By Chuck Lowry. Sales representative for Fastcase whose opinions offered herein are his alone and should not be attributed to Fastcase. (He can be reached at 703.740.5941 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I never quite got around to going to law school, but I have managed to work in the legal publishing field for many years, in editorial, in sales and marketing, in product development. What I hope to demonstrate over the next couple paragraphs is that I have indeed learned a few things in the legal publishing business, but I definitely did not go to law school, because I suspect I’ll be making a few of what you refer to as admissions against interest.
Vendors have an almost unique perspective on law firm librarians. We are sometimes partners, sometimes adversaries; sometimes you use us and sometimes we use you; we are often friends; it is undeniably true that we cannot live without you, nor you without us. If I were to have a group of law firm administrators in front of me, with members chosen from job titles such as CFO, COO, CIO or CEO, here is what I would tell them about the role their librarians play with information vendors and their products and practices:
- They know what your securities group needs, what your m&a group needs, what your structured finance group needs. They talk not only to the sales reps from your vendors, but also to your attorneys—every day—and to the vendors’ editorial and product development specialists. The corollary to that is that there is no one in your firm better positioned to create, monitor and adjust the balance of firm-wide and specialty products that will get to fee earners what they need to practice law at the standard your clients and your management committee demand. Lots of people in the firm know little pieces of the answer, but a capable library director will see the outline of the answer, and even how the question (and therefore the answer) changes under various circumstances.
- They know the difference between good and bad, what works and what doesn’t, what is a real fix to a problem and what is a “let’s paper this over until we can think of something” dodge. Folks cruder than myself call it, I believe, a bs detector. And they share amongst themselves. Anyone who monitors the various librarian lists, general and specialized, knows that this is a group with such confidence in its experience that there is no hesitation about asking a colleague a question.
- Because they talk to your attorneys every day, they know what is being used, what is not being used, what can be replaced by the firm’s own expertise or archive. They will see from their research interaction with attorneys what information products or services can be replaced by something else that responds more closely to the firm’s actual information needs, thereby increasing both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the attorneys.
- The financial relationship between vendors and law firms has in many cases become so tortured and complex that negotiations, especially large renewal negotiations, can have a real impact on firm finances, both directly in costs and indirectly in efficiency and availability of required resources. These large scale negotiations, especially renewal negotiations, involve usage levels, adjustment of time charges, transactional charges and flat fees, adjustment of the product mix within a particular service, and, more obscurely, an inkling of how the negotiation will go, how much flexibility the sales rep has and when it’s time to change tactics or even insist on dealing with the sales rep’s boss. Nor can we overlook the requirement that the library director/negotiator understand what the firm’s lawyers can and cannot do, will and will not put up with, have to have or want because the publisher called them directly. What you pay a good library director will be more than made up, over and over again, by the director’s expertise in vendor negotiations.
- And after the contract is done, the library director has to serve as the usage cop, not just in terms of the quantity of usage, but in making sure that usage is executed under the terms negotiated by the parties and preserved in the contract. Who sees more information service licensing agreements than the library director? Who better than the library director knows which terms are rigid, which flexible, which terms vendors will negotiate and which they will enforce rigidly?
Library directors in large firms make a decent, though hardly opulent, salary, and we are in a time when every line on every departmental budget gets looked at. I suppose I am offering the opinion, certainly not an admission against interest, that in the realm of vendor relations alone, a good library director represents a solid and well-priced investment for a law firm.