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Definitive new themes in legal research

Evolving role of a law librarian

January 14, 2020

Home Blog Research & intelligence Definitive new themes in legal research
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With the close of a decade, you may have noticed end-of-decade retrospectives cropping up everywhere. Following the trend, we took the opportunity to review several predominant themes that defined legal research over the past ten years.

Law librarian as a knowledge manager

legal research trends - km

Arguably, the most significant business development of the 2010’s was the emergence of social media platforms as a critical part of an organization’s communication strategy. At the start of the decade, few companies had a social media presence of any kind. Now it’s considered virtual business suicide for a law firm or any other sizable enterprise to not have a Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, and even YouTube page, as well as at least one blog, with which to communicate with clients and prospective clients. In an article on social media for law firms, the founder and CEO of Marketri states:

Perhaps the commitment to the billable hour, fear of compromising client confidentiality, and uncertainty about social media’s value has made attorneys particularly wary of committing to social media. Some law firms are overlooking an opportunity by avoiding social media completely rather than overcoming its challenges. Law firms that manage to solve these concerns often find that social media provides a potent competitive advantage and the opportunity to connect with clients/prospects in new ways.

Legal research professionals play an important role in contributing to the social media profile and public visibility of the 21st century law firm, by being a driving force behind things like competitive intelligence and thought leadership. No longer passively waiting for research assignments, law librarians must understand their firm’s strategic goals and stay abreast of industry trends, client developments and business opportunities in the firm’s practice areas. This involves active collaboration with the BD and marketing departments as well as practice groups.

Law librarian as a tech coach and mentor

legal research trends - business

A typical law firm at the end of the 20th century had a stable of legal librarians, secretaries, paralegals and other support staff backing up the firm’s attorneys. Copiers and fax machines were the technology workhorses in the firm. Today, client expectations for leaner and more efficient law firms have reduced the ratio of support staff to attorney and redefined the law library. 21st century lawyers are doing more themselves and are expected to handle some of the tasks formerly done by legal support staff. While it’s true that electronic tools and a streamlined, more digitized workplace have eased those burdens, one of the challenges of firms entering 2020 will be striking the right balance of technology, internal staff, and services from external experts to bridge gaps.

Law librarians are still performing legal and other research assignments, yet they are now also expected to facilitate information access and availability to attorneys and other internal users, as well as clients. This involves assessing and selecting appropriate legal information tools, and training colleagues on usage of tools to keep track of and better serve clients. Increased responsibilities also include negotiating services with software vendors, increasingly in collaboration with spend managers and procurement teams.

Law librarian as a business administrator

legal research trends business

In the 2010’s, in response to client demands and new competitors, the classic law firm model began giving way to the law firm run more like a traditional business. Accordingly, legal information professionals are expected to run the law library like a business, in lockstep with the firm’s mission, strategy and goals. This includes:

  • Being proactive about identifying and addressing the firm’s unmet information services needs.
  • Understanding the business drivers for different practice areas in order to assist with CI.
  • Developing vendor management, RFP and contract negotiation skills.
  • Developing subject matter expertise to match firm practice areas and clients.
  • Breaking down departmental silos and promoting firm-wide collaboration.
  • Making information more accessible to firm staff.

LAC Group is here to help you navigate the changing times

As the legal profession enters the 2020s, LAC Group will continue to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to the information services needs of our clients. We support law firms and other clients with agile, flexible support for legal research and competitive intelligence, subject matter expertise/thought leadership, and cost-containing spend management services.

James Hurley

James Hurley

James Hurley is the Director of Research Services at LAC Group. His expertise covers legal and business information services, including complex legal and business research, competitive intelligence, project management, technology applications, resource development and training on numerous research topics and cost-effective methodologies.
James Hurley

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