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.
• 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.