Last week, AALL announced that it has selected HBR Consulting to lead a six-month project on a researched-based study that will identify the return on investment (ROI) of having a law library in an Academic, Private, and Court environment. As I had mentioned back in November when the Request for Proposal went out from AALL, this is the crown jewel project of AALL’s current President, Steven P. Anderson. I have had a first-row seat on this project being on the AALL Executive Board and can tell you that Anderson has been very passionate about this idea and how AALL can help those who work in law libraries by providing specific metrics on the value that they bring to their organizations. I am looking forward to the final product that AALL and HBR Consulting, hopefully sometime later this year.

Here is the official Press Release that came out last week.

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kate Hagan,
AALL Executive Director
312-205-8016
Khagan@aall.org

AALL Selects HBR Consulting to Conduct ROI Study

Chicago 2/27/2014—The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) today announced that HBR Consulting has been selected to conduct a research-based study on the important role law libraries play in today’s legal community.

“The objective of this project is to produce a comprehensive study of the return on investment and the consequent value proposition that law libraries provide,” said AALL President Steven P. Anderson.

“The last several years have brought fundamental changes to the legal profession and business of law,” he added. “These changes have served as an impetus for law libraries to transform their operations and services in varied and profound ways—and it is now imperative that law libraries demonstrate the value they bring in concise, measurable ways.”

Once the study is finalized, a full report with findings will be released. The report will include important metrics to calculate the return on investment that legal research and information professionals provide within the legal community. AALL will use the report to develop strategies for communicating the ROI of law libraries.

HBR Consulting is a global leader in legal research and information solutions. The HBR project team will be led by Kris Martin, Senior Director, and Constance Ard, Consultant, and consist of additional HBR professionals.

The project will begin immediately and should take about six months to complete.

About AALL
The American Association of Law Libraries was founded in 1906 to promote law libraries’ value to the legal and public communities; foster the law librarianship profession and provide leadership in the legal information field. With nearly 5,000 members, AALL represents law librarians and related professionals who are affiliated with law firms; law schools; corporate legal departments; courts; and local, state and federal government agencies. For more information, visit AALLNET.org.

About HBR Consulting
HBR Consulting—previously Hildebrandt Baker Robbins and the former consulting arm of Thomson Reuters—is internationally recognized as the leading business and technology operations consultancy in the legal industry. Since being taken private in 2011, HBR Consulting continues to expand on its foundation as a leading provider of consulting services to the legal industry. With more than three decades of experience, we help law firms and law departments plan, implement and measure business, information and technology initiatives with a specific focus on increasing operational efficiency and effectiveness. HBR Consulting helps clients holistically address their needs in the areas of Information Technology Services, Strategic Sourcing and Business Operations, and Law Department Consulting. For more information, visit www.hbrconsulting.com.

AALL President, Steven P. Anderson is looking for ways that law libraries and law librarians can communicate the value they bring to their institutions and communities. Anderson’s idea is to go beyond simply talking about the value, and actually create a report that presents the values through metrics and outcomes. Having sat with Steve over the past few years on the AALL Executive Board, I can tell you that this is something that he passionately believes is needed in the profession, and that AALL is the right association to commission the research needed to create the report. Anderson is putting his passion to practice and has issued an RFP to the research community to turn this idea into a report. Responses to the RFP are due by December 11, 2013 and a selection is to be made by AALL later in December.

The press release is below with more information.

                                         
 PRESS RELEASE For Immediate Release
Contact: Kate Hagan
312-205-8016 or Khagan@aall.org
 

AALL Issues Request for Law Library Value Report Proposals

Chicago 10/28/2013—The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) today issued a request for proposal to commission a research-based report on the important role law libraries play in today’s legal community. 

When complete, the report should offer law librarians and the institutions and businesses they serve important metrics that can help them calculate the return on investment law libraries provide. 

“The objective of this project is to  produce a comprehensive study of the return on investment and the consequent value proposition that law libraries provide, while also equipping them with methodologies and best practices to employ to communicate this value to the appropriate people or entities within their institution,” said AALL President Steven P. Anderson.

The last several years have brought fundamental changes to the legal profession and business of law. These changes have served as an impetus for law libraries to transform their operations and services in varied and profound ways—and it is now imperative that law libraries demonstrate the value they bring in concise, measurable ways.

