There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere and twitter this week about the Bloomberg Law article “Law Firm Librarians Feel Underused and Underpaid” and the accompanying survey. First off, I want to thank Bloomberg BNA for conducting this survey, sharing the results with the law librarian community and David Perla, President, Bloomberg BNA Legal Division and Bloomberg Law, for discussing these results with me.

I think this title was a bit misleading. Librarians were expressing their frustration that firms weren’t fully utilizing their talents. I think that leaner staffing and more recognition of Librarians as an excellent low cost resource have kept them extremely busy and useful. As David said, “Research is in its lowest cost place today. Research is being pushed down to the lowest cost research, the library.”

My discussion with him about this survey was interesting. Their motivation for conducting this research was as a vendor of Business Development (BD) tools, they wanted to get a sense of the scope of the involvement of law librarians in BD. The overwhelming response of librarians answering “yes” to the question of could they be better utilized took them by surprise (95% of the respondents to Question #6). This is something I’ve been talking about for years (Here’s an example) and I’m pleased to see that this is becoming a universal point of view.
He also noted that law firm librarians see themselves as a resource for the acquisition of work for the firm. This is borne out by the following survey responses:
Q1: 81% cite pushing relevant information on client intel directly to individual stakeholders as demonstration of their value
Q2: 72% see BD and CI as areas currently handled has part of their job
Q3: 66% see BD and CI as logical areas for someone with a law firm librarian skillset to add value

The numbers clearly demonstrate a recognition by the law librarian community of the fact that this is a major contribution they can make to the success of the firm. However, only 18% say their law firm is currently using them in this capacity (Question 5). When taken into account with the previously discussed results, it appears that librarians are not being acknowledged for the BD and CI contributions they are making now. The reasons for this could be that these contributions are funneled through other departments, not recognized as BD or CI, or simply done on an ad hoc basis.

One possible cause for this was identified by David in our discussion. He noted that firm BD initiatives lack consistency from one firm to the next. As result, the quality of the underlying research and analysis is not consistent. Using librarians in this capacity is an easy way for firms to utilize an existing resource to create a consistent high quality basis for strategic business decisions.
The most interesting post for me was from fellow Geek Zena Applebaum. Zena used the survey to point out a path to address the concerns that were expressed by the respondents. David agreed with Zena’s assessment that Librarians are natural sleuths and are good at figuring out the client’s needs early and identifying strategic areas for the firm to target. Let’s face it, the days of “they know what I can do and they know where to find me if they need me to do it” are long gone.   Her post should inspire each of us to take charge of our destiny. Pick up that phone and ask your Marketing counterpart to lunch. Meet with your practice group leaders and show them how you help them achieve their strategic goals. Now is the time for action!
 

I received a press release from Lexis this morning with this eye-catching headline: “Recent LexisNexis Survey Uncovers Gap in New Attorney Readiness for Real World Practice.”   The first thing the whitepaper mentions is that 95% of hiring partners and associates believe that recently graduated law students lack key practical skills.  The deficient skills include “advanced legal research, writing and drafting skills, practical application and an understanding of how litigation or transaction occurs in real life.” 

Duh. 

Any law firm librarian who works with summer associates and recent law school graduates can tell you how ill-prepared they are for the “real world” in a firm.  And, as fellow Geek Casey Flaherty will tell you, clients don’t want to pay for this group to learn to these skills.  Nor should they have to. 

Part of the problem is the law school system itself.  Looking at just these examples you can see why:

Litigation:  The focus is primarily on Federal Litigation.  The problem is that only a small percentage of graduates are fortunate enough to practice in this arena.  When the graduate gets into practice, they are likely to end up dealing with a myriad of state and local court systems that have very little in common with what they learned in school.  Even if they were fortunate enough to spend time in a legal clinic, that experience will not help much if they leave that jurisdiction. 

Legal Research:
This is the Google Generation.  For this group, Google is the first place they turn for legal research (Regular readers of 3 Geeks know how I feel about that).  They are comfortable with Google and are freaked out by the idea of incurring charges on the paid services.  I’m not aware of a required course of study that adequately covers the professional responsibility dangers of inadequate (and inaccurate) legal research.

