Personal Knowledge Management & Collaboration Strategies for Legal Researchers & IT Staff

Audience: Faculty, Instructional Technologies, Leadership, IT Staff
Technical Level: Middling

The increasing volume of digital information that researchers’ collect and create make the task of finding, capturing, organizing and eventually collaborating with digital data more difficult. Multiple silos of data (e-mail, files on hard dives, web documents and databases for example) exasperate the problem of finding digital information in a timely manner.

Fortunately the tools for organizing and finding digital information have finally started to catch up with the large pools of data that we are collecting. Vannevar Bush was ahead of his time back in 1945 when he envisioned a device that would allow and individual to store "all his books, recoreds, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory." (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/194507/bush) Today we are very close to Bush’s 60 year old vision. There is no one size fits all formula for how a researcher will optimally manage their data, but rather we will look at a number of tools researchers at our University have used separatly and in combination to manage data organization, searching and citation, as well as facilitate knowledge sharing. Some of the software tools we will look at include:

– Desktop search tools (Google Desktop & Windows Desktop Search)
– e-Document Management (Onfolio, Firefox Scholar, OneNote, Evernote)
– Social Software (del.icio.us, Flickr)
– e-Conferencing (Skype, Msn Messenger)
– Collaborative Research (SharePoint, Alfresco, Silk, Plone, Groove virtual office)
– Real Time Document Editing (MSN Messenger Application Sharing, VNC, Webex)

The two major benefits that come from effective knowledge management and knowledge sharing are an increase in the speed and quality of the research being performed. Less time is spent looking for information that has already been identified, so that more time can be spend in analyzing and associating desperate pieces of information. Electronic tools can make possible collaboration between colleagues that in the past would have been difficult, if not impossible to do. A group of nine Law Professors at two Universities have used our some of our collaboration tools to successfully share research and collaborate in a way that would have been very difficult five years ago. Not all faculty and staff find every tool useful, but for some they present solutions to long standing problems.

Whether they realize it or not, most researchers are struggling with the mountains of digital data that they have accumulated during their careers. If shown the tools available to them to find, capture and collaborate, our experience is that many, if not most, will start to use at least some of these knowledge management tools to move effectively manage and share their data.

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Rich McCue
Systems Administrator
University of Victoria Law School

About Elmer Masters

Elmer R. Masters is the Director of Technology at the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (www.cali.org) where he works on interesting projects involving technology and legal education like eLangdell, Classcaster, Lawbooks, QuizWright, and the CALI website. He has nearly 25 years of experience building tech tools for legal education and systems for accessing law and legal materials on the Internet. He is the admin of the Teknoids mailing list (www.teknoids.net) and has been blogging about legal education, law, and technology for over 15 years (www.symphora.com). He has a JD from Syracuse University College of Law and was employed by Syracuse, Cornell Law School, and Emory University School of Law before joining CALI in 2003. Elmer has presented at the CALI Conference for Law School Computing (where he organizes the program), the AALL and AALS Annual Meetings, Law Via The Internet, and other conferences, symposia, and workshops on topics ranging from IT management in law schools to building open access court reporting systems to information architecture design and implementation in law.
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