Specifically, the report research will identify key implications for all types of law libraries and:

·     Include quantitative and qualitative methods used to demonstrate law libraries’ value
·     Define value in terms of the institution’s goals, not the library’s goals.
·     Identify best practices for demonstrating value

The response deadline is Dec. 11, 2013. A provider will be selected by Dec. 20, with a contract start date of Jan. 1, 2014. For more on candidate qualifications, submission guidelines and other information, please visit http://www.aallnet.org/Documents/Leadership-Governance/Committees/roi-rfp.pdf.

About AALL

The American Association of Law Libraries was founded in 1906 to promote law libraries’ value to the legal and public communities; foster the law librarianship profession and provide leadership in the legal information field. With nearly 5,000 members, AALL represents law librarians and related professionals who are affiliated with law firms; law schools; corporate legal departments; courts; and local, state and federal government agencies. For more information, visit AALLNET.org.
 

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] calliope_Muse

I’ve been on the ‘value’ bandwagon for quite some time now, but I recently had an epiphany courtesy of Ulla de Stricker during the recent CLA webinar “Becoming Indispensable: The Value Proposition”. It was one of those moments where you understand that you’ve been headed in the wrong direction; a real lightning bolt. I was so affected that I followed up with Ulla for a further discussion.

So, what led to this epiphany? Okay, here you go: accept “what is”. Sounds like a simple concept, right? But in fact, this is the exact opposite of what we’ve been doing for the past few years. Ulla’s theory, in a nutshell, is that we work within the current value perception of our organization and stop fighting to demonstrate our value in areas that it is actually not valued. While this makes perfect sense, it isn’t necessarily what we’ve been advocating. Instead, we try to prove our value using our own definitions, but does any of it align with the value perception of the organization? If it doesn’t, what are we doing besides beating our heads against a wall?

Ulla takes a pragmatic view and says, “it is more productive to work with the existing perception of value” than to create a new one. I believe we have all been blind to this fact and then wonder why we aren’t valued by our organizations. As Greg recently stated in his post on Value:

There’s a fine line between providing value every day and having to explain to those we work with why they should understand why we are valuable.

So, what should we be doing? Ulla suggests a very simple solution: follow the money and you will be able to tell what the organization values. It may not be what we value or even where we think we can contribute at the highest level, but if X is what the organization values, then X is where we must be. This means there is no identical road map for everyone. We must each create our own value within each individual organization based on that organization, and not some preconceived notion of the value of an information worker. That, when you think about it, actually sounds more valuable.

Note: See also Ulla’s recent blog post: Working with Reality: Times Have Changed…So Can We

Cafe Press

I’m going to modify a quote from one of my least favorite politicians, Margaret Thatcher, and then apply it to something I’m seeing in the library profession:

Being valuable is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

The same can be said about being funny, or cool. If you have to explain why the joke is funny, it’s because it isn’t funny. At least not in the perception of the person you are having to explain it.

Now, this was a long introduction to something that tends to happen whenever there is an article, blog post, or public questioning of what librarians do and the value that they bring. The latest culprit? “10 Least Stressful Jobs for 2013” where Librarian fell between “Hair Stylist” and “Drill Press Operator” as one of the most stress-free jobs you can have this year. Of course, University Professors came in with the top honor. I’m sure as soon as the article’s author, Kyle Kensing, hit “publish” on the CareerCast  website, he stood up and shouted “Oh, It’s About To Get Real All Up In Here!!” as he waited for 10 different professions to start picking apart the metrics used in compiling this list and explain to him why he is an idiot.

Like clockwork, the comments started coming; the counter-posts started flying, and; the “who does this joker think he is?” tweets and Facebook updates hit the social media spectrum.  Perhaps my favorite (so far) was the tongue-in-cheek post by Andy Woodworth, “How to Troll Librarians and Make Money in Five Easy Steps.” In that article, Andy explains that if you want to make a lot of money off of the emotions of librarians, simply follow his five steps of baiting librarians with vague “best” or “worst” professions, add stereotypes, and surround the post with ads that pay you per visit. To modify another quote: “If you insult them, they will come.” Don’t believe it? Start your article with this phrase:

In a wool suit, nicely accessorized, sitting in the boardroom of the Hughes Main Library, she looks every bit the librarian she is.

and see what happens next.

