Ten Ways to Add Value to Your Firm in a Pandemic

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. Continue reading

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

LawNext Episode 43: The AALL’s Femi Cadmus on the Changing Face of Law Librarians

Reposted with permission from Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites

By Robert Ambrogi

“We are not your grandfather’s law librarian.” As president of the American Association of Law Libraries, Femi Cadmus makes that point emphatically. Her organization recently completed it first-ever AALL State of the Profession report, an in-depth look at what information professionals do and how they do it. The report’s bottom line is that technology is making the role of the law librarian more diverse and more essential than ever before.

As the AALL prepares to convene in Washington, D.C., in July for its annual meeting, Cadmus shows LawNext host Bob Ambrogi to discuss the state of the law librarian profession and the evolving role of information professionals in law firms, corporations, law schools and government.

Born in New York and raised in Nigeria, Cadmus is currently at Duke University School of Law, where she is the Archibald C. and Frances Fulk Rufty research professor of law, associate dean of information services and technology, and director of the Michael J. Goodson Library. With almost three decades in law libraries, she was formerly at Cornell University, where she was Edward Cornell law librarian, associate dean for library services and professor of the practice. Her earlier experience includes positions at the law schools at Yale, George Mason University and the University of Oklahoma.

Cadmus’ educational background includes an LL.B. from the University of Jos, Nigeria, B.L Nigerian Law School; an LL.M. (Law in Development) from the University of Warwick, England; and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Oklahoma. She is admitted to practice in New York.

Visit Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites to listen to the podcast episode with Femi. 

Mapping a Path to 2030: Private Law Librarians to Meet for 10th Annual Summit

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) will hold their tenth annual Summit in conjunction with the 2019 AALL Annual Meeting in July.  Per the Summit website, the annual event began as a two-year project for private law librarians “to explore ways to embrace change, demonstrate value, and learn about leading-edge trends.”  Due to the success of the first two years, the Summit continues to be held, giving firm and corporate law librarians a forum for discussing trends and pressures affecting their firms and legal departments, and an opportunity to develop best practices and models to thrive within their current environments.  One of the Summit’s professed goals is to allow legal information professionals to “cast the debate” for how they “should operate and meet new challenges” and how to chart a path forward.

Summit X: The Path to 2030 will offer attendees a chance to reflect on what has changed (and what remains constant) in the provision of legal research and information services and to participate in designing a path forward. Jordan Furlong, keynote speaker at the 2012 Summit, is returning to deliver the keynote, focusing on how the growing power and sophistication of legal intelligence can dovetail with and help accelerate the transformation of law firms’ client services and business models. Jordan’s keynote will describe the key roles law librarians, knowledge managers, and data analysts will play “as law firms become manufacturers, refineries, and exporters of actionable legal intelligence.”

Following the keynote, a set of panel discussions will allow legal information professionals to engage with and learn from customers and stakeholders. The first panel, Law Firm Leadership: Managing the Change, will focus on how law firms have responded to changes in the legal industry over the last decade. Panelists will also reflect on the keynote speaker’s vision of how the delivery of legal services may change in the years ahead. Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, will lead a conversation with Sonia Menon, Chief Operating Officer at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP; Mark Langdon, Executive Director at Ballard Spahr LLP; and Howard Janis, Chief Financial Officer at Nexsen Pruet.

The second panel, Our Customers: The Evolving Use of Information Professionals, “will discuss how broader legal industry trends play out in day-to-day interactions between information professionals and customers, and will share ideas on how we [information professionals] can help them push boundaries and position themselves successfully with their clients and in the legal marketplace in the coming decade.”  The participants in this panel are: Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer, Perkins Coie; Peter Alfano, Senior Associate at Squire Patton Boggs; and Julie Bozzell, Public Law and Policy Practice Manager at Akin Gump. Scott Bailey, Director of Research Services at Eversheds Sutherland, will moderate.

An afternoon interactive session focused on Design Thinking methodology will help attendees develop skills to use in the workplace when creating services and products or when solving day-to-day problems. “Attendees will work individually and together to try and identify some of the biggest challenges faced in law libraries today and then, as a group, will attempt to begin solving those challenges.”  The law librarians and information professionals will then do what they do best–share their knowledge and will report to the group on proposed solutions and ideas to chart a path forward.

Summit X: The Path to 2030 is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, 2019, in Washington, DC.  See the PLLIP Summit website for more information.