Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


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.


Managing Law Firm Library Overhead Expenses in 2009

j0308879This is the second article in a series of articles on managing law firm libraries in 2009.  The previous article was on strategy – Using Strategy to Stay Relevant in 2009.  This article will cover managing overhead expenses (those that cannot be recovered).  The next article will be on cost recovery.

Overhead expenses are the bain of any law firm.  If you or the services/resources you provide are considered overhead (and you most likely are), you already realize that you will probably struggle with others in the firm misunderstanding your value.  This doesn’t mean you should try your best to move everything from the overhead status. 

Whether partners like it or not, they must incur some overhead costs to stay in business.  I was visiting with the executive director of a firm when she told me, “XX (we’ll call him Rodney), the managing partner, thinks that the firm runs on thin air.  He won’t authorize more staff or more resources but wants to run the firm as if it was still as small as it was years ago.”

While you may have known some Rodney’s in your work life, the fact is, air alone does not sustain a firm.  Lawyers breathe life into a firm.  I won’t negate that fact that they are the most important players in the law firm.  I do, however, think it is time that the lawyers (even those that charge their clients four-figure hourly rates), need to take the time to understand how important a firm’s non-lawyer (I actually hate that term – but it is what gets used the most to describe us) professionals and staff are to the firm.

We can help the Rodney’s of the world get up to speed (or at least, we can try) by each of us individually seeing our contribution as an important one and focus on managing our department’s resources to move the firm’s goal forward.  This includes creating or improving our focus on managing overhead.  What does that look like?

Find a partner to act as liaison.

Having a liaison in each practice group or in each office if they are small, gives you someone who can communicate with when you need decisions made.  They have more opportunity to speak to their fellow practice group members and will get more attention paid to the issue than most of us “non-lawyers” can.

The liaison should be a partner as an associate may be ignored when making decisions others don’t like.  Once you have buy-in from your management, approach group leadership with the request that they assign someone to the position.  Other ideas to consider:

  • Develop a job description and procedure manual to use when talking to leadership or the individual selected to work with you.  It will also help build some consistency in how this position works from one practice group to another.
  • If you aren’t already doing so, create an annual budget that allows you to identify your purchases and payments by practice group and/or office.  I would suggest the following:
    • Office – Practice Group – Type of acquisition or payment (new purchases, serials, standing orders, electronic subscriptions, etc.)  OR
    • Practice Group – Office – Type of acquisition or payment
    • Whatever you decide, you will need to make it work within the confines of your firm’s budgeting process and general ledger accounts and your firm’s needs depending on size.  The advantages this type of budget is that it gives the firm makes the offices and practice groups (or whatever divisions you have) responsible for the library collection the firm has purchased on their behalf.
  • If possible, meet with the liaisons quarterly to review possible cancellations, etc.  Work to develop a relationship with each of them where they see you as an asset to their group and they have a “we’re in this together view of the assignment.” 
  • If the individual the practice group selects to work with you is less than effective, try to get the position reassigned.  Getting a partner assigned to this type of work will be a lot easier if you go to the group leadership with an idea of who you think would do the best job.  Have a few names selected as the group’s managing partner may have reasons not to agree with you.   Be prepared.
  • Don’t accept the group head as your liaison if you can do it.  He/she may think this is an easy assignment that they can do along with their other administrative duties.  Disabuse them of this idea as experience has taught me that they will not have the time to do the work or may not be as available as you need them to be. 
  • Make sure the group head and liaison understand that they aren’t there to make decisions on their own (especially when it comes to cancellations) – they need to talk to other members of the group to be able to make good decisions. 

Think of budget cuts as opportunities. 

I think I’ve mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning again.   I worked in a library where the management would ask us to reduce the collection budget by 10-20% every other year.  While this sounds like a problem, I learned to view it as an opportunity as there were always materials that had been purchased for a certain case or looked like they would get use when they were purchased but, in reality, got little use.

To meet the challenge, we would create a report that listed each title in the collection along with the cost (whether we purchased it by subscription or standing order).  In other words, that report had total cost per year for each title and each copy of the title. 

For example, if we received four updates for a title that was updated by pocket parts, we would add up each payment made during the year for that title to create the total cost of that title. 

4 updates @ $220 each = $880 total cost for the title

The report included both subscriptions and the titles where the payments were made per receipt of the updates.  You can generate this from your library management system – more on that in another post.

Once the report was created, we would send it to the practice group liaisons for them to share with their group to make the decision of what to cut.  The report makes it easier to have this discussion because they can see the titles in relation to what they cost and then determine if they use the resources enough to keep them.  Also, if they can’t make the % cut that has been asked for, they will have better information for supporting keeping the materials regardless of the budget cuts the firm is seeking.

Consider what you can get from other sources and cancel/withdraw items that get little use

While the process I described above made it easier to manage costs, electronic resources have made it more difficult because of the expectation that firm leaders have that print materials are no longer needed.  We all know that we haven’t reached a point where the electronic only library is a reality.  Until we get there (I don’t think I’ll be here to report it), there are ways to manage the size and cost of your print collection while seeking to meet firm goals of reducing library size.

Start with the type of report I described above but add a few more columns as follows. 

  • Available on Westlaw
  • Available on Lexis
  • Available on HeinOnline
  • Available on CCH IRN
  • Available electronically from BNA
  • Available at a local library where the firm has borrowing privileges
  • Available on any other electronic resource you may use

While this list is being worked on – you may be able to get your vendors to work with you on it – check the shelves for books that are currently updated and is always on the shelf when you or your staff file new pages.  Alternatively review the collection for items that are never on the shelves because of high use.  I asked library clerks to work with me on this since they knew what was on or off the shelf more often than me.  

Note what looks like the lack of use on your collection cost report with the pricing, etc. Now you have a list that will tell you and your liaisons what titles cost, whether they (anecdotectally) get used or not, and where they can be located should there be a need.   This gives you good information for making recommendations and the liaisons ideas for discussing the collection with the other lawyers in their groups. 

Be resourceful in finding other ways to reduce costs

There are many more strategies/techniques librarians have been using for years that can assist you in better managing the cost of your collections through out the year.  Some of them listed briefly, include:

  • Charge the client for the purchase of materials being used for individual matters and not added to the firm’s collection.  Keep records that will assist you in canceling and withdrawing the materials when the research on that matter is completed.
  • Keep track of how many individuals are on each routing list (for routed materials).  If the lists drop below 3-4 individuals, cancel the copies you no longer need.
  • Ask your users if they still want to receive materials that are routed or distributed to them.   This includes subscriptions and the desk sets that can be so costly.
  • Track usage of electronic subscriptions via vendor reports or by using counters available from vendor tools like Lookup Precision, OneLog, etc.
  • See if you can borrow a new title before purchasing it to see if it is something that would really be used.  Alternatively, order it on approval but be careful of doing to much of this as the work that needs to be done to process something on-approval is more time consuming and will use more resources.
  • Use your library management system to reduce the time it takes for staff to order, receive, process, route, pay invoices and other tasks.
  • Analyze how you can reduce overall costs on an annual basis if you have the staff to work on these types of tasks.  You should be able to make a business case for additional staff if the benefit (reduction in materials expense) is greater than the cost of staff on an ongoing basis.
  • Remember that making these changes will take time.  Don’t think you can accomplish them all at once but, alternatively, don’t be defeated before you start. 

Conclusion

Take heart and stay as positive as you can be about a downturn in the economy.  It is much harder to get lawyers to make decisions about canceling materials that just aren’t being use when times are good.  Downturns assist us with right sizing our collections and reducing expense that may no longer be needed.  

If we approach managing costs by thinking strategically and being proactive, even the Rodney’s we have in our firm’s may very well start to understand the value of the firm spending money on the libraries and staff we manage.

I would be very happy to continue this post but it has to end sometime.  Because there is more to say, I am hoping that those of you who have other ideas or best practices, will share your them by adding a comment or two.

Look for the next article in this series, Managing a Successful Cost Recovery Program, to be posted next week.


Managing the Library Research & Reference Service

We’ve talked before about how important it is to be able to report on metrics in making cases for the programs and services offered within a library including staffing, resources and more.  With the changes in our economy making funding of those programs and services more uncertain, it it more important than ever to begin tracking metrics.

In the past it was enough to place a tic mark on a notebook page for everyone who called, emailed or came into the library and/or asked a question at the reference desk.  The tic marks were somewhat useful if everyone who was responsible for tracking users did so consistently.   Most library directors know they were less than accurate and often gave up on their use.

Other former (and in some libraries- current) metrics tracked included:

  • Books checked out
  • Books shelved (after use in the library)
  • New acquisitions
  • Books cataloged
  • Books processed
  • Subscriptions received
  • Subscriptions routed

and more.   It has always been and, in many cases, still is  more about the resources we managed than the services we provided.

While that approach worked in the past, they don’t work any more.  At least, they don’t in private law libraries where the resources are sometimes secondary to the services.  Yes, they can still be used to demonstrate the support provided by technical services, but, what of research and reference?

Trudi Busch, the very strategic information resources director at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly (Minneapolis, MN) knew these metrics were needed in 2001.  At that time, she worked with her staff to develop what they called the IR Tracking Database – a system for tracking research and inter-library loan.  When I first saw it, I was a blown away.   It had the following features:

  1. A simple web based interface.
  2. A menu that allowed users to add a new record, search existing records, access unfinished work, and manage inter-library loan.
  3. Records that tracked the requestors name, time recording number, client/matter number, time spent on project, completed check box, delivery method, description of work done, cost, resource usage (users could select from all of the electronic resources the library used), and any associated inter-library loans.
  4. Search function that allowed access to existing records by name, date, client/matter number, and description.  It also allowed users to conduct the search on their own records or on records with interlibrary loans.
  5. Unfinished work function that allowed the users to retrieve a list of any records that had not been marked completed.  The list included the date the work was received, the description of the work and the librarian responsible for completing the work.
  6. Inter-library loan management function that allowed the staff to manage circulating items and lending libraries.  It also provided a search functionality for the ILL records.
  7. Reports including overdue book notice, management reports showing billable and non-billable work by staff, location, practice group, charts that demonstrated the billable, non-billable and total requests by practice group, and ILL request reports.  Data is downloaded into Excel where the charts, etc. are created.

Why did Trudi decide to create the system?  The benefits she described at the time included:

  • Online resource evaluation
  • Workflow monitoring/improvements
  • Trend spotting (e.g., ratios of billable to non-billable by practice group)
  • Annual report preparation
  • Sharing of knowledge by library staff

Now that is what I call a strategic librarian!  I’d also use words like resourceful, innovative and in possession of un-ending energy to describe Trudi as well. 

Today, there are many products that libraries can purchase to track research and reference services.  Many of the library management systems include the functionality as well as products that have been created just for the purpose of tracking these metrics.  We reported on one of those products (Altarama RefTracker) in an earlier post.   

NOTE: If you don’t have the time or money to implement something new, you might try to devine more information from the time-recording reports that your accounting department might be able to provide.

Whether you are using in-house custom systems like Trudi or purchasing something off the shelf, now is the time to start thinking about what you need to do to track what research and reference work gets done in your library or information resources/services department.

For more information about what other libraries have done to track their services see the recent article, Solving the Information Workflow Tracking Dilemma  (you must be a member or subscriber to access the article on the SLAsite) written by Ann Cullen, Tomalee Doan, Toby Pearlstein for Information Outlook, November 2008

If you know of other articles worth reading on this topic, please post a comment with the title, author, etc.


Resources for Learning About Information Audits

One of the questions that came out of the Business Case webinar we did last week was in regard to information audits.  What resources would you recommend for learning more about information audit? 

Information audits are one of the best tools we have for learning about lawyer needs.  You can conduct an audit when you are new to a firm and want to learn about the needs of the lawyers quickly, are onboarding a number of laterals or when the firm merges or acquires another firm.  In addition to using the audit when something changes, it should be used periodically (every 2-3 years).

FreePint publishes a report on information auditing.  They also publish articles from excerpts of the report.  Here’s the information about those reports and articles:

Henczel, Sue. Information Auditing Report and Toolkit, FreePint, 2007.  A sample of that report is available at http://www.freepint.com/shop/report/infoaudit2/Sample-Information-Auditing-2.pdf.

Henczel, Sue. Preparing and Planning an Audit, FreePint, October 2007. 

Wood, Steve.  Information Auditing: Key Concepts and How to get Started,  FreePint, November 2004. http://www.freepint.com/issues/111104.htm#feature,  p.8.  [Note: this is an excerpt from a FreePint report: Information auditing: a guide for information managers (2004).

Other Information Audit Resources

In addition to the FreePint reports, there are a number of articles about conducting an information audit from a number of sources.  I’ve listed some of them here.  While some of the articles may seem dated, they still have value in defining the process.

Botha, Hannarei and J.A. Boon.  The Information Audit: Principles and Guidelines (PDF), Libri,  2003, pp. 21-38.

DiMattia, Susan S and Lynn Blumenstein.  “In Search of the Information Audit: Essential Tool or Cumbersome Process?”  Library Journal, March 1, 2001.

Dobson, Chris.  Beyond the Information Audit: Checking the Health of an Organization’s Information System, Searcher, July/August 2002.

Henczel, Sue.  The Information Audit as the First Step Towards Effective Knowledge Management, Information Outlook, June 2001

Jones, Rebecca and Bonnie Burwell.  “Information Audits: Building a Critical Process”, Searcher,  January 2004.

Finally, Connie Crosby recommended a class on information audits titled Information Audit & Mapping: From Idea to Action. University of Toronto, November 13-14, 2008.


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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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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.


The Knowledgeable Librarian (Do you know what your librarian knows?)

Librarians have always worn many hats as they have run their libraries. 

As a Director of the Carnegie Library in a small city in North Dakota, I was responsible for human resources, accounting, grant writer, fundraiser, marketing/public relations, facilities, information technology (it was 1982 and we had one computer), and whatever else the Library Board asked me to do.  I even remember taking on the job of purchasing a toilet at the Home of Economy and finding a plumber to install it in the Boys Restroom in the library.  I had a staff of three but they already had responsibilities that kept them busy. 

Today, librarians continue to wear many hats that give them skills most people wouldn’t rattle off if they talked about what a librarian needs to know. Since my time as a public librarian, I’ve had many experiences and taken advantage of learning opportunities whenever I could.

The library directors and managers that I know best today did the same. Whatever we didn’t know, we learned. What worked for us was the love of learning. Any librarian, who is worth their salt, is a life long learner. So, what skills do you need to be a library director and more specifically, a law firm library director or manager. The following lists, that I developed with help from my friends, tell the story.

Business skills:  Includes basic business skills/roles along with some skills/roles unique to librarians.

  • Strategic Planning
  • Staff Management & Development
  • Interviewing (staff and clients)
  • Leadership
  • Influencing Change
  • Change Management (people side) 
  • Project Management
  • Business Process Improvement
  • Use of Metrics & Surveys
  • Marketing/Public relations
  • Networking
  • Negotiation
  • Accounting/Budget Development & Tracking
  • Marketing Research/Competitive Intelligence
  • Communications (oral and written)
  • Copyright laws
  • License negotiations
  • Educator/Trainer
  • Library Facilities Planning

Organizational Knowledge:  Library directors/managers need to build knowledge around the following:

  • Law Firm Management and Firm Financials
  • Practice of Law (litigation and transactional) and Practice Areas
  • Technology used by the Firm.
  • Legal Market – the market law firms do business in
  • Legal Information Market – the market the library vendors do business in

Technology: Law firm library directors need to understand the technology used by their firm. In some cases the knowledge is needed as background, but in many cases, librarians actively work with the following technologies in many firms.

  • Accounting System
  • Library Management Systems
  • Knowledge Management
  • Content Management
  • Document Management
  • Client Relation Management
  • Intranet/Portal Strategy and Design
  • Search Engines
  • Taxonomies
  • Usability

I’m sure these aren’t complete lists. If you have ideas of other skills needed by law firm library directors and managers, please leave a comment.