Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

The Naive Librarian who expected change – Parts I and II

For Pinhawk Librarian News Digest readers, skip down to the heading, The Memo.

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,, 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.”

My Conclusions

  • 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.

The Memo

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.

The Response

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.

The Future

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?

How Powerful Are You?

Will you be  particpating in the economic recovery that is starting to take place?  The library publications and conferences have reported the news of libraries being downsized because of the economy along with the many other professions (including law) that have seen, what seems, more than their share of reductions.  With what looks like recovery in sight and the promise of more jobs during the next couple years, will our employers decide it is time to quit investing in managing information or at least decide it is not a priority?  Before that happens we can take action.

Decide That You Are Not Powerless.

Throughout the years we have complained about the perception people have of libraries and have worried about what to do about it.  The fact is that the perception exists.  We are seen as powerless people and treated in the same way by many.

In a recent Law Blog article, Ashby Jones reported on the discussion of unwritten rules in law firms that was start on and picked up by Legal Blog Watch.  His article, Ashby asked his readers to participate in writing the unwritten rules through comments, as had been done on the other blogs.  One comment caught my eye and started me thinking about how we can change the perception.  The commenter wrote:

Rule No. 1: Be kind to everyone, ESPECIALLY to those people who you might think have no power: the security staff, librarians, office cleaners, cafeteria personnel, administrative staff, skycaps, and restaurant waitstaff.

I include this, not because I see the other positions listed as powerless, but because the commenter included librarians among them.  Ouch!  My first reaction was to get angry, but I managed to shake off that somewhat unproductive feeling and start thinking about why someone would think we are powerless.  What causes this perception?

Don’t Wait For Others to Change the Stereotype

You might disagree with me, but, here’s my conclusion.

All articles that report on the “hip” librarians, the importance of libraries, the good that we as a profession do in the world, the miraculous feats we use to find that elusive fact, will not change the preconception that the public, our employers and sometimes our friends and family (yes, Dad, I am using my tuition to become a librarian) have of us.  That goes for all the initiatives and name changes our professional associations take on.  We have to do it ourselves.  How?

Can You Feel The Power?

I believe that the notion of powerlessness is at the core of this problem.   If you were asked to list the preconceptions that are held about librarians, you would probably list timid, fussy, myopic, cyberphobic (fearful of computers), metathesiophobic (fearful of change), and subservient.

OK, so there are some librarians, my high school librarian was among them, who have projected an image as the angry librarian whose interest is to control.   While they seem more powerful than the timid librarian, the source of their anger is most likely born out of frustration, fear, and yes, a feeling of being powerless.  Most often, a really powerful librarian that goes against these stereotypes is seen as being out of the norm.

Define Powerless

Let’s think of the word, powerless, for a minute.  Webster’s provides the following definition:

Function: adjective
Meaning: unable to act or achieve oneʼs purpose <I wish I could help you, but I am powerless in this situation>
Synonyms helpless, impotent, weak
Related Words incapable, incompetent, ineffective, ineffectual, inept, unfit, useless; feeble, frail, infirm, passive, spineless, supine, unaggressive
Near Antonyms able, capable, competent, effective, efficient; authoritarian, autocratic, despotic, dictatorial, magisterial, tyrannical (also tyrranic); dominant, dynamic, energetic, forceful, robust, sturdy, tough, vigorous; important, major, significant; high-level, senior, top
Antonyms mighty, potent, powerful, puissant, strong
Double ouch!  If powerless is how people perceive us, then we have problems, and we probably won’t  participate in the economic recovery in our future.
The Path to Powerlessness
I once learned that others can not take your power away from you, you have to give it away to be powerless.  I believe we give away our power every day and, as we do, we perpetuate the librarian stereotype.  Think about some messages you might give to yourself that might make you feel powerless.
  • I can’t change it
  • No one understands what I am trying to say
  • I can’t make people listen
  • It is too much of an obstacle to tackle
Now think of the messages you send to give others reasons to think of you as powerless.
  • The “powers that be” have decided
  • That’s a battle that isn’t worth fighting
  • No problem
Re-engage Your Power
If we want the world to see us in a different way, we need to think in a different way.  We may need to do it for some time, but eventually, the world will get the message that a librarian is intelligent, insightful, strategic, curious, and solution oriented.   Someone who doesn’t just manage and help people find information but also help them understand the value of information.
How do we proceed?
  • Learn to communicate
  • Quit accepting what others think instead of what you think
  • Manage your anger
  • Quit feeling sorry for yourself
  • Feel fear but keep going
  • Acknowledge you are right more often than not
  • Speak up!
  • Be assertive
  • Ask questions
  • Create a vision for the future
  • Share your ideas
  • If you are in a business library, learn about the business and think of your self as a business person first, librarian second
  • If you don’t like being thought of as a business person, find another type of library to work at where you fit in – your staying where you will give you a sense of being powerless and helps perpetuate the stereotype
  • Learn the language of other professions to improve communication
  • Keep working at it, you will see changes
  • Act as if
I know there are more, but this should give us a place to start.
An Aside for Those of Us Thinking We Need Out
Years after graduating from high school and college I visited my then aging high school librarian.  When I told her that I had become a librarian, she said, “Why the hell did you do that!”   If you are wondering why you became a librarian or if you became a librarian because you “love to read” and haven’t figured out why you stayed, Quit.
My apologies for being abrupt but you need to find another profession. In other words, if you are not able to see yourself in a new way, or you truly hate what you are doing, please move on to another career.  This will give those of us, who want to step up, a chance at becoming who we know we are and why we stayed.
To those of us who want to stay, we need to start believing in ourselves and our work.  If we don’t take action we will very likely see our profession go the way of video store clerks.  THAT scares me, as I cannot see myself doing anything other than what I am doing.  Yes, a paradigm shift is taking place in our workplaces.  We need to understand it and find our place rather than fear it.  This won’t be an easy task, but then (as they say), ” nothing that is worth doing is easy.”

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Law Librarians’ Role in Developing Associates

If you received your print (and very glossy) copy of the PLMW Magazine, you no doubt read Barbara Holt’s article,  the Law LIbrarians’ Role in Developing Associates.    Her article is submitted on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).  This is the 2nd edition of the magazine which supports Professional Legal Management Week.  As stated on the website for the organization that represents 12 co-sponsoring professional organizations, PLMW “provides a forum for recognizing those in legal management for what they do and the role they play in the success of the organization, and in its service to its clients and those who work in the organization.”

Barbara’s article provides an insightful look at the challenges and resulting ideas and innovation used in developing research skills in summer and new associates. Her library’s approach to this charge can be held up as best practices that we as librarians may all want to use.  The description she gives of her library’s program for working with new associates demonstrates exactly what PLMW exists for.  The purpose as stated above is to shine a light on the roles in legal management that are often overlooked in an industry that focuses more on the reason it exists – lawyers, rather than those that work with them. 

What are you doing for PLMW?

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Looking for Guest Writers/Reporters

Are you going to the AALL meeting in Portland next week?  If so, would you be willing to be a guest writer/reporter of a review(s) on the following programs that have a focus on management/planning/strategy?

AMPC Programming

A3: Educating the “C” People: Engage Your Decision Makers and Help Them to Evolve Sunday, July 13, 2008
1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
C2: Strategic Plans That Work: Creating a Strategic Plan for a Law Library Sunday, July 13, 2008
4:15 PM – 5:15 PM
E3: The Evolving Role of the Solo Librarian: How to Do It All without Losing Your Mind Monday, July 14, 2008
9:45 AM – 10:30 AM
E6: Fostering and Recruiting the Next Generation of Law Librarians Monday, July 14, 2008
9:45 AM – 10:30 AM
G1: Beyond Volume Count: Exploring the Evolving Tools for Evaluating Library Quality Monday, July 14, 2008
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM
K4: Marketing Your Library: Exploring New Technologies to Create Evolving Newsletters That Energize Your Patrons Tuesday, July 15, 2008
3:30 PM – 4:00 PM
W4: “So Now You’re Conflicts”/”So Now You’re Docket”: The Evolving Law Firm Library Manager Saturday, July 12, 2008
12:00 PM – 5:30 PM

