Your Next CIO Is a Librarian

As law firms tackle the new reality of the economy and the changes being demanded by corporate clients, they should look to those within the firms who are already well-versed in strategy for business change: librarians.

I am currently in Seattle at the American Association of Law Libraries annual conference, including the Private Law Libraries’ Summit on Saturday. The message we are hearing from a number of different perspectives is clear: lawyers would be advised to seek help in re-developing their firms so they are better positioned for competitive advantage, and librarians are well suited for the C suite, such as Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO), and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) roles.

Bruce MacEwen, consultant and author of the Adam Smith, Esq. blog and the Growth is Dead blog series (now published in book and ebook formats) who was the keynote at the PLL Summit told us: law firms need to become professionally managed firms. He said “complacency is not an option” and essentially outlined the next steps for firms to make the changes and better position themselves for success.

Consider some of these messages I heard from Jean O’Grady (including quotes from Greg Lambert), Victoria PynchonStephanie Barnes and Steven Lastres in later sessions:

• Librarians are among the more highly educated professionals in law firms. Our education includes management, administration, information and technology.

• The library has introduced many of the cutting edge innovations into law firms over the years, including:

  • The Internet
  • Knowledge Management
  • Competitive Intelligence
  • Professional development programs

• Librarians work well cross-functionally as facilitators, brokers and bridge-builders between departments. We can speak the languages of IT, marketing, professional development, training, vendors and others, and help these groups understand one another.

• Librarians sit at the nexus of people, content and technology bringing together an understanding of what is needed from these three perspectives. To be successful, law firm strategies need to focus on all three of these, not just one.

• Library Directors and Managers have a range of knowledge and skills that are highly transferable to additional responsibilities and roles including (but not limited to):

  • knowledge management
  • information management
  • change management
  • records management
  • project management
  • competitive intelligence
  • content management
  • metadata and taxonomy
  • policy and procedure

At the PLL Summit we also heard from two AALL members who moved into the C suite from a law library position, Bob Oaks, Chief Library and Records Officer at Latham & Watkins and William Scarbrough, moving shortly to a new COO role. Both have been successful in making significant changes in their firms, and have moved between firms into a range of varying C level positions with a progression of responsibilities.

I have long thought law firm librarians would make excellent CIOs, but it wasn’t until I started hearing these supporting thoughts from a range of speakers and colleagues that I realized others agree.

Your next CIO could very well be a law librarian.


  1. David Collier-Brown

    From the point of view of a consulting nerd, I would far rather work for a Law librarian than some poor fellow managing the PC support staff.

    The Law Librarian is often the consummate SME (subject-matter expert) on business needs, while the PC chap understands PCs.


  2. Connie…I have long asked this very question, and even after reading your post, I still have the same question. Why aren’t there more Librarian CIOs? As respected as he is Bob Oaks is not a CIO. Why? (I believe William Scarborough has had many C-level roles over the year, so we might have one librarian who has been a CIO at an AMLAW firm.)

    As I’ve asked this question over the years I’ve received many “good” answers:

    1) Gender bias–Most librarians are women, most CIOs are men.
    2) Education bias–Although most librarians have at least one graduate degree and vast technology experience, they often don’t have the systems education or experience.
    3) “Librarian”–Once again, many firms can’t see past the title.
    4) “Sitting at the table”–In many firms today, the librarian is still not considered an executive, they aren’t listed on the website, they aren’t Director level, etc. I would assume that this would be a prerequisite to promotion.

    I’m sure the reality varies greatly, but the fact remains, currently there are no librarian CIOs at any AMLAW 200 firms (or are there?) Despite all the leaders in our community, why have none of them been promoted?

    Is a librarian your next CIO?

  3. Thanks kindly, David.

    It looks like the Twitterverse agrees–I am seeing a number of people agreeing:

  4. Colleen raises some good points, and I’d love to see some further discussion on why it’s so hard for librarians to get at the table. I fear that some of the problem is our “service” culture. Perhaps libraries/librarians are seen as reactive rather than as a source of strategic thinking? I also fear that gender does figure, but it can’t be an excuse.

    I’d also like to hear from other readers about whether or not they see a change in the tech experience of younger generations of info pros.

  5. The best use of librarians in law firms: The greatest need of law firms is to create a database that is a catch-all reservoir of all of the firm’s work- product. It will become the prime resource that every research project starts with.

    But proper database management is essential to magnify its efficiency of use & cost-benefits. That means detailed indexing of every text & the purging of superseded texts. It needs a senior & permanent employee to do it & enforce the procedures.

    Such a database will become a firm’s most important asset–more important than any lawyer in the firm. For 9 intense years I developed the technology of centralized legal research now used at LAO LAW at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). LAO LAW now has a 34-year history of substantial cost-saving for LAO, popularity with lawyers who service legal aid cases because of the wealth of materials made available to them by the database, & therefore a long record of success (since July, 1979). I know whereof I speak. The database became more important than me, the Director of Research.

    Junior people, who do most of a firm’s legal research, won’t build such databases, nor enforce the necessary procedures of proper database management. They don’t have the skill or authority to enforce those procedures. And in their view, legal research is not the road to career advancement. Therefore, they have the greatest turn-over in regard to such work.

    In contrast, my prime directive was, “All power to the database.” A law librarian is the best person to create & manage such a database & thereby make him/herself a very valuable person to the firm. To lose such a person would diminish the value of the database until a replacement librarian developed equal skill & authority. I developed many spin-off benefits by developing database management to a fine art and enforcing the necessary procedures upon my research staff. The cost-savings, convenience, reduction in response time, & reduction of the probability of error in the delivery of legal services are impressive, substantial, and on-going. The bigger the database gets, the greater are each of these benefits produced by the database.

    I found that lawyers may come and go, but no matter the loss of staff, the database always kept the firm current and profitable. Lawyers leave, but they leave behind their skill, insights, and work-product in the database. And each new lawyer employed has the benefit of all of it, and their training period is thereby greatly shortened. There’s not enough space here to explain the procedures necessary & benefits. — Ken Chasse, member, LSUC (Ontario) & LSBC, Toronto.

  6. Colleen and Wendy, these issues–including gender bias–were explored at the Private Law Libraries Summit on Saturday. Jean O’Grady and Victoria Pynchon spoke to this in depth. I hope to post my notes from these sessions on my blog in a few days.

    Ken, thank you for outlining what could be done. Law firm Libraries–and more recently, Knowledge Management departments–have been doing this kind of work for decades. Often called the “Research memos database” or the firm’s “Precedents collection” this work has been done to varying degrees in many firms and is often the starting point for a broader Knowledge Management strategy.