Guest Post: Knowledge Loss and The Great Resignation – The firms gifting valuable knowledge to their competitors

By Dave Wilson, managing director, Tiger Eye

Law firms are driven by knowledge and expertise. Whether seeking support with dispute resolution or commercial contracts, clients buy knowledge distilled in the form of legal advice and assistance. For customers to have every confidence in a firm’s capabilities, law firms must build robust teams that can be depended on, housing practice area specialists and trusted advisors, to offer clients an attractive mix of learned knowledge and hard-earned experience.

The old adage that ‘time is money’ is still true in the legal world of today. Beyond billing based on time, a leading lawyer’s value comes from the knowledge and expertise they have gained over years in practice, as well as through lived and learned experience. Knowledge is the most valuable asset a firm can acquire – and the risk of losing knowledge is critical. However, even firms with positive knowledge-sharing cultures may not have considered the financial impact of failing to protect and retain valuable intellectual property and subject matter expertise. What value would you place on the industry know-how, experience, and customer expertise that your high paying fee-earners have honed over their careers? What is the cost to your firm if you’re no longer able to satisfy clients when key players leave your organisation and take their knowledge with them?

In the age of The Great Resignation, some firms are gifting their highly prized know-how to their competitors. Whether staff leave for better work/life balance or greater benefits, the statistics show that the pandemic has changed the landscape of work, with over 40% of the global workforce considering leaving their employer last year. For organisations unsupported by centralised knowledge stores, it can take years to recover from a key fee-earner moving firms – and even then, much of the leaver’s unique expertise is lost in transition and uncaptured. Whilst teams may aim to grasp some of an individual’s know-how through exit interviews and corridor chats, such tactics are not comprehensive enough to capture the extent of someone’s experience accumulated over their career – and their time at the firm itself. Not all knowledge lost will be critical, but key snippets of tacit know-how regarding a customer’s preferred way of doing business, or key updates on industry practices can be key to client retention and a firm’s competitive edge in the marketplace. Only effective and ongoing knowledge management processes and technologies can effectively capture knowledge and future-proof it for the firm – to access now and in the future.

In Briefing’s recent ‘Law firm Strategy and Investment’ report, most respondents noted that ‘peers with more tech-driven business models’ were making waves the biggest waves in the market, leading 58% of the large law market to consider great strategic changes in order to stay competitive. It has never been more true that technology is a differentiator as well as an enabler – both for clients in selecting service providers, but also for firms attracting and retaining key staff. For firms to hold, deliver and reuse know-how as needed in this time of change, it is key that they adopt knowledge management technologies that support effective knowledge documentation. As highlighted by the APQC, firms need to focus on curation and findability in the content management aspect of the KM process – both of which can be supported through truly comprehensive KM technologies. Curation involves “the process of capturing, reviewing, organizing, and adding metadata to content so that it can be found and used by others” and “also involves routinely culling lower-value, duplicative, or outdated items”. Centralizing and curating content using KM technologies in many cases helps firms to optimize their resources – with a structured approach to content curation leading to more repeatable and efficient document creation in the future, as all staff have a chance hit the ground running with their next case or matter using readily-available contracts, clauses and notes from previous work. By embracing the right technology, to support your staff at the right time, your firm could effectively be gifting time – and productivity – back to your team.

However even the most highly curated knowledge store must be easy for staff to access and utilize – or such knowledge will not be accessed. This is where findability, or “the ease with which relevant content can be located” comes into play. Wasted time, duplicated work, and inefficient processes chip away at an organization’s bottom line – but can also make it harder for staff to find genuine satisfaction in their work. Beyond the initial benefit of centralizing knowledge, by supporting staff with knowledge access and focusing on improving quality of work life for staff, firms can also aim to improve the working experience for their busy teams. During the pandemic, “employee engagement decreased globally by two percentage points, from 22% in 2019 to 20% in 2020” and reducing the need for staff to carry out repetitive, low-value tasks may improve engagement. A 2021 APQC study found that employee productivity, employee satisfaction and time to competency for new hires were the three largest factors where information findability impacted businesses. Yet with ready access to approved precedents, best practice checklists and previous case documents, busy fee-earners can hit the ground running with new cases supported by the best of all the firm has done before. With curated expertise available to all staff at their fingertips, firms can aim to reduce the risk of key players leaving for pastures new due by removing the need for them to reinvent the wheel with every new case or matter. With effective KM technologies, the IT team in partnership with knowledge leaders can in effect support HR to create a workplace culture and experience that staff value and respect.

Whether looking at know-how from the perspective of client delivery or staff retention, the impact and cost of unplanned knowledge loss can dramatically impact a firm’s bottom line, from costly mistakes and errors, to lost revenue. Have you considered the kind of knowledge stored in the minds of your firm’s senior leaders – and the risk that losing this might pose to your business? At this time of great change, firms cannot afford not to prioritize and protect knowledge. Without effective KM, a firm’s unique expertise could become a new starter gift for competitor firms.


Dave Wilson has many years of experience within the legal technology industry, spending most of his career focusing on work product management. In 2005, Dave worked to forge partnerships with key industry players (including iManage, Litera, DocsCorp and more) to build Tiger Eye – an organisation dedicated to helping professional services organisations to enhance the way they work with their documents, emails and knowledge.

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