Look, Librarians are just like every other profession out there. We have some really poor performers, and we have some really good performers. We tend to be seen as an easy way to cut the budget during hard times, yet we also tend to be seen as one of the most important pieces of our communities when we are under attack by those same budget cutters. In my opinion, we have a large percentage within the profession that are extremely valuable to their organizations, their communities, and to the profession as a whole. Those folks do not have to scramble during budget season to figure out how they need to prove their worth. They prove it everyday with their actions.

I’m sure that I will take a bit (or a lot) of criticism over this next statement, but here it goes anyway. If we, as a profession, jump down the throat of every writer that slights us with these “worst” or “best” job articles, then we, as a profession, look petty. If we, as a profession, have to teach each other how to be valuable, then we, as a profession, loose value. There’s a fine line between providing value everyday and having to explain to those we work with why they should understand why we are valuable. I’m afraid that we are nearing a tipping point where all this talk of value will turn against us.

Here are just a few of the conference I found that specifically mention “Value” in the theme of the conference itself. You can easily do a Google search to see there are many more out there with this same theme. I’m not trying to insult any of the conference listed below (as you may know, I’m on the executive board of one of them.) However, the participants (whether behind the podiums or in the audience) need to enter these conferences with the goal of recognizing how to better provide value and not the goal of being better at telling people how we are already valuable. Again, to modify the explaining a joke quote:

If you have to explain why the librarians are valuable, they aren’t. 

American Association of Law Libraries
Texas Library Association
Academic Library Association of Ohio
Association of College and Research Libraries

Image [cc] Iain Farrell

The theme of “self-help” has popped up in a number of my conversations lately. I’m talking about work that lawyers used to rely upon others to handle, that they are now handling themselves. Whether it is pulling PACER dockets, case law, Shepardizing, filing court documents, or typing up their own documents, it is apparent that lawyers are taking on more of the workload than they did 10 or 15 years ago. Now, you may think that this is a good thing… and maybe it is. However, as I started thinking about workflow processes and project management, I wondered if just because a lawyer can do certain parts of the work, does that mean that the lawyer should be doing that part of the work?

Some of the basic concepts behind Legal Project Management, and the value of alternative fee arrangements between clients and law firms rely upon work being handled by the appropriate level of expertise. A lawyer can quite easily handle processes like pulling a PACER docket or editing the format of a court brief. In fact, in the billable hour universe, it could be pretty profitable to allow the attorneys to do as much self-help as they can. But, we don’t live in a pre-2008 world any longer. If clients begin requiring firms to use project management concepts in how they handle their work… or, partners start capping the total number of hours that associates can spend on specific client work, then the work needs to be pushed down to the lowest appropriate level. If it is pulling documents, then it should go to paralegals, researchers in the library, or others in the firm. If it is basic editing and formatting of documents, then legal secretaries or administrative assistants should be taking on that work. Again, it’s not because the lawyers can’t do that type of work, it is because they shouldn’t be doing that type of work. 
As big firms pushed secretary to attorney ratios to 4:1 or 6:1, the question has to be asked on what this does to the attorney? Are the adjustments in ratios a reaction to the lack of work available to the admin staff, or does it create a situation where basic work processes are being pushed up? Is work that should be taken on by non-billable admin staff, suddenly being pushed to billable workers such as paralegals or associates? Is this fair for the billable staff? Is it fair for the client? 
I have no illusions that firms will suddenly stop looking at admin to lawyer ratios at their firms. As long as administrative functions are viewed through the lens of “revenue – expenses = profits” then there will always be someone at the firm looking to cut expenses. However, law firms (and I’m coming from a big law firm perspective) have admin staff for a reason. For most of us, the reason is that we do certain pieces of the overall work for the client and firm so that the attorneys can focus on practicing law and bringing the best value to their clients. When the concept of “self-help” means that traditional administrative work suddenly becomes attorney work, then you have to wonder what type of value this really brings to the firm or the clients they serve.

