Leader Profile: Chris Laut

Chris Laut, the 2020-2021 President of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), has been a long-time active member of the law library community.  Chris has served as the President of the Association of Boston Law Libraries and has participated on the PLLIP Summit committee since its inception over 10 years ago.  He’s also been a member of the Westlaw In-House Counsel Law Library Advisory Committee, Bloomberg Law’s Knowledge Management Advisory Committee, and the AALL Advisory Board for the 2019 State of the Profession Survey. He currently serves as a Board Trustee for the Insurance Library Association of Boston and as a Trustee of his local town library. Chris is the Director of Library and Knowledge Services at Sullivan & Worcester where he is responsible for the full spectrum of the firm’s research, knowledge management and records management services.  He has worked in-house at Liberty Mutual Insurance as the Director of Law Libraries and Knowledge Services, as well as at various Am Law 100 firms such as Ropes & Gray and Goodwin Procter. 

Answers compiled by Patricia Barbone, Director of Library Services, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP.

You recently changed jobs and moved from a corporate environment to a law firm.  What’s been the most striking difference? 

I had worked at Ropes & Gray and a number of other private law firms prior to my 12 year stint in-house at Liberty Mutual. So, I understood the different dynamics at both.  Still, there are big differences, the most obvious of which is who holds the ultimate power of the purse and pulls the reins on the strategic direction of the organization.

In-house lawyers must be more responsive to the leadership of an organization, and pivot quickly to structural and business objective changes.  It is public knowledge that Liberty Mutual, in my 12 years there, eliminated internal distribution models for agents and brokers, spun off billions of dollars of asbestos liability, sold their life insurance business, engaged in multiple multi-billion dollar acquisitions, and closed down and opened operations in at least five countries.  Each time one of these events occurred, the legal department responded by restructuring, which sometimes meant sending certain operations to other companies, or developing wholly new legal structures.  Although the lawyers almost always remained the same, they had to have the qualities of embracing wholesale changes and finding ways to get to “yes”.  There were no lawyers at Liberty Mutual who were not good communicators.  Furthermore, their bosses were unequivocally business people; not other lawyers.

At law firms, the equity partners still hold the ultimate power. Many Am Law 200 law firms developed new C-level roles, wresting some advisory powers away from the equity partners into the hands of the management committee, which often includes C-level roles. When the C-level roles are filled with experts in their given fields (operations, finance, marketing & business development, innovations & knowledge services) and granted firm-wide decision-making power, then non-attorneys can help firms to accelerate change in the evolving legal market.  If these positions are subjugated, or filled with practicing lawyers, then the opportunities for developing to new paradigms is often lost. 

In general, I find lawyers at law firms to be brilliant practitioners with strong academic credentials. In-house attorneys may not always have the same credentials, but they usually make up for it through strong communication skill sets and an ability to adapt quickly.

What is your top priority for your year as Chair of the PLLIP-SIS?

I don’t have one top priority. So, I will name three.

  • As an organization, I’d like us to purposefully adopt tactics to be responsive to institutional racism and confront those issues that the Black Lives Matter movement has help bring to the forefront of our nation’s conscious. In that vein, to help us reflect on our own individual responses and develop a more affirmative approach to diversity, equity & inclusion as an SIS, Cynthia Brown, the chair of the Summit Committee, has agreed to hold a late winter summit on DE&I.  We will make every effort to collaborate with other diversity caucuses as well as the new Black Librarian SIS. We will also make every effort to influence the efforts of the AALL Law Librarianship as a Career Guidance Review Special Committee to ensure we are doing everything we can to help underserved communities and people of diverse backgrounds know about the great opportunities in our profession. Which brings us to the second priority . . .
  • Our PLLIP Strategic Plan hasn’t been updated since 2014.  This is our roadmap for our SIS and incorporates goals, objectives, and action items.  I’d like us to bring this up to date, and add DE&I objectives and action items.
  • Last but not least, PLLIP information professional directors currently have no forum to discuss difficult issues.  We will work to develop a “My Communities” board for PLLIP directors.
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Leader Profile: Leading with Wisdom & Insight

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 1 (September/October 2020), pgs. 24-27.

