I dedicated my first book, The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers, to the best teachers I had in high school, college, law school and two mentors I encountered later who influenced me greatly. Of these, the most important was probably my high school teacher, Freida Riley.
The preface to a new book I am writing about knowledge management for law firms uses things Freida Riley taught me to make a point about efficiency and lawyers:
I first learned about the joy of efficiency from my high school Geometry teacher, Miss Frieda Riley. On submitting a proof for her approval, her usual reaction would be: “It’s OK. Can you do better?” What she meant was make it simpler, more streamlined, more efficient.
If better insights came to me, I would hear words every student yearns to hear: “That’s good, Jerry. That’s what we are looking for.” Miss Riley prized efficiency, what mathematicians call “elegance.” She showed me what poet Edna St. Vincent had in mind when she wrote: “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.”
Valedictorian of her high school and college classes, Frieda Riley could have been a star teacher at virtually any school in the country. She chose to return to her home in the southern West Virginia coal fields. She blessed the students of Big Creek High School with new insights, better ways of thinking and approaching problems.
Fried Riley died of Hodgkin’s Disease at age 31. Today she is honored in the National Museum of Education, but her most important legacy is the countless students she inspired–and equipped–to meet challenges.
Homer Hickam was one of these students. He escaped the coal fields to become a NASA engineer. Miss Riley played a prominent role in his memoir, “Rocket Boys.” It was later made into the 1999 movie named “October Sky.” Laura Dern played the Miss Riley role. Dern did a great job, but the real Miss Riley was oh so much better.
My Miss Riley-inspired yearning for efficiency accompanied me to many places, including a private law firm and later several federal agencies. I observed many attempts at knowledge management, good and bad. Efficiency was a rare commodity in most knowledge management efforts, effectiveness even more so. The main feature most had in common was a failure to meet expectations. Many were complete failures.
By this point the more impatient reader will be asking, “What does one man’s idiosyncratic fetish for efficient knowledge management have to do with me and my law firm?” The answer is simple:
Improved, more efficient knowledge management is probably the most promising way for most law firms to become more effective, to improve their bottom line.
The grail of knowledge management is elusive. There are more potential pitfalls than easy shortcuts. In this book I have done my best to provide tools that can help you find the best approaches, the ones most adaptable to you and your law firm.
We hope you enjoy the adventure and find it rewarding. Our challenge to you is:
“Can you do better?”