I’m still cleaning out my in-box at my day job after a week of traveling between New York and Chicago for a couple of great law firm library meetings/conferences. I was going over some of my notes from the Ark Group conference on Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Libraries & Information Service Centers (which might be one of the longest titles for a conference I’ve ever seen…), and was enjoying reviewing the session on law firm library outsourcing. Ron Friedman of Integreon, and Jean O’Grady of DLA Piper gave a great talk on the topic, each with their own points of view, but both of them seem to have a lot of common ground on how they see outsourcing becoming more and more common within a law firm, and specifically within the law firm library.

Besides the fact that I consider both Ron and Jean to be friends, they are also both very good bloggers, and of course, like any good blogger, they didn’t let an opportunity of converting a conference presentation into a blog post. Ron’s post, Defining Good Support for Lawyers, and Jean’s post, Outsourcing, Outrage or Opportunity? What is Core?, both flesh out some of the items they discussed at the Ark Group conference. Steven Levy of Lexican also added in a great response (Outsourcing: Bad Word or Wrong Word) to Ron’s initial post, which led to a follow-up post from Ron on Is Offshoring the Same as Delegation?

I think all of these discuss the issues very well, but I thought I’d just like to toss out some of the notes I took while Ron and Jean were presenting in New York. Anyone that has to answer questions about why functions within a law library should, or should not be outsourced would hopefully find the notes helpful in addressing the issues. I think eventually, every law firm librarian will have to answer these questions.

  • The view of Outsourcing should be viewed from the angle of the CEO, COO of your firm, and not simply from the lens of the library
  • Outsourcing is nothing new to the law library world. Many of us have been outsourcing things like loose-leaf filing for more than two decades now.
  • Of course the famous law library outsourcing was the Baker & McKenzie experiment, and now the CMS Cameron McKenna outsourcing in the UK.
  • Outsourcing isn’t a fix for a problem situation. One outsourcing consultant put it more bluntly, “You can’t outsource a mess.”
  • The problem with bad processes is that outsourcing bad processes is not the right way to look at the problem. There are many solutions that are technology based, many that are tactically based (improve or eliminate processes), and some that are outsourcing based.
  • Unless you are creating metrics and showing how you are creating effective processes and procedures, then you have no credibility with the decision makers at your firm.
  • In many firms, the process of centralizing what tasks are already being done across the multiple offices is one of the easiest way to improve efficiency without the direct need to outsource those tasks.
  • Centralization is something that causes resistance with staff because many of them are very proud of the processes they conduct, and they may be unwilling to give those us as they feel that without those processes, their jobs will be eliminated.
  • Some firms have already begun a centralization process of back office processes (think of the Wheeling, WV (Orrick) or Dayton, OH (Wilmer Hale), or Baltimore, MD (DLA Piper) model where back office staff are placed in low-rent buildings and tasks that may have taken place within each individual office is now conducted in one office (which may not be an office that houses attorneys at all.)
  • For libraries, one of the first processes to be centralized is the technical services aspect of running a firm library.
  • Vendor-Sourcing: The amount of money that many firms spend on some of the upkeep of legal materials is not a small amount. Updates on loose-leaf filing, organizing and coding bills from vendors, and resolving billing issues can take up 25% of staffing time. The tolerance of inefficiency is too high from vendors and needs to change.
  • It is important to look at what processes are really important (rank them according to the value they bring to your firm, the lawyers within the firm, and to the library services as a whole.)
  • Another metric is making sure that you monitor what amount of staff billable time is not only written off by the partners, but also determine how much of the time has been written off once the bill is paid by the client. The piece that is written off by the partner is usually one of the areas that many law firm librarians need to fight for. Of course, getting the information out of finance may be your biggest battle.
  • If your COO comes to you and lays out a list of processes that the firm has already outsourced, and asks what law library services/processes can you outsource right now, how do you answer that question? They will eventually come to you and ask, you know…

Thanks to Ron and Jean for their insights into the issues of outsourcing in law firm libraries.