[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.

Image [cc] Cory Doctorow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image [cc] Alex Proimos

I saw mentioning of The Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Steve Barker, “In the Age of Google, Librarians Get Shelved,” this weekend, but didn’t actually read it until this morning. I found the opinion piece to be a little bit lazy, and playing up the old fear of “everything is on the Internet,” and that “the public library of the future might be a computer center, staffed by IT professionals and few books or librarians.” I usually just roll my eyes and move on about my daily business, but the fact that the WSJ would run this, and that a number of my colleagues within the legal industry would possibly read it, I thought I would chime in with some feedback.

First and foremost, I want to remind my colleagues that a public librarian plays a very different role from what a law librarian does. I’ll let public librarians defend their own, and I’ll start by stating what I see as the number one role of a law librarian, regardless of if that law librarian is in government, academia, or private legal environment:

Law Librarians manage the risk within the organization they serve, ensuring the organization’s mission is met through the acquisition, management, distribution, and analysis of legal information needed for the organization to perform its mission in a timely manner and at an appropriate cost.

Our job isn’t about pointing people to the nearest bathroom, or locating lost keys. It is about positioning lawyers, educators, judges, administrators, and the public, in the best possible position to fulfill their responsibility within the legal framework they represent. If we do help you find the bathroom or your lost keys, we do so because we tend to be nice people and want to help. Don’t view that as a weakness, view it as a strength in that we feel empathy for your current situation, not that we have nothing better to do.

It’s not about knowing how to do a Google search; it is about knowing how to interpret a Google search and the knowledge to know when that is enough, or it is time to dive deeper into specialized tools vetted, obtained, and managed by the law librarians. It’s not about understanding technology; it is about understanding how technology can be applied to increase the availability of resources and the knowledge rejecting technology when the rewards do not outweigh the risk/costs/effectiveness of that technology.

I’ve always heard that any problem can be solved given the unlimited supply of three things:

  1. Time
  2. People
  3. Money

None of us have unlimited time, people, or resources. That’s why the law librarian is such a valuable resource, in that he or she reduces all three of these things by applying our expertise and experience of managing the risks associated with time, people, and money.

If you think that a law library is about Google and books, or even Westlaw and Lexis, then you truly do not understand what’s really going on. Thinking that just anyone can run a law library because they have technology skills is like thinking anyone can drive a Formula 1 car because they can replace the oil in their car.

Law Librarians manage risk.
Law Librarians save you time.
Law Librarians save you money.
Law Librarians reduce your headcount.

We make sure that you have the resources when you need them, and within the needs and budget of the organization. If you confuse technology for knowledge, you’ve just increased your risk substantially. Be prepared to tap into more time, money, and people.

Over the next month, members of the American Association of Law Libraries will vote on whether to change the name of the organization to the Association for Legal Information.  I will be voting yes, and I encourage all members to take the time to research and think about what the rebranding and renaming initiative means for the association, the profession, and yourself. This is important, and no member should stand on the sidelines and let others cast votes in your absence. The rebranding effort is a huge undertaking by the leadership of the association, and is step one of many in helping the association change to meet the needs of current and future members.
Nearly six years ago, I penned a post called “This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Law Library! – Time for a Law Library Revolution.” In that post, I point out the new and creative ideas and services created by law librarians, and the desire of those who wish to steer the profession back what they believe to be the core function of law librarians in acquiring, storing, cataloging, and distributing legal information. Here is a sample of my thoughts on what happens when the library pendulum shifts toward new and progressive ideas, and the desire for some to move that pendulum back to the center.

Whenever the law library gets progressive and starts promoting new ideas, those ideas get spun off into their own departments and the creative law librarians leave the library field to join these departments. Things like Knowledge Management, Competitive Intelligence, and even some Marketing and IT ideas that were created in the library now exist outside the library. So it seems that the general direction the law firm libraries have taken in the past 15-20 years is to get us back to what we were doing in the 1980’s.

My thoughts back then were focused on the moves by law firms to place library functions under the IT and/or Marketing departments. My thoughts now are that six years have nearly passed and while this is still a conversation within the industry, the next wave of change is already taking place. A new outsourcing movement is occurring in the Northeast where entire law library functions and personnel are not only removed from a Library Department, they are being removed from the law firm completely and now work for a Library Consulting company. We are still arguing about where we exist within the firm, while the leaders of the firm have moved on to deciding if we even belong in the firm at all.

The only thing harder than adjusting to change, is pretending that the change hasn’t already happened. As General Shinseki so eloquently stated, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” The Law Librarian profession has changed, and is continuing to change. That is not a bad thing, it is just the reality of the profession. It is up to the leaders within our profession to position the association, and prepare its members to lead and direct the changes, rather than react when it is too late.

During this decade, the corporate law firm libraries have vanished, the private law firms have undertaken massive changes in structure, and the government law libraries have transformed themselves into a new function surrounding access to justice. The academic libraries haven’t had the drastic changes in structure, but they are not immune. We saw hints of change at Harvard with John Palfrey’s brief reign, but not nearly what I envision will happen over the next ten years to what the pain of decreased admissions and the burden of student debt brings to the entire law school organizational structure.

Times for law libraries aren’t simply changing — they have already changed, and the next wave of change is already upon us. It’s time that all of us understand that, and stop thinking of ways to move the library pendulum back to center. That pendulum no longer even exists for many of us in the profession.

This brings me to why I am voting “yes” on the initial phase of rebranding AALL by changing the name to the Association for Legal Information. The profession has changed and it is time for the association to lead and prepare its members for the next round of changes, rather than lag behind and react after the fact.

The profession’s core functions are still based on acquiring, storing, cataloging, and distributing legal information. However, those functions will be more of a commodity than an added value. It’s all those other functions that we as librarians have produced over the years that will create the value the profession produces. Information to Knowledge, and Knowledge to Intelligence, and Intelligence to Experience, and Experience to Expertise are the key factors going forward. It starts, but does not end with the information we gather and maintain. The association needs to position itself to lead on developing these value added functions, while continuing to support the core functions.

The Association for Legal Information is where we start with the rebranding of our association and profession. This will be the springboard to help us leap to the next iteration of what being a law librarian and legal information professional means, and the value we bring to the legal industry as a whole. The rebranding is not about leaving law librarians behind. Far from it. It is about augmenting what we do, and bringing new ideas and new experts into the field to use as specialists, and for us to learn from them in return. It is about Law Librarians being the change and leading the way into the future.

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!