Outsourcing the law firm library: the UK experience

2017-02-28T03:09:23Z (GMT) by Brown, Fiona
Since 2009, a number of large and leading UK law firms have outsourced their in-house law library and research service to outsource service providers. Integreon, the leading provider of these services in the UK, commenced operations in Australia in 2011. Since that time, a number of other providers of outsourced law library and legal research services have attracted a number of top-tier Australian law firms as clients. These outsource providers are not currently providing law library and legal research services to Australian law firms, however the possibility that they might do so in the future, means that the UK experience with law library outsourcing is relevant and significant to Australian law firms and law librarians Little is known about the providers and users of these services or how the services work in practice. Opinion is divided on the reasons why the law firms outsourced their in-house law libraries. Law librarians believe that the decision is ill conceived, based on lack of appreciation for the value of an in-house library, and motivated solely by a desire to cut library costs. Others believe that libraries and other business support services are being outsourced as part of a carefully considered strategy to lower the overall cost structures of law firms in order that they can effectively compete with unprecedented competition from alternative lower-cost providers of legal services. Opinion is also divided between outsourcers and law librarians on the quality and benefits of the legal research services each provide to the legal profession. Very little is known about the level of law firm satisfaction with the outsourced services so it is difficult to consider the validity of these claims. This thesis identifies both the providers and users of outsourced law library services in the UK and it describes how outsourced law library and research services are delivered. It examines both the reasons for legal research outsourcing and the validity of the claims made for and against it by advocates and critics in the light of information gathered from interviews with the providers and users of those outsourced services. The thesis then considers the significance of the reasons for law library outsourcing for the future of inhouse law libraries both in the UK and Australia. The research finds that law libraries were outsourced partly because the law firms, in order to compete with alternative lower-cost providers of legal services, reduced the cost structures of their businesses by outsourcing a number of non-strategic support services. In addition, specifically in relation to their libraries, law firms outsourced their library service not simply to reduce costs, but rather to obtain more services for their existing budgets. Pressures on library budgets, mainly from the escalating cost of electronic legal information had led to reduced levels of service over time. The research finds that the law firms did not outsource their libraries to obtain a cheaper version of the library existing service but rather to participate in a different type of library service. It finds that law firms outsourced their library in order to gain flexible access to a broad range of research skills including specialist research skills and with the expectation of benefiting from the economies of scale of a larger, well-resourced law library. The thesis contends that by their outsourcing decision, these law firms demonstrated a desire to collaborate with their law firm competitors to share in the costs and benefits of a shared library service and that information and communication technology has made this possible. The research finds that, while not all expected benefits of outsourcing have been realised, outsourcing is effectively meeting the information needs of law firms. This thesis also considers the significance of the reasons for the law library outsourcing for the future of in-house law libraries both in the UK and in Australia. It is contended that there is likelihood that law library outsourcing will be introduced and adopted in Australia in the future. The competitive pressures on the legal profession and the changing information landscape, which gave rise to law library outsourcing in the UK are already present in Australia. Several Australian law firms, in response to pressure from their corporate clients, have already adopted legal process outsourcing, demonstrating that the adoption of lower-cost models of service delivery, in response to competitive pressures, has begun. Pressures on library budgets and the changing information needs of lawyers have already resulted in the adoption of shared library services in other sectors of the legal profession. This thesis contributes to the knowledge of law library and legal research outsourcing by providing an overview of its history. It identifies the providers of outsourced law library and those law firms that have outsourced their in-house libraries to these outsource service providers. It describes how outsourced law library services are delivered, an aspect of law library outsourcing that has been the subject of considerable speculation. It explains the motivations, expectations, and the level of satisfaction of law firms with outsourced library services. This new information is vital to members of the legal profession and information professionals who may be called upon to make decisions regarding the outsourcing of their own information services.