesn't happen overnight and comparing progress day-by-day may be disheartening. But look where you were six months or a year ago and you should begin to notice a real difference.
3. What are the main knowledge sharing challenges you've experienced at Gateley and have these been improved/solved?
The change management issue was significant; getting everyone to see knowledge sharing was an important aspect of their day job. We made sure this was properly embedded within the firm's culture by having specific knowledge sharing competencies that staff are expected to demonstrate at each stage of their career. These are reviewed in appraisals and help drive our reward and promotion processes.
Ensuring knowledge sharing took place on a firm (not team or office) basis was also a challenge. Making the most of electronic platforms and alternative means of delivery (webinars, podcasts) has helped. Additionally, more informal knowledge sharing has been a welcome side effect of increasingly open plan working.
4. Does your role as a PSL partner help to raise the profile of KM with fee earners and does this help you to gain buy-in from KM projects when it's needed the most?
Being a partner gives me a profile within the law firm and a platform of authority. People know I'm speaking from experience and knowledge so they trust my judgement. It helps that I was a transactional partner for five years before becoming a PSL and the leadership team knows that I understand our business and the work we do. Being a partner also means I have easy access to those senior decision-makers who can help drive initiatives forward.
5. What advice would you give to your KM colleagues or PSL team about obtaining the necessary support from partners and the leadership team?
Fee earners want to know 'what's in it for me?' and the leadership team wants to know 'how will it benefit the business?'. If you can't answer both of those questions positively, then change what you're doing or do something different altogether.
Knowledge management has to support our overall business of being an efficient provider of legal services. It can't be the 'tail that wags the dog'. At the risk of stretching a metaphor too far, if the 'tail' wags in sync with the 'main body', then the whole 'dog' will operate more effectively, adding up to more than the sum of its parts.