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Hélène Russell, legal knowledge and learning specialist, recently interviewed Sue Bramall for KM Insight, part of the ARK Group.
They discussed Sue’s top tips for improving the branding, visibility and reputation of law firm knowledge teams so they can help their colleagues and contribute to the profitability of their firms more effectively. The interview was first published on the KM Insight website.
Hi Sue, thank you so much for talking to me.
One of the difficulties many of my knowledge clients experience is a problem with demonstrating the value that they represent to their law firms. I can help them with organising the right effective and efficient knowledge projects and creating the right metrics systems around those projects to demonstrate value, but I’ve often thought that they really need help from a marketing specialist such as yourself, to help with the branding and selling of their value internally. What do you think?
I always think of the Knowledge Management team as the equivalent of the R&D department of a manufacturing company – this team helps to keep a professional firm at the cutting edge of ‘product development’ in a sector where the product is knowledge-based services.
If we were in another business, it would not be uncommon to have a member of the marketing team whose sole focus was internal comms and liaison with R&D would be a key activity. How else do new products get to market?
Just as a pharmaceutical company has to develop new drugs to combat health problems, a law firm needs to develop new solutions to combat the legal problems their clients are facing – and knowledge management has a vital role to play in this.
Mulling over your question, it occurred to me that the expression ‘knowledge management’ sounds a little passive – as if you are simply cataloguing and storing the knowledge that exists in a firm’s lawyers. How would your activities and perceptions change if the department was called research and development?
Good point. I often advise people to start with a definition of what Knowledge Management means to them and the firm (which is often quite active and strategic) and then build a small team of knowledge enthusiasts around them. Once they have the team, how can they build a good knowledge brand?
I think it is important to be alive to the commercial realities of the law firm business, particularly when you are perceived as a cost-centre rather a generator of income.
I’m rather unusual as someone who came to marketing after having started off training as an accountant and having had drummed into me the mantra ‘Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’. So, I would recommend that you develop clarity on how you contribute to a firm’s profitability.
Often lawyers plan marketing initiatives for the wrong reasons – because they have always done something, because a competitor is doing it, because they heard about it at a conference – rather than because they have identified a target market as potentially profitable and this is the best way to grow that market. I imagine that this can happen in knowledge management and so activities don’t always follow profit objectives.
If you can understand where the rainmakers want to win business from, and you can help them to succeed then you will win advocates. Knowledge provides a powerful competitive edge in pitching situations – even informal ones. With in-house counsel demanding more and more from their law firms you have an opportunity to add some tangible value to proposals.
And do you have any quick, easy wins for people? Any simple projects to get them started?
You can add value to horizon scanning by identifying any market opportunities alongside the development – maybe in tandem with a colleague in marketing. Help the lawyers to spot the opportunity for more revenue and the resources that they might need to communicate this to clients before their competitors.
It is important to be aware that clients and prospects consume information via such a wide variety of media now – and the marketing team often has to take the raw legal knowledge and restructure it for different media.
I don’t know whether many knowledge management teams have been able to get involved with design thinking, but it would be great to see briefings appearing as graphics such as flow charts as well as, or instead of, pure text.
Mini case studies are useful – for example if you have been involved in developing the knowledge for a new service offering, or a tender that you contributed to was successful. If you have access to suitable management information, you might be able to quantify some return on investment after a period of time.
And lastly, do you have 3 top tips for people to make sure that they keep knowledge services in the forefront of people’s minds?
1) It is important to know your clients – what is this lawyer really wanting to achieve with this knowledge?
2) Be clear about how you add value – whether helping them win a big pitch or freeing up their time for fee earning or business development.
3) Work with innovators and early adopters and don’t get dispirited about the laggards.
Thanks very much Sue, it’s been really interesting and useful to get a marketing view on the knowledge management world and your advice on improving the branding of knowledge management teams.
The interview was first published on KM Insight’s website and be read here.