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.

True story.

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 highlights of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) conference in Austin this year was the Innovation Tournament which pitted three librarians’ tech innovations against each other. With two prizes, each worth $2,500, up for grabs, the competition was pretty tough. There was a scanning project management innovation, a Virtual Reality presentation preparedness tool, and an innovative ChatBot for legal information assistance. The ChatBot really caught my attention as something that I would love to test out on a local level.

We’ve all probably seen ChatBots either on Facebook, or when we go to ask for customer service with our favorite online retailers. The idea is pretty simple in that it basically automates many of your frequently asked questions (FAQs) into an interactive chat session. From requesting a maintenance man out to fix your dishwasher to ordering a pizza, ChatBots are out there to handle repetitive tasks.

Imagine the FAQs for law libraries that a ChatBot could help answer.

  1. Point to practice groups specific materials
  2. Pull cases 
  3. Reset passwords 
  4. Identify book locations on a shelf in the office 
  5. [fill in the blank]
I would guess that pretty much anything that you have on your library portal page as a frequently answered question could be leveraged into a ChatBot.
There has to be a good role that vendors could play in helping law librarians out with some of these features. I can see where a citation pull could go directly into a Westlaw, Lexis, Fastcase, etc. citation box and retrieve the material automatically. Passwords could be reset through an API connection either directly from the vendor, or if you are using a content management system (CMS) like Research Monitor or OneLog, you could verify the person’s identity and recover the password from your CMS. The ChatBot could interface with the library catalog and use the wealth of content knowledge contained there to quickly isolate materials the attorney needs. It could even point out that obscure print material that you’ve kept updated for just this specific occasion. 
There is a great opportunity for a collaboration on the local level for the IT departments and the Law Library to create ChatBots which highlight the functionality of the organization’s web portal. There is also an opportunity for law librarian and legal information vendor collaboration for quickly pointing people to the right resources at the right moment. I understand that there are a number of logistical issues regarding whether ChatBots are locally hosted or cloud-based; is it only available on the local network, or can it be an app on the lawyers’ phones; and how do we work with the different variations of ChatBot platforms that are out there? Even with all these issues, I still think there is a great opportunity here for those willing to blaze a trail with using ChatBots in their law libraries. 

Perhaps I’m one of the lucky few that has always had a good relationship with the Marketing Department. Although I am the incoming President of the American Association of Law Libraries, I am also a member of the Legal Marketing Association, and I find value in both. I have leveraged the relationships built by the Marketing teams to advance my own ideas and projects, and have partnered with Marketing when they need resources and research to advance their own processes and projects. It just makes sense, and there is a mutual benefit for all when there is a trust and partnership between the two groups. After all, we are on the same team, and we can do more together than we can individually.

This is why I am amazed when I see dysfunction between these two departments. And when I have run across firms where the relationships between the two groups exist, it usually comes from the following issues:

  1. Money
  2. Credit
  3. People
When I was still a newbie in the law firm environment, I made an effort to determine how the individual components of a large law firm administration functioned. I saw the power of interaction with the Partners that the Marketing team had versus the Library’s operation which tended to be more service oriented and low-keyed. Both serve important functions, but the “attitude” of each group was different. Although Marketing had influence and the ear of the partners, the Library held the power of the purse strings, products, and relationships with the vendors that provide those products. Marketing had their MBAs, and the Library had their JDs/MLIS’. Marketing was a three-year revolving door of talent, and the Library had members that did orientation when the Managing Partner was a first-year Associate. The two departments have their different structures, but again, played for the same team.
Where I’ve seen the divisions between the two come to a head when it comes to money, is typically the Marketing Department needs a resource, and wants the Library to pay for it. In a good environment, this means that the two heads of the departments meet and work out a plan to evaluate, test, and determine what the correct product is that solves the problems faced by the Marketing team (and by proxy, the firm.) In a bad situation, the Library determines that they will not work with Marketing because the library staff will not be the ones using the product. Or, Marketing goes out and buys the product without working with the Library, and then sends the Library the invoice. These two latter situations are more common than they should be, and completely unnecessary if there is a good relationship between the groups. When it comes to money, I have a very over-simplistic approach that I take. First – It’s not my money, it’s the partnership’s. As long as the powers-that-be approve this, it’s fine. It doesn’t affect the money I take home at the end or the month, it affects the money that the partners take home at the end of the month. Second, I make sure that these types of increases to my budget are made apparent to those that monitor my budget, and I show where it was approved by those powers-that-be. If the money hawks are concerned…  I point them to those that approved it, but also point out that the expense was something that will help leverage our firm for the future and (hopefully) bring in new clients and revenue. We’re all on the same team, so don’t throw your team-mate under the bus.
When it comes to credit, this is where feelings tend to get hurt, and power trumps cooperation. The typical story is that the Library conducts research and analysis for a Marketing Business Development or Client Development project. The work is compiled and sent to Marketing, and then it is restructured (sometimes) and sent to the Partner for action. When the project is successful, Marketing gets the credit, and the library gets ignored. Again, when the two groups work cooperatively, this happens less. However, I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when it comes to credit, the last person to handle it, tends to get the credit. This happens when reports are turned over to Accounting to add in “the numbers,” or IT to add in the tech specifications, and with Marketing when it comes to analysis and action items. The best way to solve this situation is to have a conversation with the other department to make sure that the value your team put in is made clear to the other department, and when appropriate, to the partners that use the final product. It is also important to have a thick skin and sometimes understand that, while what you did was very important, credit doesn’t always come back as you would like. It’s okay. Put it down for your “wins” list in your annual evaluation and take credit for it then. If you’re running Marketing, make an effort to credit the Library when appropriate. 
This brings me to the people part of the process. Leaders that deem their value by the size of their departments are not leaders at all. (Insert [in]appropriate joke here.) 
Librarians are visionaries. We tend to see trends before others and position ourselves to handle those trends. I’ve written many posts before where I argued that giving the “Information” title to the computer networking department was probably the biggest defeat in the Library world. We were the leaders when it came to information technology, we were the leaders when it came to knowledge management, we were the leaders when it came to competitive intelligence. We’ve been in the forefront of artificial intelligence and analytics. Unfortunately, we also tend to start these programs, and watch them be pulled out of our departments and sent to others, or spun off and created in a different department altogether. I am perfectly okay with that (well… mostly okay with that.) What I don’t appreciate is when the Library creates a successful group, typically these days, a Competitive or Business Intelligence group, and then the Marketing department comes along and snags it away from us with the perception that this should have never been in the Library in the first place, and that it belongs in Marketing. If that is true, then why did it have to originate in the Library to begin with? Why didn’t it begin in Marketing? The biggest reason is that the Library has the external relationships with the vendors and industry to build these departments. If there comes a time when it makes sense to spin them off and move them, then it’s a blessing for the department that takes it over. Unfortunately, it tends to become a turf war where the acquiring department somehow belittles the Library for taking this on in the first place. That is such a silly concept an doesn’t have to happen when there is a good relationship between the departments. I mentioned earlier that Librarians should not throw their team-mates under the bus. That also goes for other department leaders that leverage the Library’s work to make themselves look better, or increase the size of their departments. Quite frankly, if you grab a group from within the Library to make your own, you should increase the Library Director’s bonus to include a recruitment stipend.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:
ALL PROBLEMS ARE COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS!!!

If you work for the same law firm, you are on the same team. You don’t have to like each other, but you cannot be successful as a firm if you are undermining each other, or you are so sensitive that you think other leaders are out to get you. Administrative departments of law firms are the grease that makes the organization run smoothly. Find ways to talk to one another. Understand the strategic goals of the firm. Fix problems that the firm is facing (the firm’s problems, not your department’s problems.) And, realize that when you look good, we all look good. We are all allies here. Let’s act like it.
  

[Ed. Note: Please welcome back guest blogger, Marcia Burris, Research & Information Services Consultant for HBR. – GL]

A lot of attention has been given lately to the trend of law firms cancelling subscriptions to expensive online resources. This is often referred to as going “Sole Provider” since it has long been assumed (for a few decades, at least) that “good” law firms subscribe to both of the Big Two legal research providers, Lexis and Westlaw. In recent years however, many firms have decided they no longer need both. In an effort to measure the trend, law library surveys, including the one administered by HBR Consulting, routinely ask about whether firms are planning to (or already have) cut Westlaw or Lexis. However, while the term Sole Provider is easy to say and generally understood in the law library community as cancelling one or the other of these two services, it really isn’t the best way to describe current practices in the world of legal information, and in fact can cause harm to the conversation. So here’s why Sole Provider isn’t really a thing, and why I’m not going to say it any more.