I don’t fault our law school brethren.  They are genuinely concerned about this problem.  Each AALL meeting for the past 4 years has featured conversations between law school and law firm librarians about how to address these issues.  The conclusion that I have reached is the best way to address these issues is to make a “prepare to practice” curriculum a requirement for graduation.  This curriculum would address variances between jurisdictions in style and practice as well as the business of law.  The latter should include coursework designed to emphasize the importance of good, efficient legal research in a professional responsibility context.

Thank you Lexis for quantifying what law firm librarians have known for years.  I hope this serves as a wake-up call to the legal industry to fundamentally re-examine the legal education system.  Of course, change is hard.  I think it will happen only when the Clients and the Malpractice Insurers demand that their lawyers know what they’re doing when they enter the marketplace.

Who knows, there may be an opportunity out there for a CLE provider to offer this training to law firms.  Hmm…maybe Bigweld was right when he said “See a need, fill a need.”

Now…back to your normally scheduled programming.

I just returned from the AALL annual meeting in Philadelphia and had an interesting discussion with a colleague about Google.  First, let me set the scene: I was on a panel with Zena Applebaum and we had just answered a question about our favorite CI resources.  A member of the audience then asked why neither of us had included Google in our lists. As I began to answer, Zena wisely tweeted:

There is a debate going on, both within our institutions and in the research community.  Is Google a tool or a resource?  I feel that Google is just a tool, an excellent one that allows us to access a universe of information.  Unfortunately, the quality of the information is always in doubt.  Information from a fake website or a misleading post could be included in the search results, maybe even at the top of the list. The same reasons you don’t rely on Wikipedia apply even more to Google.  Google has never laid claim to delivering only quality, vetted information.  In fact, they have taken great pains to do the opposite.  Look at the disclaimer at the bottom of the page here and listen to the conversation Richard Leiter and Company had with Google Scholar’s Chief Engineer here.

As a researcher, I know the importance of confirming anything I find on Google and noting if the information is suspect and cannot be verified.  In CI as in law, it is important to have a high degree of confidence in the information that your analysis and recommendations are based on.  Google alone does not instill that confidence. 

There is a reason we pay for services like Lexis Advance and WestlawNext.  These services ensure that their subscribers have access to current and vetted content, often with editorial review.  I’m not saying Google isn’t useful.  I am on Google several hours each day.  However, it is for these reasons I don’t conduct legal research on Google when I have these services and others like them at my fingertips.  Just like any tool, a thorough understanding of its limitations is necessary to get the most out of it.

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.

Part 2 of the The Legal Intelligencer’s ongoing series on Law Firm Competitive Intelligence came out on May 13th.  The author, Gina Passarelli, makes a few points that, well, let’s just say I have a different perspective on. 

Let’s start with the firms that were interviewed for this article.  They are AMLAW100 firms with resources and budgets (personnel and otherwise) not found in the vast majority of firms.  Their experiences and opinions are not the norm for the legal industry.  I have found the norm for most firms to be a collaborative process between Marketing and Research Services (aka the Library).  This allows for the use of staff in multiple capacities without incurring the additional personnel cost of a dedicated CI analyst.

This also allows the Marketing Department to take advantage of the unique skills and internal knowledge of the research professionals. These professionals are skilled at finding information efficiently, analyzing it to meet the attorneys needs and packaging it for their consumption.  Despite the implications of the gentleman quoted from Duane Morris,  researchers (aka librarians) are not as a rule “faithful compilers of phone books.”  Merely handing off reams of information (otherwise known as Data Dumps) are not a work product that attorneys have the time or inclination to review in any context, be it legal research or CI.  This understanding of not only what attorneys need to see but how they want to see it adds to the value of the research professional in conducting CI.

It is no accident that many excellent CI professionals have a background and/or training as a librarian. I found it striking how uninformed the author appeared to be regarding the involvement of law librarians in the Competitive Intelligence analysis process.  The inclusion of sweeping stereotypical statements such as “[Librarians] gather the info and the marketing team makes it presentable” and the implications of a Chief Marketing Officer that the Library produces academic studies are not accurate depictions of how this works in the Legal Industry.

