Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

One Way to Cut Overhead


I ran across Ed Weseman’s post titled “10 Ways to Cut Overhead” yesterday.  I find his writing to be very useful but have to take issue with this one.  Before reading it, I guessed that “one way” was to cut library expense, as any article that talks about cutting firm expense generally does include the library.  Sure enough.  The  following is the point he made about firm libraries.

  • Library. Lower costs through a combination of reduced on-line research and managed availability of services.  By aggressive negotiation with a single on-line vendor for all offices, firms can leverage lower costs for services and related subscriptions.  At the same time, firms can move toward the elimination of subscriptions and reporting services that are not heavily used or are available from other sources such as court, bar association and local law school libraries.

  • I have to say I am puzzled.  It appears he is suggesting reduced online research along with reducing the print collection as well.  He goes on to suggest that lawyers start using libraries (court and law school) that were intended for other purposes.  He also suggests using bar association libraries.  This can be a hit or miss prospect depending on the bar.    

    This type of article always scares me as it takes issues that are complex and reduces them to a single paragraph.  Additionally, it is generally written by someone who is not familiar with the nuances of services needed in a firm.  Not one size fits all – no matter what expense the article covers. 

    So, how do we respond to the need to cut expenses that are seen as overhead?  Here’s my take on the suggestion regarding libraries:

    1. Reducing the use of online research can be risky.  If it is done at a firm that has a policy to recover the costs from clinets while contracts are still in place, a firm could create more expense.  Use goes down, recovery goes down but the cost to the firm remains the same. 
    2. Reducing the use of online research can create liabilities.  Using print libraries that other organizations fund may sound like it will reduce costs but there is more than just costs to consider.  Online services provide more than print services.  By that I mean that a library could never be large enough to hold the materials the online services have to offer.  If a law firm isn’t making similar use of online resources as their opponents are, it is likely that they will do more harm to their clients than good.
    3. Managing access to services can be costly.  The more research resources that go online, the more people it takes to assist researchers (mostly lawyers) to use them.  This may change over time as more lawyers coming into firms are more skilled in online research, but that hasn’t happened yet as new associates are computer savvy but not resource savvy.
    4. Moving to a single source for research without considering lawyer/practice needs can be a mistake.  Yes, a single source does reduce costs but does it provide the resources the firm’s lawyers need?  I did a project recently where I analysed 6 months of a firm’s use of Lexis and Westlaw.  Part of the analysis included identifying what resources were exclusive to each vendor.  It was surprising to me how much they are different.  Don’t eliminate one without doing your homework.

    My next post will focus on how firms can manage library costs more effectively.

    2 thoughts on “One Way to Cut Overhead

    1. I would add one more problem. Sure you can spend 30-40 minutes with free resources and Googling to find something that would take a 5-10 minute subscription search to confirm. Even going to the local bar library can add 20-30 minutes to the cost of a search. But time is not free (especially in a law firm environment) and I think a lot of these debates about library and reference services miss that point.


    2. Pingback: Cost Recovery of Online Legal Research: When is Overhead NOT Overhead « Strategic Librarian