X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
I have often thought that great law firms are classic Darwinian environments in the sense that, as organizations, they are able to make successful selective adaptations for survival. The exigencies of change affect the entire structure of a firm. I hope to recount here how my role has evolved since I joined Washington, D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson 23 years ago as library director. At that time, we had one office and an attorney population of 114 lawyers. The law library staff consisted of eight staff members and myself. Research-wise, it was a book-centric world on the cusp of profound change. Legal computing technology was equal parts secretarial mag-card machines morphing into Wang word processors and several proprietary terminals telecommunicating with Lexis and Westlaw mainframes. If you had asked me then to define my unit’s mission, I would have told you that our role was to provide knowledge and research support using the human and media resources at our disposal. It still is, yet the transformational power of technology has done much to re-engineer the manner in which we carry out that mission. Changes, once assimilated, often lead to new ways of thinking and speaking of one’s role. No longer are we called the firm’s law library; we are now the Information Resource Center. We think this terminology more accurately describes the mix of media, services, and personnel that we offer to our firm’s 18 offices in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The staffs of the firm’s Information Systems and Information Resource Center work together seamlessly to support the firm’s global networking requirements. We also work with practice groups to exploit the technologies the firm already has, and explore new technologies that will provide solutions for unmet needs. The computer systems committee has implemented fundamental improvements in the firm’s technology infrastructure in various legal application areas, from Internet resources to intranet and extranet functionality and real-time news at the desktop. Perhaps the most important achievement of the committee, however, has been a formal benchmarking process for measuring our technology fitness, with tools ranging from regular attorney surveys to peer consultation with technology counterparts in other law firms. BEYOND A TRADITIONAL LIBRARY The Information Resource Center is a research and law practice support service with 75 staff members, approximately half of whom are time-keepers. Many of our specialists have advanced degrees in legal, business, patent, trademark, or legislative matters, as well as law office technology applications. Our resources include a 100,000-volume print collection, supplemented with various other information technologies, including multiple online and Internet-based subscriptions, as well as CD-ROM networked products. In addition, we have interlibrary loan relations with several hundred regional academic, government, and industry organizations. The Information Resource Center serves 730 lawyers firmwide through several units: � Research services conducts a wide range of legal, corporate, and business development research using online, print, and human resources. This unit’s trademark support group provides specialized research and docketing services for the firm’s trademark prosecution practice using federal, state, and international data resources. The patent support group assists with the prosecution and docketing services required by the firm’s domestic and international patent attorneys. � Legislative services directly supports the activities of the firm’s government relations practice, providing issues monitoring, event coverage and reportage, legislative analysis, and historical research for legislative intent. � Information technology specialists and analysts are responsible for integrating all new digital research applications, including traditional online, CD-ROM, and Internet-based resources. This unit operates the firm’s CD-ROM network, prepares and distributes user guides for all new digital research products, and conducts training on a wide range of research-related online resources. � Law practice technologists are assigned to all of the firm’s practice groups for the purpose of assessing suitability of existing in-house technology applications for practice group needs, or to help identify, develop, and implement innovative technology solutions to meet those needs. Technologists in this unit also provide ongoing development and support of practice group intranet sites. Litigation support provides high-level database, trial, and graphics services to all practice groups. � Technical services provides infrastructure support to the broad mission of the Information Resource Center, including assistance in the development and execution of the print and digital resource acquisition budget; bibliographic integration of all new print and other research media subject to cataloging and classification; and maintenance of hard-copy resources and physical facilities. ADAPTING TO INFORMATION AGE So, how have things changed during the past quarter-century? Though our mission hasn’t changed, we have certainly had to rethink its scope. We have evolved from being a straight legal and legislative research and reference service to doing business development research and supporting the firm’s intellectual property practice. Like most law libraries, we have adapted to a pervasive information environment in which we are both end-users and internal consultants to a very large population of attorneys and legal assistants. Once we recruited only professional librarians and clerical staff; now we have computer scientists, attorneys, former congressional staff, legal assistants, and IP specialists, as well as professional research analysts (formerly known as librarians). We have also seen a profound change in the nature and diversity of the information media that we support. From 1990 to 1999, the number of books signed out of our print collection annually declined from 18,000 to 9,000. During the same period, the number of hours spent annually doing online research increased from 3,000 to 13,000. The terms of payment for research resources have become highly variable, depending on whether we decide that a given application is best handled on the basis of fixed price, site license, or pay per use. The bottom line, however, is that electronic resources need management, too. We answer to a much greater and globally dispersed user population. Service across international time zones has placed a premium on efficiency, but it has also given us the chance to interact with colleagues in other cultures. One thing that has not changed is the basic nature of our relationship to the members of the law firm. The average daily number of research inquiries handled in 1999 by our Washington staff increased 57 percent over 1995′s average — from 103 to 162 per day — while the attorney population at that location during the same period increased 31 percent. The opportunities for our staff to function as knowledge workers have proliferated. We perform far more in-depth research today than we ever did in the past. Beyond research, we have been given the chance to function as value-added advisers and project managers. We have learned that although technology is essential to success, it is no substitute for quality human service. Austin Doherty is Information Resource Center director at Washington, D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson. He may be reached at (202) 637-8701 or at [email protected]

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

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 © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.