Saturday, July 23, 2011

PLL Summit - Joan Axelroth - What Law Firm Administrators Want Librarians to Know

The second half of the morning at PLL Summit allowed attendees to attend 2 out of 5 summaries from the PLL's Law Firm Management webinar program (we got to choose which two). These are notes are from a 30 minute session with  library and information management consultant Joan Axelroth on law firm administration. Note: these are my notes from this session; any inaccuracies or omissions are my own.

Rather than summarize her webinar, Joan Axelroth asked us to work through the questions that James Jones posed to us in the morning.

Q:  How will these likely changes in law firm management models impact traditional library/information services?

A: Obvious answer: budget cuts, reduced staffing and access to services.

One law firm embedded their librarians into departments; this was very successful. Their billable hours have increased (doubled!); they may be a way to use this to justify more staff. 

Has anyone thought about not pricing library time hourly?  In some firms it may depend on the arrangement with the clients - some time billed to clients; some written off.  Even if the firm is using alternative billing methods, they still need to account for time and still ask the library staff members to track their hours.

In some firms, marketing departments are now hiring librarians directly. This new market is forcing librarians and other departments to partner more to get things done. One librarian related a story of creating a business analyst position within her library; within a year it was moved to the Marketing Department.

The mantra is to break down silos, but it is difficult to collaborate. 

With vendor products aimed at different departments, they try to use economies of scale to share services between departments.

In one firm the CIO was put in charge of the electronic resources. This was expected to be horrible; however, it turned out to be useful. It brought departments together to talk about the resources; it reduced duplication and also helped the CIO understand how difficult it is to turn down an attorney when he or she needs a resource simply based on cost.

What have you done to support the changes your management has been making in response to the economic downturn?

One response: they had to write a monthly report. It was dreaded at first, but forced the library director to set down what they were doing, geared them up for what was coming up.  

Some partners are now micro-managing more. What is the budget, how far off are you on your budget, do you have any new contracts? You have to address what they want to know. How do you get them to listen? You need to say it in a way they will hear - the value they will get.  Put it into terms they will listen to e.g. dollars and cents. If you don't find the right approach, try it again. Do they want a quarterly oral report, do they want a written report, do they want one page, bulleted? 

Some tips from the group discussion:

  • You should be reading what Hildebrandt is blogging and publishing. 
  • Be ready for an elevator speech. 
  • Follow clients in the news and be ready to talk about them.
  • It is amazing how much your vendors know about your organization - they may be able to point you to people internally to speak with.

If you have ideas about making the firm more effective and cost efficient (that clients are looking for), how do you communicate that?

Becomes political - you have to be careful not to go over someone's head. You can't go over the other departments and speak directly with the managing partner. Instead try to talk with the other departments and come up with a new model first.

Even though you may have an org chart, it may not show you where the real power is. You can learn where the power is and use it to your advantage. 

See also: blog post by Mary Ellen Bates also covering this session.

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