The New Normal
Law Firm Librarians Defend Operating Costs
Posted Jan 18, 2011 2:45 PM CST
By Patrick J. 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.
I apologize for my recent absence from this column. I was getting ready for a trial in Los Angeles. Sometimes the day job just gets in the way ….
In November, I wrote Does It Pay To Hire a Law Firm Librarian? The post used librarians to illustrate a point for everyone—the need to figure out how to add real value to the enterprise. The response to the post, mostly from librarians, was unbelievable! It was, for a period, one of the most commented upon stories in the ABA Journal.
I recently received a request to post the “response” written on behalf of the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries, written by Mark Gediman, Director of Information Services at Best Best & Krieger LLP. Here it is, followed by a few comments:
Hiring a Law Librarian Pays
In his recent post on the ABA Journal’s The New Normal Blog (“Does it Pay to Hire a Law Firm Librarian”), Patrick Lamb posits that only those firms that need a resident expert for online research would need a Librarian. Needless to say, this post generated some waves in the Law Library Community. I think Mr. Lamb and the subsequent discussion engendered by this post have overlooked the sound business reasons for having librarians on staff. Librarians add value to a law firm (and the bottom line) in many ways. Let’s pencil out the business case for having librarians on staff.
First, having a librarian manage your vendor relationships can result in a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the firm. A librarian can accomplish this by using their unique knowledge of the vendors, their unique knowledge of the firm, and by spending time creating partnerships with the vendors. After the contract is signed, the Librarian can take advantage of these partnerships to provide the firm with intangible extras such as regular on-site training, special “head-of-the-queue” hotline phone numbers and participation in the creation of new products. The unique knowledge of the librarian is an irreplaceable asset to the firm.
Second, librarians contribute to the business development initiatives of the firm. Not only can librarians research competitors and prospective clients, they know their audience. Anyone can print off reams of web pages and articles. Knowing how to write a research memo gives the librarian unique knowledge of how to organize and present the information, not to mention pulling out and analyzing the information the attorney needs to see. I know of an instance where the Librarian was able to retain a client by explaining how the way she works saves the client money. Not only does the librarian’s behind-the-scenes work increase the chances the firm will successfully obtain new work, but their ability to demonstrate how economical they are can help the firm keep the clients they have.
Third, librarians have unique knowledge of the firm: its culture, practice mix and processes. They can use their knowledge to make the attorneys more successful. An example of this is putting together daily news clips for the top clients and each practice group. Just by doing this, the librarian is helping the attorney to be more knowledgeable about the issues their clients care about without spending a lot of time scanning newspapers and websites. Receiving these daily briefings allows the attorney to be more in tune with their clients’ needs. This, in turn, makes the clients happy. The librarian’s job is to do the information scan, leaving the attorney more time to do their job. The business of the librarian is information, regardless of the format. We are uniquely qualified to find, sort and manage information.
Mr. Lamb did acknowledge that librarians are “information and research professionals in an era when finding essential information is more important than ever.” But this statement is incomplete. Just as important as a librarian’s experience is their efficiency. In her post on the 3 Geeks & A Law blog (“The Cost of Not Hiring a Law Firm Librarian?”), Zena Applebaum phrased it nicely: “They [Librarians] know how to look for stuff, where to look for it and most importantly in the billable-hour-is-king environment, they know how to do it efficiently.” Efficient research techniques not only result in less cost for the client, but also in fewer write-offs. In our firm, the attorneys know that they don’t need to spin their wheels needlessly when conducting research. Library staff is available to point them to the resources that will give them the greatest chance of success and provide helpful advice on how to best construct their search. In fact, our recommendation is that an attorney contact us if they spend more than 15 minutes researching without finding their answer. Implementing this rule reduces the amount of potential write-offs to a mere 0.2 hours. Compare this to the findings of recent studies showing that attorneys may lose up to 8 hours per week due to inefficient searching (Source: “Delphi Research Asks: Does Search Contribute to Productivity?,” DelphiWeb.com.) Reducing the “spinning your wheels” syndrome allows attorneys to be more productive which helps the firm generate more revenue. Happier clients and fewer write-offs translates into increased firm revenue.
Let’s wrap this up with a look at the net value of a librarian position. For the purposes of our discussion, we’ll assume that the Librarian’s duties are a full-time position requiring 40 hours a week to perform. We’ll also assume that the average billing rate of an attorney at the same firm is $300/hour and that of a paralegal is $150/hr. Applying our assumptions, an attorney performing these duties would translate to $12,000 of billable time lost per week. Which is $624,000 in lost revenue annually. Considering the average law firm librarian’s annual salary is only about $65,000 (Source: AALL 2009 Salary Survey), having a librarian would still result in a revenue opportunity of $559,000. Doing the same analysis using a paralegal instead of an attorney results in a loss of $6,000 per week in billable time, which is $312,000 of revenue lost annually. This analysis doesn’t take into account the fact a librarian’s research is billable, even further reducing the impact of their cost on the firm’s bottom line.
I have often heard firms ask why they should spend $65,000 on a librarian when they could just have an attorney or paralegal perform those functions. Based on the previous paragraph, the answer is clear: This is only a good solution if you are willing to sacrifice the potential billable revenue of whoever is assigned to that task. Having a librarian on staff pays. Statistics show that many firms agree. There are currently 1,532 law librarians employed by law firms who are currently members of the American Association of Law Libraries, not to mention 839 firms currently represented on the Association’s membership rolls. These firms recognize the advantage that comes from employing a law librarian. These are just some ways the firm’s bottom line is positively affected by the actions of the “unnecessary” law librarian.
I guess I need to go back to writing school, since my point was clearly lost on author of the response. I am not really interested in a defense of the status quo. The status quo is changing, faster in some places than in others, perhaps like Riverside, but it is changing. The point I wrote about was carving out a place of importance, of prominence, of value, in a changing world. Saying you are cheaper than an associate hardly achieves that objective. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, some see the future and say “OMG,” while others dream of ways to own the future. I hope that all of us, librarians included, choose to dream about how to expand our value to those that pay the bills—clients. Those who don’t? Well, there will be some real estate to sell.
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.