By Cynthia L. Brown, Director of Research Services at Littler Mendelson P.C., and Jill L. Kilgore, Research Librarian at Littler Mendelson PC.
This is chapter 8 in ARK Group’s new book The Evolution of the Law Firm Library Function and has been posted with permission from ARK Group.
The project finds its way to the library
Most opportunities have a simple beginning: the big ideas come from identifying a need and boldly pursuing the options. This story begins with a client who had a need: in-house counsel could not field the number of calls they were receiving daily. The calls from human resource professionals were valid and required legal advice, but the legal department was being overwhelmed. In addition to simply responding to the question at hand, the client wanted to understand the types of calls they were receiving and what information was sent out to the business units. They needed help providing the advice, but they also wanted to capture the types of questions asked and any subsequent data created through the process. This client started by approaching their shareholder, who knew to reach out to the knowledge management department, whose chief knowledge officer saw a role for the library. The legal services portion of the project was arranged in a traditional format by the attorneys answering client phone calls and providing advice, but a system was needed to gather, organize, and synthesize the information shared between the client and attorneys. Utilizing existing technology, the library developed a tracking system for each call and a means of categorizing the resulting data. The library saw an opportunity to utilize unique librarian proficiencies and enrich the final work product provided to the client. This case study will show the reader the evolution of the project and how the library identified the need and initiated the pursuit.
Tailoring a project solution
After the shareholder was connected to the library, a tool needed to be designed. While the existing technology had been in use by the library and knowledge management departments to gather and organize information used to produce reports, this client-facing project was unique and required a tailored solution. The library facilitated a collaboration of an IT department, project shareholder and attorneys, and the client to produce a flexible system.
While the library would maintain and manage the gathering and organization of information, they would not be entering it for the attorneys. The shareholder leading the project wanted the attorneys to be able to enter their information from an incoming call and resulting advice quickly and simply; therefore, before the team of attorneys could begin tracking their advice, they needed training in order to use the system. Without accurate and consistent data entries, the reports would be of little use to the client.
Initially an inventory was taken by interviewing the stakeholders to determine what information would be expected in the final reports. The library created a taxonomy, determined data entry fields, and fashioned draft reports using feedback from the reference interview. The design was focused on the desired result. Stakeholders were queried: what did they want to know, and what conclusions were they looking to draw from the reports? Understanding, for instance, that it was important for the head of the legal department to be able to review if there were large number of termination conversations coming out of one business unit helped to create the required data fields to gather and report on that particular issue. The reports were then reverse-engineered to the specifications desired for the end results.
The users put it to the test
The attorneys were new users to the system, so the library began by establishing individual access. Like all new users, the attorneys came to the project with varying levels of technical experience and familiarity. To ensure comfort for each attorney, the library offered group trainings and individual sessions as needed. These sessions also offered an opportunity to test user experience and modify the interface based on the anticipated and resulting functionality and usability. After the tool underwent a few iterations, the team arranged a demonstration for the client. Each business unit from the client was represented as well as the original stakeholders. The library took the lead in the meeting, showing a step-by-step approach to using the system. The client was able to see the project from the incoming phone call to the data entry, categorization, reporting functionality, and resulting analytics provided for future business decisions. Taking the comments and suggestions from this meeting, the library made further revisions to the tool and overall process to enhance the product. With approval from the client, the hotline and reporting were ready to launch.
As the project came to life, the library was instrumental in facilitating changes and answering questions about the tool. Improvements organically grew out of the process as attorneys were trained and began using the new solution. Sample reports were created initially as examples of the possible visualizations and production of the data. The reports were then fine-tuned until the client was satisfied with the information. Once the attorneys entered calls into the system, a date was determined for the first reports. After a few iterations, production of the reports began in earnest and were distributed to the client weekly. Once a statistically significant amount of data had been gathered, the library team evaluated the reports for trends or necessary changes to the taxonomy. While generating the data visualizations, patterns formed and additions were made to the reported fields. The attorney-client communications were documented with increasing granularity, capturing more information while maintaining the flexibility required from the client. Based on generated feedback, the project has been a success with the stakeholders reporting tremendous praise, and the library is now looking for additional opportunities to offer these types of services to the firm and firm clients.
