THE global economic crisis has seen many lawyers out of work, down hours or in debt, but even non- lawyers in legal firms are feeling the pinch during these times.
According to a new survey of law firm library directors by The American Lawyer, the average library budget is down slightly from US$5.9 million ($6.6m) in 2008 to US$5.8 m (AUD$6.8m) in 2009.
Law librarians are feeling the pinch like never before. Staff reductions have also become common; with 57 per cent of firms paring their library payroll, up from 18 per cent in 2008 (The survey includes librarians from 86 Am Law 200 firms.)
Librarians that have managed to keep their jobs have been asked to become detectives of a sort, tracking, graphing, and reporting on their firm's use of every research tool.
It's not just job cuts, it's cost cutting that's affecting their working lives.
"In the past we had budget cuts, but we were given targets," said the head librarian at a blue-chip New York firm.
"They'd tell us to cut it 10-15 per cent, and we'd come in around 7 or 8. You got yelled at, but you didn't lose your job. Now they are serious. It's no longer a target."
Many law firms report their budgets have gone under the knife. Last year only 9 per cent of respondents said their budgets had shrunk, this year it was 46 per cent.
The current economic climate is pushing law firm libraries and librarians to be leaner, more efficient operations.
New software is helping staff to analyse how resources are used, letting them home in on the ones that provide value. It's proving easier, too, to persuade partners to give up some of their long-treasured, but not mission-critical, resources.
The changing climate for law librarians is coinciding with an uptick in librarian dissatisfaction. The numbers aren't dramatic, but The American Lawyer notes law firm librarians have long been an "extraordinarily contented lot".
Last year just 7 per cent of librarians mostly or totally disagreed with recent decisions made regarding the library. This year the figure was 16 per cent. In 2008, a mere 3 per cent were dissatisfied with their job. In 2009, 8 per cent were unhappy.
Librarians provide more than legal research to a firm, with an overwhelming majority, 62 per cent of respondents, stating that the library is the firm's main source for marketing research.
In the UK, the situation is equally bad, with law firms cutting library budgets by 12 per cent according to The Guardian. The move has forced many legal publishers to reevaluate profit forecast and budgets, it reported.