Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


Staffing Studies are a Crucial Part of Strategic Planning

This is another case study that I recently added to ninaplatt.com.  Again, I am posting here in case there is interest.

Many of you might look at this case study and think, in this economy, the need for a staffing study would be moot or even harmful to a library. After all, doesn’t a staffing study mean a reduction in staff? Not always.

Staffing Studies can be used to identify:

  • How to work more efficiently without adding staff
  • Technology that can be used to improve processes and ultimately service to the firm
  • Gaps in knowledge that need to be filled for the firm to get the services it expects.
  • Training needed to move support staff from responsibilities that are going away to those being added as the needs of the firm change
  • Where new staff is needed to better support firm needs

The Challenge

To demonstrate, let’s walk through the results of a staffing study we did for a large AmLaw 200 firm. That firm had seen rapid growth of attorneys with the library staff taking on new roles while maintaining those they already had. After defining the study with the library director, going through background information, and interviewing staff and key stakeholders, our findings included:

  • The department was well thought of by firm members
  • The workload was unbalanced with some teams having workloads (knowledge management (KM)) that they could not keep up with and other teams (competitive intelligence) feeling comfortable with their workload
  • Some responsibilities were holdovers from the past
  • Some of the entry-level research projects could be handled by others in the firm with training
  • Some research conducted was at an associate level
  • The research staff also did court documents retrieval
  • The library system had never been fully installed and was problematic
  • There were too many cross functional assignments
  • The knowledge management team was supporting all library software
  • The lawyers and staff in the branch offices did not get the same support as those in headquarters
  • The director had too many direct reports keeping her from accomplishing more strategic goals
  • and more…

The Solution

From these findings we created a three-year plan for library staff growth based on the services expected by the department and the firm’s goals for attorney growth. That plan for Year One included:

  • Hire a regional librarian to support the branch offices with that position located in one of the larger branch offices
  • Move the research manager and KM manager from working managers to administrative.
  • Add the CI librarians to the research team (they were direct reports to the director)
  • Move responsibility for cataloging and collection development out of a research librarian position that did those tasks half time and research the other half, making her a full-time researcher
  • Move responsiblity of collection development to the research manager
  • Train legal administrative assistants to do the more simple research tasks and to handle the court document retrieval as is done in other firms
  • Hire a technical services assistant to support the work that was not being done because of workload
  • Outsource cataloging and serials management to outsource with the Technical Services manager handling the relationship and results
  • Replace the library system and move the management of that system to Technical Services
  • and more…

Years two and three included adding additional specialized staff to support the increased workflow while maintaining the attorney/staff ratio.

The Result

The library director made several of the Year One changes right away and reported back that they were successful in balancing workload while providing more focused support. Year’s two and three have been placed on hold because of the change in firm growth because of the economic issues the entire legal industry faces. Still, the library director reports that she is more confident in making decisions about staffing in the future.


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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Using Strategy to Stay Relevant in 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also offer training on these topics as well.

Tomorrow’s article will focus on managing expenses.


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Law Firm Library Job Descriptions Database

We are diligently working on the company website ninaplatt.com where the plan is to provide resources for managing a library like articles, blog posting, surveys, job descriptions, etc.  One of the services we would like to provide is a job description database for law firm library positions.  This service will allow you to search for job descriptions by title, full-text and more.

I remember how many times I wished for samples of a job description when I was drafting a new one.  I’m guessing you have too.  I’d like to do something about it but can’t without your help.  If you would be willing to send your job descriptions, we will cleanse them of any mention of your firm, salary range, etc. and add them to the database.  The more firms that participate, the better the service.

The plan is to go live with the site by the end of the year.  To submit your job descriptions send an email to nplatt at ninaplatt dot com.   Send any questions to that email address as well.  We will send out another notice to those who participate when the database goes live.


SLA and AALL to publish 2007 Salary Surveys

Both SLA (Special Libraries Association) and AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) will be publishing their 2007 salary surveys this fall.

The SLA 2007 Salary Survey will be available by the end of October according to the October issue of SLA Connections, an SLA e-newsletter.  The average salary has increased yet again to $69,426 for U.S. librarians and $67,171 for Canadian librarians.  This year’s survey results will include numbers for Europe as well.  Highlights noted in the newsletter include:

  • The mean salary for all U.S. respondents was $69,426 (2006: $67,400) and for all Canadian respondents was Can $67,171 (2006: Can $65,522).
  • The mean percent changes for respondents in the U.S. in the same job as in 2006 outpaced inflation again.
  • The mean percent change was 5.1% for U.S.-based respondents compared with a CPI raise over the same period of 2.6%. Canadian respondents’ mean change was 4.1% compared with a 2.0% CPI.
  • The mean salary for U.K. respondents was £48,185 and for other European respondents was €57,246.
  • The mean percent change was 7.9% for U.K. respondents compared with a CPI raise over the same period of 2.8%. Other European respondents’ mean change was 6.8%.

The cost for the survey is $55 for members and $125 for non-members for both the print and the PDF version.  A Networked PDF version allows the purchaser to download, print and make multiple copies or share the survey electronically across a network for $100 for members and $200 for non-members.

The American Association of Law Libraries (“AALL”) Biennial Salary Survey for 2007 will be published in November 2007 according to an AALL e-newsletter.  While no prepublication information is posted on the AALL web site, they do note a 54.6% return rate.  The cost for the AALL survey is $110.00 for Members & $175.00 for Non-Members.  Access to the online version of the AALL survey is free of charge to members.