I started the daily Pinhawk Librarian News Digest in the spring of 2011 and continued editing it until May of this year. During that time I neglected this blog – posting only a few articles. That’s going to change. Starting today with 5 Practical Thoughts on Rightsizing the Law Firm Library – Budgeting for 2016, I will be posting on a regular basis providing insight as I can. I hope you will find it useful. In the meantime, here are 10 of the most read articles in case you haven’t seen them:
The days of budgeting by determining what was spent last year and adding a percentage of that amount to each line item are long gone in the law firm library world. We’ve all heard about the many law firms who have decided to downsize (I like to think of it as rightsizing) their physical library in an effort to get control of expense or in a move to using more online resources. Some of you – no doubt – have experienced one or both of these firsthand. If you haven’t, it won’t be long.
I’ve also worked on these types of projects as a consultant where I’ve gone through print collections and online subscriptions – making recommendations for cancellations, withdrawals, and at times, even purchases of print material if deemed necessary. This experience combined with managing collections in law firms in the past has given me some insight into best practices for the task. I’m guessing that most of what I share below will be steps you are already taken but I also hope you find something new to use as you take on budgeting and collection management in the future.
- Don’t go it alone
- Think of rightsizing/budget cuts as opportunities.
- Consider what you can get from other sources and cancel/withdraw items that get little use
- Be resourceful in finding other ways to reduce costs
- Create a collection development policy/plan for the future
1. Don’t go it alone
Having a liaison in each practice group or in each office if they are small, gives you someone who you can communicate with when you need decisions made. They have more opportunity to speak to their fellow practice group members and will get more attention paid to the issue than most of us “non-lawyers” can.
The liaison should be a partner as an associate may be ignored when making decisions others don’t like. Once you have buy-in from your management, approach group leadership with the request that they assign someone to the position. Other ideas to consider:
- Make sure the group head and liaison understand that they aren’t there to make decisions on their own (especially when it comes to cancellations) – they need to talk to other members of the group to be able to make good decisions.
- Don’t accept the group head as your liaison if you can do it. He/she may think this is an easy assignment that they can do along with their other administrative duties. Disabuse them of this idea as experience has taught me that they will not have the time to do the work or may not be as available as you need them to be.
- If the individual the practice group selects to work with you is less than effective, try to get the position reassigned. Getting a partner assigned to this type of work will be a lot easier if you go to the group leadership with an idea of who you think would do the best job. Have a few names selected as the group’s managing partner may have reasons not to agree with you. Be prepared.
- Work to develop a relationship with each of them where they see you as an asset to their group and they have a “we’re in this together view of the assignment.”
- If you aren’t already doing so, modify your annual budget to allow identification of library purchases by practice group and/or office. I would suggest the following:
- Office – Practice Group – Type of acquisition or payment (new purchases, serials, standing orders, electronic subscriptions, etc.) OR
- Work within the confines of your firm’s budgeting process and general ledger accounts and your firm’s needs depending on size. The advantages this type of budget is that it makes the offices and practice groups (or whatever divisions you have) responsible for the library collection the firm has purchased on their behalf.
- Develop a job description and procedure manual to use when talking to leadership or the individual selected to work with you. It will also help build some consistency in how this position works from one practice group to another.
- Following the rightsizing process, meet with the liaisons regularly to review possible cancellations, etc. At best you would meet quarterly. At least, conduct an annual review.
2. Think of rightsizing/budget cuts as opportunities.
I think I’ve mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning again. I worked in a library where the management would ask us to reduce the collection budget by 10-20% every other year. While this sounds like a problem, I learned to view it as an opportunity as there were always materials that had been purchased for a certain case or looked like they would get use when they were purchased but, in reality, got little use.
To meet the challenge, we would create a report that listed each title in the collection along with the cost (whether we purchased it by subscription or standing order). In other words, that report had total cost per year for each title and each copy of the title.
For example, if we received four updates for a title that was updated by pocket parts, the report would add up each payment made during the year for that title to create the total cost of that title.
4 updates @ $220 each = $880 total cost for the title
The report included both subscriptions and the titles where the payments were made per receipt of the updates. You may be able to generate this using your library management system if it allows you to attach payments at a copy level.
Once the report was created, we would send it to the practice group liaisons for them to share with their group to make the decision of what to cut. The report makes it easier to have this discussion because they can see the titles in relation to what they cost and then determine if they use the resources enough to keep them. Also, if they can’t make the % cut that has been asked for, they will have better information for supporting keeping the materials regardless of the budget cuts the firm is seeking.
