“Since 2006 the legal profession has been in a rolling state of uncertainty and change—evidenced by the collapse of legendary firms, the rise of outsourcing, low cost centers, intense pricing competition, as well as competition from alternative legal service providers…Yet the disruption also means opportunity for information professionals who have learned to adapt, let go, reinvent, expand, digitize, virtualize, analyse and broaden their portfolio of knowledge enabling services. This discussion will take both a retrospective and future view of the role of the law firm information professional as we consider emerging opportunities largely driven by technology and evolving practice strategies.”
This is a summary of Jean O’Grady’s “Has the Librarian-Ship Sailed? Inventing Your Future in a Post Library World” session at the upcoming Ark Group’s “Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library, Research & Information Services” meeting held later this month in New York. While reviewing the meeting agenda and Jean’s session in particular, I was again struck by how prevalent the “reinvention” topic remains in 2016. In the early days of my involvement with the legal information profession I thought the discussion of role reinvention was overstated, but the more I learned about the industry the more I’ve realised how much jobs have genuinely changed in a relatively short period of time – largely, but not exclusively, the result of technology. As one of the companies pushing the technological change we’re at risk of focusing only on new technologies and not on the people who are impacted by the change, namely Information Professionals. Luckily thirteen years on I’m older and wiser and have a greater appreciation for the real challenges introduced by the rate of change we are partly responsible for pushing.
What strikes me is the difficult position information professionals find themselves in today with respect to technology change; trying to do the job asked of you with shrinking budgets and resources, and at the same time expected to not only keep an eye on new technologies, but to fully understand how new products work and how they can add value to your organisation. The expectation is that of technical expert, in the case of law firms a legal expert, as well as an expert on all things library science related. With this in mind I believe two questions are relevant when considering Information Professionals and technology change:
- What are you expected to know?
- How can you keep up to date with what you’re expected to know?
When talking to Finance, Marketing or HR professionals, there is little expectation that they understand at a deep level how the systems they use operate. In contrast I often have conversations with library staff of a deeply technical nature, far more so than I would with these other professionals. Why is this? One reason is that more than others many information professionals are keenly interested in technologies such as databases and general system coding, which is exceptionally impressive given their workload. This can have the effect of raising expectations for the rest of the industry because there doesn’t seem to be a generally accepted technical knowledge level either within the industry or within the vendor community. Another reason is that information is at the heart of the professional, and it can seem a realistic expectation that along with your other skills you should understand exactly how this information is stored, processed, retrieved and presented. Personally I believe the expectations placed on information professionals with regards technical understanding are too high, but I don’t feel qualified to make this assessment and I would welcome more discussion on the topic because it assists vendors like us frame the conversations we have with clients.
The second question is how to keep up to date with what you’re expected to know. There are many excellent sources of information available to you in the form of books, publications, blogs, conferences and association meetings. When it comes to written material, you are required to actively seek out information on the latest trends and take time out of your day in the process. Conferences are a great way to immerse yourself in new ideas and technologies, but they are expensive and logistics often make attendance unrealistic for many people. I would like to see regular “new technology” vendor neutral webinars or perhaps more useful a regularly updated course teaching technology skills required to remain relevant today with a healthy dose of new technology focus. I look forward to discussing these ideas with interested parties, perhaps there is a place for Priory Solutions to assist if there really is a need for additional educational resources of the kind I’ve mentioned.
It’s easy to be afraid of change but if we understand the parameters of what you are realistically expected to know and put in place initiatives and forums to teach and discuss existing and new technologies you will be well placed to thrive in the rapidly changing environment you so skilfully operate in.
Peter Borchers, Managing Director