There are two standard answers to questions asked in a law firm setting.

  1. Well… it depends.
  2. You have to understand, we’re unique.

Both of them drive us nuts, but we get used to them and adjust or responses over time to limit the eye-roll and shaking of the head to a minimum.

When it comes to where a law firm library falls in the structure of law firm administration, both answers tend to get applied. If you were to look at the AmLaw200 firms, you will find that the law library function falls under many different types of leaders.

  1. Library Directors who report to:
    – COO
    – CMO
    – CIO
    – CKO (non-librarian)
    – (I’ll group these as CxO from this point)
    – Managing Partner
  2. Library Managers who report to:
    – KM Directors
    – CxO
  3. CKO (librarian C-Level) who report to:
    – COO
    – Managing Partner
By my count, there are approximately 7 CKO where they are Librarians in the AmLaw 200. (Or some variation, like me, where I am a Chief Knowledge Services Officer) As you might think, I have a bias toward this style of management. I’ve stressed the ability for law librarians to direct their own fates for nearly the entire decade I’ve written this blog, and will continue to do so as I take on a President role in the American Association of Law Libraries in July, and well beyond that. 

I mentioned in a post last year that if Law Librarians don’t find themselves a seat at the table, they will find themselves on the menu. When I tell other law librarians this, they agree, but then they look at me and say, “Greg, you have to understand, we’re unique at my firm.” What this typically means is that their firm doesn’t want to challenge the status quo, and likes things to stay as they are. There are firms with Library Directors that are much more progressive and forward thinking than me, yet there is no path to a C-Level for them at their firm. That’s a shame. The Law Library and its functions of compiling, analyzing, filtering, and producing legal and other information is one of the most important administrative functions that a law firm has. It keeps attorneys practice ready and up to speed on the very functions that drive the legal industry. We do the due diligence necessary to keep our attorneys informed and prepared. In the Information Age, we are the Information Professionals.

BloombergBNA President, Scott Mozarsky, penned a recent Above the Law article where he stressed the importance of what law firm libraries and librarians do to drive business in the door at law firms. He mentions that law librarians and legal marketers are teaming up and becoming a powerhouse within the firm to help drive business development and client awareness of the firm’s abilities. He mentions that this is a great collaboration, and that he is seeing more firms adopt the Researcher/Marketer team approach. I’ve seen this exact scenario going on in law firms for nearly two decades, and I’m sure it preceded my entry into the market. Mozarsky is correct in that this makes perfect sense to team up the analytical skills of the law library researcher, and the business and marketing skills of the law firm marketer. It’s a perfect match of strategy put into action.

The one area that I have to alternate from the path with Mozarsky suggests, is that this means that it makes perfect sense to place the library under the CMO. To that, I would have to answer, well… it depends.

In my personal experience, and from the anecdotes I’ve heard from my peers over the past twenty years, it was the librarians that have been pushing for the teaming up of marketing and research, and the CMOs have been very reluctant to adopt this strategy. I know… I know… ever firm is unique, so this may not apply to you. However, I would go out on a limb here and say that most firms that have this type of collaboration, the idea was pitched by the library staff and the marketing department had to be won over to try it out. That’s not to say that CMOs are anti-library, but it does say that librarians tend to be very good and leveraging the existing tools, resources, and people to augment the overall strategy of the firm. We understand that driving new business, or expanding existing business is a strategy that all firms have, and we know that we can contribute to that goal. Because we sometimes lack the seat at the table, the idea of leveraging this wealth of resources already at the disposal of the firm may have been overlooked.

The law library at most firms contain the most credentialed staff in that firm. The fact that the most credentialed staff in the firm doesn’t have a Chief voice speaking directly for them is a lost opportunity for those firms who ignore them. I am quite proud to talk with others and tell them that they need to understand, my firm’s unique. We have a voice at the table, and we are heard.

In the May 23rd American Lawyer article, “More Law Firms Outsource Their Law Libraries [pay wall],” is a wakeup call for some librarians, old news for many, a call to arms for others, and a confirmation of a shift in the profession for the rest. Outsourcing is a scary word, but one that cannot be ignored. We’ve had Deb Schwarz from LAC discuss the myths of outsourcing right here on 3 Geeks. I would be one of the first to step up and tell you that, in some cases, outsourcing the law firm library makes sense, and LibSource (LAC Subsidiary) or one of the other outsourcers (also known as “Managed Services”), would be a viable way to run the library. However, I’d also step up and say that it should not be the first or only option for struggling law libraries.

I will state this again… in some cases, outsourcing the library is a viable option for some law firms. I’m not anti-LibSource or any other Managed Services group that comes in and hires librarians, and maintains library collections and services. That being said, I also recognize that law firms, especially AmLaw 100 and 200 firms, like to copy what other firms are trying. I tend to say that most law firms do not want to be first… but, they don’t want to be last, either. With outsourcing getting more press, it’s bound to happen that law firm leaders will wonder if outsourcing is right for their firms. It’s the nature of the beast in this industry. I’d like to give my peers, and those law firm leaders that are reading this, some ideas and talking points when this discussion comes out.

