The Library – An Indispensable Resource for the Entire Law Firm

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By Diana Koppang, Director of Research & Competitive Intelligence at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP

I manage the library at a mid-sized (150 attorneys) single office firm, and Bloomberg Law recently invited me to speak at a luncheon for Chicago-area private law firm librarians. The suggested topic was changes I’ve been observing in the private law world.  I decided to skip over AI trends, legal analytics (a favorite topic of mine), and other tech innovations. Instead, I spoke on how libraries are integrating and interweaving themselves within their firms. A panel I coordinated for the American Association of Law Libraries covered similar ground, entitled “The Linchpin Librarian: Becoming an Indispensable and Integrated Resource in Your Organization.”

The key to becoming a “linchpin” at your firm is understanding the needs of not just the attorneys – but also paralegals, support staff, and perhaps most importantly, the other administrative departments.

When Adam Sidoti, my Bloomberg Law account manager, asked what was “new and exciting” in the library at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, I described the library’s expanded role in the new business intake process.  Moving beyond our standard due diligence research, the library had helped create checklists of what should be researched and how results should be presented to the attorneys, as well as what research databases were needed for these tasks. My team looked at it from the perspective of how data collected at the onset would be beneficial to the competitive intelligence reports we later produce. Further down the road, the data initially collected could also be utilized for the statistics our finance and marketing teams need to understand the firm’s strengths.  Again, being a “linchpin” requires understanding the firm’s needs, especially the micro and macro strategic goals.

When Adam asked what duties the library was giving up to handle its new responsibilities, I gave a little laugh and said, “None that I’m aware of.”  However, I realized that’s not entirely true. As we sign more firm-wide contracts and draw focus away from cost recovery, we’re able to empower the firm’s support staff with research tools and training, which does lighten the library’s research load somewhat. For instance, we recently provided finance department staff with access and training for Bloomberg Law dockets and for Lexis Public Records (the Diligence product) so they can conduct research on unresponsive clients.

Librarians are sometimes tempted not to relinquish our tools and tasks so we can ensure our value. We think holding on to these tools is the way to be indispensable. That only breeds resentment between departments, as if we’re hiding or locking down the tools that would help others be more efficient at their jobs. In graduate school, we were taught to be the proud gatekeepers of our institution’s knowledge and information resources.  Unfortunately, the term “gatekeeper” has taken on some negative connotations, implying that we’re not a welcoming access point, but rather, a locked gate. The library continues to be the go-to administrative department for more complex searches or larger research projects, and this ensures our importance. But, through cooperation and resource-sharing, we’re also allowing the firm to derive greater value from our research contracts, and we’re demonstrating our active willingness to support the entire firm. Continue reading

Law.com Article on Librarians Making Themselves Heard, Performing Firm-Critical Functions

Steve Kovalan, Senior Analyst at ALM Intelligence, wrote a great Law.com article, “Quiet No Longer: Law Librarians ‘Forgo the Status Quo,’” highlighting how law librarians are making a difference within their organizations. Steve helped compile ALM’s 2017 Survey of Law Firm Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals (aka The Law Librarian Survey), so he is well-aware of the roles librarians currently play at their firms and how those roles have evolved. The “Delivering Value” section of the article includes some charts from the ALM survey and “illustrates just how many functions critical to the success of firms are performed by their libraries.”

Excerpts from the article are posted below with permission from the author.

“Delivering Value

In the post-recession new normal, libraries and knowledge services departments serve as an indispensable resource. Figure 1 below, reflecting responses to ALM Intelligence’s Survey of Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals, illustrates just how many functions critical to the success of firms are performed by their libraries.

Figure-1_Law-Library-Brief

Those key functions include libraries and their staff filling their more traditional roles in legal research support. As clients become more cost conscious, firms can source legal research to their library staff as an efficient, low-cost alternative to billing the same tasks to firm attorneys. And they also include the effective procurement of the growing array of technology-based research and analytic solutions fundamental to the day-to-day operations of today’s firms. In evaluating the effectiveness of tools and negotiating subscription details, libraries are responsible for identifying new tools and controlling costs through negotiating favorable contract terms.

Next, there are the roles that library staff are increasingly filling as researchers in support of firm business initiatives (Figure 2 below).

Figure-2_Law-Library-Brief

Those business research responsibilities are growing to the point that many survey respondents expect the number of business research requests to eclipse the number of legal research requests in the near future.

Finally, as information and research experts, libraries and knowledge services departments are perfectly positioned to facilitate knowledge sharing within the firm through activities such as conducting training sessions and curating newsletters on key subjects. Furthermore, because knowledge not shared is knowledge lost, for law firms operating in the age of the lateral move, knowledge sharing can also be a key mechanism promoting institutional stability.”

Online Legal Research Cost Recovery: Is it an Oxymoron?

Editor’s Note: Reposted from the Legal Executive Institute’s blog with permission.

By Grace Carr Lee, Executive Director at Hoge Fenton, a midsize, multi-practice firm with offices in the Silicon Valley and the Tri-Valley areas of Northern California.

For decades, law firms have billed their clients for “soft costs,” including online legal research charges. Clients have always hated seeing these nickel & dime charges on their invoices, believing they are more fairly considered part of a law firm’s overhead. Who hasn’t heard a client argue that since they aren’t charged for updating books in a firm’s law library, why should they be charged for online legal research? Annoyed clients have increasingly pushed back on these soft costs, and many law firms have capitulated by reducing or eliminating them.

And today, that has resulted in law firms being faced with decreasing soft cost realization — a direct impact to the firm’s bottom line. Consequently, some firms have taken a more aggressive approach, doggedly charging clients for everything they can think of, including copies, scans, prints, postage and secretarial overtime. Other firms have simply thrown up their hands, deciding that any attempt at soft cost recovery is just not worth the effort. Some firms even have increased their hourly rates to account for the lost revenue, while others have imposed an administrative fee (usually, a percentage of the legal fees) that essentially does the same thing.

For those law firms that believe soft cost recovery makes sense, regardless of the method employed, any pricing strategy they employ must be ethical, transparent, reasonable and justifiable. Their clients deserve nothing less. Continue reading

Forensic Business Development Research

Librarians are Uniquely Positioned to be at the Heart of This Growing Trend

By Eric Dewey, Principal at Group Dewey Consulting

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Companies that run into legal issues, more often than not, had warning signs which provided clues to these developing problems. Warning signs are, almost by definition, easy to see in hindsight. The challenge is in accurately forecasting which of the many unusual business activities of a business, over time, are reliable predictors of future problems.  Fortunately, several industries have worn a path that law firms can use to help them develop these financial forecasting skills.  If law firms stay informed and pay close attention to these clues, they can gain a competitive business development advantage, learn a company’s business more deeply, and provide distinctive value to clients and prospects.  And librarians are well situated to be at the heart of this growing trend among law firms to gather rich data about their clients.

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Keeping the Conversation Going: Revisiting AALL Sessions on Research Skills and Technology Training

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As we get to the end of fall, it seemed timely to revisit associate and law student training topics discussed at this summer’s AALL Annual Meeting and see if anyone had implemented new associate training initiatives or new approaches to legal research classes this fall. This post covers attorney research skills, and a second post about technology training will be published next week. 

by Kathy Skinner, Director of Research Services at Morrison & Foerster LLP

“Keep the conversation going” was the resounding feedback from attendees at the 2015 AALL program, “Attorney Research Skills: Join the Conversation between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians.” Based on program responses, there’s a clear need to discuss law school and law firm research training methods and adapt them so they are more meaningful, practical, and consistent. So, how can we keep the discussion going in order to realize change?

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