Image [cc] Cory Doctorow

A fellow law librarian pointed me toward a Daily Report article yesterday entitled “Kilpatrick Transforms Library Into Modern Collaboration Hub—With Latte.” The story is a well-worn tale of how the law library space was cut and transformed into a collaborative space with workstations and high-end espresso machines.

These sort of articles don’t really bother me anymore. I, as a law librarian, read it more as the library material and the space that houses it is superficial, not the service and research provided. The way I interpret it is that the firm is really saying this:

We had allocated 3,000 sq ft of space to house books that no one needed, but we were too afraid that someday, someone, somewhere, might need one of these books, so we spent $60K+ a year in rental as an insurance policy… so to make us feel better about it, let’s cut that to 1,500 sq ft and serve lattes and pretend it’s a collaboration space. Problem solved.

However, a non-law librarian, especially law firm leaders, and consultants who are brought in to guide these types of spacial decisions, may take articles like this and pull out key passages like “little-used,” or “she didn’t know where [the law library] was,” to mean the library, as a service, is irrelevant. That approach is something that I stand against and will argue is short-sighted and will have damaging long-term effects.

If you have read anything I’ve written in the past decade, you know I’m not a library space guy. I’m a service-first, people-oriented, space-as-needed, law librarian. My largest office has no central library space. None. We went from around 6,000 sq ft of space in the old location to zero by embedding the collections into the practice areas.

The primary reason? Attorneys do not leave their floors. (We even have fancy coffee machines, and attorneys that have never used them because the machine is one floor away.) Therefore, we put the relevant material close to them, and focus on the research services and people skills that we provide. Instead of creating a space and attempting to lure people to the library, we turned that around and put the library people in the lawyer space. For us, it works very well and solidifies our approach of people and knowledge first, and information and resources second.

One of the biggest issues I have with this article isn’t what’s in it, but rather what’s missing. Someone from the Law Library explaining how this enhances the services we provide by moving the focus away from the space, and toward the service and people. Not a single word. Now, granted, this is a piece focused on collaborative space, not about law libraries, but I would think that someone at Kilpatrick would want to stress that this is a win-win for collaboration as well as how they share knowledge and information.

From what I am hearing, the probably reason for omitting this part of the story is something that we are seeing too much of lately. A long-time law library leader has left/retired, and no succession was established to replace this leader. These leadership voids for the evolving law library service are becoming more and more visible, and many firms are wasting opportunities to embrace a new style of law librarianship and research/information services. It feeds into the narrative of law libraries are irrelevant, and in my opinion, will come back to bite these short-sighted firms in the end.

Law Librarianship is not about the number of books on the shelf. It is not about turning shelves into collaboration spaces or coffee bars. It is about positioning the firm in a manner that aligns resources, internal and external; human and information, in a way that puts the firm on a better competitive footing. It’s about risk-management. It’s about negotiating the best deals with very expensive vendors. It’s about evaluating what is, and what is not needed to support the practices of the firm. It takes a strong leader, one with vision of where the law library fits in the strategic goals of the firm, in order to guide the firm on the correct path. Leaving these leadership positions empty, or eliminating them altogether may have short-term financial gains, but long-term repercussions that will plague firms for many years to come.

What is your reaction to that title?

Most lawyers will probably turn their noses up at this. Since law is a reputation-based business, who in their right mind would want their reputation associated with being cheap?

Many clients will likely be quite interested in this concept. Not that all of their work will ever go to a price point firm, but currently their work that is more driven by price has few, if any, law firm provider options. So client ears will perk up when hearing this firm mentioned.

What would this Price Point Law Firm look like?

I propose a firm that strongly differentiates as a price point alternative. For hourly deals they might have some maximum rate, say $350. For other pricing options, they would provide very competitive bids.The focus of this firm would be on 2nd and 3rd Tier legal needs, also known as the high volume aspect of legal services.They could easily serve everything from very large companies, down to small businesses. This would mean they would have an extremely large market to attack.

