Earlier this month, we held a webinar on the digital law firm library. It’s a critical and timely topic. Many firms had been considering digital and remote options over the last few years—decreasing physical space and transitioning from print to electronic resources. However, in the past months, COVID-19 has served as a true accelerator in this space. Attorneys had to transition to working from home overnight, requiring remote access to library resources and staff.
How are firms addressing the demands for a digital library to serve their attorneys’ information and research needs?
Janeanne Gorman, Executive Director at Keller & Heckman; Jon Grant, Director of Innovative Strategies at Greenberg Traurig; and Kristin Nichols, Chief Practice Officer at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP served as guest speakers on the webinar we hosted, providing insights on how their firms are handling this issue.
While the firms they come from differ in size and practice areas, their objective remains the same: to create a more nimble and innovative firm coming out of the pandemic. Consequently, there is a need to modernize the legal library into one that is accessible anytime and anywhere.
Attorneys’ work habits in the current remote setting
Kicking off our discussion, we examined the current state of attorneys’ work habits and how they adjusted to remote work. Kristin explained how within a few days after the pandemic took effect, 650 Katten lawyers across the country and overseas were able to adapt to a virtual environment extremely well. The shift was so seamless that a survey conducted within the firm later revealed that a vast majority of employees plan to work from home after the pandemic.
Janeanne observed that Keller & Heckman attorneys realized they had a reliable research team available to conduct research instead of having to do it themselves. She goes on to say that their practice is very technical and the associates are spending more time than they did in the past, doing research. Yet, the associates are also relying on the remote researchers to get the accurate information they need quickly.
Physical books at the home office
When asked how requests for physical books in the library are handled, Janeanne shared that when lawyers were forced to work remotely, no one actually called for their books. Many of them learned to work without them and instead turned to LAC Group as a virtual library resource. The quality information and expanded hours proved to be beneficial during this time.
Jon reflected on how the relationship with books in the legal industry has changed over the years. While once the image of lawyerhood, this pandemic has shown that information can come from many different sources. People are starting to realize there are other ways of finding information outside of traditional books.
Kristin understands that some will be resistant to change, but this resistance can be alleviated with change management principles. Map out the need and explain that no one is trying to take away the tools they need to practice. Reassure that the firm wants attorneys to have the resources they need, but to also recognize other methods to fulfill their research demands.
Evolving views of the library
The dialogue naturally shifted to talks of how the library will evolve, to which Jon stated that it is already evolving. Change was in motion before the pandemic. But the timeline of a digital library space has been expedited due to current events. He hopes the momentum continues and that libraries move to a completely digital format—even when this global phenomenon is over.
The library is no longer a place, he expresses. It is a service. Jon explains that they’ve been making real change at Greenberg by altering the attorneys’ perception of their library’s services and the value they deliver to clients. A library service is one of the many meaningful solutions a firm can bring to the challenges attorneys have in serving their clients. He emphasized that the clients’ demand for greater value in their services is an equation that the library must be a part of, or it falls apart.
Since the start of the pandemic, there were new conversations surrounding the firms’ libraries. Kristin notes that most of the discussions at Katten had been on ensuring that their library services are nimble, fluid and accessible, regardless of where their lawyers are. Lawyers practicing with out of date resources was a major concern, so they took advantage of the virtual environment and augmented their resources to be available anywhere, anytime to attorneys.
Jon circled back to the focus on clients’ results and how firms should be more open to third-party resources that provide quality services if it cannot be done in-house. Firms may want to partner with providers who can deliver the expertise, capabilities and tools needed to give the results and value their clients demand.
Departments and attorneys collaborating with the library, virtually
The conversation turned to how collaboration with the library and attorneys is happening at Greenberg. Jon made the distinction between working remotely and collaborating remotely and how the latter is much more challenging to accomplish. He points out that collaborating remotely must be intentional. Understanding your firm, your relationships, where staff go to find help and partnerships within the firm to serve clients will help bridge the collaboration gap between departments and the library. As mentioned before, it also involves shattering the notion that the library is a physical space. People should embrace the technology that allows the same level of library service to be provided regardless of their location.
Collaborating virtually also comes with some downsides that Kristin sheds light on. She admits that it is more difficult to build relationships and trust. Jon also chimed in with another challenge his firm is facing. With work occurring online, there is an expectation that everyone is available in real-time.
However, the panelists agree that the benefits of virtual collaboration outweigh the pitfalls. The digital environment has connected people from different functions, cities and countries to work together on projects, which would otherwise take months if done in person. One thing that Kristin has implemented at Katten to encourage collaboration and build rapport is having virtual office hours. She will block an hour out from her schedule, start an online meeting room and keep her webcam on so that anyone can come by to talk. Jon also praises the power of technology and online communication tools available to ensure they are meeting their patrons’ service expectations.
Digital law firm library: Point of no return
These were only some of the themes discussed in the digital library webinar. We encourage you to watch the full webinar recording for additional topics our panelists spoke on as well as audience questions answered during the Q&A session.