How Librarians Add Value To Their Law Firms – Advice From Greg Castanias, Jones Day Library Partner

Comments by Gregory A. Castanias, Library Partner at Jones Day, Washington, DC about the reaction to the speech he gave during the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section Summit of the American Association of Law Libraries held in Philadelphia, PA, on July 23, 2011.

I confess that I was surprised at the reaction of the audience to my speech.  While it was clearly my intent to deliver a certain message, I did not expect that the assembled attendees would interrupt parts of it with applause, and, in at least one instance, loud table-pounding.  It’s apparent that the frustrations I’ve experienced from a partner-administrator level have been felt by librarians for years, and that my speech gave partner-level voice to many of those frustrations.   

I am happy to have provided so many talented professionals a moment of catharsis.  But I hope that I was able to do more than that.  I hope that the library professionals who heard this speech better understand that we, the partners who own our respective law firms, are (or at least should be) really aligned with them.  I hope that the library professionals are able to take this information, steel their backbones, and have the strength to tell their vendors exactly what they need, and to insist on being treated like a client, and not a cash pipeline.  While I’m not quite advocating a Peter Finch-style “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more!” approach, the vendors I was addressing would be well suited to sit up and take notice that law firms’ librarians are a lot closer to a Network-style meltdown than even I thought before I gave my speech.  

I was grateful for the opportunity to address librarians, who are such important players in our law firms, and grateful for the platform to deliver this message.  I hope it becomes a catalyst for positive change.

Greg Castanias

Below is the transcript of Mr. Castanias’ presentation:

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your “Change as Action” / “Change as Opportunity” Summit. Let me tell you a little about how I got my job as Global Library Partner of Jones Day, because it forms the foundation for a lot of my views on the subject I’m supposed to be talking about today, a talk advertised as “How librarians add value to their law firms.” That title, though, is a little misleading. What I really want to talk about is “How Library Partners Add Value.” In August 2004, I returned to the United States from a trip to Dubai to find a voicemail message from a senior Jones Day partner, a partner who is also the chair of our technology committee. When I called back, he wouldn’t tell me what he wanted to talk to me about, but he wanted to talk to me in person. So immediately I thought, “Great. What did I do to get fired?”

Well, it turned out that I wasn’t losing a job; I was getting an additional job. Despite the fact that Jones Day was a 30+ office legal empire, on which the sun never sets, the Firm had never coordinated its library operations across its offices. It was running just about as many separate libraries as it was offices. The individual offices had hired the library staffs. Many library vendor contracts—even the big, firmwide online contracts—were being negotiated and entered into without any librarian input. Through two of the most powerful forces in the universe—inertia and ignorance—Jones Day, despite our trademarked slogan of “One Firm Worldwide,” had created a Balkanized system of “30 Libraries, Worldwide.”

But, funny thing. Despite the fact that we as a law firm had imposed a Balkanized structure upon our libraries, that did not stop our professional librarians from coordinating their operations as best they could. They had regular conference calls among themselves to share ideas, they shared physical resources, they appointed an informal chief among themselves, and they initiated change among themselves. This is the culture of librarians—they share information so that everyone is more informed and gets better as a result. In football terms, “You cannot stop them; you can only hope to contain them.” It is a testament to our librarians’ professionalism that, when I was appointed as the Jones Day library partner, one of my friends and partners asked me: “Why do we need a library partner? Don’t the libraries run themselves?”

Well, the libraries sort of did run themselves, because librarians made that happen. Modestly and largely invisibly, they made that happen. And it is the librarians’ damn fault that I got this job. Showing the leadership and initiative that I’ve already mentioned, the gang—they may lack black leather jackets and switchblades, but they were clearly more of a gang than a club—the gang decided that the individual libraries needed a library management system so that they could do their jobs across offices better, and serve the One Firm Worldwide and its clients better. After undertaking research and consulting with our Firm’s CIO, they wrote a memo requesting approval to spend several hundred thousand dollars in software, hardware, and training so that the entire Firm’s library system could be coordinated. This memo made its way to the firm’s Technology Committee. And while the logic of the memo was inarguable, it had the unintended effect of making light bulbs go on above the heads of the three partners who made up that committee: Before we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to coordinate the libraries technologically, shouldn’t we actually coordinate the libraries? And thus Jones Day’s first, and still only, Global Library Partner was born.

