Law firms should be agile: The future of knowledge management in law firms

Nicky Leijtens, a Professional Support Lawyer (Innovation & Service Design) at NautaDutilh in the Netherlands discusses where she thinks the future of successful KM in law firms lies, and why all law firms should be becoming more agile.


1. What does your role entail at NautaDutilh?

Most PSL's are responsible for research & legal support within a given law practice area. My research focuses on innovation: I keep track of what is happening in the ecosystem of legal services and what happens outside the legal world. I analyse and I highlight areas for opportunity and give advice on how we can continue to meet client needs by improving existing services or developing new services.

My role also involves advising on how we can stimulate innovation within the office. For example; the Innovation Lab in our new office building in Rotterdam and the launch of a Research & Development department which will open in the near future.

2. Name one way in which lawyers can reduce information overload to enable them to improve information sharing at their firm?

Reducing e-mails: we all send far too many e-mails. Sharing knowledge in portals and communities that can be accessed via multiple devices and that stimulate interaction and collaboration is not only more effective, but more engaging as well. 

3. Successful KM is a combination of people, tools and technology. Which of these do you think will play a larger role in future legal KM?

Technology. If IBM's Watson and ROSS succeed in living up to their promises, legal knowledge will be commoditised eventually. Artificial intelligence will have a huge impact on KM.

4. Your session at KM Legal Europe 2016 explores design thinking in KM and lean by design. Can you tell us more about these concepts in the context of knowledge management at a law firm?

Our daily lives have changed a lot through the years: technology plays a crucial part of participating in society. Think of AirBnB, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, Google, Facebook, Whatsapp and LinkedIn.

To a large extent we participate in society through our phones, tablets and computers. It has changed the way we watch television, it has changed the way we listen to music and it has changed the way we are following the news.

This also has an impact on the way we want to receive knowledge as well. Clients and fee earners are no different. The challenge is to share knowledge in a way that meets users' needs, which not only involves considering the time and place, but also the content and the accessibility through different devices. That is where design thinking comes in. Design thinking is a process that focuses on user experiences and emphasises empathy with users through research, exploring and prototyping. The whole process is about finding out what users need and how those needs can be met. 

Lean Six Sigma is a different methodology that focuses on existing processes and eliminating waste. The key principle however is focusing on value – from a clients' or end users' perspective – lean by design or Design for Six Sigma involves the development of products and services that prevent waste. Essentially, this is taking the best of both worlds. 

5. Change management is crucial to any firm or organisation. But do you think law firms must be more agile to achieve better knowledge management?
I think law firms should be agile anyway, in order to keep up with the pace of change. Agility is just as crucial as change management. The more agile you are, the more you are able to adjust to changing circumstances. Knowledge management is therefore no exception. 

Nicky shared her experiences and findings working as a PSL at NautaDutilh at KM Legal Europe 2016, a knowledge management conference for legal professionals. Find out more about other knowledge management events by ARK, including KM Legal UK and Knowledge Management UK.