Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"3 Geeks" Founder Greg Lambert Enters the C Suite At Amlaw 200 Firm Jackson Walker: An Interview With a Geek

Jackson Walker an Amlaw 200 firm based in Texas has promoted Greg Lambert to their roster of C-level leaders.  Lambert  joined the firm as the Director of Library and Research Services in 2012 and became Chief Knowledge Services Officer in February of this year. Lambert made a name for himself as one of the founders and writers of the award winning 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.

My first encounter with Greg occurred at the inaugural PLL Summit in 2010 when he rather
Greg Lambert
prophetically spoke on the topic: "Expanding Your Role: How to Reach the C Level." In the course of his presentation he  raised some uncomfortable issues about the low numbers of librarians at the  C Level in law firms. (Data indicates that fewer than 1% of  the C-level leaders in law firms began their career as librarians.) He pointed out that in the past 20 years librarians were repeatedly at the forefront of introducing new initiatives and technologies above and beyond their core responsibilities as librarians.

These innovations include providing firms with the first link to the Internet, introducing knowledge management (which by the way librarians invented in about 2000 BC), competitive intelligence and formal professional development programming. But instead of having their roles elevated, a strange thing happened… someone else was hired to lead each new initiative. Worst of all the people hired into these new roles were then elevated to the C-Level! The persistence of the pattern is too dramatic to be ignored. But for today, lets celebrate the addition of one more librarian to the C-Suite and congratulate both Greg and Jackson Walker.

I invited Greg to answer some questions about his new role and share his wisdom on law firms and the role of legal information professionals.

What unique perspective and expertise do librarians bring to C-level discussions and strategy?
GL: I think a lot of librarians underestimate what they bring to their organization. I know I’ve mentioned this before to you, but librarians (whatever you call them) are one of the best evaluators of risk that the organization has. Librarians understand the information and knowledge needs of the organization, usually they have significant relationships within the organization, and they know the industry and industry players very well. They are leaders, and need to see themselves as such. No one in the organization has the skill sets that a librarian has. The unfortunate thing is that many times their voices are pushed into the background at times when it should be heard very loudly. Whether that is self-imposed, or something of a traditional stance taken by the organization, it needs to change. Many of us deal with 7 or 8-figure budgets, many of us have multiple departments to manage, coordinate between different Admin and Professional groups within our organization, but when it comes to the strategic goals of our organizations, we are pushed to the sidelines. That just can’t be the norm. I understand that each organization has its own personality on who sets strategy, but we have just got to make more of an effort to get in that discussion. We have so much to add. It’s a disservice to our organization, our profession, and ourselves to not get in on that discussion.

Has this resulted in your being engaged in new projects that people were unaware you could contribute to or advise on?
GL: We've been doing some really great things here, especially with Practice Group alignments. I don't think that this alone has created any additional projects at the moment, but aligns better with what we have been doing since I arrived here. I will say that I have some ideas of projects that I'm going to pitch, but I would have pitched them regardless of what my title was.

What non academic life experiences  have helped you in your career?
GL: A few years ago, some law librarian friends and I started an informal peer group. We call the group “The Bradys” because it started out with a Greg, a Jan, a Cindy, and a Marsha (no kidding). Over the past six or so years, the group has become a core set of 11 folks ranging from Librarians, CI Leaders, Marketing, Pricing, IT, and KM professionals. We also talk a lot on trends we see out there, complain a lot about things we think should be corrected in the industry, but aren’t, and bounce a lot of ideas off of each other. The Bradys have become one of the most successful things I’ve ever been a part of… and it’s really just an unofficial think tank of really smart, really nice people.

What do you think the next generation of info professionals should focus on learning?
GL: One of the thoughts that’s been bouncing around in my head lately is the concept of “Library and _____” or “Information and ____”. When I was in law school in the 90s, there was this movement of classes of “Law and ____” Law and Economics… Law and Religion… etc. I think we’re at a point in time where law firms will always need help in organizing and managing the information needed to keep the firm competitive. However, that just isn’t enough to justify creating an entire department. So we have to make sure that Information Professionals continue to be top notch managers of information, and negotiators with information providers, but that can’t be our only purpose. In fact, it may end up not even being the most important purpose we have within our organization or profession. It’s the other things we do that become the most visible, and most valued (whether actual or perceived) that our organization looks at and understands about what we do. There’s no “Easy Button” when it comes to determining what that service or process is. Each organization has its own set of needs, and it is the smart person that looks to fill that need. The next generation (actually even this generation) needs to find what their organization is failing to accomplish, and find a way to fill that gap. Listen, understand, learn, succeed/fail/regroup and then start over. It’s not about what we solved yesterday, it is about what we are helping to solve tomorrow that counts.