Service is a Floor, Not a Ceiling

As someone that manages the law library function (as well as other departments) at my firm, I know that the most critical function of the library is not simply about providing good service. Good service, along with a good collection, a well-maintained budget, and on-demand responses to the needs of the law firm are the absolute basics of what a law library does. If that is what you provide, you’re doing the minimum. If you’re a manager of people, you know what it’s like to manage those that just do the minimum. You keep them around, but if you ever got a chance, you’d replace them in a minute. Think about how your firm’s management committees view departments that just bring in the minimum to the firm. Your services, and your people must be viewed as an integral part of the organization.

The Library is a Powerful Resource, Leverage It

I sell my department in many ways, but one that has a great effect on the leadership is when I tell them that the Library is the conduit for all external information, and understanding how these resource tie into the overall firm needs. Whether it is tracking down assets, conducting background checks on expert witness, or finding that elusive piece of information hidden in the recesses of a county courthouse, the Library and its professionals know how to find information. They find it quickly. They leverage their peers and professional associations. They do it at a cost that is appropriate (or lower.) They are experts at this. When you have these experts, usually with some subject matter expertise they have learned while at the firm, you have a powerful resource beyond traditional Westlaw and Lexis databases. My suggestion is to find ways of embedding these experts into the Practice or Industry Groups and take advantage of their expertise. Outsourced services, even if they end up hiring your own people to stay in the library, do not become a part of your culture. There will be turnover, and those brought in will service the company for which they work, and that is not your law firm.

Don’t Let Bad Librarians Bring Everyone Down With Them

This is for law firm leaders who have librarians they do not think are doing the best work for their firm. Find New Leadership! Nothing drives me more crazy than seeing someone that has led a department into the ground. I’ve seen it in law firms, academic settings, and in Government Law Libraries. People that have kept their heads down, not asked for anything, kept under budget, and didn’t rock the boat, be a twenty-plus year director of their law library. It makes me shake my head, and I get angry when I hear these stories. In many cases, I see that the staff has kept these zombie leaders alive by doing great work despite the lack of leadership. Unfortunately, when bad leaders retire (or finally get a buy-out package when someone discovers the lack of production), they are replaced by someone that isn’t a law librarian or information professional, or the position is simply left vacant and the library becomes rudderless. That’s a shame, because there are a number of strategic thinkers out there that know what a great law library can bring to the organization. By not giving these leaders a chance, and passing the library over to Marketing, KM, or IT, it brings it back to a department that simply gives good service, but not helping in accomplishing strategic goals.

Give the Law Library a Voice in the Discussion

I knew that ALM was working on an article about outsourcing, so I wrote a piece a week ago called “If You’re Not at the Table, You’re on the Menu” where I laid out some examples of how it is important to be involved in the strategic direction your law firm is taking. It doesn’t matter how great the ideas are if no one ever hears them. The law library leadership needs a voice in the conversation. For those in other departments that think that if they allow library leaders to be involved means that your individual power is somehow diminished, then it’s time for you to grow up and realize this is not a zero-sum game you are playing. Libraries that are engaged in the discussion bring ideas to the table that other departments simply don’t even know about. It could be how to streamline Business Development processes, or improve due diligence investigations of lateral partners. It could be improving conflicts processes by exposing current conflicts staff to external resources. It could be exposing IT department to new products that it can then integrate into Practice Group and Industry portals. Clients are looking for firms that are efficient, have improved processes, and innovative. Outsourcing can get you to step one, but would have a much harder time getting to steps two and three.

Law firms typically spend millions of dollars on library resources, and if you’re not allowing the librarians and others within the department to champion those resources and spread their ideas on how to best leverage them, then you might as well be pouring that money down a drain. Remember, even if the department is outsourced, the outsourcing company uses your resources, not their own.

Lead the Conversation before You Are the Conversation

Law Librarians are often risk-adverse people in a highly risk-adverse industry. We want to do what’s right, serve our organization, and help in the overall success of our law firms. Most of us do not like conflict. Well, that’s too bad in this situation. Start strategizing your arguments on why outsourcing is not a viable option for your firm. List out the pros and cons (and be honest), and design a plan that shows the leadership that the law library can bring much more of a value proposition to the firm as a strategic partner, than it would bring as a managed service by a third party. Step up and lay out your ideas, goals, and successes. Admit your previous failures and explain how you’ve learned from that and how it has made you a better group because you know have experienced and understood what went wrong. For each point that makes sense on why the law firm should outsource your group, counter with a better plan for why it makes more sense to not only keep you within the firm, but to expand what you do in a more strategic way.

There’s A Battle Going on For Your Law Library – Step Up and Defend It

There’s a battle going on in this profession. In order to be a winner in this battle, you must create your plan, align your resources, and be willing to step out there and defend yourself and those that follow you.

Image [cc] Lucy Kimbell

I was watching Tim Corcoran’s video on “Useful Metrics & Benchmarking” and it made me think about how some of the metrics and benchmarking strategies apply to information professionals within a law firm environment. Are we, as managers of these professionals, giving them the right type of feedback that contributes to the overall strategy of the group, or are we asking them to hit benchmarks which do not mesh with the strategy? Tim makes a statement that “You can’t manage well what you can’t measure well.” Of course, Tim is talking about law department metrics, but I’m pretty sure the same concepts are applicable to law firm information professionals.

Here’s Tim Corcoran’s video. I have borrowed heavily from around the 7:36 through the 10:46 portion of the video (with Tim’s permission), and applied it to measuring the efforts of the Information Professional.

