Law firm expenses are outpacing revenue causing shrinking margins as we round the corner to the end of 2019. This was detailed in Citi Private Bank's Law Firm Group annual report, released just before Labor Day. While lawyer compensation growth accounts for a significant portion of the expense increase, shrinking margins and the drumbeat of a potential recession in 2020 turn scrutiny to law firms’ cost centers—and of course, this includes the library and information centers. Information professionals need to be ready to demonstrate the business value to the firm.
While it may be a common sentiment for information professionals to walk out of a meeting, whether it be with administration or a practice group and think, “‘They’ just don’t get it!” or “They have no clue the value the library brings to their work and the firm itself,” law firm leadership is under tremendous budgetary pressure. It’s time to change the conversation.
Law firm libraries have evolved to deliver tremendous cross-departmental and cross-practice value. We employ increasingly sophisticated tech tools to perform substantive legal and technical research. We partner with other departments such as business development, professional development and conflicts that need access to our resources and expertise.
In fact, information professionals have access to better data than ever before to help illustrate the value the library brings to the firm, and yet we still struggle with making sure our department gets the recognition it deserves from leadership and the firm’s decision-makers.
So, how do we demonstrate the business value of the library? We will take this question and tackle it from three different perspectives: in Part I, we tackle the attorney perspective; in Part II, we will review firm leadership’s perspective. Finally, in Part III, we will take into consideration branding.
For lawyers, value is more immediate and tied to the resources and services provided by the library. They need library expertise to serve their clients and grow their practices. Communications will involve highlighting new and important resources and services.
Getting the attention of busy attorneys remains a primary challenge. Keep communications brief and lead with the primary message. Whether in person or by email there is a very small window of opportunity to reach the target. Below are suggestions for promoting the library/information center:
Practice Group Presentations - Practice Group presentations are the gold standard for reaching attorneys as they provide for face-to-face interaction with end users. In person, librarians can get candid feedback including subtle cues such as body language about attorneys’ needs and whether they are frustrated or satisfied with available services and resources. This is a fantastic opportunity to hear first-hand the value attorneys' place on the library’s performance. Getting in front of attorneys, live or virtually, shows that there are actual librarians/people who provide the resources and services they need to succeed in their work. A Practice Group meeting is a captive audience … take advantage!
Custom Newsletters (e.g. NewsDesk) - Customized, curated practice group or department specific newsletters help attorneys stay abreast of news that is relevant and important to them.
New Product Demonstrations - Librarians and researchers can position themselves as experts and keep attorneys abreast of new tools.
Library Newsletters/Updates - Highlight success stories so firm leadership is aware of activities in the department. Use newsletter to inform lawyers of new resources in their practice area.
Teach New Skills - Provide training and skills development opportunities for library users. For example, offer Tech Tuesdays to help with setting up apps, learning how to save favorites on a particular product, etc.
Substantive CLE Sessions - Provide sessions throughout the year, not just in the month of December!
Involve Practice Group Chairs - Involve the Chair in decision making for products to get buy-in and promote the capabilities of the department while developing a better understanding of the needs/concerns of practice groups.
Word-of-mouth - Conversations among attorneys can also be a driving force. There are many attorneys who, although they may not voice it, do know the value of what the Library/Information Center does. Find and amplify those voices.
Next, in part II, we will shift the lens and consider how information professionals can demonstrate value to firm leadership. Stay tuned!
Did you know? Feit Consulting offers Contemporary Library Solutions, examining and recommending changes to save the firm/organization money, improve efficiencies, and maximize utilization of resources. Contact Feit Consulting today to set up a free consultation on modernizing your Law Library.
About the Author
Becky Bowman, Law Library Consultant
Becky served as the Chief Research and Information Analysis Officer for Am Law 100 firm, Baker Donelson for 32 years where she ultimately led a team of 5 to serve 750+ attorneys across 23 domestic locations. Becky's accomplishments at Baker were multiple, including transforming the library from print to digital, overseeing the efficient combination of 15 mergers and acquisitions of library materials, and successfully rebranding her department, and achieving buy-in from key stakeholders. Her exceptional experience is invaluable for clients as they assess the actual total cost and value of their library and research department including current print and digital collections, vendor contracts, as well as consider cultural and workflow disruptions or benefits in moving to an outsourcing vendor.
About the Author
Stuart Zimmerman, Law Library Consultant
Stuart provides strategic input on library and research services in large law firms with a focus on library audits, the development of best practices for the delivery of library services, and the implementation of new generations of digital resources for research and library administration. Stuart brings more than 25 years of law library experience both in law firms and public law libraries. Prior to joining Feit Consulting, Stuart was Director of Research and Information Services for Davis Wright Tremaine LLP where he transformed a patchwork of individual law office libraries into a coordinated, efficient, contemporary, firm-wide library system providing high-quality research and library services across nine offices.