Law Firm Librarians Feel Underused and Underpaid

Aug. 13, 2015, 3:18 PM

Last month, Bloomberg Law surveyed 80 librarians from large and medium sized law firms about their respective roles. The result? Law firm librarians feel underutilized as analysts and underpaid for the analytical work they’re already doing.

Ninety-three per cent of respondents said their library resources and training could be put to greater use servicing their firms’ business development functions, and 77 percent felt their compensation was not commensurate with analysts in similar industries.

The survey was occasioned by the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) , where Bloomberg Law representatives polled some librarians in person, and others later, over email.

Bloomberg Law, a legal and business intelligence tool, is owned by Bloomberg BNA. BNA is also the publisher of Big Law Business.

Bloomberg Law President David Perla said librarians have a competency and expertise that lends itself to business development — they have the research skills to dig into business and industry information, and the analytical skills to forecast trends and their impacts on various areas of law.

“Librarians are saying, ‘We can help a firm anticipate what a client is going to need. We can be ahead of the client,’” Perla said.

The proposal pairs nicely with what Fortune 500 general counsel, in interviews with Big Law Business over the last several months, have been saying they want from law firms : better understanding of clients’ businesses and industries.

AALL president Keith Ann Stiverson agreed that expanded roles as analysts and business development personnel represent a logical evolution for law firm librarians.

Stiverson said, “They’re keyed in to the firm’s culture. It’s a natural step for them to be doing business research, marketing, and all sorts of stuff.”

The survey results support the notion that librarians have, or at least feel they have, a good handle on a law firm’s “big picture.”

Asked to identify ways in which they demonstrate the value of their function, 81 percent of respondents said they add value by “pushing necessary information, relevant news, legal developments, client intelligence, etc. to targeted stakeholders.”

Of course the law firm librarian role has already been changing for years, as law firms have looked to do more with less by downsizing libraries as records go online .

Now, Perla said, librarians are “managing information resources — sometimes many dozens of service providers, both enterprise-level service providers and niche providers focused on a particular area of law. They have to understand the firm’s work flow, they have to be able to negotiate, and they’re the evaluator of record for these service providers.”

According to Perla, law firms are currently using librarians’ skills as researchers and analysts, but for the most part only in a “reactive” way.

Putting librarians at the forefront, having them spend more time thinking about the future, instead of giving them research problems as issues come up, makes sense for firms, Stiverson said.

“Things are changing all the time,” she said. “It’s the law firm librarian who sees it first.”

If librarians feel underused at the moment, the survey also suggests they may be expecting their roles to evolve just as Perla and Stiverson are suggesting.

Asked to identify areas where their responsibilities will likely go up in the future, 75 percent said “competitive intelligence,” and 65 percent said “business development.”

Although 77 percent of respondents said they felt their firms were “very receptive” or “somewhat receptive” to efforts at expanding the role of librarians, Perla said he doesn’t think there’s been a robust discussion, industry-wide, about the role of law librarians.

It may be that librarians, true to stereotype, are too quiet.

“Librarians are good at answering questions and taking care of problems, not necessarily saying, ‘Hey, I did this,’” Stiverson said. “I think that might be the disconnect.”

In any event, as of last month, the librarians have spoken. Their message: we have a very special set of skills ,skills we’ve acquired over a long career, and law firms should use them.


Below are a few excerpts from the survey. Read the full results here .

[Image “Screenshot 2015-08-13 10" (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Screenshot-2015-08-13-101.jpg)]

[Image “graph 1" (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/graph-11.jpg)] [Image “chart 4" (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/chart-4.jpg)] [Image “chart 3" (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/chart-31.jpg)]

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