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. Continue reading

As AALL Convenes, A Look At The Increasingly Essential Role Of The Law Librarian

Reposted with permission from Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites

Yesterday kicked off the 2020 annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries, which runs all this week through Friday. It is the AALL’s first virtual conference, and it comes at a time when legal information professionals, like so many in the legal profession, face challenges and uncertainty on multiple fronts.

Recent years have seen an unprecedented surge in the use of technology and artificial intelligence within the legal profession, and most agree the pandemic will only further accelerate that surge. What does that mean for the future of the law librarian?

In my opinion, technology will not diminish the role of the information professional. Rather, never has that role been more essential within the legal profession.

In my column this week at Above the Law, I detail four ways in which law librarians will become even more essential as technology evolves.

Read it here: The Increasingly Essential Role Of The Law Librarian.

Law Librarians & The Future of Law Firms

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 24, Number 2 (November/December 2019), pgs. 23-25.

By Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong of Ottawa, Canada, is a legal market analyst, speaker, and consultant who forecasts the impact of legal industry trends on lawyers, legal organizations, and clients. He is the author of Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm and writes regularly about the legal profession at law21.ca.

This past summer, I gave the keynote address to the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section Summit X: The Path to 2030, in Washington, DC, during the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting. The
title of the presentation was “New Horizons: How Law Librarians and Legal Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.” The following is a brief summary of those remarks.

The Legal Landscape
The gradual but unstoppable transformation of the commercial legal marketplace—including new client buying patterns, rapid technological advances, and a host of new providers emboldened by regulatory liberalization—is creating a state of “climate  change” in the market. This poses an immense challenge to law firms, which developed
and flourished in last century’s more sedate competitive climate and whose business model will now have to adapt in response to this change.

Among the most important consequences of this legal climate change is a growing bifurcation of legal work into two broad categories:

  • “commodity” work (routine, repeatable, straightforward, traditionally
    given to associates), and
  • “complex” work (intricate, challenging, high-stakes, traditionally kept by
    partners).

These two types of work have always existed in law firms, of course. But one of the profitability secrets of law firms is that they perform commodity work the same way they perform complex work: sequentially, laboriously, by-the-lawyer-hour. This is the key feature of the law firm leverage model: bill associates’ on-the-job learning efforts on basic tasks and reap the resulting profits.

Now, however, this law firm profitability secret is becoming a handicap. Commodity work is migrating from law firms and moving to more efficient and cost-appropriate platforms, including managed legal services companies and low-cost/offshore centers. These providers are winning this work because they have designed systems and trained
people to carry out these tasks faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than law firms can.

Law firms could keep this work if they were to adjust their workflow, pricing, and profitability approaches; that is, if they would perform commodity work efficiently and systematically, as it should be done. But law firms just aren’t set up to do that, structurally or culturally, and few are even trying. Continue reading

AALL Annual Meeting 2019 Recap: Summit X: The Path to 2030

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. Continue reading

AALL Annual Meeting 2019 Recap: AALL 2019 Tackles the Firm Librarian’s Role in Legal Research Competency

By Allison Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson

Allison Reeve Davis received a Speaking Engagement Grant from the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section to attend the AALL Annual Meeting.  Allison also participated in the AALL Innovation Tournament while at the conference and was the Judges’ Choice winner for her Tentative Rulings Database.

 I wrote up this report three weeks after AALL wrapped up in DC, and my mind was still swirling with the engaging programming and thought-provoking conversations I shared with colleagues.

The buzz surrounding the future of legal research training and the gaps in attorney research and technology skills caught my attention. At Littler Mendelson, we’re always trying to gain deeper insight into what the attorneys need to know, identify practice pain-points, determine how to best deliver training, and explore forthcoming technologies to ensure we’re ready when they’re rolled out.