Emily R. Florio assumed the role of president for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) in July 2020.   According to AALL’s announcement, “Florio, whose term as president officially began at the conclusion of the organization’s first Virtual Conference on July 17, is currently senior research services manager at Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, DC. She has been a member of AALL for 14 years…Florio is a former president of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC (LLSDC), member and former treasurer of the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIP-SIS), and a member of the Professional Engagement, Growth & Advancement Special Interest Section (PEGA-SIS). Prior to becoming senior research services manager at Hogan Lovells US LLP in June 2019, Florio was director of library services/research & information services at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP.”

Emily R. Florio found herself on the path to law librarianship as many do, by accident. “My mom is a librarian, so I grew up familiar with public libraries and elementary school libraries,” notes Florio. “But when I was finishing library school, I was applying for a job—any, any, any job—and I ended up in a law firm and haven’t looked back.” She became a member of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) in January 2006 and has since been very active on committees, special interest sections, and within her local chapter. In her new role as president, she hopes to continue to move the legal information profession forward, to increase engagement with members, and to bring new librarians into the profession. She further plans to grow AALL’s eLearning platform, as well as to provide members with the right education and tools to become leaders within the profession.

In 2004, Florio received her BA in English from the University of Vermont before moving to Boston, Massachusetts, where she obtained her MLS degree from Simmons College. Her first official, though not professional, job was at a small law school in Boston doing interlibrary loan and document delivery, while she worked toward her degree. She began her career in Boston at Fish & Richardson, where she held various positions, resulting in the manager of libraries and library information systems role. “It’s funny, I think probably a year and a half in I was looking for other work because I was bored,” said Florio. “But my boss at the time started giving me other opportunities that were far more interesting and allowed me to learn and continue on. And that led to my first promotion. After a while it was time to move on from that firm and that’s when I moved to DC.” She then moved to Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP, an intellectual property firm, as the manager of library services, before expanding her role into directing all aspects of the research team, including budgeting, staffing, and training, along with leading the firm’s intranet redesign project. She then became director of library services/research and information services before moving to her latest role in July 2019. Florio is currently senior research services manager at Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, DC, a global top 10 law firm, where she leads the implementation of the global Research Services strategy within the Americas. She has been a member of AALL for 14 years and has served on several committees, including chair of the Appointments Committee and Executive Board Strategic Directions Committee, and as a member of the Executive Board Finance & Budget Committee. In addition, Florio is a former president of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC (LLSDC), a member and former treasurer of the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIPSIS), and a member of the Professional Engagement, Growth & Advancement Special Interest Section (PEGA-SIS). In 2015, she received AALL’s Emerging Leader Award. Here, Florio discusses her goals for the coming year, how COVID-19 has impacted her professionally, and how she stays engaged within the profession.

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Novel Responses: Helping Law Firms Answer Clients’ COVID-19 Questions

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 1 (September/October 2020), pgs. 12-15.

By Cynthia Brown, Sr. Director of Research Services at Littler Mendelson and Allison Reeve Davis, Library Manager at Littler Mendelson

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought Littler Mendelson, a management-side labor and employment law firm, an unprecedented number of advice and counseling requests from clients. This work typically requires a client to speak directly with a shareholder who is an experienced attorney in a narrow area of law, and it does not initially sound like an opportunity for the library or a research team to assist. Indeed, client questions into novel areas of law rarely require heavy research, but rather rely on the experience and knowledge of the attorney. Littler’s first coronavirus question came in late December and was handled directly by a workplace safety attorney. In the early days of the pandemic, the library was not contacted with questions other than the occasional request to direct an attorney to the firm’s newly created Coronavirus Task Force.