Learning from a case study
In reviewing the case study, one could logically ask: what makes this success different from any other project involving the library? Hotlines run through a firm have had varying success in the industry. Tales of lost time and little profits are heard from the law firm side, and reports of inaction or receiving little more than phone calls are murmured from the client side. This hotline was something different. It expanded into a results-oriented product with reporting features and visualizations. The client was able to do more than answer one question at a time or fix a single issue before moving on to the next. This project included opportunities for the client to implement changes and solutions as a direct result of the library’s involvement.
In this instance, the client had work in-house that they were willing to give to the firm. In-house council did not have the bandwidth to field the calls, and they had little to no ability to synthesize the data produced in each call. The reputation of the library gave an opportunity to enhance a run-of-the-mill hotline offering. Neither the client nor the shareholder knew what would be required or what the library could offer. The library saw a need and presented a greater product for the client as a result. This proactive approach demonstrates how libraries can play an active role in capturing client work. Not all client needs can be solved by an attorney acting alone. The technology, the skills, and the taxonomy existed in the library’s toolbox before the client’s need. When the opportunity presented itself, the library was therefore poised and ready to act. The data curation and resulting reporting was more than the client could do on their own and highlighted offerings from the library. Connecting the library and clients is the next natural evolution of legal services. This case study demonstrates the value a library can provide given the opportunity; however, in this situation, things were in place and the team was ready when the interdepartmental opportunity presented itself.
Connecting librarian skills to client needs
With this opportunity, the library drew on its vast research capabilities and resources to produce a client-centered solution. The team facilitated the development of an effective and flexible taxonomy. Firstly, applying the inherent skills of the librarian produced clean and categorized data, which was then gathered, organized, and manipulated to provide a synthesis of quantitative and qualitative outputs. The reports are only as good as the data, so having a librarian present and collaborating during the entire process ensured consistency in the taxonomy and the data. While the work performed by the attorneys is helpful in the present, the reports created are capable of generating long-term change for the client, who can take direct action with business decisions following the results of the data analytics. Not only can they review the details of the calls, but the data visualizations also allow for a quick snapshot of trends and display information that is easily digestible in an increasingly busy world. By involving the library, not only does the client receive a better result, but the library is also given new opportunities to apply their professional abilities.
One could ask: does this project simply create an administrative position for the library, or is this a real opportunity for in-depth analysis? While all projects have elements of administrative work, these reports require the expertise of an information professional to regularly review reports and trends, and analyze and improve the taxonomy as needed. Data visualizations present large and oftentimes complex sets of data in easily comprehensible graphics. They are appealing and increasingly a client expectation; however, the analysis behind the data visualization is the gem that the library offers. This service allows the client to draw conclusions, identify areas of concern, and implement solutions/take direct business action. The client takes the reports and applies them to their business needs, allowing them to resolve issues promptly. No other department in a law firm is poised to provide this type of work to a client. Libraries need to look for opportunities where solutions begin and necessitate continued maintenance in their department. Making the library the most attractive option will ensure its continued growth and prominence.
The next step, find another need
This case study demonstrates that libraries can and should do this type of data analysis and visualization work. The overlapping skills present in libraries are a hallmark of the library world. Libraries can see a project from its infancy to its launch and then, most importantly, can continue to modify the system by monitoring trends and improving the taxonomy as it inevitably evolves. Without a group maintaining a system like this, the reports would be increasingly less useful to the client.
There has been much discussion of the term “analytics” recently; in fact, some may say the term has become a buzzword used for marketing purposes, losing much of its value. The term can be changed, but the results are the same. In this case study, librarians collected, sorted, stored, and retrieved critical information. The information retrieved is enhanced because of how the original data was collected, sorted, and stored. The critical analysis of the data creates the outputs, allowing the client to make informed decisions. The project moves then from simply freeing up in-house counsel’s time to a resource where all incoming questions from HR are stored. This was not simply data visualization but an end-to-end solution beyond the capabilities of the in-house counsel and project attorneys. Meshing the skills of the attorneys with the library provided the synergy to create something special.
These results-oriented products provided by a law firm to a client fit the bill for a post-recession legal world. Clients need more, and librarians can offer these services to the forward-thinking law firm and law library. It is important to note that a non-proactive library would not be ready for or even considered for such an opportunity. To take part in such a project requires good relationships, excellent reputation, innovative thinking, and the ability to utilize fundamental skills of librarianship in a new application.