Friday, August 3, 2012

Practice Group Oracles and Knowledge Engines: Law Librarians Climb the Value Ladder


Jordan Furlong's keynote address "Climbing the Value Ladder"  at the recent  PLL Summit outlined the critical forces reshaping the legal market. Furlong  concluded his talk with an optimistic array of emerging  roles and responsibilities which obliterate the cliche of "library as administrative cost center." In my experience it is rare moment when a lawyer/consultant escapes the prison of "librarian conventions"  and demonstrates that he not only understands the analytical skills and substantive knowledge of librarians but can re-imagine these skills in strategic new roles in the 21st century law firm.

Some of these roles are already emerging in firms today, from embedded librarians to Competitive Intelligence Analysts, but Furlong turns many an "ear catching" phrase. The list of new roles suggest new possibilities  not only within law firms, but also new client facing roles.

Niche expert resource: You could also call this a "practice group oracle," which sounds much better. This person is a kind of permanent attache to a practice or industry group who is fully versed in the law and legal developments in a given subject and who lawyers can contact with topic-specific questions or research requests.

Bespoke CPD designer: Professional development (as distinct from "CLE," which remains fixated on lectures) is the next natural evolutionary step for law librarians. Assign a librarian or knowledge manager to become a key lawyer's personal PD coach and guru, interviewing the lawyer about his or her practice, clients, industry, specialties, interests, ambitions, etc., then provide a steady stream of learning and networking opportunities to help advance the lawyer's goals.

LPM coordinator: Legal project management is all about creating a structure and discipline around legal workflow --designing processes, milestones and collaboration requirements to ensure that a given legal project proceeds on time and on budget to the client's specified conclusion. Process is knowledge's first cousin, making the transition natural for law librarians.

Business intelligence director: This also encompasses the similar but distinct category of competitive intelligence; in both cases, it's a position that strives to tell the law firm what it needs to know about its operating theater, its competitors, its clients, its industry sectors, etc. This can be a case of revealing what the firm doesn't know that it knows.

External - Services to Clients

Legal knowledge liaison: A practice group oracle who alternatively or additionally is assigned to perform the same knowledge resource and research functions for a key client in the practice or industry group.

Expert application programmer: Based on emerging applications like Neota Logic, which integrates sophisticated legal knowledge management into a logic-driven decision-tree questionnaire, this job involves designing programs that can answer a firm's most commonly asked legal, regulatory and compliance questions.

AFA coordinator: Every law firm needs to offer alternative fee arrangements in an intelligent and profitable manner, and many are hiring new Directors of Pricing to do so; many successful candidates for these key positions are knowledge managers.

Amazon.law engineer: Based on my column about Amazon.law, the idea is to engineer a firm-specific system that will analyze every data point of client interaction with a firm and, like Amazon, "recommend" certain products, services or knowledge streams for key clients.

Cost Center to Knowledge Engine

The most compelling line of his talk was both a declaration and a challenge. "Law librarians are not running a cost center they are running the knowledge engine of the law firm." 

The most strategic among us have already shifted focus to strategic knowledge services, but for those who have not, it may soon be too late.


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