KM and Clients

January 14, 2008

‘Knowledge Management’ is an expression that has been around in law firms for a while now, but the term is often confined to organisation within the firm of its internal legal know-how. In this article we explore the use of knowledge management techniques to disseminate knowledge about clients to all within the firm who need it. We also explore the provision of know-how to clients by asking which ‘value added’ services actually add value in the eyes of the client.

What Clients Want

Rona Cameron, a solicitor from the Legal Team at RBS, presented her perspective on what clients want from their law firms. There can be a mismatch between what law firms provide to their clients and what is really valued.

Rona urged us to think about the circumstances of the particular client, in her case a bank with a large legal panel and significant recurring legal spend. Clients have high expectations for ‘added value’ services like KM. In fact they are looking to maximise their use of these offerings. They have come to expect not just generic bulletins and updates but more sophisticated, bespoke services such as:

  • tailored specialist bulletins
  • training
  • PSL support, including research assistance
  • (possibly) a client-facing extranet.

Rona emphasised what she and her colleagues really value, including:

  • insight
  • specialist knowledge
  • analysis, taking into account the client’s actual organisation, business, market trends products and jurisdictions
  • highlighting of risk issues (managing risk is a primary concern)
  • early warning – consultations and draft legislation are important
  • getting to know people in the client organisation at all levels
  • an appreciation that the client is a business too.

Rona urged delegates not to forget the basics, such as:

·         avoiding complex formatting to make information easy to read

·         keeping Web sites up to date

·         ensuring follow up on requests for information

·         remembering to pick up the phone sometimes!

All in all, it is quite a challenge actually to add value in the eyes of the client. However Rona described the situation where a panel firm really demonstrates the necessary insight and takes trouble to support its client as genuinely enhancing its position in the eyes of the client.

Client Feedback

Rona emphasised the need to demonstrate a deep understanding of the client, its business and its likes and dislikes. But how do you find out about such things?

Duncan Ogilvy, Knowledge Management Partner at Mills & Reeve LLP, and Nicola Duke, Head of Client Care there, demonstrated the value of client feedback and provided one example of the methodology by which it might be obtained.

The arguments in favour of obtaining accurate feedback from top clients are compelling: clients expect it, it is essential to improve client care, it helps the law firm to keep up to date on what competitors are doing and to position itself to help its clients in a changing competitive landscape. In essence, it makes compelling business sense.

Who should seek the feedback? There are arguments for going outside the firm to ensure that feedback is given and indeed passed on impartially. At Mills & Reeve, objectivity is ensured by the provision of a small dedicated client care team led by Nicola Duke. Although in-house, the team is separate from the client teams to ensure objectivity.

Should feedback be quantitative or qualitative? There are good arguments for either. For instance, several firms send questionnaires routinely at the end of a matter seeking quantitative data; the combined results of these can be helpful (for example, in measuring and rewarding good client service). At Mills & Reeve, a qualitative approach is preferred with a detailed, semi structured interview with several people within a client organisation. There is some structure, to facilitate dissemination both within the specific client team and, just as importantly, to enable the firm to learn from trends and adjust its training etc accordingly. It all presents a KM challenge!

Specific dissemination of feedback to the client team needs to be handled with care, not least because it will contain some sensitive information. Key messages need to be accessible for the future. Once you have asked the clients what they like, the stakes are high!

Generally there is much to learn from trends. Common themes inevitably come through providing great material for learning. (For example, if several clients in a sector report that industry knowledge appears to be lacking, it indicates a training need.)

Organising Knowledge about Clients

Assuming the firm gathers good information about its clients, their organisational structure, their likes and dislikes, fee deals, etc, the next challenge is to present this information in a way that is easy for the firm’s lawyers to access. Kate Stanfield, Head of Knowledge Management at CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, demonstrated that firm’s approach to the challenge.

Kate emphasised the importance of integrating information about clients with the firm’s other systems such as the practice management system, client relationship management system, know-how systems and intranet. In a demonstration of the CMS Cameron McKenna approach, Kate showed information set in context on the firm’s Knowledge system, which also acts as an intranet, ‘SPARK’. The integration extends to including generic firm messages, such as transaction best practice, alongside details of a specific client’s preferences. In this way the firm can be confident that information gained in a client service review finds its way to the client team and is available when needed by team members.

Analysis of the Situation in Delegates’ Organisations

Finally, by means of voting buttons (utilising TurningPoint) Ben Horton, PSL for the Technology Group at CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, tested the situation within the organisations represented in the audience, over 75% of whom were from law firms. Here are some of the main findings:

  • 75% do not find it easy to find accurate information about contacts/people within their own organisations.


  • Only basic contact information, or none at all is the norm, with only 11% reporting that they have access to full contact information, skills and experience.


  • An encouraging 77% store such information in centralised databases.


  • The position is similar for accurate information about people outside the organisations of members, with 66% finding it hard to access such information, and for 80% it is only basic information that is available. Only half store such information centrally.

Client reviews were widely regarded as beneficial, but only 32% carry them out systematically (in fairness a further 38% do so sporadically).


  • Encouragingly, 82% of those that do reviews capture the learning from them, but only 7% capture the information and act upon it effectively.


  • A powerful 96% believe that face-to-face reviews are the best.


The figures demonstrate that, for many, there is still some way to go in using systems and technology to improve the management of knowledge about clients, both the people and the organisation. It is apparent that successful client relationships now demand a more detailed understanding not just of clients’ industries but their business, structure, personnel and specific requirements. Equally, the true value of lawyers, their experience and know-how, can never be captured fully in a repository of recorded legal information – however sophisticated the technology behind that repository might be.


Against that background, firms may see a benefit in repositioning KM efforts to enable better understanding of their clients’ requirements and increasing their ability to locate and utilise experience and skills subsisting in individuals within their organisations in order to service those requirements.


Duncan Ogilvy is Knowledge Management Partner at Mills & Reeve LLP. Ben Horton is a PSL for the Technology Group at CMS Cameron McKenna LLP.