Law firm library services: Four questions to guide strategic budgeting by HBR Consulting

Fall is officially here, and many of us are already enjoying colorful leaves and cooler weather. Along with these pleasures of the season, many law firms are also gearing up for another budget cycle. While the annual process of reviewing prior spend and projecting future costs can be time-consuming, it is worthwhile to use budget season as a time to reflect on changes in your firm’s environment and plan strategically for future research and information needs.

While budgeting necessarily involves evaluating and projecting costs, it is also about delivering value to the organization. That means aligning spend with practice needs and investing budget dollars wisely and strategically in resources that move the firm forward.

To budget more strategically, here are the top questions to consider:

  • What are we spending now?
  • What are we using now?
  • What should we be investing in next year?
  • How does the market impact the proposed budget?

What are we spending now?

Reviewing current spend is a typical first step in any budgeting process. In addition to current spend, firms will want to understand their vendors’ contractual or market-rate increases and apply appropriate increases in the coming budget. These first steps only address the status quo, however. Additional review will yield insights that can enable both more accurate budgets and better alignment of spend with firm practice needs. 

What are we using now?

An annual review of current usage of print and online resources is another important step in ensuring an accurate budget. Line-item review at the practice group level will ensure ongoing subscriptions are still appropriate to practice needs. Online resource usage should also be reviewed to ensure optimal utilization. In addition to the information provided by vendors, third-party applications such as Research Monitor or Onelog offer insights into online usage patterns, while proprietary tools such as HBR’s SpendConnect enable deeper perspective into utilization of major resources such as Westlaw and Lexis. Based on feedback from stakeholders and analysis by library professionals, collections can be rebalanced and right-sized (up or down) to fit firms’ current and anticipated needs.

What resources should we be investing in next year?

After reviewing current spend and current resources, the next step in strategic budgeting is to consider new opportunities to meet existing or emerging practice needs. Ideally, the library will have been engaged in dialogue with stakeholders and practice leaders throughout the year and have a sense of emerging needs. If not, budget time presents the perfect opportunity to initiate that conversation. Firms should consider what types of information are needed and for what purposes, and who the top users and end recipients of any information resource will be. As firms evaluate potential new resource investments, they should carefully consider what problem the proposed product will help solve for the firm or its clients, such as a need for access to new data or insights, more efficient research processes, improved consistency or quality of work product, or enhanced workflow.

How does the market impact the potential budget?

Understanding firm needs is crucial to selecting appropriate products, but equally crucial is an awareness of the available resources that may meet those needs. In the current legal information market, new research and workflow tools are emerging at a staggering pace, while existing vendors continue to develop robust enhancements to their current products. At the same time, significant changes in vendor pricing strategies and access models make it necessary for firms to continually reevaluate their existing relationships with information vendors. Library and information professionals must work to stay abreast of these rapid changes in the industry and continually evaluate resources against firm needs. 

In this complex information environment, many firms find value in working with consultants who can provide insight into emerging products and market trends, support collection review and subscription realignment, and help firms to assess and strategically reduce costs. 

For professionals armed with the latest market insights, budget season can provide opportunities to refresh their firms’ information resource collections, paving the way for success in the new year. HBR’s industry-leading Research + Information Solutions provide firms with proven pathways to optimize and improve content choices, assess and strategically reduce costs, and rapidly evolve modern library strategies through careful, customized collaboration. For more information, contact us

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