Of course this Price Point Law Firm would structure itself such that it could profitably serve such a market. Given the over abundance of legal talent available in the market, finding suitable lawyers should be relatively simple. Their starting pay could be kept reasonable – say $40k to start. With their starting rates at $150-200 and only a billable base requirement of 1500 hours, they would be quite profitable for the firm.

Our Firm will spend more money on professional development for these lawyers than traditional firms. And by professional development, I mean actual skills training, with management oversight and hard goals. This also means our lawyers will have well-defined career paths, especially ones that do not lead to owner positions, since most people are not suited for or even desire that level of responsibility and stress.

The Firm will have extremely strong leverage, meaning you do not become a partner unless you want to act like an owner. How does an owner act? They drive business, over performing client work. We won’t expect our front-line workers to be sales people, and we won’t expect our owners to be front-line workers. A recent conversation with a “partner” in a non-law professional services organization told me his annual billable expectation is about 400 hours. His biggest expectation is bringing in business. Our Firm owners will be compensated based on similar factors, versus how many worker hours they bill.

In this scenario, the owners of this firm will easily enjoy profits at or perhaps above what BigLaw partners currently make.

So why isn’t anyone creating a Price Point Firm? From an economics perspective, it is absolutely crazy (or more appropriately – stupid) that no one is. The market is screaming for such a provider. The sad truth is that too many lawyers have become so internally focused that the screams of their clients are not being heard. True – many firms are providing bigger discounts to clients, which is responding at some level. But clients are literally begging for quality legal work at reasonable prices. Absent the LPOs and a few niche firms, no one is listening.

Do I hear opportunity knocking …?

.

Many believed that Canadian leverage was too high compared to US and UK firms, but the Canadian economy is stable, our lawyers are talented and the merger announcements keep coming. Until recently, the Canadian market has been relatively sheltered from major international mergers. Until Norton Rose merged with Ogilvy Renault as of June 1, 2011, and with long standing Alberta based MacLeod Dixon as of January 1, 2012. 
Just last week, on November 7th 2012,  SNR Denton, Salans and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain announced a three way merger, to create a new global law firm with about 2,500 lawyers and 79 offices. And today, another announcement, effective June 1, 2013 involves Norton Rose again, but this time with Fulbright and Jaworski.  The combined firm will be a global legal practice that will include 3,800 lawyers in 55 offices across the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.  Can you imagine the conflicts that had to be cleared for that one? 
These recent mergers are game changers for US, UK, Canadian and all International firms.  To deny its impact and influence, whether the future brings success or failure would be inane.  It will have an impact and all I can hear is  R.E.M. playing in my head…. “it’s the end…..”


Last Wednesday, my wife and I were on day 3 of a 4 day Vermont cheese and maple syrup tour.  It was about noon on the hottest day of the year and we were driving down Route 35, about 30 miles from anywhere you’ve ever heard of, when I took a sharp corner and quickly swerved to avoid a piece of debris in middle of the road.  It looked like a rope or a piece of rubber, but the thud as I rolled over it made clear that my initial assessment was off. Then the tire pressure light on the dashboard lit up.

I popped the trunk, saw that there was a spare, but no jack or tire iron, then pulled out my phone and realized I had no signal.  A flat tire, 3 miles from nowhere, no jack, no tire iron, and no cell signal in the heat of the day on the hottest day of the year.  We flagged down a passing car and got a ride into Grafton where we hoped to find a cell signal.

I was grouchy, hot, frustrated, trying to remember if I had ever actually changed a tire and what the steps were, wondering if we were going to make it to the next bed and breakfast, whether we should call ahead, how much it was going to cost me to cancel, wondering how we could keep any cheese we buy from melting, I really wasn’t thinking clearly at that point.  I pulled out my phone and started up my Zipcar app.

