A question that I often ask when talking with principals of law firms is “what are you doing to capture your corporate knowledge”. To which there is usually a pause, and the answer “we’re not”.
At first this can sound like a really dull topic…‘corporate knowledge’…yawn…sounds like the kind of hollow buzzword you’d find in a high level corporate policy document, the kind that you might use to prop up your computer monitor…or cure insomnia…
But this is a sexy topic….if you’re interested in scaling your firm without dying of stress that is…and if you want to add another dimension to the valuation of your business.
Well, what happens every time you onboard a new staff member? You have to teach them how to do the job. Even if they are experienced you have to teach them how YOU want the job done.
That blows a hole in the time that you have available to bill and bring in new work. The more new staff you are taking on, the more people there are draining your time so that they can get up to speed.
Because the information on how to do their job is located in your brain. The only way it’s getting into theirs at this point is by you stopping and communicating it to them.
You need to get that information out of your brain and into a knowledge base or firm playbook. A central firm wiki organised by task that you can point staff to when they need to know how to do the work that you give them. Information stored in a knowledge base is scalable, whereas your time isn’t.
How does this add to the valuation of my business?
Well this is where we get into the difference between having a business and being self-employed. A business is a contained collection of systems constructed of people, technology, intellectual property and information, workflows, and reputation or goodwill. You put money and time in, and out comes profit…or at least that’s what we hope for.
This is what people want to buy. You build a self-contained machine that multiplies the money that you put into it. It’s an income generating asset.
But so many lawyers operate as if the value of their business was entirely in the WIP. All their energy is put into progressing the cases and capturing time, while the actual infrastructure that makes it a business is neglected.
By taking the time to document how you want the work to be performed you start to build up a valuable piece of intellectual property in the business. It’s your library of recipes for how you turn out work at a volume, consistency, and quality, higher than your competition. Could KFC be sold without their recipes?
By creating this central firm playbook you have added critical infrastructure to the business that is required to scale and maintain quality. You have made the quality of work repeatable by a new owner and by new staff. You have scaled back the demand on your time as the business grows and new people join your firm, time that you can spend on growing the business.
How to start building your firm playbook
This will be a different mix for everyone depending on the resources that you have. The approach that I have taken in the past has been to develop a full claim life cycle playbook for the firm with a full set of associate precedents (the very process of developing the playbook will help you identify gaps in your precedent library) as a project. All at once.
After that, the idea is to maintain it by continually updating and improving it as lessons are learned and better ways are found. This is best achieved by keeping the playbook in electronic form (don’t distribute it in hard copy, you want it to be a living and instantly accessible document).
The next step after that is to open it up to the senior members of your different teams (both legal and admin) to expand and update the firm playbook. Now you have leveraged yourself. They keep the playbook current, and continually improve it (as it saves them time too as they point their team to it for instructions on how to complete the work) for you while you focus on those things that only you can do for the business….or maybe take a well-deserved break?
The benefit of a firm playbook has a ripple effect through the business. Each tier of your legal and administrative teams is able to use it to reduce the drain on their time from training new people, new lessons learned are transmitted through the firm raising the capability of everyone and avoiding repeating mistakes, and consistency in the quality of the work across the firm is continually improved by having this central authority on the best practices for performing the work.
A great way to go about the task of putting this all together is to start by identifying the milestone events or pieces of work in your cases that mark significant points of progress. Identify what goes into delivering those pieces of work, and work backwards from there to identify all the tasks that need to be included, all the way back to the start of a matter.
What technology should I use to create my firm playbook?
Ideally you want to use something that allows for text, links, a dynamically updateable table of contents that you can click on, and that allows you to link to either the playbook as a whole or to individual entries (so that you can link staff to this when tasking them).
You could use MS Word documents to jot down all the steps for each task, and embed links to the precedents that staff can click on.
Another option would be to use a product like Notion. This will act like an in-house wiki. It’s purpose built to be used to record your knowledge base or playbook.
At Hivelight we are working to provide an in-app playbook that integrates with the Task Management tool. We also intend for you to be able to link to your playbooks that you’ve written up in MS Word, Notion, and other knowledge base solutions. We’re all about making it easy to incorporate us into your existing systems.