Change as opportunity, change as action. These librarians saw a need for change, and they acted. Seven years later, we now have a firmwide library system, with a firmwide director, firmwide managers of research and technology, and, of course, a firmwide library management system. Professional librarian time is now billed out at rates commensurate with those of paralegals across the Firm. While we still have library managers in local offices, in some places—California, Texas, New York/Boston, Europe, and the Far East, we are coordinating the local library functions in a more regional way. We are negotiating vendor contracts on a firmwide basis, with substantial input from our librarians, who know better than administrators (you may call them “beancounters”), or even supervising partners like me, what the value of certain services and certain components is. Our vendors probably don’t like this development much, but as I like to say, “I work for Jones Day; I don’t work for [insert name of online research service provider here].”

As a litigator, I believe in the power of storytelling. So I told you that story in order to frame the rest of my talk, which is going to be about the three groups that make up your constituencies: Library customers, Firm management, and external vendors. Customers. Maybe I should use the term “clients,” since that’s who lawyers serve. Librarians, like lawyers, are in a service business. I grew up in a service business. My Dad spent almost 50 years in the food and beverage business; when he owned restaurants, his motto was “When you walk into my place, you belong to me.” And that’s a really accurate way of describing what lawyers ought to do, and what law librarians need to do. Our clients put their businesses, their jobs, and sometimes even their lives in our hands; if we are doing our jobs right, they belong to us. They trust us to take care of them and their problems.

So the model I’d like to urge on all of you when you deal with your own internal clients—those lawyers, paraprofessionals, business development personnel who call on you—is my Dad’s model. What is your problem, and how can I help you solve that? Let me suggest a creative solution, a treatise, a database. Can I show you some research tips and tricks? Would you like fries with that? Notice I’m talking all about services, not library stacks. Since I took this job back in 2004, I’ve been urging our librarians and our lawyers to view the libraries no longer as spaces, but as services. Some of our offices have physical library spaces that are little more than a conference room on steroids, but that doesn’t mean that the libraries are less important there. So far, I’ve resisted the urge to change the name of our function from “libraries” to “information centers” or “research facilities” or “the knowledge management department,” or some neologism like that, but that just means there’s an extra challenge for us to be advocates.

 We have to make sure that our clients understand that “libraries” are not big rooms of dusty books with blue-haired ladies at the desk going “Shhhhh.” How do you do that? Well, I can tell you how we do that; your mileage may vary. We send out monthly firmwide library newsletters, we put pictures of the staff at the reference desk so that our in-person clients know who the professionals are, our local libraries put research tips and library updates in the weekly newsletters distributed by each office. We’ve created an online landing page containing most of our computerized research databases. We have multiple practice-area specialists located in different time zones for maximum availability. We are building relationships with the Firm’s lawyers so that we know their practices. In Washington, our manager and her staff sets up training sessions for the lawyers in the various practice areas in the Firm so that the lawyers know what services we have available—personal services and online research services both—so that the lawyers are constantly reminded about what we do and how the libraries add value.

But you can only find out what your clients need by interacting with them, by asking them what they need. For some of you, reaching out like this may be easy. Others may be stuck in the model of the introverted librarian who sits in the physical space and speaks only when spoken to. My message to these folks is this: Change isn’t coming; it already came and passed you by. I’m serious. If you’re sitting in your library waiting for your clients to come to you, you are doing it all wrong.

Now let me turn to that second constituency I talked about earlier, your firm management. Here, I’m including the non-lawyer administrative staff to whom you report, the financial beancounters I mentioned before, your library partners (if you’re so lucky to have one), and the high management of your firm. Lots of the same lessons I’ve offered with regard to dealing with your internal clients—the consumers of library services—apply here, too. What you want to know and understand is this: What makes them tick? What are the pressures they are facing in their job of managing the law firm? Are they perceiving you and the libraries as doing the things that need to be done to run a law firm at the highest level?