We live in New York City, and as people with more sense than money, we don’t own a car.  Zipcar is a car sharing service that allows us to reserve local cars for use on an hourly or daily basis.  Their app allows us to make reservations, and report damage to the car, but the best feature by far is the big orange button in the upper right corner that simply says “Call Zipcar”.

I hit the button and got Debbie on the line.  I stammered incoherently, “Flat tire…Outside Grafton…No Jack…Help, please.” “I’m so sorry about that”, she said cheerfully, “let’s see what we can do?”  I gave her the details of where we were, where the car was, and where we were staying that night.  “OK, stay near the cell tower, I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
A few minutes later she called back with news that someone would pick us up in Grafton, drive us to our car and change our tire. She found a tire place near the B&B we were staying that night and called ahead to make sure they had a tire that fit.
It all happened just as she said, and when we got to the garage in Manchester, they had a new tire ready and waiting for us.  In the room at the B&B, I snapped a picture of my tire receipt, emailed it to Debbie, and within a few minutes had confirmation that my credit card on file with Zipcar had been reimbursed the cost of the tire.  It had been an adventure, but relatively painless considering the situation we were in just a few short hours before. 
This got me thinking, as many things do, about law firms.  My situation on the side of the road in middle of nowhere Vermont is not unlike the situation many clients are in before they call their attorney.  No one calls their attorney just to check in and say that everything is going well.  You call on the hottest day of the year, when your metaphorical car is in a ditch with a flat and you’re missing a jack and a tire iron.  You call when you need help, often when you are not thinking straight and when you need someone else with the knowledge, resources, and capacity to do the thinking for you. You could argue that the answer to one of my earlier posts, is that we are selling the knowledge, resources, and capacity to do your legal thinking for you.
But there is one big, glaring difference between Zipcar and the legal industry.  The person solving my problem is a customer service rep, but my relationship is with the car service, not with the rep. If I hit the big orange button and Debbie is unavailable, or busy helping someone else, then I’ll get another qualified person, with access to the exact same tools and resources that Debbie has, to ensure that I get out of my jam as quickly and painlessly as possible.  After my flat tire experience, I’m a Zipcar believer and I am truly grateful to Debbie for all she did, but should she choose to move on to Hertz, or Avis, I will probably continue to work with Zipcar. They created a loyal client in me by making every aspect of my terrible experience as easy and painless as possible, from the app with the big orange button, to arranging all of my roadside and garage service needs, to reimbursing me for my out of pocket expense with nothing more than a cell phone photo emailed to customer service.  Debbie was absolutely integral to my positive experience, but it was the tools, resources, and relationships provided by Zipcar that allowed Debbie to so efficiently solve my problem.  Why should law firms be any different?

This will get me in trouble, but attorneys are the most expensive client service representatives ever.  That is not in any way intended to diminish their importance.  Good client service reps are absolutely necessary, but not nearly sufficient to provide a good client experience.  The greatest lawyer in the world without the right tools, resources, and relationships is still going to be a very good lawyer, but will not likely provide an optimal experience to their clients.  The tools, resources, and many of the relationships that attorneys use on behalf of their clients are provided by the firm and yet, GC’s have been known to say things like “We hire the lawyer, not the law firm.” That mindset has made the modern BigLaw firm little more than shared office space for “partners” always on the lookout for another firm that will promise them a larger cut of profits. 

To create an optimal client experience, the primary client relationship needs to be with the service provider, and the service provider in this case is the firm not the attorney. As I said in my previous article linked above, I think we are selling “access to the collective knowledge and expertise of the firm”. Otherwise, there is no benefit for the client in hiring a BigLaw attorney. They are paying a premium for the prestige of the names on the letterhead, but getting the efforts of a solo or, more likely, a couple of young associates in return.