By late February, however, the volume of direct client inquiries was beginning to overwhelm the shareholders. Library leadership was invited by the Chief Knowledge Officer to a strategic planning meeting to address the increased volume and urgent nature of these requests. Following this meeting, the needs of the Task Force attorneys were quickly matched with the unique skills of the firm’s librarians and legal information professionals. Littler’s Knowledge Desk and Knowledge Management Department were offered as key partners to meeting pressing client needs.

As client inquiries and concerns increased daily, the majority of their questions raised novel issues. A decentralized response process can sometimes lead to incongruous answers and to the frequent “reinvention of the wheel.” Providing consistency in the advice and counsel provided was paramount. The original Task Force grew exponentially as new areas of employment law were implicated in the situation, and transitioning from workplace safety issues to leaves of absence and compliance issues and matching the client’s need with the most focused subject-matter expert (SME) was critical.

Getting the Library Involved

With these issues in mind during the early stages of the strategic planning, library leadership offered to match the skills inherent in the research department with the needs of the Task Force. There was an immediate need to track incoming questions, assign the appropriate SME, and balance workloads among the Task Force members. In reviewing questions the Task Force received, it became clear that existing firm work product could assist in answering many of the repeated client requests. As documents were both identified and created, the information was categorized, curated, and stored for future use and easy accessibility. The Task Force needed better communication tools to share lessons learned with the firm, and there was both a need and opportunity to issue-spot and identify trends to enable the firm to provide proactive advice to clients. Finally, as the virus continued to spread, local, state, federal, and international laws were changing literally by the hour. The Littler Knowledge Desk and knowledge management (KM) department set up detailed monitoring of news and legal updates to keep the firm and clients informed. Each of these issues presented unique challenges and risks, but information professionals are well versed in averting such risks. We collect questions, answers, build repositories, and, with frequently needed information, create novel databases or tools for reuse. Applying these skills to provide much needed service to the Task Force proved invaluable.

Littler’s Knowledge Desk collaborated with KM attorneys and the KM Innovations team to build an internal SharePoint page of COVID-19-related resources structured with Littler’s taxonomy. These foundational resources provided a cataloging system that would be ready for the next wave of arriving materials supporting client counsel, as the pandemic and its employment law implications continued to evolve.

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Providing Career Growth at All Levels of the Library

By Allison C. Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson

Reposted with permission from PEGA-SIS Blog.

Three years ago, we started discussing ways to provide career growth opportunities in Littler Mendelson’s library. As our library grows, new positions are often entry-level. Promotions to more advanced positions come along less frequently, even when a dedicated employee has learned, grown, and proven their skills for advancement. Here, we provide tactics for retaining valued employees and offering career growth, even without the availability of senior librarian positions.

The Problem

Over the years, law librarians have expressed concern and discouragement with the lack of senior librarian positions available in the job market. The danger for managers and directors is that they will lose their best talent to senior positions open at other institutions. Effective leaders provide their staff with professional development opportunities, challenging projects, and rewards for succeeding in career growth. Finding a solution to the conundrum of limited promotional opportunities for rising star librarians requires creativity and assessment of the library’s goals in advancement of the firm’s mission.

The Solution

Career advancement opportunities will look different at every institution. Our project may not fit everyone’s needs exactly, but the foundations hopefully provide all library leaders with a jumping off point.

Evaluation of current roles and the skills and tasks necessary to complete them is the first step. We looked at projects and tasks completed by all of our Assistant and Research Librarians and listed out the requisite skills employed. This was accomplished thinking in terms of job descriptions. For example, familiarity with legal research databases allows librarians to pull requested documents and train users on using the tools. Expertise with legal information sources expands the research and analysis capabilities necessary for a librarian to perform advanced legal research projects.

With all of the library’s work laid before us, we identified projects that wouldn’t necessarily require the expertise of a Research Librarian but that need expertise beyond an early-career employee. Those we designated as mid-level, or transitional skills: ones attained after an Assistant Librarian has mastered more than entry-level skills, but when they do not have enough experience to move into a more senior position. We also evaluated the extraordinary projects and contributions of Research Librarians, asking ourselves what it looks like when a Research Librarian has performed beyond their job description.

