Law Librarians & The Future of Law Firms

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 24, Number 2 (November/December 2019), pgs. 23-25.

By Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong of Ottawa, Canada, is a legal market analyst, speaker, and consultant who forecasts the impact of legal industry trends on lawyers, legal organizations, and clients. He is the author of Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm and writes regularly about the legal profession at law21.ca.

This past summer, I gave the keynote address to the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section Summit X: The Path to 2030, in Washington, DC, during the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting. The
title of the presentation was “New Horizons: How Law Librarians and Legal Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.” The following is a brief summary of those remarks.

The Legal Landscape
The gradual but unstoppable transformation of the commercial legal marketplace—including new client buying patterns, rapid technological advances, and a host of new providers emboldened by regulatory liberalization—is creating a state of “climate  change” in the market. This poses an immense challenge to law firms, which developed
and flourished in last century’s more sedate competitive climate and whose business model will now have to adapt in response to this change.

Among the most important consequences of this legal climate change is a growing bifurcation of legal work into two broad categories:

  • “commodity” work (routine, repeatable, straightforward, traditionally
    given to associates), and
  • “complex” work (intricate, challenging, high-stakes, traditionally kept by
    partners).

These two types of work have always existed in law firms, of course. But one of the profitability secrets of law firms is that they perform commodity work the same way they perform complex work: sequentially, laboriously, by-the-lawyer-hour. This is the key feature of the law firm leverage model: bill associates’ on-the-job learning efforts on basic tasks and reap the resulting profits.

Now, however, this law firm profitability secret is becoming a handicap. Commodity work is migrating from law firms and moving to more efficient and cost-appropriate platforms, including managed legal services companies and low-cost/offshore centers. These providers are winning this work because they have designed systems and trained
people to carry out these tasks faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than law firms can.

Law firms could keep this work if they were to adjust their workflow, pricing, and profitability approaches; that is, if they would perform commodity work efficiently and systematically, as it should be done. But law firms just aren’t set up to do that, structurally or culturally, and few are even trying. Continue reading

AALL Annual Meeting 2019 Recap: Summit X: The Path to 2030

Kristen Perez and Janet McKinney received grants from the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section to attend the PLLIP Summit occurring on Saturday, July 13, before the AALL Annual Meeting. Below are their conference recaps.


By Kristen Perez, Research Specialist at Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough in Charlotte, NC

Jordan Furlong of Law 21 started off the day by delivering the keynote address, “How Law Librarians and Legal Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.”  Mr. Furlong took us on a tour of the climate change that has occurred in the legal industry in recent years and provided a map to the future and our changing roles.

Mr. Furlong outlined the factors at play in the legal industry that can provide opportunities for legal information professionals as we navigate these changes:

  • Law firms have traditionally operated under the billable hour model, letting young associates ‘train on the job’ at the expense of clients.  This business model is being called into question by big law firm clients, many of whom have negotiated alternative fee arrangements.   Clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for research expenses and the training of new lawyers.
  • Legal work is becoming divided into commodity-level versus complex tasks.  Alternative legal service providers have begun to assume work previously done by junior-level associates, leaving firms to handle tasks that involve more expertise.
  • The technology of legal work has evolved, as artificial intelligence and analytics providers have emerged.
  • Overall, client expectations are changing and are forcing law firms to adapt.  Alternative legal service providers are creating competition for law firms.  Clients demand value and want law firms to ‘know’ them and their industries, and to anticipate their needs.

This invites opportunity for we, as legal information professionals, to redefine our roles.  Our profession has not only embraced and promoted the use of technology in legal research, but has also kept pace with the various incarnations of legal research platforms.  We are neither unfamiliar with, nor adverse to, change.  As a service department, we are also accustomed to working with other departments within our organizations to achieve institutional goals. Continue reading

12 Ways Marketing & Business Development Can Leverage Library & Knowledge Management Teams

Reposted with permission from the ILTA KM blog.

