CMS Francis Lefebvre is one of the leading international business law firms, as well as one of the oldest French firms, renowned for its expertise, quality publications, and doctrinal analyses. It has internal departments specializing in tax law, business law, and labor law. These teams consist of around fifteen legal professionals (including five partners) and high-level experts from academia and public authorities. In collaboration with these departments, specialized lawyers and librarians have always provided expert monitoring and solid support for research and the management of one of the most extensive paper document collections in the field.
A perfect environment for knowledge management? Undoubtedly, but not without its challenges. While knowledge has always circulated effectively within each practice, ensuring the necessary cross-functionality to maximize performance has not always been straightforward.
In 2008, the President of the Executive Board, Pierre-Sébastien Thill, initiated an extensive project on knowledge management (KM) and its necessary strategic alignment with business development (BD) and human resources management (HR). A study conducted with our clients had revealed their increasing expectation for a more comprehensive approach to the issues at hand.
Implementation of the knowledge management strategy: resources and methodology
Three project leaders were appointed for each mission (KM, BD, and HR), and consultants were recruited to assist them. Ourouk, a consulting firm, accompanied us in the realization of the KM project. The three projects were carried out simultaneously, and cross-functional meetings were organized to ensure overall coherence.
As a project manager at the firm for several years (implementing an ERP, ECM, etc.), I was entrusted with this project, which allowed me to grasp (or address) significant challenges; especially:
How to align the knowledge management strategy with concrete business development actions?
Which levers to activate to overcome organizational obstacles and resistance to knowledge sharing?
How to assist existing expert teams accustomed to operating within knowledge silos in better disseminating knowledge?
A client-oriented knowledge management project
Through well-known techniques such as SWOT analysis, interviews and working groups, and benchmarking of practices, we conducted an assessment, identified target processes to implement, and studied tools that could facilitate better information dissemination and increased cross-functionality.
This led to a portfolio of projects to be implemented over several years, including recruiting certain missing profiles (such as lawyer knowledge managers), improving dissemination with a cross-functional search engine, establishing connections with the ECM system, fostering closer collaboration between KM and BD teams, and consolidating knowledge managers in a shared workspace for enhanced collaboration. The coordination of this team by a Director, in consultation with operational teams, complemented the structure, providing an overall view of all resources, processes, and evolving needs.
Knowledge management in constant evolution
A platform dedicated to monitoring
Monitoring has become increasingly complex and specialized, with multiple sources and limited time. To meet the demands of responsiveness and handling large volumes, we established a monitoring platform several years ago using the KBCrawl tool. On this platform, all members of the KM team share their legal and economic sources, program them according to their needs, and distribute them as thematic newsletters that any lawyer can subscribe to, regardless of their specialization. All lawyers and interns have automatic access (single sign-on) to the platform and can customize their monitoring. A mobile application is available for accessing content at any time and receiving notifications.
Today, each knowledge manager provides lawyers and the firm with relevant informational and methodological resources as early as possible, facilitating action and decision-making. This enabled us to practically implement up-to-date dedicated monitoring on topics such as Brexit, the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the situation in Ukraine.
An organization by departments and exchange meetings:
The members of the KM team are now better equipped to understand topics beyond their scope because they have a 360-degree view of the various issues discussed during team meetings.
Meetings with business developers specialized in different areas are frequent.
To master a large number of legal and economic databases, ongoing training and staying informed are essential to ensure the expected quality of service.
Key success factors for project implementation:
For the success of the project, sponsorship from the organization's management is essential, and support from specialists is a significant advantage. However, to break down silos of expertise, participative and open management is of great help. It is necessary to understand that KM is a profession of experts, and not all legal disciplines have the same dynamics. It is important to listen, work on common projects, exchange ideas, and share within the KM team and then with the lawyers and other support teams, especially BD (Business Development).
A KM project is not just a technological project: Tools can assist, but the real focus should be on people and their needs.
KM cannot be imposed or mandated. Before initiating a KM initiative, three essential factors should be considered to identify the best approach: the size of the organization, its industry sector, and the company culture.
The KM project should be sponsored by management and allocated dedicated resources, such as a project manager and support from experts.
One of the key lessons from such projects is not to make assumptions about what may seem obvious. Simple situations can create barriers. For example, a challenge identified was knowing "who does what": while lawyers were familiar with the main areas of expertise of their colleagues, some niche subjects were not clearly identified as falling within the competence of one lawyer or another. This could lead to missed opportunities to recommend a colleague to a client in a specific specialized field where that colleague excelled.
A general principle applicable to all projects is that the simplest solution to a problem is often the best. For certain practices, sharing an Excel file with the most relevant (content-wise) cases and the lawyers who worked on them can be the most effective way to find a contact person for a previously mentioned question. Deploying more sophisticated tools can become time-consuming and unnecessary.
It is interesting to note that, after a few years, lawyers perceive KM as a unique multidisciplinary structure with highly specialized contacts. They know that the service will be provided regardless of the absence or unavailability of the usual knowledge managers or librarians. This translates into more varied, cross-cutting, continuous, and challenging requests. Undoubtedly, there has been an increase in visibility and service quality.
Two approaches are interesting for further development:
Conducting benchmarks: CMS provides the opportunity to exchange with our international counterparts. Dynamics are different among our colleagues in English, Dutch, or German-speaking countries, for example. This diversity is a great asset, even though what works for some may not necessarily be suitable for others.
Being a member of a professional association for legal information professionals such as Juriconnexion in France , BIALL -British and Irish Association of Legal Librarians or AALL American Association of Law Libraries to name but a few, allows for high-quality exchanges and remarkable collaboration. It provides early access to new services and tools on the market, and the ability to question our practices.