Law Librarians Look Beyond Books (The American Lawyer)

Alan Cohen
The American Lawyer

Thomas Fleming is an old-school librarian who has learned a few new tricks. The director of information resources management at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, Fleming is just as likely to be researching the credit ratings of prospective clients — helping the firm decide whether it should take them on or ask for a bigger retainer — as he is to be tracking down treatises on tax law.

“Historically, 90 percent of the information we dealt with was legal-related; now it’s about 50 percent,” says Fleming. “We’re doing a lot more work in client development and marketing.”

Judging from the results of The American Lawyer’s fifth annual survey of law firm librarians, it’s not only the work that’s changing but the business model as well. Once a cost center for law firms, libraries are billing more hours than ever to clients: a median of 393 hours per library staff member in 2005, compared with 292 in 2004.

In just a few years, law firm librarians have gone from endangered species to empowered employees. Not long ago, budget cuts and the looming threat from electronic research imperiled their jobs. But through a little bit of ingenuity (and a little bit of lobbying), librarians have expanded their roles, and their importance, within their firms.