The Lawyer Management: Matthew Arnold & Baldwin
15 April 2013 | By Lucy Burton
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Michael Oberwarth, legal information manager
Michael Oberwarth has been legal information manager at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin since August 2003. He previously worked at Baker & McKenzie and Nabarro.
How has your role changed during your time at the firm?
When I first joined MAB nearly 10 years ago the firm was much smaller and there wasn’t an information service at all. So initially, my role was to organise the library and put in place a legal/business research function and a current awareness service.
However, as the firm has grown over the years, including opening a London office, so has my role. I’m still a ‘one-man team’ but am now also involved in maintaining parts of the intranet, assisting with pitches, blogging and producing client newsletters.
One of the great things about working at MAB is the freedom I’m given to develop my role.
What makes information services so important in today’s legal market?
An effective information service saves lawyers time and money. We all need information and there’s a lot of it out there. However, too much information is as bad as too little and it’s important that any good information service sifts through the irrelevant and provides the end-users – the lawyers – with what they need in an easy-to-understand and non-time-consuming format. There are many excellent online resources, but some are more user-friendly than others.
I provide an alert service for each of our sector groups, which includes one- or two-sentence summaries of government initiatives, press releases, news stories, cases and so on that affect each group.
It’s intended to be a weekly snapshot of what’s happening in each sector that a lawyer can digest in five minutes. If they need more information on an item they can then ask me for it.
What are the most common misconceptions about information services?
That every online service does the same thing. They don’t and that’s why it’s important for information professionals to get the right balance in the online and hardcopy resources they subscribe to, so there are no information gaps or unnecessary overlaps.
In an ideal world we would subscribe to everything, but for the majority of firms it’s about finding the right resources for the right price.
Also, as other information managers and librarians will tell you, there’s a misconception among lawyers that most things can be found on Google.
One size does not fit all and I like to personalise some of the information services on offer. For example, one lawyer wants to know what VAT cases are being heard by the European Court of Justice each month while another likes updates on the implementation of the Consumer Rights Directive. It’s important to tailor information services to individuals as well as sector groups or departments.
What are the main challenges of your role?
Dealing with a growing number of fee-earners while ensuring that the quality of the information service is not diminished.
Many of the new lawyers that join the firm are from large City firms and they have come to expect a certain level of service. It’s important to meet their expectations from the point they join, otherwise their faith in the information service - and me - could be lost from the beginning and may prove difficult to win back.
What’s your favourite time of day?
First thing in the morning. An opportunity to get a cup of coffee, assess what needs to be done and write a ‘to do’ list for the day. That’s unless there’s an urgent email sitting in my in-box, of course.
Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?
It would have to be Graham Taylor: a nice man and the architect of Watford FC’s greatest footballing triumphs, although there haven’t been many.
Net profit: £5.2m
Average profit per equity partner: £390,000
“It’s not uncommon for me to be juggling two or three pieces of research at the same time in my job,” says Oberwarth. “The law is constantly changing and this affects my role. We recently held our quarterly HR forum and it happened to be on the morning after the House of Lords voted against the introduction of employee shareholder contracts. Some pretty quick research and downloading of the relevant debate in Hansard was required so we could deal with any questions that came up in relation to that subject.”
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