Law firm library departments have been the most impacted by technology, according to a recent ALM legal staffing report.1 As the responsibility for managing print resources has diminished due to technology advancements, librarians have been freed to focus on a wider variety of knowledge facilitating roles.
These two trends have led an increasing number of law firms to retitle their librarians as Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO). But even those without the CKO title often stand in a pivotal position to introduce transformative practice and management products. The 21st century information professional has moved out of the administrative shadows and into the forefront of introducing knowledge-enabled process enhancements.
Steve Jobs attributed the success of Apple to the fact that it existed at the intersection of technology and the humanities. Jobs was referring to the kind of multidisciplinary thinking, which librarians excel in. Information professionals connect technology and the law with a multitude of commercial, social, literary, technical, and scientific issues which stream through legislation, case law, and transactional activities. Information professionals are positioned to optimize both the management and practice of law because they live at the intersection of content, process, and technology.
Every facet of law firm practice and management requires high quality information. The 21st century challenge is driving knowledge into the enterprise at every step. The "last mile" is connecting knowledge with workflow, and information professionals can offer critical insights into matching content with process.
Innovation is not new to librarians. In fact, librarians have introduced many innovative technologies and initiatives to law firms, including the first Internet account, online research, portals, knowledge management, competitive intelligence, business intelligence, and big data.
Practice Group Embedding. Over the past decade, library directors and CKOs have identified the mutual benefit of aligning information professionals with practice groups. An "embedded" information professional may still retain general research support responsibilities while doubling as a practice resource expert. They develop expertise on practice-specific resources and can train lawyers on best practices for using those resources. This expertise informs the group on digital and print resource selection, as well as budget and balancing resources. The embedded information professional can collaborate with the practice group and the professional development department on integrating new resources and competencies into standard processes. They can also work in a business development role for the group by developing curated alerts on key issues, industries, or clients, which improve a lawyer's awareness of a client's business and industry issues.
Pricing and Process Mapping. Several years ago Thomson Reuters announced it was no longer primarily an information provider but it had transformed itself into a "solutions" provider. Many of these "solutions" are new components of products, such as Westlaw or Westlaw Business and the Westlaw Intelligence Center. Products such as BriefTools, DealProof, WestKM, and Practical Law integrate with research products. Information professionals can work with practice groups and the pricing analysts to match standard processes identified with a specific type of work and with efficiency enhancing products to determine optimal Alternative Fee Arrangement pricing. Information professionals can introduce lawyers and the pricing team to sophisticated analytics tools that can provide benchmarks for competitor firm hourly rates. They can also help pricing professionals identify opportunities for streamlining standard workflows by leveraging hidden process improvement functions in existing resources. A product like DealProof (a component of Drafting Assistant) can dramatically reduce the time frame and improve the accuracy of proofreading on long transactional documents. Tools for trial and motion analytics can provide insights into specific issues, such as time to trial, likelihood of motion success, or damages by cause of action, party, or judge.
Competitive Intelligence and Business Development. Marketing and business development professionals have a keen understanding of issues and opportunities that should be tracked to optimize cross-selling and business development. In many firms, marketing and research teams have been developing a tight collaboration on competitive intelligence and monitoring projects. Professionals in these roles understand how to tame the daily stream of structured and unstructured data flowing across the Internet. With the use of aggregation platforms such as Ozmosys, Linex, and InfoNgen, or "listening platforms" such as Manzama, these teams can collaborate in developing highly curated alerts which deliver the most targeted and relevant stories to increase their awareness of client issues or generate new "touch points" for client outreach.
The information resources department normally oversees the selection and licensing of databases for competitive intelligence that provide company and executive profiles, financial profiles, competitor information, and litigation profiles for key client "dossiers."
New tools providing transactional analytics can help a corporate lawyer gain insights into the competitive landscape, key competitors, and "what's market" deal terms in advance of a pitch discussion. Litigators have new tools for developing litigation strategies, gleaning such insights as "time to trial," a judge's workload, or history adjudicating an issue. Information professionals can extract an adversary's motion profile from the "big data" gleaned from Pacer, the federal docket system, using Thomson Reuters Intelligence Center or Lex Machina.
Knowledge Management and Professional Development. Knowledge Management (KM) is a core competency of librarianship. Catalogs are often overlooked as KM products, which can be leveraged to direct lawyers to resources. This same core competency makes information professionals ideal leaders of Knowledge Management projects. They work with IT and lawyers to establish vetting rules, document profiles, and search criteria. Information professionals collaborate with practice leaders and KM lawyers in identifying the firm's best models and templates, creating practice portals, and linking resources to other types of internal and external "know how." Tools such as Drafting Assistant and Practical Law can supplement the firms internal know how with third party checklists and "what's market" language. Information professionals keep the professional development department apprised of resources which can supplement formal training sessions with "just in time" desktop guidance resources.
All of these recent developments suggest to me the emergence of two new law firm management solutions:
The Process Catalog. Information professionals have historically cataloged information resources in a topical approach. Smarter search engines have made the identification of relevant documents and resources easier. The emergence of a host of new process improvement products and functions suggests that firms would benefit from having information professionals' inventory and catalog processes, which can be improved using specific tools. This "how do I?" tool would enable a lawyer to query a "how to" catalog for process enhancing resources which can assist in needs such as computing damages, comparing underwriters deal history, or comparing a judge's motion grant history.
The Universal Help Desk. The line between administrative functions has blurred, as law firm operations have become more complex and knowledge dependent. It may be time for firms to consider instituting a physical or virtual "genius bar." As department lines blur and collaboration increases, it will be less obvious to lawyers which department or cross-functional team can provide guidance or resolve an issue. Firms may need to implement a central helpdesk, staffed by members of various departments who will vet, collaborate, and direct requests for assistance. For example, if a lawyer wants to create a client facing team site, including model documents and competitive information feeds, members of IT, marketing, and information resources would collaborate to deliver the end product.
Optimized knowledge flows and procedural best practices will be core to the management of all law firms. Products and practice needs will continue to evolve. The new generation of analytics and "big data" products has emerged and will undoubtedly displace some existing resources and impact workflow. The role of the law librarian/information strategist will be to continually reassess the balance of resources and capture and analyze the ROI of digital products. They will need to continue working with firm leadership, administration, and practice groups to assure that all functional areas have the right mix of resources and intuitive workflows to optimize both firm administration and client support.
1 "Law firm support staff: how many are enough?," ALM Legal Intelligence, April 2015
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