SIS Programming

CS-SIS Hot Topic I: Keeping up with technology: advice for librarians Monday, July 14, 2008
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM
OBS-SIS Program: You want me to do what? Bridging the gulf and building understanding between technical services and public services managers Sunday, July 13, 2008
12:00 PM – 1:15 PM
PLL-SIS Program: Explore: Best Practices in the Small Law Library Monday, July 14, 2008
10:45 AM – 11:45 AM
PLL-SIS Program: Litigation Support and the Role of the Law Librarian Monday, July 14, 2008
10:45 AM – 11:45 AM
PLL-SIS Program: “Who moved my pencils? Managing change in the Technical Services Department Tuesday, July 15, 2008
7:00 AM – 8:45 AM
PLL-SIS Program: Using Consultants and Contractors (aka Outtaskers) to Tame Your Budget Monday, July 14, 2008
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
TS-SIS Program: Energize Personnel in the Library: Managing Difficult and Change-Resistant Staff Members Tuesday, July 15, 2008
2:45 PM – 4:00 PM

Please send me an email if you are interested.  We will be posting the reviews during and right after the conference.

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Using Storytelling as a Marketing Tool and more

I always enjoy reading the articles that get written for summer associates at this time of year.  You can always count on finding at least one or two on  The most recent article, Hello, Summer Associates, and Welcome to Chapter 1 by Ari Kaplan, provides excellent advice to summers regarding how to market themselves to their firms.  The article discusses storytelling as a marketing tool.   The Ten Turths about Branded Storytelling by Alain Thys on the Marketing and Strategy Inovation Blog talks more directly about marketing and storytelling.

As individuals who market their services, resources, and more, librarians could benefit from the same advice.  We most often market our libraries by letting attorneys and staff know about the benefits they could derive from using our services.  Using storytelling, we can talk about what our users experience or better yet, they could tell the story.  What makes some stories so good and others fall flat?  Seth Godin has the answer in his blog post Ode: How to tell a great story.

I saw the power of storytelling at my last firm.  The IT staff was introducing a time tracking toolbar that stayed running on the computers once launched.  As timekeepers moved from project to project, they could click on an icon and change the client and matter that they were working on.  This allowed them to capture time more accurately, which in turn, would keep them from guessing how much time they spent when they did their time entry later.

One of the group heads was so taken by the technology that he offered to accompany the IT staff member to each practice group meeting in the firm and tell his story.  As he was well respected by other lawyers, they paid attention to him when he talked about how the application changed him from a lawyer who was always late in recording time to one, that not only entered his time in on time, but also increased his billable time overall signifantly.  His willingness to tell his story made a big difference in the acceptance and use of the toolbar.

Besides it’s use for marketing, storytelling is also very useful as a knowledge sharing technique.  Librarians Sandy Bradley, Barbara Lupei, and Mary Ray of the Weapons Division at NAVAIR created a storytelling initiative within their organization as described in their article, The Power of Storytelling.   Some law firms are also testing this type of initiative (even if they aren’t aware that they are storytelling) through practice meetings, mentoring, etc.  One firm recently started meetings where the partner in charge of a successful matter would be the speaker as he shared what was done, what they learned to benefit their knowledge of the law and their own best practices.  Once a month, a new partner tells his or her story.

Finally, stories help build culture within an organization.  The stories that are told about leadership actions within an organization will support and maintain whatever culture exists whether it is good or bad.   John Kotter describes how this can work in his Forbes April 12, 2006 article The Power of Stories.  I can’t help but think of the firms that allow partners, who are abusive to staff, to continue their less than suitable behaviour.  By not doing something about those partners actions, the firm is supporting a culture where staff may not feel they are valued.  If you want to make changes to your culture, start taking action that make up the inspiration for a story.

Additional resources regarding storytelling include:

Annette Simmons, The Story Factor, 2006.  An exerpt from the book is available at the International Storytelling Center.

Jay Conger The Impact of Strategic Storytelling, Les50ns (50 Lessons).  This is a video that runs 4.39 minutes.

Marie Wallace, Guide on the Side: Storytelling, Wake up Sleeping Beauty, LLRX, March 1, 2002.

Mary Abraham, Storytelling and Law Firm KM, Above and Beyond KM, May 2, 2008.

Storytelling: Passport to the 21st Century Website created by Stephen Denning, author of Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, Butterworth-Heinamann, 2000.