Metrics and Benchmarks for Law Firm Information Professionals
So what are Law Firm Information Professional metrics today? Let’s borrow and edit the list that Tim uses for law departments:

  • Costs (rates, hours, total cost)
  • Ratios (attorneys:InfoPros)
  • Write offs/downs
  • Repeat Work
  • Additional Costs / Adherence to Budget
  • Service (responsiveness, experience/specialty)

Let’s think about each of these and how we benchmark them and score our InfoPros to these metrics. I want to talk about these on a high-level, and not get into the minutia of what does and doesn’t apply on an individual level.

Costs – pretty straight forward metric of finding out how much the firm is actually paying for this person.
Ratios – this could be attorney to InfoPro, or it could be Practice Group or Office to InfoPro. However you want to measure it, just make sure it is consistent across the staff so you don’t start getting apples to oranges comparisons.
Write offs/downs – Again, pretty straight forward measurement of what did they bill versus what did we bill the clients… and what did the clients actually pay.
Repeat Work – Are attorneys or groups returning and asking for more work from the individual? I know that many of us, my group included, set up a pool of InfoPros to handle work as it comes in, but I think most of us have a reality that attorneys become comfortable with certain people that do good work for them, or are conveniently located to them.
Additional Costs / Adherence to Budget – Are the InfoPros aware of budget restraints for certain clients, and following those rules? If clients do not pay for online legal research, are they going in and using these tools anyway, or are they finding alternative methods to get information that will not cause additional write offs on the client invoice?
Service – How responsive are they? Do individual InfoPros have specialty knowledge of certain practice areas or are subject specialists with unique access to individual resources (usually allocated to them because of licensing issues or overall cost of these specialty resources)?

Mission and Strategy vs. Evaluation and Goals
Do the metrics we measure match our strategy? I’m going to guess that most of us have a mission statement (whether implied or official) that says something like this:

Our department serves the broad needs of our internal and external clients with a highly knowledgeable staff providing exemplary research results in an effective and efficient manner.

I’m sure there are a thousand different ways to say it, but effectively we have a mission of having high-quality people with great knowledge and research/analytical skills who get great results back to the client in a quick and cost effective manner. If that is our mission and strategy, are we measuring our people on those items and encouraging them to fulfill the strategy, or are we rating them and giving bonuses/pay increases or promotions on other metrics? Are bonuses and raises tied only to length of time at the firm, or are there measurable items used to determine how these are allocated? Are there non-monetary incentives available to reward those who score well on certain benchmarks.

Can we take Tim’s idea of using Scorecards to let the InfoPros know where they stand within the firm and perhaps even against their peers? If the only time that your staff knows how well they are doing against the benchmarks which they are being measured is at review time, then that’s bad management on your part and unfair to everyone.

On Tim’s example of scorecards, he lists a number of measurable subjects that can easily apply to Information Professionals, but in reality, it needs to be modified to fit the benchmarks you are asking them to hit. The scorecard should both be presented as a constantly updated piece of information, as well as a snapshot of how well the person is doing in a set period of time (monthly, quarterly, etc.)

Again, borrowing from Tim’s list, let’s think about what InfoPros would see on their scorecards, and where they stand in relationship to those benchmarks.

  • Practice Summary – What have they worked on? Bullet points of projects assigned and completed. Perhaps this piece of the scorecard is kept by the InfoPro themselves, or a joint effort. 
  • Top Billed Matters/Clients – What matters or clients are InfoPros constantly asked to cover? Perhaps expand that to practice areas if they are subject experts.
  • Spend by Practice Group – What are the costs associated to the InfoPro when they are asked to perform a task? Look at time spent, resources used and charged to clients. Don’t forget to measure things like training or client development tasks that may not show up on the client invoice.
  • Tasks or Hours Worked vs. Peers – I know that some of us don’t like this type of competition within the group, but if we are going to allocate bonuses or future pay based on how well they compare to others within the group, it may be fair to expose that information throughout the year so that they know where they stand.
  • Client satisfaction – what type of feedback are they given from those requesting their assistance? Can you get measurable feedback (1 to 5 scale) from internal clients? Perhaps your reference 
  • Adherence to Budget – are they following guidelines, or are there additional expenses incurred when using certain InfoPros?
  • Time Entry Turnaround – Is there a lag between time worked for a client, and the time entered for that client?

Metrics vs. Gut Feeling
Tim doesn’t get into this area directly, but I think it is a logical step in this conversation as most of us may be very uncomfortable using these types of metrics to judge people who report to us on a daily basis. It would be much easier to simply give feedback and measure performance based on what we experience with the Information Professional on a personal level. I’m not saying that personal interaction and experiences should not be used in evaluations, but it should not be the only measurement. There simply has to be benchmarks that have clearly defined measurements, and transparent to those being measured as to where they stand within the benchmark.

Where the gut-feelings and individual experience comes into play is putting a narrative to the metrics. Metrics give us data, but may not tell a complete story. One prime example would be that some individuals may have high write-offs simply because they do a lot of work for attorneys that won’t pass along their costs to the client. This is where the periodic reviews of the scorecard comes in handy. By setting the metrics and monitoring them, you begin to understand the story behind the data at an earlier point in time. This will allow you and the InfoPro to take corrective actions either by correcting internal behavior, or client behavior.

