Image [cc] seeveearr

[Ed. Note: I’ve asked my old friend, Colleen Cable, to write from time to time from a law library consultant’s point of view. Colleen and I were county law librarians in Oklahoma more than a decade ago, and we’ve both gone on since then to take on different evolving roles within our profession. I’d like to thank Colleen for sharing her experiences as a law librarian and consultant, and how she believes her new role will play out in the future of the law firm library and beyond. -GL]

Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.  ~Henry Ford

Consulting is not new. Consulting in law firms is not new. Consulting that can radically affect the law library is new.  As law firms have evolved and adopted more corporate cultures, consultants have played a larger more prominent role.  Once confined primarily to IT, consultants now advise law firms on management, organizational structure, billing, costs, practice groups, marketing, business development, the list is endless, and now includes libraries.
This year the focus on libraries has become even more apparent. Recent evidence of this includes:
  • Chase Cost Management merging with Library Associates (LAC)
  • Donna Terjesen starting her own consulting firm Visionary Information Solutions (VIS) and adding Mark Schwartz and Gitelle Seer
  • Nina Platt joining LAC
  • Me joining Profit Recovery Partners (PRP)
What is driving this change? I have a few theories that I’d like to share:
  1. In many firms, the library is now ‘under’ the CIO. CIOs are very familiar with using outside consultants for IT projects, so it is no stretch for them to utilize library consultants. CIOs recognize that hiring a consultant is not a sign of weakness; sometimes you need someone with a specialized core competency that will help the organization reach its goal.
  2. The library is one of the largest costs to the firm. Since 2008, the library has been under scrutiny to explain costs and the ROI for the department. Oftentimes that communication is not understood by firm management, and a consultant is brought in to bridge the gap.
  3.  The firm is closely examining all administrative departments for cost savings. After many years of sometimes extravagant spending on ‘back office’ functions, firms are looking for a consultant to review all spending, which includes the library.
  4. The visibility (or lack thereof) and perceived value of the library. Quoting from Connie Crosby’s excellent post on the blog On Firmer Ground :
I suspect when you stop talking about “what can the library do better” and take the library itself out of the picture in your inquiries, you may discover something quite shocking: the work you have made a priority has little to do with the information seen as important to the organization’s overall business. Unless you have been out talking to your clients regularly and asking these questions already, you may have been missing something. (Highlighting is mine)
Regardless of the reason, consulting is now firmly (no pun intended) part of the law firm and it isn’t going away. What should librarian do? For a few tips, I’d like to quote from an excellent Spectrum article on this subject by Cindy Adams and Sarah Stephens:
  •  Get mad and get over it
  •  Don’t take the change personally. Remember the change is not directed at you and is probably the result of a business decision made by your institution’s management
  • Make a plan and become a change agent!

One of my dear friends, who shall remain nameless, has told me many times about how he brought in a library consultant when he was a Director at a large firm. He recognized the need for assistance and approached his boss about hiring the consultant. He told me that his boss was surprised, but also looked at him with a new appreciation. He was obviously ahead of the times, but the same thing could very well happen today, and maybe it should. In today’s reality, consultants appear to be just one more of the available resources at the disposal of the modern law librarian.