Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of discussion about the value of the Law Firm Librarian (aka Research Analyst).   I’ve written on the subject (here and here) as have others (here, herehere and here). Most of the discussion concerns the expense side of the equation.  But it occurred to me that this analysis can only get you so far.  It’s revenue that can turn a cost center into a profit center. Let’s face it, Law Firms are in the business of making money and profit is a powerful argument when it comes to justifying your existence.

How can we affect revenue?  We don’t control writeoffs or client relations.  Library staff are unique in a law firm because they track and bill their time in much the same way attorneys and paralegals do.  We need to apply the same criterion that is used to evaluate attorney and paralegal performance to the Library staff but customized to our unique world.  Metrics such as realization rates and billing practices can allow us to start conversations with shareholders that show them we are invested in the profitability of the firm.

Beginning a conversation with shareholders about the money that’s being left on the table is a good place to start.   To do this, we need to be able to give our data context by comparing ourselves to the industry at large.  How many times have we heard the phrase “But what are other firms doing?”   We need to develop benchmarks to allow for meaningful points of comparison.  But how can we 1) collect this data and 2) use it to improve the performance of the Library in generating revenue?

So…to address Question #1, I’ve put together a short 11-question survey to try and collect this information.  I have tried to construct this survey with an eye to avoiding questions that may touch on proprietary or competitive information.  This is not a rate survey.

As for Question #2, I will report on the results of the survey in this space and will discuss some different ways it can be used to improve Library performance.  I feel that this data will allow the Law Firm Library community to finally affect the revenue piece in a meaningful way.

You can access the survey here.

  • Great point and a great start to addressing the issue. A key question is why so many firms do not bill library work and, in firms that do, why so many partners write-off that time. I hope the survey comments help answer the question of partner and firm attitudes and thinking about billing for research.

  • Colleen Cable

    Mark…I'm surprised you do not address the shift from billable work to non-billable (i.e. business development) in the survey, especially given your personal background. Would love to hear your opinions about how this impacts billable work. Can we make the firm more money by contributing to getting a new client vs. billing our time? Or maybe its both…

  • I agree that this is an excellent attempt to help solve the problem. However, I hope that the way the survey is constructed does not skew the data. I look forward to a followup post that address your findings.

  • Well said. Being a lawyer is a business endeavor and not enough lawyers treat it as such.

  • As we move toward an alternative fee arrangement (AFA) environment, more emphasis is placed on a firm's efficiency to create work products than billable hours and research time. Clients are probably less interested in how projects are completed than getting them done on time and within budget.

    If all the time and effort put into creating a work product is included in the flat fee, then billable time would be less relevant except to become part of the metrics to gauge how resources (internal and external) are allocated in quality and quantity in order to complete a project.

    For firm profitability, it's more about the balance sheet than the income statement.