PLLIP Summit Law Librarian Panel–The Way Things Were, and the Way Forward: How We Coped, Managed and Succeeded in Unprecedented Times

An earlier blog post by Linda-Jean Schneider, Manager of Digital Access, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, covered the keynote address for the American Association of Law Libraries’ Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals’ annual one-day Summit.  Linda-Jean’s second post provides a summary of the law librarian panel that followed the keynote address. 

Following the rousing keynote address by Ari Kaplan, the 2020 PLLIP Summit continued with a second session focused on law firm information professionals’ responses to the recent seismic changes to the industry. The intrepid Jeremy Sullivan moderated a panel which featured knowledge repository leaders from a cross-section of firms.


  • Amy Eaton, Director of Library & Research Services at 1100-attorney Perkins Coie, based in Seattle with 16 staff among 4 offices;
  • Tina Dumas, KM & Library Manager at 140-attorney Nossaman LLP, resident in northern California with 3 staff members;
  • Andre Davison, Research Technology Manager at 600+ attorney Blank Rome, staff of 4 FTE plus some part-time contractors.

Jeremy occasionally weighed in with responses too, based on his role as Manager of Competitive Intelligence & Analytics at mega-firm DLA Piper.  In addition to the panel member comments, there were audience polls and chat questions eliciting responses and observations throughout the session.

The six questions tackled by the panel covered a range of territory–how  quickly staff members pivoted to remote working, along with an examination of firm policies for WFH; identifying changes in attorney request/response tools prior to and after the conversion to remote work; the difficulties and challenges of migrating from print to electronic formats, which segued into identifying specific tasks no longer deployed; and the impact of the stressful changes on staff.

Each of the panel members recounted that their staffing was already pivoting to working remotely, if not already there, and that the majority of their research and administrative operations had been primarily online. With the addition of some equipment and accessibility for Technical Services staff, the firms were all fully WFH in a few days, all by mid-March of this year. As for firm policies changing in response to the situation, there were definitely adjustments for non-exempt staff, but a predominance of attorneys and professional staff were permitted to work remotely pre-pandemic. The audience poll confirmed that about 32% of attendees reported they had ‘situational’ formal firm policies allowing remote work; 21% said they did have permission through the firm edicts; 24% including Amy said “No, but changes were in progress;” 18% said only attorneys had permission to work remotely in their policy.

The panel next highlighted their existing pre-pandemic operation systems, and how those had changed with the lockdown. Andre reviewed his firm’s prior deployment of the Quest request-tracking system; a OneNote notebook with a taxonomy consistently updated as a team knowledge repository; and Research Monitor to manage passwords and resources, which were all still being utilzed.  There seemed to be no change for attorneys according to Amy, but staff has been able to focus on back-end administration and projects, which has been a boon. Tina declared that backlog projects and operations reorganization are still on her wish list. She does not have a separate tech services team to focus on those tasks, as her staff primarily performs reference. However, they have been able to implement some digital initiatives and create new content for the firm’s intranet since the ‘lockdown.’ Tina identified specific challenges with access to IP-authenticated resources, but this was also a chance to connect with the attorneys and demonstrate staff capability to provide personalized service.

Next, to respond to attorney requests for both research and content, the panelists dived into a discussion of how to transition from their usual protocols, “specifically when migrating from print to electronic content”?   Amy posited that their digital initiative was already in place, but this pandemic pushed the project in a fast-forward fashion. This reflects the “fundamental shift that has been happening” all along. She also stated: “Print puts staff at risk,” as someone needs to have contact with the format, whereas digital is ‘safer.’ Amy also referred to the ‘unbundling of agreements’ as essential for the full transition. Amy says this transition to electronic is in fact a great equalizer. She expressed surprise at the very few requests for print since working remotely, and how attorneys and staff are rapidly familiarizing themselves with digital formats, leaving their print comfort zones far behind.

