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

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

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

The Power of CI Checklists: Using model competitive intelligence (CI) checklists to plan and complete impactful CI reports

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 24, Number 2 (November/December 2019), pgs. 48-49.

By Kevin Miles, Manager of Library Services at Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP

We are all familiar with using checklists in our daily lives. Examples can include grocery checklists, to-do checklists, or checklists for planning a trip. Checklists keep us focused on the steps or elements needed to complete a task, and they help us verify that critical information has been collected. Whereas most general checklists usually are not used
to create a report, CI checklists are used to create reports and can be very effective.

CI Checklists Are CI-Specific

Competent CI professionals rely on checklists to plan and complete competitive intelligence reports; CI checklists outline and guide CI reports. The three essential qualities of a CI checklist are that it must be pliableprocedural, and purposeful. Pliable means the checklist can be adjusted; steps can be added or subtracted. Procedural means the checklist is built step-by-step within an order, forming touchpoints for your report. Purposeful means the report is not a data dump, but rather, it answers specific questions. You may have to ask the attorney three different questions to determine what the attorney wants to know, how the attorney will use the information, and what the deadline is for the report.

Model CI Checklists

CI reports range from background reports about officers and directors, companies, and industries, to websites, litigation, transactions, and other activities.  As we discussed in the September/October 2019 issue of AALL Spectrum, CI checklist questions can be grouped into six categories:

1. People
2. Company
3. Litigation Parties
4. Intellectual Property
5. Industry
6. Other Activities

Let’s look at a few model CI checklists, which have been condensed here for purposes of illustration. Copies of the full versions are available at the bottom of this post. Feel free to adapt or modify them to suit your purposes.

People Checklist

  • Name of person
  • Address
  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Social media presence
  • Workplace
  • Education
  • Additional business relationships
  • Who knows whom

Company Checklist

  • Company name
  • Company address
  • Industry
  • Officers & directors
  • Social media
  • Mergers & acquisitions activity
  • Subsidiaries
  • Law firm contacts within the company
  • Locations in the world

Litigation Parties Checklist

  • Plaintiff/Defendant ratios
  • How many times in litigation?
  • Win/Loss/Settle ratios?
  • Which courts have they appeared in?
  • Which judges have adjudicated this company?
    • By name
    • By percentage
  • Which law firms/attorneys represent them:
    • By name
    • By percentage

Intellectual Property Checklist

  • What is the composition of the IP portfolio?
  • How many patents are:
    • Granted
    • Licensed
    • Sold
    • Expired
    • About to expire

Industry Checklist

  • What is the overview of the industry?
  • What are the names of the companies in the main industry?
  • How do they rank in terms of size?
    • Number of employees
    • Revenue
    • Profit

Other Activities Checklist

  • Is the company involved in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) activities?
  • What are their political contributions?
  • Is the company on a watch list?
  • What are their real estate holdings?
  • What are their cybersecurity policies?
  • Have there been data breaches?
  • What information can be gathered from the website?
  • Are there any Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violations?

Now, Begin

Developing a CI checklist is the first step to gathering information for the CI report.
Checklists create consistency for your reports and ensure that everything that needs to be included is incorporated.


Practical Competitive Intelligence “Breaking Down the Basics,” in the September/
October 2019 issue of AALL Spectrum at


AALL Competitive Intelligence Strategies & Analysis, May 2020. Details will be  forthcoming.


Listen to the 2016 webinar “Advanced Competitive Intelligence: Best Practices
in Conducting CI Research,” at bit.lyAALL2go0616CI.

Checklists in Word

People Checklist

Company Checklist

Litigation Parties Checklist

Intellectual Property Checklist

Industry Checklist

Other Activities Checklist


Brainstorming Solutions to our Competitive Intelligence Pain Points

By Delia Montesinos, Senior Competitive Intelligence Analyst at Ropes & Gray

The content of this post was originally published in the Northern California Association of Law Libraries newsletter.  Content is republished with permission.

Competitive Intelligence (“CI”) is my daily bread and as much as I love it, it can drive me to the most bitter of tears. There are so many pain points! Putting together a report requires too many tools; turnaround times are sometimes unreasonable; the amount of information can drive one to distraction or, worse, be too little to be viable. To top it off, I have to deal with my uber-obsession about delivering the most kickass, ‘trust-me-there’s-no-more-info-to-be-found’ work product—an obsession largely driven by the fact I generate these reports with little or no context: I have no clue how my work fits into the bigger picture. Therefore, when they asked me to present at the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (NOCALL) Spring Institute, I immediately chose CI pain points.

What I (selfishly) hoped to accomplish was learning new tips and tricks from my peers. What I discovered is that, despite CI work being more prevalent, few law firms have dedicated CI teams like mine. Additionally, many librarians work CI on an irregular basis: when I posed the question at the roundtable, nearly 90% of participants said they work CI less than 5% of the time. For them, each CI request has the added challenge of remembering which tool has what info or, worse, how to find info when you have no tools at all. As a result, I have begun to pen a newsletter column to demystify CI work for my NOCALL peers. What follows is an abbreviated version of two of my columns, updated with the resources we brainstormed at the Spring Institute. 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

AALL Annual Meeting 2019 Recap: AALL 2019 Tackles the Firm Librarian’s Role in Legal Research Competency

By Allison Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson

Allison Reeve Davis received a Speaking Engagement Grant from the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section to attend the AALL Annual Meeting.  Allison also participated in the AALL Innovation Tournament while at the conference and was the Judges’ Choice winner for her Tentative Rulings Database.