How can we begin to change the client/firm relationship?  We’ll all have to work together.  First, Attorneys need to stop the merry-go-round of lateral defections in pursuit of a few more points, and to put some of that energy into making their current firm a more effective and pleasant place to work.  Secondly, firms need to provide tools and resources to clients that actively build relationships at the firm level and they need to develop a culture within the firm that facilitates sharing of resources and knowledge between attorneys rather than simply sharing infrastructure. Finally, clients need to demand a relationship at the firm level, and then they need to have the courage of their convictions to stick with any firm that gives them that relationship, even if “their attorney” jumps ship.  

I’m not suggesting this would be easy or even possible, but if we could strengthen the relationships between clients and firms, and change the underlying culture of our firms to share resources like any other functional service provider does, then we too could give our client’s a big orange button that says “Call Firm” to be pressed when the client is in trouble and needs someone else to do their legal thinking for them and get them back “on the road” as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Debbie was a terrific representative for Zipcar, but I wonder how my experience would have differed had I hired the customer service rep, instead of the car rental service.  

Note: A few weeks ago I saw that the law library at the law firm of Bryan Cave had a Twitter account and was actively tweeting. The concept of a large law firm tweeting isn’t that unusual, but the idea of a library within the firm publicly tweeting did sound a little foreign to me. So, I contacted the two librarians behind the Twitter account and asked if they would guest-post here on 3 Geeks and let us know what the goals were for having a Twitter account, who follows them and who do they follow. Karen Lasnick (Santa Monica, CA office) and Joan Thomas (Kansas City, MO office) took me up on the offer and explained their reasoning for creating the @BryanCaveLib account. My thanks to Karen and Joan for sharing their experiences with us.

Tweeting At The Cave

Joan Thomas and I started our Twitter feed @BryanCaveLib last year. I was interested because I had just personally started Tweeting and wanted to jump on the Library Twitter bandwagon. Our first Library tweet was on September 8, 2011: “Welcome to the Bryan Cave Library and Research Services Twitter. We would love to have you follow us as we Tweet all things legal and more!” Now 365 tweets and retweets later, I find that I enjoy Twitter even more than Angry Birds.

Our goals?
One of them is to establish a presence where our attorneys are. We follow 108 twitter accounts including several Bryan Cave LLP accounts and individual Bryan Cave attorneys. We often retweet (RT) tweets from the people we follow. This helps develop a rapport by sharing good information while giving credit for the good stuff we read in our stream. A little more than one third of our tweets are RT’s.

Who follows us?
All kinds of people: attorneys, including our own (several of our practice groups also Tweet) and others outside of the firm, legal publications, social media gurus, individuals who find us interesting and the occasional misguided soul trying to tell us we have won a free iPad. We have 93 followers as of this writing.

Who do we follow?
The same kind of people that follow us: whatever or whoever strikes us as interesting or relevant. Some of our tweets come from our own personal Twitter feeds that we think our followers would enjoy. So far, we have not duplicated each other’s Tweets!

We recently started marketing @BryanCaveLib. Every three weeks, our research librarians compile our newsletter, “in the KNOW”, which is distributed firmwide. We added this blurb at the beginning of each issue to market @BryanCaveLib: Bryan Cave Library & Research Services is now on Twitter. We tweet about general research and legal news. Follow @BryanCaveLib ! We also have a “Follow us on Twitter” link on eCave2, the firm’s intranet. Our email signature’s marketing tagline for this month is @BryanCaveLib . We noticed that these small marketing efforts have increased our in-house followers.

Twitter is a subtle way to develop relationships with attorneys by giving us an opportunity to casually interact with attorneys from all of our offices. Our Bryan Cave followers are starting to visit us when they happen to be in the Kansas City or Santa Monica offices. Joan and I communicate more with each other via Twitter. We often tweet at each other over the weekend or way too late at night. Twitter is proving to be worth the small amount of time we devote to it. We encourage other law firm libraries to start tweeting. You may discover that it can help build relationships with your attorneys and co-workers!