You know as well as I do that one of the principal pressures that law-firm management faces in this so-called “New Normal” is in the financial area. If there was ever a case for a mixed metaphor, Jim Jones made it this morning when he told us that the “perfect storm” had pushed us to the “tipping point.” We’re all under pressure to cut costs as much as we can, while we’re also expected to deliver better service today than we did yesterday. I might as well tell you that “water is wet,” but you constantly have to think about what this means in matters big or small. Obviously, vendor contracts are a big chunk of that, but let’s put that to one side; I’ll get to that. Ask yourself the hard questions: Is my physical library space the right size? (Remember, real estate costs real money.) Is our physical collection the right size? Is our staff the right size? Are we really adding value, or are we a drain on the bottom line? (Perhaps just as importantly, are we perceived as adding core value, or are you perceived as a drain on the bottom line?)

You can earn a heck of a lot of gold stars by going to management and saying things like “We don’t need all of this space; would you like some of it back?” You can also mark yourself as the sort of person management likes (because you help them sleep better at night) by doing things like teaching lawyers how to use the free legal resources that are out there, like Google Scholar. Don’t assume that everyone—or anyone—knows about these things. When I wrote an article for our firmwide library newsletter that talked about how I’ve come to use Google Scholar for most of my partner-level research needs (which these days is mostly pulling a case here or a case there), I got an astounding number of e-mails from everyone from new associates to senior partners thanking me for helping them practice law with more sensitivity to client cost controls. What I wrote, by the way, was that I can now use Google Scholar for about 95% of what I used to use Westlaw or Lexis for, and about 80% of what I used those services for when I was an associate.

And that brings me to the final part of my three-part talk, which is vendors. Talk about biting the hand that feeds me—it’s not lost on me that the lunch I am speaking at is sponsored by LexisNexis. I’m not going to make my comments specific to them, or to any one vendor; instead, I’ll speak generally. And what I’m going to do here is tell you what I’d like for our libraries to say to vendors, based on my almost eight years experience in negotiating with them.

Vendors, your business model is broken. In an era of flat or even declining revenues for law firms, you have been demanding increases in the amounts we pay you—demands that cause people like me to walk away from the negotiating table, shaking my head and muttering things like “Who do these people think they are?” “What economic world are they living in?” Others of you make it impossible for us to track the usage of your electronic services, which means we either have to guess whether we’re getting value, or go buy some additional expensive software tool to track our own lawyers’ usage of your service. Your pricing models are incomprehensible. One of you—you know who you are—started a pitch meeting with us with these words, and I quote: “Just because our pricing model is difficult to understand doesn’t mean that the way you bill your clients for our services has to be.” (I will add that the pitch continued with the suggestion that we bill our clients in a way that would have resulted in us receiving more money than our vendor was charging us for those same services—a suggestion of, shall we just say, questionable ethics.)

You fail to understand our businesses, while at the same time seeking what you call “partnerships” with us. (As best as I can tell, your version of “partnerships” means we give you access to our most sensitive business information, and it’s not entirely clear what we get in return.) For those of you who bill us in a way that allows us to pass through some costs to our clients, you seem to be willfully blind to the fact that more and more of our clients are simply refusing to pay for online legal research. And that means we are eating a significant part of our contracts with you via our bottom line. Despite that, you come into the negotiating meetings with us insisting that we can recover 95% or more of our spend with you. I can assure you that I have crunched the numbers, and repeating that over and over will not make that statement true.

You acquire and acquire and acquire, but you are incapable of integrating your businesses in any meaningful way. To one vendor’s companies we write no fewer than 16 checks a month to different divisions. But no one owns the vendor’s overall relationship with Jones Day, such that the content people don’t know what software deals we have with you, and the software people don’t know what hardware deals we have. And then all of your divisions are run as silos, so that every separate division has to maintain its profit-and-loss statement in the black, without any regard to how much we might be spending with another division.

Here is where I see the world going, and it fits your theme of change as action: Libraries will soon be entirely virtual—remember my earlier comment that libraries are already about services, not spaces—and our clients are going to expect our virtual libraries to be part of our overhead, just like in the days before online legal services, when we never charged a separate disbursement for a client’s share of the Federal Reporter or the U.S. Code Annotated.

