Are Law Librarians Different Leaders Now?

Theresa Greco | May 20, 2021

A year spent in quarantine has changed life for all of us; both personally and professionally. Things that were once commonplace are no longer. The pandemic has forced law firms and their leaders to change and adapt at extraordinary rates. As problem solvers, librarians were quick to step up and step in and demonstrated their ability to be strong leaders. Let there be no doubt, the role of a professional law librarian has changed significantly, and we are surely different leaders than we were this time last year.

This year’s ARK Group Law Firm Libraries Conference, sponsored by HBR Consulting, delved into the expectations of librarians as strategic thinkers and leaders within their organizations. The event was moderated by Joanne Kiley, Senior Manager at HBR. Kiley spearheaded the event by asking attendees to set an intention to commit to a few actionable outcomes that they will take as a result of the conference, thus providing a theme of commitment to implementation and change that continued throughout every session.

The two-day symposium was packed with content focused on change management, aligning teams, the power of analytics to meet leadership goals, and several other pertinent topics that have sprung up over the past year. It was an excellent opportunity for individuals to hear from their peers on what is working and what is not and to work through essential items such as print solutions, vendor relations in the “new normal,” opportunities for automation to create efficiency, and tips on contract negotiation.

A few highlights were:

  • Keynote speaker Dr. Melvin Smith discussed the significance of change management approaches and the tactics needed to put people in the proper “space” for change. In his presentation Expert Perspective on Change Management – Tap into Emotional Intelligence Principles to be a Change Agent at Your Firm, he discussed the “right” and “wrong” ways to lead change and the importance of understanding one’s self before trying to understand others. During the session, three requirements for leaders to have a competitive advantage became apparent: 1. Leading with a clear vision of your ideal future state; 2. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your current state; 3. Focusing on the necessary behavior changes.
  • The session titled Everything Else has Changed: Why We Need to Establish a New Definition of Research, led by HBR Director Colleen Cable alongside Bill Josten of Thomson Reuters, discussed the value of revisiting how we define “research.” Like most services that librarians provide, legal research has evolved over the years; however, “research” is typically used as a catch-all. The speakers discussed the importance of redefining what “research” is within their organization and ensuring that attorneys, administrative departments, and firm leadership fully understand the scope and scale of services that the department is providing. A poll of the session attendees revealed that 37% believe that their leadership does not know what librarians are capable of when it comes to “research,” which reiterated the fact that a “new definition” is most certainly needed.
  • And finally, Aligning Marketing & Research Teams: Making the Most of Your Structure Regardless of What It Is was led by Kathy Skinner, Director of Research & Information Services, and Simon Cheong, Director of Market Research, both at White & Case. The session focused on ways to collaborate across teams, work with outsourced researchers, and provide value-added services directly to clients. Building relationships beyond the library is key; uniting and leveraging knowledge across departments allows for the creation of innovative solutions to client problems.

As the stay-at-home orders and mask mandates expire, we don’t know what the future holds for law librarians, but more than ever, initiating important conversations with firm leadership is critical. A transformation awaits the profession, and much of it depends on librarians being leaders. Knowledge leaders should carry forward the best of what we can offer and relinquish the rest. We are different leaders now and the goal is to move ahead, empower and make a difference in the legal community.

As a reminder, register to participate in HBR’s Benchmarking + Legal Information Services Survey (BLISS). Participating firms receive access to an interactive benchmarking tool that will allow you to:

  • Benchmark data by firm type
  • Understand trends that impact the industry
  • Use data to support operational decisions

Click here for more information on the 2020 BLISS Survey report.