In today’s Strategic Legal Technology, my friend and former colleague Ron Friedmann posted a Open Letter to BigLaw Managing Partners: Four Imperatives for 2012 and Beyond

Here is my reinterpretation of Ron’s recommendations for thriving the “new normal”  which includes both mandates and opportunities  for information professionals …with some additional insights for Managing Partners.

1. Improve value by working more effectively.  Bring in your research experts – early and often.

Consider using librarians as research project managers to control cost and reduce time and manpower invested in complex research projects. While partners bewail the cost and the inefficiencies of associates research skills, most firms have not leveraged the research skills of the research staff as a strategic process management component of their AFA strategy .
As clients demand better value, lawyers need to become more efficient. Librarians and information professionals routinely deliver more value than they are credited for.

2. Diagnose and Improve your Business Operations

Any library Director who has not begun to plan for streamlining and centralization of processes is dangerously behind the curve or “tone deaf” to the drumbeat of the market place. Do not wait to be asked to streamline – by then it may be too late. Law firm partners should also consider how the well honed  expertise  of research professionals, using highly specialized resources can analyse complex research problems and deliver analytical reports on a range of issues from companies or  industries to securities trading histories to dossiers on expert witnesses. These same projects which a librarian can deliver quickly,   could take days, if assigned to paralegals or project assistants that lack specialized skills and training.

Research and knowledge staff are also at the forefront of building intranet based “gadgets” and “self service” tools which allow anyone at the firm to quickly retrieve dockets, cases, patents, statutes, in one click without any specialized research training and without incurring client charges. All of these activities contribute to the streamlining of headcount which would have been required in more labor intensive approaches which prevail in the absence of specialized research expertise and guidance.

3. Engage Your Clients

This is my personal favorite on this list. “… to truly engage clients your lawyers need to know their business. Partners must read the news …about their business and legal problems.” Librarians have been out in front of this one too. Information professionals are investigating the next generation of monitoring services Linex, Attensa, Manzama, Ozmosys “Open Alerts” which go well beyond looking for company names in news stories but can can aggregate, generate trending reports, word clouds and other graphical reports for heightening your expertise on a client’s “pain points” and opportunities.

4. Adopt Metrics and Formal Governance Mechanisms

For me the “holy grail” of strategic information management would involve having firmwide metrics on information seeking activities undertaken by lawyers and staff in order to analyze opportunities for streamlining workflow and to optimize the matching of research activities with staff skill sets or identifying training or resource needs to improve productivity.

Information professionals should continue to improve the collection and analysis of research staff activities by implementing research “help desk” applications which will not only improve workflow but also provide vital data on staff activities which can be used for developing benchmarks for processes and the measurement of the ever elusive “value” metric. The measurement of resource value can be tackled with the implementation of bar-coding of print resources to measure utilization by lawyers. Although Onelog ,Research Monitor and Lookup Precision have offered many firms substantial benefits in measuring utilization of digital resources within the firm’s network, these products will have to be upgraded to address the growing population of “un-tethered” resources, As lawyers migrate to portable libraries and ebooks on I-pads, tablets and smart phones, the current generation of monitoring tools may hit a wall but the need for utilization metrics will not.

“It Takes a Team”

Ron saved the best for last. He concluded his post with a recommendation that law firms drop use of the term “non-lawyer.”  A phase so pervasive that frankly until this moment  I had not noticed the absurdity of defining about half of the average law firm population in terms of what they “are not.” Other professional services organizations such as consulting firms are decades ahead of law firms in recognizing the importance of other professionals in building a cohesive client  support team. Since the practice of law is an information intensive profession which requires effective research and knowledge management skills, the “new normal” should create new opportunities for information professionals to have enhanced and important new roles on client teams and  in modeling innovative value enhancing strategies.

Related Posts: Centralization as a Value Strategy