In the vendor world, there is going to be consolidation. Consolidation and elimination. So far, none of you has figured out how you’re going to be the survivor. But I’m going to give you the road map for being on top of the heap when the dust clears. It’s really simple, and it’s the same recipe I just gave to our librarians for dealing with their internal constituents. It’s about service. Client service. This time, we—we the law firms—are the client. We’re willing to pay for value; we’re not expecting to get dinner at Le Bec Fin at McDonald’s Value Meal prices. As lawyers, our most successful client representations are those where we truly understand our clients, their pressures, their limitations, and their goals, and we can design a “bespoke” representation that is sensitive and attentive to those needs. Ultimately we get paid a very fair value, which is sometimes metered by a billable hour model, and at other times resembles a flat-fee model, often with a bonus for extraordinary results. The vendors who can embrace this change, and come up with a business and pricing model that reflects this reality, will be the ones who win the race. These will be the vendors who, in my Dad’s words, figure out how to say to me and people like me, “You belong to me—I’ll take care of you.” They will be the winners. I think it’s even possible that those winners may be companies or entities that don’t exist yet.

For the rest of you, just remember: I gave you the roadmap to survive the coming change. And if you think I’m just ranting, remember this: When I became Jones Day’s library partner, there were almost 1300 Borders bookstores across the globe, and the company was turning a handsome profit. Change came, in the form of Kindles, iPads, and amazon.com, and it passed Borders by. What is your story going to be? Thank you.

About these ads

15 thoughts on “How Librarians Add Value To Their Law Firms – Advice From Greg Castanias, Jones Day Library Partner

  1. I thought Greg Castanias’s original message could not get any better . . . that is, until I read the intro he added to his speech posted on OFG. Thanks so much for following up with Greg and I hope we PLLers will stay connected to such an impressive champion for librarians.

  2. Pingback: Jones Day Partner Greg Catanias to larger legal information vendors: “Your business model is broken.” | Library Consumer Advocacy Caucus

  3. UPDATE:

    Ten thousand law firm administrators and executives (yes, that’s 10,000) can read all about our PLL Summit as well as Greg Castanias’s role in the summit when the Association of Legal Administrators publishes its ALA News magazine online in the next two weeks.

    Congratulations to PLL’s representative to the Association of Legal Administrators, Monice Kaczorowski, who crafted a wonderfully written article scheduled to appear in the August/September issue.

    Please ask your firm’s administrators to be on the lookout for the article called Change as Action Summit – A Call to Action for Law Firm. Librarians, because you will want to read it too.

    Thanks very much,

    Lyn Warmath

    Director Information Services
    Hirschler Fleischer
    2100 East Cary Street
    Richmond, Virginia 23223-7078
    Phone: 804 771-5605
    Fax: 804 644-0957
    E-mail: lwarmath@hf-law.com

  4. Hi there,
    I really loved this speech. It is lovely to read of a partner championing his Info Pro’s. I think it is interesting that there was no mention of the outsourcing of these sorts of functions though. How will LPO change the buying and negotiation of online resources. I wonder how vendors will be affected by this given that you could maybe get to the point where negotiation for a number of firms is done by an outsource provider.
    It’s a scary but interesting and exciting time to be a librarian/info pro at the moment.

    Kim

  5. So I had 2 problems with this speech. First off, bashing on vendors is the easiest thing in the world to do, and is guaranteed to generate some applause in a room full of law librarians. The only thing novel about this particular tirade was that it was offered at a lunch sponsored by Lexis. My other concern was that Castanias’ advice consisted of more things that we need to do to promote our value throughout our firms. We can certainly do these things, but there’s no net value if the clients that we do the work for aren’t charged for it. I would have liked to hear what Greg, as a library partner, does to ensure that other partners at Jones Day write off as little of the billable time that his librarians enter as possible. We make plenty of indirect contributions to the firm’s bottom line, but all too often, our DIRECT, billable contributions simply go out the window with the slash of a red pen on a pro forma.

    • I think you make an excellent observation in your second concern, Jeremy. A big part of the problem is that so much of what we contribute is indeed diminished with the strike of a pen . . . at least on paper. Part of the paradigm that I would like to see change is this reliance on fees received for judging the value of a department. A lot of what we think of as “indirect”, I would assert is actually as “direct” as it gets. Tradition and parlance have moved these contributions to the back burner. As times change, however, so must the conversation. That is where I think that supporters like Mr. Castanias can best help us.

