Last week the Twitterverse and other content spaces were abuzz (or atweet?), with commentary on the story from Bloomberg Law on how Law Firm Librarians Feel Underused and Underpaid. Many in the sector agreed or felt that it was a wake up call of some kind. The article was based on a survey compiled by Bloomberg Law for the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), the librarians who took part in the survey were polled in person, and others later, over email. Most interestingly to me, was a quote from Bloomberg Law President David Perla “Librarians are saying, ‘We can help a firm anticipate what a client is going to need. We can be ahead of the client.” It reminded me specifically of another Bloomberg Law article from earlier in the summer on Why Law Firms Need to Change their Marketing Priorities. In that article it’s the marketing departments at law firms that are over burdened and understaffed. One legal marketer who was interviewed suggested “[legal marketers] often don’t have enough time to focus on the most fundamental tasks in business development, such as helping lawyers to increase satisfaction for current clients, plan sales advances or follow up consistently.” If librarians should be proactive to get noticed, and the business development people need help increasing satisfaction for current clients, isn’t a blended Library/BD person or department the perfect client service marriage? A one plus one equals two kind of equation?
We have heard again and again in client satisfaction surveys within the legal community that the number one driver for outside counsel selection is a firm who knows and understands a client’s business. I blogged about that here some months ago; the evolution of CI is from Competitor to Client Intelligence. There is also an assumption among clients that we “all know, what we each know” within a firm. That is to say, that law firms provide knowledgeable, efficient and most of all, anticipatory client service, as Perla suggests. There is no doubt that Bloomberg Law has a pulse on the legal market – they are in the business of knowing what firms need, and filling that resource void. But they can’t do it alone.
Librarians feel underused and Marketing/BD professionals in firms are drowning in the volume of work and expectations from their lawyer clients. From my perspective, there is a broader issue of collaboration by law firm management groups at play here. Each department has their mandate, and each is tentative about stepping outside of their world either for fear of repercussion or lack-of- getting-credit-angst. I’ve worked with and reported into several different administrative groups in my time at law firms. And I can tell you that almost all non-lawyers in firms feel underused, it is not just a Librarian thing. The fact that we are described by the negative “non” prefix is the case in point. A commentary that several others in the industry have waxed poetic about before and I don’t need to rehash those discussions. Instead, I offer a solution – a rallying point for the non lawyers who are reading this blog.
Let’s work together, truly collaborate and check the egos and credit ratings at the door. Ultimately, we all want to succeed in our professions and in our roles within firms. For the marketing people amongst us, that means looking outside of our departments and realizing that there are other smart savvy people within our firms who can help to manage the work load by implementing technology tools, researching in anticipation of client needs or increasing the current awareness portfolio. For Librarians it means thinking about information in a commercial way, for example, how can a legislative change impact clients or increase firm revenue and it is about getting out of the library to chat people up and find out what is keeping them up at night and then matching those anxieties with resources. For all non lawyers, it necessitates a brushing up on soft skills, especially communication, leadership and negotiation skills. David Maiser, in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, says “We often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life. We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it. Figuring it out is not too difficult. What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations.” Collaboration at the highest level – integrated technology platforms, cross departmental response and readiness teams, mutual respect and assistance, is not easy, but we know it’s an imperative, the two Bloomberg Law articles alone demonstrate the ease of the equation. True collaboration will make firms coordinated, efficient, balanced and competitive and you’d be hard pressed to find a client who is not willing the pay full rates for a firm like that.