LAC Group recently polled a select group of law librarians, research analysts and other legal information professionals both inside and outside our organization about their thoughts on the changing nature of their role. Despite the growing emphasis placed on the technological function of their jobs in law firms, corporate legal departments and other law libraries, they still see their primary role going forward as assisting their organizations with legal research, though competitive intelligence (CI) and other information needs are also a responsibility. They are also aware of big changes on the horizon.
Legal knowledge and research priorities
Asked by LAC Group to rank different law librarian functions by their relative importance as the profession enters 2020, the majority of the library professionals we surveyed responded that legal research and support for clients was very or highly important. This was followed closely by CI and other non-legal support and “promoting and enhancing the status of the firm’s library and information department.”
Following these as priorities were managing budgets and vendor relationships, assessing and recommending new information technologies and managing electronic content such as subscription services.
Meanwhile, managing the library’s physical content, such as books and periodicals, was regarded as not very important by well over half of LAC Group respondents, with only about 21% ranking this as a very important law librarian function. External respondents were a little more split, with most predicting there will still be some need for it.
Law librarians strive to add value
When asked how legal information professionals can add the greatest value as a link in a firm’s information supply chain, finding new ways to deliver information services throughout the firm ranked high, as did providing the firm’s leadership and attorneys with the information they need to make important decisions. Building bridges between departments and informational silos at a firm as well as supporting business-critical tasks like client development were also high on the list.
When asked for their ideas on what they would change to make their firms more competitive with legal service providers of the future, adding research staff and automating repetitive and low-value tasks were common themes.
Managing large volumes of information and delivering more actionable, ready-to-use insights was also recommended, as by one respondent:
“There is a strong need to deliver actionable information on clients and industry trends into the hands of our stakeholders and lawyer/experts. Traditional news sources are becoming more unwieldy and less effective than ever before. Given all the technology this is counterintuitive, but it was easier in many ways to deliver relevant news ten years ago.”
Greater teamwork and collaboration was another suggestion:
“I have always thought it would be helpful for both librarians and attorneys to have regular meetings to discuss, and try to forecast, needs regarding upcoming projects and client targets.”
Roles and responsibilities changing, but when?
Over 71% of LAC Group respondents and 52% of external respondents expect their job responsibilities to change “considerably” in the long term, but most librarians from both groups expect their jobs to more or less remain the same in the near term.
Some of the comments our respondents shared are in keeping with what industry experts see as the legal librarian’s growing role, especially in two vital areas:
- Helping to identify new business opportunities and opportunities for firm visibility.
- Keeping abreast of trends in the sectors served by the firm.
Regarding trends, artificial intelligence is not seen as much of a game-changer short-term, but it is in the long-term.
Legal industry pundits and experts like Robert Ambrogi, legal technology author and blogger, see law librarians as their employers’ technology “gatekeepers,” responsible for evaluating and educating on research platforms, knowledge management systems, intranets, websites and blogging platforms.
Ambrogi believes that the role of the law librarian will become more multi-faceted and accelerate along with the pace of technology development and adoption. As he says in a recent “Above the Law” article:
“With greater use of Artificial Intelligence and other technologies by legal professionals, the work that law librarians do and the value they provide will become even more important.”
As we know, change is the only constant. Those changes are likely to cause some turmoil, but also bring many new benefits and opportunities.
We thank all the legal librarians and researchers within LAC Group and beyond for sharing their own ideas and knowledge.