American Lawyer Media Legal Intelligence released the 2013 Law Librarian Survey data earlier this week.

 Library Chiefs  Rule Contract Negotiations

Firms recognize the special expertise of Library Directors in high ticket and complex licencing negotiations. 87% of the firms have kept this responsibility in the hands of the Library Director.

In reviewing the data I am struck by the terrific challenge library chiefs face in the current environment. Law firm profits are reviving, lawyers continue to demand the best and most strategic information resources for their practices and yet  library chiefs have succeeded in containing costs. The survey give clues how they achieve this. Librarians are sharp negotiators who assess not only price but the comparative value and usability of the content. They also employ sophisticated tools for analysing the ROI for the resources they invest in. These talents are paying off big time for the firms which employ these experts.  

The Big Movers: Embedding, Complex Research  Competitive Intelligence and Social Media Monitoring

A few trends showed dramatic changes from the prior year or made a strong first appearance in the survey

  • 72% of are embedding librarian in practice groups up from 14% in 2012.
  • 75% report that librarians are performing legal research previously performed by lawyers up 16% from 59% in 2012.
  • Manzama a social media monitoring tool jumped to the top of the news aggregation tools and is used in 40% of the responding firms.

A Sampling of Key Trends From the 2013 Law Library Survey

  • 58% of Library Chiefs are responsible for overseeing Competitive Intelligences
  • 43 % of Library Chiefs are responsible for Knowledge management
  • The average budget was down $500,000
  • Fewer firms were purchasing eBooks.  Number dropped from 24% to 21% of libraries.

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. Librarians are increasingly their volume of legal research formerly handled by lawyers. 75% of respondents report that librarians are performing complex legal research. This could be the result of librarians having the expertise in specialized research platforms or a general decline in lawyers research skills. There was a decline in the value of work billed by clients which might also suggest that lawyers are shifting AFA work the research staff.

Outsourcing and Centralization

For  several years Library Chiefs has been spearheading initiatives to streamline library operations through centralization and outsourcing administrative operations.  I am uncomfortable with the results reported regarding centralization and outsourcing. The ALM data actually suggests both centralization and outsourcing are declining. Centralization was down in in all categories except Contract negotiations. This doesn’t seem likely. When I asked ALM to validate the data they responded that the wording of the question had changed in the past year. But they have not yet provided me with the wording of the 2012 question.

Low Cost Centers: The Trend That Was Not Tracked

An issue related to outsourcing was not even on the survey. The newer trend of migrating work to lower cost centers was not addressed in the survey. In the past year several ALM 100 firms began moving some work to low cost centers and this is a trend that should be measured in future reports. In one case the entire library was relocated, in most instances, selected functions were moved to the low cost center.

Research Support
A new question asked how much time the staff spending on research to support clients or business development (69%).  59% 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.


The Long Slow Death of Cost Recovery

In just 4 year there has been a dramatic decline in the number of firms which recover more than 60% of their online costs. In 2009 51% of firms reported recovering more than 60% of their online costs. In 2013 it is down  a whopping firm22% to 29% of responding firms. This is no doubt due in part to the growth of AFAs and client demands for cost reduction.


  • Since this survey covers the Amlaw 200, I recommend that ALM add questions on cost per attorney and staffing of services per attorney. This would  provide valuable metrics for benchmarking.
  • Query dollar amount of print spending. Yes it will be a kind of deathwatch.
  • Query the amount spent for new specialized digital products
  • Ask  for the name of one new speciality resource which was acquired and why it was purchased.
  • Add question on low cost centers
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 Seattle.