For the upcoming COLPM Futures Conference, I was tasked with defining value in value billing for law firms. This is a great problem to tackle. I think the market has given us a lengthy list of value billing propositions clients want, but absent getting full-rates (which is a myth by the way), not many talk about value in value billing from a law firm’s perspective.
I have previously discussed the ongoing shift towards a profit-margin business model for firms. This shift is a key factor in defining billing value for a firm. At its most basic level, what firms need is a reasonable fee for a defined piece of work. (My own opinion is that rates are becoming much less relevant within this context.) The problem is that clients, in addition to wanting lower prices (rates or fees) are asking for pricing without giving much, if any, scope – and are staying very involved in the details and staffing aspects of work.
And now for my Typical Car Analogy: That’s like saying you will pay $30k for a car, then over time, bit-by-bit, your ‘feature’ requests spec out an S Class Mercedes. If the law firm knew up front, even from a general idea that you wanted a luxury sedan, they could have given a competitive price and known whether or not they could make money on the deal.
I know this sounds simple. And that it isn’t. Yet.
Law firms and clients are in the process of learning how to set prices at the fee level and develop some level of scope for each engagement. Part of the goal of the value session at the COLPM conference is to begin developing standard terms of art and other building blocks to facilitate and accelerate this process.
And now for The Value Billing Value Propositions for law firms:
#1 – Relationship Building. Since the legal market is driven by relationship, developing broader and deeper relationships with clients has the highest value. Value billing presents that opportunity.
#2 – Expand the work – as appropriate. Yes – firms would like to grow the business. As opportunities come available, law firms will find value in expanding their presence with clients, leveraging value billing in the process.
#3 – Ability to earn a reasonable margin on the work. Yes – firms want to remain financially healthy. In a profit-margin business model this comes about via reasonable prices on known scopes of work. Value billing presents this opportunity as well.
So the question then becomes, what needs to be in place for these value propositions to materialize? Which leads us to my Value Billing Wish-list for a law firm:
1) Client knows what its fee goal is (beyond cost containment)
a. e.g. predictability, certainty, risk/reward alignment, …
2) Absent #1, client is willing to sit down with law firm to explore and determine what #1 should be.
a. BTW – Vague or broad RFPs run counter to this.
3) Client will give at a minimum, some level of scope
a. Or even out-of-scope assumptions
4) Absent #3, client is willing to sit down with law firm to explore and determine what #3 should be.
5) Client understands their outcome goal for a given matter or group of matters
a. e.g. What is the risk factor driving a higher or lower fee?
6) Absent #5, client is willing to sit down with law firm to explore and determine what #5 is.
7) If client has an idea of what they want to spend for a given piece of work (a.k.a. its value to them), they share it with the firm(s).
a. This will open a dialog to the level of effort that may be needed and where that effort should be made.
8) Client engages with a firm as a partner, working together to manage costs and insure value
a. For instance, consider committing larger volumes of work to a firm. The cash flow and knowledge gained over time by the firm will enable savings for the client and profitability for the firm.
9) Once a fee arrangement is in place, client lets the law firm manage the work
a. Especially under fixed fees, firms will be motivated to use the right level of expertise for each task (even when it’s a first year lawyer).
10) Finally, and most importantly, client is willing to engage in a sincere, trusting relationship with the firm. Without trust, none of the above matter.
The theme of trust obviously emerges from this wish-list. And that is the bottom-line. In my humble opinion – value billing works when there is trust. The wish-list provides opportunities and ways to build that trust.
To move in that direction, clients should recognize this need for trust and take an active role in working with firms to drive a new value model: one that achieves the goal of controlling costs while maintaining quality. And one that insures financially healthy partners, committed to clients’ success.
Trust me … trust is the answer.