By Heather Ritchie, Chief Knowledge and Business Development Officer at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP

In many law firms, the Marketing and Business Development teams (MBD) are experiencing growing demand for their services. While that speaks to the visibility and value placed upon these professionals, it can result in long hours and additional stress on the department. As a way to alleviate some of the time and resource pressures, MBD teams have been turning increasingly to, and partnering with, Library and Knowledge Management (KM) teams for research, data and other support. After consulting some colleagues from the U.S. and Canada, we have identified a number of ways that firms might maximize the value of this cross-team collaboration.

Leveraging Library Professionals

Among the many skills that librarians bring to the table is their ability to perform research, and to organize resources and content in the best way for people to easily locate and consume it.

1. Research. Not only do librarians conduct research related to the practice of law, they also can perform research related to the business of law. Researchers are well-versed in the best sources for company and industry data, biographical information, deal runs, analyst reports, and all sorts of advanced research, to assist with pitching and prospecting. They know the most authoritative and cost-effective sources, and are experts at crafting search strategies.

2. News. In addition to on-demand news research, many libraries also administer news services to watch current and potential clients, executive moves, new litigation, industry trends and more. The Library can also set up real-time alerts on the firm and its clients to ensure that MBD is alerted immediately when an announced deal, litigation settlement, or other event hits the news or web. They can also tailor watches to surface an endless variety of special events that may trigger work opportunities for the firm.

3. Visibility Opportunities. The Library can also help identify writing, speaking and sponsorship opportunities. Through their research, Librarians may be suggest which publications and conferences are most respected and reach the widest appropriate audience. Once an opportunity is defined, research librarians may assist in finding industry, economic and legal trends suitable for articles, events and session topics.

4. Copyright Compliance. The Library often serves as copyright compliance administrators, ensuring that the firm has the appropriate licensing permission to use third-party content. Navigating the complexities and challenges around fair use of text, graphics and media can and should be handled centrally, where streamlined processes and thorough record-keeping can be key. Several libraries also use plagiarism detection software to catch inadvertent misuse of intellectual property.

5. Resource Management. As library professionals are well-versed in managing large and diverse materials, the Library may be able to save MBD time and money by:

  • Having the Library purchase reports, articles and subscriptions not only alleviates the clerical burden from MBD, but also may result in savings since libraries may have discount programs such as free shipping, bulk download discounts, preferred vendor contracts, and free or low-cost inter-library loan contacts;
  • Ensuring that each group has the necessary resources at the best price and with the best terms, without duplication, since the departments often need access to the same or similar digital resources; and
  • Leveraging library directors’ experience with evaluating, selecting and negotiating complex database contracts and licenses for electronic resources, in resource negotiations

6. Competitive Intelligence (CI) and Data Analytics. If there are CI specialists in MBD, they might partner with the Library for research assistance. For the majority of firms without any or enough CI professionals, the Library might be tapped to collect benchmarking data, watch for law firm and industry trends, and provide summaries. Continue reading

Changing Data, Evolving Librarians

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 23, Number 2 (November/December 2018), pgs. 12-15.

By Zena Applebaum, Director of Professional Firm & Corporate Segments with
Thomson Reuters in Canada

For many years, I have advocated for law librarians to be actively engaged in firm  initiatives in competitive intelligence, knowledge management, business development research, and other areas of law firm administration that are increasingly becoming
important to a firm’s ability to compete. As competition in the legal world increases, firms are hiring fewer administrative professionals. The ones who are hired are expected to do more with less, take on additional responsibilities, and execute on more sophisticated projects. This necessitates not only a broadening of skill sets, but also a reimagining of roles and titles. To me, this is where librarians, especially more recent graduates with digital skills—but really any librarian with organizational, business-minded skill sets—can really add value to their law firm.

The deluge of available information is not decreasing; it is only increasing at a crazier rate each year. The amount of unstructured data, let alone the structured content that is streaming through firms at any given moment, is overwhelming. Cue the law librarians
and legal information professionals to help us make sense of the data, turn information into intelligence, and still deliver research while managing collection costs and physical spaces. Continue reading

How strong relationships and expertise aid business development with clients – a case study

Evolution_Law_Firm_Lib_ROBy 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. Continue reading