Blog Post

Knowledge Management for the Legal Department: An A-to-Z Guide

September 18, 2023

Many legal departments are still dealing with the aftermath of the Great Resignation, where 86% reported significant impacts from talent turnover. Shifts in the hiring market can be difficult to predict, which should lead some GCs to shift their focus from talent retention to damage control when key personnel leave. Knowledge management often tops the list of solutions, serving as a way to capture valuable information that you can use to keep moving forward. Our A-to-Z guide will help you strengthen your department’s knowledge management and build a resilient legal team.

Key Takeaways

  • Knowledge management for GCs should prioritize legal information, institutional knowledge, and an understanding of the company’s broader industry. 
  • The primary focus should be on ways to record key knowledge through foundational documents, technology platforms, and data collection. 
  • Innovate in knowledge acquisition and development through continued education, multiple-disciplinary training, and building relationships with ALSPs and outside counsel. 

The Role of Knowledge Management in the Modern Legal Department

Legal departments find it difficult to capture and manage corporate knowledge, largely because so much of the work relies upon the critical skills and experience of its attorneys. However, GCs looking to develop a robust and resilient legal team must understand the many areas where knowledge management plays a role. These include:

  • Legal expertise relevant to the company’s operations
  • Institutional knowledge of the company’s history, its C-suite, and business units
  • Industry insights that shape the company’s overall legal and business strategy

Learning how to gather, organize, and communicate this knowledge allows your legal team to grow and scale effectively.

Some benefits of implementing a knowledge management process in your legal department.
Image Source

It can be easy to neglect knowledge management when you have an experienced and established legal team. However, doing so can lead to devastating consequences. You jeopardize your ability to rebound during employee turnover phases, as essential knowledge leaves with the talent.

You also risk losing the valuable context that guides your department’s legal operations. Without this context, your team may struggle to align with the broader business strategies of stakeholders in other departments.

Strategies to Strengthen Knowledge Management in a Corporate Legal Department

GCs and legal teams should approach knowledge management on two levels. The first is project-specific, focusing on the knowledge needed for either standard or unique processes. The second is more overarching, where you think about the legal department’s collective contributions and role within the corporate structure. The following methods can help you strengthen knowledge management on both levels.

Methods for Storing Key Knowledge

The simplest strategy for maintaining and improving knowledge management is to dedicate efforts toward building a detailed record of the knowledge you possess. This is where foundational documents play a large role in creating a resource for new employees and a reference for your experienced members. If your legal department lacks the following, you are missing out on critical knowledge management tools:

  • A template library for contracts, key terms, and other legal documents the company needs
  • Playbooks and process maps for standard legal operations (e.g., contracts, compliance, litigation)
  • Training manuals for business units facing issues requiring legal input

Regularly review and update these documents to reflect changes in law, company practices, or industry standards.

Our GC survey highlighted the growing importance of digital information and data strategy in knowledge management initiatives. 

Leverage Technology for Automated Knowledge Management

The best knowledge management tools are those that do the work for you. This includes software and legal tech solutions that automate or create information. Whether it’s a contract life cycle management system that alerts you to upcoming deadlines and obligations within an agreement or advanced tools that review documents and suggest edits with pre-approved terms. Consider if your current technology is a solution or a detriment to your knowledge management goals.

Organize Communication Channels and Related Information

Email and other messaging systems are valuable sources of knowledge for legal departments, because they are the primary means of communication with stakeholders in other business units. However, these channels can become liabilities if the attorney or legal team member on the other end leaves the department. It’s important to have systems for collecting and organizing communications on a per-matter or operation basis. This will allow for easier transitions when legal talent turnover or other disruptions occur.

Build Data Collection and Analysis Techniques

Every legal department should embrace data collection and analysis as an insightful resource for building knowledge about the legal department. This data could speak to the efficiency and effectiveness of legal operations or provide information on the mechanics of the legal team at large. For example, it can guide hiring decisions or inform the cost-effectiveness of outsourcing certain tasks.

Foster Learning Beyond the Legal Department

As mentioned above, legal knowledge management extends beyond your department’s operations. It should also include efforts to understand how the other business units operate in line with the larger corporate strategy. Develop and promote learning opportunities within and outside the company to enrich this understanding. This could range from site visits to attending industry-related conferences.

Consider your legal department’s collective knowledge as a spider web, where each strand represents a piece of information your legal team possesses. To fortify this web, aim to connect as many strands as possible by fostering multi-disciplinary skillsets and training. This could provide benefits to the company, such as filling gaps in legal talent during periods of turnover and affording flexibility in reorganizing the legal department’s structure in the future.

Leverage Third-Party ALSPs and Outside Counsel for Knowledge Access

While ALSPs and outside counsel are often seen as flexible staffing solutions, they could also enrich your knowledge management efforts. ALSPs often possess insights into key operational areas like spend management, litigation support, or contract review. At the same time, outside counsel can provide specialized expertise on legal issues or local knowledge.

Partner with Exigent for Your Legal Knowledge Management Needs

Exigent is an ALSP that prioritizes the use of data and technology to improve the workflows of corporate legal departments around the world. If you’re seeking effective solutions for building an effective legal ops team, consider meeting with one of our experts. They’ll help you identify the Exigent services that best fit your current knowledge management issues, be it flexible staffing for an urgent discovery project or customizing Microsoft 365 to enhance your contract management.

Schedule a consultation with an Exigent Design Expert today.