TRAINING AS A LIBRARY FUNCTION: SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM THE OUTSIDE

Posted by Chuck Lowry. Chuck is an enterprise sales representative for Fastcase.  He can be reached at (703) 740-5941 or clowry@fastcase.com.

Over the past many years, I have been in and out of law firm libraries pretty regularly.  I have observed a few things about how librarians train themselves, train their staffs and train the attorneys.  I offer a few thoughts on the subject, not from the heights of expertise, but from the trenches of experience.  A few areas of concern present themselves, and we shall take them up as they occur.  I am neither so credulous nor so arrogant as to think that I am offering more answers than questions.  Indeed, I think it is likely that different libraries and different librarians will not necessarily have the same answers to these questions.  As resources and situations differ, solutions will necessarily be tailored to individual firms.  There is no group better able to make the adjustments and alterations, I suspect, than law firm librarians.

In all humility, I also note that most of the standards and practices I’ll recommend in the following paragraphs are not things that I have thought of but are ideas I have picked up by watching capable librarians over a couple decades.  If an old dog hangs out in the right circles, he can indeed pick up some new tricks, and he can pass them on even if he can’t use them himself.

“So, who should do the training for the attorneys?  Librarians or vendor representatives?” 

My first thought is always that librarians are the ones who should train attorneys, paralegals and practice group staff.  Law firms have standards that vendors are unaware of or that vendors have no interest in enforcing.  Similarly, law firms have virtually no input into the assignment of a sales rep or trainer that a vendor may send, and therefore no control over the quality of the trainers or the training.  Poor or disorganized trainers and training sessions are obstacles that librarians, i.e. information professionals, are able to overcome more easily than attorneys who are not necessarily information professionals.  Besides, it is the librarians who will be judged on the effective use of the information resources provided to the attorneys, and training is an important part of “effective use.”

 “Should the librarians maybe be trained right alongside the attorneys?”

As a general rule, librarians should have more training than the attorneys, and should have it in advance of the attorneys.  Even in cases where the vendor reps will do the attorney training, librarians should be trained first.  Then, of course, they should be in the training sessions with the attorneys.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Librarians have the broadest experience with information resources.  They are able to compare, contrast, make distinctions, note pitfalls and expand possibilities in any of their available resources based on their experience with all their resources.  It is also invariably true that the more an intelligent person thinks about a product or service, the more effectively and efficiently that professional will be able to implement the product or service.  In addition, having two or three training sessions, even from the same person, will—or should—give you two or three perspectives on the product or service.  If a training session is only going to be a rote repetition of the previous session, you don’t need it.  Training sessions, especially with librarians, should be elastic, responsive and intelligent interactions.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t you just download the slides from the webex?  Insist that the vendor give you a sales or training professional that is experienced enough to know why you are purchasing this particular product and service and is intelligent enough to appreciate the sophistication you expect in the usage of information resources.

 “But sometimes it will happen that vendor reps will train attorneys.  Is that a problem?”

Yes, it sometimes happens, and no, it is usually not a problem.  But don’t let it turn into a problem.  Don’t let vendor reps run training sessions without library participation.  There is no reason for your West rep to note in a training session that your firm insists that you use Nimmer rather than Patry for copyright law analysis.  There is no reason for your Lexis rep to note in a training session that your firm insists that you use Wright and Miller rather than Moore’s for federal practice and procedure.  There is no reason for any rep for any vendor to remind your attorneys that the firm’s preference is that attorneys use the forms, mutatis mutandis, that your KM program has assembled and organized in preference to forms provided by a vendor service.  These are responsibilities of information professionals and practice group heads, not vendors, whose interests are not necessarily identical to your interests, whose knowledge of your firm’s standards and practices cannot be identical to yours.

“How can I get attorneys, either individually or as a group, to come to training and take it seriously?”

