This posting may seem like a no-brainer for some of you, but the following thoughts on how to manage costs in a law firm library may be useful for others. They should be applicable to other types of libraries if you put your clients in the place of the lawyers in a law firm.
One of the roles of a strategic librarian is to manage costs. I’m not talking about cutting costs necessarily but to manage by making sure the money is being spent where it is needed. Here are a few ideas for making this work:
Don’t let lawyers buy their own resources. OK, this sounds a little harsh so use more diplomacy than I just did. I’ve had the experience twice where I came into a firm and was able to bring down costs just by instituting the policy that all purchasing of information resources has to go through the library or information services or whatever you want to call the group that manages access to information. When lawyers have carte blanche for purchasing resources, the firm usually spends money over and over again for the same information. The idea of a library is to pull resources together for common use. There are some materials that each lawyer needs but even those materials can be purchased more cost effectively when handled by the library.
Create an acquisition or collection development policy. The policy should outline what gets purchased, what criteria is used in purchasing, how the selection process works, how the collection is maintained and more. While Dakota County Law Library in Minnesota isn’t a private library, their collection development policy demonstrates the type of information that could be included in a policy. If you do create a policy, keep it up to date. In this fast changing world, how we collect could change quickly. If you have goals for where you would like to see the collection in 2-3 years, include them in the policy.
Create a team of library liaisons. These are lawyers (hopefully partners) who will work with you to build (or reduce) their practice group collection. They can help you:
- Create a list of standard works that get distributed as office copies and support you in staying with the titles seleted when someone asks for their favorite version of whatever rules, etc. they want to use.
- Break the news that something won’t be purchased to their partners and associates. It is easier for a partner, who has been charged with decision making regarding the materials for their practice group, to tell another partner that the resource they want is a duplicate or lesser work and won’t be purchased.
- Get feedback on what their practice group is thinking to factor into decisions about the general collection that gets used by all and then support the decision that gets made.
Charge back expenses by practice group and office. Few lawyers will say no to purchasing what they want if they have an unlimited budget. Work with the liaisons from the groups or offices to create a budget for new purchases, subscriptions, etc. (a whole other article could be written about how to create a budget). The bottom line here is create one for each group and hold them accountable. This. of course, will take leadership buy in and support. We don’t have much control if we don’t get support, however, putting something like this in place gives you a better chance of success.
Charge clients for resources that are being purchased for a matter. Materials that are related to a single matter don’t benefit the firm as a whole and don’t belong in the firm’s library collection. If the partner on the matter doesn’t want their client charged, see what you can do to have the materials charged to the partners marketing budget. If it truly is something that will be used again, it makes sense to pay for it from firm funds but make sure you get it for cataloging processing and then check it out to the partner or their associate. Be clear that this isn’t something that gets put in the file and never seen again.
If you are asked to cut your budget, view it as an opportunity. A budget cut is a perfect opportunity to review your collection with the lawyers looking for cancellations. Often the purchases you make from year to year are needed at the time of purchase but they may not be needed in the long run. A budget cut will give you support for canceling and withdrawing those materials that are no longer needed. Provide the practice group a report that shows what each title costs annually and ask them to provide you with the titles of the materials they are willing to live without. It takes time and can be painful but it is a great exercise in cutting waste.
Constantly look for items to cancel and withdraw. This time it isn’t to support a budget cut but to look for dollars that can be used more effectively. Take notice of the materials that never seem to be off the shelf and ask if they are needed.
Use one of the electronic resource management tools like Lookup Precision, OneLog, or Research Monitor. Spend time monthly with the reports checking for electronic resources that aren’t providing the best value for the dollars spent. This will help you determine what resource needs to have further user training and what might be a candidate for cancellation.
Send usage reports to Accounting at least weekly for online costs. If you can get weekly usage reports from your vendors, you have a better chance of getting the charge disbursed to a client. Ask your vendors to provide the reports to you on a weekly basis and get them to Accounting. Waiting for the monthly report or invoice means the associate who hasn’t provided you with a valid client/matter number may forget why he did the online research. Handling exceptions takes time. Partners are more likely to include the expense on a client bill if it hasn’t been sitting somewhere waiting for more information.
Budget for cost recovery of resources like Westlaw and Lexis. If your firm charges clients for online services, create a budget for recovery. With such a budget in place, you can keep track of where you are with recovering costs which will assist you with managing firm management expectations.
Review your usage reports looking for training opportunities for researchers. While a usage statement doesn’t always tell the story, you can generally see problems in how someone is using a system by looking at the statement. Be gentle when you point out potential training opportunities but be firm that more training is needed if you believe it to be the case after a discussion with the researcher. The training may be as simple as showing them the difference between hourly and transactional research but it will pay off.
Ask Accounting to provide you with reports that provide the following information:
- Clients who do not pay for online research. The Elite accounting software has a flag that shows whether or not particular clients pay for online research. It also has allows for discounts to be applied to this type of expense. Other software used by firms for accounting may do the same.
- Write off reports. These reports should show you which partners are writing off the disbursements, how much was written off and which clients receive the bulk of the write offs. This type of information is useful when discussing recovery with partners.
- Recovery against expense for the online services. Make sure the report reflects writeoffs to get a true picture of recovery.
- Monthly expense against information resource budget for all line items. If you budgeted by practice group and/or office, ask Accounting to provide a report for each group. If you are working with group liaisons, provide them with a copy of the report.
Read the reports provided to you. Spend time reviewing reports, looking for nuances that make show a trend, etc. The reports by themselves are useless unless they are studied.
Remember that everything is negotiable. Don’t let your vendors tell you that they’ve never seen a contract like the one you are asking for or their company doesn’t do business in the way you are requesting. But then this is a whole new article.