What do you look for in a new hire?
GL: I’ve hired a number of new people since moving jobs a couple years ago. I think I’ve been pretty successful in finding people that are motivated to help, and are willing to interact with others here at the firm. When I have an open position, I usually get a number of well qualified people that apply. In fact, there have been many nights where I stay up fretting over a couple of applicants that are just really close in skill sets and I don’t have a clear winner. I did that a couple years ago, and luckily it turned out that six months later I had a new position open, and I was able to go back to the previous applicant and get her to come work with us. So that’s a long way of saying that I look for people that I think will fit in with the group. I give my people a lot of freedom to conduct their work in the best way that they can, and so far, that has worked very well. I want people that are smart, hard-working, creative, and energetic. At the same time, I want people that have personality, and can interact and have fun with the others here at work. We do not lack for personalities. I'm sure they would tell you that extends all the way up to me.

How should librarians measure their value?
GL: That’s a big question that probably has a thousand different ways to answer. Value is really in the eye of the beholder, and not necessarily in the Librarian’s eye. We need to be viewed as leaders. We need to be viewed as problem solvers. We need to be seen as go-to people to get things accomplished. We need to be in the discussion when it comes to setting the strategies for the organization, and not just worker-bees in accomplishing those goals. There should be an expectation that we will be involved, and noticed when we are missing.

What is your proudest professional achievement?
GL: One of my proudest achievements was one of my very first when I started this career. That was helping in the completion and maintaining of the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network (OSCN.NET). Creating a vendor-neutral resource of legal information for the State of Oklahoma, and making that freely available to everyone was such a fun project, and completely rewarding experience. The pay was terrible, but the reward was fantastic.
A close second is what all we have achieved with the blog, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. I have to say, we never imagined that it would have been as successful as it has turned out to be.

How many years ago did you start 3 Geeks?
GL: We started back in July of 2008. Since then we’ve posted over 1500 blog posts. Some good… some bad… but all were fun and interesting to those of us that wrote them.

Why did you start the blog?
GL: The blog started really on a whim. Lisa Salazar, Toby Brown, and I met for lunch one day and Lisa came up with the idea and the name. From there it has been a whirlwind of activity and additional people that have joined and helped along the way.

How did it help or hurt you career?
GL: It definitely helped, but in ways that may not be obvious. As with many things, what’s important isn’t necessarily how much you know, as opposed to who you know. The blog has opened up many doors to leaders in the industry. There have been many times where I am in on a strategy meeting and a name comes up in the conversation, and I get to say “hey, I know him/her… do you want me to connect you to them?” It may sound a bit shallow, but in this industry, being connected is very powerful.

Did your blogging ever get you into trouble?
GL: I’ve never gotten into trouble for what I’ve written. But, I have gotten into trouble for things others have written. With this blog, we give everyone a pretty long rope to do with as they please. We really only have a few rules, but the big rule is that we don’t give away any internal information from our own places of business or air any dirty laundry. When we poke at vendors, it is usually because they say one thing, and then do another. We hardly ever say that a product is bad (we may say it looks bad, or doesn’t do what it is advertised to do. We get asked to do a lot of product reviews, but very few of those do we actually agree to do.

We try to be very honest, but very fair in what we write. Occasionally, especially with those that don’t post all the time, there is a line that is crossed. We’ve only every pulled one post over the past 8 years, but we did so after talking with everyone involved, and then making that decision. Most of the Geeks have had big transitions in their careers the past few years. Two of us are now C-Levels at different firms, and that takes a bit more of a time commitment than we had at our previous firms. So you may have noticed that the writing had dwindled off a bit over the past couple of years. It’s still a lot of fun to do, and as long as we are having fun, we’ll keep writing.

What is your advice for the next generation of information professionals?
GL: Listen, Learn, Act. Do something interesting. Do something a little risky, but understand, and let those that are affected by your actions, understand what the goals are. Get involved in your organization. Understand what’s important, and help achieve those goals. Accept recognition. You can still be humble in your acceptance, but make sure everyone knows that you’re a leader that has taken action and succeeded. The key is understanding you have the ability to contribute to your organization. Once you understand that, take the lead and own it. When you’re truly valued by the organization, you don’t have to tell everyone that you are valuable… they already know it.

Related Posts: No Room in the C Suite for Strategic Information Leaders aka Librarians: The Long Shadow of "Help Wanted Female?"

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