Consider the degree of trust you should have in your auto mechanic. You will probably never know the quality of work before, during and even after you receive it. You have to trust your mechanic’s diagnosis and then trust the quality of service you receive in the repair. It is difficult-to-impossible to truly know anything about its quality. All you can know is that the car wasn’t working properly before and now it is. What was wrong, what was actually repaired and the quality of the repair could remain a mystery to you forever. This is a called a Credence Service.
Recently I was fortunate to hear a presentation from Blane Erwin of Bridgeway Software on the concept of law as a credence service. Blane brought some original thinking to the challenge of valuing legal services. He laid bare the deep level of trust clients have when hiring lawyers. He described how clients must trust their lawyer’s diagnosis of the problem, and that the solution provided was truly needed and effective. In an environment so dependent on trust, how can clients ascertain the real value and therefore fair price of a service?
But here’s the rub – legal services have long been a credence service. So why the crisis now?
The Trust Breakdown
Many in the legal industry feel the trust between lawyers and clients has been damaged, if not broken. You see it in the articles on value billing and those on the various crises in the profession. To sum it up – many clients feel they have been paying too much for legal services and are now flexing their buying muscle to drive down prices. On its face, this situation defines a broken trust.
What I really like about the ‘credence’ concept is that it clearly defines why that trust must exist. And it suggests ways to repair the damage. Blane offered up one potential solution in his presentation. With some luck and time, he may describe that here as a guest post. (Hint, hint – Blane)
I suggest just having a clear picture of the nature of the trust problem will help lawyers improve the way they price and deliver services to their clients. Consider your experiences with your own auto mechanic. What made those experiences positive or negative?
Think about that next time you engage with one of you clients.

All this talk of Value related to legal services brought back a value lesson I recall from a few years back. The methodology I saw provides a direct way of assessing any value proposition. In its most basic form the measurement is: If you removed “X,” what will the impact be on “Y.”
For instance – if law firm X were to close its doors at 5:00 on Friday, what will the impact be to its clients on Monday morning? The level of pain they would feel would be proportional to the value the firm currently provides.
As a mental exercise and way of helping our readers assess their value proposition in their current jobs, I provide a contrast of two law firm departments and their value proposition using this method. This analysis is oversimplified to make a point. Consider that before you ‘hoist me by my own petard.’
First up – Marketing
If marketing were shut down on Friday at 5:00, what would the impact on a firm be Monday morning? Absent support for some immediate seminars or RFP responses, there might not be much impact. In the mid-run, a firm would stop putting on seminars and running ads. Or basic marketing functions would shift to partners. Would this put the firm out-of-business? Probably not. They may lose some market awareness, but perhaps not much in the way of work from current clients. However, in the long-run the firm would begin to feel the pain from this short-sided action.
Next up – IT
If IT were shuttered at 5:00 on Friday, a firm would quickly feel it. If you are unable to create, print and send documents, you cannot practice law.
Does this mean if you are in IT you can relax? Absolutley not. The sands of law firm operations (and organizations in general) can shift quite quickly in the New Normal. The lesson here is that you should conduct a value assessment of your current position on a regular basis.
Personally I think that’s the New Way. If you are not constantly looking to improve your value proposition, it can quickly disappear. Think of this as a fun challenge instead of a burden. This New Way values creativity and critical thinking over the mundane and dull. And in my opinion, it delivers a much more fulfilling job.

I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Beach, Associate General Counsel for Litigation for United Technologies Corporation (UTC) give a wonderful and informative presentation on AFAs. Bottom-line: Paul and UTC have it right when it comes to AFAs. In concert with AFAs, Paul talked a lot about value. In addition to what provides value, Paul gave a list of things firms do that they think provide value to clients, but really don’t – at least for him. Here is my abbreviated and paraphrased list:
#1 – Firms send him long “experience” lists, showing what cases they have handled and how they won them. He estimate somewhere between 50 to 95% of these cases are not worth mentioning. He views them as too much information, and information he doesn’t necessarily trust and really doesn’t value. As he said it, lawyers typically talk about every case as a win, since a resolution is a win. I read that as – don’t send him long experience lists or don’t even send him a list at all unless it’s relevant/valuable to the situation.
#2 – Don’t send him hard-copy, leather-bound books authored by firm lawyers. He described these as “too heavy, with no search function.” He mentioned one he received that already had a pocket-part inserted. He read that as “out-of-date.” Books are knowledge that is not shareable, current or mobile. Even with the leather – he was not impressed.
#3 – Billing him for providing training for his internal staff. Enough said.
#4 – Entertainment or gifts. Most legal departments are charged with enforcing Procurement’s rules, which state, “no gifts from vendors.” So why are you offering gifts to the Legal Dept.?
#5 – Writing off time. This one was his “favorite.” When a lawyer calls him and tells him that a lot of time was written-off, he assumes they are trying to impress him by voluntarily reducing waste from his bill. Instead, what he hears is that they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s an indicator of bad process and bad management.
So … in addition to truly getting AFAs, Paul also knows how to ‘cut to the chase’ on what value means.
Bravo Paul.