Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

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.

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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.


Knowledge Management all the Time: Transitioning into a New Role

NOTE: While the first 3 paragraphs look like this is an article about me, it is really about all of us in the library profession.  Please read on.

It’s been some time since I published a new post.  My summer has been filled with a new job, new industry, new co-workers, new terminology with an overload of acronyms, and knowledge management all the time.  I’m going through a transition that has had plenty of surprises for me and more to come if I’m right.

As someone who has been a director in a public library, technical services librarian in an academic library,   information specialist, cataloger, systems librarian, technical services manager, and director in law firm libraries, as well as a couple stints as a consultant, I ‘ve had plenty of opportunity to develop and use the knowledge and skills of a librarian.  I love my career.   It’s provides me with challenges and variety of work that few people would expect a librarian to experience.

So why would I set aside the library part of the work to take on a role where I will be working as a knowledge manager without any library duties?  In fact, I’m part of the company’s talent development team.  It’s probably because it is a challenge I haven’t tackled.  I’ve worked in knowledge management during the last 25 years but I always had traditional and not so traditional library duties as well.  Knowledge management is what I’ve always said I wanted to do.  Why then, is the transition so difficult.

While many new librarians are coming  into the profession expecting to do work that isn’t traditional, most of us who have been working as librarians find the change just a tad bit difficult.  It’s what keeps us from moving forward beyond the boundaries of what we know and will probably be our undoing.  At the same time, it is our future.  We have a lot at stake here.  It isn’t news that the library and our responsibilities as we know them are changing.

You, like me, have probably taken forays into the unknown by stepping outside your level of comfort while taking on new responsibilities.  When we do that we start a transition from what we know and how we operate, to the future knowledge and skills we will gain.  The change may be easy, but it’s the transition that may send us heading back to what was if we have the opportunity to do so.

When a change takes place, the transition that follows, according to change management expert, William Bridges**, are three phased:

… transition is very different from change. Change is situational: the reduction in the work force, the shift in the strategy, and the switch in reporting relationships are all “changes.” Transition, on the other hand, is a three phase psychological reorientation process that people go through when they are coming to terms with change. It begins with an ending—with people letting go of their old reality and their old identity. Unless people can make a real ending, they will be unable to make a successful beginning.

He then goes on to describe the next phase, which he calls the neutral zone:

This is a no-man’s land where people are (in Matthew Arnold’s graphic image) “Wandering between two worlds, one dead, The other powerless to be born.” The neutral zone is a time and a state of being in which the old behaviors and attitudes die out, and people go dormant for a while as they prepare to move out in a new direction.

Sounds terrifying, right?  Despite the fear it brings, there is hope for a new beginning, which is the final phase:

Only after going through each of these first two phases of transition can people deal successfully with the third phase: beginning over again, with new energy, a new sense of purpose, a new outlook, and a new image of themselves.

While I’ve studied change management and have looked to Bridges as one of the great minds on change process in his focus on the transition instead of the change, when I started this new position, I still stumbled in my recognition of the transition I am in.  It wasn’t until this week when I told someone else that I’m going through a transition, that I realized it myself.

I’m not telling my story because I think it is extraordinary.  I tell it because I believe we are all going through a transition. We’ve been very focused on helping our users with change but what have we done for ourselves?  In past posts, I’ve talked about doing what we need to do to stay relevant.  If we want to be here to experience working with users, information, knowledge, and more in the future, we need to focus more on the transition we are going through rather than the change.

How do we make it through all this?  We need start by saying goodbye to what we’ve known.  This is where I am struggling – you may be struggling with it too.  If Bridges is right, we won’t make it if we try to hang on to the past.  If we do let go, the neutral zone in the next phase, will be a time when things just don’t seem right and we will probably want to go back to what we’ve known.  If we manage to keep moving forward, we will experience times that make changes worth it.  Bridges tells us that the neutral zone is a place where innovations and experiments are possible.  When we get to our new beginning, we will arrive with new ideas, ready for the future.

Saying goodbye isn’t easy.  The good news is, even if the changes we’re experiencing now and in the future seem troublesome, and the transition to the new beginning is fraught with frustration, we have a lot to look forward to.  I say, let’s go for it!