Andre echoed that this would definitely be the year to address this commitment to the transition from print to electronic, and look at the available e-book platforms, which have greatly improved in the past few years. His firm has been renegotiating with all of the major research platforms. Their current policy is “If the content is already owned online, no print will be purchased.” (A standard that should be welcome everywhere!) Blank Rome has a committee to approve any print expenditure that might be proposed.

Tina has seen the need for everyone to work remotely as a tipping point with management, and an undeniable opportunity to accelerate to full transition. The audience poll reflected similar situations among the firms represented by attendees. In response to “What impact has the pandemic had on your plans to migrate from print collections?”, the results were: 53% are ramping up electronic content; 41% had already transitioned to a high degree; 6% are maintaining prior systems; and 0% have even purchased print recently.

In response to the question of whether there are tasks from which you have pivoted after discovering they were being done routinely, without questioning or evaluation, the panelists named the routing of newsletters, papers, or print of any kind, as well as massive orders of numerous deskbooks—e.g., individual copies of the IRC for the tax group, both of which strategies result in tremendous savings. Amy identified the opportunity for staff members to attend Practice Group meetings, to be invited to provide more print-to-digital training, and to command increased flexibility with vendor agreements.

A question about the impact of the stress and demands of the situation elicited recommendations to encourage staff to take advantage of “Emergency Care Time,” or ‘mental health days.’ Andre discussed flexible work schedules, with a firm-wide wellness program. Tina shared that trivia contests, using Skype and random check-ins, were beneficial. She uses Skype to ask about favorite library jokes or most useful freezer items, and initiated a firm trivia contest. Perkins Coie has granted an additional 30 hours off to assist with personal issues. The Research Staff created a Spotify list of staff-recommended music — *LIBRARY will get you there. (Your humble reporter’s staff has enjoyed a variety of team activities–sharing favorite food, books, movies, dream vacations, etc.)

The final question to both the panel and the audience was “When do you think we will get to the ‘New Normal?’ ” The results were enlightening: 5% said the end of 2020; 21% said things will stay in flux; a combination of 74% said either mid-2021 or year-end 2021. Of the panelists, Amy selected the end of 2021 (seeing increased reliance on training videos, increased digital, reduction in real estate, limitations on travel, and a chance to radically ‘de-clutter’ offices and streamline the various collections). Andre agreed with Jeremy that everything is “in flux,” and that this is an opportunity for knowledge repositories to pivot, focus on professional development, and re-purpose the Vision and Mission Statement for the Research Department. Tina concurred, specifying that even with the vaccine, people on the front lines should get the vaccine before lawyers or our staff, and that everyone will be forced to increase our collective digital ‘savvy’ in order to move forward in the practice of law. The recurring theme was: Reduced office space, more WFH!

Overall, this session was a thoughtful, insightful examination of how firms are coping, managing, and thriving in response to the issues, changes, and challenges currently faced by legal information professionals. The bottom line, as always, is to be able to adapt to ongoing situations, and to be flexible in our efforts to provide a high level of content curation and research services to our respective users.

Throughout our 2020 PLLIP Summit law librarian panel session, The Way Things Were, and the Way Forward: How We Coped, Managed and Succeeded in Unprecedented Times, we received a variety of questions from attendees which we were not able to address due to time constraints. A good number of inquiries centered around the transition from print to electronic materials, and whether the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated that process. In my subsequent discussions with our panelists, consensus seemed to be that there were opportunities to be seized upon in this area – whether from revitalizing stalled digital initiatives, marketing the ubiquity of electronic sources and training reluctant attorneys on their use, or bringing vendors to the table to revamp their sales approach to the print/electronic mix. Additional, related questions had to do with staffing concerns – if you move away from print, doesn’t that make your technical services and paraprofessional staff vulnerable? Here too, the panelists were optimistic. Electronic materials still need to be cataloged. Staff can be cross-trained to focus on higher level work or spend their freed up time addressing dormant projects. Perhaps with HR’s help in tweaking job descriptions, and as long as staff are interested in these new opportunities, there’s no reason to think that those jobs need to go away.
Q&A summary submitted by panel moderator Jeremy Sullivan, Manager of Competitive Intelligence & Analytics, DLA Piper

