Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PLL Summit Keynote: Susan Hackett Delivers A New Vision - Clients Who Want Value Should Demand That Librarians Get "A Seat at the Table"

Susan Hackett, The CEO of Legal Executive Leadership kicked off the  2014 Private Law Libraries Summit with a bang. This year’s theme was  “The Voice of the Client” and  Hackett delivered a powerful message which focused on “Re-engineering the Role and Value of  Private Law Librarian:  Practical Strategies for Leadership in Serving Corporate Clients.”

Susan Hackett Points the Way
Photo (c) Bess Reynolds

We've Come A Long  Way. I couldn't help but contemplate the  trajectory which the Summit has taken since the first Summit in 2010. Although the theme of the  first Summit was "Change as Opportunity,"  it was fear and bewilderment that fueled the discussions. By 2014 the Summit had moved information professionals from survival at the margins to front and center in the delivery of value to clients. Not only did we have Hackett the former Sr. VP and GC  of the Association of Corporate Counsel delivering the keynote, but she was followed by a panel of In House Counsel who reinforced and validated Hackett's insights into the value librarians can bring to multi-disciplinary  client support teams. It is time for information professionals to move from the shadows  of administrative support to center stage  with a seat at the client table and with a voice in the value and process improvement discussions.

Clarifying the Context. Disruption in the legal profession is not solely the result of the recession. Law firms will continue to struggle if they don’t realign their business strategy with delivering value to clients. Law firm’s continue to focus on cost, profit and pricing  which are the symptoms of dysfunction and not the root cause.
The Real Problem Is Client Disconnect: Lawyers still want to sell their expertise by the hour. Clients want to buy business solutions and efficiency.
The Opportunity: Information professionals are uniquely suited to help lawyers leverage the firm's knowledge resources and develop new products, processes and multi-disciplinary strategies which will respond to the client demand for efficient business solutions.
The Innovators Hackett highlighted the innovative initiatives at  two law firms Seyfarth (Lean Six Sigma) and Eversheds (Agile) and two Legal Departments Intel (Dynamic KM) and Cisco (Global Center of Excellence) as examples of workflow reengineering.
Clients Love Data Start demonstrating value by doing time trials. How long does it take for an associate to perform a function that we as information professionals can demonstrably deliver more quickly. Measure the time saved and translate into a value to clients.

Hackett's Examples of Staffing Innovation

      Focus on each person's highest use, not pushing work down

      Demand Management Practices – firms and clients

      “Captive” work centers to drive down project costs

      Design a new kind of “contract lawyer” – you/your team.

      Direct client and firm exposure: training, client deep dives, issue monitoring, etc.

      Assist with feeding or writing blogs, Tweets, Social Media – push knowledge to firms lawyers and clients

      Sourcing increasingly sophisticated work to those who do it faster and cheaper than lawyers

Hackett's Examples of Knowledge Innovation

       Aggressively collect, catalog, and manage data, including big data. Offer it up to clients.
       Create a collaborative knowledge library of firm practices or one that shares clients’ practices.  Offer it up to clients.
      “Proof of Concept” Discussions – questions posted online in firm communities are answered communally and archived.    

      Assign associates to capture partner knowledge experience as part of their training – catalog it for future training.

      Make knowledge capture a legacy project for elder partners

      Create playbooks, process maps, trainings, etc. 

Disruption Equals Opportunity. According to Hackett the primary competition for law firms is not other law firms, it is the legal department itself. As legal departments become more efficient, information innovators can help law firms develop value strategies and services which can help firms compete effectively with their clients.

The Bottom Line: Stop selling ourselves to our law firms, start selling our value to the clients.


  1. Did anyone ask this question of the in-house counsel panel, and if yes, what was the response? Question: Retainer agreements now require that if the best person to perform a task at the most cost-effective level is not an attorney but, for example, a paralegal, then the paralegal should be used and billed accordingly. Yet the same agreement states categorically that there will be no cost reimbursement for librarian time, meaning skilled professional researcher time. If the librarian is the person best suited to the task of certain kinds of research, why would the company not be willing to pay for that time under their theory of best suited personnel perform the appropriate work?

    1. This is an excellent point. I don't recall this specific question being asked. But you are right, many agreements specifically don't allow firms to bill for research time spent by the most efficient and highly qualified researchers in the organization. Perhaps this public discussion will help reverse that trend. But your comment will definitely inspire me to write a new blogpost. Susan Hackett at one point suggested that the most important thing to focus on finding opportunities to deliver value and efficiency to clients - this would go beyond research to developing KM resources, templates and workflows.... enabling the efficiency of the entire client team... the entire organization!