Managing Partner Helena Hallgarn - KM Case study: Vinge
km case study: vinge
ON the kNOwledge
knowledge management is more than just bringing various parts of a firm
together, says helena hallgarn, former head of km at scandinavian firm vinge,
Key who argues that to deliver benefits, km has to look beyond legal knowledge alone.
one Law firms sell knowledge. Because this knowledge It is a way of making the fee-earner’s work more
Standardise is valuable to clients, firms, in turn, invest in efficient so they can focus their time on more
‘knowledge management’ (KM). But what exactly value-added work.
the intranet. is the role of the KM function at a law firm? Is If we compare this to a manufacturing
it simply about legal know-how and documents, industry producing, for example, cars, they also
two or is there more to it? And are the strategic issues need all the different parts to be put together at
Make fee-earners for law firms really so different from those that the right time, and in the right way, in order to
responsible for affect production or industrial companies? produce a car. Toyota has worked on constantly
At Vinge we recently revised our KM enhancing its production capability to improve
strategy and broadened our scope to focus on business. This has become a concept known as
three business knowledge compared to the mere legal ‘LEAN’. It is not about doing things faster, but
Set up a knowledge that many other KM initiatives take about doing things in the most efficient way.
document as their sole focus. We have also tried to think One part of this is the standardisation of
assembly tool along the lines of a production company rather procedures, which could be compared to our
based on a web
than limit ourselves to legal knowledge. To this standard documents.
end we support the whole business with the In other industry types, management naturally
Four development of different KM tools; to give the also looks at how to improve business by
Introduce firm a competitive edge; and further, to increase building new models, new and better services,
taxonomy to offer profitability. With such a focus, could it be argued new ways of producing goods, and so on. The
that the KM function is actually a business- function responsible for this is often a business-
other sources of development function in itself ? development function.
knowledge. Is this really comparable to our KM function?
Background In order to explain, I will first further describe
Five Vinge is one of the leading law firms in Sweden our work.
Create ‘know and employs approximately 450 people, of
who’ support to
whom just over 300 are lawyers. The firm is KM at vinge
suggest the most
suitable contact primarily focused on commercial law, particularly We chose to organise the KM work at Vinge with
at the firm for international transactions. Vinge has offices a central KM group focusing on organising and
further advice. in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and managing the KM work, but with fee-earners
Helsingborg, as well as in London, Brussels, responsible for the content in our systems (i.e. the
Hong Kong and Shanghai. documents), as they are our specialists in the legal
Initially the focus of knowledge management field. This means we have partners responsible
at the firm was about working with standardised for updating standard documents, fee-earners
legal documents; making them easily available responsible for contributing sample documents,
through the intranet. We had engaged in and so on.
collecting other kinds of legal documents, The KM group currently consists of one
however, to support our fee-earners and prevent head of KM, one KM lawyer, three assistants
them from doing repetitive work. If someone has and local library personnel. As we are a very
done extensive analysis of a particular legal issue, small KM group we have to limit our focus to
this should be easily accessible for other fee- the management and organisation of knowledge
earners to reuse the next time the question arises. and the exchange of knowledge. We have been
60 managing partner, may 2010
the spectrum of matters
When deciding the best way to manage
knowledge to support the business we had to
look closely at the kinds of matters that were
handled by our firm. Vinge offers legal services
ranging from simple company registration matters
to more complex M&A, public M&A, and
situations where our partners are acting as trusted
advisors. The fees naturally vary depending on
the complexity and the value added in the service.
Even within more complex transactions, however,
there are often several less complex issues, such
as registration matters, which should be taken care
of in a competitive way.
Looking at this spectrum of matters it is
easy to see that there is no one KM solution
applicable to all. Instead we decided to apply three
different approaches to support the spectrum
of matters: standardisation, knowledge sharing
and innovation. Based on these approaches we
have developed applicable KM tools to support
working towards making document work, such as the business. When talking about a KM tool I
our standard documents, only a part of the daily mean a combination of procedures, structures,
knowledge work of fee-earners. That way we can IT solutions, and so on. It is sometimes part of a
make knowledge work more transparent so that it change management process too, as it sometimes
is simply another part of conducting business. also changes the way the fee-earners work.
Now this also seems to be working in
practice. The fee-earners realise how much they standardisation
benefit from the KM work, and they share their When it comes to the more basic issues the focus
strong know-how documents and assist in the must be on standardisation. We can only compete
production of the standard documents. We with firms charging lower fees for handling
receive around 75-180 spontaneous contributions similar issues if we can manage them more
to our KM database each month – that’s one efficiently, and spend less time on each matter
per fee-earner every two or three days. Fee- while maintaining our high quality. Our goal is
earners don’t usually focus on KM, but now it to secure quality of client service by focusing on
has become an integral, natural part of their supporting more efficient client work. The focus
knowledge work. here is on efficiency.
