Guest Blog: Outsourcing the Law Firm Library: The UK experience

Following on from the presentation on the 19 November by Fiona Brown (see also blog post 25 November 2013), Cindy Martin Allens Library Site Coordinator has contributed her notes on the event.

If you too would like to contribute to the ALLA NSW blog please email austlawlib.nsw@gmail.com

Research on Outsourcing libraries in the UK

By Cindy Martin

Fiona Brown has undertaken a Masters study on outsourcing of legal process in Law Firms and was invited to speak to ALLA NSW on the 19th Nov 2013 at Gilbert and Tobin. Fiona has focused on the UK experience and there are many interesting observations she has made in this area. I am really pleased to see a body of work produced, and know that it was not easily obtained because of so many contentious factors and the sensitive nature of this business as it was evolving. It is valuable I think for Australia to have this insight and be aware of some of the experiences and given that one provider has been establishing itself here. I have provided some points below and if you feel the need to read the entire work it is available from the Monash Uni.

The research focus is where a complete library has been outsourced in the UK.  US is a bit more of a coexisting model 68% outsourcing eg. Cataloguing, procurement..

Fiona’s research has been governed by university standards meeting privacy requirements and engaged in qualitative analysis

Transcripts have been analysed for common and different issues, also used software program that assessed for themes across the research

10 of the Top 50 UK companies are in the business of total outsourcing (including other business support services)

Some companies brought services back  in- house

Outsourcing companies

Evaluserve not operating in Australia
Integreon now staffed in Sydney and looking to grow, also have a focus on legal process and knowledge management, have Indian office support services

Services outsourced

Current awareness, procurement….
Contracts range from annual to 10years
Medium to large eg 45%  had single partner law firms.  Less than 10 % of law firm libraries were outsourced totally
Where did it come from? A few law firms saw themselves all doing the same thing and they wanted a business service that could rationalise this.

Reasons for outsourcing

Improving efficiency and gaining more services for the library including more access to skills of wider group of librarians
Accessing business intelligence services
Some wanted extended hours of service from libraries
Outsourcing non-strategic services was intended to remove responsibility for time spent understanding support services and instead shift this to the experts who can concentrate on making this business work and the lawyers can just focus on Client work as this is their strategic focus
While law firms may have expressed dissatisfaction with the scale of the library service and their ability to pay for the library service that they wanted there was no dissatisfaction with the library staff as individuals or professionals.
Law firms were looking for business intelligence research
Law firms really wanted to share and rationalise costs
Law firms didn’t want to reduce the service anymore through the cuts but outsourcing would provide a better service
The library was not considered as strategically competitive and for this reason would be a candidate for outsourcing

Expected benefits

More resources and services for their library budget
More leverage for budget
They were interested in electronic sources savings and reduce escalating costs, reducing management , PD issues,

Was this realised ?

No shared libraries were established
No inter library loans could be accessed by the providers
Librarians who worked for the providers were cut out of professional networks
No shared electronic resources arrangements were negotiated with publishers – publishers did not agree to these arrangements
Has caused some divide amongst law librarians in some areas, but in other areas there is still collaboration amongst the library community in London.

Costs savings

Staff costs were reduced
Modest saving on Hardcopy
Modest to zero savings on electronic resources
Some reduced management costs
Were satisfied with specialist quality of service

Responses from Lawyers and Partners that were interviewed on their views on libraries

You’re best customers are trainees sent to the library – higher level lawyers in the organisation were not seen to be utilising services
Lawyers are protecting their team and pa’s and so other services were targeted in the name of rationalisation
Libraries in the study were seen as basic retrieval services and not embedded in deep research and other service provisions

Conclusions….

