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.
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.