Saturday, November 20, 2010

Librarians Add Value in Law Firms

Helane Davis passed along this ABA Journal news item, Does It Pay to HIre a Law Firm Librarian?. Patrick Lamb of the Valorem Law Group writes in the New Normal series his take on this question. Few firms now would need the physical space of a library since so much of what they use is online. (My firm friends actually say they are keeping a small number of print titles, usually a careful selection of secondary resources). But, Lamb doesn't know about this. So, then, he asks, if you don't have books, and you therefore don't have a library, do you need a librarian? I was very happy to watch him work this one out:

We generate as much data every 2 days as all of humankind had created until 2003, and the pace is picking up. (credit to Google general counsel Kent Walker at the ACC annual meeting, 2010). Thus, Lamb reasons, librarians are information professionals in this time when it is increasingly vital to filter and sort the overflow of information that is available. (Actually, he doesn't get to the filter idea; Lamb is still speaking in terms of finding.) But he realizes that the associates who do the research at law firms are NOT information professionals and are floundering:

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.
Lamb goes on to think about how librarians should be working closely with the marketing department and with accounting, making the information they can find "supercharge" those two departments in law firms for business development and pricing models. (Actually, I believe there are a lot of firm librarians who are doing these things. Knowledge management is one of the code words that means researching companies to help build your firm's business. I think it also has been used to help firms set pricing, though I am less certain about this.)

So far, this is a very cheering article. Lamb certainly has a grasp on what librarians can do for law firms. But then, he cites to an unidentified "recent survey."
A small group of 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.”
He does not identify either the survey or its source, and we cannot tell what sort of librarians or the kind of organization to which they belong. This is horribly frustrating and I cannot believe that this was a survey of law firm librarians. I cannot think they would self identify with such terms to explain their value to their firms. Lamb, n all honesty, explains his post as a "head fake" to get all his readers thinking about what value THEY add to their organization, lest THEY become irrelevant, as these librarians are made to look. This is an infuriating trick and really quite unfair.

What an A**hole. I hope somebody misfiles his most expensive looseleaf and then maybe mis-shepardizes an important case for him.

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