      As for your first concern, I agree in part. But I also think it is necessary some of our vendors actually hear what is on the minds of our library partners and others in power. We often make great middlemen in carrying those sentiments to our vendors. We librarians just tend to be more diplomatic and less confrontational in how we do it. Sometimes, you need to let the raw sentiments out. ;-)

  6. Jeremy Sullivan had two problems with my speech. As to the first one, he labels it “vendor bashing” (which he may do if he wishes), and thereby discounts it because it’s supposedly “the easiest thing in the world to do.” But to so categorize my words minimizes the points I was making, among which are: (1) that these are real problems that we at the firm-ownership level are having with vendors; (2) we in “management” are — or ought to be — aligned with our library professionals in this respect; (3) each of you is not a lone and powerless voice in the wilderness, and if you know that — and align yourselves with your firm’s management — you have the power to effect positive change in your relationships with vendors; and (4) a ballroom full of library professionals heard these words from a library partner, and vendors need to know that. (The e-mails I’ve received in the past few weeks confirm that others who heard or read my words — lawyers, librarians, AND vendors — picked up these points exactly.)

    Mr. Sullivan’s second “problem” is aimed at something he says I didn’t address in my 15 minutes at the podium, and that is what I do to ensure that partners write off as little billable library time as possible. I have my own problems with Mr. Sullivan’s statement of his second “problem.” In part, the simplest answer to his question is that I did address this issue — after I took over, we assigned all of our professional library staff billing rates commensurate with rates billed by paralegals (some librarians had no billing rates; others had embarrassingly low rates in the range of what my wife and I pay an hour for babysitting). And in being a visible, public advocate for the value of our library staff, some of my actions have raised the profile of our professional librarians in this respect. But what I won’t do is what Mr. Sullivan intimates I should do — mandate what my many partners do in the context of reviewing and editing the bills they send to the clients for whom they have the fiduciary responsibility of serving on behalf of the Firm. Our internal policies limit the amount of “write-downs” that a partner may make to a bill without getting higher approvals. By charging librarian time at a fair hourly value, and ensuring that the time makes it onto the pro forma in the first instance, it is then up to the billing partner to determine whether to use his extremely limited discretion to write off a small amount of partner time, associate time, or librarian time, or some of each. However it plays out in the final bill, it’s obvious that adding the librarian’s value to the pro forma is adding value to the enterprise.

    I’m going to offer one final thought that Mr. Sullivan’s comment brought to mind. I have now attended two AALL PLL-SIS meetings. One consistent thread that ran through my experiences at each has been my surprise at how adversarial — or insignificant — many librarians’ comments suggest that they feel with respect to their firm’s management. (Mr. Sullivan’s second critique of my speech seems to emanate from similar frustrations with his firm’s lawyers, who are not, he apparently thinks, showing the respect that the librarians and their services ought to receive.) If this is true at your firms, then I am sorry for you. In my speech I offered some ways that librarians can think about better aligning themselves (rather than being adversarial) with their own clients, who are their lawyer-bosses; I hope they help. But if the e-mails I’ve received are any comfort, firm leaders and librarians are on the same side with respect to the issues I’ve raised. We’re not the enemy.

  7. Fantastic, Mr. Castanias. Thanks for reading my response and taking the time to reply. I do apaologize if I came off as flip, but you’re right that it was coming from a position of frustration. Frustration because – and Greg Lambert kind of alluded to this in a post on Three Geeks today as well (http://www.geeklawblog.com/) – these are things that librarians have been ranting about for years, to little to no avail. If it takes a high profile partner to turn the tide, I agree that it is a net win for firms, attorneys and librarians alike and far be it from me to look a gift champion in the mouth, as it were. But this is a battle that librarians, as the contacts, negiotiators, consumers and deliverers of research resources should be winning. If vendors at long last sit up and take notice because of your powerful words, some of us may see that as a bittersweet victory.

