Our Changing Role: A Survey of Law Firm Librarians

As this study indicates, the legal profession is nearly a decade into fundamental, structural change. And perhaps no single role has seen greater impact than the law firm librarian. Budget pressures, shrinking law library footprints, a decreasing reliance on print, a greater push for online resources, and the advent of new job responsibilities are just a few of the factors that have combined to push law librarians into new territory.

So how much change, exactly, have law firm librarians endured? According to the survey’s 123 respondents from a combination of large and medium law firms, more than half of respondents said their role had undergone substantial change within the past three years, with 15 percent reporting “extreme change.” Forty-eight percent of respondents reported spending more than three-quarters of their time on activities that were not part of their job descriptions three years ago. 

A few of the most-identified changes include:
  • Conducting research, as opposed to facilitating the research process for others, became a new job responsibility in the last three years.
  • Due diligence, with 37 percent of respondents reporting it as a new job responsibility within the past three years. 
  • Competitive intelligence and knowledge management were two additional areas where librarians expect to see increasing responsibility, as approximately 20 percent of respondents saw each as tasks they would assume within the next three years.

While law firm librarians are being asked to do more, it is often with fewer resources. To keep up with these changing requirements, a strong majority of librarians reported needing additional resources to adjust to these expanded roles. According to the survey:
  • 81 percent needed additional technology tools
  • 79 percent needed an increased budget
  • 71 percent needed better knowledge tools
  • 69 percent needed more staff

Ultimately, the study concludes that librarians will likely struggle to find additional budget or head count to address their expanding roles, but the pace of change for those responsibilities seems unlikely to decrease. Doing more with less has become almost cliché, but it remains quite relevant for today’s law librarian.

As an academic law librarian, it's always enlightening to see what is happening in the law firm setting. Those of us in academe know that the underlying trend is the same -- that most of us are being asked to do more with less. It's a brave new world. One that we all have the skills for. The lack of resources, on the other hand, will be our biggest challenge.


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