I don’t think I am telling anyone something new when I say that the relationship between legal information providers (vendors) and legal information professionals (law librarians) are at all-time lows. A once vibrant and symbiotic relationship has become one of simple buyer and seller. This has been somewhat of a slow burn evolution as vendor consolidation began in the late 1990s with the West Publishing transition into Thomson West (then eventually into Thomson Reuters), the acquisition of LexisNexis by Reed Elsevier, CCH and Aspen into Wolters Kluwer, and BNA absorbed into Bloomberg. On the librarian side, there is the seemingly reduced influence of law students on vendor products, much lower budgets from government law libraries, the “single provider” movement from law firms, and the idea that law firms are somehow still suffering from the great recession, despite most big firms posting sky-high record profits and breaking the $3 billion revenue barrier.
Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting New York City during LegalWeek and enjoying the frigid 19 degree weather that comes with visiting New York at the end of January. LegalWeek itself is typically made of of legal technology folks and lots of e-discovery vendors, most of whom are outside my normal circle of friends and colleagues. Luckily for me, there is a group of Knowledge Management leaders attends a little informal gathering and we talk and bounce ideas off of one another. During the introductions phase, I saw a trend in titles among my librarian peers. Out of the total of about 75-80 people in attendance, 15-20 people there that I knew were managers, directors, and chiefs over their law libraries. So, about 25% of the attendees were law librarians. However, only one actually had the term “library” or “librarian” in their title. I didn’t find it all that surprising, but it was something that stuck in my mind and made me contemplate once more what others think of when they hear that someone is a librarian.
Let me start this conversation by modifying something I wrote when I said that “the library is not about the space.” Librarians are not restricted to a librarian title. Creative librarians bring value well beyond what is stereo-typically thought of in regards to what a librarian does. As in many industries, as librarians move up the ladder, we expand our responsibilities and skills in a way that breaks down the walls of what people think librarians do. As a result, we take on new roles and titles that may or may not have the word librarian in it. It doesn’t mean that the librarian profession is somehow devalued, in fact, I would say that it is the opposite. Librarians are breaking barriers and advancing into positions which a decade or two ago would have been unobtainable. Continue Reading A Librarian By Any Other Name…
|Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash|
In 1995, a law firm was approached by one of its major clients to open an office in the city where the client’s headquarters was located. The law firm really didn’t want to expand into a new region of the country, where it had no other significant clients, so it politely refused the clients request. The client, however, was very persistent, and continued to press the law firm to open a new office in order for their joint legal teams to work closer to one another. The client would not back down, but then neither did the law firm. In a last-ditch effort to entice the law firm over, the client offered to donate its entire law library collection to the law firm; thousands of linear feet, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars of reporters, treatises, and specialty collections were offered in order to convince the law firm to open a new office. The law firm was stunned by the offer and immediately agreed to open the office. Twenty-Two years later, the law office thrives… and the law library collection that sealed the deal? It barely exists today.
On the surface, this sounds like a sad story for law libraries in law firms. Once the centerpiece of a law firm, the law library now inhabits a small fraction of the space it once did. Does this mean that the law firm no longer has a library? If all you think about is the space a law library takes up, then yes. If, however, you think of the library as the information and knowledge needed to effectively practice law, then the law library is as important now as it has ever been… perhaps more important than it has ever been.
I talked with a reporter a few weeks ago about another firm that actually re-purposed their old library space and sublet that space to a start-up company. The reporter found it to be telling that the traditional book law library was literally losing ground to a modern start-up company. What the reporter didn’t realize is that the law library actually became its own little start-up and had already reinvented itself. The traditional law library was about space, size, beauty, and being a showpiece. The modern law library is about function, ease of use, portability, and just-in-time availability. This isn’t a paradigm shift that suddenly appeared in 2017. This has been a gradual shift that has occurred over the past twenty-five years or more.
Law firm libraries occupy less space than ever, yet contain more information than ever. Saying that a law firm library has lost its importance because it has a smaller physical footprint is like saying that today’s laptop or tablet is less important because it doesn’t take up as much desktop space as an IBM Selectric typewriter. It’s actually quite a silly notion once you really think about it.
