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Strategic Content Management, or How to Stop Being a Gatekeeper
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Strategic Content Management, or How to Stop Being a GatekeeperBy Elaine Egan, Director, Global Libraries & Information Services, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, New York, NY and Kathy Skinner, Director of Research & Information Services, White & Case LLP, Palo Alto, CA
Strategic content management planning can result in a robust complement of tools that are well-used and which support the firm's goals and direction. By aligning with organizational goals, the content provided by Research Services can enable a firm to be nimbler and more responsive to business needs and clients while also providing necessary oversight. This article introduces a three-pronged approach for developing and maintaining a portfolio of world-class research content. It also addresses socializing new tools, including encouraging adoption of innovative tools while providing a framework for moving away from resources that no longer provide a high level of value.

For any information center or library, a successful content management strategy needs to be aligned with the priorities, culture, and stated goals of the organization. By approaching content as an asset rather than purely as a cost, portfolio design will encompass a value system producing benefits that extend beyond acquisition management, training, and budget. When formulating a framework for a multi-year content plan, it is imperative to link the values associated with content to business requirements. This will result in measuring and monitoring becoming dynamic, and procurement no longer being a stand-alone exercise triggered only during renewal cycles. When creating a portfolio approach for content strategy, procurement, value identity, and awareness need to be incorporated for a holistic framework that buttresses the investment and knowledge flow within the organization.

Three Pillars of Content Portfolio Asset Management

  • Procurement: For many organizations, this is the first phase of a content strategy. Without oversimplifying, the procurement mandate is a series of actions including supplier selection, value, terms, price negotiation, and inventory control. In a law firm, the relationship to each of these actions is a discipline shared among a procurement specialist, library director or library professional, practice group, and user.
  • Value Identity: The value identity rankings scale demonstrated in the graph below identifies the worth of a specific research tool to a person or organization. These values are based on business needs and culture, and they will change over time. If you consider content as an asset which helps to achieve an organization's goals, you can assign attributes to content that align with the organization and its needs. The measurements of a value identity can be as simple as a rating scale where access, support and practice need are ranked from one through five, with five as most desired. For example, based on a firm's needs, an enterprise resource could be valued at five; conversely, single-user access or concurrent access would be valued at a two. If access to a tool is necessary to support a practice, however, it could be assigned a "must have" value of five — even if the access level is only for a single user.

The Value Identity Scale is flexible. Attributes such as IP authentication, lawyer mobility, or regional licensing can become more or less important to your organization over time. Once a content source has been scored, its value identity becomes a component in the procurement strategy — whether in consultation with practice group leaders, or with the content provider during negotiation. A matrix can then be designed which informs the organization regarding its investments priorities. By limiting a value identity report to a single content source, the content rating scale can be positioned against another source to demonstrate how the sources compare.

  • Awareness:Building awareness regarding research content through training and communication campaigns leads to informed decisions about the value of a given tool, and helps to eliminate guesswork. Awareness campaigns should be measured and targeted. For example, Adobe Spark is a simple tool that posts images and recordings to your intranet, or embeds them in a more traditional email announcement. Knowing how your organization receives information is key to designing messaging that leads to further knowledge-sharing. Measuring results can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet that records details regarding training sessions or quick point-of-need information exchanges between users and your research team. For a more rigorous measuring device, consider adding a field to your research intake system that identifies training requests, lunch-and-learns, open houses, and WebEx participation. By linking awareness campaigns to demonstrable organizational learning, the budgeting of and partnering with content providers can become more robust.

The content strategy outlined above combines defined procurement steps, ranking resources using the value identity scale, and building awareness via training and communication campaigns. This will help to quantify the value of your portfolio of research tools and implement a system to continuously adjust and refine your resources over time as tools and needs change. It also provides communication and training strategies that you can use to socialize new tools, maximize existing tools, and rotate tools out if they no longer provide the same level of value that they once did. Finally, it identifies ways to work more effectively with vendors by partnering with them to get new and enticing tools in front of your lawyers, and socialize the vendors appropriately to ensure that you are getting value for your spend, but not be stuck with them indefinitely if they don't make the cut.

Be Strategic When Bringing new Research Tools into Your Organization

The gatekeeper mentality — in which bringing in new resources is discouraged — is a result of a number of challenging realities, including:

  • Pressure to manage to a flat or reduced budget
  • Worry that once a tool has been introduced in the firm, it will always stay in the budget, even if it only has a few supporters
  • Concern that vendors will work around the librarian or other person responsible for managing the budget by going directly to the lawyers to sell a tool that may not be justifiable by quantitative measures like cost or usage

Although there are valid and understandable reasons for the gatekeeper mentality, it doesn't benefit the person put in the position of managing the library budget, the firm, or the vendors. We're proposing a different path — designed to foster greater trust between vendors and the person entrusted with managing the budget — which includes a data-driven way to quantify whether a resource is worth keeping, and a strategy for building nimbleness and flexibility among the lawyers in our firms so that the inevitable adjusting of tools and resources doesn't create disruption or impact their ability to do their jobs.

Some strategies to help foster and build the desired information ecosystem include:

  • Forming a group of interested lawyers who are tasked with vetting and "kicking the tires" on new tools, with the understanding that the bar is high for actually purchasing these tools, and that existing tools and other resources may need to be sacrificed in the process
  • Creating an evergreen R&D budget, which can be nominal, along with a strategy in which new tools are introduced into the firm on an extended trial period, but benefits have to be quantified by the end of that period in order to justify maintaining the new tools and incorporating them into the regular budget
  • Building a bridge between lawyers and vendors by ensuring processes to get their tools in front of your lawyers for rigorous vetting, with an accompanying understanding that the vendor work with the library professional tasked with managing the budget rather than reaching out directly to lawyers
  • As new resources are requested during the year, working with requestors to develop solid business cases of desired new tools to review annually with firm management at budget time
  • Providing outreach and training on multiple fronts and platforms, including one-on-one training, webinars, point-of-need training delivered by the research team or the vendor, or a version of the Apple "Genius" bar where you can show new wares on a drop-in basis
  • Getting "air cover" from firm management to enable us to say "no," "not now," or "sure, if you can help us find something else to cancel, and help us to convince your colleagues" to the lawyers

Our goals for employing this system include:

  • Ensuring that we have the right complement of tools which are generating robust usage
  • Being fiscally responsible for our firms
  • Providing outreach and training across various channels
  • Partnering with our vendors to expose our lawyers to research tools that will help to provide a competitive advantage

Ultimately, we want to reach a point where we maintain an information ecosystem in which our users nimbly and comfortably adjust to ongoing change and evolution towards innovative products which deliver value in new ways. We realize that this is an ambitious goal, but we believe that the strategies discussed above define approaches that you can use to help you get there — by determining the value of specific resources in your portfolio, and by providing approaches for introducing and vetting new tools to ensure the likelihood of widespread adoption before committing to purchasing them.

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