Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Screening & Confidentiality vs. Knowledge Sharing

Heenan Blaikie partner Simon Chester is an acknowledged leader in law firm professional responsibility and risk management issues. He recently published an article in Managing Partner Magazine entitled: "Managing Screens," which explores the tension between tightly controlling access to sensitive client (and firm) information and fostering internal sharing, which he characterizes as: "the potential of exploiting collective professional knowledge."
  • "What has changed is that, in the past decade, so-called ethical screens have proliferated within law firms. Ethical screens are what used to be called Chinese walls: institutional mechanisms combined with technological safeguards and personal undertakings which ensure that confidential information is tightly protected."
  • "These are also used when clients or courts require objective safeguards to ensure that confidentiality will be strictly maintained on a need-to-know basis. For example, firms which are retained to act on hostile takeover bids will generally open files under code names and limit access to market moving information."
  • "Most large Canadian law firms have over 500 screens at any one time and, once erected, they are notoriously slow to get dismantled."
  • "Why does this matter for KM? Because once a client and its matters are screened off, the entire contents of those files are unavailable for future use. It is as if that knowledge doesn’t exist in the firm."
He argues several provocative implications of the growing confidentiality trend: "At a certain point, the number of screens will not merely make KM impossible but will make the firm less than a partnership and more like a group of solo lawyers or small firms working within a scattered archipelago of practice."

And goes on to provide several suggestions and approaches for "creatively managing the tension between KM and professionalism."

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