HBR Consulting  just released the 2020 Benchmarking + Legal Information Services Survey (BLISS). The innovative and interactive delivery format is at least as interesting as the content. The survey focused on the core metrics such as staffing, budgets, and resources but also covered hot topics such as innovation and COVID-19 impact. The survey was undertaken during June and July 2020, three months after most law firms were two months into mandatory work from home. That enabled the  survey designers to capture some insights into how law firms were adapting legal research and knowledge services in response to the pandemic.

I asked Colleen Cable, director at HBR Consulting, to provide some insight into HBR’s goal in creating the survey. According to Cable “HBR recognized that there was a need for law firm library benchmarking data that could be utilized to support decision-making within the firm. This type of benchmarking, available by Am Law segment, is not offered anywhere else in the market, so HBR stepped in and BLISS was born.” One of the things I noticed immediately is that this report captured attorney staff ratios. This has been an elusive “holy grail” of library benchmarks that I have been begging for over the many years I have been reviewing library surveys produced by both associations and commercial companies.

BLISS topics include the following:

  • Cost management opportunities
  • Coordination of print materials
  • Supporting firm innovation initiatives
  • Research requests
  • Work-from-home policies for information professionals

The BLISS survey  includes data from 60 participating law firms across Am Law 100, Am Law 200 and Am Law 200+ segments. The respondents were almost equally allocated across firm size and geography.

The Format’s The Thing

There is no printed BLISS report, but participating law firms can interact with the survey results and view the data based on law firm segment. Users can see how their own responses compare to the data within their firm’s peer group.

  • Key features
    • Deliverable is interactive via a website
    • Ability to segment by firm size to review benchmarks based on participant parameters
    • Trending data included
    • Each participant receives a unique password to access the interactive website
    • On the interactive website, the participant’s individual responses appear below each graph and data point for a quick comparison of one’s firm against the overall responses

Key Takeaways

  • 27% of respondents did intend to increase staffing in the next 12 to 18 months
  • Research requests were up 33% over 2019
  • The number of firms having a sole provider in place in 2020 (39%) remained flat from 2019
  • Due to office closures and the new work-from-home culture mandated by COVID-19, reduction of various print resources accounted for half of the identified cost savings opportunities
  • Though loose-leaf filing is by far the most commonly outsourced library function, there are additional areas where outsourced support is being considered, such as partially outsourced research services (11%) and contract negotiations (16%)
  • The top 5 advanced research tools responding firms are considering purchasing are Westlaw Edge, Checkpoint Edge, Casetext Compose, Courtroom Insight, and Lexis Context
  • While 68% of respondents indicated that their researchers conduct research directly for clients, HBR notes that this is a 10% decrease from 2019 results
  • 2020 collection budgets  increased 4% from 2019, while personnel budgets increased by 3%
  • Only 11% of respondents noted increasing resource budgets, while the remaining respondents were evenly split between maintaining and reducing resource budgets
  • 82% of responding firms use a resource metering tool, like Onelog or Research Monitor, and 59% of responding firms use a research management system, like Quest, to support staffing alignment, make content decisions, and analyze research statistics
  • Even during an economically turbulent year, responding firms spent 4% more on print and digital resources in 2020 than in 2019, with attention to adding tools to support innovation

The Digital Revolution That Stalled

One of the metrics that surprised me most was the percentage of budget still devoted to print resources. E-treatises, ebooks, and online database substitutes have been available for over a decade. While librarians often bear the blame for the high print costs, it is often the partner insistence on the  retention of print that has stalled the revolution. Law librarians who had the foresight to invest in web-enabled catalogs, IP-authenticated e-treatises, and digital desk book shelves over the past decade saved their firms a world of grief and money.

Law firms that had made the digital leap and completely transitioned lawyers to their digital desktops had virtually no start up issues when COVID-19 mandates to work from home were issued last March. By contrast, law firms that still relied on print found themselves locked out of their office libraries and were faced with building the digital libraries and training lawyers during the frantic early WFH days. That inconvenience was coupled with painful cost consequences. Law firms with large print collections were largely stuck with legacy multiyear print-subscription contracts which major vendors such as Lexis and Westlaw refused to cancel or adjust in light of the pandemic and working from home conditions.

Librarians who want to participate in the 2021 survey can register at this link.

Note: This post was previously published on Above the Law.