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Could librarians lead strategic law firm practice growth?

August 17, 2015

I shared yesterday that law blogs don’t just aid practices, blogs create practices.

Key to creating practice defining blogs is identifying strategic opportunities. What niches are out there that a lawyer or group of lawyers could get after with a blog? Maybe it’s patents on a particular type of surgical device or pharmaceutical. Maybe its covering a new regulation relevant to health care providers.

A senior partner in a firm with a number of niche blogs told a group of us that niches can be stumbled into by chance, you may find them in a petri dish. “Read the Wall Street Journal, The Economist or the Financial Times,” he said. “You’ll stumble into opportunities.”

The problem is that most lawyers don’t explore like this. They don’t see how blogs create practices. They tend not to read publications outside the law. They don’t connnect the dots from something they are reading to a multi-million dollar a year practice opportunity realized through a blog.

An answer? Law librarians.

Zena Applebaum (@ZAppleCI), Director of Competive Intelligence at Bennet Jones, writes that colaborative work between a firm’s law librarians and legal marketers could be a good fit for client retention and business development. Unfortunatley, collaboration is not happening.

Librarians feel underused and Marketing/BD professionals in firms are drowning in the volume of work and expectations from their lawyer clients. From my perspective, there is a broader issue of collaboration by law firm management groups at play here. Each department has their mandate, and each is tentative about stepping outside of their world either for fear of repercussion or lack-of- getting-credit-angst. I’ve worked with and reported into several different administrative groups in my time at law firms. And I can tell you that almost all non-lawyers in firms feel underused, it is not just a Librarian thing. The fact that we are described by the negative “non” prefix is the case in point. A commentary that several others in the industry have waxed poetic about before and I don’t need to rehash those discussions. Instead, I offer a solution – a rallying point for the non lawyers who are reading this blog.

The opportunity?

Let’s work together, truly collaborate and check the egos and credit ratings at the door. Ultimately, we all want to succeed in our professions and in our roles within firms. For the marketing people amongst us, that means looking outside of our departments and realizing that there are other smart savvy people within our firms who can help to manage the work load by implementing technology tools, researching in anticipation of client needs or increasing the current awareness portfolio. For Librarians it means thinking about information in a commercial way, for example, how can a legislative change impact clients or increase firm revenue and it is about getting out of the library to chat people up and find out what is keeping them up at night and then matching those anxieties with resources. For all non lawyers, it necessitates a brushing up on soft skills, especially communication, leadership and negotiation skills.

Collaboration on strategic blogging opportunities makes sense.

  • Blogs do indeed create practices by building relationships and word of mouth far faster than other forms of business development.
  • Law librarians read blogs and blog themselves. Law librarians were legal blogging pioneers.
  • Research, as with lawyers, is what law librarians do. In addition to focused legal research, librarians are equipped to research business opportunities. What are the new regulations? Who will the new regulation affect? What is the size of the business market for this opportunity?  Lawyers, librarians and legal marketers sit down and brainstorm and librarians conduct the follow up research and share their advice.
  • Competitive intelligence solutions are followed by law librarians and showcased at law librarian conferences. Competitive intelligence is something librarians are keenly familiar with.
  • Following blogs and other forms of social for listening in order to research niche opportunities and then to exploit the niches through blogging and social is a good fit for law librarians.
  • Saves lawyers’ time in strategizing blog opportunities, something that they are not good at to start with.

Most law firms with law librarians launch blogs with no involvement of their librarians. The result is blogs “marketing” existing practice groups, offering marginal value, eating up a lot of the lawyers’ time and producing little incremental revenue.

Collaboration between law librarians, lawyers and legal marketing could result in niche blogs creating new practices—practices resulting in significant revenue.

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