If you are reading this blog, you probably have something to do with knowledge management at a law firm. KM is the lifeblood of a successful firm. Lawyers and their teams are knowledge workers - they research, collect, analyze and share information. As the legal matters they work on grow, that information needs to be tracked, communicated between colleagues, and made accessible to key players. This workflow places tremendous value on products that facilitate knowledge management.

Not surprisingly, many vendors claim to have products that do just that. You've been drilled over and over again with the same buzzwords: collaboration, sharing, mobility, and others. Vendors rely on these words to grab your attention and inspire visions of limitless technology and modern workplaces. Maybe something like this...

Minority Report

Yet inevitably, after the purchase is made and the rollout complete, the promised revolution slowly turns to disappointment. Lots of these products were simply never made for lawyers, and it becomes obvious quickly. Trying to force lawyers to use these tools is doomed to frustration and failure. Some products made for lawyers have been around for years and are simply "old tech" wrapped in fancy marketing language. Some lack mobile support - an untenable problem today. In short, there always seems to be something missing.

So most lawyers return to email because it's accessible and it works. (We'll set aside the glaring security issues with email for now.) Attorneys end up living in their inboxes - sending and receiving lots of email. That's where the critical knowledge ends up getting stored...in random email messages, hidden between bar association newsletters and announcements about donuts in the breakroom.

The leading KM systems used by law firms have sprung up around the idea of managing email. That's not a bad idea. ("Let's save important emails!") But does it cover everything? Is email even the best place to record key information? Of course not. Plenty of critical information exists outside of email traffic. Often the only alternative is logging information into a Word or Excel document.

But consider a business managing its sales cycle. It could use email, or insist on salespeople inputting everything into a spreadsheet. But many businesses get tremendous value from software built specifically to address their needs: a customer relationship management platform like Salesforce. Salesforce stores the kind of information a salesperson wants, in the way they want it. The same is true for Github, a popular code review and collaboration tool for developers.

These applications share a few traits in common. In particular, both Salesforce and Github:

  • collect and parse information in a way that makes sense to their users
  • provide a "sticky" experience that makes adding new information easy and worthwhile
  • integrate with other tools commonly used in the users' workflow (including email)

So why haven't similar tools emerged in legal? Practice management tools - time and billing, client management, etc. - have advanced in recent years, particularly for solo and small firms. Knowledge management, however, is often overlooked or difficult to achieve. It begins and ends with email and document storage.

These are blunt instruments. They don't track how matters are progressing. Few solutions, if any, provide an opportunity for serious, real-time discussion around key documents. Matter information is recorded manually, often inconsistently, and the burden rests on lawyers to stay updated and chase after documents as they are being generated and discussed.

At ThreadKM, these are the challenges we are tackling. We think the legal industry is ready to embrace a tool that will both capture and enhance the way lawyers actually work. Its own Salesforce. Its own Github. Its own platform for delivering best-in-class legal services to clients who expect and depend on great legal work.

And we're excited to be sharing it soon. If you are going to the International Legal Technology Association's annual conference in Nashville, August 18-21, you can sign up for an exclusive demo of ThreadKM. If not, drop me a line at dan@threadkm.com to schedule a demo after the conference.