Law firms need libraries and need law firm librarians. There have already been several rebuttals posted in reaction to Mr. Lamb’s article, but mostly from the perspective of the library, who presumably want to keep their spaces and their jobs. I however, as a competitive intelligence practitioner, come at from a different perspective – I couldn’t do my job as effectively if I didn’t have law librarians doing theirs and I know many an associate or partner who would feel the same. The question we should be asking instead, is what is the cost of not hiring a law firm librarian??
As Mr. Lamb mentions in his article, the pace of information creation is accelerating. It is my job to take that mess of information, digest it and provide my lawyers with something tangible, actionable and competitive. And how do I do that? For a start, I employ law firm librarians, to help me at every stage of the process. In addition to being the best keepers of information, law librarians are also the most knowledgeable in respect to what sources are the best. As many people (especially inexperienced associates), I am a creature of habit. When a problem comes across my desk – I turn to the sources I use time and time again whether paid subscription databases (which law librarians also spend time vetting and scrutinizing for useful content), free sources or media searches to answer the question. And every time I run into a wall – I send the question to my law librarians, telling them what I have already done and they, without fail, the librarians (seasoned and new) suggest another several places I should look. I’ve seen many partners, students and associates often doing the same. Moreover, once we’ve strategied about new places to source additional information, they do that looking for me, saving me time – letting me get straight to the analysis. To put it in basic terms without over simplifying what they do, law librarians know stuff and they know how to execute. They know how to look for stuff, where to look for it and most importantly in the billable-hour-is-king environment, they know how to do it efficiently.
Which brings me to the next point of Mr. Lambs article that has had me in a fit for several days, “why would a firm need or want to draw a line between where that information came from?” followed closely by the differentiators of “internally created information” vs. “externally created information”. In the land of law firms, there is and should be a huge difference between these two positions and the two positions need to remain distinct, despite Mr. Lamb’s assertion. After all, it is the internally created information that is both a law firm’s currency by way of product and the service it has to sell. Not to mention that librarians as a general rule are not in habit of sourcing material of their own creation. Law librarians (or any librarian as far as I understand) tend to leave the creating of information for the law makers, the authors and the journalists.
Mr. Lamb posits that there is a gap between the way librarians describe themselves and how he would like to see them described. I disagree, law firms and the holy grail of client service are all about relationships, about building trust and being armed with the best possible answer to a problem. Would it not make sense then, for those in the position to broker this information – be it legal research, business development dossiers or client current awareness be imbued with the very same characteristics of loyalty, accuracy, intelligence and friendliness that clients want and expect from their lawyers? Law firm librarians are doing it right – they are meeting the ultimate goal of expert client service and consistency, they are evolving with firms and will continue to do so, as long law firms continue to have information and research needs.