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Ark Group Conference: Managing Your Law Firm Library

On 29 November, I spoke on a panel at the Ark Group’s Managing Your Law Firm Library conference. As a speaker, I got to attend the whole conference – which turned out a bit odd, as I’d accepted a new job just a day before the conference, which meant I’d be leaving the law library sector! It was still very useful though, and I took away a lot that I think would be transferable to most types of information services.

I didn’t take exhaustive notes on every presentation, but here are some of the topics I thought were most useful:

Sarah Brittan, Baker & McKenzie – Running the library more like a business

Sarah’s started us off with a talk about Baker & McKenzie’s restructure of their Library and Information Centre (LIC). This came about following a strategic review of the LIC, for which they employed outside consultants – which I found interesting in itself! I know of a few law firms (including my current employer) who’ve undergone processes like this, but I don’t know how common it is to use external consultants.

The consultants were tasked with finding out:

  • How should the department be structured
  • What IT improvements were needed
  • What the business wanted from the LIC

There was some positive feedback from this, but the point was really to focus on the negative feedback – they needed to know what they were doing wrong! Negative feedback included that the LIC was too general, low-level, process-driven, and not providing enough value-added services.

Key messages were that the LIC needed to be:

  • closer to the business
  • more customer-service focused
  • proactive rather than reactive
  • more effectively engaged with other departments
  • more strategic and client-centred
  • more influential over knowledge management (KM) technology

Following this review, the whole department was restructured. Key points:

  • Now have 3 information specialists, each allocated to specific departments/practice areas
  • They sit in the departments some of the time, but are mostly based together
  • Decided against sitting them with their supported departments permanently, as they still needed to work together as a team
  • Info specialists are embedded within teams, there at the point of need, and can provide tailored assistance. They are first point of call for sector queries
  • Info specialists have got more involved with work “higher up the food chain” – e.g. producing client alerts, assisting with pitches
  • LIC also now has a KM technology specialist – far more say in global IT issues!

I found this presentation really interesting, not because it told me anything new, but because the process sounded so similar to what we’ve gone through at Addleshaw Goddard. Baker & McKenzie are about a year into this process, and AG did this about 2 years ago, so it was interesting to hear from another firm that was doing the same thing. I found it quite reassuring that all of the concerns and problems mentioned, as well as the benefits and successes, sounded pretty much the same as ours!


Chrissy Street, Clifford Chance – Demonstrating value through the use of business cases

Chrissy’s presentation was about how Clifford Chance had started using wikis to build business cases for new product (e.g. databases etc) subscriptions and renewals. They had been producing business cases for all subs/renewals over a certain cost for some time, and had always just used Word docs for this. The problem came when trying to gather feedback from users – this was all done via email, which could be very messy and inefficient. Using Word docs for business cases was also problematic when more than one person needed to work on it, leading to multiple versions all over the place.

The firm started using a wiki to build business cases in 2009. The idea was to make the process more efficient and standardised, as well as reducing email traffic. These benefits were emphasised when introducing the concept to the firm – it was very important to get user buy-in, so the team talked to key stakeholders in the process at the early planning stages.

As part of the presentation, we were shown a worked example of a wiki business case – I was impressed, it all looked really clear and straightforward. The process goes something like:

  • Library team inputs data to the wiki about the resource, what it’s for, cost (including details of negotiations), benefits, any alternatives
  • A link is sent to fee earners asking for input – they are asked for comments on usefulness of specific features/improvements, comments on the resource generally, the consequences of not renewing, and whether or not they consider the resource “business critical”
  • All comments are public – this can encourage a bit of discussion/debate!
  • Information from the wiki is exported to a final version business case, in a Word doc, for partner approval

Chrissy’s top tips for anyone considering a similar project were:

  • Open communication is vital to get people used to the idea. “Wiki” can be a bit of a scary word!
  • Stay flexible – some people just won’t adopt a new approach
  • Be persistent: e.g. if someone insists on still emailing you comments, and them to the wiki yourself and then send them the link
  • Invest time in getting the structure/format right before you start trying to get people to use it!


Other presentations

Obviously there was a lot more discussed on the day, but those were the two presentations I got the most out of. They were all good though – one of the comments I put in my feedback was that this was the first conference I’d been to where nothing felt irrelevant.

Here’s a few comments on the rest of the day’s presentations:

Fiona Fogden – Managing a library budget

This was hugely useful for anyone who has budget responsibility – which, by the end of the presentation, I was increasingly thankful that I do not! This was full of really practical tips though, which I will be hanging onto in preparation for any future role that involves budgeting.

Loyita Worley – Overseeing a law firm merger / Victoria North – Managing global teams

A double-header here! Both were really interesting, although I think I’d have liked to hear more from Loyita about the practicalities of overseeing a merger – she talked more about the current merger market and the drivers for law firm mergers, rather than what to expect if it happens to you.

Panel: Staying in the know

This was the panel I spoke on (alongside James Mullan and Loyita Worley), so I didn’t take any notes! There was lots of interesting discussion throughout the room, about managing information overload and making use of new technologies. I was a little surprised at how few people in the room used social media – but then perhaps I shouldn’t have been, given how cautious law firms are!

Dunstan Speight, Berwin Leighton Paisner – Clarifying copyright

Very useful account of how BLP has introduced a new copyright management tool on their intranet. If you’re interested, and are a BIALL member, there was a piece on this same project in the BIALL journal Legal Information Management earlier this year.

Nick Davies – Influencing through networking

This was a great presentation, full of genuinely useful tips, so I’m actually going to write a separate post on it – coming soon!

One comment on “Ark Group Conference: Managing Your Law Firm Library

  1. Thanks for sharing this summary of this conference. Helpful to see the variety of topics covered. Good too to read about the restructuring case study, although I don’t work in legal sector I can see a lot of similarities with charity sector & that’s helpful.

    And I’ll definitely be using influencing & networking tips in 2013. I wonder how they’ll work across cultures!

    Happy new year & good luck in your new job.

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