X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Caught between the paper and electronic worlds, librarians try to speed service and corral costs. Law libraries have been going digital since the creation of Lexis in 1974. Lawyers have been venturing onto the Internet since the early 1990s. Research once conducted by browsing through stacks is now accomplished on a desktop computer with a few keystrokes. Research is easier than it used to be. Yet for librarians — the chief stewards of this transformation — it has never been harder or more expensive. This is the third year we have surveyed librarians at Am Law 200 firms. The tensions and trends that the annual survey detected in past years have only intensified in the past year. There are fewer legal publishers than before, and less pricing restraint on those publishers. But there are more information sources than ever before — industry databases, news feeds, and the like, and librarians must negotiate customized packages with most of them. For many librarians, negotiation is a new skill. Many head librarians started their careers stacking books and researching legal opinions. Today, they act as general managers of small businesses, overseeing multimillion-dollar budgets, staff in faraway offices, Web sites, intranets, and knowledge management systems. They do just about everything except, well, stack books and research legal opinions. Finally, they are starting to be paid what they are worth. For the first time in our survey, more than half of the respondents indicated that they make more than $100,000. The core mission of librarians in chief hasn’t changed. They still provide lawyers with information they need to practice and to serve clients. But today they do it across the globe with more information and tools at their disposal. Many librarians started their careers at a firm with only one office. Now firms stretch over 24 time zones. Gwen Vargas became a reference librarian at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart nearly 25 years ago. The firm had about 75 lawyers in its lone Pittsburgh office and a Lexis machine that she recalls, half jokingly, “was almost as big as my office.” Now the firm has more than 700 lawyers in 10 locations. Her staff has also grown from one assistant to about 20 employees. She is a manager more than anything else — of people, budgets, and technology. “I don’t do much researching anymore,” says Vargas. Gina Lynch has a similar story. She began her career as the lone librarian at a trusts and estates boutique in Boston 25 years ago. “They showed me a box of books and said, ‘Can you make us a library?’ ” remembers Lynch. Lynch’s duties included putting books on shelves and making trips to the local library for photocopies of passages from obscure journals. Her principal research tool was the phone. There wasn’t a computer in the house. After kicking around at a few different firms, Lynch became director of library services four years ago at Bingham McCutchen. She now manages 14 staff librarians. Five of them are in Boston, two each are in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and the rest are scattered individually at offices. They serve the research needs of 850 lawyers in 11 offices. Three years ago, Bingham McCutchen created a virtual reference service to help with the 3,000 requests its librarians receive each month. If a lawyer is working in an office where library staff have gone home or are not available, he can send an e-mail request to a pool of librarians. The first available librarian fields the query and responds. And because all Bingham librarians are armed with BlackBerrys, answers can come at odd hours. “It really allows us to serve people,” says Lynch. On top of managing the needs of lawyers, there’s managing the information itself. Once upon a time, librarians only had to know the name of a few book publishers. Now there are dozens of data service providers. At some firms, keeping up with them all is delegated to a full-time employee. At other firms, reference librarians meet daily to discuss the latest products mentioned in blogs, library listservs, and industry newsletters. “There’s always an attorney who will ask you, ‘Have you heard of this service?’ ” says Lillian Arcuri, director of library services at Chadbourne & Parke. “ And of course you want to say yes.” As the practice of law changes, so do lawyers’ information needs. Old practice areas become hot again, and new ones are constantly being born. Take the recent growth in mold litigation. “Mold wasn’t a topic that we had to support before,” says Nina Platt, director of library services at Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson. Platt recently subscribed to Mealey’s report on mold litigation. Prices for content remain high, especially when it comes in electronic form. In our survey, more than half the respondents said they are budgeted to spend more this year than they spent last year. Even if librarians have accepted that convenient access comes with a hefty price, they wonder when the large price increases will stop. “How long do they think they can squeeze this market?” asks Patricia Barbone, director of library services at Hughes Hubbard & Reed. “I think at some point the bubble has to break.” Negotiating licensing agreements has become one of the most significant and complex tasks for a director of library services. Many of them get help from lawyers and financial officers. The extra attention is warranted. Firms spend millions on information services. And because firms subscribe to so many different services with various renewal deadlines and terms of service, it’s a never-ending process. Librarians have long complained when electronic information vendors price their services on potential usage rather than on actual usage. (LexisNexis and Westlaw, of course, are the obvious exceptions to this practice.) Why, they ask, should we be charged for 100 users when only 10 use it? Why should we be charged for