Since the 2008 economic downturn (AKA “Great Recession”), law firms haven’t exactly been shy about cutting expenses. Most of those cuts were the low hanging fruit of processes, products and people that probably should have been trimmed back even when times were good. However, law firms are also notorious for hanging on to things that fall under that infamous category of “Sacred Cows.” Many of us have watched as some of things we have cut have creeped its way back into budgets. Or, some of those items that were on the list to be cut, never quite made it to the cutting room floor where it belonged.
We may no longer be in the dire straits that we were a couple years ago, but once firms could see that Profits Per Partner could be increased via cost cutting, it seems that some of those Sacred Cows are looking pretty tasty after all. Therefore, we asked, what do you think firms will stop buying in the next five years? We got a number of perspectives on what may find its way out of the law firm budget. Enjoy the discussion and if you didn’t get a chance to contribute, feel free to add your perspective in the comments. Also, don’t forget to look at next week’s Elephant Post question and get your answer in early… that way you don’t have to stress over it during the long Labor Day Weekend.
Westlaw or Lexis
Law firms are already looking at cutting out one of the major legal publishers, and right now, the only real reason that they don’t do it immediately is because there is some resistance (read: one partner doesn’t want to cut the product) and they don’t want to rock the boat at this point. However, having both products is simply not going to be a cost-effective way to run the firm’s research/library operation. There may be that one time when there is a specific product that we can’t access immediately, but firms will see that you just can’t spend that much money to facilitate the one-off products that are needed on a rare occasion.
Note: I actually wrote this before the big Bloomberg/BNA news. It may not take five years to make this happen.
Electronic Services Librarian
For the most part, we have acquired online access to most of our looseleaf sources and have ended many of our print looseleaf subscriptions so that we aren’t duplicating purchases. We only continue to subscribe to a few in print (IMHO) because there are a few professors who are used to seeing them in a print format and don’t want to adapt. But it is too expensive to duplicate any purchases, especially when you factor in the staff hours to update them. Plus, our students hate to file.
Director of KM and Libraries@FieldLaw
Any content that comes on CD or DVD is (has always been and continues to be) a big pain in the neck. Work stations are virtualized – no CD/DVD drives; IT has to load it; the DRMs are often unworkable; and the content (please God let it be so) will be moved to other formats which are more easily managed. I sincerely hope this is a 2 rather than 5 year time span. Content is the most important factor though, which is why my organization still maintains 2 titles. Please, 3 Geeks publisher readers, enough with the disks already.
It probably won’t take five years for this to happen. Firms will simply stop buying BB’s for their attorneys and staff. Instead, they may (may) give a stipend to everyone to go out and use their own devices that can be installed with protective software (security that would wipe the device in event of being lost or stolen). It’s a no-brainer. The project might pay for itself in the reduction of staff time it takes to just reconcile the bills that come in from all those firm-owned devices.
We will rent it instead. Firms are learning that buying, installing, integrating, maintaining and updating technology is expensive and best left to technology companies. The current upgrades by so many firms to Office 2010 and Windows 7 highlights the rats-nest of technology firms are trying to manage. It’s been my experience that law firms are good at … practicing law. By getting out of the technology services business, they will be able to re-focus their energies on that core competency.
For many years law firms have purchased, paid the monthly charges and all maintenance fees on smartphones in order to make sure the attorneys were available to their clients at all times. At this point in time virtually everybody has their own smartphone and they are either migrating all their work traffic to their personal device or they are carrying two devices. Given the advancement in mobile data management (MDM) it is a fairly simple process to enable most smartphones to securely connect back to the firm’s infrastructure. This shift should save firms a lot of money in the procurement of smart devices, it will put an extra burden on support services. So perhaps internal support for smartphones will also stop within the next 5 years.
The whole Summer Associates program seems to be shrinking more and more every year. Since almost all of those that go through the SA program end up leaving at the end of 4-6 years of practice at the firm, why hold on to this old way of thinking? Perhaps the better approach is to hope that other firms continue the SA program, then after they’ve got them trained and ready, swoop in and steal… er, “lateral” them into your firm.
It’s old hat to say the Yellow Pages doesn’t matter for lawyers any more, but frankly I think that same obsolescence extends to lawyer-specific directories like Martindale Hubbell and, dare I say it, even Avvo and Superlawyers. These directories produce minimal client intake and even less client conversion; the question isn’t if they are the wave of the future, because they’re not, but if they’re even worth the bother once a lawyer has a modest web presence with their own professionally designed website. I’m going to plant a flag and say that, in five years, Martindale will be as bad as the Yellow Pages and Avvo will be as bad as Martindale.
Search engines with proprietary content
I think the trend will move away from purchasing multiple search engines, each with their own proprietary content (i.e. Lexis, Westlaw) to purchasing one search engine and then subscribing to the content for that engine separately. So, for example, using the search engine on Lexis to access the web, West content, BNA content, CCH content. This would be true enterprise search.
Why Do You Really Belong to a Professional Association?
I think that ILTA is one of the last of the Summer Professional Conferences, and we have a number of posts lined up from some of the folks who went to Nashville and learned something from (or about) their peers. I’m a big AALL advocate (I am on the Executive Board, you know), but there are always issues that arise with professional organizations that cause grumbling amongst the members. Instead of more grumbling, however, what we wanted to know is why do you really belong to a professional association? What are your expectations that such an organization can and cannot do? So, pick one or two of the professional associations you are a member of and what you find are the benefits you receive from that association.
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