Knowledge Management for Lawyers: Establish a Routine

This post is the second in my continuing series “Knowledge Management for Lawyers”
Part 1: 7 Expensive Ways Lawyers Fail at Knowledge Management
Part 2: Track Your Results!

Part 3: Establish a Routine

knowledge management

The Knowledge Management Wheel

My first attempts to create what I now know as a Knowledge Management database of my practice of law were a failure. Not because I didn’t have some idea what I wanted to analyze. In fact, I knew exactly what I wanted to analyze – mediations. I had been in practice for about two years, working at firm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, practicing primarily insurance defense.

I knew what metrics I wanted. I wanted to find out the tendencies of attorneys, mediators, and adjusters. I even knew how to do it. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty good with Microsoft Excel, and what I didn’t know could usually be found online. Or by calling my friend Neal Robbins, a man smarter than I am when it comes to Excel (among other things).

What I didn’t have was data. And it wasn’t because I hadn’t had enough mediations, it was because I hadn’t gotten in the habit of writing the information down.One of the first objections I heard when I started discussing knowledge management was that I was asking attorneys to add another non-revenue task to their day. It was an objection that I expected, and fully understand. Why do something that you can’t get paid for?

But while I understand the objection, I fundamentally disagree. One of the biggest problems that lawyers who own their own business have is that their role includes two fundamentally different jobs: lawyer and business owner. The lawyer is in the business of providing a service to others, usually only receiving payment based on the actual rendering of the service. The business owner, on the other hand, must spend time making sure that the business operates smoothly.

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Part of working on your business involves making sure it’s working well. You need to know what’s going on in your business. However, effective and complete analysis requires sufficient data.

The best way to make sure you’re keeping track of your data is to establish a routine. Julie Fleming at the Lexinnova blog has a great 5-step process for dealing with those business development tasks:

knowledge management1) Develop a List of your Must-Do Activities

Just like you take time to prepare a case, take time to determine what you want to get out of your data. What information do you want to know? For me, it was about mediations. I knew what I wanted to find out, now I need to figure out what activities will be necessary to get there. This is what I came up with:

Before mediation:

  • Check spreadsheet to make sure all attorneys, adjusters, and the mediators are already entered;
  • Add information for any new entries;
  • Add a slot for information to be entered from the upcoming mediation.

During mediation:

  • Record all offers/demands on your mediation chart, including the time each is made;
  • Write a brief note on the substance of opposing party’s presentation;
  • Make sure to note any special arrangements (payment for fees, high-low brackets, etc.)
  • Record whether mediation settled or not, and the time it ended.

After mediation:

  • Record all the data from the mediation chart into the spreadsheet.

Pretty basic. Still, by writing down my list of activities, I’ve made it harder to ignore specific steps. I am also able to adjust the list as necessary.

2) Set a Specific Time to Perform your Must-Do Activities

Several studies on human behavior suggest that it takes as little as 30 days doing a particular activity for it to become a habit. The tough part is getting to 30 days. Consistency is key. Set a schedule of your activities to make sure you’re performing them on a daily (or regular) basis. However, keep the tasks small and manageable. Missing one or two appointments can’t be so difficult to catch up from that you just scuttle the whole thing.

For my project, this involved setting two scheduled events: before and after any mediation. Once my database was set up, entering new attorneys, adjusters and mediators and adding data from mediations took just a few minutes. So, on any day that I had a mediation scheduled, I would add a calendar appointment first thing that morning to update the database, and scheduled a reminder, waiting for me upon my return, to key in the new information.

After a few mediations, updating the database became routine.

3) Keep Your Appointments with Yourself

Do you ever feel like you’re looking for an excuse to avoid doing something? It happens to me all the time. Fighting the urge to “do it later” is one of the most difficult parts of data collection. However, for your system to work, you need to keep your appointments, particularly when you don’t want to.

In my case, I would use early morning mediations as an excuse to not update the database beforehand. It’s a task that takes about 2 minutes. Yet I would sit there and justify not doing it, simply because I wouldn’t be in my office prior to the mediation. Dumb, huh? Thing is, when the database wasn’t ready following a mediation, it became a reason not to enter the data.

To compensate, my early morning mediations now schedule updating the database for the afternoon on the day before.

4) Have a System of Accountability

Figure out a way to remain consistent. Whether it’s an automatic tickler system, a buddy-system with another attorney or staff member, or a cattle prod set to shock you regularly, make sure there’s something to keep you accountable. As Julie’s article so perfectly states: “How you do it is much less important than that you do it.”

Knowledge Management

Well, not necessarily this guy…

My system was a one-man show, so it wasn’t as effective as it could have been. But in the end, my desire to be able to analyze mediation data was sufficient motivation. I have numerous systems in place though. My automated workflow is set up to add reminders to my calendar about a mediation¬†and the data entry. Even though it’s pretty much a routine, there are definitely days when I really appreciate that reminder!

5) Start Small

Just like the annual New Year’s resolution to finally get in shape, any grand scheme to modify your whole practice is destined to fail. If each day requires too much, you’ll soon find that being out of state for depositions or home sick for a couple days means hours of catch-up, rather than minutes. So no matter what type of analysis you want to be able to perform, make sure that it will only require a couple minutes of your time each day.

Make your plan too grandiose, and it’ll suffocate under the weight of missing just one or two days. Moreover, you’ll begin to resent the amount of time you’re spending on your non-revenue work, regardless of how great the analysis might be. Too big of a plan and you’ll quickly find yourself looking for an excuse to let it slip for a few days, just so you can justify throwing it out.

In the end…

If you’ve never assembled and analyzed information on your firm’s performance, there’s no reason to think that you’re going to turn into a data analytics expert overnight. More importantly, you’re not going to be a data collection expert overnight. Begin with small goals that do not place tremendous burdens on your time. Set your schedule, perform those tasks daily, and take a minute each week or month to look back on how much you’ve accomplished!

By establishing a routine, you’ll create usable data for your firm’s knowledge management, hopefully providing valuable insight on how to make your revenue-producing work even more valuable.

Image courtesy of cooldesign

  • http://www.lexinnovablog.com/ Julie Fleming

    Brian, thanks for citing my 5-step approach to making sure tasks don’t slip through the cracks. It’s great to see you urging lawyers to keep track of data that will lead to smoother (and more profitable) business operations — and setting steps to make it so doable. Nice post!

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