We have seen the legal industry evolve considerably during the past several years, largely in reaction to the sluggish economy, client demands, the rapid proliferation of information on the Internet and technological advancements. 

Throughout these developments, the mission of librarians has endured. The mission is to solve information needs by getting information—the right information—into the hands of the attorney or client quickly, efficiently and cost effectively. We are knowledge enhancers; the library can be described as providing “knowledge services.” However, accomplishing this mission has become more challenging as a result of the changing legal landscape—especially the information explosion and corresponding tidal wave of resources now available for solving information needs.

Accordingly, librarians have needed to grow—to learn and to become innovative and nimble in providing high-quality services and value to the firm. This evolution has required additional emphasis on evaluating, analyzing, directing and determining the consumption of information resources by the firm and individuals. Librarians have needed to keep abreast of rapid changes in information sources and legal publishing in order to provide the best and most cost-effective efficiencies for the firm’s information needs.

For example, librarians may have concluded that Fastcase or LoisLaw would save their firms significant amounts of money and recommended signing up; recognized the advantages of having Lexis Advance and/or WestlawNext available for their “Google-like” search functions; or recognized that Bloomberg Law, with its access to the Bureau of National Affairs products including treatises, newsletters and portfolios, and to Bloomberg’s vast collection of corporate financial information, would offer considerable cost saving possibilities.Librarians helped their firms contain costs by diligently avoiding redundant subscriptions. Finally, librarians’ historical perspective due to their tenure at firms allows us to add value, since we understand the attorneys’ pattern of research consumption.

Librarians’ research expertise should not be taken lightly. The Internet makes information more widely available, but without an instruction manual it can be time-consuming and frustrating for self-service attorneys to locate information—especially when the research falls outside their expertise or comfort zones. The ubiquity of information can be overwhelming. Librarians provide a conceptual framework for approaching research more efficiently and cost-effectively, and often provide analysis and customization for the requesting attorney. There are constant examples of attorneys coming to the librarian to locate the needle in the haystack—the elusive kernel of information that they have been unable to find.

At other times, attorneys realize the librarian can perform the research better and more cost effectively. Librarians possess unique research skills and are proficient at solving even the most sophisticated research requests. The importance of an expert researcher has become infinitely more important, given the downsizing of libraries and accompanying rapid proliferation of information and sources.

The physical shrinking of law firm libraries should not imply a diminution of the value of an expert researcher. Technology and information overload have made the librarian more essential than ever. The new legal climate requires innovation and flexibility. The librarian possesses unique skills to meet these challenges and opportunities.

Mark Newman is director of library services at Sedgwick. He can be reached at mark.newman@sedgwicklaw.com.