The Changing Role of Women in the Law Library Community

Bay-Monica (photo credit: Maggie Soladay, ALM)

Monica Bay is editor-in-chief of Law Technology News and a member of the California bar. Email: mbay@alm.com. Twitter: @lawtechnews @LTNMonicaBay

I’ll be honest. One of the reasons I said “yes” to the invitation to speak at AALL’s 106th annual meeting was because it was in Seattle. Frankly, I probably would have said yes to speak in San Diego, Yakima, Fremont, Santa Barbara, Ashland, Vancouver, or Sequim — or any other town from the Mexican border to Barrow, Alaska — because I have learned in my 15 years as a San Francisco ex-pat living in New York City that it is a really good idea to leave hot, steamy, miserable Manhattan the last week of July.

More honesty: AALL pretty much wasn’t front and center on my radar, although Al Podboy, then at Baker Hostetler, always wrote a wonderful essay for LTN every summer, addressing issues confronting law librarians, timed to the show. The last time I attended the AALL convention was in 2001, in Minneapolis, and all I remember was the exhibitor for Accurint “skip tracing” research services (it was quickly swooped up by LexisNexis). The vendor was offering test drives, so I gave the demo guy an old address from California — and literally in 30 seconds it churned out every address I had ever lived in (including the dozen or so from when I was at grad school at the U (University of Minnesota) and moved every quarter. I was young and broke, like everybody else.) It also churned out all of my sister’s ex-husbands’ sea of relatives, some not exactly model citizens. But that’s another story for another day.

So I really didn’t know what to expect in Seattle. I was in for a delightful surprise! The 2013 conference was phenomenal. It opened my eyes to numerous issues that are confronting the library community, above and beyond just the transition from print to digital (a topic very familiar to those of us in publishing). The panels addressing the work in progress in court libraries, academia, and public libraries — in addition to firms and law departments — were fascinating (see “Tech Circuit: Dewey Decimal iPad Edition.”) I came away with a new appreciation of both the work and the AALL leaders.

What struck me the most, when listening to panels and brainstorming over cocktails and meals, was the changing role of women in the law library community. In Seattle, it appeared that about 85% of attendees were women — that usually does not bode well for power and clout. But I sensed that there is movement and energy and leadership, and that these women are making a difference in their organizations. That was encouraging.

Long-time LTN readers know that I frequently use my “bully pulpit” to rant about how unconscionable it is that legal — which should be the leader in equality for all — has a woeful track record on gender pay: women across the board in our profession make 17% less than men in comparable positions. I’ve pounded the drum loudly, challenging the leaders of firms, law departments, government, and vendors to fix this, now. In the words of Nike, “Just Do It.”

I have also screamed at Big Law for ridiculous policies that list only partners (sometimes associates) on firm websites, which is flat out stupid. It takes a team to deliver legal services, not just lawyers. (Any fourth grader knows that it’s not always Derek Jeter who wins the game with a walk-off home run, sometimes it’s the newest rookie on the team). If you insist on remaining hierarchical, at least include your C-level leaders!

What I saw in my three days at AALL gave me much hope. Panels were full of strong, successful women, sharing their knowledge and experience with their peers. It was incredibly encouraging.

So I am very, very glad that I said yes to Steven Lastres’ kind invitation to join him and D. Casey Flaherty, to discuss, on the last day of the conference, “ripped from Law Technology News headlines” top trends that law librarians can exploit/harness/avoid. While I’m confessing, let me also admit that I was really worried. Not only were we on the last day, but we were the last panel. I know from experience that every conference has a hard time keeping attendees from bolting to the airport late afternoon on the final day. I’ve seen last-session panels where there were more people on the podium than in the chairs. But thank you, AALL. To our absolute delight, we had a packed-in, full house of about 150 attendees. I was beyond thrilled.

Steve and Casey were fabulous, and I used my time to primarily preach about Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, who has written a terrific book, Lean In. It is a must-read for anybody in law — young, old, men, women, lawyer, non-lawyer. It’s a fresh, no-nonsense, pragmatic, realistic, no-preaching book that can help all of us do a much better job of fully integrating women into the legal profession. But women themselves need to take more risks, not be afraid, and as Sandberg says, “lean in” to leadership.

Women need to start (or keep) blowing our own horns, not politely sitting back and waiting for someone to notice us. For example, keep an eye out on Tech Circuit (http://www.lawtechnews.com), I will shortly be opening nominations for the 2013 LTN Innovation Awards. ENTER the contest! As they say re: the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play.

I also announced that LTN has just launched a new feature, STEM Cells, where we profile women leaders in our legal technology community. We need to encourage girls to dive into science, technology, engineering and math! So what better way than to regularly showcase women who are succeeding. The first edition features Judith Flournoy, CIO at Kelley Drye & Warren, based in Los Angeles. You can expect to see key AALL leaders show up in this feature, and if you want to nominate yourself or a colleague, email me at mbay@alm.com.

Not only that, but write for LTN! I’m always looking for smart, provocative, educational articles that will help our diverse audience (everyone from solos to the most sophisticated global law departments) understand how technology will help legal professionals deliver faster, better, cheaper, and transparent services to external and internal clients. Writing not only helps our readers, but it can help your career — establishing you as an expert in your field. And that can come in reallllllly handy if you are moving up to your next job!

Thank you for this opportunity to guest post! Please don’t hesitate to email me with your ideas, story pitches, tips, suggestions, complaints, and bad lawyer jokes (don’t get me started on how much I love those).

Warmly,

Monica Bay

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