Kaplan Keynote a Compelling Kick-Off to the 2020 PLLIP-SIS Summit

By Linda-Jean Schneider, Manager-Digital Access, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

For more than a decade, the Private Law Librarian and Information Professionals Special Interest Section (also known as PLLIP) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) has organized a day-long Summit for members to focus on issues of concern to librarians in a firm or corporate setting.  The PLLIP Summit has provided a day filled with stimulating, firm-focused sessions and inspiring thought-provoking speakers on the eve of the AALL Annual Meeting. These have been held in nine locations across the country, with Philadelphia as the only repeat location. All the planning that goes into a day-long information-filled, energizing, motivating, and rewarding event of this magnitude must begin immediately after the previous one. So, in the customary fashion, the dynamic duo of co-chairs Christine Sellers Sullivan and Cynthia Brown gathered a rock-star Committee, came up with the overall theme, and began planning for the 2020 event in the summer of 2019.

Little did they suspect that the theme — Transformation 2020: Instrumental Tools for the Future — would prove to be one that they could both build on as a guidepost for the future of the legal information professional, and which stayed relevant while the entire legal industry and society as a whole had to pivot into an unexpected and challenging New Normal.  Even with the drastic challenges and demands of the current crises, the organizers made the necessary adjustments, transforming the in-person sessions of the past into a virtual offering with three informative, enlightening, and outward-facing presentations. Continue reading

As AALL Convenes, A Look At The Increasingly Essential Role Of The Law Librarian

Reposted with permission from Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites

Yesterday kicked off the 2020 annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries, which runs all this week through Friday. It is the AALL’s first virtual conference, and it comes at a time when legal information professionals, like so many in the legal profession, face challenges and uncertainty on multiple fronts.

Recent years have seen an unprecedented surge in the use of technology and artificial intelligence within the legal profession, and most agree the pandemic will only further accelerate that surge. What does that mean for the future of the law librarian?

In my opinion, technology will not diminish the role of the information professional. Rather, never has that role been more essential within the legal profession.

In my column this week at Above the Law, I detail four ways in which law librarians will become even more essential as technology evolves.

Read it here: The Increasingly Essential Role Of The Law Librarian.

Talking Tech: Task Automation in the Library

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 24, Number 6 (July/August 2020), pgs. 47-49

By Cynthia Brown, Sr. Director of Research Services at Littler Mendels; Michelle Hook Dewey, Legal Research Services Manager at BakerHostetler; and Jennifer Mendez, Director of Knowledge Management Innovation at Fisher & Phillips LLP

The term “robot lawyer” has been tossed around for years, but what about “robot librarians” or “robot knowledge managers”? In Singapore, several libraries already have a full-fledged robot named AuRoSS (Autonomous Robotic Shelf Scanning system) wandering the aisles doing shelf reading and collection maintenance. For most folks though, the idea of an actual robot, or “bot,” is a bit too futuristic. Nevertheless, across industries, the concept and implementation of automation continues to grow. This is where robotic process automation, or RPA, comes into play. Though physical robot librarians are probably not on the horizon yet, the potential uses for RPA and other task automation bots in the law library and legal knowledge management are endless.

Sophisticated consumers of legal services are already using task automations such as
RPA in a variety of spaces. Payroll, time and attendance management, compliance
reporting, and benefits administration are just a few of the ways many companies are
using RPA to streamline human resources (HR) functions. For example, HR systems
use RPA to simplify forms by copying the address fields from one form to dozens of
others. Clients are also looking to simplify supply chain management by using RPA
processes for tasks such as inventory management, demand and supply management, and invoice and contract management. In the finance and accounting space, RPA bots have regularly been implemented to facilitate payments, records, sales, and collections. Other forms of task automation, such as chatbots, are used to facilitate simple information gathering undertakings.

