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TORONTO — Many of the lawyers at McCarthy Tétrault applaud the firm’s knowledge-sharing strategy, but there are just as many who can’t break the habit of hoarding it.

“”A big part of my job . . . is to convince people they shouldn’t

think that way. Don’t underestimate the challenge,”” said McCarthy Tétrault partner George Takach, who spoke Wednesday as part of The Conference Board of Canada’s Advancing Knowledge Management for Competitive Advantage conference.

The firm’s foray into knowledge management began about two years ago as an idea that popped into Takach’s head while he was riding his bike. Today, the 900-lawyer firm uses software called Active Knowledge from ii3 Inc. It is now considered such a value-add that it’s been built into the firm’s billing rates.

“”When you’re in the midst of a corporate takeover, whether the lawyer charges $400 an hour or $800 an hour is almost immaterial. What they want to know if that they have the knowledge of 900 lawyers at their disposal,”” said Takach.

Active Knowledge was selected by the firm for its flexibility and ease of use. The latter is a boon when you’re trying to convince lawyers to use it on a regular basis, said Joshua Fireman, who is McCarthy Tétrault’s knowledge director. “”I only have, theoretically, 100 points of goodwill for each lawyer,”” said Fireman. He didn’t want to expend all those points teaching them a complex system.

People still tend to confuse the terms knowledge management and document management, said Takach. This is fueled by vendors who promise both in one package. “”We don’t just capture documents. A document is not helpful if I don’t understand the context behind it. . . . No document will ever exist in a vacuum in our organization.””

The benefits of knowledge management are apparent to Takach, but it’s not a strategy to enter into lightly. Too many law firms look for what Takach calls the “”crack cocaine of knowledge management . . . the easy hit.””

After it was customized by McCarthy Tétrault, the application returns a maximum of two pages of results. “”Less is more,”” said Takach. “”It filters out the other 30 pages that appear on the Google search. . . . If I can’t see it on my BlackBerry, it’s not worth anything to me.””

Among those results could be the names of lawyers who work at the firm, listing a short biography and their areas of expertise. These bios aren’t written by the lawyers themselves, said Takach; otherwise almost every name would be returned for every search.

But lawyers who broaden their expertise will see their names appear more often on search results and be in line for more internal referrals. “”It took about a nanosecond for lawyers to figure it out: ‘Oh, the more I contribute, the more I appear.'””

Convincing lawyers to use the knowledge management application has become less of a chore, Takach said. They can use it to do case research more efficiently, for example, and potentially boost their caseload. In fact, said Takach, “”the knowledge management program has made a huge difference in retention as well as attraction.””

Open-ended e-mails like: “”Has anybody got a precedent for X?”” are becoming rare, he added. “”That’s a cry for help in a law firm or a consulting firm,”” said Takach. “”To see those drop is very heartening.””

Advancing Knowledge for Competitive Advantage wraps up Thursday.

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