Law library outsourcing

09Dec10

A few months ago, for my Slaw column, I wrote on outsourcing the law library and what it would mean. I ended up having more questions than answers. A short while after that post was published, I received a call from Integreon, asking me if I would like to have some of my questions answered. Here’s the result of that interview.

I have to admit I was surprised to hear from The Davies Murphy Group, Integreon’s public relations firm, telling me that several of the company’s leaders had read my post. I mostly blog here, and we don’t have a ton of readers. I had forgotten how many people read Slaw, and I’d not thought about how many organizations monitor social media to keep up with their online reputation. Which is actually quite funny, as I monitor my firm’s online reputation! I had to quickly think “Did I say anything bad?” Of course I hadn’t, I’d just had that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach like when you get called into the principal’s office as a kid.

I was happy to have the opportunity to speak with Eleanor Windsor, Vice President, Knowledge and Business Development Services. She gave me a brief  history of the firm. She talked about the glass ceiling of a firm’s legal library, and how Integreon can offer a more interesting career choice. There is the opportunity to focus on the areas that you enjoy more. For instance, if you love searching out details for competitive intelligence, then you can spend your day just doing that. In a firm, as I well know, library staff take on administrative duties as well as research and collection development, but working at Integreon, you can develop your skills in one particular area, if that’s what you prefer. This allows those who prefer cataloguing to spend their days MARC coding.

Eleanor shared many success stories where outsourcing the law library benefitted both the organization and the library staff. One organization  moved their law library out of their offices to a separate location, but retained one staff member who would visit the firm to keep up with the hardcopies. They quickly realized that nobody was actually using the physical library, and Integreon started serving the firm remotely. {I don’t know if the library staff of this firm would consider this a success story!)

I was very interested in the process of going about making this change. Eleanor advised that there was a transition to ensure that both sets of clients (the lawyers and the library staff) continued to have their needs met. They use a variety of solutions, depending on the firm. Research could mostly be handled by email or telephone, and the rest were a combination of on-site/off-site visits. In some cases, firm libraries were already serving clients in more than one location, so the move to Integreon didn’t make much of a difference at all.

I also wondered how legal publishers felt about this. Many of the proprietary databases are charged based on the number of lawyers in the firm, so I wondered if Integreon had a license to use their subscriptions for their clients. Eleanor didn’t have a full answer on that, but she did say they were in discussions with the publishers, and that things were mostly looking quite favourable. One area they were successful in was getting the word out on some niche products. For example, her staff may know about a smaller, unique database that a firm may not know about, and may end up getting the firm a free trial and introduction to a new resource.

While they haven’t set up a hard copy library yet, they are looking into it. They have copies of the principal works, but full implementation is still in development. Along with selection processes, there are also copyright laws to consider.

One thing I was very curious about was how do you take the library out of the firm, and yet still leave a library? There are several staffing models that Integreon can handle. One model retains a staff member (now employed by Integreon) on site, who will provide the upkeep on the library itself while all the other library services (research, invoicing, purchasing, current awareness, etc.) are completed by remote staff at Integreon’s location. Since Integreon is now the employer, economies of scale can reduce the cost of employing a full time library staff, whatever your needs are. Those doing research will provide those services for several firms, ensuring that they are busy all day, and the same with the other areas of the business.

One thing I do like about this is that Integreon has given librarians who want to work “differently” another option. Being an independent information professional requires creating a business model, searching for clients and handling billing as well as collections, on top of doing the actual work you solicit. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, but are not ready to make the leap to full-fledged consultant, this could be an in-between step.

I was very favourably impressed with Integreon’s law library model, at least as I understand it. I’m not sure if it’s ready for the Canadian legal market yet though (or vice versa!). I’m not worried about my own job, however. In my market, I see it as providing a service for smaller firms that can’t afford a librarian. It would also be great if it were an organization that I could call on to provide a substitute for vacation relief. A larger market, like Toronto or Vancouver, would be the logical first place to start.

I thought it was important that I digest all the information so I could represent it fairly, and I recognize it is a controversial area. Any information presented here is my personal opinion. If I got anything wrong, I’d like to offer representatives of Integreon the opportunity to correct it in the comments.

