Kristen Perez and Janet McKinney received grants from the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section to attend the PLLIP Summit occurring on Saturday, July 13, before the AALL Annual Meeting. Below are their conference recaps.
By Kristen Perez, Research Specialist at Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough in Charlotte, NC
Jordan Furlong of Law 21 started off the day by delivering the keynote address, “How Law Librarians and Legal Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.” Mr. Furlong took us on a tour of the climate change that has occurred in the legal industry in recent years and provided a map to the future and our changing roles.
Mr. Furlong outlined the factors at play in the legal industry that can provide opportunities for legal information professionals as we navigate these changes:
- Law firms have traditionally operated under the billable hour model, letting young associates ‘train on the job’ at the expense of clients. This business model is being called into question by big law firm clients, many of whom have negotiated alternative fee arrangements. Clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for research expenses and the training of new lawyers.
- Legal work is becoming divided into commodity-level versus complex tasks. Alternative legal service providers have begun to assume work previously done by junior-level associates, leaving firms to handle tasks that involve more expertise.
- The technology of legal work has evolved, as artificial intelligence and analytics providers have emerged.
- Overall, client expectations are changing and are forcing law firms to adapt. Alternative legal service providers are creating competition for law firms. Clients demand value and want law firms to ‘know’ them and their industries, and to anticipate their needs.
This invites opportunity for we, as legal information professionals, to redefine our roles. Our profession has not only embraced and promoted the use of technology in legal research, but has also kept pace with the various incarnations of legal research platforms. We are neither unfamiliar with, nor adverse to, change. As a service department, we are also accustomed to working with other departments within our organizations to achieve institutional goals.
Mr. Furlong suggested that we can position ourselves for 2030 by drawing on the strengths we already possess:
- Collaborative legal knowledge supply chains – Law firms need attorneys, but they also need a diverse population of professionals (IT Department, Marketing, Financial Department and the Library Department) to supply them with actionable knowledge. Information professionals must continue to work collaboratively with these departments, so we may secure our role in the knowledge supply chain.
- Advisory knowledge – Librarians can take information supplied by the data miners in the organization (IT, Marketing, Finance, etc.) and refine and distribute it into ‘actionable insights’ that the firm leaders can use for strategic purposes. Our comfort level with analytics tools will serve us well in this initiative.
- Client knowledge – Many law firm librarians have worked with firm marketing departments over the years on business development endeavors. Compiling competitive intelligence reports on potential and existing clients and creating industry newsletters for the benefit of attorneys is a logical next step in the evolution of our services. Some in our profession have already established themselves in these roles.
Our day continued with two panel discussions intended to reflect on Jordan Furlong’s opening remarks and show how those ideas might be implemented in the workplace. The first panel, “Law Firm Leadership: Managing the Change,” was moderated by Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet. The speakers were Mark Langdon, Executive Director of Ballard Spahr LLP; Scott Rechtschaffen, Chief Knowledge Officer at Littler; and Sonia Menon, Chief Operating Officer of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP.
Mr. Rechtschaffen discussed how Littler has been successful in employing collaborative teams of KM attorneys, along with members of the Library and IT departments, to provide enhanced services to clients. He has overseen teams that developed Littler CaseSmart, a case management tool, and Littler Edge, which is a knowledge-centered client portal. These projects illustrate a response to clients’ desire for value-added services from their law firms. Littler CaseSmart and Edge could not have come to fruition without a collaboration of professionals, pooling their diverse talents. The firm’s clients have responded positively to Littler’s efforts to proactively push out resources and information to them, rather than serve them on a reactionary basis.
The increasing demand for these types of services, however, can put a strain on library department staff and budgets. As physical library space shrinks in law firms, a common misconception is that ‘libraries are no longer needed,’ or that ‘no one uses the library.’ The reality, as many of us can attest, is that we have never been busier. Being able to effectively demonstrate the contributions of our department is crucial. Sonia Menon, COO at Neal, Gerber, discussed the importance of data analytics when communicating with the C-suite. Data can dispel misconceptions that a lack of foot traffic in the physical library space means that no one is using the services. Statistics on the number and types of requests, how they were received, and how long they took to resolve, along with demonstrating an overall increase in the number of requests over the past several years, are vital in making an argument for more resources.