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New Law Librarian Orientation: Creating a Flexible and Welcoming Onboarding Experience

By Allison C. Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson P.C.

Originally published in the PEGA-SIS newsletter. To view the original posting visit the PEGA-SIS Blog.

What We Had Always Done

When Littler Mendelson, P.C., moved headquarters to Kansas City from San Francisco in 2015, the new librarians received a wealth of training. The Director and San Francisco librarians spent countless hours training us on reference response best practices, labor and employment law-specific resources, proprietary projects like legislative and class action tracking, library orientation, and history of the library’s role in the firm. The transition was nearly seamless thanks to their dedication, and the Kansas City librarians were ready to train new hires as they continued to arrive the next couple of years.

In the past five years, Littler’s library staff has doubled, meaning we’ve had the opportunity to welcome and train a dozen new librarians. Managing the onboarding processes, I realized we had taken for granted our stored knowledge and undocumented best practices. New projects, changed procedures, even how we communicated was second nature to the 2015 crew, but new hires were still asking me questions about requesting time off, firm-wide events, and who’s who in firm leadership after a few months into their employment. I was repeating instruction and information Human Resources (HR) and I shared within the first two weeks of a new hire’s time in the library. I realized my mistake of assuming early information retention and taking for granted what was ingrained in our library culture.

Goals for Orientation

We provide training and orientation to welcome new hires to the law library, make them part of the team, align them with institution initiatives, and teach our procedures. These goals aren’t reached within a few e-mails or brief meetings. It takes time for someone to feel part confident in a new job.

A manager’s response to continued inquiries from a new librarian is not to ask new hires to memorize or refer back to previous e-mails, because staff should feel comfortable reaching out to colleagues, requesting meetings with management, and asking questions. However, gaps in knowledge need to be addressed earlier in a librarian’s tenure. My goal was to provide as much of our undocumented knowledge in a methodical trajectory that also encouraged collaboration and continued communication throughout the first few months after a new hire begins.

There’s a balance between spacing out information and keeping a new hire engaged. We all remember new jobs where, during the first two weeks, we read manuals front to back without much hands-on experience. This scenario creates boredom and confusion over the job description. Instead, offer a variety of e-mails, videos, meetings, and task training to keep the day interesting.

An Orientation Assessment and Team

How does a manager create a more informative, but not overwhelming, orientation? First, assess what already exists. You likely have an arsenal of e-mails, procedural documents, peer trainers, and HR videos at your disposal.

Make a list of those documents and communications, including contents, schedule of distribution, and deadlines for completion. I already had a schedule of e-mails I was sending to new hires, but these needed assessment for relevancy, content, and timing. Manager meetings with new librarians needed a set agenda, brief time slot, and frequent contact.

In most institutions, managers are unable to alter the orientation process at HR. Paperwork, technology training, and videos are mandatory and must be completed in the timeline dictated. Within your own department, however, lies more flexibility.

This should not be a solitary effort of just a manger. What do I know? I’ve been here for five years and have already admitted to myself that I’ve taken knowledge for granted. More recently hired librarians were extremely helpful in creating our new orientation program. I asked for their input inquiring, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started?” The response was greatly instructive and showed me exactly where knowledge gaps existed.

Our team already had a system of training new hires on their initial tasks. We reviewed this approach to ensure that (1) every Assistant Librarian trained the new hire on at least one task and (2) a new hire has a strong grasp on a duty before moving onto the next one. I also discovered that complex topics, such as online resource billing and law for non-lawyers, were pieced together through disparate conversations. The orientation team also suggested the brilliant idea of creating mentorship within the department.

Through the assessment of what I already had and a review of staff suggestions, my onboarding team set about reorganizing and formalizing the library’s orientation. The team included leaders from the Assistant Librarian team, a Research Attorney, recently hired librarians, and peer mentors.

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