The Changing Legal Industry Sparks Opportunities for Library and KM Professionals

In the April 20123 issue of Spectrum, the American Association of Law Libraries’ monthly magazine, I read the article “Law Firm Changes Offer Opportunities for Libraries” by Sarah Sutherland with great interest. Sutherland is Manager of Library Services at McMillan LLP in Vancouver and currently Vice-President of the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries.

In this article, Sutherland closes the loop on a couple of key legal industry ideas:

  1. “Certain aspects of the practice of law are changing”

    …the movement toward KM, alternative billing, and initiatives to automate some aspects of legal practice is a movement away from work that is transactional and nonscalable, and toward work that is nontransactional and scalable.

  2. “These changes have the potential to create both great problems and great opportunities for law libraries and KM departments”

    The first thing libraries and KM departments can do is integrate into the project teams working on these initiatives. There are enormous informational aspects to all of these projects, and it is the job of the library and KM staff to ensure that they are being considered and addressed in the planning stages. If only practicing lawyers and IT staff are involved in the developmental stages of these plans, when the library eventually becomes aware of problems with the way information is organized or accessed, it may be too late to address those issues.

She points out that a law degree is not always necessary for knowledge management projects, and while a senior practitioner may champion or lead the project, it is helpful to have a library staff member manage the project. But it will be up to library staff to step in and become integrated into the projects if they also want to be integrated in the firm’s business plans and higher profile projects.

I echo Sutherland’s thoughts. The time is now for information and knowledge professionals (including those in the library) to become involved in and show value in the new law firm models for doing business. The more they are seen as integral to being successful with the changes taking place, the more they will be integral to the firms’ in the future. The same can be said not just for law firms, but also for corporate legal departments, law society and courthouse libraries, and even government departments.

The time is now to step up and get involved.

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