Although law firm libraries are shrinking, the opportunities for information professionals have never been more exciting or diverse. Librarians who want to focus on traditional “bibliocentric” functions will find fewer opportunities in law firms, but those who are interested in blending their skills with technology, finance, management, pricing, and knowledge innovation, the “sky is the limit.” This article explores how four former law librarians have embraced new career paths in law firm management, legal publishing, the newer field of legal pricing, and the ever-challenging arena of knowledge management. There are several traits all of these librarians share—they all sought out new challenges, they pursued opportunities, took chances, and found that their prior experience and expertise as a librarian provided a solid foundation for work in completely new arenas. Each of these professionals commented on their careers, as well as emerging opportunities for information professionals.
Michael Dahn, SVP, Global Head of Westlaw Product Management at Thomson Reuters Legal
Dahn is the Global head of Westlaw product management at Thomson Reuters Legal where he leads a team of professionals focused on driving product innovation. Dahn has led the design of Results Plus, Graphical KeyCite, and Medical Litigator. From 2007 to 2010, his team led the major redesign of Westlaw, which resulted in the launch of WestlawNext. Most recently his team has launched Westlaw Answers, Westlaw Research Recommendations, and “folder analysis” capabilities. He and his team are currently exploring how cognitive computing technologies can help solve problems for lawyers.
Dahn began pursuing his MLS degree right after graduating from law school in 1995. He held several library jobs before becoming the head of libraries and intranet development for the Carlton Fields law firm in Florida. Early in his career he became interested in seeing how Web technologies could help serve the information needs of library users. In 2000, he was invited by West to attend the Information Innovators Institute where he had the chance to discuss Web technologies with West executives. A week later he received a call from West asking him to work on a team that was building new capabilities for Westlaw. He jumped at the opportunity.
Dahn recognizes that law librarians have skills that are suited to a wide variety of roles in legal publishing. These skills include: deep knowledge of research products, knowledge of customer needs and business environments, and strong presentation skills. Those with high emotional intelligence or “EQ,” are well prepared for client-facing roles in librarian relations and account management. He has also seen librarians transition successfully into roles in marketing, content operations, and product management.
Dahn encourages librarians to understand and explore emerging technologies. He believes that “advancements in natural language processing, data mining, machine learning (particularly deep learning), and cognitive computing offer exciting potential to solve tough problems for lawyers. While this may have an impact on some work performed by librarians, it will also create opportunities for librarians who adapt and evolve. It will be important for librarians to know where the technology is going so that they can leverage it appropriately for better serving the information needs of lawyers, and determine which areas of need will not be satisfied quickly by new technologies so they can concentrate on traditional knowledge services in those areas.”
Dahn sees exciting opportunities for law librarians by “teaming up with commercial partners to design, build, and maintain information systems for lawyers and clients.” According to him, these next-generation systems will not only provide seamless access to information, but also will help lawyers process and manage work efficiently. “Knowledge management systems need to be reimagined, and the information from commercial partners needs to be brought together with internal firm information in a way that is easy, efficient, and cost-effective for lawyers, clients, and library personnel. To capitalize on this opportunity, librarians will need to gain a deep understanding of what lawyers are trying to accomplish, identify the gaps and inefficiencies that drive frustration or waste time.” He suggests that librarians should “understand the capabilities of commercial partners and strike the right balance between cost and ability to deliver new levels of client service.”
Kristina Lambright, Director of Strategic Pricing, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
Lambright is the Director of Strategic Pricing at Akin Gump. Lambright started her career in the legal industry as a litigator at a mid-sized firm. After a chance meeting with a private law library director, she decided to pursue her MLS degree. She completed her practicum requirement in both an academic (SMU–Underwood Law Library) and private law library (Vinson & Elkins LLP). While she enjoyed both library environments, she gravitated towards the fast pace of the large law firm environment and was exposed to wide variety of activities from research to budget analysis. In 2011, she attended the PLL Summit, where Toby Brown, an early pioneer in alternative fee arrangements and law firm pricing, was one of the speakers. She was intrigued by his role as the first Director of Pricing at Vinson & Elkins. She introduced herself to Brown who invited her to meet with him to discuss career opportunities. She was impressed with what she described as Brown’s “innovative and thought provoking” outlook on the legal services industry. She accepted a job working with Brown and later joined him when he moved to Akin Gump in 2012.
Lambright believes that her MLS and prior library experience better prepared her for a role in strategic pricing by honing her research skills and helping her understand the diverse array of resources where valuable information can be located. In her current role, she is required to perform in depth research locating critical but hidden information. A large part of her role involves educating partners about the business side of the legal practice, more specifically in relation to the drivers of profitability and value based billing. Her day-to-day activities include assisting partners in crafting alternative fee structures, performing profitability analyses of existing, and prospective clients. She also assists with pitches and proposals, builds pricing models, and works closely with the practice management resources imbedded in each practice group.
Lambright encourages librarians and information professionals to reach out to colleagues across their respective organizations. Administrators in pricing, marketing, and business development may not be aware of all the ways information professionals can support their work. She encourages information professionals to “step out of the library and form alliances.” She recommends Information professionals to “be proactive and get involved with the emerging initiatives within your own environment.”
