The Transformed Law Librarian

[We're please to have Jill Strand as a guest-blogger]

So do you want to be transformed or help direct the transformation? This was my primary thought after reading "Law Libraries Transformed" on LLRX by Eleanor Windsor and Ron Friedmann are executives with Integreon, a legal process outsourcing firm with offices around the world. The title intrigued me yet in reading the article I was surprised to realize that the innovation they were advocating was outsourcing of law firm library services. Basically,  they seem to suggest that since law libraries have become less about the physical space and collection and more about the research and online resources, outsourcing is an ideal and possibly inevitable solution. While they do note that librarians are more important than ever in filtering the information overload, I have to confess feeling my feathers ruffle a bit at their general assumption that a "library as service" model will always offer greater cost savings and efficiencies. Rather than hide inside my personal closet of law librarian anxieties, I'm going to try and consider the bigger picture. So before you hit your own panic button, take a deep breath, read the full article for yourself and join me.

Outsourcing library services isn't anything new - it first hit my radar a few years ago while working on a legal process outsourcing research project at my previous firm. Nor is it surprising, particularly in the current economy, to hear that we might be on the cusp of a trend. And when you stop to think about it, this is a pretty timely issue given the ongoing discussions in the blogosphere and within SLA and AALL about what we need to do to survive, thrive and advance to the C-level. Heck, I've been listening to and taking part in these discussions since my first information interview with an advertising firm librarian ten years ago. Call it alignment, advancement or whatever you want, but we are probably better served being pro-active about possible solutions rather than just reacting negatively to this news.

So what do we do? I'm sure many of you have some fabulous ideas which you'll hopefully comment on here. A good starting place could be to think about how we could work with this trend (if it is really a trend yet) and turn it to our advantage. Do we set out to completely disprove it as a valid solution or do we find a way to take part in or take charge of it so that we have some say or control over what library functions should or shouldn't be out-sourced? While the article does mention having skilled specialists with advanced degrees in law and business, it isn't clear whether Integreon actively recruits librarians with MLS degrees and library experience - how can we use that to position ourselves as their perfect in-house partners? For example, I'm taking the time to sit down with each attorney at my firm to learn more about their practice, key clients and research needs - the insights gained from these meetings have helped us to tailor our services and pro-actively provide current awareness and education about available resources. How could this knowledge be used to work successfully with an outsourcing firm?

While it does seem like Integreon understands the value of law librarians and what we do, I hope that they aren't too quick to see themselves as an ideal one-size-fits all replacement for most law firm libraries or legal departments. It would be a mistake to assume that the strategic knowledge and relationships we've built over the years within our firms wouldn't be critical for any successful information services solution. No matter what type of vendor we work with, there should be a way to customize contracted services to enhance what we already offer without having to throw the librarian (or library) out with the bath water.

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Zena said...

Great post Jill!

One comment that resonates with me is your example of sitting down with practice group leaders and senior partners to talk about their practice. This is how law librarians will evolve, working with outsourced services or otherwise. In addition to providing better, smarter, services, law librarians need to understand what you clearly do and that is, that you have to get out of the library. Often. Make the rounds and develop relationships. It is what the marketing and business development people train the lawyers to do and what's librarians need to do too. To garner trust, build an understanding and be able to anticipate needs you have to get out of the library. This is how the profession will evolve. We know how to research and provide answers, now we need to learn how to ask the kinds of questions aimed at nuturing the soft skills required to adapt our current service offering.

Jill Strand said...

Much thanks, Zena. Thanks as well for noting that there are many way to get out and talk to your firm leaders and internal clients. I'm fortunate to work in a mid-size firm where I can speak with every attorney (and that Nina Platt gave me the idea : ) It's good to remember that all relationships take time to build so you gotta start somewhere!

Anne said...

Very apt post with the incoming vendors for law firms.

As you say, there is an understanding which has grown over years and a vendor should realize the importance and leverage this relationship and understanding held by law librarians.

Once again, wonderful post.

barbara.silbersack said...

They use Grail Research apparently for their research arm. http://www.grailresearch.com/Solutions/Overview.aspx

Linda Will said...

The medical industry has long supported the contracting or consulting of professional services.
Todays information reality is that everything is short termed and in high change. The legal market place is still redefining itself. Our competitive edge has to be based on our flexibility and willingness to be creative.
Defining our compentensies is all well and good but others embrace the four steps of ISO2000 (track and meter, define best practices, train and coach to reach those practices, and then raise the standard) or Blue Ocean (eliminate, reduce, raise and create).
There is no right of entitlement for either generation in the legal resources work place, only a responsibility.

Linda Will said...

The medical industry has for years used contractual and consultive professional services.
Todays information reality is that everything is immediate and short termed...in high change. The market place is still redefining itself.
Our competitive edge individually has to be based on our flexibility and willingness to change and be creative.
Other industries subscribe to ISO2000 (track and meter, define best practices, train and coach to acheive those practices, then raise the standard) or BLUE OCEAN (eliminate, reduce, raise and then create).
There is not a right to entitlement, only a responsibility.


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