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Are Firms Succeeding with Low Cost Service Centers? (Live from Ark Library)

This is a live blog post from the Ark Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library, Research & Information Services conference in NYC. The topic of this session is “Service Delivery Transformation: Are Firms Having Success On-shoring Back-Office Operations?“.  Onshore back-office operations are a subset of the broader category of large law firm low cost service centers.

The presenters:

  • Cynthia L. Brown JD, Director Research Services, Littler Mendelson P.C.,
  • Colleen Fitzgerald Cable, Director of Information Services, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
  • Rachelle Rennagel, Director of Research and Information Services, White & Case LLP

[This is live, posted as a session ends. Please forgive typos and any error in understanding.]


The three firms on panel are in different points of evolution in their low cost service centers. There is no single pathway that applies to all law firms. Each presenter will talk about her firm’s journey.


The firm has long had much of its staff in San Francisco. In September 2014, Cynthia learned the firm would open a low cost service center in Kansas City. The firm has about 1000 lawyers and almost 60 offices, many of which are small. All librarians were centralized in SF except one (based on special circumstances).

The idea was that the Cynthia would persuade many of her staff to move to Kansas City. She and the firm wanted that. Conversations began in January 2015. In the end, no one wanted to move and all of her staff found positions locally in SF.

One of the attractions of moving to KC was an opportunity to re-think the Library. Cynthia asked for more people. In 2014, pre-move, Library has 12 people. Today, in KC, it has 18. Also wanted to take more innovative approaches.

Initially, Cynthia was skeptical that re-building in KC would work. She was wrong – success in KC has been amazing.

With move to KC, department broken into Service, Reference, and Strategic Research. Service for legal research, reference for faster questions, strategic research for KM and firm needs.

Library has 2 floors of open work area. Cynthia thought open space would not work but it does. “It’s fantastic; people talk to each other.” All of the corporate departments are experiencing the same thing. There is more communication. For example, until the KC move, Cynthia did not know that conflicts department needs access to same resources Library has.

Senior management (partners) have been to the Library and know the staff. That was not true in the past.

With the move, the Library cleaned-up systems and data. The catalog is much better now. Accomplished more in 2015 than in prior decade. Staff took on more in KC, for example, tracking Canadian legislative developments. Plans (hopes) to hire two new net additions in 2016.

So tips for a move to a low cost service center:

  • Be prepared for difficult conversations with existing staff
  • Identify what you want to fix
  • Get to know the new library community
  • Push your recruiters
  • Teach new employees the why, not just the how
  • Involve staff who are not moving as quickly as possible, even in training new staff
  • Work to create overlap between old and new staff to the extent possible
  • Change how you manage to take advantage of fresh slate



Global operation center founded in Wheeling in 2002. First of its kind in the US (that is, a low cost domestic center). In 2002, it began with 70 employees and now has almost 400. It provides global 24×7 support for finance, HR, and IT. It also houses document review attorneys and career associates. (Career associates started a long time ago. They are non-partner track and support various practice groups.)

Research and Information Services has three teams. Research has 9 general US research, only one in Wheeling. There are four business intelligence / CI, all in Wheeling. All but one of 4 operations managers are in Wheeling.

R&I, until 2015, did not start moving to 2015. It was never really a mandate. The business research team was originally stood up in Wheeling. In 2015, the Library re-organized and started moving some functions to Wheeling. There was opposition to moving the research team. So the re-org was really more about library administration.

The move to Wheeling began office by office. Started with DC office, which is in the same time zone as Wheeling. Needed to think about what needs to stay onsite and what can move. Needed to collaborate with finance re tax implications. All staff were offered a move to Wheeling; none accepted. Cleaned up procedures in the course of the move.

Concluding thoughts… understand and articulate service offerings, think through and have a rational basis for people sit and work, and the transition can be painful but the end result is worth it.

White & Case

The decision about centralizing service and location is very much firm-specific. The majority of W&C’s 2000 lawyers are outside the Americas. The firm has 20 practice areas and 39 locations globally. The Research team has 50 members (including some part time) dispersed globally, including researchers and PSLs.

At the two service centers – Manila and Tampa – everyone is a firm employee (versus some being outsourced). It was important to the firm that the service centers be part of the firm. In the US, the Reference team performs mainly traditional Library functions but those outside US end up doing a broader range of work, for examples, records.

R&IS wants to be trusted researchers and be a force multiplier for lawyers. (Research & Information Services).

R&IS strategy is to elevate research, not tend books. It has teams for research, operations, and systems. It is key to identify tasks and work streams that do not need to be handled locally. Focus on global scaling and driving efficiency. The firm has an aggressive growth strategy so R&IS has to be able to scale (though not likely proportionately to lawyer headcount).

This year is about building a foundation. The firm already has a global library management system (LMS).  New in the foundation: contract management is being centralized; beginning to utilize central procurement, finance, and A/P for purchasing.

Manila as 300 employees; 4 are dedicated to R&IS and is growing. Rachelle emphasized they are part of the team, for example, on Jabber. The firm is centralizing invoice and working to overcome resistance to that. All cataloging is done in Manila. Manila maintains, curates, and monitor news aggregator feeds.

Tampa opened about 18 months ago. Intent is to centralized book shipments to Tampa and then pouched back to offices.  All contract management will move to Tampa. Will test triaging reference requests in Tampa. That office will handle easy / off-the-shelf requests and job out the rest.

The firm is going down the path of embedded research support. Some librarians are already embedded. Firm is testing having one person embedded locally with a practice and paired with an embedded researcher housed in Tampa.

The firm still needs to work on local sensitivities to globalizing services. Much change management is required. Other challenge includes dealing with multiple languages and local differences in culture. It will take time to centralize all the processes that make sense to centralize.

[Q&A portion not covered]