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.

To set the tone for the day, and to engage almost 300 virtual participants, the Summit Committee selected a truly exceptional and dynamic version of a ‘Sherpa’ in the person of Ari Kaplan. Ari is “an attorney, author, and leading legal industry analyst. He has been sharing interviews with industry leaders shaping the next generation of legal and professional services since 2009.” Ari has written two books on the legal profession–The Opportunity Maker (2008) and Reinventing Professional Services (2011), has consulted on more than 40 reports focusing on various service industries, and hosts a 10-year-old podcast entitled: “Reinventing Professionals.”

Speaking of the nomadic Himalayan tribe of Sherpa, Ari began the keynote by recounting something that happened to him in the Kathmandu airport many years ago. His intent was to illustrate how difficult it is to ‘innovate,’ which may require breaking a pattern of behavior in a culture with an aversion to change. Following the story with several personalized questions to make connections, Ari kept the virtual audience engaged throughout the more than hour-long presentation using a variety of intriguing poll questions, visual imagery to elicit responses and observations, and a sequence of humorous revelations about his own attempts to maintain relevancy in the midst of the worldwide pandemic. The presentation was a fast-paced, humorous, and dynamic mixture of imagery, survey results, and some truly important revelations about the ways to turn existing challenges into opportunities.

Ari certainly knows his audience, calling law firm information professionals “Arbiters of Information” and “Champions of Change.” Ari’s enthusiasm and energy emanated through the screen.  He observed that law firm professionals are consistently full of good ideas, which struggle to survive in response to a constrictive atmosphere, and mostly simply die. Lawyers approach problems as RISK analysis, which entails looking for problems in a neutral posture, where hesitant or negative thinking dominate. However, in order to move forward and find innovative solutions to those problems, there is a need to move from a neutral to a positive position.

He identified what it takes to come to an innovative decision, including:

  • Thinking holistically about re-shaping an organization
  • Brainstorming
  • Perceiving challenges as opportunities when facing uncertainty
  • Multi-disciplinary teams

Multi-disciplinary teams can be key to tackling the innovation challenges. Multi-disciplinary teams with better and diverse talent combinations can be more holistic, provide more agile solutions, and identify new opportunities.

Ari also posited the significance of asking questions with regard to innovation. Changing or framing the question, or simply being the one to ask questions, will demonstrate your interest in innovation and change. This applies to both law firms and individuals. An unanswered question can be an opportunity, not a roadblock! Ari recommended a Team Exercise to change “WILL this idea work (respondents immediately respond why it will not),” to “COULD this idea work?”, or “Is there some way it CAN work?” Deploying this method, you move from a negative or neutral to a positive tone with potential.

Ari’s first question to the audience was: DOES your firm have a definition of the term INNOVATION?  A poll of the virtual audience resulted in 92% responding either “don’t know” or “do not have one.” He affirmed that you cannot move forward without defining “innovation.”  (This is similar to “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” and “What gets measured gets improved!”)  Information professionals should be empowered to ask this question about a definition of “innovation.” This represents a HUGE opportunity to start a conversation, and possibly be part of the innovative solution, thereby having a positive impact on the firm’s competitive advantage.

Ari explored the need to optimize tactical or invisible tech, in particular Artificial Intelligence. In one of the reports on which he consulted–“The Future of Contracts,” an interviewee stated: “AI will not replace lawyers, but lawyers who use AI will replace those who don’t.”  The virtual audience challenged him: Why do we HAVE to consider AI?  Ari responded that AI has to be part of firm’s approach. Whether or not you manage AI, OR simply identify its effectiveness as part of future innovation, you need to address that elephant in the room in order to be part of the conversation.

Finally, Ari asked a series of questions to guide the attendees to put themselves in the path of opportunity:

  • How will you distinguish yourself? What’s your professional superpower? What makes you interesting? This can be the key to a connection. A corporate counsel told Ari the secret to success and empowerment is to “Be Interesting.” (To Be Interesting is Interesting?) Opportunity follows when someone is memorable and interesting.
  • Is there someone you would like to meet for professional purposes? 48% of the audience haven’t even thought about this, when they need to consider it. Networking with different people, ESPECIALLY during the current situation is essential. You can raise your profile by “inviting other professionals to events” to increase your network. When Ari’s series of in-person events all over the world disappeared in the wake of the pandemic, he pivoted to invite professionals to Virtual Lunches on LinkedIn. He started on March 15 with Zoom meetings for 5 days; as of July 10, he had hosted 85 in a row. Another way to meet professionals is to reach out to authors, or to post on LinkedIn.
  • Is there a skill you would like to hone or learn? Rapid skill development is helpful, in this age of frequent and increasing adaptation. Take advantage of the opportunity of this time at home.
  • Nominate people for recognition. Lift your peers up; acknowledge their uniqueness, surprise them with generous gestures.

In summation, Ari urged the virtual audience to “put yourself in the path of opportunity, and help your firm take advantage of this moment.” There is tremendous potential for you and your organization to innovate, even in the midst of the New Normal.


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