Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

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.

Upcoming Webinar: Creating a Strategic Business Plan

Business planning is often overlooked as a tool for library management. At the same time, even libraries that aren’t considered a business entity can benefit from using business planning techniques. Register now to join me for the upcoming FREE webinar, Creating a Strategic Business Plan, on Thursday, March 18th, 2010, from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM Central Time. I will cover:

  1. Why business planning is important
  2. What types of plans can be used
  3. What makes up the business plan
  4. What are elements for success

Cost: FREE! (space is limited)

Who should attend? Anyone in firm leadership who is developing business proposals. Participants could come from the following groups:

  • Information Resources/Services Directors
  • Library Directors
  • Library Managers
  • CIO/Firm Administrators and Managers
  • CFO/Finance Directors and Managers
  • COO/Executive Directors and Managers


Nina Platt, Owner and Principal Consultant, Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.

Owner and principal consultant, Nina Platt is a law librarian and former AmLaw 100 firm library director who has worked in law firms since 1986.  Her work in library management has spanned all but 4 of those years.  Nina believes the most effective law firm libraries are critical to both the business and practice of law and that achieving to build a business critical library can only be done through the use of business tools like strategic plans, business plans, business cases, and more.  She has written and delivered numerous articles, presentations, and papers on library and knowledge management topics.  


Carrie Long, MLIS – Research Analyst, Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.

Research analyst, Carrie Long, has a Masters of Library and Information Science and over 10 years of experience in law firms and libraries, with her most recent position in an AmLaw 100 firm as Manager of Research Services. Carrie has extensive experience in managing and executing large, complex Competitive Intelligence (CI) and Research projects in the areas of: law firm and practice area analysis; company and industry analysis; product analysis, market share analysis and prospecting. Carrie’s current clients include:  information services vendors; legal vendors; and law firms.

Questions? Contact: Amy Witt


Using Strategy to Stay Relevant in 2009

This is the first article in a series that  will cover how to handle what is predicted to be a less than easy 2009.

If all the naysayers are correct with their predictions for 2009, we are in for a wild and sometimes unhappy ride.  I tend to be more of a “glass half full” thinker so have had a tough time believing that things should get as dire as “they” are saying.    That said, a discussion that I had with the investment counselor recently really made me feel better.  His company is predicting that we will see a turn around starting by mid year.

This time last year, I decided to get through the recession that was coming by ignoring it.  Since that approach didn’t work and since it is still a few months off from mid year, it would make sense for me (and you) to think more strategically to get through what lies ahead.  Here are some strategic actions to think about:

Find out how the firm’s strategy has changed.  In the past the firm may have been in expansion mode.  This may still be true but with variations.  I would ask for a meeting with your manager or both your manager and the person she reports to.  Invite them to lunch and ask the simple question, “How does the current economic situation change the firm’s overall strategy?”  If you don’t know what that overall strategy is, ask for that information as well. 

In preparation for this meeting, call a meeting with any lead staff to discuss what the answer to the previous question may be, and whether there are any ideas about how to support new strategies.  If you are a solo librarian, do your own brainstorming or gather a group of solos together to discuss what each of you can do within your firms.  However you do it, arrive at the meeting you have arranged prepared to suggest actions you can take to support new strategies the firm has formed.

Demonstrate that you are a leader and a strategic one at that.  For those of you who think that the last suggestion of action would be an impossible task, that no one would accept a lunch invitation, least of all tell you anything, you’ve got to start thinking that nothing ventured is nothing gained.  Step out of your comfort zone and take a chance.   Not much get’s accomplished as a leader without that leader believing in herself.

Ask, “What can I do?” or “What can my department do?”  Now is not the time to think protectively about what you’ve built while in your position.  If your firm is trying to move ahead with the same strategies, just at a slower pace, the services you provide may not change.  If the firm’s strategy has changed, you need to think about how your services will change to meet the challenges ahead.

Involve your staff.  Whatever the answer is to the previous question, invite staff to a brainstorming session to discuss the future, any suggestions from management, and how you, as a team, can support their ideas or the actions you agreed upon at the meeting.  Involving staff helps them to know what to expect and calms them.  Disappearing behind closed doors to develop a plan of action, will increase any anxiety they already have, given the economic situation at hand. 