I’ll bring Tim’s comment back of “You can’t manage well what you can’t measure well.” Establishing metrics and benchmarks based on the overall strategy of the department and the firm will help the InfoPros work toward that strategy, and will allow you to measure how well they are doing in achieving that strategy, as well as how well your overall department is working toward promoting the firm’s overall strategy.

Benchmarking the Department
I’m going to borrow one last thing from Tim from around the 10:30 mark in his video where he talks about the law department leveraging the scorecards as an integral part of the overall business needs of the company, and apply it to the efforts and mission of the Information Professional department.  In establishing clear benchmarks that drive overall strategy of the firm, you can leverage this process and become so closely linked to the law firm’s strategy, that your groups becomes a competitive advantage for the firm. Firms are always looking for a cost advantage, or a unique skill set for its marketing to clients. How about leveraging your department to help the firm get to clients faster, overcome obstacles more quickly, manage information and knowledge more effectively so that we operate more effectively in our markets. Tim concludes this section of establishing metrics that show your impact on the overall business with a thoughtful statement. “Think about that. A metric that helps us understand the impact we’re having on the business throughput can be pretty powerful.”

Thanks again, Tim, for letting me morph your legal department concepts for metrics and benchmarking onto the world of legal information professionals.

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!

If you’ve seen any concert festival posters over the past few years, you’ll notice that the bigger the band is, the bigger the font is. As I was thumbing through some of my reading yesterday, I saw an article on “Top 10 font size shockers from the Coachella 2015 lineup.” Some bands were given inappropriate font sizes based on their current popularity (at least according to the author.) Font is power!! Imagine if font size and font type were given out to these bands? Imagine the horror of being a 9 point Comic Sans font! Oh the humanity!!

As usual, I just couldn’t let this stay as a typography and music collaboration. So I got to thinking how law firms could market their representations using a little Coachella type marketing poster. I went to the Create a Lineup site, and created my own power legal festival. I’m wondering if a law firm annual report could have a few of these printed up as centerfold posters??

Image [cc] Richard Aird

[Editor Note: Please welcome guest blogger, Deborah Schwarz, CEO and Founder, LAC Group. Since we know there has been a lot of talk about outsourcing in library services, we thought it would be interesting to get Deb’s perspective on what she hears from the business side of Managed Services for law libraries. So our thanks to Deb for giving us five things she hears, but thinks are misperceptions when it comes to Law Library Outsourcing. – Greg Lambert]

As the legal landscape continues to shift, law firms are looking for every possible advantage to mitigate risk and maximize opportunity. That includes outsourcing of support functions like the law library. As information is nearing a complete shift to digital and information needs become more diverse, extending to functions like business development and finance, firm managers are facing some difficult questions:

Do you adopt a greater self-serve information model and risk overwhelming attorneys and staff who are running lean and mean already? How do you balance the cost and complexity of information technology and information resources to gain the benefits of automation and access? How do you optimize information to help satisfy existing clients while attracting new ones?

As firms examine the options that will help them answer these questions and others, outsourcing has come to the forefront. As CEO of a company that has built a successful business around Managed Services (aka Outsourcing) for law libraries, we firmly believe what we espouse: Outsourcing is a very useful and appropriate business tool that helps firms focus more effectively on their core business. We also believe, and we are not reticent to say so, that there are times when it’s not a good idea.

Although outsourcing has come a long way in terms of acceptance and understanding, some apprehensions and misconceptions persist. To that end, I want to debunk five myths about outsourcing, based on questions we get asked most frequently by law firm management. And I want to finish by turning the spotlight on important benefits of outsourcing that often take a back seat to the ‘usual suspects’ of efficiency and cost savings.

1. Outsourcing is less expensive.

As for cost savings, I would like to begin by saying that outsourcing isn’t always cheaper, at least not in the short run, because of simple and obvious economics—the cost of severance and because the outsourcing company doesn’t work for free! There will be a management fee in addition to absorbing the cost of the outsourced staff’s compensation, including benefits as well as “grandfathered” paid time off, etc. In almost every outsourcing scenario we have encountered, LAC Group has worked closely with firms to ensure that affected employees have the same or similar benefit packages and salaries.

However, in the long run, outsourcing can be cost effective. After one-time costs are paid out, the financial and managerial responsibilities are handed off to the outsourcing firm. The financial burden of attrition, salary increases, bonuses, benefits and other employee expenses such as workers’ compensation and professional development are borne by the outsourcing company. The client company pays one invoice to one outsourcing provider and everything else, including service level agreements and meeting agreed-upon targets, is part of the outsourcing agreement.

Bottom line: Outsourcing initially costs more, but when done correctly and efficiently by the outsourcing provider, long-term fees and costs are stabilized and predictable. And it becomes the outsourcing company’s challenge and value proposition to deal and perform with fluctuations.

2. Outsourcing disrupts morale and brings down the firm’s culture.

Yes, it can, but like any other change it can be managed and controlled. In our experience, and contrary to popular belief, law firms spend more time considering and outright worrying about the reactions and feelings within their organization than they publicly acknowledge. In the 28 years of LAC Group’s outsourcing experience, every client of ours has worked diligently to make the transition as humane and thoughtful as possible.

