An Educated Team Makes All The Difference

Business development teams within law firms increasingly play a pivotal role in a firm’s success. Intense competition among law firms for business is a given as clients continue to question billable rates and new attorney salaries show no signs of leveling off. Developing new business opportunities has always been important to a thriving law firm; now it is an imperative. It is critical that firms demonstrate their expertise in very targeted ways. Business development / marketing teams are the most efficient and effective resource to do this well. Your team is the key to ensuring that your firm excels at the business of knowing – and showcasing – its strengths.

To raise your profile at the firm and have lawyers seek out your team for collaboration, you must speak the lawyers’ language. Your marketing-savvy business development team is already expert at communicating your firms’ legal work and how your lawyers are a cut above the rest, but they also need to understand the business of the firm. We recommend providing your business development team with a substantive training on legal practice areas and also, how to get actionable specifics from your lawyers for productive searches. With this information, your team will be able to optimize lawyers’ time on marketing efforts while also becoming the go-to group the lawyers rely on to translate their work into a persuasive case for new business.

In LKO Information Management’s ongoing efforts to provide our clients with strategically aligned service delivery, we are developing an education program for law firms that covers two areas:

  1. Getting the right information – understand the questions to ask and searches to conduct
  2. Understanding the Practice:
    • What does it mean to practice law that intersects with the government?
    • Why does a litigation not necessarily involve court?
    • What are the keys to transactional practice?

By empowering your business development team with this information, you position them to provide the best service possible, which ultimately, will show in your bottom line.

Five Steps For Creating Strategically Aligned Research Services

Librarians face the constant challenge of showing the value of our services beyond the walls of the library itself by creating an association between library research teams and information.  The key is delivering value-add information at the right time and in the right way to enable and inform decision making in support of customers and running the business.  In a law firm or corporate environment, it means balancing proactive information delivery and responsive research for clients, internal departments, project teams, and management.   This means resetting the service expectations of internal customers and assumptions regarding the needs of those customers.  Five steps for making the shift are:

  1. Defining your audiences – Look at every aspect of your business and the clients you support.   Where can you add value?   Understand your client base, your practice areas and divisions, and your internal management structure.  Don’t constrain yourselves by your existing client base.  Look beyond whom you support today and define who you want to support going forward.
  2. Defining your services – Services should be both proactive and reactive.  In the research business we want to both provide information in anticipation of potential uses and in response to direct requests.  Definition of those services is key to providing consistent, reliable results.  Know what you do, how you do it, and what you don’t do.
  3. Promoting your services – Promotion of services and the value of your team should be a continual process.  Take advantage of every available medium to increase awareness and promote new offerings.  Attend meetings, use your intranet or internal portal, and encourage team members to actively promote when interacting with customers.  Every touch point should be an opportunity to increase awareness of you services and the value they bring.
  4. Providing training – Training should take many forms and support your various audiences.  Research team members should be trained appropriately to deliver the services reliably and within appropriate time frames.  Customers should be trained, where appropriate, to self-serve, taking advantage of additional support from the team as necessary.
  5. Reassessing – Value over time is dependent upon evolution.  Service offerings need to change with the demands of your customers and the addition of resources to your toolkit.  Setting a regular schedule for reexamining your service offerings will ensure that you are continuing to add value in supporting your organization and clients.

The Evolution Of The Law Firm Library From Space To Service

Libraries were once the central research centers of law firms; places where all of the relevant materials to make or break the case where stored and used.  Librarians were then seen as the custodians of the materials and the go to people to find information among the vast print resources housed there.  With the move to digitized, searchable content available from any computer, anywhere, anytime what is to become of the information experts?  They need to evolve beyond the walls of the space.  Breaking the tie is critical; redefinition of the professional, key.

Librarians are one of the only professions where the very title and definition of that title are tied to a physical space.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a library as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings or films) are kept for use but not for sale” and a librarian as “a specialist in the care or management of a library.”  We are so much more and the time has come to redefine ourselves as information specialists, able to locate, assimilate, and summarize large volumes of digital and print information into actionable results.

The first step in the evolutionary process is admitting that the change is needed.  Sitting complacently by while first year associates use Google to find the answers to complex legal problems or failing to provide proactive information to practice groups looking to expand will mean our demise.  We need to get out in front of the information tidal wave and establish the value we bring to the firm.  We have been trained to rely upon reputable sources to find the needle in the haystack, quickly and cost effectively.  Our knowledge goes beyond legal content where our skills can be applied to a variety of subjects and disciplines, adding value for client teams, administrative groups, and project teams.  We need to make sure everyone at our firms know what our services are and how they are evolving with the addition of new resources and technology tools with which to access information.  Development of a communication strategy and plan are key.

Next, the definition of our services comes into play.  What do we do, for whom, and at what cost, both in time and dollars?  Definition of services, service level expectations, and quality results are key to this evolution.  We need clearly published service options that highlight our expertise and lead to leveraging of those services across the firm.  Tying our experience to well-established services and service expectations will increase the likelihood that those services will begin to redefine our roles.  Let’s change the perception of our profession from caretakers of information to purveyors of information both on demand and in anticipation of request.

We also need to redefine our service audiences.  Traditionally, library research teams supported attorneys in the execution of cases and matters.  While that role is still key for the research team, it should be one on many hats we wear.  We should be actively involved in business development, gathering business intelligence, tracking industry trends, and clearly defining our role and contribution in RFP’s and other client facing materials.   We should also be expanding our role to contribute in the areas of practice and professional development.  We should be aiding practice leaders in gathering peer data, assessing the legal market, and identifying trends.  We should be offering CLE accredited training courses in legal research techniques and the application of research tools to legal business problems.  We should also be contributing to the efforts of our administrative teams, whether it be gathering lease costs for a potential move, gathering information on potential lateral hires, or providing background on potential vendors.  Information is power for case teams, administrative teams, and management and we need to establish ourselves, once again, as the most effective avenue to that information.

Lastly, we need to strike a balance between proactive and reactive information provisioning.  Gone are the days when we can rely upon our attorneys and staff to ask for information; we need to be anticipating their information needs.  Identification of these information needs is difficult, but doable.  We need to be aware of regular practice management, firm management, project team and other meetings and the goals of those meetings.  Once we know our audiences and their objectives, we can begin to develop reports that help facilitate decision making by those groups.  If we know our firms want to grow internationally, we can provide management with legal market data in those potential markets and lists of competitive firms.  If we know we are starting a multidisciplinary practice to support clean energy, we can provide the working group with information to support the effort.  Being aware the business direction the firm is taking sets us up for successful contribution to those efforts.

Bringing it all together cohesively and effectively is key to our evolution.  Let’s redefine librarians as “information specialists who facilitate access to information anywhere, anytime, and in any format, leveraging that information to provide research results to direct inquiries and in proactive support of their organizational goals and objectives.”  Let’s once again become the go-to information resource for our entire firms, breaking free of the four walls that once defined our libraries and our profession.