Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Disruptive Technology or Innovation is Not a Myth

disruptive technology

This image is licensed through the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5). Source: Disruptive Technologies, McKinsey Global Institute.

The first paragraph in this post is part of the Pinhawk Librarian News Digest today – a daily email newsletter I edit.  What follows are my thoughts on the idea of disruptive technology/innovation being a myth.

Wikipedia defines disruptive innovation as “innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network – displacing an earlier technology.” Technologists refer this disruptive force when talking about how technology has changed the world. As luck has it, Ryan McClead writes about this type of innovation in his 3 Geeks and a Law Blog post,  The Myth of Disruptive Technology, making the point that waiting for the next disruptive innovation is a “fool’s errand.”

He’s right, waiting for the next shoe to drop is akin to waiting for the next big problem instead of strategically addressing issues along the way – so that shoe has no purpose in falling.  Ryan uses the story of Blockbuster and Netflix to demonstrate how Netflix’s strategy displaced Blockbuster and states that the streaming media technology was not a disruptive force but one that displaced video rental companies over time.

Here’s where we part ways in our agreement over his idea of it being a myth.  The fact is that streaming media was-is a disruptive innovation/technology. It took time to displace video rental stores like Blockbuster – time where Blockbuster could have moved to a streaming media model that would have saved their business.  Like libraries, where one might consider saving the books rather than moving to digital makes sense, not doing anything is what closed their business and will close libraries that don’t take some type of action.

Streaming media didn’t stop with video stores. There are now predictions that cable networks might suffer the same defeat as streaming media has already displaced their use among millennials and even baby boomers who love their streaming media (including me).  I pay $7.99/month for streaming media vs. my cable bill which is close to $100.  At the very least, I could drop part of my cable subscription.  How long this will take, no one knows.  Will cable make the same mistake of doing nothing but waiting for the inevitable? Hopefully not.  Is there a parallel here with law firms and libraries?  Definitely.

The thing about disruptive technology/innovation is that it doesn’t happen overnight (although some iPhone execs would disagree).  When you learn about a new innovation or a technology and recognize that it is a threat to your business/function if you don’t do anything, you have time to act.  Perhaps not much time but time, nonetheless.  The hard part is recognizing the threat and then being strategic in addressing it.  That alone is why companies, firms, libraries, etc. tend to do nothing – much like a deer in headlights.

What should you do instead?  That’s another post entirely. In the meantime, you might want to check out books like The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business.

Storytelling: From Analytics to Qualitative Measurement

Businesswoman Holding Bar GraphThe articles in this post were originally highlighted in the Pinhawk Librarian News Digest.

The following articles came together for me this morning and made me think about a memo I wrote early in my career.  It was to a managing partner where – like now – there were troubled financial times with budget cuts and layoffs of associates and staff. I urged the managing partner to consider that the firm’s partners invest in their firm rather than cutting expenses to keep their own salaries at the same level or higher. Oh, I was so naïve.

My point in highlighting these articles isn’t to relive career mistakes but to see where these two article intersect.

  • The Enabling Economy: The Essay – Bruce McEwen, Adam Q Smith, Esq., shares statistics from 3 sources that track how well law firms are doing, determines the numbers to be averages, dismisses the averages for what they are, identifies the issues, and takes firms to task for doing what’s safe or what’s worked before like cutting expenses, associates and staff while bringing in laterals.
  • CASH, LIES, AND ROI: ARE YOUR MARKETING BUDGETS A FLIGHT RISK? – Lisa Nirell, FastCompany – I’m not sure how the last half of the title fits the article but the first half is spot on. Writing about the little value in statistics, Ms. Nirell admonishes CMOs to not depend on analytics to the degree they depend on them today. She states, “In my experience, over-reliance on these analytical instruments is a recipe for too many go arounds—some of which can be extremely costly.” Then she goes on to encourage leaders to take risks and innovate.

Besides telling the story of where law firms (in general) are going wrong, what does this have to do with libraries? How many of you are relying on old statistics to show your value? Books purchased, cataloged, processed and checked out no longer demonstrate value to stake holders. Even the number of reference/research questions asked and answered have the value that they have had in the past. If you are offering the same services and continuing to operate as in the past, your value – no matter how you measure it – has slipped. Are you ready to take some risks?

As I worked on this post, Slaw published a post by  titled Measuring the Performance of Law Firm Libraries where she offers up qualitative measures as the alternative to the statistics we’ve always kept.  While I think she is right in what she suggests, I also want to remind us that the statistics we can get from vendors or collect ourselves by using products like Research Monitor can be very valuable in making a case for a libraries value.

Finally, I would like to suggest that monthly, quarterly, and annual reports to firm leadership or to those you report to are the vehicles for the delivery of both statistics and qualitative measures.  When describing qualitative measures in these reports (you don’t need to generate all three types of reports – just what your management is willing to read), think like a storyteller using techniques that draw the reader or listener in.  What you’re describing isn’t a cold hard fact, but threads in a tapestry that tells the whole story and paints a picture that humans understand.

There are so many risk adverse organizations today that need to quit relying on what worked and take some chances on something new.

For a tutorial on writing an annual report, see Creating Your Annual Report. Formerly titled Creating your 2010 Annual Report.  While written in 2010, the information provided stands the test of time.

LAC Group & Rapid Research Solutions: R2S

LAC_LogoI’ve made a few career changes over the last few years, but nothing compares to what I am currently doing.  I was asked to join LAC Group last year and was very excited to start in July after discussions with law librarian, founder, and CEO, Deb Schwarz, and industry veteran and COO, Rob Corrao.  What I’ve found since I started is that LAC Group is as innovative and dynamic as they both told me.

LAC Group started out as a law library consultancy in Los Angeles and has since grown into an international company that serves law firms but also serves government, corporations, financial services, professional services, academia, and broadcast and media.  Often thought of as a recruiting company,  LAC Group is much more as it offers consulting, information management, and expense reduction services.  Each of those areas cover many types of services.  You can view the LAC Group website to learn more.

As Senior Director of Legal Market Services, I provide consulting to law firms but I have another responsibility that I think demonstrates how innovative LAC Group really is.  While we’ve always provided research services, in 2012 we took it a step further with the introduction of a new service called Rapid Research Solutions: R2S.  With R2S, we provide both on-demand and in-depth research services complete with a research portal.   As the manager of the service, I worked on the initial launch of the service with Michele Lucero joining me in October as Director of Business Development and Client Services.  Since then we’ve been meeting with law firm library directors and staff across the country extolling the service’s virtues – and there are many.

A research portal is part of the R2S offering.  It allows users to make a request, track the progress of the request, and retrieve the results in the format the firm has specified.  A recent press release explains more about it – LAC Group Introduces the R2S Portal to Support its On Demand Research Business.

The Naive Librarian who expected change – Parts I and II

For Pinhawk Librarian News Digest readers, skip down to the heading, The Memo.

For other readers, the first part of this post is from my editorial in today’s Pinhawk Librarian News Digest.

When I began working on the digest this morning – I expected there might be an article or blog post that discussed law firm economics, the billable hour or law firm leader expectations for the future – but what I found were four articles/posts that were related enough to see a connection and draw a conclusion or two.  Read more:

  •  Citi Report Shows Law Firm Leaders’ Confidence Waning in Q2 – Sarah Randazzo,, provides us with a brief summary of the Citibank Law Watch Managing Partner Confidence Index as well as a link to the executive summary of the same report. What’s interesting in this report is with most indicators (overall confidence, economy at large, business conditions-legal profession, profits, revenue, and demand) down, new equity partners is on an upward swing at an astounding 12% increase. Fortunately, expenses are down at 7% to (almost) the same level as they were in Q1 2012.
  •  Does Hourly Billing Make You More Efficient? – Sam Glover, The Lawyerist, rebuts a recent 3 Geeks blog post in his counterpoint that a lawyer who bills by the hour works harder but not necessarily more efficiently.
  •  2012: The Year of Pain – Toby Brown, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, opines that 2012 is the year the chickens have come home to roost for BigLaw who have been artificially keeping profits the same or for some – up – by drastically cutting expenses.
  •  Logic and The Value of Time: Another Counterpoint – Toby Brown, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, rebuts a post by Jordan Furlong, who wants to abolish billable hours, concluding that the focus needs to be “… on how the amount of time and effort can be reduced might be suggested as the next logical conversation in pursuing a profitable practice.”

My Conclusions

  • Law firms have been cutting expenses while adding more equity partners who cost more. Sounds like some bad decision making in my book.
  • Law fims continue to focus on working harder not smarter in their efforts towards profits.
  • Law firm partners need to start investing in their business to allow their firms to continue as a viable businesses. How can problems be solved without an investment?
  • Time for the same old, same old is up. It’s now time to get serious about increasing revenues rather than reducing expenses in order to create real profit.

The Memo

In my early days as a librarian in a large law firm, I attended an annual meeting for support staff where the managing partner told us that the firm needed to cut expenses in order to stay profitable. This firm was what I would call a fast or feast firm where money was spent lavishly when there were excess profits and costs were cut when things were bad which eventually happened in the cyclical beast that law is.

It may have been the MBA classes I was taking at the time, but I couldn’t help myself, I thought he was wrong and I also thought if I didn’t voice my thoughts, I would not be true to myself (Heady thinking for a newish librarian) so I wrote the managing partner a memo, urging him to start investing in the firm’s future while, at the same time, finding ways to increase revenue.

The Response

His response was to send me a memo, thanking me for sharing and asking me to talk to the firm’s executive director about my concerns. The executive director didn’t fire me, but he did tell me a story about my flying on a plane and wanting to get off that plane in mid-air. He then cautioned me to make sure I have another plane below to catch me before I jumped. Probably not one of his most brilliant communications to a staff member, but I got his drift.

The Future

I am older and somewhat wiser but I may still be naive enough to think that partner’s in law firms have or will begin the work of turning things around, not going back to where things were before 2008, but to take a new direction in keeping their firms – not just in business – but profitable as well. Change management experts tell us that people don’t change unless they are facing some type of crisis. It would seem that now is the time for change.

How can the library play a part in supporting the change that needs to happen? By their firm’s recognizing the value of information and how important knowledge-based decision-making is in forging new directions. If they do, librarians can support their firm’s growth in their role as experts in finding, culling, and analysing information.

Any firm that does not place value in information and those who don’t provide support in the use of information to build knowledge, are also those who think the library is no longer relevant. If they only knew what they are missing because they haven’t invested in what’s important. Now, how can we change that?

The Rumours are True: LexisNexis buys Law360 Summarized

If you would like a summary of what legal writers and bloggers are saying about the LexisNexis Law360 acquisition, you may want to continue reading.

I’ve been editing the PinHawk Librarian News Digest just short of a year now.  I generally write brief comments (as brief as I can be) on the top 2-3 news items along with picking out the articles and blog posts to be included in the digest. Yesterday was different, instead of focusing on 2-3 topics, I decided to focus on the Law360 acquisition by LexisNexis.

The reason I went in this direction was that the number of writers/bloggers writing about the event, gave me a lot of content.  My post, The rumors are true: LexisNexis acquires Law360: Now what? is a summary of the details of the purchase along with commentary provided by those articles/blogs.

Note: the blog post in the is part of the PinHawk Blog where you can also find content from the Law Technology Daily Digest edited by Jeffrey Brandt. You can also get alerts for our blog posts by following #pinhawkhappens on Twitter.

You say Tomato, I say Tomato

The following paragaph was part of the editorial comments I made in the Pinhawk Librarian News Digest email (also part of Pinhawk Blog) that I send out each morning.  The topic is something I have something to say about so, instead of taking the entire editorial comment to tell you what I think, I’m posting my ideas here.

Jeff Brandt knows something about working with librarians since he’s had his share of experience doing just that as a law firm CIO. It’s no wonder then, that 3 Geeks and the Law asked him to write a rebuttal to Greg Lambert’s scathing indictment of CIOs. My take on this argument is that both librarians and CIOs (maybe not IT staff) have moved forward in their relationships, but there are still holdouts. Read more at Law firms taking a half-hearted approach to social media.

My further take on this is that we won’t really learn how to work as a team until we acknowledge the difference between library staff and IT staff and do something about understanding our motives. IT is focused on providing a solution for the entire firm by standardizing all users’ experience with technology. They are more successful if they focus on serving the firm as a whole. While a librarian’s role is to provide service to the firm, they are more focused on the individual needs of offices, practice groups and individual lawyers.

Additionally, IT staff can’t seem to move beyond the idea that librarians don’t have technical skills and library staff see IT as inflexible and unable to communicate. Put these beliefs together with the motives each has that drives their work and we get two departments at odds with each other. Even if the CIO “gets” the value of the library, the IT staff can undo any understanding by not providing the support the CIO has promised. In return, the librarians experience what they see as IT’s unwillingness to provide support.

On the other hand, I’m sure that someone in IT can also point out the results of these interactions. They see the librarians continuing to focus on creating exceptions to standardization. In the eye’s of the IT staff, the library staff look like they don’t understand technology. The result is IT feeling nagged by the library and the library feeling unsupported by IT.

To move beyond this, both CIOs and Library (Information Resources, etc.) Directors or sometimes CKOs, need to help their staffs understand the difference between how the other department’s staff approach their work and why it’s OK for each to have a different perspective. Once that becomes known and truly understood, we will see the department’s starting to make a difference in a way that they can’t do on their own.

1 Comment

Strategy for Survival – What do Librarians Need to do to Stay Relevant – Part One

As technology continues to change, so do the roles librarians play.  We are no different than any other profession in that respect.  If you think about it, we are, like “The Desk Set” staff, expendable – at least in the minds of those who manage companies, firms, and other types of libraries.  We are also very similar to:

  • News reporters and newspaper staff,
  • Magazine writers and staff
  • Publishing managers and staff,
  • Bookstore managers and staff,
  • Video store managers and staff, and
  • Record store managers and staff,

in that we are part of the information chain that has kept our customers, clients, patrons, users – those we serve – educated, informed, and entertained.  Additionally, each of us as groups of employees and/or individuals need to stay relevant in this economy as well as the governmental and business climates.  We are all struggling or have failed to determine our place in the online world.

Let’s think about strategies for a moment.  The economy has hurt many of us in that the organizations we are a part of may not have or had their own strategies to survive or the strategies they were using didn’t work.  Borders provides us with a good example.  Amazon does seem to own the market but there are bookstores that have either aligned themselves with Amazon or set up their own online presence (i.e., Barnes & Noble).  These strategies have worked for some but others have failed or given up in moving online.

Borders has more to do with cash flow and other economic pressures than about technology.  In their case, the strategy of moving online didn’t work.  Whether they got to the party to late, tried to run their business online in the same way they ran their former business, stretched themselves too thin, or just ran out of money, they failed to stay relevant to their customers during the economic downturn.  They can blame technology, but if we were to look closer at the situation, we would find technology to be more of an excuse than the facts they don’t want to face.

Many of the organizations where we work (or worked for), that have survived this economy, have done so in a couple of ways – using the strategy of being conservative throughout their existence, or cutting costs during tough times to please those they serve, whether it be shareholders, the public or other constituencies.  This is a strategy that requires a willingness to set aside what’s good for the organization in the long run, for more immediate rewards now and where little thought is given to the future – by the organization or the constituency served..

The economy and the need to survive in what will soon be an online world, have created a perfect storm and that perfect storm requires new strategies for us to stay relevant.

Building a strategy or set of strategies requires us to do an environmental scan (what are the issues our organizations are facing in the industry or segment they (we) are part of) and the analysis needed to understand the impact those issues have on our own internal function.  Along with looking at the pressures we are facing from the outside, we need to do the research and analysis of what our users need by asking them for input – what are their needs to survive or stay relevant.  Without doing that groundwork, we don’t have the information we need to form a strategy and the strategies we create may fail.

Part II will focus on the strategies we can use to evolve instead of just survive.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 521 other followers