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Measuring the Performance of Law Firm Libraries

It is challenging for law firm libraries to measure the performance of their libraries. Traditional library metrics are less helpful for law firm libraries compared to public or academic libraries; for example, circulation statistics are often used as an indicator of library usage and what parts of the library collection are in highest demand. In law firm libraries, many of the materials are used primarily in the library or are signed out to a single lawyer for months (in some cases for years) at a time. The circulation statistics for a given book will therefore suggest that it was never or rarely taken out and so the metrician will wrongly conclude that it was a non-valuable part of the collection.

Relying on statistics to measure the value of a resource can result in the value of that resource decreasing, for as Stephen Abram points out:

If the renewal [of a database subscription] depends on annual increases in raw statistics, it’s a simple matter to adjust the end-user interface in little ways to increase the clicks, hits, or downloads. This, of course, makes the end-user experience longer and less efficient, but it meets the renewal goals of the vendor.

Benchmarking as a measure of performance also has its challenges. Library statistics for law firms of comparable size and practices have to be found and then the differing requirements of the library clientele must be taken into account. Some practice groups need a far greater number of library resources than others. The size of a practice group also affects library spending; since materials are shared, the larger the practice group, the lower the per capita spending for that group. (Electronic resources are an exception to this rule as a result of licencing issues.) Even if the firm only has one lawyer practicing in a particular area, the library needs to support that lawyer’s practice, increasing per capita spending significantly.

It is far better to measure the performance of a library by seeing how well it meets the needs of the organization as a whole; that is, what value is it adding? For example, how does a library contribute to the law firm’s revenues? How does the library improve the quality of the service provided to the law firm’s clients?

Generally, qualitative measures work better for law firm libraries than quantitative measures. Mary Ellen Bates in her article on Library Metrics lists a number of qualitative methods that libraries can use to measure the value of what they provide, suggesting that “instead of telling their management that they handled X research requests, [the library staff] tell stories about the project that saved the company from going into an unprofitable market, identified a new competitor, and so on.”

One important source of qualitative measures is talking to the lawyers that the library did the work for. It is important to make sure that the work that the library did was what the lawyer needed/expected; this also provides a good opportunity to see if that lawyer would like any additional work done. Surveys may also provide valuable feedback. A number of law firm libraries survey their summer and articling students to find out what students found to be most helpful and what could have been provided which would have been helpful.

A key way in which the library provides value is by saving the time of fee-earners. It can be tricky to arrive at an approximation of the time saved, but Bates suggests using a multiplier of 3-8 hours; the time that the librarian spends on the research project is multiplied by 3 (or more) to show the time saved. This number is then multiplied by the fee earner’s hourly rate to arrive at a dollar figure representing the value of the time saved. Examples where a library can save fee-earner time include: the time saved by lawyers not having to go to the nearest courthouse library; the time saved by not having to find out if someone in the firm already owns a copy of a book; and the time saved by not having to locate a desired text elsewhere. People who deal with interlibrary loans (obtaining materials from other libraries) know how time-consuming it can be to track down a rare item.

Another measure that can be used is to calculate what percentage of potential library users actually use the library. While this statistic is a useful measure, it is important to determine why the non-library users are not using library services. Is it because they are unaware of the services that the library provides, or is it because they do not see those services as having value for them?

Law firm libraries do not just carry out legal research, but can be heavily involved in industry and client research. The library’s contribution to a Request for Proposal is typically tricky to calculate but the library can at least highlight the RFPs that they contributed to.

Ultimately the best indicator of the library’s value is when lawyers see it as integral to their work. In his blog post “Defining ‘Success’ in the Modern Day Work Flow”, Greg Lambert defines sums up what we should aim for: lawyers who say “If you take this [service] away from me, I will quit my job. I cannot effectively do my job without it.”

Further reading

Stephen Abram, “Upping Our Game: Unlocking Real Value in Libraries” Computers in Libraries, June 2013 (http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jun13/Abram–Upping-Our-Game–Unlocking-Real-Value-in-Libraries.shtml)

Constance Ard, “Beyond Metrics: The Value of the Information Center?” Information Outlook, 16(5): 16-18 (2012).

Mary Ellen Bates, 2008. “Library Metrics” Librarian of Fortune, January 5. (http://www.librarianoffortune.com/librarian_of_fortune/2008/01/library-metrics.html)

Deborah Copeman and Michel-Adrien Sheppard. “Best practices for demonstrating the value of your library services” (2010).

Martha Haswell, “Benchmarking: A Powerful Management Tool?” Information Outlook, 16(5): (2012).

Steve Hillier, “What Are We Measuring, and Does It Matter?” Information Outlook, 16(5): 10-12 (2012).

Moe Hosseini-Ara and Rebecca Jones, “Overcoming Our Habits and Learning to Measure Impact” Computers in Libraries, June 2013 (http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jun13/Hosseini-Ara_Jones–Overcoming-Our-Habits-and-Learning-to-Measure-Impact.shtml)

Douglas W. Hubbard, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

Debbie Schachter, “Metrics and Value” Information Outlook, 16(5): 42-43 (2012).

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Comments

  1. A very interesting article, these sophisticated ways of quantifying impact are important developments in measuring the value of libraries to their host organizations.
    The only thing I would add is that I believe all libraries, including public and academic, would benefit from thinking about different ways to measure their value to their communities. Circulation or foot traffic are crude measures when so much of traffic is remote online access or in library computer use.
    Thank you for giving such good tips on how to implement it.

  2. Thank you for this well-researched article, Susannah. I think so often metrics in the law firm library circle around things like number of reference requests, docketed/billed hours spent, and budget targets; it is good to learn about alternatives that provide more value for measuring performance.

  3. Great post Susannah! Quantifying specific services in a dollar amount is a very interesting idea for specific tasks like locating a book etc. But I would agree that that the most important measure is showing how the library supports the organization’s goals, and being integral and embedded in the work of the organization. Custom and targeted services that align library services with an organization’s goals, that may or may not include statistics, are ways to communicate library value.

    Libraries have long had brand name recognition that came with a solid value proposition. Today, there is so much competition for information provision that libraries have to communicate what it is that they do, all the time. Librarians need to be continuous advocates, and be prepared with a well-practiced elevator speech!