Private law librarianship in the new economic climate

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Nov 7, 2013 (3 years and 1 month ago)

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LIBRARIAN FOCUS


Private law librarianship in the new economic climate

By Heather Heen


The impact of t
oday’s economy
on

librarianship in private law firms
has

been the focus
of many discussions. At the 2012 AALL annual meeting and the 2012 PLL Summit
,

it
was the central theme running through many of the programs, and there was consensus
that the current economic climate is calling for innovation and flexibility from private
law librarians.


Economic climate and its effect on librarianship

We all fac
ed significant challenges with the downturn of the legal market in 2008 that
culminated in the credit crisis in 2009. In mid
-
March and in October 2009, AALL
conducted a survey of law library directors to understand how the economic crisis was
affecting the

profession. What they found was that in private law libraries, 30 percent saw
staff reductions, but 72 percent also had a hiring freeze in place.


The impacts of this were many. Library directors were reducing their print collections
,

and their staffs w
ere taking on additional new duties, including tracking CLE
s

and
assisting with client relationship management software. There was more attention spent
on billing research time and increased involvement in research for implementing new
business/strategic i
nitiatives.


In 2010 Thomson Reuters conducted a Large Law Firm Librarians Study to better
understand library directors’ roles in a changing economy. What stood out were the
increased responsibilities in business development research, knowledge management
,

and
practice area integration or specialization. Additionally, we heard librarian directors were
more involved in product evaluation for solutions traditionally belonging to the IT
department.


We were not only seeing a change in the structure of the w
ork but also in
law librarian

reporting structure. The 2011 ALM Law Librarian Survey reviewed reporting
relationships for
l
ibrary
d
irectors from 2008 to 2011. It showed that the percentage of law
library directors who reported to a COO, director of adminis
tration or executive director
fell 11 percent while their reporting relationship to a CIO or IT director increased 4
percent.


The Hildebrandt Institute anticipates that we are not out of the economic woods yet. They
are advising their clients that growt
h will remain a challenge and the key to success is
going to be balancing that capacity against the available work. Delivering high quality at
a reasonable price is now table
-
stakes to be competitive in the business law space.
Librarians are still perfectl
y positioned to assist in those challenges.


Change as opportunity: future librarian roles

These changes have created challenges for private law librarianship, but by being
innovative and nimble we are poised to create higher visibility for the library a
nd deliver
information in a more timely and efficient manner. The following three roles have been
identified as
increasingly needed
in private law firm librarianship.


The embedded librarian

The "embedded librarian" is a concept that is quickly gaining fo
oting in private law
libraries. It is a highly customized specialty with a focus on actively developing and
enhancing relationships in specific practice groups.


As reported by the
Three Geeks and a Law Blog
,

a
2012
ARC group survey found there
was almos
t an even split between the firms

that have embedded librarians
and those that
don’t have them. This means there is a strong opportunity to create and define this
program as it works best within your specific law firm. We have heard a variety of
business s
upport models, including librarians being housed with the department they
support or in decentralized locations in order to continue supporting the library
,

as well as
the practice group. The benefits have been the creation of a stronger relationship with
the
practice groups and
an integral membership in
those teams.


Library as a knowledge center

The 2011 ALM Law Librarian Survey highlighted that the library’s role in the field of
knowledge management (KM) was up 42 percent since 2008. This is significan
t because
the value of knowledge management is to make content

no matter what it is or where it
resides

easier to access. Where best than the library to manage this process? KM can
bring all of those disparate, hard
-
to
-
fathom sources under a single user
-
fr
iendly interface.


But there is a lot of room for improvement in the KM efforts
. L
ibrarians’ increased
sophistication with technology can make this process more efficient and seamless. With
tools like wikis, blogs
,

and Microsoft SharePoint, it is no longer necessary to possess an
engineering degree to build Web portals and practice group pages that bring together far
-
flung content. In open
-
ended survey questions and follow
-
up interviews, several library
directors al
so pointed to enterprise search as a particularly promising new tool. This
technology enables users to
use
a single query
to
search a wide range of repositories

from document management systems to the firm's intranet. As this field expands, the
library bri
ngs a natural value
-
add to this technology.


Competitive intelligence

Competitive intelligence has always been an important asset that librarians have brought
to their firms. When we look again to the 2011 ALM Law Librarian survey, we see that
the depart
ment that was most in charge of marketing research was the library

(
at 52
%)
.
As to

which department was primarily responsible for competitive information, the
library
(56%)
was significantly above marketing.


This indicates that law librarians have a gro
wing and evolving role of value to the firm in
the field of competitive intelligence. Librarians are increasingly collaborating with
business development teams to research and analyze information for attorneys to use in
acquiring and retaining clients. Whi
le there has been some tension between the two
departments, law librarians need to continue to highlight that they are key in obtaining
“actionable” information, such as identifying new business opportunities, helping create
strategies
,

and ascertaining potential threats.


Conclusion

The future of private law librarians in this new economic climate is changing. They face
challenges in the form of reduced staff and budgets, new duties
,

and different reporting
structures. This new climat
e calls for innovation and flexibility from private law
librarians to highlight their unique skills and use them in important new ways to help the
firm succeed.


==


Heather Heen is a librarian relations manager for Thomson Reuters, serving law
librari
ans in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada. Her e
-
mail address is
heather.heen@thomsonreuters.com
.

==


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==

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==


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Historical
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Historical versions feature on WestlawNext



==

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