Managing Legal Knowledge 

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Conceptual Framework


A law firm is a professional social community specialising in speed and efficiency in the creation, application and transfer of legal knowledge (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). Law firms within the context of this study will be firms registered with the Law Society of South Africa which conduct a general practice encompassing different fields of practice of law and not any other specialised single area of legal practice, nor any commercial entity that requires membership in some form to provide any legal services. Legal practice within this dissertation will not only refer to the act of an attorney servicing his client’s legal needs, but also to the administration and operation of a law firm. In looking at the various role players within a law firm, they fulfil different roles and utilise IS for different purposes. Support staff (including accounting staff), clients, attorneys, paralegals, outside organisations such as the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), the courts and government bodies all form part of the supply chain within a law firm. The industry is embracing technology, although at a somewhat slower pace than other industries. Users will not only refer to the professionals who interact with the IS, but also the internal support staff.

Information Systems

Information systems include the technology as well as the method of application of such systems to a practice (Bocij, Chaffey, Greasley & Hickie,2006). In the current context, the practice of a law firm will be analysed.IS are said to provide a strategic competitive advantage to businesses, with the strategies employed to sustain this advantage being cost leadership,differentiation and innovation. In determining which strategy to employ one can analyse the value chain, which analysis includes the supply chain and them value network (Bocij et al., 2006).

Value Chain Analysis

The flow of information throughout the value chain activities can be used and accommodated efficiently to create value as it facilitates communication with an extended network,customisation of information to be used in various procedures and facilitation of two-way communication. The effect that technology has had on the flow of information has impacted the traditional value chains of various industries such as banking online and news feed applications instead of the traditional newspaper (Evans & Wurster, 1997). As law firms are seen to trade in information in the form of knowledge, it stands to reason that the value configuration of law firms has also changed with the technological use of information.The value configuration as defined by Gottschalk (2006) explains how value is generated throughout the business processes in rendering a service to the client and denotes the way business is conducted in that firm. Different configurations are available dependant on the nature of the business and these configurations are the value chain, value shop and value network.
However it is submitted in this study that the legal industry, and possibly other professional services firms, fall within the configurations of all three, as the business practice is quite multifarious. Various aspects of legal practice can be adapted to fit the different value configurations and the interconnected nature of these value configurations will be investigated to determine whether the value creating activities of a law firm can be supported and improved by the use of these systems.

Relevance of the study

The relevance of the study is to identify whether the use of IS throughout a law firm can or has improved efficiency, communication, work administration and business practice from the users’ perspectives – not only the professional users, but also the support staff and possibly the suppliers and clientele. In obtaining data from the experienced internal members of law firms, the extent of their knowledge of their law firm’s value configuration will be established and will hopefully contribute to the theory of the value configuration of a law firm.A qualitative view of the interaction between legal practice and IS in the firms will be obtained. Further, in analysing the value configuration of law firms,possible avenues of application of IS will be identified, together with common hindrances, criticisms and problems with the use of the IS.The variables of the study are the components of the value configuration of a law firm, the IS that they use, the aspects of legal practice together with the aspects of usual business practice, and the users’ perceptions of the productivity, profitability and efficiency of their law firms.

1. Introduction 
1.1. Orientation and Contextualisation of the study 
1.2. The Purpose of the Work 
1.3. Research Objectives 
1.4. The Problem Statement 
1.5. The Sub-problems 
1.6. The Propositions 
1.7. The Delimitations 
1.8. Assumptions
2. Conceptual Framework 
2.1. Introduction 
2.2. Information Systems 
2.3. Value Chain Analysis 
2.4. Relevance of the study 
3. Literature Review 
3.1. Introduction 
3.2. Strategic Advantage of Information 
3.3. Managing Legal Knowledge 
3.4. The Shift in the Legal Paradigm 
3.5. Digital Lawyers 
3.6. The value configuration of law firms 
3.7. The impact of information systems on firm performance
3.8. Conclusion 
4. Research Design and Method 
4.1. Research Design
4.1.1. Qualitative research design
4.1.2. Population and sample
4.1.3. Descriptive research
4.2. Data Collection Methods
4.2.1. Literature review
4.2.2. Individual interviews
4.2.3. Survey
4.2.4. Secondary data
4.3. Data Analysis and Techniques 
4.4. Reliability and Validation
4.4.1. Face validity
4.4.2. Construct validity
4.4.3. External validity
4.4.4. Internal validity
4.4.5. Peer Cooperation
4.4.6. The position of the researcher
4.4.7. Reliability
4.4.8. Participant error and Bias
4.4.9. Observer error and Bias
4.5. Appropriateness to and alignment with thesis statement and/or research questions
4.6. Ethical issues: procedures for ensuring ethical research and ethical use of the research 
4.6.1. Stakeholder and Risk Analysis
4.6.2. Informed Consent
4.6.3. Disclosure
4.6.4. Anonymity and Confidentiality
4.6.5. Interview deportment
4.6.6. Objectivity
4.6.7. Internal researcher
4.6.8. Ethical Codes of the legal profession
4.6.9. Audit trail
4.6.10. Advice
4.6.11. Participant Access
4.6.12. Convenience sampling
4.6.13. Jargon
5. Findings and Analysis 
5.1. Introduction 
5.2. Demographic Data 
5.2.1. Interviewees
5.2.2. Service Providers
5.2.3. Survey Respondents
5.3. Response Rate 
5.4. Possible Bias 
5.5. Research Results 
5.6. Themes 
5.6.1. Communication
5.6.2. Cost
5.6.3. Time
5.6.4. Client Value
5.6.5. The Role of the Professional
5.6.6. Continuous change/updating
5.6.7. Generational Gap
5.6.8. Competitiveness and Sustainability
5.6.9. Efficiency
5.6.10. Productivity
5.6.11. Profitability
5.6.12. Networking
5.6.13. Marketing/Sales
5.6.14. Access to information
5.6.15. Availability
5.6.16. Management
5.6.17. The Use of IS
5.6.18. Criticisms of IS
5.7. Value Configurations 
5.7.1. Support Activities
5.7.2. Value Chain
5.7.3. Value Shop
5.7.4. Value Network
5.8. Implications and recommendations 
5.9. Limitations of the study 
5.10. Conclusion 
6. Conclusion 
7. References
Annexure 1: Interview Questionnaire 
Annexure 2: Survey Questionnaire 
Annexure 3: Survey Responses 

The Interaction of Information Systems with the Value Configuration of Law Firms

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