Many employees view outsourcing as a betrayal of their loyalty. Yet the decision to outsource is always a business decision and it is never personal. It can be an admission that the organization is not able to properly manage and support that group. It may be that the outsourcing provider offers greater efficiency, not strictly in terms of people, but due to better use of technology, better restructuring of workflow and processes, more capable recruiting and hiring practices and greater flexibility in matching resources to needs, no matter how often they change.

3. Outsourcing means sending work to far-away places.

This may be outsourcing’s most persistent myth, but it’s not necessarily so. Outsourcing today takes many forms, which doesn’t always mean sending work to another country. In my experience, not only have we kept jobs at home, in many of the outsourcing arrangements we are involved in the work is done on site, in firm offices. Often “our” employees work seamlessly and side-by-side with firm attorneys and staff, the only difference being where the person’s paycheck comes from. Increasingly, outsourcing may involve work done virtually by individuals working from home.

It’s also important to note a related outsourcing myth, which is that all current staff will lose their jobs. That’s not usually the case, and if some reduction in staff is required, we can assist with placement of anyone who may be outplaced.

4. Outsourcing denigrates wages and devalues the employee who is outsourced.

In LAC Group’s experience, matching wages and continuing to provide a total compensation package with benefits is usually a condition we have to meet. While we can’t always match the scope of benefits offered by large, multinational firms, we can and do offer a competitive package. When we take over an operation or a function, matching salaries and honoring the privileges of established employees is often a condition.

In addition, the outsourcing company can offer better soft benefits such as greater support and mentoring, as well as opportunities for advancement and professional development. At LAC Group we pride ourselves on the fact that offering these advantages contributes to our very low attrition rate. Our people are very important, so we strive to reward them professionally and financially.

5. Outsourcing turns permanent jobs into temporary assignments.

Nothing is forever. No one’s position remains static year-after-year—technology and globalization have made that a truism for everyone in the work place. Working for a reputable outsourcing company is neither better nor worse as a career move than a “permanent” position within a law firm.  

Sometimes outsourcing is temporary, as in the case of disaster recovery. For example, a major university library system hired us after an unforeseen disaster which required additional staff for an assignment that would be long term, but not permanent, and the workload would diminish over time. The people we placed were aware of this, and as needs changed we lost some to attrition and some were moved to other clients and projects.

On the other hand, many of LAC Group’s outsourcing contracts are over 10 years old. That’s become a lifetime in today’s work environment! But does it mean these contracts remain the same every year? Not at all. Contracts are reviewed regularly and compared to the current market. This keeps us on our toes as we have to make sure that we continue to deliver value, quality and service excellence. All outsourcing contracts should be able to stand up to this level of scrutiny. In my judgment, any arrangement where this isn’t happening ought to be revisited.

The Unsung Advantages of Outsourcing

Often the drivers behind an outsourcing decision are to streamline operations and save money. And when the primary goal is saving money, there’s no denying that sometimes the work goes offshore to places with lower wages. Yet in my experience, even when law firms come to us seeking cost savings, other benefits end up being more desirable to them. Those benefits are expertise and agility, and I call them the ‘unsung heroes’ because they get so little public mention.

Expertise and Agility

Regarding expertise, I don’t mean to imply that firm librarians are not experts. However, firms are finding it increasingly difficult and impractical to keep specialists on staff for all their information needs, which have become much more dynamic. In addition, many firms are not committed to the kind of training and development that’s needed to ensure their library staff can stay ahead in today’s big-data world.

As for agility, the one underlying skill we all need today is flexibility and openness to continuous change, because that’s the new normal! Outsourcing is one way law firms can be more agile in responding to, and developing strategies for, changing demands and expectations of clients, competitors and markets. They can scale up, down and sidewise as needed, often with not much more than a phone call. While this concerns some librarians, the truth is that they can gain their own advantages, leveraging outsourcing for their own personal and professional flexibility.

Outsourcing is a valuable tool, albeit one with the proverbial double edge that can cut both ways.  Separating myth from reality gives law firm leadership, and law firm librarianship, the knowledge they need to view outsourcing realistically and use this tool wisely.
736-hp VW Golf

Toby Brown and I have had a number of discussions over the past few months on how law firms gather information during the new business intake (NBI) process. Toby comments that all of the focus on NBI is process driven, and that we are speeding up the process, but not really doing a great job of creating better information that can help the firm create a competitive advantage at a later time. Very little in the NBI reform/reinvention process is about better data. It focuses more on faster input of information to speed up the time to open a new matter, thus creating a faster turnaround on when attorneys can start (legally) billing time to a matter. It’s kind of like putting a huge engine in a Volkswagen Golf. Sure, it looks impressive, but if keep the same overall structure of the vehicle it doesn’t matter that you have amazing horsepower, if you can’t get those wheels to actually stick to the road. The same is true with the NBI process improvements.

Of course, with any of these process improvement projects, the idea is to solve problems that actually exist. Problems that “keep partners up at night” are usually the best ones to solve, and with NBI, the time it takes to open a new matter tends to be the biggest issue that partners dislike. Moving the NBI process from paper to electronic (even if the work flow process remains exactly the same) usually will speed up the time it takes to open the new matter. Tapping into existing client information, human resources, and accounting databases can help normalize some of the data, as well as auto-populate some of the fields. However, the information being gathered is essentially the same as you would get if you still had a paper-based system. Speed and accuracy have improved, but quality and better strategic data gathering has not.

