Knowledge – Who Owns It?

I had the pleasure of keynoting a recent conference sponsored by LexisNexis.  During a panel discussion among practitioners, technology consultant and myself, the topic of the cost of new technology was discussed. One of the suggestions I made was that the successful law firm of the future will use technology to create and enhance its effort at knowledge management. The firm that is able to retrieve its pre-existing knowledge and use it again will be more efficient, reduce its costs and therefore provide excellent results for clients at a lower price.

Then, the question arises: Who owns the knowledge, who owns the forms, the precedent knowledge? Does the client who paid for it own it? Does the law firm own it? Or does the lawyer who created it own it?  This becomes more important in an age of greater lateral movement.

Some clients have as a condition of engagement that they (the client) own the intellectual property … and that the law firm must share it with other law firms who handle the client’s affairs (e.g., product liability litigation) in other parts of the country.

Do you have a firm policy on this? What do you do concerning your intellectual property when a lawyer leaves your firm? Is your policy different when the lawyer is a partner as contrasted to when the lawyer is an associate?

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