Do less with less.  You will hopefully have had the discussion with your manager before your administration calls you with orders to downsize, or worse yet, with the names of the individuals who they’ve decided need to be laid off and have developed a plan that includes current staffing levels.  If you have input into what actions you need to take, start discussions about what services are really necessary and what you can eliminate. 

If you have the same experience as me in law firms, you are already being asked to do more than your staffing levels can reasonably support.  So, if the worst action your firm takes is to freeze the hiring of new staff or positions opened through attrition, don’t try to keep up the same level of staff output as before.  Yes, you will need to reassign tasks but, before doing so:

  • Spend time talking with staff about what tasks are really necessary
  • Look for ways to reduce steps/tasks currently being done to provide a service
  • Review your services to determine which services are being used the least and eliminate them if possible
  • Talk to lawyers and staff to find out what services you provide are the most important to them
  • Consider how technology can reduce workload
  • Determine what special projects can be postponed

If your meeting proposal wasn’t accepted or you chose not to meet with management, and the downsizing is ordered or done without your input (and hopefully, you are still there – which is a good reason to set up the meeting with management in the first place),  do the same thinking about what you can accomplish with the remaining staffing level.   Doing more with less may work but will surely create more angst (although using technology may actually help you do more with less).

Assist your staff during any transition.  The staff that remain after layoffs, need your support.  They are most likely frightened that they are next and feel over worked and under appreciated.  Unless you address their feelings and manage their workload they may leave, or worse yet, leave in spirit but stay in body.

Make your services and staff relevant.   Whatever actions you take to get there, make sure that you are providing the most relevant services you can for the situation at hand.   Again, this may take you outside your comfort zone but you will be stronger and more strategic for your efforts. 

Consider using a consultant to assist you with determining the actions you need to take.  Shameless plug:  Nina Platt Consulting provides information audit, staffing study, and integration services.  The goal of these services is to assist libraries and their firms to determine the best equation in terms of services and staffing.  Previous projects that we’ve undertaken have helped identify:

  • What library/information resources and services are most appropriate for the firm’s goals
  • How tasks should be distributed between staff
  • What tasks can be automated or made easier with technology
  • What tasks can be made self service through integration of technology (leaving the more complex tasks (mainly research) for the library staff to do)
  • What tasks can be outsourced/outtasked

We also offer training on these topics as well.

Tomorrow’s article will focus on managing expenses.

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Ark Conference Session : Developing the Library Business Plan

j0385553.jpgI will be speaking at the Ark Conference, Best Practices & Management Strategies for Legal Library & Information Services on February 26th in New York, along with Jean O’Grady (DLA Piper), Linda Will (Dorsey & Whitney), Silvia Coulter (Hildebrandt), Kit Hartnett (Proskauer Rose), Gayle Lynn-Nelson (LexisNexis), and Joseph Meringolo (Dickstein Shapiro) with Joel Alleyne (Borden Ladner Gervais) as the moderator.

 My contribution to the day will be “Developing the Library Business Plan” described below.

What services do you offer? Who are your clients and how can you impact the bottom line? Developing a library business plan is limited only by your business acumen and creative skills.  The goal is to be able to demonstrate to your leadership that your plans are based on the firm’s business goals and that you have skills that go beyond what they think of as a traditional librarian.

I’m looking forward to spending the day with the other speakers and attendees. 

See the Business Plan category on this blog for articles on the topic.

~ Nina Platt



Writing a Business Case

Whether you are making a justification for staff additions, new software, new online resources, next year’s budget, or the myriad of other reasons libraries need resources, you will do a better job of solving problems or improving services if you use a business case to plead your case.   What is a business case?  The many books and articles on the topic will tell you it is more than a memo or a hallway conversation and can be created following a formula that is straightforward.  The following seven components of a business case come from a Business Case Toolkit available through the BPR Online Learning Center.   

  • Situational assessment and problem statement
  • Project description
  • Solution description
  • Cost and benefit analysis
  • Implementation timeline
  • Critical assumptions and risk assessment
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Your next question may be “How do I use a business case in a library setting?”  To answer that, let’s do a better job of describing what each component represents.  Additionally, let’s use a specific project like purchasing electronic resource management software (e.g., OneLog, Lookup Precision, or Research Monitor) as an example – We will call it the ERM Project and assume that the firm has 200 electronic resource titles.   Please note that I’m making the comments brief.

Situational assessment and problem statement – Describe what the current situation is or the problem your project or action will address.  Be succinct but include the details that need to be considered. 

ERM Project –  [Firm Name] has approximately 200 electronic resources including online services (e.g., Westlaw & Lexis), Internet subscriptions, CD-ROMs, and custom built interfaces for accessing resources. While we have provided easier access to these resources through our portal, we continue to have some users who find it difficult to use electronic resources. Additionally, while we have worked to improve recovery of costs for these services as they are used for clients, we see room for continued improvement.

Project Description  – Describe the project including goals, time frame, resources needed and cost. 

ERM Project – The goal of this project is to improve access to electronic resources, increase recovery of associated costs, improve management of userids and passwords, …  This project will be completed by [month, year].  Costs for the project include hardware, software, staff, implementation costs, ongoing costs, etc.

Solution Description – The purchase and implementation of ERM software provides the ability to:

  • Manage userids and passwords and autopopulate those userids and passwords for the electronic resources being managed

  • Track the use of online resources

  • Prompt for and validate client matter number to allow recovery of costs associated with the online services

  • Produce usage report to use to disburse expenses to clients

  • Produce reports that can be used to determine value of electronic resource as well as training needs of researchers

Cost and Benefit Analysis – Cost/benefit analysis includes the cost of the project along with the benefits and any estimates at the return on investment (ROI).

The cost of the ERM solution is ____ including software, hardware, etc.   You will probably want to show the breakdown of each component of the purchase.

The benefits the purchase and implementation of an ERM solution include:

  • Better management of the 200+ electronic resources for which we are currently paying. 

Better management is probably too general a statement, as most of the justifications are probably anecdotal.  I would still list it as a benefit and probably use the number of hours of library staff time that could be put to use in other areas of their work.  See below for a formula you can use to calculate the hours.

  • Improved management of userids and passwords.  With the password management and autopopulation, it would be easier for users to access the services.  This would reduce the lawyer and staff time spent looking for and using the electronic resources.   The calculation for ROI could go as follows:

((____ researchers x ___ minutes spent looking for userids per day) / 60 minutes) x average hourly rate = fees recovered by better management of access

Example: ((400 researchers x 10 minutes) / 60 minutes) x $250 = $16,667 of lost revenue per day.  If you expand that to number of workdays per year, you might take 166 days x the lost revenue per day.  If you use the $16,667, the annual lost revenue would equal $2,766,722. 

My minutes may be a bit high and not every attorney could be counted as a researcher but what ever calculation you use should produce significant results in relation to your firm size.

  • Increased cost recovery.  Providing validation of client matter numbers allows researchers to enter the correct number at the time of research reducing exceptions and allowing for quicker disbursements.  Validating against the client/matter numbers in Elite would allow us to manage exceptions (wrong client/matter number – use of firm admin matter numbers) more efficiently.  

Accounting staff currently spend  time working on exceptions and/or doing data entry for disbursements (for services that don’t provide electronic files for uploading disbursements.) This would not eliminate the time needed for these projects but it would reduce it to a very small amount of time.

___ hours not spent managing exceptions  x 240 work days per year (allows for 4 weeks of paid time off) = staff hours that could be freed up for other work. 

Example: 2 hours x 240 days = 480 hours (.24 full time equivalent in staff hours)

$__ per month for Westlaw and Lexis where the costs are disbursed to firm admin numbers x ____% of charges that could be disbursed to clients (this would be a guess but even 10% of the charges would be significant) =  additional $________ in dollars recovered each month

You would probably see better recovery for other services as well as the Westlaw and Lexis recovery represented here.  You may also do much better than the 10%.

  • Reduced use of duplicate materials that account for $_______ of the library budget.  Easier access to resources should increase the use of the electronic services and reduce the need for some of the print duplication.

This doesn’t take into account the cost of the server and the resources needed to set up the system initially, but those costs are only incurred initially and as the software/server gets upgraded.  If you wanted to show that, you could show the costs of the system across 2-3 years against the ROI to demonstrate actual cost.

Implementation Timeline.   A timeline can be a simple list of the project milestones (events in a project) or tasks. 

  • Install software & all integration components (client/matter number tables) and provide training to administrator by [date]
  • Set up resources that will be managed by system [date] 
  • Set up userids and passwords by [date]
  • Set up integration with client matter numbers in time & billing system by [date]
  • Turn on functions (e.g., autopopulation, validation)
  • Begin testing by [date]
  • Provide training to pilot group by [date] 
  • Begin pilot group use by [date]
  • Introduce to practice groups by [date]
  • Release to firm by [date]

You can probably provide less detail than the list provides but I include it to give you an idea of what might need to be done.  Also, you may use less functionality than listed here and there may be other functions the vendors provide that are not listed.

Critical assumptions and risk assessment

  • Assumptions
    • Information Technology staff and Application Development staff will be available to work with Information Resources staff during times needed
    • ERM would be purchased at end of trial using dollars budgeted for this purpose if it works properly and if the script creation is something that can be managed by Information Resources staf
    • Information Resources staff will take the time to test and will provide feedback
  • Risks
    •  The system may not deliver on its promise
    • The system may not evolve as the needs of the firm does

 Conclusions and recommendations

  • The benefits of the system outweigh the costs and the risks
  • The firm should go ahead with the purchase

This is very much a first draft of a business case that is no doubt missing something and far from perfect.  However, it should provide you with the basics of writing a business case.

A recommended quick read: Developing a Business Case (Pocket Mentor)

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Developing the Library Business Plan

I talked in an earlier post about the need to operate libraries as if they were businesses.   If that is so, the first thing you would want to consider would be to develop a business plan.  Why?  For-profit businesses use their business plans to obtain the funding they need from banks, etc. to move forward with their businesses.  The plan is also useful because it outlines what your services will be, who your clients are, what you will do for marketing, and more.  It is the basis for how you will operate your business and may help you uncover areas of planning that need more attention.

There are many books, websites, and software applications that will help you with writing your plan.  While there are many forms a business plan can take, it is good to start with something basic.  The Small Business Administration has some basic information about creating a business plan.  They begin by defining the elements of a plan and provide other resources to support the development of the plan.

This may look a bit overwhelming but one way to attack it is to take what works for your library and leave the rest.   An example of what that may look like follows:

Cover sheet

Executive Summary

Table of contents

The [Services / Department / Plan] 

  • Description of services /projects
  • Marketing
  • Competition
  • Personnel

Budget History and Proposal

  • 1-3 years of budget history
  • Proposal for funds needed to support the delivery of services
  • 1-3 year budget projection
  • Assumptions upon which projections were based

Supporting Documents

  • Summary of services offered in the past with statistics that demonstrate success
  • Summary of open and completed projects with statistics taht demonstrate success
  • Organization chart
  • Copy of resumes of all management staff
  • Vendor proposals for products and services that will support the plan and are represented in the proposal
  • Other documents including; Strategic Plan, Collection Development Plan, Information or Knowledge Audit Summary, etc.
  • Document describing how the proposal is tied to the firm’s business goals

This is just a suggestion of what might be included.  The actual business plan that you develop is only limited by your business acumen and creative skills.  The goal is to be able to demonstrate to your leadership that your plans are based on the firm’s business goals and you have skills that go beyond what they think of as a traditional librarian.

Some things to think about:

  • The executive summary is your chance to get the most important points in front of your audience.  As lawyers often have a short attention span for this type of thing, it is very important to format the executive summary carefully to make sure you get the right message to your potential supporters.
  • The description of services, etc. is your opportunity to demonstrate what you are already doing along with what services need to be offered in the future.
  • The marketing section should include a description of the market you are serving within your organization or community along with what you will do to communicate with that market.
  • The competition section should be a realistic look at your competitors.  This could be included in a strategic plan instead and referenced in the business plan
  • The difference between this and a strategic plan is that the strategic plan focuses on vision, mission, goals, and objectives and the business plan focuses on how to make the goals and objectives a reality.

Additional resources for learning more about writing a business plan include the Small Business Lending Corporation’s online workshop titled Developing a Business Plan.  This pre-recorded workshop provides a great review of the topic.  Your public library is another good source – searching on “business plan library” Google will bring up a number of library website pages that list resources and sample plans.   SLA members have access to several books on business planning through the ebrary available through Click University.

Any comments on this post?  Do you think creating a business plan for the library in a private law firm would work?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.