Here are three prominent examples of CI professionals missed by Ms. Passarelli:

  • Zena Applebaum, who was quoted prominently in the first article of this series, is not only the Director of Competitive Intelligence for Bennett Jones but is also the award-winning Chair-Elect of the Competitive Intelligence Division of the Special Libraries Association.  Not to mention the excellent post she wrote on CI on Thursday.
  • Jan Rivers, who wrote an article on CI for the National Law Journal, is the Director of Information Resource Services at Dorsey and Whitney LLP and is a well-known CI professional.  
  • Emily Cunningham Rushing, Competitive Intelligence Manager at Haynes and Boone, LLP, has her Masters in Library and Information Science and is also a well-known CI professional

The list above does not include the many other talented research professionals acting in the same capacity for their firm.  In my previous post on the first article of this series, I pointed out that there are over 300 librarians in law firms nationwide currently practicing the art of of CI.  This does not include the members of the CI Division of the Special Libraries Association or the law firm members of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals.  Full disclosure here:  I have been a law librarian for almost 25 years and have been practicing CI for 20 of those years. 

The information presented above shows the skills that librarians have in their toolbox .  Of course, this doesn’t mean that every librarian will make a good CI professional or that only librarians can be CI professionals.  However, when looking for someone with the requisite skills for this type of task, the Library (or Research Services) is a good place to start.  By using these atypical examples and statements, Ms. Passarelli paints a misleading picture of how to operate a successful Competitive Intelligence operation.  I guess my question really is…why weren’t mid-size firms that are more representative of the industry (and, yes, as a result rely more on librarians) consulted as part of this article?  They aren’t hard to find.

I found the story in today’s Legal Intelligencer on Law Firm Competitive Intelligence interesting. 
I noticed a few points (yes I know, surprising isn’t it?) after reading this that I think bear a bit of discussion.  Here are my perspectives, which are based on 20 years as a CI professional as well as the Co-chair of the CI Caucus of the American Association of Law Libraries.

First of all, CI in law firms is not dumpster diving or spying.  Anthony Pellicano did not practice CI.  The art of CI (and yes, I consider it to be an art form) is to find available information, analyze it based on the strategic and cultural context of the firm and provide conclusions that enable the firm to be successful operationally as well as in acquiring new business.  Since this context can vary between firms and from moment-to-moment, the same information can have different meanings in different circumstances.  It’s up to the CI professional to provide the interpretation.  Information can be obtained in many legal ways, ways that don’t require wiretapping or reconstructing shredded information from the trash.  It is, first and foremost, an ethically driven process.  In fact, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) emphasizes the ethical nature of CI here.

Second, CI in law firms is not new.  As I said at the beginning, I am proud to have been a CI professional for about 20 years, 14 of them in the law firm environment.  In 2006, an article discussing CI in law firms was written and published in the National Law Journal by my colleague Jan Rivers.  The over 300 members of the Competitive Intelligence Caucus also indicates that this is much more established in the legal industry than is commonly thought, at least as indicated by the Legal Intelligencer article.

Third, CI is often confused with Business Development or the acquiring of new business.  However, this definition ignores the most important part of CI, the competitive in Competitive Intelligence.  CI is the part that focuses on identifying your competition and determining how best to position the firm to compete with them.  Without this piece, the firm cannot ultimately be successful in acquiring new business.  As ably pointed out in the Legal Intelligencer article by my colleague Zena Applebaum, CI in Law Firms became more important in 2008 when it started to become obvious with firms that they needed to compete to survive.

There were also concerns expressed in the article about the quality of the legal industry data available.  The fact that this was expressed concerns me.  In my experience, the data quality isn’t any different from the data relied on by corporate decision makers.  As I mentioned above, the CI professional’s role is to evaluate and interpret the available data.  All data, regardless of quality, can provide useful indicators and should not be written off.  Robust and useful CI is not dependent on data quality.  Rather, it is dependent on analysis and interpretation.