** William Bridges, author of several books on change and transition including:

Private Law Libraries SIS Change as Action Summit

From the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section of AALL:

AALL Private Law Libraries SIS Change as Action Summit: July 23, 2011    8:30-5:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia PA in conjunction with the 2011 AALL Annual Meeting

Register now and find out what all the buzz is about — Have we got great PLL-focused programming planned for you!

Alongwith our fabulous keynote speaker, visionary Esther Dyson, the day is jam-packed with intriguing sessions that will change the way you work and view your law firm.

Morning break-out sessions will give participants a chance to discuss the series of Law Firm Management programs held throughout the past year.  Each session will be repeated, giving participants an opportunity to attend two of the five programs and explore practical solutions for understanding the needs of firm administration.

  •  What Law Firm Administrators Want Librarians to Know – Joan Axelroth, moderator
  • Moving beyond the Library Walls to Support Strategic Knowledge Management – Steve Lastres, moderator
  • Unraveling the Mysteries of the Law Firm Marketing Department – Kathy Skinner, moderator
  • Technologyand the Law Firm Library: Finding Common Ground – Greg Lambert, moderator
  • The Legal Learning Challenge: Creating Successful Training Programs in Today’s Law Firm Environment – Sara Eakes, moderator

In the afternoon, thought-provoking speakers will lead programs in tracks on library administration, reference/research, and technology services. Programs will highlight practical skills and knowledge information professionals need to be a player and change agent in their law firms.

Joan Axelroth of Axelroth & Associates – Trying on the Latest Law Firm Business Buzzwords for Size
Legal project management, commoditization, legal process outsourcing are just a few of the concepts and techniques our Managing Partners and C-levels hear about as solutions for surviving and thriving in the new economic reality.  How do these business ideas effect the library?  What should we know about them?  Do they apply to our own operations and, if so, how?  This session explores several of these concepts and their possible application to the world of information management.

Mary Ellen Bates of Bates Information Services Inc. – From Search to Insight: Adding Value Where It Counts

To fully demonstrate value, informational professionals must strategize and think beyond sophisticated information retrieval to insight-driven research.  Mary Ellen looks at how informational professionals can change their deliverables to add high-impact value to their research results, and make themselves irreplaceable.

Colleen Fitzgerald Cable of Cable & Clark and Katherine Lowry of Baker Hostetler – Using Statistics: How to Speak the Language and Demonstrate Value
Over the past several years, law firms have evolved into strategic businesses that operate more like corporations and less like partnerships.  This change has deeply affected internal departments; communicating value has become the primary function of management.  What is the best way to conduct internal assessments and prove value in a language that will be accepted by law firm leadership? In this session, the speakers will demonstrate the proper analysis and statistical reporting that will best express the library’s value within its organization.

Joelle Coachman of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP – Resistance is Futile
Savvy information professionals know that social media has become a valuable component of information delivery, and a useful tool for research.  However, we may be resistant to adopting social strategies and activities for our own professional development.  Social media is present a different way a way to engage with our clients and will be key to your future professional advancement.  Cultivate a willingness to engage!  Control and create your own space in Web 2.0!

David Curle of Outsell, Inc. – Legal Publishers and the Transformation of the Legal Services Industry
This presentation will look at trends in the legal information industry and their implications for law firms and private law libraries.  How have legal publishers changed in the past 15 years?  What drives legal publishing, particularly for the Big Three of Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis, and Wolters Kluwer?  What are some of the disruptive forces at work in the industry – the new technologies or business models that will reshape the next 15 years?   How can firm law libraries respond?  How have other info industries responded to similar changes?

Barbara Fullerton of Morningstar, Inc. – Trendy Gadgets and Applications

A review of the best new technology gadgets and applications – find out how they’ll impact the workplace and library services. Gadgets like smartphones, keyboards, cameras, iPads, Kindle, and mobile applications all are playing a significant role in our daily
routines. Which should we be looking at? How can we incorporate them into our services? What are the best brands for the legal workplace? These questions and more will be answered.