So are we putting too much emphasis on the intake process, and not finding ways to improve identifying key data points of the matter? Once the matter is opened, no one wants to go back and update the data again. What if the matter type was wrong? What if the summary of the matter was wrong? What if the estimates of what this matter’s estimated costs were wrong? The typical reaction that I’ve seen to these questions is, “So what? If the matter is open, and we can bill… then let’s bill!”

Many of us depend upon the information gathered in the NBI process. Toby’s group attempts to analyze matter budgeting, matter management, and costs to take on a matter using details gathered in the NBI process. Marketing uses the data gather during the NBI process to determine big matters for Public Relations news releases, and submissions to third parties like Chambers. Business Development uses this information to determine what types of work the firms is strong and weak. Conflicts uses the information to determine what work we may not be able to take on in the future. Incomplete, or bad information gathered during NBI can have a long-range negative impact on the firm.

Let’s just call the new NBI process what it truly is: A way to open a matter quickly and ethically. Now, let’s identify what new NBI process is not: A competitive intelligence, business development, knowledge management, big-data tool. At least, not by itself. Perhaps if you combine the data from the NBI system with other pieces compiled along the timeline of the matter (e.g., billing data, financial data, personnel data, document records, docket information), you can improve the ability to make good decisions and streamline other processes, but bad data in the beginning can cause a domino effect down the line. If a matter type is mislabeled during the NBI process, it can cause a shift in results in later analysis. So, what do we do?

I’m reminded of a post we did a couple years ago on firms needing to do After-Action Reviews for matters. If we don’t ask ourselves what happened, and how can we get better, we tend to continue to act in a similar fashion (good or bad) in the future. If we misidentify information, and never incentivize partners to correct that information, we’ll continue to misidentify. Most firms have absolutely no incentives for partners to identify when information gathered during NBI process needs to be clarified or corrected. We also give almost no incentives to close matters. Yet, both of those processes are key pieces in our quest to better know our clients (KYC), gather BI/CI information, assist in identifying cross-selling opportunities, and gathering historical information to better plan how we price and staff similar matters in the future. I would think that the return on investment in beefing up a mid-matter review (MMR), and the closing matter process (CMP) would be substantial.

Just off of the top of my head I could think how a quick MMR and a sustained CMP process would help trim down the time it takes to identify key matters to be used for PR purposes. How it would accurately identify which attorneys are experienced in certain matter types. And, how it would assist in business intelligence gathering when pitching for client RFPs or new firm industry business pushes. I understand that the MMR and CMP procedures require billable attorneys to take time out from billing and actually identify the business development and overall matter management needs of the overall firm. Our first instinct would be to place this responsibility on the shoulders of the Billing Partner or Relationship Partner. We all know where that would lead… well, actually, that’s probably why were where we are at the present time. Instead, how about we look at this as a Professional Development, or as a Mentoring, or as a Succession Planning process? The MMR might be handled by a Senior Associate or Junior Partner and allow them to see how a matter is being staffed, and determine what has happened between the opening of the matter and the current state of the matter. The CMP could be handled by another Partner that worked on the matter, and allow them to also review what could be handled better the next time a similar matter is opened. A quality MMR and CMP structure allows for better data, better matter management, and a better leader for the next matter.

Perhaps we stop thinking of the New Business Intake in a vacuum. Instead we combine the NBI, MMR, and CMP into an overall process of cradle-to-grave matter management. The NBI is step-one, and should be improved to help speed up the process of getting matters opened, conflicts checked, people assigned, and have the firm start working on behalf of a client. But it is step one only. If we ever want to leverage our prior work in order to improve or gain new work, then the NBI cannot be the first and only step.

Image [cc] Vyperx1

We very often hear from bloggers on this site regarding the struggles associated with change and innovation.  Fear of failure, lack of inertia, protecting territories—all seem to be stumbling blocks that many firms face when initiating change.  It seems, however, some organizations have found a way to successfully encourage and nurture new ideas internally. 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Karl Florida, Managing Director of Small Law Firm Business Segments and Innovation Champion, at Thomson Reuters, about a new innovation program the company has instituted.

For many years (as many of us are well aware), the Thomson Reuters model has been to acquire business units and manage their growing portfolio.  More recently, the model has shifted, with a focus on knitting the units together to drive more organic growth between them. 

One way Thomson Reuters is accomplishing this is by establishing a cross-unit Innovation Task Force (ITF) and a Catalyst Fund to support new ideas.  Thomson is looking for great ideas from within and establishing a system that rewards creative thinking to further serve their business goals.  How it works is this:  On a monthly basis, ideas can be informally submitted across the company via a home-grown tracking system (no business plan is required, but there is a template to gather certain information).  There are a small number of administrators who collect the proposals and submit them to the ITF.  The ITF prioritizes the ideas, develops Proof of Concept (POCs) and sends the top 5 to a C-level suite of decision-makers. They, in turn, determine if any will move forward into the funding stage.   The appropriate business units and a business sponsor are chosen, and a prototype is created and tested in-house and in the market.  If successful, the product goes to market based on a timeline.  The entire process is tracked through each stage of the pipeline process. 

While the program is only a few months old, it is already gaining in popularity.  Some of the areas where ideas are being generated are Big Data analytics in relation to law, scientific, tax and financial sectors, data visualization tools, regulatory compliance and (wait for it), wearable tech! 