About these ads


9 Responses to “Law library outsourcing”

  1. 1 Philip

    I can’t help wondering how a law firm would handle ‘sharing’ a librarian with other firms. There is a certain amount of trust that is developed between Lawyer and Librarian, and I seem to recall, when i worked for a law firm, I was expected to maintain a certain level of discretion regarding my research and connections with the outside community.

    Perhaps this is no different than some of the library services currently offered by Law Societies, services that smaller law firms especially can find useful. How does this kind of service square with the law societies?

    • 2 Karen

      That’s a good point, and one I wondered about too. Integreon has set up specific secure entry points for its clients so that confidentiality is maintained. And if a firm feels the topic is too sensitive, they can always choose to keep it in house. (Of course that defeats the purpose of outsourcing.)

      Regarding the services of the law society, I think Integreon’s service is much more in depth. Law societies aren’t staffed to provide current awareness monitoring or competitive intelligence research. I have great respect for the Manitoba Great Library staff, as they tend to fill in the gaps of my knowledge, rather than compete with it. I’m not fully aware of what they offer for small firms, but I’m sure it’s invaluable for those lawyers.

    • 3 Mikhail Koulikov

      Philip,

      From a small firm’s perspective, having some access to a librarian or information professional is better than having no access at all – and with so many other things that are (and have always been) outsourced, this is really not particularly different. The U.S. membership libraries that provide these kinds of services (the New York Law Institute, Boston’s Social Law Library, Philadelphia’s Jenkins, and now, even the public LA Law Library) all place an emphasis on essentially combining the best of outsourced library staffing – with access to physical collections that a “pure” for-profit firm like Integreon is probably not quite able to provide.

      • 4 Philip

        Mikhail,

        I agree, and membership libraries certainly serve an invaluable function. And I don’t expect there is really much danger of the Librarian sharing secrets with clients from competing firms, no more than as I librarian, I don’t discuss what a particular student in a university setting was searching. It just wouldn’t be professional.

  2. 5 B Wong

    Law library outsourcing is likely the wave of the future, but I offer some food for thought. When I toured 3 law libraries that moved into a new Toronto office tower, all of them emphasized aspects like informal computer training space, and a social meeting space, in the form of comfy chairs or big table to spread out legal treatises. Libraries have a social function that I suspect the law library outsourcing model does not attach value to.

    • 6 Philip

      I agree with you, the space of a library serves more than a repository of information. That service can certainly be provided through outsourcing.

      I am reminded, Brenda, not only of the social function all libraries serve, from law libraries to public libraries, but also the grand spaces designed for lawyers to gather, congregate etc. Think of the Inns in London. I’m not suggesting all law libraries need to be that grand, but you certainly raise a good point that needs to be considered.

      A law firm I worked in had some very nice comfy chairs with a spectacular view. No, it didn’t improve the resources we had, but it was a space conducive to deep research, and space that denoted power. I’ll leave that with you how you want to take that. Suffice it to say that space, in some cases matters almost as much as content, perhaps more, in this day and age of electronic resources.

  3. That’s true what Philip said – I can’t help wondering how a law firm would handle ‘sharing’ a librarian with other firms. It could be too risky and dangerous.

  4. 8 Cindy Martin

    What if a lawyer wanted to conduct their own research, is there any access available for resources to search online? What about after hours when lawyers need to compile cases for authority lists? I see that integreon moved into the outsourcing of library markets around 2009. I would very much like to see any independent studies that have been undertaken to monitor how the uptake has been going by law firms, have any for instance returned to maintaing their own library team or librarian. I noticed from a comment above that in some cases a librarian is available onsite – I am curious about this, it seems like the librarian face to face contact is still considered valueable and a physical collection is supported, surely the cost savings can’t be that more? Maybe publishers should be working with librarians to offer more competitive pricing structures direct to firms to help keep costs down, how can Integreon be competitive in this aspect?

    • 9 Karen

      I hadn’t thought about that, but that’s a good point. Assuming you’re outsourcing your library, you’re also outsourcing your electronic resources, otherwise how will it be cost effective? It’s not quite the same as outsourcing payroll.

      Food for thought.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 357 other followers

%d bloggers like this: