Why Are we paying for that? Ten Tips and Techniques for Taming a Library Budget and Optimizing ROI

Published on 2024-02-28 byJean O'Grady

Law library budgets can easily grow wild like sprawling and untamed gardens. In the past, law librarians could be managing literally thousands of print titles spread across dozens of locations. The pandemic accelerated the full embrace of digital alternatives to print. Today many law firm libraries have small print collections but a large and complex network of digital licenses. Law firm mergers, the opening of new offices and the continuous churn of lateral partners can play havoc with budgets and orderly management of both digital and print collections.

We have all been confronted with an invoice that prompts us to pause and wonder “Why are we paying for that?”

The legal tech market is bursting with innovative new Generative AI products. Sometimes the only way to pay for a new resource is to purge the collection of lesser used, duplicative or legacy products which have been automatically renewed without any analysis.

Over the course of my career I have grappled with the unruly forces of full “mergers of equals,”  partial mergers, office openings, office closing, spin-offs, practice group migrations…. Practices expand or shrink over time. Partners come and go and often leave behind a legacy of resources that no longer have a devoted champion.

The best way to control costs is to develop processes and protocols for each of the three major product lifecycle benchmarks: acquisition, renewal, and cancellation.

Some of these tips may seem obvious but since library directors are often in a position of having to assume a budget and acquisition workflow created by someone else it may be useful to stand back and ask some fundamental questions. One of the basic challenges a librarian faces is that they are responsible for the overall budget and yet most of the purchases are driven by practice group or individual partner demands.

Here are some of the key steps to help validate the ongoing need for, and the orderly onboarding and cancellation of, legal research products.


  1. Conduct an inventory of all licensed products. You may discover that there are multiple licenses to a single product. Sometimes redundant products are purchased by administrative departments or individual partners. Sometimes products appeared during a merger but for some reason were previously managed outside the library. Create a spreadsheet of all existing licenses, noting size (enterprise, limited group, single user), renewal dates, and cancellation notice requirements. The initial benefit of this exercise will be to consolidate and right-size each license. It will also allow you to identify largely redundant content purchased from different vendors.
  2. Measure to Manage. Implement a resource tracking product such as Research Monitor or Onelog. These products pay for themselves in no time by creating actionable data and insights. It is not enough to track the data, in order to expose usage trends of specific products you need to analyze the data. Use that data in renewal discussions with both the users and the vendor negotiations. If a practice group has two redundant products, compare the usage trends and the users for each product. Collaborate with the practice group to build a consensus around keeping only the best product and eliminating the other.
  3. Anec-data -There are some products that cannot be tracked for a variety of reasons. Newsletters that are delivered as PDFs and products primarily used on mobile devices are not so  easily tracked. However, you should be able to identify the main users of each product. Request testimonials from those users, explaining the unique value proposition of any product that cannot be tracked using data.
  4. Taming auto renewals. Most digital products will auto-renew unless written notice is provided in writing 30,60, or 90 days prior to the renewal date. You will need to establish a tickler system. In fact, the assessment of the product, analysis of usage data, and outreach to uses should begin 6 months before the renewal, so there is time to conduct adequate due diligence, surveying current users, looking for alternative products, renegotiating the size of the license or retraining users on alternative products.
  5. Creating practice group accountability. More than once in my career I took over a single “gi-normous” library budget which included no analysis of spending by practice group.  Understanding that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” I undertook the challenge of coding the cost of all resources by practice group.  Do not wait to be told to do this by the Accounting Department or the Executive Director. It is a big effort but the rewards are also big. Create spreadsheets for each practice group showing the total annual cost of each resource used by that practice group. That spreadsheet can be enhanced with usage data from the monitoring product mentioned above. Add columns for the most recent 12 month total number of users and total number of transactions. Then compute the ROI by dividing the cost of the resource by 12 month total users and 12 months of total transactions. In my experience this kind of data was always welcomed by practice group leaders, who have an interest in maximizing firm profitability and who welcome opportunities to right-size or at least validate the spending for their groups.
  6. Analytics and Insights. The practice level cost reports can be consolidated into an overall firm report which shows the average spending on resources per lawyer within each practice group. Proactively showing an analysis of spending creates good will for the department and also reinforces the message that your department is the “go to” expert for all content related spending.
  7. Don’t keep the cost a secret. Disclose the cost of specific resources to lawyers. Many lawyers are completely unfamiliar with what their “pet” product costs. When presented with the actual cost of a product most lawyers are quite reasonable and will honestly assess whether a product is worth the price the firm is paying.
  8. Promote Your Key Role in Evaluating and Onboarding New Products. Many vendors will reach out to individual lawyers to “pitch a product.” The Library needs to stay “top of mind” so lawyers reach out for advice and collaboration in the process of reviewing new products. Create a formal acquisition workflow and engage key stakeholders in each practice group for demos or trials of new products. This reinforces the message that you are monitoring the legal tech landscape on their behalf, and working with them (not against them).
  9. Consider “The Total Cost of Print” The cost of print resources goes beyond the invoices and includes staff to onboard a label, space to shelve and staff time to up-date-loose leaf supplements. Print resources are never as up-to-date as the digital alternative so digital is almost always the preferred version. Inventory the print resources that are available online. Add direct links to the digital versions to the library catalog. Ask vendors to set up “non-billable zones” so lawyers can access treatises and desk-books outside any “billback” tracking system. Make it easy to locate and use the digital versions of treatises and desk-books. Undertake a promotion campaign to drive awareness and give lawyers time to adapt. Cancelling print is often easier when a good digital foundation is laid in advance of the cancellation.
  10. Training and Outreach Budget management is not just about cutting costs. It also involves optimizing utilization.  Lawyers don’t use products that they don’t know are at the firm. Most vendors will offer training for free at the product launch and many vendors offer ongoing training. In addition, the research team can enhance training by being part of the “associate academy” by offering sessions at practice group meetings, by sending out newsletters and making announcements on the firm portal. Training and outreach never ends!


A Word About Generative AI and a Possible “Research Singularity.” We are so early in the evolution of Generative AI (GAI) in law, I do  find myself speculative on its long term impact on legal resource management. Will GAI flatten the marketplace? Will law firms become self-generating and self sufficient information creators? Will GAI enable a single vendor to address both the general and bespoke research needs of law firms? Will the market fragment even further with nimble start-ups inventing new workflow paradigms? Legal Research hardly changed for two hundred years but in the last fifteen years years we have repeatedly witnessed start-ups “breaking” the standard processes and assumptions and bringing to market tools that delivered new insights and new efficiencies. Law Librarians and knowledge managers will be working overtime to help law firms assess the coming tsunami of change.

About the ExpertView Profile
Jean O'Grady

Jean O'Grady

LTH Expert Venable LLP

Jean P. O’Grady has over 30 years of experience developing strategic information initiatives for Am Law 100 law firms. She holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law, an M.L.S. from St. John’s University and a B.A. in History from Fordham University. She is a member of the NY State Bar.

She is also a columnist at Above the Law and a panelist on Bob Ambrogi’s weekly  Legal Tech Journalist’s Roundtable.

Jean was the 2013-14 Chair of the Private Law Libraries Section of the American Association of Law Libraries and a past President of the Law Library Association of Greater New York. She is an incoming Board Member of the American Association of Law Libraries ( 2017- 2019). Board Member, New York Law Institute (2015-2018.)

She is a frequent author and speaker on the transformation of libraries and information centers, digital contract licensing , knowledge management, and the legal publishing industry. She has spoken at programs sponsored by the Information Industry Association, the Association of Newsletter Publishers, Practicing Law Institute, International Legal Technology Association , West Publishing, Price Waterhouse, LegalTech, Lexis-Nexis. Janders Dean Knowledge Management Conference, American Association of Law Schools. as well as AALL, Canadian Association of Law Libraries, Australian Law Libraries Association and the Special Libraries Association.

In 2011 she launched her blog “Dewey B Strategic” to promote awareness of the strategic importance of librarians, libraries and knowledge managers as change agents and innovators in the organizations they support. She has written provocative pieces on a variety of law firm management, publishing and technology issues which have sparked important debates in the industry. Jean started writing a regular blog for Legaltech Hub, Jean O'Grady for LTH, in 2022.

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