The New Normal

Does It Pay to Hire a Law Firm Librarian?

Posted Nov 17, 2010 9:03 PM CDT
By Patrick J. Lamb

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Patrick Lamb

Editor's note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

If you were designing a law firm today, would you even have a library? I think many, including me, would answer, “Probably not.” As long as the Internet exists, information that was in a law library will be available online. So why bother, right?

At the same time, would you have a law librarian? Given the answer to the first, question, many would probably give the same answer. But should the answer be the same? It really depends on how you define “librarian,” or better yet, whether you acknowledge that the meaning of the noun has to evolve. A librarian is somebody who oversees a library, a “place set apart to contain books, periodicals or other material for reading, viewing, listening or studying.” In other words, a librarian oversees something not needed in law firms—all that “stuff” is contained in the box on everyone’s desk.

But all is not lost for professional librarians. Indeed, if they play their cards right, the future may be brighter for them than most. In a presentation at the recent ACC Annual Meeting, Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker relayed this startling piece of information: in the entire history of humankind, until 2003, man had created a total of 5 exabytes of information. Today, we create 5 exabytes of information every two days. And the pace of information creation is accelerating.

What does that mean for law librarians? They are information and research professionals in an era when finding essential information is more important than ever. Associates, who do most of the research in law firms, are not research or information professionals. They may become good at analyzing information, but that is somewhat of a crapshoot, and they certainly are not trained at finding the “stuff’” that we frequently need every day. When you live in a value-fee world, someone who finds the right information efficiently is really valuable.

If you have someone who is really good at finding the right information, why would a firm need, or even want, to draw a line between where that information came from? But firms do precisely this when they have a "knowledge officer" (internally created information) and a "head librarian" (externally created information). Frankly, information is information regardless of its origin, and one person should manage it. But you can further imagine the important ties that should exist between the marketing department and the knowledge librarian (business development) and between the accounting department and the knowledge librarian (pricing). The library itself may be passé, but the role of the librarian, viewed in this light, is becoming more critical as the volume of information in the world grows.

Do law librarians see it this way? I’m not so sure. In a recent survey, a small group of law librarians was asked to describe the value they bring to the organization. No one described anything similar to what is described above. In fact, several responses were along these lines: “loyal accurate, friendly and smart”; “intelligent, hard-working, very efficient”; “cataloging skills and knowledge”; “hard worker, always willing to help.”

There seems to be a gap here. One of my favorite quotes is from Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, currently Secretary of the Veterans Administration. He said, “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

This post is really a head-fake though. It’s not really about librarians. It’s a challenge to everybody to figure out how to add real value to the enterprise. If you’re not adding value, you’ll be getting used to irrelevance.

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the recently published book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

Article updated on Nov. 19 to correct the spelling of Eric Shinseki's name.

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