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Should Firms Hire Law Librarians or Knowledge Officers?

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By Jason Beahm on November 02, 2010 7:01 AM

Law libraries may be going the way of the dinosaur, but what about law librarians? A recent article in the ABA Journal raises the question of how you define a librarian or knowledge officer and whether it is time for the meaning of librarian to evolve.

Traditionally a librarian is somebody who oversees a library. So, the article asks, if there is no need for a library, why would you need a law librarian? Because the amount of information is expanding so rapidly, says Google's General Counsel Kent Walker. Law librarians have the information, after all. Who else is going to be better at conducting legal research than them? As the ABA Journal piece put it, "If you have someone who is really good at finding the right information, why would a firm need, or even want, to draw a line between where that information came from?"

By contrast, in most firms, associates do most of the research in law firms. But despite the WestLaw seminars they attended in law school, they are far from research experts. Therefore a knowledge officer may be a far more effective person to use when your firm conducts legal research. Furthermore, chances are that their time will cost the firm less than that of an associate.

The article goes on to suggest that the librarian should bridge the gap between the rest of the law firm, because they are in a position to contribute to business development, accounting and more. However, some quick research by the article's author found that most librarians did not seem to be embracing their new potential role. For that, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's quote seemed appropriate: "If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more."

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