This past week ALM released their Annual Law Librarian Survey and the American Lawyer published a companion article “The Bookless Library “  by MP McQueen, which describes the transformation of law firm libraries into new kinds of environments offering new kinds of services. I have previously written stories about innovative library spaces but I love Morrison and Foerster’s  concept of the “Loungebrary-“- wish I had thought of that myself.

The Morrison & Foerster LA Office Loungebrary
c. MoFo with permission


According to Kathy Skinner the Director of Research Services at Morrison & Foerster ” Our LA office move created the perfect opportunity to leave behind some
of the vestiges of the library of yesterday, including the cavernous space
tucked away on a non-attorney floor, the enormous but unused reference desk,
and the over-abundance of shelves, in favor of a well-traveled and attractive
space that serves as a lounge, a library, a meeting area, and a party venue
with fantastic 58thfloor views of downtown LA. Hence the name
“loungebrary” as coined by our former LA Managing Partner Greg Koltun, which
conveys the multiple use design. Greg, with other LA partners, was committed to
making optimal use of every square foot of our new space while preserving the
library’s mission as a space for research and conferring with our terrific
Research Analysts Jeff Schoerner and Lauren Murphy. We think that the
loungebrary has been a great success, and we are including similar design
aspects in our current Palo Alto and Denver redesigns.”

MoFo LA Loungebrary – c. with permission

Libraries Shrink  As Information Professionals Soar. Although a few firms have opted to treat the research services team as a pure administrative function which can be moved off-site with the IT and Accounting, I fall squarely in the camp that sees research services as integral to the increasing need to optimize a “knowledge enabled” environment for tacit learning, networking and connecting. The Loungebrary is not simply an in-house substitute for a Starbucks, it is more importantly a learning and collaboration environment. Information professionals need tighter alignments with the lawyers practice and business development needs in order to deliver increasingly custom curated information and analytics. Libraries may be shrinking but the need for the skills of legal information professionals is growing.

Here are some key data points from the 2015 Survey

  • 32% of responding ALM 200 firms have eliminated the word “library” from the Department name (in favor of terms such as Knowledge, Information, Research in combination with Center, Services, Innovation.)
  • Information professionals are leading the introduction of analytics products  such as, Lex Machina, Westlaw Intelligence Center and Relationship Science.
  • 54% of  ALM 200 firms invite information professionals attend Practice Group meetings
  • 49% of respondents publish client related business/competitive intelligence newsletters.
  • 73% support “current awareness” service delivery to mobile devices.
  • 28% of respondents are involved in lawyer workflow improvement projects (process mapping, Lean Six Sigma)
  • Although libraries are shrinking, respondents report an average of 9,000 linear feet of books (which is still a fairly high number in my assessment).
  • 94% are still routing materials in print.
  • 89% report that they received better contract terms in their negotiations with Lexis, Westlaw or Bloomberg BNA.
  • 76% report a growth competitive intelligence work over the past 5 years.
  • Firms spend an average of 1.3 M on specialized digital research resources ( excluding Lexis, WL, BLaw). This data Illustrates the ongoing importance of  having information professionals to assess ROI and negotiate contracts for specialized practice resources.
  • Firms have increased their information professional staffing reflecting the more sophisticated research needs and innovative services ( competitive intelligence, analytics, workflow improvement ) which help law firms competitive position.
  • On average information professionals generated $500,000 in revenue.

The myth of  the Sole Provider

Only 24% of respondents  have moved to a single online legal research provider. The data also suggests that there is not a  going trend. Only 2% reported that they planned to moved to a single provider, down from 4% in 2014. Only 14% of firms with a sole provider are extremely satisfied with that arrangement.

Information Professionals are Controlling Costs
Given the explosion of new products info professionals have managed to control and even reduce overall spending on resources. All respondents reported that they were using a digital resource management system ( Research Monitor, Onelog etc,)  to help them determine ROI for each product.

The Decline of Online Cost Recovery
There was a dramatic drop in cost recovery since 2014. 62% of firms report that they are achieving less than 40% cost recovery, This represents a 14 % increase in firms reporting a drop in cost recovery since 2014.

Print to Digital – Extreme Views
Although 69% of respondents indicated that they would eliminate print in the next 5 years, the average length of time reported until the elimination of print is 8 years. This suggests that the minority of firms which are loyal to print are planning to hold on to it for decades. But then.. this may change due to demographics….

The Boomer Effect?
Change may come with a changing of the guard. I am a boomer and although many of us are leading the digital library transformation, some Directors are demurring– perhaps out of sympathy with Boomer generation partners who are horrified by the future of a near book-less library.  The survey reveals that 77% of the respondents have more than 20 years in the profession. Will digital library growth accelerate with the retirement of the “boomer” generation  of Directors and Partners?

Suggestions for 2016 survey

  • Digital initiatives encompass more than books. Lawyers consume a lot of legal and business news.– much of this is still routed in print. Here are two questions which could help measure the migration of print serials and newsletters to digital routing systems.
  •  What percentage of your routing is duplicated in both print and online?
  • What percentage of all routing is exclusively digital?
  • Since this survey covers the Amlaw 200 which spans a wide range of demographics including firms of about 200 lawyers to firms of over 4000 lawyers as well as firms with one office to firms of over 50 offices, I recommend that ALM add  some normalizing metrics.  This could be done by including questions on resource expenditure per attorney, resource expenditure by office and staff to attorney ratios. Questions such as these would provide valuable metrics for benchmarking.
  • I would like to know the dollar amount of print  resource spending. Yes it will be a kind of deathwatch. Given the increase in sole online provider contracts,
  • I would like to know if the abandonment of access to Lexis or Westlaw in favor of a “sole provider”  forces firms to rebuild print collections of core treatises which are no longer available online or in eLibraries due to the cancellation of the online contract.