There are times when legal operations staff and law firm professionals seem to exist in separate worlds. Until, that is, one considers the area of knowledge management (KM).

“Legal ops people and KM law firm people must have been separated at birth —we do the same thing,”  Cindy Thurston Bare, director of Knowledge Management at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe said during a May 10 panel at the 2017 Corporate Legal Operations Consortium’s annual institute in Las Vegas.

KM technology—information databases and portals used to better manage and share information internally — is used to leverage data to drive efficiency, collaboration and cost savings. But while both law firms and legal departments strive towards the same goals, both are at risk of running into the same pitfalls when first implementing KM.

At the panel, titled “Knowledge Management: What Legal Ops Can Learn From the Law Firm Experience,” Bare was joined by Delilah Brummet Flaum, partner at Winston & Strawn, to offer advice on navigating KM implementation challenges.

Here are the some tips from the session:

1. Start with the Pain Point, and Keep it Simple

When launching a knowledge management project from scratch, it is often difficult to know what data to organize and manage. Flaum, however, has an easy solution: consider your biggest pain point.

“What is the biggest issue for you?” she asked. “Is it money? Is it time? Is it people or resources or 5,000 emails a day on one topic that— if you would just create a portal somewhere— a lot of the emails would go away?”

Once one has a general paint point in mind, the next step is to consider where that pain is coming from, she added. “Is it emails, documents or resources? Or is it intangibles, like [ideas] in people’s heads, [lack of] skills or experience?”

With the problem to solve squarely within one’s sights, however, it can be easy to let ambition get in the way of actual achievable goals. KM programs can accomplish a lot, but all of them start with an initial first success on which to build on.

Bare advised those starting out a KM program to first ask themselves: “What can I start with that is small and that will make a difference? That I don’t need a lot of resources for and won’t feel overwhelmed with?”

2. Consider the Workflow of Documents and Information

KM projects manage and display data in ways that are easy to digest and share. But too often a KM project can exist as a roadblock to an already established workflow. Before launching a KM project, it’s important then to “think about process,” Bare said. She urged the audience to think about what happens when a document comes in, and through collaboration with other firms, the documents change hands constantly.

In building a “litigation case management system,” for example, which among other objectives, sought to standardize the names of cases, Bare first started mapping the workflows of her firm’s litigation case data. It was a task, she noted, that was fairly simple: “You don’t need to do anything fancy for process mapping. All you need is sharpies and Post-It notes.”

Understanding data workflows, Bare added, will allow one to make sure they “are creating windmills, not treadmills” when developing KM projects, adding that “windmills just capture the wind that is already blowing,” whereas treadmills require new effort and energy. She explained that this meant one should work to capture and manage the data along its natural, established lifecycle, not invent an entirely new process and workflow.

3. You Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel

When considering KM projects, many can’t help but consider what KM can be: a fully intuitive platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to capture, display and search through data more effectively than ever before. But for Flaum, while “AI is very exciting and may end up being a solution in the long run,” it’s not entirely within the realm of possible in current KM systems.

Flaum noted that “we all live in a Google or Amazon world” where data search and organization has reached new levels. “But you’re not going to find that so easily [in KM] no matter how you manage your content that’s out there,” she said. “We’re not there yet.”

AI, however is not the only area that can bottleneck KM designers. Flaum also cautioned against spending too much time on the smaller details, such as forms that are to be hosted on a KM portal. “Find something that everybody in a particular business group or legal group uses,” she advised, instead of spending time creating unique novel documents. The idea behind an initial KM program, she added, is for one to have a baseline foundation first, and worry about minor and major improvements going forward.