Law Firm Libraries Find Their BLISS as Strategic Business Partners

Lauren Odom | March 06, 2020

Since 2016, HBR has surveyed law firm library leadership to gain insights into the current state of library operations, including staffing, tools and budget priorities. In 2019, HBR launched the Benchmarking + Legal Information Services Survey (BLISS), providing, for the first time, the ability to segment the data and identify the most relevant information via an interactive dashboard. Not only does the survey provide benchmarking information against which individuals can track their progress, it also yields insights into overall direction as we enter a new decade.

2019 responses suggest that the role of a law firm information professional is changing, and library services are evolving. Post-2008, law firms are operating in a market characterized by increased competition in client retention, business development and lateral partner recruiting and, as a result, the needs of the userbase have changed. Knowledge is power in a competitive market, and as the experts in research and resources, the library is expected act as a strategic partner to the firm. Libraries are adapting their services to become more tactical and managing functional areas like current awareness, competitive intelligence and knowledge management.

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics into research platforms became more common in 2019. Seventy-four percent of respondents have purchased one or more AI tools and, of those, 69% are considering additional tools. As the relationship manager between their law firm and research platform vendors, information professionals support the acquisition of these new technologies. Law firm librarians are also in the position to maximize the ROI on new technology by serving as in-house experts in tool efficiency and providing user training.

Law firm libraries are playing a larger role in competitive intelligence and business development initiatives, with 51% of respondents indicating that they manage these functions. While law firm libraries have been known to conduct competitive intelligence research, we have noticed that the nature of the work is transitioning from curating relevant materials and obtaining pre-packaged reports to analyzing information, adding insights and providing actionable recommendations. In the coming years, we expect to see the maturation of the competitive intelligence function as owned by the library.

While information professionals have traditionally operated behind the scenes to provide attorneys with resource and research support, 2019 survey respondent data suggest that they are becoming more client-facing; 74 percent of respondents perform research directly for or with clients on a case-by-case basis. This finding suggests that law firms value the work performed by their information professionals and feel comfortable, in some cases, with removing the library-attorney handoff. This finding may also be client-driven, as efficiency is becoming increasingly important. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops and its impact.

Law firms are bottom-line driven, and libraries understand the importance of communicating the value of their services and resources. Respondents indicated that communication is a top priority, following budget for resources and staff. With library management tools including ILS, resource metering and research tracking, library leadership can communicate their department’s value and identify opportunities for efficiency as supported by data.

As we prepare for the 2020 BLISS survey, we are excited to track these and other trends and watch new developments unfold. Libraries are feeling the impact of the changing expectations regarding the resources and services needed to fully support their users. It will not come as a surprise to industry insiders that librarians are being proactive in their response and preparation for the future state of law firm libraries.

For more information, please contact Click here to participate in the 2020 survey.