The Gazette has a short article this week on a new report from Sweet & Maxwell about the face and the future of Law libraries and Librarian/Information professionals. Sweet & Maxwell have been talking to senior information management professionals (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them) in 50 commercial law firms (46% of respondents are from Top-100 firms) and found that 70% now deliver market information and other commercially focused information to the business.
I have not seen the report itself, but have seen the press release for it as I was asked by the Gazette for my comments (I didn’t make the final article).
From the press release it all seems to makes for some good headline grabbing reading: ‘Radical shift in the role of Legal Librarians as they become responsible for crucial market intelligence’; “25% of Library and Information departments expect to merge with Marketing”.
Here are a few of the stats from the research, before I deal with some particular points.
- 56% of Library and Information departments are now providing market intelligence to internal departments.
- 70% of senior information professionals revealed that they are now under pressure to deliver commercial benefits to their firm.
- 25% of Library and Information departments expect to merge with Marketing. (within 2 years)
- 76% of senior information management professionals say they are working with other legal support departments more than ever.
- 60% have recognised the need to recruit commercially focused individuals to their department.
- 34% of respondents think that the Legal Services Act will have a positive impact on their firm.
- 96% of senior information professionals already believe that the legal market is becoming increasingly competitive, with 86% anticipating that their firm will need to work harder to win new business in the future.Alina Lourie, Director of Legal Online at Sweet & Maxwell said “Legal Librarians are no longer just tasked with researching changes in the law”. Maybe it is just my own experience, but in eight years in a law firm, I have never just been tasked with researching changes in the law.Maybe it is because of this, that much in the research doesn’t really surprise me. The profession, like many others, is changing and with more resources on the desktop and at the lawyers’ hands, there is obviously much research that can now be done by the lawyers themselves – leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether it is cost effective for the client for them to do so, as opposed to an information professional who will probably be able to do it quicker and whose time will/would be billed at a lower rate, or not at all.
It is no surprise that information and library staff and services are increasingly being called upon to demonstrate and contribute to the overall commercial development of a firm, it is only the realisation that they haven’t been before that should be the surprise. The move to be more competitive and get more of the pie has finally made law firms realise that what they sell is ‘knowledge’, and much of their knowledge of :the markets they operate in, the law, and other things outside of the deal room comes from information, more often that not, supplied by ’support staff’ throughout the organisation.
So, in that sense I would not see this move as the ‘pressure’ identified by 70%, but one of potential value to the bottom line at last being fully recognised. This is an opportunity, not a threat, to information professionals. As for a radical shift – I would just say, information is information.
The ‘big headline’ from the press releaseÂ (or at least the one that I expect will raise the most eyebrows) in the research does seem to be that 25% of library and information departments expect to merge with their marketing departments, and do so within 2 years. This is a figure that surprises me. Whilst I certainly think library and information, marketing/communications and (especially) business development departments/teams should be working more closely to deliver value to the firm; (and there are obviously synergies from an information gathering, analysing and delivering point of view) no one – outside of freshfields -I have ever discussed such matters with has ever suggested such a merger – which is not to say it isn’t/wont/can’t happen.
Alina Lourie states: “By providing strategically important information on which markets to target and which services to provide legal librarians can feed into the decision-making process, helping Marketing departments to form a sophisticated strategy underpinned by close market scrutiny.”
I think ‘helping’ is the key word here. You do not need to merge departments to achieve this goal.
So, should we just dismiss the whole idea? Personally, I don’t think ideas like this should just be dismissed out-of-hand just because we don’t like the sound of then. However, by the same measure, it needs to remembered that those who have trained in each discipline – whilst no doubt seeing some common ground – would also, I think, see such a ‘merger’ as a devaluing of their respective disciplines. What would the department be called, would Library and Info staff become part of the Marketing team, visa versa? would it have a new name such as Knowledge and Marketing (K&M) or the Communications team?
Also, the rational behind it would need to be clear: what benefits that were not already derived – or could not be derived by a closer working relationship between the teams – would be delivered by such a merger (taking into account the possible demoralising effect on staff?) Or is it just about money, and reducing staff numbers (because I think you can guarantee that the number of staff in the combined entity would be smaller than that in the separate ones)
Maybe the problem is, that those in both departments do not to a good enough job of promoting themselves, and the value and services they can (and do) provide to the firm: so that those who make the decisions do not see anything other than two cost centres which they can turn into one cost centre.
This all said, this should not detract from Sweet & Maxwell’s conclusion that utilizing the real benefits information departments can deliver will help ensure law firms remain competitive – something I think all information staff in law firms would agree with.