It is long believed that the key to real estate
purchases is location, location location. And while I am not in the business of
flipping houses, it seems to me and my limited HGTV understanding of the world,
that location is pretty important when buying property. 


Recently, there have been a dearth of posts here and
elsewhere relating to changing nature of the legal market, none of which are
surprising or nor have any of the changes occurred in a vacuum. We’ve watched
the incremental change for years and perhaps now we are just reaching the
tipping point for all things legal client service delivery, AI, matter planning
& pricing, LPO, LPM and so forth. The neighbourhood is changing and we’ve
lost sight of the ideal location. 

It is not surprising that we can’t see what’s right in
front of us.  Equal to the talk of the
changing legal landscape, is talk of the information overload and how to bring
one in line to assist with the other. For example I’ve posted about the need
for better EI, UI, UX and the implementation of “design thinking” in
solving legal problems or the problems of legal service delivery. I am a huge
proponent of all these concepts. I really am, what I do, is fundamentally about
wading through reams of data to paint a pretty picture. Without empathizing
with the client and presenting my insights in a visually persuasive format, I
have nothing.  There is a lot of
discussion around data and data source integrity, around choosing the right
databases, cutting through clutter and using video or layered graphics to tell
the story. For a while now, I have been bothered by the disconnect by what
firms think they need to do, what clients say they want and what those of us
tasked with making it happen on the business side of law can actually
accomplish.   We need to bridge the gap.  For me that means we need more, better,
clearer context. 
When we teach information literacy in firms to help
our clients navigate our information warehouses from the library, KM, business
development, etc. we share what’s available, what sources have been vetted and
what process are used to share and archive. 
Rarely do we indicate how the information is used or connected to other
sources of intelligence within the firm. 
When we talk CRM strategy for example, we talk about the need to share
contacts for marketing lists not for relationship intelligence and building a
unified approach to client service.  We
talk about what tool to select, how to use the tools, refine workflows, clean
and maintain the date but rarely touch on the why. And when we implicitly know
the why, we make the assumption that everyone understands the task at hand as
fully as we do. The why part of the equation is strategic; part of a bigger
whole that not everyone will have access to or understand, but that’s the
“location” or the context we should strive to own within our

When I look at the list of “must
have topics
” at the upcoming AALL meeting for example the topics are
very important, practical, and necessary but majority of the topics tactical
and process driven.  Same could be said
when I look at the upcoming LMA conference offerings.
This makes sense, it is easier to teach someone how to do something than to
have a philosophical and often culturally sensitive conversation around the
why. Teaching context is not something we can do easily, it’s like showing your
work when you do a math problem. Sometimes you can draft a number sentence but
most of the time it just makes overt sense that 2+2 = 4, don’t make me explain
it, just take the answer as it is, and consider the task complete.  I haven’t completely worked it out yet, but solving
for and teaching context is a mash-up of design thinking,
Gail Fairhurst’s concepts of framing
against a backdrop of law firm cultural hegemony and the limited agency of
allied professionals to turn context into action (though you could draw
parallels to other industries as well). As I spend what’s left of my morning
wading through my daily tasks, I will strive to find the context in each task
as it relates to whole, and I encourage you to do the same.



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.

On December 23rd,  Arun
Jethmalani, Founder & Managing Director at ValueNotes Database Pvt. Ltd. in India, published an article to LinkedIn
Debates about Competitive Intelligence that will never be resolved
.  The article essentially lays out five of the
canonical questions that are a constant dialogue in the CI community. I won’t
share his insights, you’ll have to read the article for that, but the five
questions he puts forward are:
Should CI be strategic or tactical?
Where should CI reside?
Insight versus information?
How to calculate RoI on competitive intelligence?
What exactly is competitive intelligence?

I would add two questions, that may be a bit more controversial:
Is CI a profession or a set of competencies? 
 And does it even matter? 

There are several comments on the article, including one from
me where I suggest that the answers to all the questions are blowing in the corporate
culture.  For law firms especially, I
think the existential question of what CI is or should be – a library function,
a marketing role, a KM/BD hybrid is fun to think about in your spare time, but
analysis paralysis (hat tip to Fleisher
and Bensoussan
) gets you nowhere.  As
we usher in 2015, I think the article and its underlying questions is a great reminder
to know your clients, know your audience and anticipate their needs – be they
intel – or otherwise.  The ability to
deliver answers, insights, and whatever else is needed on time, just in time,
and in advance, is the ultimate factor for CI success and happiness.  However you define it. 

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.