Karl tells me Thomson Reuters is finding the most opportunity in the space between units.  He compared this to the genius of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  You have chocolate, which is awesome on its own, and you also have peanut butter, equally wonderful.  But put them together, and well, then that is where the magic happens. 

While Thomson Reuter’s program appears mostly devoted to product development, law firms could certainly take advantage of this sort of model to solicit and promote ideas from within regarding client service and delivery, along with development of administrative efficiencies.  The model, along with variations, allows and in fact, encourages a small, but safe space (with funding!) to experiment with new ideas without the associated pressure and demands to be “the right” solution out of the gate.

FYI, if you want to learn more about innovation tournaments, I highly recommend the book, Innovation Tournaments:  Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities, by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich (hat tip to CCH, for giving me the opportunity to see Karl Ulrich in action).  Because don’t we all need some more peanut butter cups?

There was an interesting question asked on Twitter this morning by Patrick DiDomenico (apparently preparing for an ITLA presentation on the topic.) At first blush, it seemed to be phrased a bit on the negative side, but it really is something that those of us in law firm libraries do need to ask from time to time. “Tell me what’s wrong with law firm libraries today.”

This isn’t about bashing Patrick for asking the question, quite the opposite actually. It is a legitimate question to ask. This is more about addressing what is wrong, while also addressing what is right in law firm libraries today. After batting the question around with some of my law library and law firm administrative colleagues, we thought that this question could be asked of any of the law firm administrative departments. The Library and the Knowledge Management (KM) groups are probably the most venerable to this issue, but all departments, including IT, Marketing, Accounting, Human Resources, Records, and others are under constant scrutiny from law firm leadership to prove our worth to the firm. If we aren’t challenged, we become complacent. If we come complacent, we fail to see those changes we need to make until it is too late. It could be asked of any department, but this morning, it was asked of us in the law firm library. So, let’s address it.

In defense of those of us that lead law firm libraries, as with most law firm administrative problems, there tends to be a lack of direction in the library as to where it fits in the overall strategy of the firm. For example, the push to “go online” has been the biggest issue for the past 15-20 years, and it has put the library leaders and staff in a situation that is unclear, and quite frankly, unobtainable without 100% of the partners all agreeing to go in one direction. We suffer from the “one-veto” effect of the partnership in that everyone can agree to go with or without a service, but if one partner votes the other way, we tend to get stuck supporting a service that is expensive, time consuming, and duplicate.

Hopefully this sets up the stage for a list of (very generalized) things that are wrong with law firm libraries today:
  • We are still debating formats within the library and keeping outdated formats in support of a minority of attorneys (example: formats now include print, e-books, online, databases, and on-demand… each with its own individual cost and demands from individuals within the firm.)
  • Law Firms have not decided how to bring the law library into the modern day structure of a 21st Century firm
  • The primary demands on librarians are to keep costs low, client costs low, and to watch out for the firm’s best interest
  • Librarians are not given the final word on what to buy and what to keep (that causes problems with the previous point)
  • Librarians tend to be the first to feel the cuts when times are bad, and the last to feel the benefits when times are good
  • Librarians tend to be team players and are willing to take a larger percentage of “taking one for the team” than other departments, this leads to libraries becoming easy targets
  • Librarians tend to be very tough on each other (publicly), yet very defensive when attacked from outside (think of it as “I can call my sister a name, but if you call her that, we’re going to fight!)
  • The current Directors of law libraries failed miserably in succession planning. We’ve been waiting for 25 years for the next group of leaders to bring in fresh perspectives and what resulted was the whole library structure got tossed out with the bathwater
  • Libraries (and Librarians) generally have a problem when it comes to the Return on Investment (ROI) piece of justifying their existence

What’s right with Law Firm Libraries?

  • Librarians are constantly looking out for the best interest of the firm
  • Librarians have kept very good control on overall costs (most libraries are less than 2% of revenue, some are less than 1%)
  • Librarians keep costs down to the client (usually by assisting attorneys that forget about those costs until they see it on the bill and have to write it off.)
  • Librarians are constantly looking for less expensive, or better resources that fit the needs of the firm’s practices.
  • Librarians are extremely good at risk analysis for the firm and help save the firm from itself (costs, copyright, access, correct resources, etc.)
  • Librarians share their experiences with each other. Most librarians do not have to trail blaze into a new product or mission or strategy, as we can stand on the shoulders of others that have tested the waters before and are willing to share those experiences (without exposing anything confidential, of course.)

Someone told me the other day that Librarians have a fear of strategy. Perhaps that is true of some, but no one that I would associate in the law library world is afraid of being strategic. I responded to this person that they were painting with a very broad brush and that the librarians I associate with have no fear, whatsoever, of strategy. However, I think we tend to be easy targets from other departments and law firm leadership, and that we roll over too easily at times. We’re at the end of a cycle where those in charge of libraries for the past 25 years are rotating out and failed to create an effective succession for the library to bring in those with the experience needed to understand the library structure, but with the fresh new ideas of where it needs to go from here. This left the door open for those outside the library to come in and have to start from scratch and think that the library needs to be rebuilt from the ground up rather than expand those processes that work, rework or remove those that don’t, and begin building new processes that make the library and the firm better prepared for the future.