Research support is perhaps the most natural next task automation candidate. Libraries and knowledge centers are rife with opportunities to explore the benefits of task automation. Beyond just research tasks, your library may find a variety of ways to employ bots for some of its day-to-day administrative actions, thus allowing your staff
to engage in the highest-caliber, most valued work. As you begin to think about identifying and developing RPA and task automation opportunities in your library, you may find the guidance below to be helpful. Continue reading

Ten Ways to Add Value to Your Firm in a Pandemic

An action plan for law firm library managers and self-starters during a period of change and disruption.

By Patricia Barbone

Patricia Barbone is the Director of Library Services at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and is based in lower Manhattan.  She has managed library services through 9-11, Superstorm Sandy, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the state lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 occurred in March of 2020, law firm librarians have been focused on two primary goals:  maintaining quality reference service within a remote environment and managing within an economic climate of uncertain revenue and financial insecurity. Reopening our economy has its own unique set of challenges and provides an opportunity for creativity and resourcefulness for today’s law librarians.

Demand for library services is high even for firms that have implemented furloughs. It is more important than ever to stay visible and demonstrate value. Here are ten action tips to help you rethink your role within your organization and consider what you can do to contribute to your organization’s success.

Even if you weren’t able to implement anything new at the start of the pandemic, there is always an opportunity for improving library service and managing in a period of disruption. Even subtle changes can make a big impact for large and small firms alike, and my prediction is that many things will never be the same again. Can you identify what changes are underway and adapt or pivot accordingly? These ten tips may help.

1. Promote Your Existing Electronic Subscriptions

The day we began remote work, I sent out a number of targeted emails reminding people of the resources available to them with basic instruction on how to gain access. This had the dual purpose of informing our users, but also providing a general sense of comfort that being remote hadn’t cut our users off from library service or library resources. We continue to send emails with tips and training often directed to specific practice areas. The response was extremely positive. Users may be experts in a given practice area, but many still don’t know the leading resources or that a favorite print source is also online. It’s your job to let them know. Some of you may be thinking that you don’t have time to draft engaging emails or that your unsolicited email would be a burden on an already taxed email system. If firm culture is against you, perhaps you can post tips on an internal page, or target individual attorneys who you know would benefit and be receptive. Although drafting and communicating is time consuming, my advice would be to save and repurpose all of your communications. It is worth the investment in your time to take the lead as the experts in electronic resources.

2. Training, Training, Training

This is a perfect opportunity to get users up to speed on electronic resources. Create virtual office hours for vendors. Take advantage of your virtual screen sharing tools so librarians can work one on one with attorneys. Curate and promote webinars and CLE programs. Many vendors have been terrific about reaching out to provide virtual training, tap into them.

3. Read the Industry Landscape

Some of your best ideas can come from the legal and business press. Stay informed, you don’t operate in a vacuum. Talk to peers and vendors. What practice areas are seeing an uptick and what practice areas are slowing down as a result of economic and governmental forces? Consider how you can apply that knowledge to your own environment. This advice is intended for both managers and reference librarians.

4. Follow Trends – Gather and Curate Content

This is where librarian expertise can shine – we know how to follow news, trends, and legislative actions. We know which subscriptions have the best current awareness features and how to set them up. Like many of you, we set up a number of coronavirus news alerts for attorneys tasked with working on client advisories. Our librarians also send selective content that we notice in our daily screening of news. Your goal is to make it easy for lawyers and aligned legal professionals to stay on top of the latest changes in the law and to remind them that the library is the first stop in beginning any research project.

5. Review Your Contracts and Subscriptions

Do your subscriptions reflect the current information need in your firm? Can you get reductions based on the existing economic climate? Is there anything you can cancel? Do you need to add or drop content? While many vendors will work with you during this time period, others will try to upsell you, maintain unwarranted levels of increases, or be indifferent to the drop in either users or usage. This is the time to advocate on behalf of your firm. Continue reading