Thursday, July 13, 2006

Law Firm Library Survey

One of the things I enjoy about the AALL convention is the opportunity to interact with law firm librarians, if only on a very superficial level. As someone who teaches Advanced Legal Research, I find that it is helpful to know what the research environment is at law firms these days so that I can better prepare my students to function in this environment. In his story "Law Librarians Look Beyond Books," Alex Cohen reports on the American Lawyer's fifth survey of law firm librarians, and provides some interesting insights about what firm librarians are now being asked to do. One law librarian, Thomas Fleming of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, says that only about fifty per cent of the information he deals with is law related today; in the past, it was about ninety per cent. He also spends a good deal of time on client development and marketing, a new responsibility for librarians. Firm libraries are now billing for their time, a fairly recent phenomenon. However, according to a panelist at a session I attended at AALL, a librarian bills at less than a legal assistant, so perhaps our skills are still not valued as highly as they should be. The survey also showed that firm library budgets are up and that many firm libraries are adding staff. Most libraries at firms are shrinking, with West reporters being good candidates for cancellation because case research works so well online. Other types of research, though, are less well suited to the online environment, and firm librarians find that attorneys still like to use treatises and other analytical material in hardcopy. Most firms are not realizing cost savings when they migrate to online materials because in many cases online sources are more expensive than their hardcopy equivalents. Librarians find that the Internet is not yet a solution to the high cost of information provided by commercial publishers because of the variable quality of what is available.

There are individual charts dealing with the Librarian's Expanding Role, Electronic Research, Staffing, Resources, and Finances; all in all, the charts and Cohen's narrative tell an interesting story about what is happening at law firm libraries today.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

On a similar note, read Rich Leiter's excellent short essay, "The Sky IS Falling: Two Short Tales to Ruin Your Day," Legal Information Alert, June, 2006 (see it in print; their website doesn't include current issues), page 8-9. He writes eloquently about the large publishers mis-reading libraries' cancellation of print sources. Rich reports a reply from [West] un-named large Mid-West publisher that "acknowledges that the market is changing, it wants to attempt to get all the revenue it can out of the print market before it dries up!" He goes on to predict that the publishers will unilaterally close print publishing divisions and go electronic only, raising the prices simulataneously. I hope Rich is wrong, but he's on the same paranoid track of thinking as I am.