  1. First of all, it isn’t true. Certainly not in Big or Medium Law, and probably not even in the vast majority of Small Law. No firm uses only one source for all its legal research needs. Cancelling one of the historical duopoly providers doesn’t mean attorneys will be limited to just one single source for all their legal research questions (although some attorneys may by choice return to the same well over and over again.) Law firms will continue to offer a variety of information resources – and formats – to meet their attorneys’ practice needs.
  2. Using the term “Sole Provider” needlessly reinforces the expectation of legal research Duopoly by implying that firms are choosing one and cancelling one, and fails to adequately describe the variety of different choices firms are making today. In doing so, it devalues the contributions of numerous providers beyond the traditional duopoly, whose innovations are creating new ways to think about and use legal information. This can cause real harm, as holding to the outdated duopoly concept hamstrings the decision process, limiting creative thinking about what resources firms should be offering to their attorneys and distracting from important discussions about new opportunities to evolve and modernize research services.
  3. In addition to reinforcing the idea of duopoly, the Sole Provider concept is often associated with cost reduction efforts, and this creates a value judgment which critics can leverage against firms (and librarians), no matter which way they go with the decision. Firms which keep both traditional major providers can be criticized for overspending, while firms which cancel a major service are criticized for prioritizing cost reduction over efficiency and service. (This reminds me of the working mom vs stay-at-home mom controversy – truly a debate with no winners.) Just as the duopoly concept narrows thinking about options beyond the Big Two, the question of Cut vs Keep limits the discussion to an either/or which fails to address the nuanced resource needs of individual firms, which ultimately drive their purchasing decisions.
  4. By referring to only a single facet of resource selection, the term devalues the important work law librarians do in carefully curating information collections to best meet their firms’ needs, and distracts from the question we should really be asking: What is the best mix of resources to meet our firm’s needs now and into the future?

It’s time to reframe the discussion. Instead of referring to “Sole Provider” decisions, let’s start talking about *Legal Research Optimization*. The discussion should include subpoints related to content (primary & secondary), efficiency of use and administration, attorney support, resource interrelatedness and content integration, cost, practice-specific needs, business needs, evolving technology, and client demands. Rather than allowing the status quo to set the tone of our discussions, let’s ask what should we include as we build the law library of the future for our firms. Firm needs and information resources continue to evolve, and libraries today have the opportunity to do more than ever before to support attorney practice needs. With the baggage of the sole provider conversation left behind, we can move forward and continue working to align information resources with firm needs, with freedom to explore the best fit for the future.

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.

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!
 

Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of discussion about the value of the Law Firm Librarian (aka Research Analyst).   I’ve written on the subject (here and here) as have others (here, herehere and here). Most of the discussion concerns the expense side of the equation.  But it occurred to me that this analysis can only get you so far.  It’s revenue that can turn a cost center into a profit center. Let’s face it, Law Firms are in the business of making money and profit is a powerful argument when it comes to justifying your existence.

How can we affect revenue?  We don’t control writeoffs or client relations.  Library staff are unique in a law firm because they track and bill their time in much the same way attorneys and paralegals do.  We need to apply the same criterion that is used to evaluate attorney and paralegal performance to the Library staff but customized to our unique world.  Metrics such as realization rates and billing practices can allow us to start conversations with shareholders that show them we are invested in the profitability of the firm.

Beginning a conversation with shareholders about the money that’s being left on the table is a good place to start.   To do this, we need to be able to give our data context by comparing ourselves to the industry at large.  How many times have we heard the phrase “But what are other firms doing?”   We need to develop benchmarks to allow for meaningful points of comparison.  But how can we 1) collect this data and 2) use it to improve the performance of the Library in generating revenue?

So…to address Question #1, I’ve put together a short 11-question survey to try and collect this information.  I have tried to construct this survey with an eye to avoiding questions that may touch on proprietary or competitive information.  This is not a rate survey.

As for Question #2, I will report on the results of the survey in this space and will discuss some different ways it can be used to improve Library performance.  I feel that this data will allow the Law Firm Library community to finally affect the revenue piece in a meaningful way.

You can access the survey here.

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.

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.