Image [cc] Tigershungry

There’s a saying that if you hear something once, it’s a fluke, twice is a trend, and if you hear it three times it’s a habit. I’ve now heard a similar tale being told by three different administrative groups in law firms when it comes to leveraging the skills of their librarians. It is usually presented to a group of peers like this:

“shhh… I’ve uncovered a secret resource… It’s called the Library.” 

The three different areas I’ve heard this from are Knowledge Management, Alternative Fees, and finally Matter Intake and Conflicts.

The Knowledge Management statement is probably not a surprise to any of us. KM and Library have had close relations for many years. In fact, I argue that the original KM developers were librarians. When it comes to KM analysis, librarian skill sets are well suited for this type of work. The Alternative Fee statement may be a little surprising to some of you (mostly because having an Alternative Fee group may be still in the development stages for many firms), but the argument is really the same — AFA’s need analytics, good library research staffers know how to analyze. Finally, the Conflicts/Matter Intake argument falls under the same analytical argument as the other two. For Conflicts, the ability to use someone with both an MLS and a JD works to soothe the nerves of Partners that want someone they feel comfortable with in analyzing conflicts data, as well as the administrative director that wants someone that they are comfortable with doing high-quality research and analysis.

You wouldn’t think that using library staff in these three areas would be such a big deal, but to listen to how KM, AFA and Conflict/Matter Intake leaders tell these stories, you would think that they somehow unearthed some magical potion that no one else knows about. It is told in ways that sound like they have tricked the library into being more than it is. The stories are told with great pride, sometimes in a hushed tone that implies that the library was tricked into doing something that is outside of its mandate.

So why do other department leaders believe they’ve found some secret ingredient to make their individual processes better? There are probably two good, and very different answers to this. First, the leadership in the library listened to them and came up with the suggestion of using the library to fill the need. That is the good one. The bad one is if the administrative leader had to covertly use the library for the process, and after a few successes, got approval from the COO or a Partner to continue using the library staff for this purpose.
How can you tell which of these is happening? Usually take a look at what happened to the library staffer. If they are still in the library, then most likely the library was proactive in working with the other departments to get the work flow organized and make sure that the library is ready and able to help with the business task. If on the other hand, you see that the staffer is suddenly in another department, then most likely the library leadership did not take a proactive stance, and as a result lost the staffer… and probably didn’t get the approval to replace that position once it was removed.

There is a trend for the administrative side of the law firm to be much more involved in promoting the business of law, and the work flow/efficiency/effectiveness of how law firms take on, process, and analyze the way we work. Librarians have an important role to play in these goals… especially in the area of analytics. Forward thinking librarian leaders are engaging with other administrative leaders to fill these demands, while others are sitting back waiting for someone to ask them for their help. Hopefully, your library leadership is in the “forward thinking” category. If not, watch as the trickle of library research staff leaks out of the library and into the other departments.