Jordan Furlong, a global legal market analyst, gave a fantastic keynote during PLLIP Summit X addressing the changing legal landscape and future of law firm librarianship.  [Ed. Note:  The PLLIP Summit precedes the main conference and provides an opportunity for private law librarians and information professionals to focus on current issues and opportunities common to their firms and organizations.]  A key takeaway I got from the keynote was that legal information professionals can act as a backbone for the firm’s “advisory knowledge” demands, in areas such as client intelligence, analytics, and knowledge management. Furlong advised that librarians will evolve from traditional data mining to data refining. This means librarians should hone skills in delivering information with actionable insight and position themselves as a competitive edge within the firm.  Robert Ambrogi delved into the session in more detail in his post on Above the Law.  What I explore here is the thought provoking question asked by an audience member: as law schools start to teach students the practice of law and commoditized tasks are replaced with complex work, where will legal research training take place?  It became clear throughout the Annual Meeting that librarians from all institutional types have a role to play in attorney preparedness.

Related to this central question was the AALL session, “Assessing Legal Research Competency: Bridging the Gap between Law School and Practice,” presented by Nicole Downing, Jennifer Davitt, Taryn Rucinski, and Kelly A. McGlynn, and moderated by Theresa Tarves.  These information professionals work in a variety of institutions including law firms, government agencies, and law schools. Their diverse observations and viewpoints provided rich insight into attorney competency gaps and offered solutions for information professionals who assess and teach research aptitude. Areas for skill improvement ranged from research project intake and output to knowledge of administrative law and legislative history. The librarians provided methods of skill assessment, both formal, such as quizzes in the law school legal research classroom, and informal, like observations from reference interviews with legal clerks. Kelly, from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, discussed her library’s involvement in the firm’s attorney development program. The firm’s librarians teach an array of topics including cost effective research strategy, licensing, and client confidentiality. They gain insight on what to teach based on answers to reference interview questions such as “What are you working on? “What have you done already?” and “What practice group are you researching for?”

Let’s not forget to keep it fun, though! The librarians presenting on competency gaps reminded the audience that creativity and flexibility are essential to meeting the attorneys at a place for learning. As a PLLIP-SIS Speaking Engagement Grant recipient, I attended the conference and participated as a panelist for “Wanna Play? Leveraging Gamification to Increase Interest, Adoption, Technology and Research Skills” with Bradelynn Boyce-Dendy, Lisa Njoku, and coordinator Sarah Morris. Our group shared experiences harnessing the competitive streak in attorneys and turning resource training and adoption into enjoyable, engaged gamification.

AALL also accepted my application to participate in this year’s Innovation Tournament. My library’s project is a database of Santa Clara, California, Superior Court tentative rulings.  In building the tool, we have responded to the evolving client demands that our attorneys gain a competitive edge in judicial insight. This also required us to think through how to empower our attorneys to leverage the tool, understand its results, and apply them to their litigation strategy or business development. I thank PLLIP-SIS for the ability to attend, and the Innovation Tournament judges’ panel for their vote of confidence in Littler’s new cool tool.

Many of the sessions at AALL this year included calls to consider the law librarian’s role in preparing lawyers for the legal market and evolving information landscape. A combined effort of practice-focused classroom instruction at law schools, new attorney orientations in firms, and continuing research and technology competency training will prove the most beneficial to the attorneys we serve. The integral role of law firm information professionals’ involvement in knowledge competency development cannot be understated. As the practice of new attorneys moves from the commoditized to the complex, law schools will expand their teaching of evolving technologies, and clients will demand data-based practice insight.  Firm librarians will be required to bridge any gaps in understanding the complex web of information. After witnessing presenters’ proactive instructional design and learning about and sharing information on innovative tools and programs, l came away inspired and confident that librarians are positioned to partner with firm management and to offer attorneys the competitive edge.

As previously mentioned, I owe gratitude to the PLLIP Grants Committee for supporting my attendance. The ability to share my experience and hear new ideas is rewarding for myself, Littler’s library, and other legal information professionals. I encourage others to apply for the available grants as an opportunity to challenge your perspective and advance your department through professional development.