August 8, 2011
Law Firm Libraries Approaching a "Network-style Meltdown" in Conducting Business with Vendors
"Vendors, your vendor business model is broken" for institutional buyers in the only market segment that matters to our major, very expensive and very tradition-bound vendors in terms of huge guaranteed revenue streams (law firms and corporate accounts). Once taken for granted that revenue stream is no longer a sure thing. The "New Normal" calls for a business model that addresses the 21st Century -- no premiums for new search engines and user interfaces since that's just the cost of staying competitive; no print subscription tie-ins for having access to online versions or for acquiring access at an additional expense, no contracting for online based on 20th Century pricing schemes. The only major vendors I see addressing these concerns in terms of a 21st business model at the moment are online-only Bloomberg Law and Fastcase.
One of the most talked about presentations at Philly 2011 was Gregory Castanias' (Jones Day) pre-meeting speech at PLL's Change as Action, Change as Opportunity Summit. Castanias comments about the audience reaction he received during his speech:
I confess that I was surprised at the reaction of the audience to my speech. While it was clearly my intent to deliver a certain message, I did not expect that the assembled attendees would interrupt parts of it with applause, and, in at least one instance, loud table-pounding. It’s apparent that the frustrations I’ve experienced from a partner-administrator level have been felt by librarians for years, and that my speech gave partner-level voice to many of those frustrations.
I am happy to have provided so many talented professionals a moment of catharsis. But I hope that I was able to do more than that. I hope that the library professionals who heard this speech better understand that we, the partners who own our respective law firms, are (or at least should be) really aligned with them. I hope that the library professionals are able to take this information, steel their backbones, and have the strength to tell their vendors exactly what they need, and to insist on being treated like a client, and not a cash pipeline. While I’m not quite advocating a Peter Finch-style “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more!” approach, the vendors I was addressing would be well suited to sit up and take notice that law firms’ librarians are a lot closer to a Network-style meltdown than even I thought before I gave my speech.
A transcript of Castanias' presentation along with the above quoted comments has been published by On Firmer Ground. Do note that his perspective is based on serving as Jones Day's Library Partner since 2004. Highly recommended for law librarians who were unable to afford the additional expense of attending PLL's Summit this year. It is clearly applicable to institutional buyers outside the law firm sector.
In terms of publicizing vendor complaints, Greg Lambert appears to think that more attention is given to them when expressed by partners instead of by law librarians. See his Pa Pa Pa Partner Power graph on 3 Geeks. I guess the question is attention from whom, vendors? Changes in business model? Too soon to say but I'm not all that hopeful, at least not yet.
Professionally speaking, if it takes BigLaw "partner power" to get vendors' attention, then so be it. It just means, we better reach out to associated stakeholders like state and national bar associations and law firm administration organizations by participating more actively in their organizations and at their meetings. By that I mean, individual law librarians taking the initiative to do so instead of relying on AALL's pro forma liasioning.[JH]