ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #11: Private - Distributing Staff and Services

  • Bookmark and Share

(November, 2001)


The private law firm library exists to serve the practicing attorneys and their clients. The assertion is often made that the better the library staff understands the specific nature of the practice, the better job they can do in serving their clientele. By physically moving staff and services to the practice areas and integrating the reference and collection development staff into the various practice groups the library staff can more quickly and thoroughly come to fully understand the idiosyncratic nature of the practitioner's information requirements. This scenario shares a great deal with the "all electronic library" scenario.


The central library as a physical entity no longer exists. Library reference staff is each assigned to one or more practice areas and are physically located in the same geographic location within the office that the attorney practice groups are. Their workspace resembles a kiosk and is fully equipped with all the tools they need to conduct online research accessing both internal and external information. They have access to the extranets and other communication systems set up between attorney and client and respond directly to information requests from clients. They are involved in the evaluation and selection of new systems that are specific to their practice groups and work with the rest of the library staff to evaluate and select systems of more general utility. The library staff also works either with vendors or with staff to develop and present training on all electronic research systems.


  • Facilities

    • The library staff has decentralized and moved to highly visible kiosks scattered among the practice groups. Their facilities have been designed to assist attorneys, paralegals and staff in the use of the electronic library.
    •  There are small, specialized collections of print material that remain in areas not fully served by online information resources.

    • As much information as possible is pushed to the attorney and staff desktop where it is available through a firm Intranet or Portal. The library staff is responsible for making this content available through the Portal in the same way they were previously responsible for filling the library shelves with resources. This includes the evaluation and purchase of the service as well as providing the interface to the attorney desktop.

    • The library director, interlibrary loan staff and the technical services staff may still have centralized offices.


  • Collections and Content

    • Primary legal materials are all available electronically and print has been discontinued
    • All secondary legal materials that are available online have been acquired. There is still a need for some specialized secondary sources which must be continued in print.
    • There is heavy reliance on electronic access to subject specific information, business and financial, medical and scientific information as well as general reference resources.


  • Staffing

    • Additional reference staff will be required. They handle all reference for the practice groups they work with.
    • A training specialist with background in reference and research has been added to the staff.
    • Serials check-in, bill payment and ordering, and cataloging are still handled centrally by technical services staff.
    • Attorneys are involved in the recruiting and hiring of reference staff.
    • Recruiting is more difficult and takes longer because very specific skill sets are needed.



    • Reference and research services, including interlibrary loan are the responsibility of librarians assigned to specific practice groups. Their close physical proximity makes it easier for them to have personal contact with those attorneys and staff they are working for.
    • Training is geared to practice groups, paralegals and secretaries and offered on both an individual and group basis.
    • Library staff works with vendors of specific services to provide training geared to specific practice areas
    • Staff is working with IT professionals to develop online, just-in-time training segments to be made available via the Intranet. These how to segments are designed to be available to users any time from any location


  • Training

    • Staff requires additional specific subject area training
    • Staff must develop team building and team participation skills
    • Staff must be trained to train


  • Budget (See "all electronic library" scenario for additional budget implications.)
    •  Additional reference staff required will increase budget

SWOT Analysis


  • Increased individualized service
  • Increased expertise and understanding of the core business
  • Proximity to attorneys will offer increased opportunities for face-to-face communication.
  • Inclusion of information professional in the practice group strengthens marketing position to clients


  • Increased costs
  • Difficult to recruit qualified staff
  • More difficult to provide staff backup and coverage
  • More difficult to provide inter practice group support
  • Challenge to maintaining cohesiveness of library staff


  • Provide better and more targeted service to users
  • Develop staff expertise in firm's core business areas
  • Provide greater sense of job satisfaction to library staff
  • Staff is involved in transaction or litigation all the way through to completion
  • Increase client satisfaction and loyalty
  • Market information services directly to clients


  • Attorneys may not be willing to accept information professional as part of the team
  • Paralegals or legal assistants may be threatened.