 I wrote up this report three weeks after AALL wrapped up in DC, and my mind was still swirling with the engaging programming and thought-provoking conversations I shared with colleagues.

The buzz surrounding the future of legal research training and the gaps in attorney research and technology skills caught my attention. At Littler Mendelson, we’re always trying to gain deeper insight into what the attorneys need to know, identify practice pain-points, determine how to best deliver training, and explore forthcoming technologies to ensure we’re ready when they’re rolled out.

Jordan Furlong, a global legal market analyst, gave a fantastic keynote during PLLIP Summit X addressing the changing legal landscape and future of law firm librarianship.  [Ed. Note:  The PLLIP Summit precedes the main conference and provides an opportunity for private law librarians and information professionals to focus on current issues and opportunities common to their firms and organizations.]  A key takeaway I got from the keynote was that legal information professionals can act as a backbone for the firm’s “advisory knowledge” demands, in areas such as client intelligence, analytics, and knowledge management. Furlong advised that librarians will evolve from traditional data mining to data refining. This means librarians should hone skills in delivering information with actionable insight and position themselves as a competitive edge within the firm.  Robert Ambrogi delved into the session in more detail in his post on Above the Law.  What I explore here is the thought provoking question asked by an audience member: as law schools start to teach students the practice of law and commoditized tasks are replaced with complex work, where will legal research training take place?  It became clear throughout the Annual Meeting that librarians from all institutional types have a role to play in attorney preparedness.

Related to this central question was the AALL session, “Assessing Legal Research Competency: Bridging the Gap between Law School and Practice,” presented by Nicole Downing, Jennifer Davitt, Taryn Rucinski, and Kelly A. McGlynn, and moderated by Theresa Tarves.  These information professionals work in a variety of institutions including law firms, government agencies, and law schools. Their diverse observations and viewpoints provided rich insight into attorney competency gaps and offered solutions for information professionals who assess and teach research aptitude. Areas for skill improvement ranged from research project intake and output to knowledge of administrative law and legislative history. The librarians provided methods of skill assessment, both formal, such as quizzes in the law school legal research classroom, and informal, like observations from reference interviews with legal clerks. Kelly, from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, discussed her library’s involvement in the firm’s attorney development program. The firm’s librarians teach an array of topics including cost effective research strategy, licensing, and client confidentiality. They gain insight on what to teach based on answers to reference interview questions such as “What are you working on? “What have you done already?” and “What practice group are you researching for?”

Let’s not forget to keep it fun, though! The librarians presenting on competency gaps reminded the audience that creativity and flexibility are essential to meeting the attorneys at a place for learning. As a PLLIP-SIS Speaking Engagement Grant recipient, I attended the conference and participated as a panelist for “Wanna Play? Leveraging Gamification to Increase Interest, Adoption, Technology and Research Skills” with Bradelynn Boyce-Dendy, Lisa Njoku, and coordinator Sarah Morris. Our group shared experiences harnessing the competitive streak in attorneys and turning resource training and adoption into enjoyable, engaged gamification.

AALL also accepted my application to participate in this year’s Innovation Tournament. My library’s project is a database of Santa Clara, California, Superior Court tentative rulings.  In building the tool, we have responded to the evolving client demands that our attorneys gain a competitive edge in judicial insight. This also required us to think through how to empower our attorneys to leverage the tool, understand its results, and apply them to their litigation strategy or business development. I thank PLLIP-SIS for the ability to attend, and the Innovation Tournament judges’ panel for their vote of confidence in Littler’s new cool tool.

Many of the sessions at AALL this year included calls to consider the law librarian’s role in preparing lawyers for the legal market and evolving information landscape. A combined effort of practice-focused classroom instruction at law schools, new attorney orientations in firms, and continuing research and technology competency training will prove the most beneficial to the attorneys we serve. The integral role of law firm information professionals’ involvement in knowledge competency development cannot be understated. As the practice of new attorneys moves from the commoditized to the complex, law schools will expand their teaching of evolving technologies, and clients will demand data-based practice insight.  Firm librarians will be required to bridge any gaps in understanding the complex web of information. After witnessing presenters’ proactive instructional design and learning about and sharing information on innovative tools and programs, l came away inspired and confident that librarians are positioned to partner with firm management and to offer attorneys the competitive edge.

As previously mentioned, I owe gratitude to the PLLIP Grants Committee for supporting my attendance. The ability to share my experience and hear new ideas is rewarding for myself, Littler’s library, and other legal information professionals. I encourage others to apply for the available grants as an opportunity to challenge your perspective and advance your department through professional development.