CI in law firms is an established part of the operation of the law firm business.  As in most business, the importance of knowing your competition and industry at more than an anecdotal level has made CI integral to this business. 

A headline just crossed my desk from the Sacramento Bee:  “Brown Appoints Former Reporter Lucas as State Librarian

Deep Breath…  A manager of one of the most important library systems in California without any apparent
professional library managerial experience?

I am concerned that the Governor of California has placed the stewardship of the State Library in the hands of someone without any professional library experience.  I could be wrong.  If there is any information I have missed, please let me know in the comments section below. This item certainly indicates a fondness for books.

What do you think?  Is this the start of a trend?  Is it necessary for the person in charge of a State Library to be a Librarian?

UPDATE #1:  The last appointment to this position without any previous library experience was in 1899.

UPDATE #2:  California Education Code Section 19302 states that “The division shall be in charge of a chief who shall be a technically trained librarian and shall be known as the “State Librarian.” (Hat Tip to David McFadden)

UPDATE #3:  Here is the full text of the Governor’s announcement.

UPDATE #4:  

For an interesting take on this from a website directed to California political reporters (CalBuzz), take a look at this.  The LA Times weighs in on Library Power here.
 
Keep checking here for new developments.  I’ll keep this page updated.
 

3-26-17 11:03 AM PDT

There has been a lot of discussion in Law Library Land lately about the use of the term “Librarian” to describe the staff that curates and researches in a private law library. The discussion, which has taken place in both blogs (Here is an excellent post) and on AALL listservs, has been lively and interesting. 

As a brand, the term is unparallelled in its universal recognition.  However, the connotations associated with the term may not be of a dynamic and forward-thinking professional. Just try telling someone you’re a librarian at a social function and watch their eyes immediately glaze over from boredom. 

As proud as I am of being a Librarian (note the capitalized first letter of the word), I am at heart pragmatic when it comes to my career and have no problem with labels like Research Specialist, Research Analyst, Information Manager, Technical Services Specialist, Director of Information Services or Lord Emperor of Research (cue the Darth Vader music).   My self-worth isn’t tied to a label. I’m sure that the Librarians of Ancient Babylon were not called Librarians.   Labels and professions evolve over time and, just as in Darwinian evolution,  those who can adapt will succeed and those who can’t will be left behind.  In the end, I will do what I need to in order to succeed. How successful I am is shown by being the go-to person people turn to when they need assistance.  A label doesn’t affect that one way or another. 

Here I am, sitting in my office, planning out my budget for the next year when along comes this announcement from Amazon: “Introducing the Kindle Matchbook.”  It seems that Amazon will provide you with an ebook copy of a book that was purchased from them in print for a nominal ranging from a Free (yes, I said free) to a high of $2.99.  And they’re willing to count purchases made all the way back to 1995.  There is one limit:  this is only available for titles that the publishers have opted in on.  I think this is pretty darn exciting but what will really be interesting is how widely the publishers support this program.

As a Law Librarian (or Research Services Specialist if you prefer), I’m thrilled to see a purveyor of the printed word that acknowledges that it is cheaper to publish books electronically and gives you a benefit for purchasing the print edition.  In the Legal Publishing world, Firms are expected to pay the same price for an ebook as they do for a the printed edition (and yes, you do save on the Shipping & Handling charges) and you need to spend several thousand dollars annually on software to manage the confounded things.  Perhaps this move by Amazon will shake this model up.  You can find more information about this Amazon program here.

Monica Bay of Law Technology News is reporting this morning that Bloomberg Law is rebranding itself as Bloomberg BNA.  This acknowledges what those us in the legal industry have known for quite awhile:

  1. Bloomberg doesn’t have the same name recognition as a provider of legal information that BNA does
  2. BNA’s name is respected for the quality of their content, and
  3. The Bloomberg approach did not seem to be getting much traction in the legal marketplace. 

Bloomberg seems to come to terms with this themselves with their acknowledgement that this change was client driven and their announcement that the Legal business would be consolidated in the BNA HQ in Arlington.  As Professor Harold Hill once said “You’ve got to know the territory.”  BNA certainly knows the territory.