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As a librarian for a marketing and advertising agency, June Berger often found herself working on many projects involving marketing. From handling simple research requests to developing comprehensive reports for a new-business pitch, Berger regularly supported various departments using her expertise in research. But now Berger, as director of library services at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York, finds herself compiling similar information to support the firm in its business development goals. And while the research isn’t unfamiliar, her increasing role in supporting marketing and client development is definitely outside of a law librarian’s traditional realm of responsibility. “While I think this kind of research has been going on for a long time, it’s just now starting to gain focus as a crucial area to utilize a librarian’s expertise,” says Berger. “Librarians play a tremendous role in this area of research.” Berger’s experience isn’t unique. More and more, law firm librarians are expanding their roles in information management. More and more, they’re being asked to support many other areas of the firm. Marketing, business development, and competitive-intelligence professionals are looking to librarians to help develop marketing campaigns, find crucial information about potential areas of growth, and track critical trends. And while librarians are still called upon for traditional legal research, their role as information consultant is increasing. Today, there are more opportunities than ever for librarians to illustrate their expertise and their value to the organizations they serve. “Librarians are playing a more consultative role in firms,” says Sarah Nichols, director of libraries and information resources at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in San Francisco. “They’re partnering with practice attorneys and gaining practice competency, developing that expertise in specific areas to play a more advisory role.” COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE In the past, librarians primarily focused on more traditional legal research — cases, codes, secondary analytical material — to support the attorneys in their firms. This focus enabled them to be experts in information management. Now, as firms shift their focus to developing new business, they are turning to librarians’ expertise to give them the tools — the information — they need to stay competitive. The expansion of the librarian’s role within a firm coincides with the changing nature of the legal industry in general. Increased competition means that law firms are finding more need to upgrade their marketing practices. In fact, law firms are realizing the business need for client development, business prospecting, and marketing more than ever before. “The whole legal industry has changed, and attorneys have become far better at recognizing that they need to get out there and look for opportunities to expand their business and clients,” says Shabeer Khan, director of library services at Kaye Scholer in New York. Information sources are changing, as well. Berger points out that she uses dockets quite regularly as business development and monitoring information sources. Dockets are formal records denoting all the proceedings and filings in a court case: lists of parties, judges, and attorneys; the nature of a suit; the dollar demand; the list of documents filed; the daily chronologies of events; and judgments and dispositions. This information allows firms to track current litigation and monitor competitor firms or potential clients. Some products enable legal professionals to quickly track key client issues and trends and to build customized reports and business development briefing books. By integrating legal, financial, and business information, these tools give legal professionals a way to access market and financial performance data feeds, legal filings, court dockets, and mergers and acquisitions activity information. CURRENT AWARENESS Using competitive-intelligence resources is only one component of a librarian’s expanded role in the firm. Having on-target “current awareness” tools — such as e-mail news alerts or up-to-date business information reports on companies or clients — is crucial for every firm to keep attorneys abreast of changes and developments in the news. At Kaye Scholer, Khan has set up a number of alerts on various topics that are pushed out to attorneys to inform them of what’s going on in the legal community, who’s doing what, and what’s current in business news. The alerts keep the attorneys informed but also support the goals of the business development department by making staff aware of trends and places where the firm can increase its business. “Competition in the law practice has increased, and clients are demanding more and more,” says Elizabeth Black Berry, manager of information resources, professional development, and pro bono at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Houston. “Attorneys need to be on their toes to watch what’s going on out there.” Vendors, too, are aware of the change and are building products to support information professionals as they grow in their expanding role. For example, Westlaw Watch, a new current-awareness tool from Thomson West, aggregates and delivers news in any format. This allows librarians to provide instant information to attorneys so they can manage their existing practice and stay up-to-date on matters essential to it. Many librarians, however, report having an overload of available information to research, and sorting through piles of news articles or business information isn’t helpful. Research services are building filtering tools that allow librarians to narrow their inquiries to ensure they find on-point information faster. Features such as de-duplication of search results or detailed search templates enable researchers to easily locate the information they need. “The explosion of available information has made the business information and current-awareness research that librarians do even more important,” says Cindy Adams, the Atlanta-based associate director of library services at McKenna Long & Aldridge. “Even if an attorney wants to read a news article on a particular area of interest, he or she will still want the search results combed through.” Using a librarian’s expertise can go beyond research for specific requests. At Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy, the librarian staff has developed a research portal aimed at the firm’s attorneys. The portal, a Web-based, centralized source of information for business and legal professionals, provides 24-hour support for Milbank’s attorneys in its 10 offices throughout the world. Similar to an intranet, the information is organized around the firm’s practice groups, allowing the firm to use it for transactional work and business development activities for current and prospective clients. There might even be the option in the future for clients to access the portal. “Given the global nature of our practice, we needed to move our information services to a 24/7 format,” says Alirio Gomez, the New York-based director of library and information services at Milbank. “The portal allows research on demand across the firm and provides direct access to knowledge-sharing tools in order to improve the practices of our attorneys and our relationships with clients as a whole.” The firmwide library staff compile the information and maintain the online research portal to ensure accurate, on-target information. Gomez and his colleagues also put together alerts for attorneys, focused on business information, news, potential marketing opportunities, and client news. To ensure the attorneys use (and know how to use) the research portal, librarians regularly conduct mandatory continuing legal education seminars on using the portal to navigate the information around the offices. GETTING FIRMS ON BOARD The degree to which firms rely on their librarians to do this type of research varies widely. Some firms engage their information management professionals from the moment a new client development strategy is developed; others make requests on a more fluid basis. The most successful firms, however, use their librarians as consultants and crucial members of the firm. Nichols, a former business researcher with a background in business consultancy, points out that using a librarian’s expertise in finding and qualifying business content allows firms to better focus their efforts. “We play a significant role in supporting marketing and business development, especially when it comes to client relationships,” says Nichols. “Because of our expertise in qualifying business content and negotiating contracts for our information, we’re able to best decide what resources are going to support the firm as a whole.” For those firms not yet taking full advantage of their library for marketing or business development, Khan says that a simple meeting is the best way to open communications. In the past five years, the library at Kaye Scholer has expanded the role it plays in competitive intelligence and business development. “In the past, marketing was unaware of the kinds of resources that reside in the library — the information, the skills of the librarians, et cetera,” says Khan. “So we met with the leader in the department and detailed out the kinds of things we could do to support the department.” Berger, the former librarian at an advertising agency, uses a checklist to meet with groups throughout the firm, encouraging them to really think about the types of information they require. Calling the checklists “menus,” Berger says the lists help attorneys determine exactly what they need and why, making the best use of the library’s resources. They also help control costs by listing exactly the type, scope, and depth of information a group is looking for and help establish a good working relationship with the marketing department. “We want the firm to turn to us as information consultants,” says Berger. “By working together, it becomes a team effort.”
Anne Ellis is senior director of librarian relations for Thomson West, which provides information research technology for the legal profession.

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