On February 22, 2018, I attended the ARK (Applied Research & Knowledge) Group conference—12th Annual Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library, Research & Information Services. Over 150 law firm library directors, decision makers and library/information center staff were there, with several vendors and sponsors also present.
Conference panels explored the topic of the modern law library and its future, looking in particular at ways strategies are evolving due to the convergence and impact of technology and economics. Some overarching themes:
- Law firm libraries are reinventing themselves to support not just legal research but the business of law.
- Modernization won’t happen unless administrators embrace information center evolution and empower their managers to lead.
- Law firm/law library technology change is increasingly rapid and resource evaluation/acquisition increasingly complex—law librarians and KM professionals are thus at the forefront of evaluating new products and setting performance expectations for firms.
- The challenges of transformation will offer opportunities to those libraries capable of leveraging more powerful technologies and business knowledge to adapt and expand their range of services.
My takeaways are from a diverse mix of presentations:
- Topics included library transformation, digital resources, inventorying/budgeting and communicating library value.
- Presenters were vendor representatives as well as directors and staff of major law libraries, including DLA Piper, Littler Mendelson and Fordham Law School.
My top ten takeaways:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) will give lawyers more time for advising clients.
Lawyers spend about 44% of their time meeting with clients, with about 24% spent on research and analysis (the remaining 32% is divided among other tasks). Although AI could shift this balance, AI will most likely allow lawyers, with their insatiable appetite for information, to delve more deeply into a topic related to client matters.
- The goal of AI should be to elevate the profile of Information and Knowledge Management in the firm.
Data drives everything…seemingly except in the legal profession. Whereas corporations are guided by data to make almost every major decision, law firms have rarely operated that way. A fundamental goal for AI in law firms should be to provide unique insights.
“Firms are subscribing to AI platforms in small bandwidths. CARA’s Casetext has drawn more commitments than Ross Intelligence in terms of actual subscriptions. AI decisions are happening outside the library, where firms are investing in bots and processing improvement solutions like LawGeex,” observes my LAC Group colleague Robyn Rebollo.
- AI hype is off the charts and the hype will create collateral damage.
It’s anyone’s guess at this point as to how much of a game changer AI will be in the legal field. Meanwhile, collateral damage will be caused by ill-conceived AI products, and this will cast a shadow over technologies and tools that actually work now. This will lead to confusion in the marketplace about what is real AI and what isn’t.
- Libraries need to closely align themselves with their firm’s strategy and goals.
In other words—“answer the problems of the firm, not the library.” Session panels discussed several ways to be prepared for this. Some key points:
- Clearly understand the firm’s strategic goals.
- Be knowledgeable about industry trends and be active with trade associations.
- Understand the criteria of a solid business plan.
- Collaboration and relationships with practice areas is the key to the future.
Presenters suggested several ways to do this: embed librarians in practice areas. Develop close ongoing close relationships with practice areas and look at the needs of the law firm, not the library. Understand what the firm wants from the library.
- Be proactive—don’t wait for the C-Suite or anyone else to tell you what to do.
Embrace change. Look at the processes and actions of successful departments within your firm and copy them. Seek out ways to add knowledge and information value throughout all departments and practice areas.
- Prove your value with metrics and communicate your wins.
Data and metrics are king! Get into key performance indicators (KPIs) and other ways libraries and information centers should be measuring and communicating their value.
More from my colleague Robyn Rebollo, on how we use spend management metrics for our clients:
“A big goal of ours is improving our work product and analysis to support our clients and prove value through easy-to-understand reporting on metrics and dashboards. We’re already underway in implementing this for macro expenditures using the Qlik data analytics service.”
- Be comfortable using and keeping pace with technology.
Libraries should be at the forefront of evaluating, understanding and using new technologies. Communicating the value of specific technologies to lawyers and helping them use these tools can be a key service differentiator for law firm libraries.
- Defend your budget. Know it inside and out.
One presenter noted that her firm is moving to practice group-specific budgets and urges every library to have the data to do this and be able to break down the budget as a “cost per user.” Other panelists suggested:
- Run the library like a business-within-a-business.
- Prepare annual reports.
- Quantify the library’s contribution with data/data visualization.
- Talk the language of senior management.
- Conduct roadshows with key partners to highlight the library’s accomplishments.
- Communicate successes to firm decision makers and staff.
This is yet another key area where we help library directors—What to look for in terms of budget benchmarks? What kind of resource mix is included? And how to allocate by charging expenditures to practice groups and departments to hold them accountable.
- The disconnect between the library and the firm’s strategic goals.
A substantial 37% of law firm libraries surveyed said they are not in alignment with their firm’s strategic goals, yet most (60%) of the libraries surveyed consider themselves “modern.” This is a disconnect that must be acknowledged.
Issues and challenges on the way to the modern library:
- Libraries of the future will still be a service business so there will be a strong need to have the right people in place.
- But library staff will require different expertise, and matching people with resources will be a major challenge going forward.
- Services that involve content management, training and document retrieval will be important.
- Outsourcing the low-level tasks to free up time and resources to focus on complex issues will be valuable.
One of the presenters, Jean O’Grady (Senior Director of Information, Research & Knowledge at DLA Piper), aptly described the event as a chance to explore “the ‘big picture’ of librarians as disruptors, the importance of interdepartmental support and technology, how to change the stereotypical image of the librarian, and how to run the library as a business.”
Subjects like disruption, cross-departmental engagement, library-as-a-business and analytics/quantifying the library’s value have become topics of ongoing discussion over the pasy several years. New and game-changing technologies, however, such as Artificial Intelligence, promise genuine novelty and value, although with lots of hype too, at least in the near term.
If you have questions or comments on any of these observations or on LAC Group services for law libraries, I invite you to contact me.