every branch location when some offices are sparsely populated? Many of those concerns are still being raised today. But after some resistance by librarians, publishers are responding. “I think vendors are becoming more reasonable,” says Lynch. “In the beginning, they didn’t know how to price. We canceled some [that were too expensive]. Vendors need to learn the tension point — what is too much. Some learn it the hard way.” Robert Dickey, director of library services at Arent Fox, says that BNA Inc. used to charge the firm for the potential number of readers for each of its newsletters. Dickey would give BNA the number of potential readers for each newsletter — based on factors like number of attorneys who used to receive the print copy and potential growth in a practice area — and BNA would quote a price. Now the firm pays a flat fee for a site license agreement for all of the 50-plus BNA newsletters. The cost may not be cheaper, says Dickey, but it’s easier to administer. “We basically respond to any pricing request firms throw at us,” says Gregory McCaffery, publisher of BNA. Piecemeal pricing has also frustrated librarians. Publishers, for example, have traditionally priced their print and electronic products separately, says Kathy Lefco, Winston & Strawn’s director of library services. A few years ago, BNA began offering discounts on its print products when firms subscribed to their electronic services. Lefco now reports that LexisNexis, whose parent bought publisher Matthew Bender in 1998, is beginning to consider discounting its print products in its electronic licensing contract. “A lot of us are feeling strongly that it shouldn’t be seen in a vacuum,” says Lefco. The vast majority of respondents in our survey indicated that they pay a flat fee for Westlaw and LexisNexis. But depending on the number of lawyers and information needs of a firm, the terms can vary. Each year features can be added or subtracted from the contract, such as printing costs and services from third-party vendors. “Most people recognize law libraries and law firms differ widely,” says Kyle Christensen, a spokesman for West. “We’re not manufacturing cars. . . . And that’s what makes the negotiations complex.” As lawyers turn to more places for information, they are building an unwieldy collection of user names and passwords. Vargas of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart has a library staffer who manages an Excel document with passwords for every lawyer’s electronic services. It can be a time-consuming job. An associate working on a tax project may need a password to access a service for one month and never need it again. In that instance, the password has to be canceled, adding another administrative step. In some cases — especially for services that act more like textbooks — alternatives to individual passwords make more sense to librarians. Vargas says that she often prefers to pay based on concurrent use — the vendor allows a certain number of lawyers to access the service at one time. When lawyers at Kirkpatrick need to access a Yellow Book directory online, for example, they can grab a password off the firm’s intranet. If all passwords are in use, it’s a sign to Vargas that she needs to increase the firm’s subscription. In order to recover costs from clients and analyze usage, firms with Westlaw and LexisNexis accounts need passwords. Firms can break down usage several different ways, including by office, lawyer, or database. In our survey, four out of five firms answered that they recovered 61 percent to 80 percent of online charges paid to Westlaw and LexisNexis. In a related question, 48 percent indicated that West recovery is better than LexisNexis, while only 10 percent said LexisNexis is better. (Forty-three percent said there was no difference.) Perhaps LexisNexis’ recovery is poorer because the selection of nonlegal information is greater, says Cindy Spohr, senior director of the librarian relations group at LexisNexis. As our survey results indicate, firms spend a lot of time researching nonlegal information, such as industry studies, news, and the like, which generally is not billed to clients. In this year’s survey, respondents graded five major publishers (BNA, CCH Inc., LexisNexis, Aspen Publishers Inc., and West Publishing) on customer service, price, and quality of content on a scale from one (very good) to five (very bad). While no clear winner emerged, Aspen clearly fared the worst. Not surprisingly, most of the respondents gave average to very bad marks for all five publishers on price. BNA received more “very bad” marks than the other publishers, followed by Aspen. In the customer service category, the duopoly of LexisNexis and West received the most “very good” marks. Respondents gave Aspen the worst scores. Aspen executives did not return several calls for comment. All publishers fared well in content quality, with BNA getting the most “very good” marks. Electronic innovations haven’t eliminated print. While printed court reporters are inching closer to extinction, some secondary sources like treatises still don’t lend themselves to perusing on a desktop. While younger attorneys grew up researching online, many older lawyers still prefer print. Maybe those factors explain — at least partly — why prices of print materials continue to rise. In our survey, more than half of the respondents indicated that firm spending on print products increased by at least 5 percent. Christensen of West says that the price increase reflects higher costs and lower volume. Each individual book costs more to produce, and West is trying to spread those costs over fewer buyers. For the librarians who must straddle the print and digital worlds under a budget, this is not encouraging news. Just another challenge on a very long list. Andrew Longstreth is a reporter at The American Lawyer , where this article first appeared in the June Am Law Tech supplement.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.