Here is a secret for the occasional attorney who may be reading this: librarians and vendors among ourselves often snicker at the fact that legal professionals with annual salaries starting at $150,000 and heading up from there cannot commit to a training session until they are assured that they will be met by a plate of chicken salad sandwiches, some oversized chocolate chip cookies and a couple Diet Cokes.  But seriously, training is crucial for the correct and effective use of information resources, so it is a matter to be taken seriously.  What has become clear to me is that the key here is not how you get Attorney Z to come to training from 9:45 A.M. until 10:30 A.M. on Thursday in Conference Room 42-E.  That is the result, not the process.  The key is how you get Attorney Z to take seriously his/her responsibilities to have available for competent use the tools that your firm’s standards require for the practice of law.  There are three prerequisites for attorneys to take this responsibility seriously, and the librarians must be involved in all three.

(i)     In general terms, there must be a “knowledge culture” in the firm.  Librarians must work with the managing partner, executive committee, CEO, etc. to encourage the view that the information resources provided by the firm are an integral part of the practice of law in the firm.  Librarians are going to be judged, evaluated and rewarded or punished based on the firm’s judgment of how well they turn expended dollars into effectively used information resources.  This reality demands that you work proactively with firm administrators to be sure that their expectations are communicated not only to the librarians, but to all firm personnel.

(ii)   In specific terms, librarians must be in constant touch with practice area heads and indeed with individual attorneys to bring to their attention available resources that they may find useful but which they are not using.  If you communicate to the practice groups and to individual attorneys that your role is to recommend, evaluate, purchase and monitor information resources to make their work better and easier, you will not have to beg them to be there Thursday morning.  They will know how important this is.

(iii) And when you get them there, don’t waste their time.  Whether you are doing the training or the vendor rep is doing the training, be ready to explain to them what the product is, why they will have access to it, what it will do for them, how it works and what to do if/when they have a problem.  The corollary of this recommendation is that if a vendor rep is managing the presentation, make sure you have previewed the session.  If the rep is not organized or articulate or engaging enough to hold the attention and expand the knowledge of the attorneys, you will be the one to pay the price, in your reputation and in your ability to continue to get attorneys to cooperate in training opportunities.

I do not pretend that this is easy.  Many, many large firm libraries are understaffed and overworked.  Still, training is a crucial factor in the effective use of your budget, in the estimation by firm administration of the value of the library and in the perception by attorneys of the importance of the firm’s knowledge culture, and for those reasons alone the training process deserves large amounts of your attention and efforts.

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4 thoughts on “TRAINING AS A LIBRARY FUNCTION: SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM THE OUTSIDE

  1. Thanks for this great post Chuck.
    In my firm, lawyers will come to training if it is delivered by library staff but will often cancel at the last minute if training is deliverd by a vendor. I think this is because the library staff are viewed as a trusted partner to the lawyers while the vendors are the trusted partner of library staff.
    One reason our lawyers like training by our library staff is because we try to always keep ourselves current with new product developments. My view is that Librarians should take training on all of their (major) product platforms annually.
    We also identify learning objectives for each product so that we can maximize product exposure with minimum lawyer time input.

  2. I wonder if we should abandon classroom style training as the default. Although it’s a lot more convenient for the trainers, we might actually see more attendance if we book an appointment and go to the lawyer. Has anyone else got experience with this?

    • By coincidence, Wendy, the genesis of this piece is nearly exactly what you describe. I was talking to one of my customers about a data question a couple weeks ago, and I added, “By the way, I’ll be in Xxxxxxxx in three weeks, if you want to schedule a couple training sessions.” The client said, “I’m not sure how much good they do, even if I could get attorneys to come to them. Our training now is either self-directed (webexes, web sites) or individual or very small groups.” I think the solution is different for different products and different attorneys, but the difficulty of getting users to come to “class” certainly complicates training. That is why I believe having attorneys take training seriously has to be the result of a process that encourages that attitude throughout the organization.

  3. Wendy,

    I recently had a great deal of success with the WestlawNext trainer offering “15 minutes in your office to show you why WestlawNext is so great.” Many of the people who took her up on the offer were Partners and it reminded me that group training in a conference room cannot be the only choice other than webinars. I am going to keep thinking of different ways to reach them and so this article was very helpful.

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