This article is republished with permission from the Association of Legal Administrators.
As information needs for business development and knowledge management expand, library department structure and roles are evolving.
In 1962, Bob Dylan sang “The times, they are a-chaaaaaaaang-ing” He might have been commenting on operating realities in law firms. No matter where you look in a firm, change is apparent.
When I started in the legal industry in 1999, my firm’s structure was pretty much identical to the rest of the industry: there were lawyers and there were standard departments — finance, marketing, library, among others — that were there to support the lawyers.
Libraries played a mostly reactive role. A lawyer would contact the library with a legal research request; the librarian would research the issue at-hand, and move on to the next request. They also oversaw the multitude of print materials — and later digital resources — both procuring the resources and keeping them updated.
Today, things are much different. The research projects libraries are charged with are changing, collaboration between lawyers and other firm departments is increasing, and there is no longer a “typical” or standard library department configuration.
Why? Technology and easy access to information are significant drivers, but there is another deeper reason: the move from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. There is no shortage of law firms and competent lawyers available for engagements, and clients can afford to be more selective … and to expect much more from the firm that they eventually retain.
To earn or keep legal work, clients expect lawyers to understand their business and align legal services with business objectives. Library staff feel compelled to revisit the role they play in supporting the firm’s broader research needs and overarching strategies.
My company recently held a meeting of its Global Client Advisory Board (CAB) to explore how the “Know My Business” client and underlying business intelligence support orientation is impacting law firm library departments and the research function. The board is comprised of 23 senior-level library, knowledge management, marketing and business development professionals from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. After thought-provoking discussions in virtual meetings (to cover the various time zones), a few themes emerged.
BUSINESS RESEARCH VS. LEGAL RESEARCH
Even with the rise of business development-related research, there is still a strong need for legal research. When firms are looking at library team staffing and skill sets, they need to analyze the volume of research in each category, and plan accordingly. There is a fundamental difference between business research and legal research in both approach and deliverable, and each play an important role. A legal researcher is expected to deliver a large volume of research to support a lawyer in building a case, while a business researcher is expected to distill the research down into a few actionable nuggets of information.
NO TWO FIRMS ARE ALIKE
There are many factors driving how libraries and the research functions are structured within firms, including the firm’s size, culture, geographic coverage, focus on business development and level of collaboration. A number of different models have emerged, and fall into three basic categories:
1. Traditional Model: Here, the library and marketing (and/or business development) departments are viewed as separate entities where librarians are deemed best qualified to conduct research. They provide raw material to the marketing/business development team who “translate” the research into actionable business/client intelligence for lawyers.
2. Purpose- or Context-Driven Model: In this scenario, the library handles legal research and the procurement of research resources, while competitive intelligence research is conducted by marketing/business development personnel, who then work with lawyers to develop appropriate strategies.
3. Collaborative Model: This model brings professionals from different disciplines together to find solutions. Here, the research function resides in the library, but librarians work closely with business development/practice management/client services staff to define research parameters — and in some cases, perform analysis. The information the librarians collect is then passed along to business development staff, who further curate the data and strategize with lawyers.
A number of hybrid arrangements also have arisen that combine various characteristics from the above models.
CURRENT AWARENESS TOOLS AND COLLABORATION
Five years ago, current awareness aggregation and analysis tools, especially within the legal industry, were a “nice to have,” but they are now moving into the category of “need to have” in order to stay competitive. No matter which department holds the budget or primary responsibility for such tools, collaboration across teams is essential.
“It is important to demonstrate that we’re all working towards a common goal,” says Lisa Simon, Chief Client Development Officer at Lathrop & Gage. “That is actionable client intelligence that can be used to support business development and grow revenue.” In some firms, this type of collaboration is second nature, while in others, bringing a current awareness platform has helped build a bridge between marketing and library teams.
“Client development professionals know quite a bit about lawyer and group goals, and researchers know more about what lawyers do on a day-to-day basis, through research requests,” explains Lisa Smith, Head of Knowledge Services at DWF. “When there’s a specific business development initiative, collaboration between the professionals leads to powerful results for lawyers and their clients.”
“Using a current awareness tool has helped my team get to know who is doing what in the firm,” says Jennifer McNenly, Director of Library & Information Services at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin. “I have gotten to know what every single lawyer is interested in, which is invaluable.”
Though larger firms seem to have acknowledged that business research and competitive intelligence are here to stay and far-sighted librarians have begun its integration into their larger research strategies, convincing people to adopt such tools into their work routines poses different challenges. Creative thinking can overcome user ambiguity.
If you can demonstrate value when you introduce a new tool, people get excited. But it still may be tough to get people to use it. To gain traction, find specific projects that will show value. For example, if firm management is undertaking a key client initiative, recommend using the current awareness platform to support client intelligence.
“When we brought a current awareness platform into our firm, I learned quickly that we needed to be imaginative in coming up with use cases to get people using the tool,” says McNenly. “We also had to link the tool directly to what was important to our various internal audiences. For instance, the lawyers were not very interested in a tool that was associated with ‘research’ and the library, but when I linked it to business development, they became very engaged. We come up with a new use case pretty much every day that helps us engage with our clients and stay competitive.”
CLIENT-CENTRIC AS A SHARED GOAL
No matter how business/client intelligence is gathered and whoever oversees its dissemination, it’s important to recognize its significance in maintaining or increasing market-share in a very competitive, client-driven industry.
“I think that we all have to acknowledge that the client is at the center of everything,” says Matthew Jones, Head of Knowledge and Research at Herbert Smith Freehills. “Everything everyone does in the firm should be to help drive results for clients, and we need to recognize we all have the same goal and need to work together. If an activity is not involved in something to support clients or work for clients, you need to question what the role of the function is within the firm.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stacy A. Rowe, is Director of Client Services at Manzama, where she brings nearly 20 years of legal marketing and business development experience. She developed and leads Manzama’s global Client Advisory Board and Global PowerUser Committee to help the company gather and analyze client insights and continue to innovate the platform. Her areas of expertise include business development, competitive intelligence, content marketing, proposals, marketing planning and communications, strategic planning, branding, and lawyer coaching.