Building an agile and professional librarian team: Interview with Shabeer Khan, Director of Research Services at Morrison & Foerster LLP

Building an agile and professional librarian team: Interview with Shabeer Khan, Director of Research Services at Morrison & Foerster LLP

As an English major with a love of reading, Shabeer subsequently earned his master’s degree in Library and Information Science from St. John’s University. In his current position as director of research services at Morrison & Foerster, Shabeer leverages his 30+ years of leadership and management skills in the legal industry to guide a global team of research analysts, competitive intelligence and KM professionals in delivering high-quality, in-depth and agile support to their firm’s attorneys and staff.

We recently interviewed Shabeer to learn more about how law librarianship is evolving, the increase in AI, analytics and competitive intelligence projects, and how he guides his team to success.

 

Q1: What is the most challenging part of being a knowledge manager director today?

I prefer viewing this as a point of emphasis and focus versus a challenge. For me, that is building a cohesive, self-directed team. We’re a 24/7 international operation, and it’s important to develop a dedicated team of professionals with the right skill set, always willing to learn and highly motivated to deliver superior results. Of course, you need to ensure they have the tools to succeed as well.

 

Q2: How have the responsibilities of your staff changed over the past couple years?

Change is all around us. However, what hasn’t changed is that we remain focused on research and delivering relevant content. It’s how we’re doing it and the skills and tools we use that have changed.

Traditionally we’ve had a receive, respond and react mindset, and this is still a huge part of what we do. However, now we’re much more involved in proactively pushing information out to the attorneys and practice groups. This requires being plugged into what’s going on in the firm and anticipating what might be needed.”

Continuous learning: There’s a plethora of products and resources available today, some that are rather complex, requiring library staff to rapidly learn and effectively use these tools. In today’s climate, we see a continuous disruption to routine because there’s always something new that we need to evaluate, learn, teach and use.

“Change is constant, but research remains foundational to everything that we do.”

Emergence of artificial intelligence and data analytics tools: We’re always evaluating new technologies through the lens of how they can help the library staff and/or attorneys be better or more efficient. As a result, we’ve added numerous tools in this space over the past couple years and continue to keep a pulse on new tools coming to market.

“We’re constantly exploring analytics tools to ensure that we have the best tools to do the work that we need to get done.”

Attorney adoption of new technologies: We spend considerable time driving adoption of tools within the firm. This includes broad awareness of what the library is doing and resources available, in addition to helping our attorneys take advantage of those tools and resources.

“Now that tools are being developed with the end-user in mind and easily accessible, we put a lot of resources in the hands of the end-user. That’s freed up some of the librarians’ time so that we can focus on other projects.”

 

Q3: How has competitive intelligence work evolved in your department?

We’ve developed a strong competitive intelligence program here at Morrison & Foerster. We also support marketing and business development, including conflicts and new client intake. Many of these areas were tangential in the past but are now more central to what we do. It’s more strategic and puts us at the center of law firm growth and success. And that’s not a bad place to be.

 

Q4: What changes do you see on the horizon?

Ease of use: One trend previously mentioned is the continued development of user-friendly products that any legal professional can quickly learn and use. This will enlarge the user base because people don’t have to wait for a response. They can easily interact with the tool and find what they need when they need it.

“We’ve seen the impact of an easy-to-use platform with Google, and now all of the platforms that are hitting the market are really geared to any potential end-user, and I think that’s really smart.”

Librarian role: Of course librarians will still interact with the resources the firm has subscribed to, but we’ll see the librarian role continue to evolve in a more strategic sense. Law Librarians will have greater knowledge and involvement in the business operations of the law firm including generating growth and revenue. This is already happening in my department.

“I’m currently building a strong foundation and framework for our research operation here at Morrison & Foerster that will lead to sustained success that will enable us to serve clients really well. I am approaching it from an operations standpoint, having the right structure in place and the processes to make it happen, and then ensuring we have a highly developed professional staff.”

 

Q5: What work accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Several years ago, while working at an Am Law 100® law firm, I led two large change management projects simultaneously, and there was little room for error. I believe this was the first initiative of its kind at the time, and that was building a full digital library. One of the most important components was convincing the attorneys that a digital environment was superior to print, which ensured the transition would be less painful. At the same time, I was moving our research services to a remote operations center. This required developing a staff to deliver those services in a location where there was a nonexistent talent pool.

 

Q6: What hobbies or interests outside of the law firm help you stay balanced?

I’m an avid ping pong player. It’s a game I’ve played since about six, seven years old, and my enthusiasm for it has never waned. It’s fun and competitive, and according to some experts out there, also good for your brain. If I’m walking anywhere and I see a ping pong game going on, I’m going to stop and try to get in on the game. While I was in Beijing last year, I visited one of their parks and people were playing ping pong everywhere! I’m thinking, why can’t it be like this in New York? Perhaps I’ll invest in a tiny home and park it wherever I see ping pong tables. I also enjoy reading just about anything, but I’m partial to history, historical fiction, philosophy and psychology.

 

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