ARCHIVED: Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age Scenario #7: Private - The Global Law Firm Library

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(November, 2001)


Many law firms maintain international and branch office libraries. In the case of international offices and the branch offices of very large firms, these libraries are generally decentralized with acquisitions and collection management, etc. being done locally, or, in the case of cataloging, not done at all. If the libraries have no reference staff, reference and research is handled by lawyers, paralegals and secretaries with the occasional question asked of the librarians in the main office. As the practice of law becomes more global and technology allows easier access to information, many firms are looking to integration of practices between disparate offices to gain economies of scale and provide better practice tools to their attorneys. As the firms move in this direction, librarians and libraries can play an important role in that integration and in support of the global practice.


Library services are integrated across offices regardless of location or if the office is domestic or international. Library staff in all offices work closely to provide the same level of service in each office as is provided to the attorneys and staff in the firm's main office. Some functions of the international and branch office library are centralized depending on firm culture, the size of the office or the services being provided. Librarians support the global practice as they:

  • Develop expertise in the practices within the international and branch offices.
  • Play a role in collection management, elimination of duplication of resources, and the resulting cost savings.
  • Act as a conduit between offices to maximize investment in information and technology.

Implications/strategies for library areas

  • Facilities

    The facilities for large branch or international office libraries are similar to that of the main office. They include office space for staff, space for shelving for the print collection, space as needed for patron study areas, and a training room. Smaller offices need a space to house whatever print collection that may exist and a work table to be used while research is being conducted. Whatever space exists, it is smaller than days past as:
    • The print collection is smaller.
    • Little research is done in the physical library.
    • More focus is placed on space to be used in training researchers to use electronic materials.

  • Collections/Content

    The collection contains international and foreign law or resources specific to the location of the office and the practice areas within the office. Some print materials are available but emphasis is put on developing an electronic collection that can be used by researcher regardless of location. All resources, print and non-print are shared between offices depending on need and licenses. The firm's intranet or portal is used to provide access where possible.

  • Staffing

    Offices of 25 or more attorneys have a full-time librarian who provides reference/research support, etc. with clerical support as needed. Additional librarians are hired as the size of the office increases. Acquisitions are handled centrally through the main office. Smaller offices rely on staff from the main library for reference/research support, etc. and local support staff or a filing service for maintenance of the physical collection. In addition to the requirements listed for library staff in the all electronic scenario, the following skills are also needed:
    • Research librarians who support the international offices must have knowledge of foreign and international law and must be able to communicate with the attorneys and staff in the offices they are supporting.
    • Acquisition staff in main office must have an understanding of the purchasing process from a global perspective.
    Finally, firm libraries have an increased dependence on academic libraries for the services they provide in the international/foreign law area.

  • Services

    Since the international/branch library is largely electronic, the services provided are similar to that in the all electronic scenario. They include:

    • Reference/Research/Current awareness: Branch or international office librarians respond to reference questions, conduct research, and provide a current awareness service as needed in their office. Main office librarians provide the same service for offices without librarians.
    • Collection development: Branch or international office librarians work with main office library staff and local attorneys to evaluate and select new electronic resources. They serve as experts in selection of resources unique to their location. Collection development in offices without librarians is done by the main office library staff working with branch office attorneys and staff.
    • Collection management: Maintenance of the physical location is done by clerical staff in the branch office (library clerks or other staff depending on size of the office) or is outsourced.
    • Access management: Management of access to electronic services is handled in the main office.
    • Training: Librarians arrange vendor training and develop and deliver in-house training. Again, librarians in branch or international offices provide this service and offices without librarians rely on the main office for training. Training provided by the main office may be done remotely by computer or by office visits.


  • Training

Librarians and staff in the international or branch office library need to participate in the same training as their co-workers in the main office. Besides the need to stay current in their specific areas of expertise, the topics include leadership, communication, negotiation, marketing, evaluation of resources, technical know-how (networks, web-coding, portals, etc.), licensing and copyright, understanding of structure and holdings of legal publishing industry, financial acumen, and training adult users. Additionally, both the solo librarian in a branch or international office library and the main office library staff who support a small office needs language skills for their location and knowledge about the international and foreign law research.

  • Budget

    This scenario has both a positive and negative effect on the budget:

    • Reduces the need to maintain multiple sets of print material in all offices, thereby reducing cost.
    • Increases travel costs as library staff travels between offices for training, etc.
    • Increases training costs as librarians need to upgrade their skills in languages and gain specialized knowledge in new practice areas.
    • Increased technology costs.

SWOT Analysis


  • Librarians already have the research skills and aptitude needed to develop research expertise in new areas.
  • Allows for elimination of duplication of resources.
  • Provides more standardized service to every attorney in the firm.
  • Maximizes the firm's investment in information and technology.


  • Library staff may not have the language skills needed for supporting international offices.
  • Library staff in main office may not have enough experience in researching international and foreign law or providing assistance in using local materials in branch offices.
  • Remote training is often not as effective as face-to-face training.
  • Branch and international office attorneys and staff who have been self-sufficient may not think of approaching the library for service.
  • Staffing will be difficult as best.


  • Branch and international offices are a new market for firm librarians to offer services to.
  • Firms could develop exchange programs between offices.


  • Individual librarians may perceive the need for additional skills as a threat.
  • Cultural differences may work against integration.
  • Demand may temporarily outstrip ability to provide services as planned.