Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending some time with an old colleague.  We discussed how the economic downturn was forcing transformations in law firms.  Traditionally law firms are slow to change and usually do so only when circumstances force their hands.

Law firm libraries are a part of the trend of downsizing.  This colleague stated that while the library budget had not been cut staff had been cut.  The result was that the budget was cut because staff efficiencies were forcing the reduction of personal copies.  I find it interesting that the current economic crunch is succeeding in implementing a sea change in collection development and library services within some firms.

Statutes and rule books are popular titles for “personal copies.”   Firms that provide “personal copies” generally also have Westlaw and/or Lexis.  The information contained within the personal copies is available through various electronic resources and is more current.

Firm librarians know that these “personal copies” are a significant line item in budgets.  The material is duplicative and a convenience rather than a necessity.  The personal copies require staff time to process.

Cutting “personal copies” reduces costs and forces attorneys to use the electronic resources that are a permanent part of firm services.  These electronic resources are another part of the sea change.

Many firms bill back the costs on online research.  As clients continue to look for ways to cut their owns costs the push back on billing electronic research costs will continue to grow.

Firms did not bill for print collections and clients know that fact.  Some specialty technical reports may have occassionally been billed to clients but standard resources used to support the firm’s work were not.  As firms de-duplicate their collections and improve efficiencies by maximizing use of available electronic resources they are, or at least should be, reconsidering the practice of online research bill backs.

Bill backs take staff time and like the personal copies, efficiencies can be improved by changing this tradition.  Corporate clients are saavy and expect value added service not line item charges.

Smart firms will embrace this sea change and maximize the value of their professional library staff through project and/or hourly billing.  Firms should consider the experience and educational level of their information professionals and set billing rates at a proper reflective rates.  Does a one-year associate really research more efficiently than a five year or even first year librarian?

Marketing the value-added efficient service provided by your firm librarians is a must for firms who wish to transform client services.  Firms who wish to survive should consider implementing the sea change of using the firm librarians as a major selling point for high quality and efficient service sooner rather than later.

Constance Ard May 7, 2009