The modern law librarian has taken advantage of the paradigm shift and has reinvented themselves away from maintaining and updating a physical collection toward developing and training the members of the firm to understand which tool is the most valuable at the appropriate time. Very few firms lack for resources. The problem is that we have so many resources that we become overwhelmed by them. The law librarian’s skill at helping others find the right resource for the task is more important than ever. Moving the idea of the law library away from the physical and focusing on the actual information available has opened up opportunities for innovated law librarians.
So when you think back on the “good ol’ days” of the law firm library being the centerpiece of the office, don’t be sad for the law librarian that it has faded away. Be grateful that the law librarian is now offering you more information than ever before, and will gladly help you understand how to use it effectively.
One of the best things I get to do as the incoming President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), is reach out to new members that have joined the association and talk with them on the phone. I find that the new members genuinely appreciate that someone has reach out to them, and took the time to welcome them to AALL. I have found that I, too, get a benefit from talking to the newer members because they give me some insights that I might otherwise never encounter. One such event happened to me recently and it helped me understand what we should be pushing as the real narrative of law librarianship and legal information professionals.
The person I was talking to was a Research Attorney (JD w/license, but no MLIS, so not a librarian.) We were discussing the overall structure of the departments, and how her role fit in with the librarians and other professionals on the team. We talked about the reaction from the attorneys and others within the firm, and she said something that caught my attention.
She mentioned that the lawyers would make comments about how “nice” and “helpful” the librarians and other researchers are. She said she commented back that that’s completely missing the point of the true value. These law librarians and other professionals are smart, curious, creative, intuitive, and brilliant in the work they do. They do not waste your time. They are efficient and effective in finding the correct answers, finding it quickly, and making sure that it doesn’t cost you more than is reasonable for the issue at hand. Yes, we can do that with a smile, but that’s the icing on the cake. The real value is that we do what we do better than anyone else. That’s what we need to push as the real narrative. Of course, we can still do that with a smile.
This discussion left me with a smile on my face as well. Even better, it left me with a clear narrative to make sure that smart, curious, creative, intuitive, and brilliant are included in that discussion.
There are two standard answers to questions asked in a law firm setting.
- Well… it depends.
- 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.
- Library Directors who report to:
– CKO (non-librarian)
– (I’ll group these as CxO from this point)
– Managing Partner
- Library Managers who report to:
– KM Directors
- CKO (librarian C-Level) who report to:
– Managing Partner
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.
[Ed. Note: I asked Katie Brown, Law Library Director of the University of Charlotte School of Law, and fellow geek, to write a review of last week’s NCCSLM meeting in Boston. Please welcome guest blogger Katie Brown. – GL]
Last week (12/2/16) I had the opportunity to attend the Boston University Law School/ AALL hosted –National Conference on Copyright of State Legal Materials. This topic has seen an uptick in interest in recent years, mostly among law librarians and on legal blogs, as state copyright issues have arisen and have greatly affects both patron access to material and publisher pricing. As a self –proclaimed “IP Junkie,” was looking forward to this all-day event to further explore these musings with an audience of folks whom I knew would be just as passionate about this copyright issue as I am, and I can tell you AALL an BU did not disappoint.
The daylong event covered a host of subtopics within the state copyright arena. The agenda boasted everything, from a copyright issue overview; to a panel addressing who owns the copyright in the work of the United States Government; to how we make the content easily available to people; to journalists limited access to legal materials changing what stories find their way to print; and finally several organizations discussing aspirational examples for expansive, accurate and open access to state legal materials. I think the experience of the full day was best stated by one attendee, who after the event, shared on social media that he was now suffering from, “Gov’t info Overload.”
It is important to note his use of the word “overload” instead of overwhelmed. For me, the positive overload of content was a direct result of the wide breadth of speakers, who spoke passionately throughout the day about how they have been touched and limited by the copyright status of and access to United States law. Another wonderful take away I gleaned from the day’s event was each speaker seemed to be striving for a positive way to improve access and discussing exploring ways that this original public domain content will easily be available to all in the future.