Larry Guthrie of Covington & Burling LLP and Doug Malerba of McKenna Long and Aldridge – Collaboration in Libraries
Everything old is new again — Collaboration among libraries is the latest buzz word for developing communities and resource sharing as well as marketing and professional promotion.  Doug Malerba from McKenna Long and Aldridge will speak about collaborating as a full-time telecommuting librarian.

Gary D. Price of and on techniques for finding and exploiting the best internet sites for your users.

Sabrina I. Pacifici of and Leveraging Current Awareness Sources and Services – Positioning, Balancing, Reaching Out

Programs, applications and resources, including branding, SharePoint, blogs, video tutorials, Twitter and other current awareness and monitoring applications can be used to leverage and provide consistent, reliable, diverse and comprehensive information that strengthen your library’s visibility and value.

Register  at Cost is $145 for a full day of focused programming, meal functions and all hand-outs, a bargain thanks to our sponsors – LexisNexis, Wolters Kluwer, Priory Solutions, BNA,  and Law 360.

An Open Letter to New (and Seasoned) Library Directors or How to Interview for Success

Dear New Library Director,

Congratulations on your new position.  No doubt you’ve worked hard to get where you are.  Your career so far has been in public or technical services or, possibly, working as a solo librarian or information specialist.  In fact, this may be your first job right out of school.  Whatever your path, you are probably wondering, “What next?” or “What strategy could I use in learning how to do my new job?”  If I may, I would love to share some tips with you about using interviews for this purpose.

Marketing 101 – Learning about your client’s needs

Get to know your firm’s, company’s, or community’s needs by getting to know your patrons, clients, customers or whatever they are called in your environment.  For the purposes of this letter, we’ll call them clients.  By this, I don’t mean introducing yourself and talking about your goals for the library.  Instead, take time each day to spend 10-15 or more minutes with individuals asking them:

  • What they do
  • How they use information
  • What information is most important to them
  • What  their pain points are in finding and using information
  • What their goals are for you and your department would be

Sure, you could do a survey but nothing works better than a one-on-one discussion.  Don’t be afraid that they will see your visit as an annoyance or interruption.  The one thing I’ve learned in having these types of meetings is that people love to talk about themselves, their work, and especially, what they think could be done better.

If you can do it, try to talk to everyone.  It may take more time than you want to spend, but it will be well worth it.  My suggestion is to start with department heads with a scheduled meeting and then move on to walking down halls, (any hall) with notepad and pen in hand, knocking on doors. Introduce yourself and ask the individual who answers if they have a few minutes to talk.  Do this for an hour or two each day and eventually you will have walked each hall and talked to all.  You may not get to meet with everyone (especially in an academic or public setting) but do what you can.

Management 101 – Learning about your staff

Get to know your staff if you have one.  Depending on the size of the firm, you don’t need to learn their job (in smaller organizations, you may be their backup and need to know the job).  What I mean by getting to know them is to do the same type of interview as you’ve done with your clients.  You will really be looking to learn:

  • What they do
  • What their routine is
  • How they use information
  • What frustrates them
  • What their ideas are for improvement

Whether they are librarians, technicians or clerks, your staff has experience in the organization you’ve now joined or the library where you were promoted.  You can learn so much from them.  If you got the job as director through promotion,  it is important to know that you and your former co-workers have very different perspectives.  You did when you were colleagues and you certainly do now.  Don’t think you know what they are thinking.

Procurement 101 – Learning about your vendors

Get to know your vendor representatives.  First, don’t make this an adversarial relationship – they can help you if you let them.  Meeting with these folks won’t be difficult.  They will want to meet with you as soon as you have time.  When you do meet, treat it like the interviews you’ve done with your clients and staff.  Your goal will be to get to know them but also to learn what they know and how they can help you.  They may see it as a sales opportunity but don’t let them take you there.  You will want to learn:

  • What their background is
  • What their goals are in working with the firm (the answer should be more than just sales)
  • How they provide training if needed
  • What they know about the firm
  • Who they have interacted with at the firm
  • What your contract is or what they are currently providing to the firm (you may already know this but it is good to hear it from their perspective)
  • What they need from you

If you have this conversation you will come away with their answers but you will also know:

  • What they know about the business your are in
  • How they view your organization
  • How they will support it, and you, when needed

You will have plenty of time to tell them what your expectations are once you know them, so don’t share them in the initial meeting.  If pushed, tell them you are in a learning mode at present and will get back to them.  You may even want to ask them to assist in your learning, if you feel comfortable doing so.

Networking 101 (this is where the seasoned directors may want to listen up)

When I first started out as a director, I was on my own.  No one else at the firm could help me in my work from a library director’s perspective.  What I found was that I really needed that perspective to help in making decisions.  To get it, I started to network with library directors in the community.  Everyone I contacted helped me in one way or another.  If you do this, you may want to ask:

  • How they got to know their firm needs and what they do to keep up that knowledge
  • What you should expect as a new director
  • What are their most pressing issues are or what frustrates them

Starting out with these types of questions will open the discussion for so much more.  You may know them as friends or colleagues but you are now colleagues in managing your libraries.  Don’t be afraid that the questions you ask will be stupid.  No one will treat them that way.  What I’ve found in these relationships is that everyone is very willing to share what they know and to help each other, however they can.

An Aside

To the seasoned directors reading this.  I learned one thing from my experience as a new director.  Even though I knew my counterparts in other organizations, it was still difficult to reach out to them.  I would think this is even more difficult for a new director coming from another location or industry.   I decided to do something about it.

Once a bit more seasoned myself, I started reaching out to new directors in my community with an offer to help them in any way I could.  We had lunch or met in our offices.  We talked about whatever they needed to talk about and, at times, topics where I needed input.  We became friends.  I still meet occasionally with a couple of law firm library directors I am lucky enough to call my friends.  We have lunch and talk about our work.

Please consider reaching out to the new library directors in your community if you aren’t doing so now.  It will enrich you in so many ways.

Communication 101

By now, you’ve probably caught on to the main theme of this letter.  It’s all about communication.  Communication with your clients, staff, vendors, and other library directors.  One group I did not mention is the other directors in your organization.  They can help you in many ways as well.   You may not have taken a communication course as part of getting your degree, but you will find, it is now the most important skill you will need as a director.

If communicating with others is not your strong suit, please know that it isn’t mine either.  With the exception of communicating with library staff, I’ve had to make myself go down those halls, make those meetings, and network whenever I could.  I set goals for myself in how many discussions I would have in one day.  The more communicating I did, the easier it felt.  I’m still a bit nervous when meeting new people but find that every interaction enriches me in one way or another.


If you are a new director, just know that you will do a great job if you keep communication with others a top priority.  Good luck and call me if you need me.  No emails please, just phone calls.  It’s easier to communicate that way.

Warmest regards,


Cost Recovery of Online Legal Research: When is Overhead NOT Overhead

My last post focused on creating a policy on cost recovery of legal research (resources).  This one is a follow up to that post prompted by another article on the topic of clients paying for overhead, Are You Paying for Your Law Firm’s Overhead?   I found it refreshing that the author did not include online legal research in his list of overhead items.  At the same time, many clients are calling online legal research overhead as the online resources are replacing books that have traditionally been treated as overhead.  So, if cost recovery is important to your firm, when is overhead not overhead.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing that the cost of all online legal research should be recovered.  If a firm decides to give all or some of it away, it’s their call.  My issue is with firms that don’t clarify how they plan to charge for resources, give some research away to some clients and not others, and make decisions on the fly as clients refuse to pay. 

That said, here’s my list of overhead vs non-overhead as pertains to online legal research:


Case law or other material found by citation – In this case (pun intended but probably not funny), the online service is a traditional overhead cost.  The problem firms run into in considering this overhead, is that there was a time when firms had both print and the online services for this purpose.  When they used the books and other print resources, they may have charged clients for copy costs.  When they used the online, they charged clients. 

The reality of online vs print was that very few lawyers were using the print but instead, were using online resources to get the cases.  Now, firms have removed the books, freeing up space and saving money, while using the online services as before.   At the same time, they want to continue recovering the cost of providing the case law.  I have to agree with clients on this one.  If a firm has moved to online only for this purpose, it should be treated as overhead.

Online delivery of newsletters and other news items – At one point, law firms purchased newsletters, newspapers, journals and other periodicals to keep up with changes in their practice and news about their clients, prospective clients and competitors.  These items weren’t really used efficiently as they were often routed from one person to another with routing lists longer than they should be.  There was one newsletter that I signed up for that I never saw in the first four years of my last employment at a firm.  I gave up and took my name off the list.

Now, firms get much of this news and updates electronically making them more expensive as the vendor’s licenses require that each recipient of the news, etc. be charged for the service.  License models may vary but the bottom line is that the firm is paying more.  At the same time, they are benefiting more from this type of service.   No client should be charged for this no matter how expensive the service is.

Marketing, preparation for CLEs, etc. – Firms have always treated this type of use of online resources as overhead.  That hasn’t and shouldn’t change.

Non-Overhead (Recoverable Costs)

Substantive research related to a client’s matter – When online services like Lexis and Westlaw were introduced many years ago, they were intended to make legal research easier and less time-consuming.   No more spending days on end in the library researching an issue.  While some of you might argue the point now, clients, at that time, agreed to pay for the online services as they represented cost savings.  

Unlike the use of print, the use of online services for substantive research hasn’t changed except to become more sophisticated – providing better searching utilities, better results and more resources than any print could provide, etc.  Yet clients no longer see this as a cost for which they should reimburse their firms – even if it is related to their matter.  Now, I have to agree with the law firms.  If it relates to a matter and requires the use of online resources, firms should be able to disburse the costs to their clients.

Other Online Resources Besides Westlaw and Lexis

Clients may pay for these services depending on what they are.  Firms may not want to charge for these same services as they:

  • Think that other firms aren’t charging for the services and they would be alone in convincing clients it makes sense
  • Are nervous about introducing one more disbursement to their invoices
  • Haven’t worked out how to disburse the costs in an ethical manner

Should they be asking clients to reimburse them for these costs?  Yes and no.  I go back to comparing what was done in the past and what may be done now but I am also taking into consideration that these online services are much like Westlaw and Lexis (case law, regulatory materials, etc.) or they have replaced updated treatises and looseleafs with a service that offers sophisticated searching (reducing research time and effort) and more content than could ever be provided in print format.  Researching using:

  • Fastcase, Loislaw, and their competitors is overhead if a researcher is simply finding cases by citation and not overhead if the researcher is doing substantive research related to a matter
  • BNA libraries, WK’s Intelliconnect and their competitors is overhead if researchers are referencing a cite and not overhead if researchers are conducting a substantive search
  • Dialog, D&B, and other services that get used by firms in support of a client’s matter should be treated as recoverable costs while use of these services for marketing and other firm uses is overhead

Are you seeing a trend here?  Commodity use vs. substantive use makes the most sense to me in arbitrating what gets disbursed to clients and what is treated as overhead by the firm.

I’m not saying firm’s definitely should recover all the costs they can.  If a firm decides they can afford to treat the use of all online resources as overhead (or they see it differently than I do), by all means, provide this benefit to your clients.  If your firm decides to go this route understand that it is a competitive advantage and try to make sure your clients understand that they are receiving a benefit that not all firms will provide.

If your firm decides to charge clients for research, consider adopting a policy that describes what the firm is doing in terms that clients understand and can agree with.  If you are providing superior services and training your research in how to be cost-effective in their research, can a client really argue that research directly related to their matter should be treated as overhead?

An important aside:  If you are looking at research as substantive vs commodity, shouldn’t your contract with your vendors reflect the same in terms of what they charge?  Are you getting commodity pricing from them?

I would love your ideas on this topic!

Next time:  Cost Recovery: Ethical treatment of resources that aren’t charged per use

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Legal Research One of Leading Irritants says New Survey on Cost Recovery

A new Legal Technology News article, Cost Recovery Breeds Client Frustration in New Survey, written by Robert Mattern, reports that legal research is one of the leading irritants for law firm clients.  He further reports that the number of firms that do not charge clients for this service is 27%  – a significant drop from the 3% the Mattern survey reported last year.   While this number seems significant, it should be noted that the 2010  ABA Technology Survey confirms this % for all sizes of firms but reports 9.8% for firms with 100+ lawyers, 19.2% for 50-99 lawyers, 18.8% for 10-49 lawyers, 32% for 2-9 lawyers, and 47.7% for solo firms.

Mattern goes on to provide some suggestions regarding how firms might maintain their billable cost recovery revenue.  His recommendation for legal research?  He writes, “For legal research, develop a fair pricing policy that reflects the firm’s actual cost for these services.”  I have to say I agree with him but would like to take this idea a bit further. 

My presentation, Cost Recovery: Creating a Policy & Plan, has a recommendation along the same lines.  I’ve embedded it below but want to run through some of the ideas for you.

Steps for better cost recovery:

  • Develop a policy that outlines the what, when and how of cost recovery
  • Develop a cost recovery plan and procedures that detail how the policy will be implemented
  • Create and implement a cost recovery communication plan

Seems simple but the execution is made complex when you add people.  So, what makes up each step?

Develop a policy that outlines the what, when and how of cost recovery

Lawyers work with clients every day to develop policies but generally (while they may not admit it) when it comes to creating policies for their business, they often have difficulty.  If they have written policies, they can be written in a form that readers only get a nuance of the policy.  For example:  The Firm recovers external costs for telephone, copying, legal research, etc.  That doesn’t do enough to provide information to billing partners or researchers to give them an understanding of what the firm does with online research disbursements.

I suggest that legal research have its own policy with just a bit more information.  It makes sense when you consider the large sums spent on online legal research services.  What would I include besides the fact that the firm intends to recover the costs?  The following could be included:

  • What resources are selected as those the firm will attempt to recover
  • What resources are provided to clients at no cost
  • How discounts are applied
  • What training researchers are required to participate in to keep up their cost-effective research skills
  • That researchers will be required to respond to requests to provide correct client/matter numbers if asked
  • How will write-offs be handled

Note:  While researching this topic and working with firms, I’ve found that most firms use a hybrid method for recovering online research costs.  For example, what could be considered as a commodity (and what most resembles the use of books), finding and printing case-law and articles are comped while the cost for substantive research done using the online resources technology and applying directly to the matter is treated as recoverable.

Develop a cost recovery plan and procedures that detail how the policy will be implemented

Policies are bound to fail if there is no plan for implementation.  Beyond the simple need for a roadmap, cost recovery plans can be used to inform billing partners and researchers about the process.  What could you include in a plan?

  • Goals for recovery
  • Participants and the roles they play
  • Hi-level description of the process
  • Plan for tracking your success including process and timing
followed up with a detailed procedure for how disbursements get processed.
Create and implement a cost recovery communication plan
Although this part of the process gets all but ignored, communicating the cost recovery policy and plan is the most important component for success.  Transparency in cost recovery is needed for clients to feel comfortable with how the firm is handling the disbursements.  To do this, firms may have to go beyond the simple description now included in most engagement letters.  To provide this to clients you might want to consider the 4 P’s of communication in your messaging:
  • Purpose – Why
  • Picture – What
  • Plan – How
  • Part – Who
Once an overall message is established, there are multiple audiences and vehicles for the communication:
  • Announcement of policy by management committee
  • Explanation of plan by library director / accounting director / executive director
  • Use various formats to introduce plan
    • Email, meetings, individual visits, small groups, orientation
    • Link plan to policy (handouts, intranet links, etc)

Existing Clients

  • Billing partner has responsibility to inform clients
  • Library/Accounting can assist by providing materials
    • Policy
    • Talking points

New Clients

  • Engagement letters
  • Consider adding copy of policy as attachment to engagement letter
  • Let them know that you expect their goal would be to provide training that leads to cost-effective research not up sell content not in your contract or software and services you don’t use
  • Provide copy of policy
  • Tell them you expect them to act as partner in cost recovery
  • Work with them to help form their communication to researchers (too many vendors like to say that their resource is free because of a flat rate contract or special offers – stop that message in its track)

Cost recovery is not easy but many firms make it more difficult for themselves because they haven’t addressed the issue in a manner that could, more likely, lead to success.  What I”m suggesting may sound time-consuming, create some conflict in the process or be difficult at best.  Still, the value it brings in terms of return on investment can be immense.