The new normal for law libraries and librarians

“New normal” is an expression that may be reaching cliché status in the legal industry; I’m seeing it so regularly. However the reason it gets used so often is that it applies so well. Law firms have withstood some changes that truly have transformed the way they operate.

A presentation that Michele Lucero, our Director of Client Development, recently gave at a meeting of DALL (Dallas Association of Law Librarians) and HALL (Houston Area Law Librarians) was titled: “The New Normal: Impact & Trends in Law Libraries” and it was very well received, which suggests that this phrase continues to resonate.

Law Firm Library Staffing

Michele discussed new library staffing models for law librarians. The experience and traits that are regularly requested from our law firm clients include:

Corporate experience – Industry knowledge that aligns with a firm’s practice areas is becoming more valuable, and it’s a way for a librarian to rise above a pool of candidates for a job.

Strategic thinkers – Think of this as the ability to connect the dots, see the big picture and be forward-looking.

Legal project management – A client matter is a project, and law librarians and research staff are critical members of a project team. Project management skills are becoming increasingly important now that firms cannot simply charge hours to a client as freely as they once could, or when a matter is being handled on a fixed price.  For a succinct overview of general traits needed to be an effective project manager, check out this article on the Project Management Institute website.

Effective in conducting research and delivering legal services – Nothing more needs to be said. When so many attorneys can do their own research online, any added help, coaching and time-saving value that library and research staff can provide is desirable to a law firm.

Trends in Law Libraries

The new norm in law is creating new conditions and trends in law libraries. One is the importance of people – or more specifically, people with the right skills and attitude to add value to the firm. For those employees, law firms are giving new importance to their talent acquisition and retention strategies.

New conditions and trends in library services:

  • Reduced budgets and lower cost recovery.
  • Significant increase in resources expense.
  • Subscription cancellations that once seemed implausible.
  • Rebalancing of collection with greater focus on reducing content duplication.
  • More centralization of services.
  • Continued movement toward virtual libraries.
  • Increase in outsourcing.

New conditions and trends for law librarians—more than legal research:

  • Knowledge Management (KM) is becoming increasingly important as firms look to leverage skills and capture learnings that can be applied to other situations.
  • Competitive Intelligence (CI) is a hot area as demand for legal services remains relatively flat, increasing competitive pressure on law firms.
  • Along with CI, librarians are being asked to conduct market research and provide other support to the firm’s marketing and business development staff.

Law Firm Priorities

The trends and traits mentioned above align with the priorities of most law firms today:

  • Greater emphasis on marketing, with more effective use of data and insights gleaned from market research and Competitive Intelligence research and analysis.
  • Research training and coaching for lawyers to enable them to do their own research as needed, when needed.
  • Eliminating more print and moving more information online, in the cloud, to enable virtual access and availability.
  • Expanding Knowledge Management throughout the firm, rather than isolated within offices or practice areas.

Emergence of the Embedded Librarian

The concept of “embedded librarianship” moves librarians out of traditional settings into a new framework in which they are more tightly integrated into projects and teams.

  • Allows refocus of library as a resource and more strategic presence.
  • Immerses the law library into client needs for a more customer-centric approach.
  • Starts with relationship and trust, within the firm and extending to the client.

The embedded librarian will be a specialist, with deep knowledge of particular legal matters, industries, firm practice areas and so forth. LAC Group expects to be at the forefront of embedded librarianship in law firms, so we’ll be covering it more in-depth in the future.

Update: More on Bookless Libraries

Finally, as an update to my recent post about Bibliotech, the first bookless public library in the US, I found an article on the OEDb (Open Education Database) website that mentions five additional bookless libraries. All of them are university libraries and four of them are engineering libraries.

Deborah Schwarz

Deborah Schwarz

CEO at LAC Group
Deborah Schwarz is founder and CEO of LAC Group. As a “roll up your shirtsleeves” CEO, Ms. Schwarz routinely works alongside her project managers and staff, inspiring her team to pursue innovation and excellence in all projects and assignments. She is particularly interested in helping organizations focus on strategic and pragmatic solutions for managing information, research and assets.
Deborah Schwarz

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