The second panel, “Our Customers: The Evolving Use of Information Professionals,” was moderated by Scott Bailey, Director of Research Services at Eversheds Sutherland. The panel consisted of Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie; Peter Alfano, Senior Associate at Squire Patton Boggs; and Julie Bozzell, Public Law Policy Practice Manager at Akin Gump.
This discussion focused on how to better serve our end users in our organizations as they navigate these changes with external clients. Attorney Peter Alfano spoke of the challenges he faces as a practitioner, trying to stay abreast of issues important to clients, while juggling a full case load. He felt that having librarians embedded in practice groups would be a huge asset. By attending practice group meetings, a librarian could anticipate what the attorneys need for their clients. By being ’embedded,’ librarians would have a more specialized focus and be better equipped to take over the monitoring of current awareness resources and alerts, which would be a huge time-save for the attorneys.
Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer at Perkins Coie, addressed, among other things, fee negotiations with potential new clients. Research costs are among the items that clients feel should be treated as routine overhead expenditures for firms and not be passed onto clients. This sentiment is not going to subside, and law firms are not going to turn away business over this issue. Legal information professionals will need to help their firms operate in this environment.
The afternoon session consisted of a Design Thinking Challenge, led by Jeff Marple of Liberty Mutual. We were given tasks that encouraged us to interact and step outside of our comfort zones, which was really enjoyable. After an ice-breaker Rock, Paper, Scissors game, we settled into groups to identify top challenges we face as professionals, and brainstormed solutions. The presentation required groups to draw a storyboard and select one person to present their ideas. The topics at issue were:
- How might we help new associates learn the resources available to their practice group?
- How might we help librarians with influencing management?
It was a lot of fun to see the presentation of ideas from the various groups. The overriding takeaway from the exercise was to be proactive with your customer base and find opportunities to convey meaningful information to busy people, whether through an elevator pitch, or seizing teachable moments.
I am grateful to PLLIP for awarding me a grant to attend Summit X: The Path to 2030. I thoroughly enjoyed making new contacts and catching up with colleagues I have met over the years. At mid-point in my career, it not only gave me an opportunity to reflect on the years of experience I have in the profession, but more importantly, it made me look forward to the changes and challenges that lie ahead.
By Janet McKinney, Knowledge Management Librarian at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP
The day continued the Summit tradition of offering timely topics that address the profession in its current state while also sparking thoughts about the future.
One of my takeaways from the keynote address was–if you ever have the opportunity to see Jordan Furlong in person, take it! I’ve been reading and following him on Twitter for a couple of years and was excited the he was presenting the keynote. He’s engaging, provocative, and funny. He titled his address, “New Horizons: How Law Librarians and Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.”
Some of my favorite quotes, paraphrased, are:
- Law firms are in the middle of a major transition (“climate change”), and law librarians and information professionals are essential to firms’ ability to be successful in this transformation.
- In the new law firm climate, lawyers will do complex legal work, but they won’t be able to handle complex problems without augmentation. They’ll need deep client intelligence – Jordan suggests that librarians be assigned to clients and directly communicate with them regarding research, current awareness, etc.
- Law librarians refine raw data into actionable insights for lawyers, putting them in a pivotal position in the middle of the knowledge supply chain.
- The law library’s opportunity: build collaborative supply chains and secure your key role, position the law library as the refinery and distributor of advisory knowledge, and provide trustworthy, actionable insights – be the firm’s embedded competitive edge.
- In the new legal market, knowledge really is power.
- Law librarians and information professionals should be viewed as “allied professionals” – Furlong prefers this tag over the “non-” word.
For the panels following the keynote, I liked that the members of the two panels were non-librarians. If law library professionals are indeed going to be positioned in the middle of the knowledge supply chain, these are the people we need to hear from!
For the Law Firm Leadership: Managing the Change panel, below are some of the topics/questions, and some of the responses that stood out:
On client requirements or what they do/don’t want:
- Rechtschaffen: Clients want on-demand, self-service tools. Every other aspect of life is online, so they expect their legal service to be the same.
On “data miners” and “data refiners”:
- Two panelists said that librarians can be either, depending on the circumstances.
How can librarians contribute to firm success?
- Menon: Be proactive, innovative, and collaborative.
- Rechtschaffen: The librarian’s role will increase.
- Langdon: If you take the initiative with big data, you can deliver big data. Be part of a client service team. Help build platforms for attorneys to answer problems.