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Law firm management

Law firm strategies to preserve institutional knowledge

Image credit: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

Law firms preserve unique knowledge of their client base, case history, internal processes, and best practices in a number of ways. One common approach involves a reliance on individuals to remember and build upon these aspects of the firm. Lawyers will naturally accumulate knowledge about how the firm operates after spending many years on the job. However, individual knowledge of this sort can become a problem when law firms begin losing employees. A shift from from human to institutional knowledge, however, can help solve gaps in knowledge that are introduced when labour turnover is high.

What is institutional knowledge?

Institutional memory as a knowledge management practice represents a shift from relying on individual, human knowledge about your firm to, instead, focusing on systematising and externalising that knowledge base. By doing so, every employee at a firm may have access to the unique knowledge that only veteran lawyers once possessed. This strategy can help strengthen a law firm’s collective knowledge retention, boost productivity, and help with company and employee morale.

Effects on staff and client engagement when institutional knowledge is lost

When law firms rely on individual knowledge, employee resignations can spell trouble. This knowledge loss means a disruption in daily workflows as employees scramble to figure out what to do in their colleague’s absence. Remaining staff members may not be as familiar with a firm’s way of doing things, which can lead to employee stress and delays.

Knowledge loss as a result of labour turnover can also quickly lead to detrimental outcomes when it comes to client engagement. Engagement success can falter when seasoned lawyers who had firsthand experience working with a given client are no longer present at the firm. At the same time, client satisfaction may decline when clients experience delays or disruptions in service as a result of lawyer turnover.

By incorporating institutional knowledge into your firm’s knowledge management practices, you can expect benefits that go beyond mitigating labour turnover knowledge loss. Employees can better serve their clients on a daily basis, and such practices can help with lawyer retention down the line.

Addressing gaps in law firm knowledge due to labour turnover

One of the major challenges presented by high labour turnover involves addressing the gaps in institutional knowledge left when lawyers and other professionals leave the firm. These gaps in knowledge can contribute to overall employee dissatisfaction with their work and client dissatisfaction with services rendered. So, what steps can law firms take to address knowledge loss that occurs as the result of employee turnover or retirement?

Adopt technologies to offload individual knowledge

Integrated software platforms like HighQ offer a seamless way to make such a transition from human to institutional knowledge. Lawyers can offload their working memories onto this external platform in order to automate and standardise a number of time-consuming tasks. Features such as document management, social collaboration, and secure file sharing improve the accessibility of your firm’s unique knowledge.

Standardise information distribution with onboarding

New lawyers in the field may be ready to implement what they learned in school, but unaware of a firm’s particular way of doing things. At the same time, experienced lawyers who are brought in from other firms may also benefit from a debrief on how their new firm behaves. Firms can address this by incorporating information about their particular best practices, easy-to-learn repeatable processes, and overall style into the onboarding process via documentation or Q & A sessions with various departments or experienced lawyers.

Mentorship promotes knowledge-share

Active mentorship is a great way to translate individual knowledge into shared wisdom among employees. To prioritise mentorship at your firm, make sure lawyers are given enough flexibility in their schedules to have one-on-one meetings with their mentors and mentees. These meetings can be used by new lawyers to get feedback about their performance, glean unique information about the firm and its client base, and grow the bonds between individuals at the firm.

External document accessibility of crucial law firm information

Another easy way to institutionalise your law firm’s knowledge involves externalising as much of that knowledge base as possible. Documentation can provide employees an external means of accessing crucial firm information that may otherwise be lost when an individual resigns or retires. Maintenance of your firm’s documentation is important; keeping procedures updated with the latest information will keep your firm operating at 100%. At the same time, your firm will also want to ensure this documentation is readily accessible so that any employee can easily find the information they need when they need it.

Learn more about effective strategies for retaining key law firm knowledge

Addressing the current lawyer labour shortage requires a multifaceted approach. Thomson Reuters is dedicated to helping law firms make confident decisions to address the challenges brought about by high labour turnover. Expand your firm’s institutional knowledge through easy-to-use collaboration tools, like HighQ today.

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