You can always gauge if the content from your event is hitting a nerve with the speakers, audience and experts outside the forum when it gets the folks on twitter typing away. The event hashtag #NCCSLM throughout the day was aflutter with zippy one liners, links to resources, shout outs and retweets.
A few of my favorite tweets from the day are:
“Access to legal information is a straight up civil rights issue for our times.” It’s this simple and this big. @seamuskraft #NCCSLM
— Mary Jenkins (@jenkinsm) December 2, 2016
A horde of angry law librarians at #NCCSLM who don’t give a damn about red states and blue states. They want green states. Free the law. https://t.co/oGEUJlBo1N
— Carl Malamud (@carlmalamud) December 2, 2016
Many states are just “renting their law back” from companies like Lexis Nexis, says Ed Walters #NCCSLM
— sarah jeong (@sarahjeong) December 2, 2016
.@govinfogal told Gov Brown not all Cali law is in PD. His reaction: what? that’s crazy, of course they are! Conversations needed. #nccslm
— Meg (@mak506) December 2, 2016
Notice at bottom of DC Code page: “Please do not scrape. Instead, bulk download the HTML or XML”!! https://t.co/P11rdVblLi #nccslm
— Meg (@mak506) December 2, 2016
Completion of digitalized case law slated for Jan ’17. Goal is open state case law with no paywall. https://t.co/ey5pBiQSxT #NCCSLM
— Mary Jenkins (@jenkinsm) December 2, 2016
@sarahjeong “Where there is low hanging fruit journalists are going to pick it. Law should be lower hanging fruit than it is.” #NCCSLM
— Margie Maes (@mkmaes) December 2, 2016
— Roger Skalbeck (@weblawlib) December 2, 2016
I encourage you to take a look at all the tweets from the day by searching #NCCSLM and listen to the day’s recording that will be made available from AALL in the near future.
[Ed. Note: Please welcome guest-blogger, and fellow law-librarian, Marcia Burris. Marcia is currently a Senior Consultant with HBR Consulting. – GL]
While the rate of change in the legal industry seems to be accelerating, change is not new to law librarians. In fact, those of us who have been around long enough have been hearing for the past 20 years or so that the days of the law library are numbered. It is certainly true that the use of books has declined in recent years, and the focus of librarians has shifted away from traditional print maintenance roles toward supporting attorneys through the delivery of information in increasingly digital environments. However, this article is not about the decline of print. We’ve already been there, done that, and it’s time to move on to a new topic.
But change continues, and so do concerns about the role of law librarians. In recent years, the “new” role of librarians as expert online researchers and content managers seems to be threatened again, this time by the trend toward creation of self-service research environments in which content is served up so conveniently and intuitively, that even the busiest attorneys (who necessarily have other things to do besides learn new search platforms) can find useful, on-point information without the guidance of an expert to lead them through the digital maze. The well-recognized expertise of librarians in organizing and directing users to content seems likely, in the view of some observers, to be supplanted by newer expert systems.
As the culture of attorney self-service expands, the question is circulating again about what the future of law librarians will look like – if we have a future.
Of course, smart information delivery systems must be built by experts, and customized to the needs of specific firms by professionals who understand their legal practice areas and unique firm cultures and deployed to end-users whose interest and comfort with change vary widely. Law librarians are uniquely suited to roles in developing and deploying new resources through their combination of legal knowledge, technology skills, and emotional intelligence.
Even after the new tools have been deployed and attorneys trained in how to use them, librarians continue to play a role in delivering service through these platforms, including performing on-demand research and providing alerts, platform customizations and other services to support end-users. For example, although push technologies for current awareness are typically customizable by individual end users, and some attorneys like to be hands-on with these tasks, more often the creation and curation of alerts falls to library professionals who can do so efficiently and accurately, saving attorney time for other work – such as, well, practicing law.
