An action plan for law firm library managers and self-starters during a period of change and disruption.
By Patricia Barbone
Patricia Barbone is the Director of Library Services at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and is based in lower Manhattan. She has managed library services through 9-11, Superstorm Sandy, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the state lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 occurred in March of 2020, law firm librarians have been focused on two primary goals: maintaining quality reference service within a remote environment and managing within an economic climate of uncertain revenue and financial insecurity. Reopening our economy has its own unique set of challenges and provides an opportunity for creativity and resourcefulness for today’s law librarians.
Demand for library services is high even for firms that have implemented furloughs. It is more important than ever to stay visible and demonstrate value. Here are ten action tips to help you rethink your role within your organization and consider what you can do to contribute to your organization’s success.
Even if you weren’t able to implement anything new at the start of the pandemic, there is always an opportunity for improving library service and managing in a period of disruption. Even subtle changes can make a big impact for large and small firms alike, and my prediction is that many things will never be the same again. Can you identify what changes are underway and adapt or pivot accordingly? These ten tips may help.
1. Promote Your Existing Electronic Subscriptions
The day we began remote work, I sent out a number of targeted emails reminding people of the resources available to them with basic instruction on how to gain access. This had the dual purpose of informing our users, but also providing a general sense of comfort that being remote hadn’t cut our users off from library service or library resources. We continue to send emails with tips and training often directed to specific practice areas. The response was extremely positive. Users may be experts in a given practice area, but many still don’t know the leading resources or that a favorite print source is also online. It’s your job to let them know. Some of you may be thinking that you don’t have time to draft engaging emails or that your unsolicited email would be a burden on an already taxed email system. If firm culture is against you, perhaps you can post tips on an internal page, or target individual attorneys who you know would benefit and be receptive. Although drafting and communicating is time consuming, my advice would be to save and repurpose all of your communications. It is worth the investment in your time to take the lead as the experts in electronic resources.
2. Training, Training, Training
This is a perfect opportunity to get users up to speed on electronic resources. Create virtual office hours for vendors. Take advantage of your virtual screen sharing tools so librarians can work one on one with attorneys. Curate and promote webinars and CLE programs. Many vendors have been terrific about reaching out to provide virtual training, tap into them.
3. Read the Industry Landscape
Some of your best ideas can come from the legal and business press. Stay informed, you don’t operate in a vacuum. Talk to peers and vendors. What practice areas are seeing an uptick and what practice areas are slowing down as a result of economic and governmental forces? Consider how you can apply that knowledge to your own environment. This advice is intended for both managers and reference librarians.
4. Follow Trends – Gather and Curate Content
This is where librarian expertise can shine – we know how to follow news, trends, and legislative actions. We know which subscriptions have the best current awareness features and how to set them up. Like many of you, we set up a number of coronavirus news alerts for attorneys tasked with working on client advisories. Our librarians also send selective content that we notice in our daily screening of news. Your goal is to make it easy for lawyers and aligned legal professionals to stay on top of the latest changes in the law and to remind them that the library is the first stop in beginning any research project.
5. Review Your Contracts and Subscriptions
Do your subscriptions reflect the current information need in your firm? Can you get reductions based on the existing economic climate? Is there anything you can cancel? Do you need to add or drop content? While many vendors will work with you during this time period, others will try to upsell you, maintain unwarranted levels of increases, or be indifferent to the drop in either users or usage. This is the time to advocate on behalf of your firm.
6. Cancel Sacred Cows
Everyone has a few things that we maintain because of someone that doesn’t want to give them up, and let’s face it, it’s probably print. Has the pandemic loosened their stronghold? Don’t let this opportunity slip away to finally eliminate those sacred cows you know in your heart aren’t worth the time and money to maintain them.
7. Stop, Start, Cancel
Legal blogger Jean O’Grady has written and spoken extensively on the start or stop approach to library services in law firms on Dewey B. Strategic. This involves taking a hard look at what you do and deciding whether it is still fulfilling a need. Is it time to redirect your energies to something new?
8. Strategize with Your Team
Your staff is one of the best places to start when reimagining service. What frustrates them, what would they like to have or do in a perfect world? Innovation comes from all levels of an organization or a department so empower your team to make suggestions. If you have time to invest in a departmental SWOT analysis, you may get some great ideas and have the added bonus of participating in an enjoyable team building exercise.
9. Touch Base with Firm Leaders
Reach out to your practice group leaders and department heads to see if they have pain points or information needs you could resolve. This type of conversation can often lead to feedback you might not normally get. Maybe a training session is needed, or no one in the department likes using a particular resource, or the practice has shifted away from a need for one research tool but there is a growing need for another. Although this group is very busy and hard to pin down, more times than not they will appreciate your interest.
10. Recognize This Is a Unique Time to Act
This is your time to be a leader, seize it. The worst thing you can do during a period of disruption is passively sit by. No matter how difficult things look, there is some area where you can take the reins and begin to lead your department to something potentially better. Take ownership of the situation. Pop psychology tells us when we assert control and take an action over what we can control, we often feel more optimistic and confident. Some of us have definitely been experiencing some challenging issues due to COVID-19. We may be dealing with personal and health related issues. We may have had to lay off or furlough staff or experience a salary reduction. If we are leading a team, our role of cheerleader and top-silver-lining-finder may have gotten tougher. I don’t want to ignore or minimize that stress; however, I think this is a time to be thoughtful and strategic about actions you can take to operate more effectively during the present climate and the future. Don’t forget that choosing to stop doing something can also be a good strategic decision, and if you do, you may even find you can new tackle projects that are more engaging or provide deeper, more lasting value.
Hopefully, these tips will spur you to assess your services and determine a course of action best for you. Every firm’s culture is different, but your experience and know-how coupled with a willingness to make a difference should shed light on some potential opportunities to add value to your firm. Good luck and stay safe.