Which department should get the law library?

12Mar10

I’ve been following #lma10 (Legal Marketing Association 2010 Conference ) on Twitter for the past couple of days. It’s been an amazing experience to “overlisten” (as my friend April calls eavesdropping) on the discussions. One issue that has law librarians steaming (or not) is where to put the law firm library. One U.S. firm, Morrison Foerster, has put their library under the authority of the marketing department.

Over on 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, Greg Lambert shares his thoughts on why he doesn’t think the library and marketing go together, and this generated a large number of comments (full disclosure: I’m the first commenter). On Slaw.ca, Connie Crosby linked to Greg’s post, and while there’s only one comment, the post itself has been retweeted 19 times.

Meanwhile, today on the Vancouver Law Librarian Blog, Steve Matthews has responded with a definite no to joining the marketing department. I disagree with Steve on this point. Let me explain.

As I’ve often mentioned, I’m a solo librarian in my firm. When I started here four years ago, the focus of the work of the library was maintaining the collection, advising on new purchases, doing a ton of looseleaf filing, and the occasional research assignment, which usually involved finding case law, after having been given either the style of cause or the citation. In fact, Item #1 on my job description was “Keeping the library tidy.” Supporting the lawyers’ work product, like Steve talks about? – not so much.

In these four years, however, I have adopted so many technical aids that if I were just to do what I did in the beginning, I’d be doing nothing for most of my day. I promote myself to my lawyers all the time, and I’ve made some inroads, but for the most part, my lawyers want their research done by other lawyers. In fact, I once did a really interesting assignment for a senior partner, and then he said he’d get an articling student to check it!

So after hitting my head against a brick wall for a couple of years, I decided to look at what niches were not being filled, and try to fill them. I noticed there wasn’t really anyone doing research on business development. I approached a senior associate, and volunteered my services to help him grow his business. This was incredibly successful, and he’s now a partner in the firm. I have also become accepted as the firm’s leader in using social media for business.

So when I say, “I would love to be part of the marketing department”, I think I really mean, “I would love to be part of ANY department”, (although not IT). If you’re part of a 15-member law firm library, then I can see that being part of the Marketing Department may be  seen as an erosion in the value of the work of the library, but in a firm like mine, maybe I’m just looking for any way I can generate a presence. Based on my discussions with my local colleagues, I’m not sure that it’s any different for them.

Anyone else care to comment?

~ Karen

Update March 15:  The discussion continues on the Law Librarian Blog: Carpe Diem Gen X and Y Law Librarians



6 Responses to “Which department should get the law library?”

  1. 1 Kimberly

    Hey Karen. You say that you “volunteered your services” to grow the lawyer’s business. Then the lawyer was ultimately made a partner. How were you rewarded or acknowledged for your efforts or should I say, were you?

  2. If you do any kind of collection development work, then I suspect you are more integral to the lawyer’s work product than you (or they) realize. And the important term here is ‘support’, and not necessarily conducting the research *for* lawyers. If no one actively brings in quality material, generates current awareness, notifies practice groups when legislation changes, or routes topical & potentially important decision … the firm’s work product, as a whole, will undoubtedly suffer. IMO.

    Or going further… how about the training of law students? That support lays a foundation that allows senior lawyers to teach their associates how to work with & apply the law. Without it, most firms would have a huge gap in their training process.

    Ask any of the lawyers in your firm who have run solo practices prior to arriving at your firm if they value this type of support? I’ve been told so many times over the years that this was a key part of the decision to come to a larger or mid-sized firm. There’s just not enough time in the day to do keep up with their area of law. And it is important to good legal work.

    I guess I can see your points, but ‘keeping the library clean’ isn’t a librarian’s job. At best, it’s a shelver’s role. IF your firm lets you do the work you’re capable of, they will have a better business because of it. … I just don’t see making that role fit another department’s mandate, especially when it could undermine the valued core services that Libraries bring to the table.

    And just so you don’t think I’m being ornery, I’d just like to say that you’re still one of my favourite librarian bloggers. :)

    • 4 Karen

      Thanks for that perspective Steve. I wish I actually had broader experience in this field, but I’m glad that through blogging I’m getting it!

  3. 5 B Wong

    I think Marketing and the Library tend to have different mandates. I can see where the Library can support Marketing through business intelligence but that is as far as it goes for me. Kudos to Steve and Karen for some civilized debating on this significant issue.

  4. 6 Emma

    I agree with what you say, Karen, about wanting to be a part of ANY department. As a solo, I think it could be a boon to everyone involved. I have been somewhat involved with business development efforts at my current firm, and often wish that I had more time in my day to do those types of tasks. As Steve points out, the best person to keep the library tidy is a shelver. Though over the years I’ve gotten pretty efficient with ordering books, processing invoices, cataloguing, and all those other things that have to happen to keep the physical library running smoothly… but they aren’t the things that are the most enjoyable and challenging. And they certainly aren’t billable.

    I think the thing here is that you and I and so many of our colleagues WANT to work on those more challenging projects because they’re so much more meaningful and satisfying. There’s actually a positive reinforcement: the pleasure of learning we’ve landed a new client, or won a tough case, or won an award. More tangibly, maybe it means a raise or a great performance review. On the flipside, if the library invoices get paid on time, then only perceptible result is that we don’t get calls from the bill collectors! ;) It’s fine and dandy, but completely neutral. No one ever got a big raise for keeping the library tidy.

    In my experience so far, the only way to get the chance to work on those interesting, fun projects is to do one, do it well, and then do another, and another, until people can’t remember what they did without you. You’re on the right track by not just seeking out, but also creating, opportunities to go above and beyond the firm’s expectations of what you can do. Way to go!



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