William Scarbrough, Chief Operating Officer, Bodman, PLC
Scarbrough regards himself as having “stumbled into” a career that has spanned a wide range of geographies and roles. He began working at the University of Michigan graduate library while earning his BA and MA. When he enrolled in the MLS program, he had the opportunity to work in the law library. Library Director Margaret Leary recommended him for a job and in 1988 he began his law firm career at Kirkland & Ellis LLP as a research specialist in their Chicago office. After two years in that position he was given the opportunity to set up information services including library, records, docketing and conflicts for a new office in Los Angeles. After four years he returned to Chicago, where he became the first information services director at Jenner & Block LLP. He later returned to Kirkland in that same position. The firm’s administrator asked him to take over the IT department and he became Kirkland’s first CIO. Scarbrough spent four years in that role and after getting the firm through the Y2K drama he was ready to change directions. He next pursued an opportunity to move to London as the office administrator. He then moved back to the US as COO at Baker McKenzie. Additional roles in his 30-year career have included Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Director. He is now COO of the Bodman LLP firm in Detroit.
According to Scarbrough, success in law firm management depends on having excellent people and customer service skills. Information professionals who would like to move into general firm management should have a good understanding of financial management. He claims that Microsoft Excel is his favorite computer program “hands down.” He recommends that information professionals become proficient in expressing ideas and proposing changes in dollar terms. “Never lose focus on the business purpose of the law firm. Minimizing overhead expense and maximizing financial results for the partners is a key part of your job.” Information professionals can use their library training to organize people and workflows throughout the firm. His advice for the 21st Century information professionals is to “not be tied to books and information. Be willing to let go of something you know well. Your skills are highly transferable.”
Scarbrough believes that information professionals can transfer to other areas in law firm administration by looking for ways to add value. Listen to what the lawyers need and find cost-effective ways to provide solutions. He has seen librarians move successfully into IT, human resources, marketing, finance and general firm management. He believes “the sky is the limit” for information professionals who can identify and embrace new opportunities.
Greg Lambert, Chief Knowledge Services Officer, Jackson Walker, LLP
Greg Lambert describes himself as a lawyer, librarian, knowledge manager, and computer programmer. His career has evolved through a series of roles spanning, academic, court, and law firm libraries. He began his career as a systems programmer at the University of Oklahoma in 1994. He moved into a new role at the Oklahoma City University School of Law as an electronic services librarian. He progressed through a series of library director positions which culminated with his 2014 promotion to his current role as a Chief Knowledge Services Officer. Along the way he served as the Director of the Oklahoma Supreme Court Library, Project Manager for Amigos Library Services, and the Library & Records Manager at King & Spalding in Houston. He also made a name for himself as one of the founders and writers of the award winning 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.
Lambert sounded a wakeup call to his colleagues in a 2010 PLL Summit talk: “Expanding Your Role: How to Reach the C Level.” His presentation raised some uncomfortable issues about the low numbers of librarians at the “C Level” in law firms. Data indicates that less than 1 percent of the C-level leaders in law firms began their career as librarians.1 He highlighted the pattern of law firm librarians repeatedly introducing innovations, such as the first link to the Internet, knowledge management, competitive intelligence, and formal professional development programming into their law firms. But instead of having their roles elevated, someone else was hired to lead each new initiative. Worst of all, the people hired into these new roles were then elevated to the C-Level!
Lambert believes that law firm leaders often overlook the important role that information professionals should play in informing law firm strategy. He recommends that information professionals create their own opportunities by identifying unmet strategic needs and proposing projects that will result in their inclusion in strategic discussions.
Lambert encourages information professionals to proactively pursue knowledge management opportunities in their organizations. He believes that librarians and IT directors have mistakenly focused on KM as requiring a technology solution. He believes that successful KM projects focus on workflow not technology, saying, “KM as a technology is easy, but not very useful. KM as a process is harder, but an effective way of leveraging institutional knowledge and improving processes.”
Lambert offered advice for launching a KM initiative: “A basic KM system can be established without changing the behavior of the attorney by leveraging the librarian’s understanding of the processes that the attorneys use in representing a matter, and finding and tagging best practices documents and processes for those types of matters. Librarians can establish the base, and then work with the attorneys to slowly tweak the processes based on the attorneys’ experiences. The librarians have the advantage of speaking the language of the attorney, and that is something that most technology staff cannot do as well.
Lambert believes that the fiercely competitive legal marketplace offers additional opportunities for law librarians in organizing and managing competitive intelligence initiatives.
According to Lambert: “The next generation—actually even this generation—needs to find what their organization is failing to accomplish, and find a way to fill that gap. Listen, understand, learn, succeed/fail/regroup, and then start over. It’s not about what we solved yesterday, it is about what we are helping to solve tomorrow that counts.”
1. Dewey B Strategic, “Are Librarians Wearing a Glass Ceiling: The American Association of Law Libraries Members Final Change to Vote for the Future.” February 10, 2016.
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