Friday, November 8, 2013

The Financial Times SLA Report on Information Management Has a Law Firm "Credibility Gap"

Last week the Special Libraries Association and the Financial Times released a report "The Evolving Value of Information Management."  First of all, I want to applaud SLA and the Financial Times for this innovative partnership which obviously addresses a mutual need to foster the value of  both premium content resources and sophisticated content advisers.

I do agree with the reports conclusion that we face  unprecedented opportunities. But we need to also acknowledge unprecedented vulnerability if we do not adapt. This report includes some valuable observations including.....

The Five Essential Attributes:
  • Communicate Your Value
  • Understand the drivers
  • Manage the process
  • Keep up on technical skills
  • Provide "decision ready" information
Crossing the Analysis Divide

The  5th attribute above  is the most important of all. Providing "decision ready" information will take care of number one, communicating our value. Information professionals need to get comfortable analysing, distilling and designing consumable information.The emergence of big data, will create a host of new opportunities requiring a higher level of analytical skills which can benefit  both the business and practice of law. The value proposition will increase and become more visible if these opportunities are seized.
How relevant is the study in the law firm context? There is a Credibility Gap in The Performance Gap Data 

Much as been made of the performance gaps reported in the survey. The report cites legal information professionals as having overestimated the value of their services compared to their colleagues assessment of the information professionals' value. They have the biggest "performance gap." But how credible is the data?

In preparing a "decision ready" assessment of the report,  I focused on the  survey data that was provided in the introduction.  That data is remarkably skewed. There were 832 respondents to the survey and the vast majority of the respondents were information professionals (83%).  Since it is reported that only 17% of the respondents we in a legal environment we have to assume that there were only 149 respondents in the legal field. If 83% of those respondents were information professionals, then there were only 25 legal information consumers. Furthermore it is unclear who those legal information consumers were. How many were partners, associates, C-level executives in other areas such as finance, IT or marketing?  When I "run the numbers" the large performance gap which is suggested  in the legal context has a lot less weight.

The Perception of Value and the Lawyer /Non-lawyer Schism  

Seriously, did the drafters of this survey think that lawyers would view anyone but lawyers as strategically important  to the practice of law? More precisely would any lawyer view his/her fellow lawyers as delivering more value than his/her own work product? I think not! 

If we did want to assess the value of information professionals this would have to be done in the context of how lawyers rate the value of other administrative professionals in their organization ( IT, Finance, Marketing, Professional Development). Our value needs to be contextualized in the perspective of the overall legal environment to have any meaning.

The Value of  Everything is Being Questioned in Law Firms

You name it, the value partners, associates, senior counsel, staff, office space... every aspect of the business and practice of law is under scrutiny due to the ongoing turmoil of the legal market. Indeed, firms  are even questioning the value of certain client relationships!  Has there ever been a more uncertain time to ascertain a value proposition? Nonetheless questions must be asked, but they must be asked carefully and in the proper context.

Other Disconnects from The Legal Context.

The report states that the most cited threat articulated by information professionals in the survey, is that people are bypassing the library and doing their own Google research.

Thanks to Lexis and Westlaw,  lawyers have been doing their own online research for the past 30 years. The current generation of senior partners grew up using one of the more primitive software versions of Lexis and Westlaw. Legal information professionals have been facilitators and trainers encouraging the direct effective use of online resources. Over the past 30 years, instead of coveting the gatekeeper role, legal information professionals have continued to expand and facilitate direct disinter-mediated access to research of the "fact checking" "document pulling" variety - which is the kind of thing that Google is good for. They have instead focused on expanding their portfolio of complex research offerings which address the entire lifecycle of business and practice workflows from competitive intelligence to the emerging opportunities in big data.

The Best News in this report...

is the suggestion that executives are ready to engage with information professionals and they anticipate that such engagement will increase over the next 3 years.
Despite its shortcomings, the report is an interesting read with useful, actionable insights, but more is needed.
We need a study which focuses on the unique challenges legal information professionals in the law firm environment.






1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this report, Jean. I expect the concerns you raise will be addressed by the report currently being commissioned by AALL to assess the value of law libraries.