While librarians are invaluable to developing and supporting self-service technologies, that is not the only role in which they are proving their value.
During the recent SLA Webinar on Evolving Libraries, Kris Martin, one of my co-workers at HBR, discussed an evolution of library services that we have been tracking along two distinct paths, toward either a User-leveraged service model, such as the primarily self-service environment described above, or an Expert-leveraged model.
While the User-leveraged model is characterized by increased investment in new technologies and librarian support for user-enabling applications, with a subsequent decrease in direct research, the role of librarians as researchers continues strong in firms where an Expert-leveraged service model has evolved. In these firms, the research skills of librarians are increasingly utilized as library professionals are embedded within practice groups and other administrative departments, where their familiarity with a wide range of resources and subject-specific knowledge combine to create competitive advantage. In legal practice groups, embedded librarians enjoy inclusion on client teams where they contribute research efficiency and value to client matters. In administrative teams, librarians work closely with marketing and others to provide research and analysis in support of their firm’s strategic business objectives. In addition to providing traditional research expertise, embedded librarians are frequently called upon to provide more sophisticated information analysis.
Both user-leveraged and expert-leveraged service models change the role of the librarian, demanding greater expertise and a pro-active approach to meeting firm information needs.
And there is one more high-value librarian role overarching both models, that of the Generalist/Knower of Many Things. While generalist researcher positions are declining as firms move toward user-leveraged or expert-leveraged service models, the individual with knowledge and experience across a variety of legal subjects, technology, and research functions continues to play an essential role in developing library and information services which support law practice efficiency and innovation. The true generalist who is involved in many areas of research work and engaged in conversations throughout the firm is uniquely positioned to identify opportunities. If innovation is about connecting dots, who is better positioned to deliver value than the individual whose vantage point includes multiple dots?
Firm leaders who empower their librarians to contribute value through support of user-leveraged or expert-leveraged service models and through direct involvement in the creation of systems to support practice and efficiency efforts, will find the “library” to be a valuable asset for many years to come.
As the Vice-President/President-Elect of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), I wanted to tell our 3 Geeks’ readers about the new visual identity and tagline that AALL officially rolled out last night. Leaders within the organization worked on this rebranding effort for nearly two years, and displayed the new logo back at the annual meeting in Chicago last July. I, for one, like the new logo, and the tagline that goes along with it. I applaud those that worked on the rebranding effort and I hope that members of AALL, as well as those that benefit from the work that law librarians, legal information professionals, take a moment to look at the new branding and take a moment to think about all the good work that the Association, its members, and staff provide to the legal industry.
I wanted to focus on the tagline, and the two meanings that it represents.
Your Legal Knowledge Network
Internal Meaning: To members of AALL the tagline represents the community of knowledgeable law librarians and other legal information professionals who identify with the ideals of access to justice, the dissemination of legal information, and the ability to reach out to that community in a way that adds value to the service we provide for our individual organizations. To me, the best thing about AALL is its members. It is your legal knowledge network because we learn from each other, and we form bonds that unite us and allow us to leverage the knowledge of the entire association, regardless of the type of work we perform, or the organization which we work. This is your legal knolwedge network of highly-educated and forward-thinking professionals are willing to give their time and experiences to help others within AALL and beyond is a valuable professional development tool which all law librarians and legal information professionals should feel proud to belong.
External Meaning: For the legal industry, AALL members represent some of the most educated, connected, and resourceful employees of your organization. AALL becomes your legal knowledge network and exposes your organization to advanced educational opportunities to keep your law librarians ahead of the curve for changes in the legal environment. AALL is your legal knowledge network to discover new legal information resources and provide access and understanding of how these resources may bring value to your practices within your organization. AALL is your legal knowledge network to fight and lobby for legal information to be open and available and not locked behind a government or corporate wall. AALL is your legal knowledge network that multiplies the talents and skills of your legal information professional by the diverse talent and skills of thousands of other law librarians and legal information professionals.
