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More Challenges for Law Librarians

More Challenges for Law Librarians

Information is the foundation of the practice of law. The vast accumulated history of law transactions is what gives legal services its value. Applying all that information is what lawyers do. Managing the information falls on the shoulders of law librarians, often the unsung heroes of law practices.

That lack of recognition is beginning to change, however. Some firms feel their librarians’ work is so important that they have created a C-level position for it: Chief Knowledge Officer. And with enormous responsibility come equally large challenges. Beyond managing the current physical and electronic contents of a firm’s library, a CKO must consider the firm’s future information needs, forecasting how the firm’s strategic plan is going to shape the library’s contents.

This in turn influences the library’s spatial needs, and a CKO is fundamentally involved in analyzing space usage now and in the future. A library’s spatial needs presents unique challenges:

  • Organizing/Categorizing – Is the practice’s library organized into cases, codes, and comments, or is it organized by category, perhaps on different floors: family law, intellectual property law, trusts? Organization dictates the quantity and arrangement of shelving and filing, and a mobile high-density shelving system will maximize capacity and reduce the storage footprint.
  • Archiving– Librarians have a strong hoarding tendency, and law librarians are no exception. Case documents need a home for years to come, and may need to be accessed again in the future. How large, and how quickly, an archive will grow over time determines the amount of storage that will be needed down the road. An expandable storage system gives librarians the flexibility to respond to both anticipated and unexpected archiving needs.
  • Tracking – Paper documents have a way of migrating from desk to desk, and disappearing under stacks of other paper documents. When there are potentially hundreds of documents comprising a single case, it’s vital to know the whereabouts of each document. CKO’s can take a page from the retail and warehouse world, where automated inventory systems use RFID to enumerate and track assets. Specialized paper with embedded RFID fibers, and RFID tags for books and files, enable librarians to know how many documents they have, and where they are at any time.
  • Scanning – Despite the demand for hard copies in the legal profession, e-documents are a burgeoning part of the CKO’s responsibility. A Hybrid Tracking/Content Management system allows library staff to create digital content from scanning projects, on an ad hoc or even an as-needed basis. For very active filing systems, back file scanning conversions let firms quickly and cost-effectively scan significant amounts of paper files. A Hybrid Tracking/Content Management solution then allows the introduction of scanned files directly back to the system that managed them in physical form. And with e-documents come physical media storage needs – drives and tapes must be stored and tracked just like paper. As with paper documents, a mobile shelving system allows for expanded storage capacity within a restricted footprint.

CKO’s and their staff have a lot of information to sift through, organize and manage. Just in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), over 350,000 cases were filed in U.S. Federal courts alone. When it’s time to consider a space plan, CKO’s don’t have the bandwidth to add storage products to their research tasks. They can hand off that work to a qualified storage consultant who will make recommendations suited to the law firm’s one-of-a-kind space utilization needs.


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The Startup Challenge: Why Office Space Matters

The Startup Challenge: Why Office Space Matters

You’re launching a startup on a bootstrap budget. You think you need office space for your team, but real estate costs would push your burn rate to new heights. Is an office really essential?

At first glance, setting up distributed teams would seem like the obvious way to save money on real estate costs. There are very few places in the world that don’t have reliable high-speed internet service. You can hire the best talent, regardless of where they live, and collaborate remotely. You don’t have to pay to relocate personnel, and you get the productivity gains of extremely short commutes – mere steps from the bedroom to the in-home office. Best of all, your real estate costs drop to zero.

However, a second look at managing a distributed or remote team may reveal some obstacles. You’ll lose the valuable “water cooler” effect, where serendipitous ideas can result in development breakthroughs. Without regularly scheduled face-to-face information sharing, you may struggle to build team cohesiveness. If a team member’s personality isn’t suited to distributed teamwork, you’ll have a hard time monitoring that person’s productivity if you’re many miles away.

Don’t discount the kind of psychological support that office space can give a new business. It’s a big part of your corporate culture, and corporate culture is what attracts and retains top talent. Renting office space shows your commitment to the business and to the team. In turn, your team feels pride in the new venture, and feels loyalty toward you.

From your investors’ standpoint, a lease says you’re planning for the long term. From your clients’ or end users’ point of view, a physical address says you’re a real business. Further, the type and style of office space, whether it’s unbearably hip or middle-aged mainstream, reinforces your startup’s brand.

There are good arguments for distributed teams, and there are equally compelling reasons for procuring office space for your startup. Many startups are doing a little of both, with good results. Flexible hours and telecommuting are valuable recruitment tools; when you don’t have to have every team member in the office all the time, you can reduce your spatial requirements to something more budget-friendly. Imaginative space utilization can reduce your needs even further – adaptive furnishings let you reconfigure your workspace on the fly, changing from individual workstations to collective conference room at a moment’s notice. High-density mobile shelving increases your storage capacity and decreases your storage footprint. Some startups even join forces with complementary businesses to share back-office operations and office space.

With some creative input from design and storage experts, and some outside-the-box thinking, a startup can have the best of both worlds – a distributed team that also works face-to-face from time to time, without breaking the bank. Office space defines your brand, your corporate culture, and your productive operation. When design efficiency makes office space affordable, can any startup afford to be without it?