However, when considering gaining Our initial KM work included the
competitive advantage through our KM work development of standard documents. However,
we did not consider it enough to focus on the to increase focus on standardisation we also
documents alone. We had to further investigate “our lawyers implemented a document-assembly tool, used
how to develop our KM strategy to support the for different kinds of registration matters such
are not only
business as a whole. as new share issues, mergers and company
focusing on liquidation. When initiating such a matter, the
Broadened scope solving legal lawyer accesses a web questionnaire where
We started the process of developing a new KM problems, but information about the company and details about
strategy by looking at our business. Our lawyers also on solving the new share issue, for example, are submitted.
are not only focusing on solving legal problems, Based on this information, a package of about
but also on solving business problems. For KM 10-15 documents will be produced and saved
purposes this means it is important to focus on problems. For into our document management system. The
more than legal knowledge alone. KM purposes registration number, the company name and the
A lawyer solving a business problem needs this means it number of shares to be issued are only filled in
to have knowledge about the company, the is important once, reducing the risk of typing errors. More
industry, the business environment, what importantly, the different packages are quality
to focus on
knowledge the firm already has that can be of assured, pulling in appropriate statements from
use, and so on. Accordingly, we broadened our more than legal the auditor, reports by the board of directors
scope to focus on business knowledge as a basis knowledge and resolution proposals. The time spent on this
for our new strategy. alone. ” matter can thus be focused on specific issues
km case study: vinge
related to a particular client and matter, We also support shorter training
and not on the general issues that arise. sessions, such as discussions regarding
a certain case or a specific ruling,
Knowledge sharing combined with lunch. That way there
Because clients come to us for our can be a lot of exchange of knowledge,
experience in handling complex matters, as these sessions also attract senior
it is important to make good use of fee-earners.
the skills and experience at the firm.
KM supports this, where our goal is to innovation
leverage the experience at the firm. There are also situations which the
The first tool developed by our KM client has not experienced before, where
team was our KM database. Instead of we must give new advice on ways of
just being a document repository with solving a business issue. The focus here
a search tool, however, it is a true basis is on expertise, and on lawyers acting as
for knowledge sharing. We have a lot trusted advisers.
of different kinds of documents easily In a firm supporting knowledge
available, but it is not only about finding sharing, it will be easier to receive
a document. We also have a taxonomy information about new ways of solving
that can guide the lawyers through the problems, new business ideas and new
process in several types of matters. ways of delivering our services. In our
Instead of just searching by using the KM and deal databases we have new
right word, you can get into the context “if looking for an asset ways of solving problems, new ways
of your types of matters to see which transfer agreement, for of formulating legal structures, and so
documents might be most useful. If on. By making this kind of information
example, you will be
looking for an asset transfer agreement, easily available to our partners they will
for example, you will be guided to that guided to that area in our be aware of new possibilities.
area in our taxonomy structure, and find taxonomy structure, and A partner receiving information
not only an agreement, but also a memo find not only an agreement, about the client and the industry in
regarding tax issues, and another on but also a memo regarding question, and who is able to combine
employment issues, which could be quite that with information on new ideas in
tax issues, and another on
important. In addition there might be a the legal field, will have a good basis for
short notice about some legal changes employment issues, which being a valuable advisor to the client.
that you should be aware of. Our goal could be quite important.”
is therefore that the fee-earners should supporting the business
find more relevant information than disseminate knowledge regarding deals The whole business is a knowledge
they expected. done. This gives us a much better view business and all fee-earners are
The structure of our KM database of the experience possessed by different considered to be knowledge workers. KM
is vital in many ways, however, not just people; a know-who support within the has become a true management issue.
for our taxonomy structure. We have also M&A field. The only thing that gives the firm a
structured the documents by dividing We also want to make better use of competitive edge, the only thing that is
them into several different categories, and our external information sources, and sustainable, is what it knows; how it uses
we are using cross references connecting are working on the development of a what it knows; and how fast it can learn
different areas of law, and therefore business intelligence service support. For something new.
making the lawyer aware of questions to example, this can support you when you Looking at KM in this light, it is
consider in other areas. Furthermore, the have an interesting client case and need a management function supporting
KM database is also a support for ‘know- some information about a particular the business, developing the tools and
who’, as you can find an expert at the client. We collect knowledge about working towards making the business
firm based on the documents he or she the different databases, make packages even more profitable. In other words, it
has produced. If you find, for example, of ‘best practice’ sources for specific is simply another business development
two memos regarding product liability, searches and train some personnel to function at the firm.
the best way to access further knowledge handle this. Instead of spending time – helena.hallgarn@vQab.se
in that area is to talk to the author. doing searches in some of the external
Vinge is consistently ranked among databases you are used to, you can
the leading law firms in Sweden instead ask for the information and get Since writing this article Helena
in the area of public and private a complete package of the information Hallgarn has left Vinge and now
M&A. This is an important area for available. This is to ensure an efficient joint runs a KM consultancy, Virtual
knowledge sharing. Therefore we have use of our sources and access to the Intelligence VQ AB (www.vqab.se)
also implemented a deal database to right information.
62 managing partner, may 2010