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Make Your Law Librarians Happy by Giving Them More Work, Really

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 21, 2015 2:42 PM

Few firms have physical libraries anymore, but that doesn't mean there's no work for law librarians. While much of their time is spent on helping research through electronic databases and keeping practitioners on top of recent developments, law librarians also see plenty of opportunity to expand their role in the firm.

That's the message found by a new survey of law firm librarians conducted by Bloomberg Law. Those librarians feel underused and underpaid and they're ready to take a more active role in bringing in business. So, if you want to make your law librarians happy, give them more work -- and maybe a raise.

More Than Just Books

Librarians have a wealth of information and knowledge management skills that are largely underutilized. Ninety-one percent of the 80 librarians surveyed said the main way they currently demonstrate value is through handling research requests, while 81 percent also kept practitioners and other stakeholders abreast of information, news, legal developments, and client information. Though only 21 percent of surveyed librarians thought that business development was "the most logical place" for their skill set, 93 percent of the librarians believed they could be put to better use in that role.

If only the firm would let them. According to the survey, many firms simply don't know how to make use of their librarians. Sixty-nine percent of the librarians said their firm only "somewhat" understood how to use their library resources for researching prospective clients, while 14 percent said their practice was clueless when it came to employing law librarians in client recruitment. That said, many librarians were already playing a role in business development (65 percent) and competitive intelligence (75 percent), which are the two most common job responsibilities after research.

Librarians' roles could be bigger if they stopped shushing and started speaking up, according to Bloomberg. Over three quarters of respondents said their firms were very or somewhat receptive to expanding their responsibilities.

Don't Forget the Pay

Of course, if librarians want to have an expanded role in law firms, they want to be paid accordingly. Seventy-seven percent of the librarians surveyed said they don't make enough for their work when compared to librarians and analysts working in financial institutions or as outside consultants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the annual mean wage for librarians working in the legal service industry is slightly above $70,000.

Lawyers shouldn't write off law librarians as just a BigLaw perk, either. While most of the surveyed librarians worked at large firms, 49 percent worked for firms with less than 200 lawyers and 13 percent of those were at firms with less than 50 attorneys.

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