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.


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, Law.com, provides us with a brief summary of the Citibank Law Watch Managing Partner Confidence Index as well as a link to the executive summary of the same report. What’s interesting in this report is with most indicators (overall confidence, economy at large, business conditions-legal profession, profits, revenue, and demand) down, new equity partners is on an upward swing at an astounding 12% increase. Fortunately, expenses are down at 7% to (almost) the same level as they were in Q1 2012.
  •  Does Hourly Billing Make You More Efficient? – Sam Glover, The Lawyerist, rebuts a recent 3 Geeks blog post in his counterpoint that a lawyer who bills by the hour works harder but not necessarily more efficiently.
  •  2012: The Year of Pain – Toby Brown, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, opines that 2012 is the year the chickens have come home to roost for BigLaw who have been artificially keeping profits the same or for some – up – by drastically cutting expenses.
  •  Logic and The Value of Time: Another Counterpoint – Toby Brown, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, rebuts a post by Jordan Furlong, who wants to abolish billable hours, concluding that the focus needs to be “… on how the amount of time and effort can be reduced might be suggested as the next logical conversation in pursuing a profitable practice.”

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?


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.

Closing

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,

Nina


Conference Board: Best Practices in Managing Information Vendor Portfolios

We might not think of the resources we manage as being part of a portfolio but, in today’s language, they are.  Following on that, just like a stock portfolio, our portfolio of resources and the vendors who sell them need managing.  To that end, you might want to check out the Conference Board report, Best Practices in Managing Information Vendor Portfolios, created in 2010 by the Conference Board Information Research and Management Council.

The report begins with tips on creating an overall management strategy including:

  • Conduct a comprehensive needs assessment
  • Create a strategic accounting process
  • Conduct annual budget reviews
  • Consider planning budgets with stakeholders
  • Use a communication plan for rollout and ongoing marketing/support of the product.

The report covers these tips in more detail and goes on to cover:

  • Evaluation of the portfolio
  • Contract management including the standardization of contracts, global contracts and simplifying the process
  • Using metrics to determine the value of the collection
  • Managing vendor relations
  • Development of a strategy to obtain cost reductions

Finally, the report is complimentary to download with registration. 

Other Conference Board Information Research and Management reports:

How Effective Information Services Can Contribute to the Bottom Line (2008)

Waddayaknow? Knowledge Management Can Be an Organization’s Key to Survival (2009)


Doing More with Less in an Economic Downturn – Managing Stress

The following is a departure from what I normally write but given the situation in many firms, I thought it might be worth writing it.

I was reminded of the phrase “doing more with less” when talking to a law firm CIO yesterday.  I have to say that this phrase is not one of my favorites.  It really doesn’t make sense unless, as the CIO pointed out, you had inefficiencies before resources were taken away or staff was reduced.  The fact is, however, that many of the law firm libraries that experienced downsizing and belt-tightening were already stretched to their limits like most departments in a law firm.  This means stress and stress can wreak havoc on the body and soul.

My experience has been that the more you do successfully, the more your firm will expect you to do.  If you are like me, basically an overachiever who has learned to say no the hard way, you want to do more.  Some times it sneaks up on you where, at the end of a particularly tough work day, you sit in your office chair, slumped over the desk with head in hands and say “what is this monster that I’ve created by saying yes to everything that is asked of me.”

These uncertain economic times have provided some relief as projects that seemed so important get canceled and replaced with exercises in finding spending leaks.  If, instead, a firm wants to see the same or greater level of support from  fewer resources, it’s inevitable that the supporting team will run out of steam or, worse, get stressed out.  What does that mean?  In Suzanne Lucas’ article, “My Boss is Trying to Kill Me“, a stressed worker expresses the feelings and physical issues he is experiencing.

Stress is so high, I dream about work at night (when I can sleep at all), my hair is falling out, and I’m having digestive issues and sometimes, when things are really bad, chest pains. I wake up every weekday morning with a headache.

