PLLIP Resource Guides: Strategic Planning for Law Firm Libraries

The PLLIP Resource Guide, Strategic Planning for Law Firm Libraries, was created in 2015 by Anna Irvin, Natalie Lira, Saskia Melhorn, and Lindsay Carpino.  The guide focuses on why private law libraries need to develop a strategic plan, the importance of aligning the plan with the firm’s needs and goals, and how to formulate and implement a strategic plan. Below are some highlights from the introduction and from the Library Innovation & the Future section.  The full report provides a more detailed look at the strategic planning process.

From the Introduction:

The Changing Legal Market:

“As a result of the changed economy and competitive marketplace, law firms have dramatically changed the way they conduct business. Here are some of the important trends in the legal market that affect law firms and their libraries:

  • Streamlined legal services to reflect the new economic reality
  • Client-mandated changes in the way firms charge for their services
  • Increased collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • Increased globalization of law firms and their clients
  • Technological innovations in business and legal services

As the legal market becomes increasingly competitive, the pressures on library directors and staff to adapt to new business models increase as well.  Expectations have changed in terms of the library’s effectiveness, technical skills and the ability to “do more with less.” Successful librarians have adjusted the way they operate and developed new and cost-efficient ways to provide the same level of service.  The strategic planning process enables a library to conduct a critical self-evaluation and apply changes that ultimately align it with the firm’s strategic vision, changing industry trends, and clients’ heightened expectations.”

Strategic Alignment and the Benefit of Planning:

“…Economics and competition drive law firms to rethink their organizational efficiency and demand proof of value from major cost centers, such as libraries.  The AALL Report on the Economic Value of Law Libraries emphasizes the role of library directors in asserting their leadership by proactively implementing strategic processes that align with their organization’s needs and expectations.

Changing how the library serves its constituents (attorneys, staff, and clients) improves the way the law firm conducts business and can help improve the firm’s bottom line.  Librarians have insight into the information needs of the firm and of the legal industry as a whole.  They are the best evaluators of what information and resources the organization is lacking and have the skill sets to help the firm operate in a leaner fashion by engineering more efficient workflows that help create a more intelligent organization.

Key strategic areas where librarians add distinct value within law firms include:

  1. Budget/Contract Negotiation: strategic cost reduction and cost recovery, optimizing library services, electronic resources management, and copyright compliance
  2. Knowledge Management: intranet content development, expert database creation, current awareness promotion, social network development, and information security enhancement;
  3. Business Development Research: competitive intelligence, marketing support, extranet support, all geared toward growing the firm’s business;
  4. Non-Traditional Roles: embedded researchers, risk management research, compliance, and legal project management;
  5. Moves/Facilities: reducing the library’s footprint by transitioning from print to electronic resources.

From Library Innovation & the Future:

Where are Law Libraries Headed?

“Law libraries are rapidly evolving.  Many libraries that have performed the environmental scans and internal audits described herein have revamped the way they conduct business in order to meet a need not currently filled within the law firm.  In some libraries, this analysis revealed a need to change or cut certain aspects of the traditional library.  For example, most libraries are scaling back on print materials, featuring more electronic resources, and utilizing smaller library spaces as places for collaboration.  Instead of focusing on the materials and space offered, libraries are highlighting the value of services provided.  Additional examples of trends in libraries are discussed below:

The moment the library moves away from being restricted to a space, it is presented with the opportunity to centralize the services it offers. Centralization involves consolidating resources. It offers services in one less-costly physical location and at the same time offers the same services through multiple virtual venues. This provides an opportunity for libraries to streamline operations, negotiate contracts on a firm-wide basis, and eliminate redundancies in resources.

Collaboration/Integration with Other Departments.
Collaboration benefits the law firm and library alike because it effectively bridges information gaps and provides the library with opportunities to build a reputation as a knowledge hub, to develop relationships with key stakeholders, and to exemplify its value and expertise by contributing to firmwide initiatives. Many libraries have successfully partnered with their marketing department, technology department, and practice groups to enhance workflow processes and improve efficiency. Conducting integral research for business development, creating user-centered intranet pages, maintaining integrated library systems, working to streamline workflows to assist the firm in providing more competitive fee arrangements, and working as subject matter experts within practice groups are all examples of ways librarians have utilized their expertise and skill sets to provide strategic growth and support to the firm. For a more detailed discussion, refer to the PLL Resource Guides titled “New Roles for Law Libraries,” “The Library as a Business Development, Competitive Intelligence and Client Relations Asset for Law Firms,” and “Law Firm Library Intranets.”

Embedded Specialists.
Embedded librarianship is a trending topic within the law library community. It has been described as “[i]ntentionally building strong, collaborative work relationships with communities in our organizations.” (Striepe & Talley, p. 14). In the context of private law libraries, this involves focusing on specific groups or practice areas within the firm to build relationships, collaborate and customize services to fit the needs of the specific practice group.

Knowledge Management Intiatives.
Knowledge management (KM) initiatives are an effective way of collecting and sharing knowledge within the law firm. Sharing knowledge can foster collaboration among IT, marketing, attorneys, librarians and other staff, to improve client relations. It also secures valuable information for the future as attorneys retire and allows them to easily pass down their forms, templates and experience to newer attorneys within the firm. In many firms, librarians play a key role in developing KM solutions that increase efficiency and improve workflows.

Library & Practice Group Portals.
Developing portals and intranet pages for the library and practice groups within the firm can prove to be an effective solution to connecting users with resources. Linking internal resources, research guides, and other practice material on these portals/pages provides users with information specific to research topics that are relevant to various practice areas. They offer great jumping-off points in times when users need research assistance or are just looking for fresh ideas. In particular, these can be of great assistance for new associates as well as attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants dabbling in a new area of law. Librarians can also use this portal to reach out to users with library contact information and link to the library’s website and online catalog.

Risk Assessment/Management.
Librarians can assist the firm in minimizing risks related to licensing restrictions, information quality and potential conflicts of interest. (O’Grady, 2015, p. 19-20). In some firms, library directors oversee the conflicts and records departments. Utilizing the knowledge, research and skills of librarians in these areas can help safeguard the firm and minimize risk.

Renaming & Rebranding.
Recently, there has been much discussion in the private law library community regarding adopting names and brands that more accurately reflect the skills, value of services, and new role librarians play as strategic partners within law firms. The department name and branding should reflect both the overall services provided to the firm, and the library’s alignment with the firm’s goals. Consider what type of work the library performs, and what cost-effective solutions it provides to the firm. The new naming and branding efforts should be focused on presenting enhanced services to the users and enable them to connect the services with the new name. It is imperative to incorporate the firm’s main objectives into the department branding strategy. Overall, the process of rebranding is a complex, multi-faceted procedure and one that should not be rushed.

Other Customer Outreach Initiatives.
As user demand continues to evolve, so too should library services and spaces. Increasingly, libraries are transitioning to smaller spaces within their firm, and are identified more with services provided than by the space they encompass. Virtual libraries and services have become more commonplace and librarians are continually finding new and innovative ways to reach users. Many libraries are taking their services directly to the users at the point of need. To that end, some libraries have created portable library spaces in various ways, such as:

  • Reference services in the common areas and cafeterias;
  • Using instant messaging systems for reference and training;
  • Manning information tables during firm events;
  • Hosting “open houses” on a regular basis;
  • Conducting 10 minute “research breaks” to highlight specific resources; and
  • Stopping by users’ offices or walking the halls for on-the-spot reference assistance.”

Again, please check out the full guide for more details on the strategic planning process and what to consider when creating a plan.

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