Image [cc] Highways Agency

The story goes something like this:

Sitting in a Partner’s office a few months ago, a research librarian was listening to the speech the partner was preparing to give the client.  Suddenly, the librarian ran into one of those moments where her own experience suddenly became very relevant. As the partner jumped through a specific legal issue, the librarian jumped in and mentioned that this sounded very similar to a recent case she researched for another attorney a few weeks back. It wasn’t a published case, but rather a trial issue that ended up settling out of court. Within a few minutes she emailed the trial documents she had saved from the original suit, and the names of the attorneys working on that matter. By the end of the day, the attorney contacted the client with a solid answer to how they would defend the client and the matter settled within the next few days. Perhaps the partner would have found a similar case as she researched the issues, but by being in the right place at the right time, the librarian’s experience pushed everyone in the right direction.

Similar stories happen all the time in law firms, and the keys to the success revolve around the processes of getting the library researcher out of the library and in the areas of the firm where the attorneys are working. The librarian wasn’t there to conduct training or talk about the latest legal research tools. She was there to listen. She was there to observe. She was there to learn. She was there to share her knowledge and add to the overall conversation. In most situations, she does not have to contribute directly to the meeting, but by being there, soaking in the information being relayed between attorneys, she may be able to contribute in the next meeting, or in an unrelated practice group meeting.

We’ve talked before about the Embedded Librarian model and the value that this type of structure can bring to the firm. In ways, it increases the ability to contribute to the strategy of the lawyers by having someone in the room with diverse experiences. That moment of happenstance when someone shares their seemingly unrelated experience and knowledge on the topic and can bring in a fresh perspective and approach on how to solve the issues at hand.

The situation is not the easiest to create. There are barriers to entry in many cases, and a history of how things are always done around the office. There must be a motivation on the part of the librarian to overcome that history and a determination of finding ways to break though those barriers. The ability to communicate, in all its various forms (listening, observing, analyzing, interpreting, and talking), in ways that contribute and add to the conversation can only happen if you are actually a part of the conversation in the first place. Happenstance can only happen, if you happen to be there and express your stance on the issue.