I may be biased in my appreciation for AALL and what it does for me, my organization, my profession, and the legal profession as a whole… but I am not wrong. I have written and talked about the value of law librarianship ever since former AALL President and Georgetown University Law Library Director, Bob Oakley, reached out to a very green law librarians some sixteen years ago and asked me to write about where he thought I believed the profession was going. AALL gave me a voice and an opportunity to leverage its members and resources to expand my own career. I hope that in the course of my journey I return the favor to another member of my network.
I think our current President, Ron Wheeler says it best. “AALL’s new brand honors our past, embraces our present, and emboldens our future as legal information professionals. The knowledge and talent of our members, combined with their unrivaled dedication to service, make our whole legal system stronger. I have never been more proud to be a law librarian.”
For those current members of AALL, thanks for being a part of this network. For those that have lapsed in the past few years, I encourage you to come back. If you’re a law librarian or someone who works in the legal information profession, I invite you to come join and make this network your own. For those who employ law librarians and legal information professionals, encourage them to join and leverage this network. After all, AALL is your legal knowledge network.
|image [cc] Angelskiss31|
Let me start out this post by saying that I like David Perla, President of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg BNA’s Legal division, and consider him to be an ally for the law librarian and legal information/knowledge profession. However, I have to say that I am a little disappointed at his Above the Law article yesterday called “A Challenge for the Gatekeepers.” His article starts out with a warning to the legal industry saying that “change is coming – with or without you,” but then he spends the rest of the article singling out Law Librarians and Knowledge professionals as the gatekeepers. Although David says this isn’t about Bloomberg Law’s new roll out of a Tax Product, quite frankly, it reads like it is. I’m really disappointed that he took to Above the Law to vent.
Transitions in how a legal products perform for practice areas is something law librarians deal with practically on a daily basis. One of our primary responsibilities for our firms are to evaluate these products and present an initial evaluation report to the Practice Group Leaders or power players within the practice area. Law Librarians have a diverse legal expertise, and some are legal area experts. I know law librarians that are more savvy when it comes to understanding practice areas like Tax or IP than most Associates or Junior Partners in their firms. We understand our firms, we understand our Practice Groups, and we are tasked with the responsibility to know when it is right to push for new products, and when it isn’t time.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I push for change every day! EVERY SINGLE DAY!!
I constantly evaluate new products, establish training sessions to teach attorneys and others the value of the very expensive resources we purchase with our law firm partners’ money. I work to de-duplicate resources so we are not wasting money. I also make recommendations on keeping similar products because I understand the way the attorneys work and know that sometimes it pays to have those resources, even if on the surface it seems irrational. I make sure that we have team members that go to PG meetings to observe, listen, and engage. It’s not gatekeeping. It’s called being a leader and making sure that we are implementing the overall strategies of our individual attorneys, our Practice Groups, our Offices, and our Firm as a whole.
I’m a little confused when David wrote:
I attended a session at AALL [American Association of Law Libraries] where librarians were brainstorming how to be more relevant or get lawyers to pay more attention to them. But when the moment comes to actually introduce change at law firms, they flinch out of fear. Afraid that the attorneys they work for will find change uncomfortable, they balk—just as Monster’s executives balked at upsetting the site’s customers.
Not buying a new legal information product is not the same as “flinch[ing] out of fear.” I find that statement to be a bit misleading, and way overly broad in the assumption that law librarians can’t pull the trigger on change.
I appreciate Bloomberg BNA being a disrupter in the legal information field. But, I will say that when the disruption initially affects the Tax and the Labor & Employment groups, it makes for a very difficult sale to those groups. Not that they are change adverse, but that they are either well served by their current products and have a comfort level with them, or that they are a group with very narrow profit margins that have to have concrete evidence that new, much more expensive, products will truly make their work more efficient and not decrease that narrow margin.
It’s not about throwing up barriers for change. It’s about understanding our environments and applying our expertise, experience, knowledge, and wisdom to every single change we see, every single day. I’m not a gatekeeper that flinches at change, I’m an experienced leader for change that make sense for my organization.
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.