Librarian value to law firm clients

Susan Hackett presented the keynote at the 2014 Private Law Libraries Summit, a preconference program of the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting. Law librarian Jean P. O’Grady summarized the address on her Dewey B. Strategic blog, in a post entitled “PLL Summit Keynote: Susan Hackett Delivers A New Vision – Clients Who Want Value Should Demand That Librarians Get ‘A Seat at the Table.’

Hackett recommends an approach to demonstrating the value of law firm library services that differs from most other approaches in terms of audience. Usually when law firm librarians are encouraged to demonstrate their value, the intended recipient of that information is law firm leadership. Hackett suggests that efforts to improve understanding of the value of law firm library services would be better directed toward law firm clients. In my opinion, this is both completely correct and extremely challenging.

Hackett is right that law firm clients are the key decisionmakers. If major corporate clients insist that they need legal services delivered in a particular way, as long as it is not illegal or unethical, their lawyers will perform astonishing feats to make it happen, including convincing law firm leadership to make changes to the way things have always been done.

The difficulty law firm librarians face in convincing the firm’s clients of their value is that librarians are currently so undervalued that some clients are refusing to pay for their services on itemized bills; the lack of traceable revenue weakens the perception of librarians’ value internally; and without being perceived as high-value contributors to the firm’s delivery of legal services, librarians are generally excluded from opportunities for face time with clients, such as pitches, status meetings, and so on. Without ever meeting and talking with the firm’s clients, librarians will find it hard to convince those clients to reconsider librarians’ value.

Hackett presents two specific ways law firm librarians can increase their visibility to clients:

  • Offer live events such as deep-dive training and issue-monitoring updates directly from librarians to clients.
  • Write blogs and post to social media accounts that clients follow.

These are standard business-development ideas that are often suggested to lawyers to help them market their skills and start building relationships with a firm’s current and potential clients. I think Hackett is right that librarians would greatly benefit from marketing their own unique skills using a similarly direct-to-client approach.