As many of you have watched over the past two years, JC Penny has gone through a bit of a rough patch with its failed experiment with Ron Johnson as its CEO. In fact, today is the two-year anniversary of Johnson’s appointment, which collapsed back on April 8th. Johnson was viewed by most people as an impressive strategist who made the Apple Stores into the success it is. There were many people, most of whom seemed to hold sway on JCP’s shareholders, that thought Johnson could come in, apply his strategy to JCP’s ‘mismanaged’ retail operations, and make it into the anchor-store equivalent to Apple. Needless to say, it just didn’t work out as envisioned.

Roger Martin of the Harvard Business Review Blog Network wrote an interesting article on Thursday that discussed how one of the basic failures that “Under Johnson, JCP had nothing even vaguely resembling a worthwhile strategy and its path to get to where it wished was comically disastrous.” Although Martin’s article gives much more on the topic, the basic failure was that JCP didn’t make a “coherent set of choices about where-to-play (WTP) and how-to-win (HTW)….” It was this concept of WTP and HTW choices that really stuck out to me, and it made me wonder how these strategic concepts are applied to what many of us are attempting to do in the legal industry.

I run in a circle of friends, peers, and acquaintances within the legal industry that are always questioning the status quo. None of us are content with the way things are, and we all think that we have great ideas on what our piece of the legal industry should be doing to change for the better. Pricing gurus want firms to be better at how they address revenues, profitability and how we structure the business of law. Knowledge Management gurus want us to be better at sharing, re-using, and improving our overall abilities to leverage our previous experiences in order to be better, faster and cheaper in our current experiences. Library and Research gurus want us to be able to access external resources needed for our firms to practice law effectively in a way that gives us an advantage over our competitors, in regards to content, quality, coverage, use, and price.

These are all great ideas, but are these ideas aligned with a strategy of where we want to play?

Are we asking the WTP questions like:
  •  Which people within the firm do we focus?
  •  What products and processes are we promoting?
  •  How do we do this better than the competitors or alternative processes?

This is all about strategy, but Greg Satell has a great quote that many of us need to repeat to ourselves whenever we think our strategy is impressive:

 “Your customers don’t care what your strategy is…. What they really want is for your product or service to do an important job for them, to be reasonably convenient and available at an attractive price.” 

In other words, your customers (most likely, attorneys and key decision makers in your firm) want you to deliver and maintain value to them on a consistent basis.

We all have good ideas on where we want our firms to go, but so did JCP’s CEO, Ron Johnson. Are you thinking about where to play your strategy and if that aligns you with how to win by creating a result that is viewed by your customer as important, valuable, convenient, and affordable? That’s the formula for how to win.

Image [cc] ByronNewMedia

While prepping for a workshop on this morning, I began to think about the types of business development, client relations and competitive intelligence questions that are commonly asked at law firms, and how they tend to almost always be reactive in nature. Take the question of a partner coming to the development/intelligence team and asking:

We are looking at bringing in Bob Smith from Mega-Firm, LLC, can you check him out for us?

What this question is actually saying is this:

We’ve already made a lot of decisions on bringing in this guy Bob Smith from Mega-Firm, LLC. We’ve done a bit of investigation (read: one of us worked with him a while back), but we thought we’d get a bit of verification that he’s an okay lawyer and will fit into the firm. That way, if he doesn’t work out, we can point to your report and cover our you-know-what and say that we “properly vetted” him. So, can you check him out for us?

Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but you can see that bringing in your development and intelligence (D&I) teams this late into the process shows that either your D&I teams aren’t part of the overall strategic goals of your firm, or the strategy wasn’t considered properly when the decision was made to bring in Bob Smith as a lateral hire.

So, what’s the proper question? Part of that answer isn’t so much about the question itself, but rather, at what point in the process is a question presented to your D&I teams? If the D&I teams are really a part of the firm’s strategic operations, the question needs to be asked before Bob’s name is even in the running as a lateral hire. If the D&I teams are part of the process, Bob may never have even entered into the equation at all. A more strategic question to ask might be this:

We are looking to beef up our IP Litigation practice in the Northwest United States, what potential clients are out there for that region, and who do we have within the firm to handle this initiative? If we don’t have someone in the firm, who would be the top five laterals we should be looking for to help us accomplish this objective?

One of the primary purposes of having development and intelligence professionals is to help put your firm on at a competitive advantage over peer firms. So, if the strategic goal is to “beef up” a practice in a certain geographic area, then the D&I teams’ purpose is to analyze the competition in that area, determine who are the main players, the trends forecasted for this type of legal practice, and what it would take to make our firm better than what exists in that region. This purpose cannot be obtained when they are left out of the intial strategy.