So, what’s wrong with today’s law firm libraries? It’s a question you have to answer and supplement with what’s right. If you don’t, someone else will come in and answer it for you, and they will not be nearly as aggressive on defending what the law firm libraries are doing well.

Thanks, Patrick, for asking the question. I hope this gives you a few ideas to process.

Image [cc] camknows

The keynote speaker for the Marketing Partner Forum, Joe Pine, focused his discussion on the idea behind advancing the service economy into an experience economy. He began with the idea of the gumball machine and how adding the experience of seeing the gumball roll down a spiral ramp before exiting the machine has revolutionized the gumball machine industry. He notes that the experience does nothing to improve the taste of the gum, or does it improve anything about the actual gumball itself. In fact, if you think about it, the spiral ramp actually decreases the efficiency of the gumball machine by taking a longer time to dispense the gumball to the consumer. The product stays the same, but the service has advanced by improving the experience of the consumer. Having seen this in action with my four children, I can attest to the fact that the experience drives the customer to come to me and ask for any quarters I have in my pockets.

Pine went on to discuss a number of other services that are improved through engagement of the customer in ways that changes the interaction between the service and the customer. Hospitals that have focused on personalizing, humanizing, and demystifying the hospital stay have created improvements in healing and overall health care experience. Architectural firms that personalize the experience of their customers and cause an engagement between the firm and the customer’s project that makes the customer feel as though they have the complete focus of the firm on their projects. Restaurants that create an environment where the customers are actually a part of the overall presentation, and not simply a bystander there to eat a meal.

There was one example that Pine gave that he says failed in his opinion to engage the customer, although it is known for creating an interesting and interactive environment. The Rain Forest Cafe is a chain that creates an atmosphere of interesting automated animal creatures, but that alone is simply not enough to create an experience (at least not a positive one.) The scene is set, but there is no one directing the experience. I remember my first time in one of these, and was told that there would be a “show” every twenty minutes. We watched, we waited, the animals made a few sounds, moved a bit, but we never actually saw a show. When we left (after about an hour), we asked about the show, and the waitress said that we’d seen the show three times. We left disappointed, and I’ve never gone back.

This type of “show without direction” reminded me of what law firms have created in their receptionist areas of their offices. Lots of interesting items that line the room with spectacular views, and even a few items lying around waiting to be picked up and read. But the experience is usually this:

  1. Exit the elevator; look around for the receptionist area
  2. Greeted by the receptionist; asked for name, who you are here to see
  3. Receptionist calls the attorney and announces you are here
  4. Receptionist invites you to sit down in one of the comfy chairs
  5. You wait until the attorney comes to get you (usually after they’ve finished up editing a document or finishing up an email)
  6. You are then walked back to the meeting room or attorneys office
  7. When you finish, you are walked back to the receptionist’s area
  8. Parking validated
  9. Enter the elevator and leave

There is ample opportunity for engagement with the client, yet the time spent before and after the meeting results in very little engagement actually performed.

The main problem that popped into my head while considering this process is that law firms have created a highly efficient receptionist that can handle high volumes of telephone calls, visitors, and deliveries that enter and exit the law firm. It is all very utilitarian. However, the trade-off for being so efficient is that there is no individual experience. Views may be great, but views with a story behind them are twice as great. We lack that engagement… that storytelling of why something is laid out on the table enabling the customer to see more than the words and pictures before them. No one is making the customer feel as if he or she is important to the firm. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Vendors coming in to sell products to the firm are given the same treatment as clients bringing in thousands or millions of dollars of business to the firm.

I began thinking of how we could change this bland, one-size-fits-all, experience and make it more engaging to the client, and more productive for the law firm. Ideas of a client concierge began forming in my mind. Imagine having someone in your Marketing, Business Development, or Client Teams departments greeting clients (especially key clients) when they walk off the elevator. Knowing exactly who they are, who they are there to see, and being ready to engage the person or persons in conversation. One of the points that Joe Pine made in his talk was that the experience should be a presentation, staged, if you will, and no “back stage” preparations should be exposed to the customer. Therefore, the attorney should be ready to meet with the client and all other business (telephone calls, document editing, emails, etc.) should be put away. If there are timing issues between the attorney’s availability and the client’s time to meet, the concierge should be ready to expand their engagement to fill that time. However, the client’s time is just as valuable as the attorneys, so this should only be a brief extension of the concierge’s performance.

The idea behind the client concierge is actually two-fold. First and foremost, they are there to engage the client and create an experience that lets the client know that they are important to the firm, and that at this moment in time, our resources are focused upon them. In addition to the engagement, there may be valuable information that the client discusses with the concierge. There may be exciting personal news the client talks about, or new business dealings brought up in the conversation. The concierge should relay these points to the attorney or departments responsible for this particular client. This isn’t about prying, it is about creating a better relationship, and improving the client’s overall experience with the firm.

I brought my idea up a couple of times, and was a bit surprised by one answer I received. “Clients like being left alone in the reception area. It gives them time to check and answer their emails.” I really hope that is not the case. I would think that clients do not like waiting (especially if they think the clock is running on the attorney’s billable time.) Instead of making them wait, engage them. Instead of letting them come up with ways to pass the time, take advantage of the time they are giving you by appearing at your office. Personal contact between clients and the law firms that represent them are fleeting. Firms should find ways of leveraging that time and engaging the clients in ways that produce a more positive interaction, and result in a better experience for the client.