Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Strategic Librarian Blog Posts that have Stood the Test of Time

I started the daily Pinhawk Librarian News Digest in the spring of 2011 and continued editing it until May of this year.  During that time I neglected this blog – posting only a few articles.  That’s going to change.  Starting today with 5 Practical Thoughts on Rightsizing the Law Firm Library – Budgeting for 2016, I will be posting on a regular basis providing insight as I can.  I hope you will find it useful.  In the meantime, here are 10 of the most read articles in case you haven’t seen them:

Writing a Business Case
Developing the Library Business Plan
Intranet/Portal Redesign: How to Develop a Winning Strategy
Managing Law Firm Library Overhead Expenses in 2009
The Future of Law Firm Libraries
Change Management & Knowledge Management
Cost Recovery of Online Legal Research: When is Overhead NOT Overhead
SLA Conference : Products of Note – Bloomberg Law
Current Awareness
Does Today’s Education System Prepare Students for Life?

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,, 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?

Private Law Libraries SIS Change as Action Summit

From the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section of AALL:

AALL Private Law Libraries SIS Change as Action Summit: July 23, 2011    8:30-5:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia PA in conjunction with the 2011 AALL Annual Meeting

Register now and find out what all the buzz is about — Have we got great PLL-focused programming planned for you!

Alongwith our fabulous keynote speaker, visionary Esther Dyson, the day is jam-packed with intriguing sessions that will change the way you work and view your law firm.

Morning break-out sessions will give participants a chance to discuss the series of Law Firm Management programs held throughout the past year.  Each session will be repeated, giving participants an opportunity to attend two of the five programs and explore practical solutions for understanding the needs of firm administration.

  •  What Law Firm Administrators Want Librarians to Know – Joan Axelroth, moderator
  • Moving beyond the Library Walls to Support Strategic Knowledge Management – Steve Lastres, moderator
  • Unraveling the Mysteries of the Law Firm Marketing Department – Kathy Skinner, moderator
  • Technologyand the Law Firm Library: Finding Common Ground – Greg Lambert, moderator
  • The Legal Learning Challenge: Creating Successful Training Programs in Today’s Law Firm Environment – Sara Eakes, moderator

In the afternoon, thought-provoking speakers will lead programs in tracks on library administration, reference/research, and technology services. Programs will highlight practical skills and knowledge information professionals need to be a player and change agent in their law firms.

Joan Axelroth of Axelroth & Associates – Trying on the Latest Law Firm Business Buzzwords for Size
Legal project management, commoditization, legal process outsourcing are just a few of the concepts and techniques our Managing Partners and C-levels hear about as solutions for surviving and thriving in the new economic reality.  How do these business ideas effect the library?  What should we know about them?  Do they apply to our own operations and, if so, how?  This session explores several of these concepts and their possible application to the world of information management.

Mary Ellen Bates of Bates Information Services Inc. – From Search to Insight: Adding Value Where It Counts

To fully demonstrate value, informational professionals must strategize and think beyond sophisticated information retrieval to insight-driven research.  Mary Ellen looks at how informational professionals can change their deliverables to add high-impact value to their research results, and make themselves irreplaceable.

Colleen Fitzgerald Cable of Cable & Clark and Katherine Lowry of Baker Hostetler – Using Statistics: How to Speak the Language and Demonstrate Value
Over the past several years, law firms have evolved into strategic businesses that operate more like corporations and less like partnerships.  This change has deeply affected internal departments; communicating value has become the primary function of management.  What is the best way to conduct internal assessments and prove value in a language that will be accepted by law firm leadership? In this session, the speakers will demonstrate the proper analysis and statistical reporting that will best express the library’s value within its organization.

Joelle Coachman of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP – Resistance is Futile
Savvy information professionals know that social media has become a valuable component of information delivery, and a useful tool for research.  However, we may be resistant to adopting social strategies and activities for our own professional development.  Social media is present a different way a way to engage with our clients and will be key to your future professional advancement.  Cultivate a willingness to engage!  Control and create your own space in Web 2.0!

David Curle of Outsell, Inc. – Legal Publishers and the Transformation of the Legal Services Industry
This presentation will look at trends in the legal information industry and their implications for law firms and private law libraries.  How have legal publishers changed in the past 15 years?  What drives legal publishing, particularly for the Big Three of Thomson Reuters, LexisNexis, and Wolters Kluwer?  What are some of the disruptive forces at work in the industry – the new technologies or business models that will reshape the next 15 years?   How can firm law libraries respond?  How have other info industries responded to similar changes?

Barbara Fullerton of Morningstar, Inc. – Trendy Gadgets and Applications

A review of the best new technology gadgets and applications – find out how they’ll impact the workplace and library services. Gadgets like smartphones, keyboards, cameras, iPads, Kindle, and mobile applications all are playing a significant role in our daily
routines. Which should we be looking at? How can we incorporate them into our services? What are the best brands for the legal workplace? These questions and more will be answered.

Larry Guthrie of Covington & Burling LLP and Doug Malerba of McKenna Long and Aldridge – Collaboration in Libraries
Everything old is new again — Collaboration among libraries is the latest buzz word for developing communities and resource sharing as well as marketing and professional promotion.  Doug Malerba from McKenna Long and Aldridge will speak about collaborating as a full-time telecommuting librarian.

Gary D. Price of and on techniques for finding and exploiting the best internet sites for your users.

Sabrina I. Pacifici of and Leveraging Current Awareness Sources and Services – Positioning, Balancing, Reaching Out

Programs, applications and resources, including branding, SharePoint, blogs, video tutorials, Twitter and other current awareness and monitoring applications can be used to leverage and provide consistent, reliable, diverse and comprehensive information that strengthen your library’s visibility and value.

Register  at Cost is $145 for a full day of focused programming, meal functions and all hand-outs, a bargain thanks to our sponsors – LexisNexis, Wolters Kluwer, Priory Solutions, BNA,  and Law 360.


Welcome to The Strategic Librarian. 

This is a web log created by Nina Platt Consulting, Inc. as a means for communicating all things related to using strategy to develop and lead libraries.  It will focus mainly on law firm libraries but most of what you find here could be used with other libraries as well.  

If you have any comments or ideas for the web log, please contact me at nplatt at ninaplatt dot com.