Culture is a very important aspect of how well an organization functions.  Most experts agree, culture is more important than pay when discussing employee satisfaction, and yet, many organizations place no value on corporate culture.  They believe, because you cannot easily measure culture, it does not connect with the company’s bottom line.

Here are the top three motivators for employee satisfaction.

  1. Job security – without positive communication, employees start to feel threatened and unappreciated.  These feelings give employees the impression that they are not valued.
  2. Communication with management – without positive communication from management, business goals and company vision are not shared.   Without this shared experience, the organization will not stand a chance of meeting business goals.
  3. Respect and the ability to contribute value to the business – the feeling of being heard by management is very important to employee satisfaction.  

All of these fall under what I consider to be culture.  An effective culture is positive, values employee contributions, clearly communicates goals, listens and values ideas.  What is most amazing is that this positive culture costs the company very little, monetarily speaking, but has a huge impact on the success of a business.

“A positive culture is not something to be taken lightly.  It can take years to cultivate a positive, customer oriented, collaborative culture and yet that culture can be destroyed in very little time.”

Does culture just happen?  With rare exception, no.  Culture is planned and is part of the overall strategy for an organization.  If culture is not part of your business strategy, how can you expect to have alignment of corporate values?  It is the one-two punch of business alignment and employee dedication that creates a winning team.

In these times when employees are being asked to do more with less, we need to keep in mind the importance of culture within an organization.  If you think about the cost of turnover – how much institutional knowledge leaves with each employee and the impact that bad culture has on employee productivity – you will understand how important a positive culture is and how it contributes to the bottom line.

Kingsley Martin’s KIIAC KM tool has been highlighted on the 3 Geeks before. The KIIAC tool is a next-generation KM analysis resource, that analyzes a volume of documents to determine the most standard language for each clause within the document set.
The direct value of something like this tool is obvious for a firm. Law firms now spend copious amounts of un-billable time developing and maintaining model document templates for a given practice. KIIAC can do the same in seconds at a fraction of the cost. At a recent conference, I made the point that now a firm can actually know what its standard documents look like. Developing a model, standard template in the old-fashioned way produces what one person or small group of people think the standard should be, not what it actually is.
Now … extend that thinking to the broader market. Think of the power and value of being able to produce standard document templates at the market level?
Well actually … Kingsley was already doing that thinking for you. He recently released his Contract Standards web site, where he is gathering various types of documents, running them through his KIIAC analysis engine, and producing true industry standard models. The site includes checklists, clause libraries and a document assembly engine for compiling standard clauses into usable documents. The site already includes a number of agreements and will grow over time.
Another form site? Not really. Just like the law firm challenge noted above, KIIAC brings the knowledge from very large sets of documents and brings in to focus a true standard. What this means is we now will have Standards with a capital “S” in the legal market. These standards come from documents actually being used on the market, not what some small group of people think should be used. These standards will be knowledge that hasn’t previously existed.
Caveats: Obviously having a true standard will be dependent on having a relatively large set of documents in the system. But the beauty of the system is that it will scale to very large sets. So over time, the standard will become more and more focused as it gets used and continually augmented with new sets of documents.
Imagine what the existence of real market standards could mean for the practice of law?
Yeah I know – my mind just blew up too.

I totally missed the opportunity to chime in this week’s Elephant Post and rather than comment on everyone else’s comments, I thought – What would Greg do? The answer is axiomatic – blog about it. And so I am. From a competitive intelligence perspective, I hope legal directories never die, in print or online. But I do like the print editions there is certain gravitas that comes from seeing the best of the profession wrapped in nicely bound shiny book. But maybe that’s just me. In any event, the directories for me, are a treasure trove of information. Aside from being a terrific mechanism from which to source laterals (as mentioned in the Elephant posts), you can also source client relationships such as who acts for whom in what city, state/province, and most importantly in a given practice or industry. As my firm continues to grow internationally, legal directories are great source of general market intelligence as well. Directories describe the types of deals being done, by whom, for whom, with all kinds of additional details. All that’s left to do is bring some CI analysis to the party. Online versions make this even easier. I actually use directories so often, that I recently found myself looking for certain international directories and being upset when I came up empty handed. There are the pay-for-play vanity press type directories that are generally the domain (or pain) of Marketing Departments but to the discerning to the CI practitioner, there is value in assessing a firm’s strategy to participate (or not) in those as well. Directories make doing my job easy and despite the amount of work and questionable ROI (another post for another time), you can learn so much about a firm or market from them. I could go on, but I think you get my point. When you need them, legal directories are like neatly wrapped presents, just asking to be opened and enjoyed and I hope they live along and happy life.