    As for the write-off’s issue, I apologize for glossing over your creation of fair billing rates for your librarians – I’ve not worked at a firm where there were not established, reasonable billing rates for librarian time. I have however worked at a firm where the CEO openly stated that “it doesn’t matter whether you [the librarians] bill your time or not, we [the partnership] just write it all off anyway.” Despite that adversarial tone, set from the very top of the organization, we continued to provide the firm and its clients with exemplary research and library service, because that’s what librarians do.

  8. I wish I had the opportunity to hear the presentation live. I work with some of the most amazing law librarians who are true professionals and have the best interests of the law firms in mind. I represent a legal publisher that I believe is an exception to the the description portrayed by Mr. Castanias. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business has a unique approach and I believe we are reinventing the system he describes as broken. I find many of the challenges I face every day are directly related to the “vendors” who use high pressure tactics to secure business with little empathy for the customer. We are not perfect, but we are moving in the right direction and some of the issues with invoices, and divisions, and acquisitions without integration can be resolved if the sales representative properly advocates for their customer. In a consultative partnership, with any large company there are inefficiencies in the system and I believe it is part of my job…a critical part of my job, to be accountable and keep the experience as pain free as possible for my customers. He also mentions that “vendors” do not understand their customer’s business. I know that we have many resources and workflow tools and content sets that were created by working with practicing attorneys and asking them what they need and want. We designed our new Daily Case Law Reporter with a wish list created by attorneys. Individually, I spend a lot of time reading everything I can about new ideas, and billing models and the economic realities of a profitable law firm in the current market. I ask a lot of questions before I even begin to recommend or sell. I would like to add to his checklist because many law firms ignore good business practices that are routine in other businesses.
    -You know you are going to be faced with high increases from certain vendors ever year. There are alternatives and strategies that are working in other firmsand it is never too early in a contract to hear options that can decrease your reliance on the usual suspects.
    -No content or platform should be sacred when the partnership needs to keep costs down. If there is a service for one practice group that appears to be outrageously expensive but it gets renewed every year without review, that is a bad business practice. That group owes it to the partnership to agree to review alternatives.
    -When Budget time comes around, do not let old perceptions get in the way of exploring other options. Wolters Kluwer is a good example of how quickly technology and content can change. You don’t know what you don’t know.
    -Librarians are often under great pressure to stay within a static budget for resources, but do not get credit on their budget if they recommend or introduce the firm to a resource that saves significant time and money for a practice area or attorney. This is an untenable position. The Librarian cannot be the budget police and firm resource effectively at the same time. Librarians have the experience and education and knowledge of workflow inefficiencies that can make a signficant difference in overall firm productivity. Consider trailblazing a more flexible library budget model that credits the librarian for resources that save attorneys time and enhance workflow. The current budget model penalizes the great librarians who recommend solutions for the good of the firm, even though it takes a chunk out of their budget, and that is how their performance is benchmarked.

    We are all going through a period of rapid change, and I do agree that innovators will be the survivors. Innovators in the law firms as well as the publishers. We all need to fight existing paradigms…and that might require doing what it takes to break existing buying patterns. I believe if you get bit when you put your arm in the alligators mouth, it might be a good idea to stop putting your arm in the alligators mouth! If the “vendors” keep you shaking your head every time you are at the negotiating table…maybe you should find other vendors who will partner with your firm, hear about your challenges, follow through with ideas, and provide the support and advocacy you have a right to demand, and provide actionable feedback on product development and enhancement. Give us the opportunity to earn your business. That is the difference between a partnership and a “vendorship”. Vending is easy. True consultative sales professionals who have solutions and listen to the customer to understand their business and earn trust by providing good advice first and always,do not work for companies that vend.

  9. Pingback: How Librarians Add Value To Their Law Firms – Advice From Greg Castanias, Jones Day Library Partner « blstep

  10. Pingback: 10 Library Services Tips for Building Value « gillneer

  11. Pingback: 10 Library Services Tips for Building Value |

  12. Pingback: The Evolving Role of the Law Librarian: Partners’ Perspectives « PLL Summit

  13. Pingback: How Librarians Add Value To Their Law Firms – Advice From Greg Castanias, Jones Day Library Partner | On Firmer Ground | Flora W.'s Portfolio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s