Outsourcing models only brings benefits if more law firms get on board in hope that there will be more negotiating power and print collection and staff sharing
Outsourcing are rethinking cost and changing the cost structure to user pays to look at ways to remain financially viable as the financial gains have not been realised by the providers
Outsourcing providers acknowledge their IT systems are not supporting the services they provide and they have to look at improving this to gain customers and financial benefits.
Standardization of service will enable the outcomes to be more achievable and efficient but all the customers have very tailored solutions.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Outsourcing the Law Firm Library: The UK experience

  1. Really interesting post Cindy, thanks for the thoughts.

    I wonder why the outsourced Librarians did not want to participate in the study, was it a directive from the outsourcing companies or was there some lingering professional angst. Having the librarian input would have been fascinating and we would have been able to better understand what drove the outsourcing and importantly whether the benefits promised by the outsources are realised.

    Some of the comments from the law firms on why they felt an outsourced library could deliver better service seemed very strange to me;

    1. The law firms thought they would have better access to legal sources by outsourcing. Does this mean the outsourcing companies get better deals from the publishers than law firms? If that is true, it would be interesting to know why?

    2. The law firms wanted better access to business development tools. Again this is possible (anything is possible I suppose), but does the average law firm know how much access to these tools costs? (Capital IQ, Orbis or IBIS World are not cheap). Do you think they have access to this information now?

    Are there ways to combat these thoughts and move further up the food chain?

    Thanks again and hopefully Fiona has a similar follow up PHD on this interesting topic.

    Phil Mullen
    K&L Gates

  2. Like you, I was very keen to hear the opinions and the experiences of law librarians who had been outsourced to Evalueserve and Integreon. They alone would have been able to comment with authority on the claims and counterclaims made about the outsourced research services.There are very few comments purporting to come from this group in social media and these only indicate that they have overcome their initial reservations about working for an outsourcer and are content in their employment. BIALL notified their members of my research visit to the UK and of my wish to interview people with knowledge of outsourcing but I was not contacted by any employees of outsourcers. I have invited comments via Twitter on more than one occasion without success. I could identify several individuals working for these companies through LinkedIn but I was reluctant to approach individual law librarians for comments in this (stalking?) way particularly when they had ignored several indirect approaches. I did however request interviews with the two former employees of Integreon who set up their own outsourcing company, Isential in 2012 but they did not reply to the emails. I can only assume that law librarians believe that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by sharing their opinions about their current or past employers.The law library world in the UK seems to me to be as small and interconnected as the law library world in Australia. As a result, individuals are probably reluctant to risk offending someone that they may work with/for in the future. Hopefully in the future someone else may be able to persuade these law librarians to share their experiences with the rest of the profession.

    It is true that the outsourcing law firms believed that the outsourcer would be able to negotiate better prices on their behalf for legal resources because of their bigger buying power however no significant savings had been delivered at the time of the interviews in 2012. While the outsourcers claimed to be able to deliver some savings in the bulk purchase of print resources, both the outsourcers interviewed and the outsourcing law firms all confirmed that publishers were not providing lower prices to the outsourcers for electronic resources.Outsourcers had not been able negotiate consortia rates on behalf of all their clients and law firms were not sharing in the use of any information resources. Both outsourcers and law firms expressed optimism that this situation would change in the future if more law firms outsourced their libraries and research services to commercial providers. The law firms continued to own and use their own legal resources and the outsourcers used these resources on their behalf. To date only ten law firms have outsourced their law libraries to external providers and nine of these remain outsourced. One law firm outsourced to Evalueserve and the remaining eight outsourced to Integreon. These numbers are very small by any measure and have obviously been insufficent to persuade publishers to alter their pricing models.
    Only time will tell if market power will shift to the customer if more law firms outsource their libraries and research services to commercial providers in the future. The rapid growth in law library outsourcing experienced between 2009 and 2011 however has stalled.It is possible that this is partly because of the failure of outsourcing to deliver the anticipated savings in the cost of information resources – the major cost of any law library. Law library ‘outsourcing’ or remote library service provision in the UK continues but since 2011 more UK law firms have chosen to transfer their law library service to their own service centres in onshore or offshore locations wth lower labour costs than have outsourced to commercial library service providers. But that is a whole new story…

    Fiona Brown
    Monash University

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s