Yesterday American Lawyer Media Legal Intelligence released the 2012 Law Librarian Survey data.

The ALM research staff has worked closely with the Private Law Library community to improve the precision and relevance of the questions presented in this survey.  I look forward to the release of the American Lawyer article interpreting the data and the commentary received from the library community. (Thanks to Nina Platt for pointing me to the link added above.)

All ALM Reports Are Not Created Equal. ALM’s timing was impeccable because I was still pondering an appropriate response to another recent ALM report  “Finding the Right Balance: Non attorney Staffing in Law Firms.”  My working title for the post was “Lies, statistics and asking the wrong questions to the wrong people.” The problem with that report was that it purported to be measuring the strategic value of library services in law firms. However the vast majority of the firms (76%) who responded were too small to have a professional librarian let alone a library that was staffed to provide strategic value.  Yet they asked the question and they reported the response which — no surprise– indicated that these non-staffed libraries were not delivering high strategic value.  As my kids would say “D-u-u-u-u-h.” The bigger question is – why weren’t the editors of that report talking to the editors who were  hard at work crafting the annual Law Library Survey to find out about asking a qualifying question such as ” Do you have a professional librarian?” If not skip the rest of the questions about library services.

A Sampling of Key Trends From the 2012 Law Library Survey:

Librarians: AFA/Insourcing Trend in Practice Support

Firms appear to be recognizing the value and expertise of research staff in delivering lower cost/ high value results to clients. The trends in the 2012 survey reports:
  • 2011 saw increases in billable rates for research staff
  • In 2011 there was a 25% increase in researcher billable hours over 2010
  • There was a corresponding 25% increase in average revenue generated by the research staff in 2011.
  • 59% believe they are performing work formerly done by associates.

Outsourcing and Centralization

Library Directors are spearheading initiatives to streamline library operations through centralization and outsourcing administrative operations. The trend continued to increase in 2011.

  • 91% centralize digital content procurement
  • 91% centralize cataloging and library systems
  • 81% centralize acquisition of print resources
  • 68% report outsourcing at least one function

Research Support

64% of respondents report the centralization of research. It is not clear how many are referring to a centralized staffing location or alternatively to a virtual centralization which creates a unified workflow across multiple locations. But one obvious benefit of centralized virtual research is expanding the hours of coverage by taking advantage of time zone differences. Additional research support findings include:

  • 56% report that the Library is the main source of competitive intelligence.
  • 52% report that the library is the main source of marketing research
  • 14% have begun “embedding” librarians as specialists assigned to specific practice groups.

The Long Slow Death of Cost Recovery

In 2008 70% of the firms reported that they recovered more than 60% of their online costs in client charges. This number decreased a whopping 41% in 3 years. Only 29% reported recovering more than 60% of their online costs through chargebacks.

Budgets Recovering

For the second year in a row there was a double digit increase in the number of libraries reporting that their budgets had increased. This year 55% of firms were increasing their budgets, up from 41% in 2010 and 30% in 2009.

New Issues and Questions

  • Bloomberg was treated as a peer to Lexis and Westlaw in the questions about online research costs.
  • Adoption of Online Monitoring products, news aggregation products and Integrated Library systems were queried for the first time.
  • eBook purchases increased 8%. In fairness the products and pricing regimes are not completely resolved as of 2012 so we need to keep watching this one.

Library Director’s Rule Contract Negotiations

Firms recognize the special expertise of Library Directors in high ticket and complex licencing negotiations. 96% of the firms have kept this responsibility in the hands of the Library Director. It is unfortunate that this is the first year the survey addresses this question. Consultants which were “the rage” several years ago take the lead in only 3% of the firms responding. It may be that the extra cost of the consultant did not offer a true “value proposition.” The presence of consultants may be further diminished if more vendors follow the Bloomberg Law lead and establish a single price formula for all subscribers.

There is a lot more detail and many other issues addressed in the full report. I look forward to the ALM Survey presentation at the upcoming AALL Annual conference in Boston.