V Mary Abraham has written about one of the challenges of being a librarian in a law firm. In an environment where time spent looking up information is billable, what is the benefit of a librarian that reduces the amount of time spent looking for information, and in doing so, reduces billable hours.
Abraham rejects this analysis, as do it. It reminds me of one a similar dynamic that exists in software companies that charge for support: what incentive does a software company have to produce software that works well, that has few defects, and is easy to use when they make money off of training and support?
I encourage you to read Abraham’s response to this challenge, and I would add that in addition to the personal interests and motivations of the people involved, these kinds of practices (i.e. working inefficiently to generate billable hours) will in the end only damage the organization’s brand, their customer relationships, and their overall reputation.
Software companies at least have the benefit of a certain degree of lock-in, making it difficult for customers to switch to another provider. I don’t know much about how law firms operate, but my guess is that a customer who grew tired of paying high bills for lawers looking up information would have an easier time switching to another firm.
A law librarian can therefore become a key strategic asset to a firm, enabling them to provide excellent, fairly-priced service to its clients. Efficient staff will be able to handle more work from more clients, allowing the law firm to grow and establish itself as a top-tier firm. The end result is not only a more stable customer base, but, you guessed it, more billable hours.