How Law Firms Succeeded During the Pandemic

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 6 (July/August 2022), pgs 18-20.

By John DiGilio, Firmwide Director of Library Services, Sidley Austin LLP

Communicate meaningfully, set boundaries, celebrate successes, and be empathetic.

For most of us in the law firm library world, the response to the pandemic felt a like a fire drill that we have been preparing for our entire careers. We have long talked about electronic resources, serving clients at a distance, virtual learning, and so much more. Conference after conference and through innumerable articles, we have been lamenting the slow pace of change among firms when it comes to fully embracing these possibilities. Yet wise was the person who said that necessity is the mother of invention. All that hesitation ended abruptly when the world went into lockdown under the rapid spread of COVID-19. Not only did we successfully make that transition from office to remote, but we did so almost overnight. Rising to the challenge, however, came at a price. Staff reported being overwhelmed. Some even burned out. Currently, we are in the midst of a chaotic job market and what is being dubbed “The Great Resignation.” As a manager, I knew from day one that a big part of my job was going to be making sure that my team had the space, flexibility, and respect necessary to not only pull off a successful transition, but to do so in good health and good spirits.

Communicate Meaningfully

We knew immediately that electronic communication was going to be one of the keys to successfully move from in-office to remote working. But even when we were in the office, one of the biggest issues we faced was the ever-growing glut of emails, texts, and instant messages we were already receiving. “Email overload,” for example, was already a very real and pressing problem. Now that communicating was no longer as simple as walking down the hall to talk to colleagues and co-workers, we expected this issue would compound itself exponentially—and it did. Within weeks of going remote, we were all using at least three virtual meeting platforms and two instant messaging programs in addition to what we already had on both our computers and smartphones as well as tablets. We were wired for speed and confusion!

For my team, I made the decision that while anyone was free to make use of any of the tools being offered by the firm, there would be certain base expectations. Everyone was asked to stick to one of each of these communication platforms. This way we could easily see who was available, everyone was guaranteed to see important messages and announcements, and we did not have to do a lot of jumping between applications to connect with our colleagues. This helped reduce some of the communication fatigue that was evident early on. Everyone was also asked to attend one monthly all-department meeting in which the various service directors talked about projects completed and those underway.

I also decided to encourage a meaningful approach to virtual meetings. I knew we would be adding a good number of online social events to make up for our lack of in-person gatherings, so I wanted again to make sure that heaping those on top of an already busy schedule of administrative and work-focused meetings did not overwhelm our staff. We needed to reduce unnecessary meetings, or what I call “meetings for meetings’ sake,” and ensure that the ones we were scheduling were kept tight and efficient. Everything of importance would be recorded to take pressure off those with conflicts, pressing projects, or who were not even on the clock at the time of the meeting. Not only did I preach this gospel of efficiency, but I also had to lead by example. Entire schedules were rethought and redone. But it was worth it. With remote working likely here to stay, this practice is going to serve us well going forward.

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Retirement During a Pandemic

By Loretta Orndorff, Director of Library Services, Retired from Cozen O’Connor in February 2021 and Recipient of the 2021 PLLIP Hall of Fame Award

Retirement at any time is anticipated, planned for, worried about, and then I think the inevitable just happens. Most people who retire, usually do so only once although a dear friend’s husband, George, retired 3 or 4 times!  As he passed his mid-70s and lost his eyesight, he retired from his church.  Within a year or so he was called to be minister of another church.  After retiring from that second church he was called back into ministry at another church or two before his last retirement finally stuck.  George was a Master Retirerer! 

I am happy to retire only once.  Retiring during a respiratory pandemic was certainly not anything I could have imagined!  When I set my retirement date for February 1, 2021, and started to think about winding down and cleaning up from working almost 24 years as a Library Director at Cozen O’Connor, my most remote guess of the cause of professional, societal, and personal upheaval would have been an approaching world-wide Pandemic. 

As I planned my retirement pre-Pandemic, I realized it would be an abrupt change from the office routine and a cutting off of the normal daily interactions. My big disruption happened almost one year prior to my actual retirement.  The sudden and unexpected lack of normal collegial interactions was further compounded by the changes in normal social behaviors and activities that round out the other parts of our lives.  Thankfully my library work did not slow down.  The work load coupled with concerns for my family and friends, pushed thoughts of my upcoming retirement aside until late 2020.

My Firm sent us home to work remotely on March 17, 2020.  Within about three days our fabulous computer department had almost everyone up and running.  While the switch over felt seamless to most of us, it certainly could not have felt easy to our computer department who worked tirelessly till everyone was settled into WFH mode.  The order to leave the office was so abrupt that people only had time to grab their laptop and a very few work items that were not already incorporated into a database.  In the scurry to get safely home, everything was left behind, personal belongings and any non-mobile equipment were simply left in place.  Certainly the situation would be under control in the not too distant future…right?  When I returned to clear out my office fifteen months after the order to WFH, things were mostly as I left them with a few additional piles left by the mail room.  The most impactful strangeness of my office was the lack of people, the audible hum of the HVAC system which ordinarily would have been obscured by the hubbub of activity, and the very odd feeling of settled quietness which cemented the profoundness of what had happened to us all.

