By Cyndi Murphy, Knowledge Manager, Stewart McKelvey
Too frequently, when asked to run for executive office or chair a committee for a national law library association, law firm librarians respond by saying that their employer would not support the time commitment required. However, becoming a leader in a library association benefits the law firm, not just the individual librarian.
Based on my experiences in library association leadership, the following are some of the ways that association leadership benefits the law firm:
It provides access to information of benefit to the law firm. When sitting on an executive board or chairing a committee, you are privy to a great deal of information and a greater level of detail than a regular member. As well, you are working closely with colleagues from across the country and can learn information from them that you would not pick up solely from reading blogs, doing traditional research, or socializing at conferences. Often this information can assist you in making decisions that benefit the law firm. For example, as a result of my involvement on the executive of CALL/ACBD, I have been able to share information with my firm about webinar providers, early trends in online content management, and best practices in other law firms.
It hones individual leadership skills. The law firm of the future will require strong leadership – not just from the managing partner, the CEO, the COO, and the practice group leaders, but also from the other professionals in the firm, including the librarian. Because the organizational hierarchy in a law firm is relatively flat, there is little opportunity to acquire on-the-job training in leadership. Nevertheless, there is a need to develop such leadership skills as: the ability to gain commitment from others to accomplish goals; deal with different personalities; deal with avoidance and hold people accountable; manage conflict and build consensus; coach; take action; and create change. Librarians are frequently involved in projects that require them to work as part of a team with colleagues in other departments (such as knowledge management, marketing, or IT). The firm benefits from the librarian’s leadership skills in these situations. The firm also benefits from enhanced productivity and employee engagement when a librarian who manages staff has strong leadership skills.
It increases employee engagement. In addition to little opportunity for upward mobility in a law firm library, there is also little opportunity for sideways mobility, either into a new position in the same firm, or a position in a new law firm. When you do the same job for an extended period of time, it can be challenging to approach the mundane activities with a continuing high level of engagement. That challenge has been compounded during these times of staffing cuts and economic uncertainty. With fewer librarians on staff, the professionals often have to undertake more of the routine tasks required to keep the library running; there is less opportunity for in-depth projects. With economic uncertainty, no one wants to leave a job with a certain paycheque for the uncertainty of a job search, so the person stays in the position, discontented. Without the intellectual challenge of new responsibilities and a chance to stretch professionally in a new direction, it is easy to become disengaged. When the job is becoming routine, the librarian can become re-engaged by undertaking the challenges of association leadership.
Cyndi Murphy is the President of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries.