Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Disruptive Technology or Innovation is Not a Myth

disruptive technology

This image is licensed through the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5). Source: Disruptive Technologies, McKinsey Global Institute.

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.

Ignite the Web! Audio & Video in the Law webinar

Audio and video tools such as podcasting, YouTube and screencasting are lighting up the web, touching even the legal industry! Register now to join us in a webinar called Ignite the Web! Audio & Video in the Law. Prominent consultant Connie Crosby will give a lightning-fast tour through how these tools are being used in areas such as litigation, training, marketing, public relations, knowledge management and library staff professional development. The session will be held on Wednesday, February 10, 2010, from Noon to 1PM Central.

During the session, you will:

1. become aware of video use in the legal profession
2. become aware of options available to library staff for professional development learning via audio and video
3. learn options available for providing training using audio, video and screencasting

Cost:  $30 per person USD or $60 USD for groups of up to 10 from the same firm


Connie Crosby, Principal, Crosby Group Consulting
Connie works with organizations in the legal, library, publishing and non-profit areas and specializes in information management, knowledge management, and social networking.  She has over nineteen years experience as a law librarian, including ten years as Library Manager at WeirFoulds LLP in Toronto. Connie is also a blogger, podcaster, speaker, writer, and teacher. She is a director and core contributor to the prominent law blog, is a co-administrator of the Ning network Law Libraries and Librarians, is a regular panelist on the The Law Librarian podcast and has been blogging on her personal professional site since March 2004. She is an instructor with the Professional Learning Centre at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, teaching social networking tools to information professionals. She is a main organizer of the large annual event PodCamp Toronto for hobbyists and professionals working with new media. Connie is also author of the forthcoming book Effective Blogging for Libraries to be published in March by Neal-Schuman as part of their new Tech Set series.

Nina Platt, 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.   

Questions?  Contact

Ark Group/Managing Partner Magazine’s 3rd Annual Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library & Information Service Centers

The following is a description of second session of the Ark Group/Managing Partner Magazine’s 3rd Annual Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library & Information Service Centers which I am attending today (I presented during the first session so don’t have a report on that).  This session is on Aligning Technology with Explicit Business Goals.

Janet Accardo and Anthony Amabile started the session with a discussion on their library’s work with a specific practice group to support the business goals of that group. 

They worked with the group to improve practice page including access to

  • LoisLaw Bankruptcy codes and rules and Ordin on Contesting Confirmation
  • Mergent
  • HeinOnline
  • Electronic subscriptions including Mealey’s publication (via Lexis Nexis Publisher) and Andrews publications (via Westlaw Watch)
  • Forms Workflow
  • Specific law review articles (via HeinOnline
  • Bibliographic records from the library catalog (Innovative Interfaces Millennium)

They also worked on:

  •  Use of Serials Solutions to add catalog records for premium databases
  • Use of Outlook for email subscriptions.  (Side note:  Participant/speaker Steve Lastres (Debevoise) said he is working with his library vendor (EOSi) to have that system intercept emails that arrive in the subscription email box and then routes it using the routing information within the system.)
  • News from Factiva sources & legal materials via LNP
  • Use of Westlaw Watch for Docket news.
  • Customized subject and practice area alerts written by librarians based on RSS feeds, newsletters, etc.
  • Use of LookUp Precision basically using to measure usage.  Client validation for 20 years.  Who uses our electronic subscriptions, substantiates charging to practice groups, provides usage statistics for contract negotiation.
  • Areus by Iconitel provides contract alerts and store usernames and passwords.

Ted Tjaden, director of library and knowledge management for McMillan LLP, Toronto Canada, went next with his presentation.  He provided snapshots of online catalog including their French interface. 

McMillan’s innovations include:

  • Formally merged Library and Knowledge Management departments
  • Created value-added “knowledge products” that leverage research, precedents and the document management system including best practices for practice groups
  • Created E-books page on intranet. 
  • Created online legal research and writing tutorial, research guides by topic, etc.
  • Working with SharePoint to better organize information
  • Exploring use of RSS, Wikis, and Blogs

Jean O’Grady was the last speaker of the session focusing on financial alignment and service enhancements.  She described the innovations that they have undertaken including:

  • Implementing Onelog
  • Leveraging the ILS with the implementation of Innovative Interface’s Millennium. 
  • Took to heart the adages “Simplify – Just Say No – Less is More
  • Put vendors to work providing analytics of the firm’s use of their systems
  • Using technology to reach their clients

 Jean’s emphasis in closing was on the importance of getting a handle on the analytics available to us to better manage costs with a focus on billable vs nonbillable.

The session provided a lot of interesting discussion leading to more ideas and questions.  This afternoon’s first session will be “Partnering for Profibility: The Convergence of Business Analytics, Competitive Intelligence & Client Relationship Management.  I’m looking forward to more of the discussions that come out of this program.

January 2009 Issue of Practice Innovations Now Available

The January 2009 issue of Practice Innovations, published by West, A Thomson Reuter’s Business, is now available at the West site.  Articles include:

  • Building & Developing the Brand-Productizing the Firm’s Services by Silvia Coulter.
  • Competitive Intelligence in the Year 2012 by Linda Will.
  • Law Firm Technology of 2012 by Don Phimlee.
  • Enterprise 2.0: Moving Web 2.0 in the Workplace by Nina Platt.
  • Practice Innovations: A Retrospective (and cumulative index) by Bill Scarbrough and Austin Doherty.

Deep Thinking 101

j0433182As I read Adam Smith Esq.’s post of January 17th, Critical Thinking II, I started thinking about how difficult it is for library directors to do the thinking they need to do in order to provide the services their firms will need in the future.

Adam Smith Esq.’s post references a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article titled Why Don’t Managers Think Deeply? Among other reasons, the article suggests that we don’t always have the time needed to think deeply.  As a former law firm library director, I’ve experienced that lack of time to think and know how it can damage creativity.

I would go from meeting to meeting, using my Blackberry during meetings, answering library staff questions in-between those meetings and working from home at night.   As the speed of the internet got faster and the amount of information and lawyer expectations grew,  I found it more and more difficult to make time to think beyond what was needed today while that was just what I needed to keep moving ahead.

I know of other library and information resources directors who are currently in the same situation.   Putting out one fire after another while, the house continues to burn.  It’s difficult to be strategic leader when you are continuously working as a firefighter.

If time is one of the elements needed for deep thinking, how do we find it?  Anyone who knows me well will tell you I am not an expert on time management.  Far from it.  That said, I could tell you something I’ve discovered since becoming self-employed.  Setting aside time to think everyday is more strategic than you may have thought.

Once I slowed down from the minute-by-minute time pressures we all know exist in law firms, I had a bit of an epiphany.  The harder I worked the further I got behind.   You can read all of the books and articles on finding time to fit everything you have to do in, but I won’t be joining you.  I’m tired of trying to find time to think.

The only way to have time to think is to take it.  If that means grabbing a Coke, finding a bench and sitting in the sun to watch the world around you, or going to a movie on a Saturday afternoon, or taking time to have lunch with colleagues who challenge you to think, do it.

Deep thinking comes with having the time to read, listen to music, engage in discussions, and more.  It doesn’t always have to look like work.   Much like Dr. House on the FOX drama with the same name (House), you can find the answer to questions simply by bouncing a ball off your office wall.   Well, maybe not in the library, but you hopefully get what I mean.

Practice Innovations October 2007 Issue Available

The October 2007 issue of Practice Innovations Managing Change in a Legal Environment published by Thomson West is available in PDF format at the Thomson West site.  If you are a subscriber, look for your print copy of the publication in the mail in the near future.  I may be a bit biased as a member of the editorial board and a contributer, but I think this issue is packed with some great ideas.  What, you ask, might be the topics that have me so excited?

This issue focuses on standards and frameworks in play today in law firms that are helping to improve processes and improve client service among other things.  These articles include Six Sigma and Law Firms by Silvia Coulter, Managing Director of CoulterCranston, ITIL: Taming Technology with the Law Firm by Don Phimlee, Principle/Consultant at, and BPR: An Old Process Improvement Tool Shows Up Anew in Law Firm Toolkits authored by me. 

 In addition to the focus on process improvement, Janet Accardo, Director of Library Services at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, focuses on defining needs and objectives in the article, Electronic Resource Management.  Finally John Duvall, Administrative Analyst at Hogan & Hartson LLP, Defining Moments: The Internet Revolution.

If you aren’t familiar with this publication, you might want to check out back issues to find more great articles that focus on innovation in law firms.  If you aren’t a subscriber, click on subscribe on the Practice Innovations archive web page to start getting the print publication.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Innovation : Moving Towards a Business Orientation

After seeing the client facing products that were presented at ILTA by Littler Mendelson and White & Case, I couldn’t help think about how often the innovation process is successful in law firms (see David Hobbie’s post on his Caseline blog for more info).  It clearly was in use in these two law firms.  Besides Littler and White & Case, the innovative delivery of case law updates to clients by K&L Gates was recently written about in the recent CIO article “The Role of IT in Innovation: Friend or Foe”.   Are these exceptions or evidence that law firms are acting on the belief that they can no longer do business as usual. 

If you believe what you read, innovation is becoming a hot topic in both law firms and corporate legal departments.  In a recent post on Strategic Legal Technology, Ron Friedman noted the stories of innovations in corporate legal departments as told by InsideCounsel in their 2007’s Most Innovative Law departments.  This last July must have been the month for innovation in law.  Bruce McEwen reported on the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Survey (July 3, 2007 issue) in his blog, Adam Smith Esq and the College of Law Practice Management announced its four winners of the Innovaction Awards 2007

Who are the innovators in 2007?

FT’s Innovative Lawyers 2007

Top Five

  • Allen & Overy
  • Clifford Chance
  • Linklaters
  • Eversheds
  • Wragge & Co. 

U.S. Firms mentioned with categories where some placed in the rankings

  • DLA Piper (IT Management; Corporate Social Responsibility)
  • Latham (Most Innovative US Law Firm in Europe, Legal Expertise; Human Resources)
  • Baker & McKenzie (IT Management; Billing & Fees; Client Service)
  • White & Case
  • Dechert
  • Skadden (Legal Expertise)
  • Greenberg Traurig
  • Jones Day (Legal Expertise)

2007 Innovaction Award

  • DLA Piper US LLP
  • Holland & Hart LLC
  • Mallesons Stephen Jacques
  • Raskin Peter Rubin & Simon LLP

 CIO 100 Award

  • K&L Gates
  • Bryan Cave
  • Foley & Lardner
  • Goodwin Procter
  • King & Spaulding

2007 Most Innovative Law Departments

  • IBM
  • Verizon
  • Microsoft
  • American Express
  • Travelocity 

While some of the awards listed here are non-IT, the bulk of the innovation happening in law firms today appears to involve IT.    We’ve long talked about leveraging the dollars spent on IT.  Perhaps the promise of IT in law firms is finally being realized.

What does all this mean to law firm librarians?   James P. Andrews summarized it in the CIO article, The Secrets of IT Innovation, as he described why IT is important to innovation.

Information is the jet fuel of innovation, and IT is about providing information and making sure it’s in the hands of the people who need it. It is extremely difficult to do innovation well with bad information or no information, so IT is critically important.

While he is talking about IT, he describes what we do for a living.  That tells me that we have a place at the innovation table in law firms.  I can think of a number of law firm librarians who are already taking on this challenge and more who are capable of doing the same. 

What does this mean for law firms and legal departments?  When law firm and legal department leaders are looking to innovate, it would be prudent to involve not just IT but also the other half of the information equation.