Paul Harvey works with our key clients to explore, identify and address their strategic objectives and needs around innovation, value-add, training and knowledge management (KM). He devises, manages and delivers bespoke products to help clients deliver on their strategic, team and individual objectives. He is also responsible for the firm's internal knowledge and legal training programmes and personnel, as well as the library and information services in the UK.

This case study highlights the important work our KM team have been doing in collaboration with other departments to help our clients through the coronavirus pandemic.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the legal profession – here at Womble Bond Dickinson, our KM team found itself at the very centre of a whirlwind of dramatic change as decades (in some cases, centuries) of established work practices have morphed and flexed, virtually overnight. COVID-19 disruption has supercharged KM – imagine an accelerated 'dog year' model, driving through years of planned change compressed into a few weeks or days.

Our Practice Development Lawyers (PDLs) led on the virtual explosion in the use of e-signatures by lawyers and clients alike, stuck at home without access to physical documents. The number of users registered on our e-signature platform jumped from 30 to over 600 in just a few days! Hundreds of documents are being signed electronically every month. Our PDLs are at the forefront of campaigns to effect wider change across the wider industry - cumbersome and outdated rules governing the signature and execution of legal documents are being challenged and laid bare, preparing the foundations for significant progress towards a more modern and technology enabled process.

PDLs have also been key to the delivery and exploitation of other online tools, expediting the widespread development and deployment of client portals, document review tools and automated contracts. Our library and information services team have witnessed a huge pivot from a hard copy culture to online resources, as our lawyers and clients very quickly grew comfortable with accessing content online only.

We rapidly reimagined our approach to training, moving from a traditional face-to-face approach to delivery via virtual classrooms and webinar platforms. Any initial wariness amongst our legal colleagues dissipated as attendance and engagement levels have shot up and new audiences have been accessed. We have designed and utilised new creative compelling formats and approaches, pre-COVID-19 these may have been dismissed as faddy or not-for-law', but they have proved extremely popular with clients. Their success has led to unprecedented enthusiasm amongst lawyers to contribute and get involved in the production and circulation of content.

As COVID-19 unfolded, the production of relevant know-how and knowledge resources has ramped up to meet client demand. We publish a regular internal COVID Compendium designed to provide our lawyers with a multi-faceted reference tool, template advice document, and an aide to collaboration across teams. We lead on weekly updaters for clients and PDLs have taken a central role in our re:start Britain campaign. These activities support the 'small and often' approach to client engagement, providing our lawyers with opportunities to engage regularly one-one with clients.

PDLs have been critical too in providing empathy and support to their colleagues and clients who have found themselves challenged personally by the crisis. Many of our KM team are skilled and experienced in managing part-time, remote working – often with childcare and family commitments thrown in – as their regular working arrangement. They have been able to share best practice based on their own experiences and offer support where needed. 

Collaboration, flexibility and creativity have, of course, always been core to the successful delivery of KM in professional services firms. These attributes have meant that KM teams have stepped up and delivered timely and highly valued support, guidance, tools and resources when firms most needed them, embedding themselves front and centre in a time of crisis. The challenge for KM is to ensure that the advancements made over the last few months remain and to build on this legacy. Here are a few ideas on how we can make KM advances sustainable:

  • Tell the stories – identify your successes and publicise these widely and often, demonstrating how KM has made a tangible difference to your clients, your business, your teams and your people. Back these messages up with the hard facts and figures, as well as anecdotal feedback. 
  • Call out any backsliding – challenge where there is danger of reverting to old habits and work processes. Be prepared to question why a new and improved way of working is now being abandoned.
  • Make it sticky – keep adding to and building your portfolio of new knowledge products. Don't rest on your laurels – adopt an iterative approach and always look to improve the client and colleague experience.
  • Leverage the disruption – it's not over yet, by any means. New challenges and opportunities will emerge – use the lessons of the last few months to seek these out and rapidly develop and deploy knowledge solutions.
  • Harness the adventurous (and care for the cautious) – colleagues will (for entirely valid reasons) differ in their response to change. Identify, encourage and facilitate those looking to implement 'radical change, right now' whilst ensuring that those with a more cautious approach can proceed and iterate at their own pace. Think carefully about the make-up of project teams and provide appropriate support and resource.
  • Think beyond the here and now – conduct an After Action Review and identify lessons learnt and their potential application in the future. What worked; what didn’t; what will we do differently next time? And with the challenges presented by Brexit just round the corner, 'next time' may be closer than you think...