A couple of weeks ago I presented an interactive session on how law firm libraries can create new value at the Ark conference Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library, Research & Information Services (aka Ark Library). In this post, I share my slides, some session highlights, the voting results of the interactive portion, and a link to my live presentation.

Session Goals. I’ve appended my slides below and you can listen to my presentation synced to slides at YouTube, so I won’t cover details of the content here. I designed the session with two main goals:

  1. Prompt research and intelligence professionals to think about ways they can align with firm strategy and boost firm profits.
  2. Rank systematically those options, specifically mapping them by relative ease and value.

Nine Ideas to Improve Contribution to Firm Profitability. I presented nine ideas, enumerated below, for group discussion and voting.

  • Improve cost recovery
  • Offer fee-based services directly to clients
  • Support winning more pitches
  • Identify opportunities, both specific ones and trends
  • Deliver more actionable insights and fewer research dumps
  • Support firm digital offerings
  • Rationalize research + intelligence operations
  • Centralize business research
  • Negotiate better contracts (I know, everyone is working on this)

Rating Ideas on a 2×2 Grid. For each idea, I polled the audience on two dimensions: ease and value. By laying out the ideas on these rankings, one can quickly see which ideas are most favorable using the 2×2 grid below. As with all 2×2 grids, the scoring is designed to put the best option in the upper right quadrant and the worst ones in the lower left.

The Voting Process. Voting was by show of hands of the audience of 100+ research + intelligence professionals. Kevin Klein, the Ark conference director and I eyeballed the show of hands and agreed on a score. The results of the voting appear in this chart:

Comments on Dispersion of Votes. Votes on ease show nice dispersion. In contrast, votes for value show limited dispersion with all choices above the mid-way mark. That all rated well suggests the list of options is a good one. A risk in voting when all the options are good is this lack of dispersion. With more time, one could either iterate the vote to create dispersion or combine the vote with a forced value ranking.

Agree or Disagree with the Results, Have a Strategy. Whether you agree with the nine options and/or the voting results, is not the most important takeaway here. Rather, you should take from this the importance of systematic planning and having a clear strategy. Every library / research + intelligence center should have a clearly articulated strategy that aligns with the firm strategy and that consciously seeks to boost profits. Other approaches work – what I presented is just one idea. Whatever approach you take, however, a one-page result that you can easily and quickly present to management.

Discussion Highlight 1: Research vs. Insight. Two elements of our discussion stood out for me. One was the difference between presenting research results as a collection of articles with little or no interpretation versus drawing conclusions and insights. I believe that consumers of research want insight, not research dumps. Most audience members, however, appeared reluctant to do more than gather the information. I thinks that will put librarians in a bad position over time. For example, in the weeks prior to the conference, I met with two old friends who lead business management planning for their large law firms. Both reported frustration that the response to their complex research request was a dump of articles. Both were unhappy with how much time they had to spend synthesizing meaning and insight.

Discussion Highlight 2: Outsourcing. The other highlight was outsourcing. Yes, my day job is with LAC Group, which, among other services, provides managed services for law libraries. I work where I think I can have impact so my views are honestly held. I believe senior law firm staff must add as much value as possible. For librarians, this means combining deep knowledge of their firms with market knowledge and research. Outsourcing frees up time to focus on higher value activity. And especially outsourcing the more routine aspects of research, or highly domain specific research, lets librarians focus on where they can add the most value. I had a lively discussion on this point with an audience member and we had to agree to disagree.