Selling conference attendance to your employer

by Susannah Tredwell, Library Manager, Lawson Lundell LLP, Vancouver BC

Conference season is coming up, and whether you are heading to Montreal, San Diego, Glasgow or Seattle, conference attendance can be a great tool in improving your skillset. However, when law firms are looking at their bottom line, management may be not be as enthusiastic as you would like them to be about paying for conference attendance. So how do you make the case to your employer that the value that they will receive from the conference outweighs the cost?


The legal world is constantly changing, and being able to keep up to date (whether you are a lawyer or librarian) is important. Depending on the geographical area that you work in, there may not be a lot of opportunities for professional development. While professional publications and webinars allow librarians to learn at a distance, there is a lot of value in being able to physically attend a conference.

Conferences provide both formal and informal ways for a librarian to improve his or her knowledge. Conference sessions provide the “formal” element of learning, and generally cover both soft and hard skills. Highlight those conference sessions that are particularly appropriate to the work that you are doing (or hope to be doing) and explain to management why you would benefit from them.

Formal conference sessions are not the only way that librarians can learn at a conference. There are lots of chances to learn informally; for example, talking to other librarians (whether they be private, academic or government) about the problems that they are facing and how they are solving them. You can learn a lot from these informal chats, as these may be issues that librarians are not willing to talk about in a formal setting (such as a conference session), but are happy to share informally.


One of the most valuable elements of a conference is the chance to get to talk to people you might otherwise not meet. From your employer’s point of view an obvious benefit of networking is that knowing someone working in a different jurisdiction can save your firm time and money. If you need information from another jurisdiction, having a contact there is very helpful. Even if your contact does not have the item you are looking for or know the answer to your question, they should be able to point you in the right direction.


The exhibit hall is an important part of every conference. It is where you get to see new products and see what developments are happening with existing ones. It allows you to have a better idea of what options there are for your library. You may get a chance to talk to the decision makers at the vendors, and tell them what you do or do not like about their products. This can be a surprisingly effective way of giving feedback, and your firm benefits from improvements in the products they use.

Note that the Special Libraries Association has drafted a letter for your employer that can be used to get your employer’s approval to attend a conference.

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