Much has occurred in the year since SPECTRUM first published PIERCING THE VENDOR VEIL, an article comparing the past days of vendor relations with the realities of today’s information selling. While law firms continue struggling to rethink the business of law, librarians have found themselves creating new processes to address these new times and future tomorrows. The legal industry has always consisted of a relationship between consumers and providers. The challenges affecting today’s legal research industry should be a shared responsibility between those partners.
Changes in the legal research industry have been subtly occurring for over a decade. Recognizing the new economic times, librarians have responded well, often times reinventing themselves. In recent years they have striven to become part of the revenue stream, taking a leading role in the in the business research of the firm’s sales initiatives and recruiting.
As law firms struggle with the realities of today’s highly competitive market place, client demands for reductions to costs has dramatically impacted firm management. Cost containment has given way to dramatic slashes in budgets and administrative staff. More and more, firm content choices are becoming short term reactive financial decisions. Many senior librarians question how to best demonstrate to firm management, the librarian’s value as an integral part of collection strategy.
Legal practice departments are the corner stone of a solid law firm, and both the C suite and librarians pivot themselves around the leaders that run those business units for a variety of reasons. As the primary revenue drivers in the firm, Practice Heads should be seen as strong advocates for information professionals and potential “library –champions”.
It is a librarian’s responsibility to provide financial analysis to Practice Heads so that they may make educative resource choices, proving to senior management that they, and therefore we, are adhering to firm budgetary goals. This is an opportunity to reestablish our value as knowledgeable professionals of firm resources and the legal marketplace.
It is evident to resource providers that in the 2009 law firm economy, flat to declining billing growth is a fact of life and cash is the lowest common denominator guiding all investment decisions, including the shape, breadth and depth of the firm’s assembled knowledge base.
In enlightened firms, the library continues to be a center of knowledge and a tungsten-carbine-edge in revealing potential new business and in executing legal research rapidly and (cost-) efficiently. In less comfortable reactions to market pressures, some firm libraries are downsized and talented strategic librarians displaced in favor of a more transactional capability.
In this harsh economic light, vendors that spend quality time in the firm, understanding a librarian’s pressures and reflecting those growing pains in their own businesses, can work with librarians as partners. While the major vendors are pursuing their own margins, they are also generating and building better products and services to survive in this economy of commoditized web-based information. Recruiting vendors that listen to business needs and who respond with pragmatic options that deliver value at a reasonable price, will succeed best in this competitive cost-conscious environment.
A true business partner will work with librarians to audit and professionally reshape the “library” to match both future vision and budget, and not simply load them up with a high volume of branded product. Competent vendors share this philosophy and will partner with information professionals, for joint success.
Both Librarians and the producers of information have a responsibility to the legal profession, to transcend the “old way” that they have traded and hoarded information. Collaboration, invention and fluidity, are the critical need to create our tomorrows.
When is a vendor not a vendor? When they are an effective business consultant or partner, who develop and grow the impact of a library, while reflecting and enhancing the firm’s business strategy.
Linda Will, WILL REOURCES, a law firm consulting service
Michael Orrick, VP, Law Firm Markets, West North America