I am, by no means, an expert in managing stress.  In fact, what I’ve learned about the measures I can take to manage stress and reduce the physical and mental repercussions, I forget in times of very high stress.  Luckily, I have family and friends that help me remember at those times.  Those measures are:

  • Deep breathing exercises.  Take time to do deep breathing several times throughout the day.  If you don’t have that amount of time, set aside at least 5 minutes a day to sit quietly while breathing deeply.
  • Positive thinking.  This isn’t the Pollyanna kind of thinking that we hear about.  Instead, it is reducing the amount of time you think negatively.  Thinking negatively can add to your existing stress.  Replace as much negative thinking with realistic assessments of what is happening around you.  We often exaggerate how bad things are.   Statements like “It was a disaster.” should be reserved for real disasters.
  • Exercise.  This is the one I have the most trouble with as I tend to keep working when I should be thinking about getting moving.  When unchecked stress can drain you of energy, moving can actually provide more energy.

Simple? Yes.  The hardest part is realizing that the way you feel has more to do with stress then you may think.  If you see yourself in this post, sit back and reflect on what you can do about it.  Taking on large amounts of work without some type of relief for you (and your staff if you are a manager) is something to worry about.  Darn, that’s stressful….


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Not My Daddy’s Library?

I’m sitting in Greg Lambert’s program at the PLL Change is Opportunity Summit in Denver listening to why his generation needs to fix the mess that aging baby boomers created.  This follows on his post Not Your Daddy’s Library.  Um, Greg, we aren’t ready to move out of your way yet.

As a baby boomer who does not see herself as aging and has some pride in what I accomplished as a director.  I also know that other directors my age have accomplished a great deal in moving their library towards the future.  As a consultant, I continue to be strive to innovate and want to make a difference.

I don’t want to say that Greg is wrong but I will say that he’s not entirely right.  What we, as baby boomers, faced during the last 10 years was immense change where we shot from the hip while making decisions about how to proceed in providing resources, services and more to law firms.  Some decisions were right and some were wrong.  That’s life.

During these 10 years, law firms were surviving massive change as well.  Some of the decisions they made including who became the “chiefs” of the firms were more about title inflation than real change in responsibility.  Yes, few librarians reached the “C” level but many have excelled in developing services, collections, and more than any “C” level incumbents I know.  It’s not important.

Yes, we are at a crossroads but it will take more than one or two generations to take the steps needed to make a difference that will provide law firms with what they need in the way of information management or research support or whatever a library is attempting to do to stay relevant.

The discussion that followed Greg’s presentation was invigorating with lots of ideas about what law firm libraries need to do now to demonstrate their relevance and become valued in their firm’s eyes.

I hope to get a chance to write more on this topic during the next couple days.


Ark Group Conference – Protecting the Core – While being Strategic

Panelist for the final presentation of the day included Steve Lastres, Director of Library and Knowledge Management for Debevoise & Plimpton, Rochelle Cheifetz, Director of Libraries for Dechert, Robert Stivers, Director of Library & Records Services and Joshua Fireman, Vice-President Market Development and General Counsel, ii3.

Joel’s question: Define Core. It’s what we’ve always done.

Reflecting on strategy session – no plan is worth the paper it is written on if it doesn’t begin, touch on and end with politics.

Josh Fireman on opportunities for librarians:

  • There are library skills that frequently go unrecognized that are critically important and often thought of ask core. Example: tagging (assigning keywords, subject headings)
  • As firms brought in intranets, the library was the only part of the intranet that were done well. For a portal to work properly, the firm needs to create a content management service team. This is a tremendous opportunity as librarians are well suited to the position.
  • All firms have problems with training – balkanized as it inhibits the value of best practices, etc. This is another great opportunity.

Group – Retreat from the services that are core that aren’t necessary or where the work can be done by other departments. Example – training secretaries to use Find & Print or Get a Document –

Group – clerical staff is not as necessary

Panelists – Retrain clerical staff for higher level services.

Panelists – Protect the billable work. Example – research that has become more complex

Panelists – Firms are looking for work for lawyers. Now is the time to take the opportunity to help the firm structure KM initiatives and to provide training.

Summary from Joel: One of the most important thing to do in a business structure is to pitch what is no longer strategic or core and focus on what the core competencies will be for the future.