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Business as (Un)Usual: Library Business Continuity Amid COVID-19

By Ellyssa Valenti Kroski, Director of Information Technology/Marketing The New York Law Institute

We’re a private membership law library which serves law firms and law firm librarians by providing research assistance, document delivery, and access to remote databases. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in October, 2012, we were largely unprepared for what would follow.  The inability to physically access our building cut off access to our library’s email which was hosted in-house on our network, as was our application which provided remote access to all of our electronic resources for our members.  We also had a traditional POTS phone system in place, so answering patron phone calls was out of the question as well.  We really had to scramble in order to get temporary passwords issued so that patrons could still access our resources and post alternate phone numbers for contacting us on our website.  We did it, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fluid.  We decided right then to start transforming our business model to one that was more conducive to business continuity in the face of crises, one that was independent of location.  Eight years later we were much better prepared for this emergency.

Here are some of the systems we changed and had in place which made transitioning to a remote work situation less of an ordeal as well as some tips for preparing your own library. Continue reading

A 360 View: Essential Steps for a Successful Next-Gen Online Catalog Upgrade (Part 2 – Implementation)

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Co-authored by Cheryl Niemeier, Director of Knowledge & Research Services, Bose McKinney & Evans, LLP, and Michayla Sullivan, Knowledge & Research Services Specialist, Bose McKinney & Evans LLP

Congratulations, you’ve selected your online catalog system! After you have decided on a new platform and signed the contract, you will need to implement the new system. The general stages of implementation are:

  • Record migration
  • Library employee training
  • Product customization
  • Promotion of OPAC

The implementation process involves several considerations. Your new vendor should be able to help you bulk import your old library records to your new system. As mentioned in Part 1 of this post, hopefully you’ve made absolutely certain to double-check on this functionality before you signed the contract. The lack of this service is a deal-breaker. Even the smallest law libraries can have thousands of records that are critical for day-to-day operations. An inability to import records in bulk or compatibility issues between the old and new systems could make the migration process difficult, lengthy, and possibly not worth the associated time and cost. Some larger libraries also may have the same consideration for patron records.

The new generation of library catalog systems tend to have far more functionality than older ones, therefore, a surprising amount of training may be needed for your staff. Expect to spend weeks or even months discovering all the new features and how to use them. Be sure that your library staff has at least 10-15 hours over the first several weeks to dedicate to initial training with the vendor, reading manuals, and/or watching training videos. Also, account for extra staff time spent on performing routine tasks in the new system. Allowing for some overtime during the transition period also may be necessary.

After you have mastered the features available in the new system, you will need to spend time customizing it to your needs. Your vendor may be able to help you with some of this, but much of it will be left to you. Depending on which product you go with, the biggest customization may be designing your OPAC. You not only will have to design its overall appearance; you also will need time to determine which features to make available to your patrons. Which search fields will you make available? Will there be links to outside resources? If so, which ones? Will your patrons be allowed to add and remove themselves to serials routing lists? Do you want them to use the OPAC to submit reference requests? After you have answered and implemented all of your customized features, time devoted to testing them is essential.

Build it and they will come? This may hold true in some instances, but no matter what, make a plan to promote the OPAC to the employees at your firm. Every library catalog needs name—one way to get people excited about your new online catalog is to ask for name suggestions or have a naming contest. Next up is announcing the chosen name and arranging demonstrations of the catalog at your firm’s practice group meetings. Also, don’t forget to demonstrate it to the paralegals and secretaries at their meetings. If your firm has an intranet, position the link to the OPAC prominently. Lastly, in the ensuing months make sure to remind people about the OPAC whenever you get the chance. As people call asking where a certain book is kept or if the latest issue of a favorite current awareness journal is in yet, take the opportunity to remind them about your new catalog system.

Advantages abound in moving up to a next-generation online catalog system. Chief among them is the ability to offer attorneys seamless access to the entire universe of resources in your library’s collection. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the time and effort needed to make it happen.

 

Librarians and Vendors: Some Thoughts As Conference Season Approaches

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by Charles J. Lowry, enterprise sales representative for Fastcase

The poet Dante took great relish in describing the sign over the entrance to the underworld. There is a part of that sign that all vendors secretly fear is in the hearts of librarians as they contemplate the exhibit hall:

Per me si va ne la citta dolente,

Per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,

Per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Inferno III.1-3

“Through me you enter into the grieving city; through me you enter into unending sorrow; through me you enter to be among a forsaken nation.” What I hope to do over the next few paragraphs is to offer a couple thoughts that might enable both librarians and vendors to appreciate the opportunities and challenges of the exhibit hall. These thoughts are based on years of experience, but it is my experience only. I make no claim to speak for all vendors or for any particular vendor, including my employer. Continue reading