3. Consider what you can get from other sources and cancel/withdraw items that get little use
While the process I described above made it easier to manage costs, electronic resources have made it more difficult because of the expectation that firm leaders have that print materials are no longer needed. We all know that we haven’t reached a point where the electronic only library is a reality. Until we get there, there are ways to manage the size and cost of your print collection while seeking to meet firm goals of reducing library size.
Start with the type of report that I described above but add a few more columns as follows.
- Available on Westlaw
- Available on Lexis
- Available electronically from Bloomberg BNA
- Available on HeinOnline
- Available on Cheetah
- Available at a local library where the firm has borrowing privileges
- Available on any other electronic resource you may use
While this list is being worked on – you may be able to get your vendors to work with you by providing you with a report that indicates the various formats the titles come in.
Chances are if the books that are currently updated are always on the shelf when you or your staff file new pages, they are not needed in print if available in another format. Alternatively review the collection for items that are never on the shelves because of high use. I’ve asked library clerks to work with me on this since they knew what was on or off the shelf more often than me.
Note what looks like the lack of use on your collection cost report with the pricing, etc. Now you have a list that will tell you and your liaisons what titles cost, whether they (anecdotectally) get used or not, and where they can be located should there be a need. This gives you good information for making recommendations and the liaisons ideas for discussing the collection with the other lawyers in their groups.
4. Be resourceful in finding other ways to reduce costs
There are many more strategies/techniques librarians have been using for years that can assist you in better managing the cost of your collections through out the year. Some of them listed briefly, include:
- Charge the client for the purchase of materials being used for individual matters and not added to the firm’s collection. Keep records that will assist you in canceling and withdrawing the materials when the research on that matter is completed.
- Quit routing print materials. If you have access to the titles through online sources you already subscribe to, route the electronic instead.
- If you are still routing print subscriptions, ask your users if they still want to receive materials that are routed or distributed to them. This includes subscriptions and the desk sets that can be so costly.
- If you continue to have the need to route print, keep track of how many individuals are on each routing list (for routed materials). If the lists drop below 3-4 individuals, cancel the copies you no longer need.
- Track usage of electronic subscriptions via vendor reports or by using counters available from vendor tools like Research Monitor, Lookup Precision, OneLog, etc. but remember that lack of use might also be due to a training problem so don’t cancel titles indiscriminately.
- Purchase all new materials in electronic format if possible but if you are asked to purchase a print title, see if you can borrow the new title before purchasing it to see if it is something that would really be used and to determine how much duplication exists from this new title to others you have in the collection.
- Use your library management system to reduce the time it takes for staff to order, receive, process, route, pay invoices and other tasks.
- Analyze how you can reduce overall costs on an annual basis if you have the staff to work on these types of tasks.
- Remember that making these changes will take time. Don’t think you can accomplish them all at once but, alternatively, don’t be defeated before you start.
5. Create a collection development policy/plan for the future
You will find that going through the process outlined above will result in a number of decisions you can record that will become, at least, part of your collection development plan for the future. Following are three examples of those decisions for subscriptions:
- What format do you use for routing. For example: It seems to make the most sense to route online resources rather than printbecause routing the print materials has always been fraught with problems.
- What types of resources are available in online only format. For example: Depending on the preferences of your firm’s lawyers, you may decide that all practice materials now available in print (think office copies or desk books) will be accessed online rather than paying for a print copy for each lawyer who wants one. If you’ve added practice materials to your online services contracts, you might find that it is less expensive then you originally thought.
- How long to keep print materials on the shelf. For example: Each material type will have their own retention guideline. You may keep subscriptions that are indexed but not available via online collections for a few years. On the other hand, if a publisher hasn’t indexed articles and the publication hasn’t been picked up by an indexing service, the value is limited and you may decide that those materials get discarded in 6 months or so.
These few decisions are just the beginning. In fact, you will be amazed at how many decisions you’ve made that will allow you to create your collection development plan/policy without much further effort.
Take heart and stay as positive as you can be about reduced budgets and a dwindling physical library. It is much harder to get lawyers to make decisions about canceling materials that aren’t being use when times are good. A dictum to downsize/rightsize will assist with rightsizing your collections and reducing expense that may no longer be needed. Better yet, don’t wait for the word from management to start the process.
If we approach managing costs by thinking strategically and being proactive, law firms may very well start to understand the value of spending money on libraries and the staff who keep them relevant for the firm’s practice.
Next Post – Managing Change during the Rightsizing Process
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.
The 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 Susannah Tredwell 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.
I’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.
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, Law.com, 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.”
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.