ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #12: Private - Law Firm Library as Managed by a Private Company

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(November, 2001)


Managing today's law firm library requires many skill sets that are sometimes difficult to locate in a sufficient pool of candidates, from technical services to reference expertise, and from teaching and training skills to technology planning and implementation. Unfortunately, as the need for librarian expertise continues to grow within the private law firm environment, the number of qualified professional law librarians is shrinking. In many instances, qualified librarians who take these jobs plateau within their firm leaving them no room for advancement, leaving the librarians unfulfilled. In addition, many firms do not need to have constant access to all of these services at the same time, but would like to be able to utilize these resources on an as-needed basis.

Law firm libraries managed by a private company would help alleviate a number of these challenges: by providing an alternative career path for librarians, qualified personnel can be attracted and retained; by providing opportunities to strengthen individual skill sets, librarians might find the work more satisfying. Lastly, by providing even the smallest firm with the capability of superior library services, firms would increasingly value the contributions made by professional librarians.


The library is ultimately a business - it is in the business of information. As in every business, there is increasing attention paid to getting the strongest return on investment. The first challenge is to attract and retain qualified personnel. The private management company is able to do that by offering a number of opportunities for professional growth. Librarians are able to change positions within the company, depending upon their needs or wishes, without the loss of benefits or seniority.

A private law library management company, overseen by a team of professional librarians, allows the customer (in this case, the individual law firm) to reduce their costs by maximizing their investment in library services. By utilizing a company that centralizes library tasks, such as cataloging of library material and reference services, the firm's overall costs may be reduced. In addition, by the sharing of resources across a number of firms that are managed by the same company, the individual firm's costs are shared and it allows the firm to gain access to a much wider depth of reference assistance than might otherwise be available to them if they managed their library in-house.

The outsourced library, by helping to ensure cost-effective access to information,
ensures that the firm is able to meet the ever-increasing demand for library services while maintaining a watchful eye on the cost of doing so.

Implication Strategies

  • Facilities

    • With a greater reliance on electronic resources, the physical space for print resources has been reduced - retaining only those print items not available in electronic format. The existing space is allocated to training rooms and attorney offices.

    • Outside of the library, the management company would retain offices in more affordable space (perhaps outside of the expensive urban areas that most law firms occupy).

  • Collections / Content

    • The vast majority of the resources is now electronic and can be shared among the company's libraries, thereby reducing the costs.

    • Each firm maintains their own specialized print collections for those items that are not available electronically and will be limited to materials that directly support the practice specialties of the firm. Access to online catalogs will be shared among librarians working for this company. In many instances, the management company will be responsible for creating the online catalog for some of the smaller firms that have not yet done so.

    • Other materials will be available through interlibrary loan or document retrieval on an as-needed basis.

  • Staffing

    • Librarians would be available offsite and would be available around the clock to answer reference questions in several different ways: by phone, by e-mail, or by live research assistance through messaging with the attorney as he or she conducts the search.

    • Individual librarians would develop subject and technological expertise. The management company would then have access to additional resources for particularly difficult reference questions.

    • The technical services librarians would also be stationed at the management company's headquarters, though library clerks would make frequent visits to the law firm's library to handle reshelving and looseleaf filing for those few remaining titles.

    • There are many advantages to this model: This significantly increases the level of service currently offered to law firms who employ one or two librarians and are therefore left hanging when they are not available. As projects warranted additional staff, librarians could be hired on an as-needed basis, just as is the trend in the legal profession with the growth of "contract attorneys". This temporary staffing saves the law firm the expense of having to hire individuals who then need to be let go when the projects are completed, and the management company can attract qualified candidates by ensuring benefits and a steady source of work for librarians attracted to this type of arrangement.

  • Services

    • The management company would also provide many services that simply might not otherwise be available through an in-house library, including technological analysis and consultation, knowledge management expertise, training for associates in cost-effective legal research or subject specialization.

  • Training

    • Librarians working for the management company would continue to need training in their subject specializations, as well as collaborative training. Note, however, that the ultimate cost of this training would go down because there is the potential that more people would directly benefit from the training, since the librarian would also be available to other firms also managed by the same company.

  • Budget

    • While firms would be responsible for setting their own resource budget, this amount would be managed and administered by the company.

    • The individual law firms decide what level of service they need from the company. Presumably the premium service includes 24 hour reference assistance, acquisitions, processing, cataloging, technological consultation, and staffing.

SWOT Analysis


  • The private management company presents a career path that was previously unavailable to the average librarian, overcoming the plateau effect that is prevalent in most law firm libraries.
  • Librarians can change positions without the loss of benefits or seniority
  • Smaller firms would gain access to additional resources and services previously unavailable to them.
  • Potential increase in job satisfaction for librarians by providing them the opportunity to strengthen their skill sets, tackles different challenges, and work collaboratively.
  • Provides the law firm with flexibility in staffing.
  • Reduction of overhead costs for technical and reference services.


  • Concerns about confidentiality.
  • Resistance from the law librarian community.
  • Loss of stability if the contract with the management company turns over.
  • Licensing issues from vendors may pose problems.
  • Stability is threatened as the library management company's contract is up for bid, opening up to the possibility that the service may turn over to another management company.


  • It would highlight the important role that librarians play in meeting firm's information needs.
  • It would increase competition for qualified professional librarians, which might have a positive impact on salaries.
  • Growth and development of private law library management companies


  • As "contract workers", librarians might feel less a part of the team
  • Possible loss of status within the law firm as the library is removed from in-house.