Ten Ways to Add Value to Your Firm in a Pandemic

An action plan for law firm library managers and self-starters during a period of change and disruption.

By Patricia Barbone

Patricia Barbone is the Director of Library Services at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and is based in lower Manhattan.  She has managed library services through 9-11, Superstorm Sandy, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the state lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 occurred in March of 2020, law firm librarians have been focused on two primary goals:  maintaining quality reference service within a remote environment and managing within an economic climate of uncertain revenue and financial insecurity. Reopening our economy has its own unique set of challenges and provides an opportunity for creativity and resourcefulness for today’s law librarians.

Demand for library services is high even for firms that have implemented furloughs. It is more important than ever to stay visible and demonstrate value. Here are ten action tips to help you rethink your role within your organization and consider what you can do to contribute to your organization’s success.

Even if you weren’t able to implement anything new at the start of the pandemic, there is always an opportunity for improving library service and managing in a period of disruption. Even subtle changes can make a big impact for large and small firms alike, and my prediction is that many things will never be the same again. Can you identify what changes are underway and adapt or pivot accordingly? These ten tips may help.

1. Promote Your Existing Electronic Subscriptions

The day we began remote work, I sent out a number of targeted emails reminding people of the resources available to them with basic instruction on how to gain access. This had the dual purpose of informing our users, but also providing a general sense of comfort that being remote hadn’t cut our users off from library service or library resources. We continue to send emails with tips and training often directed to specific practice areas. The response was extremely positive. Users may be experts in a given practice area, but many still don’t know the leading resources or that a favorite print source is also online. It’s your job to let them know. Some of you may be thinking that you don’t have time to draft engaging emails or that your unsolicited email would be a burden on an already taxed email system. If firm culture is against you, perhaps you can post tips on an internal page, or target individual attorneys who you know would benefit and be receptive. Although drafting and communicating is time consuming, my advice would be to save and repurpose all of your communications. It is worth the investment in your time to take the lead as the experts in electronic resources.

2. Training, Training, Training

This is a perfect opportunity to get users up to speed on electronic resources. Create virtual office hours for vendors. Take advantage of your virtual screen sharing tools so librarians can work one on one with attorneys. Curate and promote webinars and CLE programs. Many vendors have been terrific about reaching out to provide virtual training, tap into them.

3. Read the Industry Landscape

Some of your best ideas can come from the legal and business press. Stay informed, you don’t operate in a vacuum. Talk to peers and vendors. What practice areas are seeing an uptick and what practice areas are slowing down as a result of economic and governmental forces? Consider how you can apply that knowledge to your own environment. This advice is intended for both managers and reference librarians.

4. Follow Trends – Gather and Curate Content

This is where librarian expertise can shine – we know how to follow news, trends, and legislative actions. We know which subscriptions have the best current awareness features and how to set them up. Like many of you, we set up a number of coronavirus news alerts for attorneys tasked with working on client advisories. Our librarians also send selective content that we notice in our daily screening of news. Your goal is to make it easy for lawyers and aligned legal professionals to stay on top of the latest changes in the law and to remind them that the library is the first stop in beginning any research project.

5. Review Your Contracts and Subscriptions

Do your subscriptions reflect the current information need in your firm? Can you get reductions based on the existing economic climate? Is there anything you can cancel? Do you need to add or drop content? While many vendors will work with you during this time period, others will try to upsell you, maintain unwarranted levels of increases, or be indifferent to the drop in either users or usage. This is the time to advocate on behalf of your firm. Continue reading

Welcome to the 2019-2020 Dewey B Strategic Hits and Misses Survey

Reposted with permission from Jean O’Grady at Dewey B Strategic.   Jean is a member of the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section. 

Please take the 2019-2020 Dewey B Strategic Survey here. Review the 2019 highlights below and tell your colleagues about the best and the worst of 2019 in legal publishing and legal tech.

The Highlights 2019 was a relatively quiet launch year in legal technology and publishing.  The year opened with speculation about the impact of layoffs at Thomson Reuters. Mid-year Wolters Kluwer suffered a significant malware  attack on May 7 but was fully back online within a week.

LexisNexis announced the full integration of one of its oldest acquisitions. Courtlink which was acquired in 2001 was finally integrated into their flagship product Lexis Advance.  The market responded with mixed reviews.

Bloomberg re-branded itself as Bloomberg Information Group (BIG.) Sadly this signified the retirement of BNA ( Bureau of National Affairs) as a brand. Bloomberg had acquired BNA in 2011 add a significant library of secondary sources including newsletters and books. The full integration of BNA into the Bloomberg platform allowed the company to revert to the simplified pricing model they had pioneered during their launch into the online legal information market.

Fastcase continued an aggressive spree of acquisitions and alliances covering public records (TransUnion), bankruptcy forms, Expert witness information (Juris and Courtroom Insight)  and  legal news (Law Street Media) clearly positioning product to move into the large firm market.

The Year of the Brief Analyser. Casetext CARA which launched the first brief analysis tool in 2016  now has a competitor in the Westlaw Edge “Quick Cite tool.”  At the 2019 American Association of Law Libraries AALL Annual Conference both Bloomberg and LexisNexis previewed their brief citiator tools which are expected to launch in 2020.

Please respond to the survey here. The Survey will close on “leap day” February 29th.

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

KLEW

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.

 

A 360 View: Essential Steps for a Successful Next-Gen Online Catalog Upgrade (Part 1 – System Selection)

By Cheryl Niemeier, Director of Knowledge & Research Services, Bose McKinney & Evans, LLP, and Michayla Sullivan, Knowledge & Research Services Specialist, Bose McKinney & Evans LLP

OPAC

A mere thirty to forty years ago, albeit light years ago in terms of technology, most law firm libraries were converting from card catalogs to online catalogs. The records contained in those old online catalogs were largely bibliographic records for print titles. However, the balance of records in today’s online catalogs has shifted to primarily records for electronic titles. Due to this change, many law libraries may be contemplating upgrading to next-generation online catalog systems. Doing so entails several considerations and steps. Continue reading

Renaming the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section (PLL-SIS) of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)

self-imagepost authored by Michael Ginsborg, Reference Librarian, Arnold & Porter LLP

In the Devil’s Dictionary, Ambroise Bierce (re)defines “lawyer” as “one skilled in circumvention of the law.” If Bierce were our authority in the matter, it would seem that a law firm librarian aids in circumventions of law. But as the Devil’s Dictionary makes clear, certain identifications carry a host of associations, whether or not within standard use. Given changes in our profession, what we call ourselves has become a renewed subject of interest.

In 2009, members of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) considered a change in name to the “ Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals” (ASKPro). The proposal was the result of extensive research by SLA. Although SLA members did not adopt the change, proponents advanced compelling reasons for it. They found that “libraries” no longer adequately represented the range and variety of their skills and careers, now often pursued without library affiliation. As a result, continued identification with libraries failed to convey their unique “strategic” value to their employers and clients. The SLA Board offered the proposed rebranding to more clearly communicate this value..

Jean O’Grady, PLL-SIS Chair, recently announced that the PLL Board will examine the merits of renaming our PLL-SIS, and the Board discussed the issue in the October 23rd Law Librarian Conversations. Jean advances equally compelling reasons in the context of law firms. First, PLL’s use of the word “libraries” reveals nothing specific about we do. PLL members provide a wide array of services, including “Competitive Intelligence, Business Intelligence, Knowledge Management, records, docket, web development, and other emerging digital roles.” As Jean observes, our roles have radically changed, reflecting “seismic” shifts in the legal industry. “Librarian” and “libraries” fail to convey how our new responsibilities and skills serve the goals of our law firm or corporate employers and clients.

Second, law firms with libraries are rapidly reducing their print collections and “embedding” librarians in practice groups. In fact, at least one AmLaw 100 firm has no print collection, and smaller firms, like this one, have done likewise. Available data – as in this presentation by Bess Reynolds – clearly show an accelerating trend toward digitization. So it can be persuasively argued that changed circumstances warrant a new organizational name without the reductive and outdated connotations of “libraries” and “librarians.” Carol Ottolenghi describes a familiar connotation in her article about naming those we serve as clients. If called “patrons,” some users “initially think of us as ‘clerks who like books.’” Changing PLL’s name could also help reverse such unwelcome perceptions.

The PLL Board has invited us to offer our comments. I find myself rather conflicted over the Board’s proposal, in much the same way that one SLA member said she was over ASKPro. Why? On the one hand, law firm clients and attorneys will continue to misunderstand what we do if we bill our time as librarians – a point that Jean makes in the Law Librarian Conversations program. On the other hand, the symbolism of “libraries” and “librarians” still matters. Indeed, it has assumed greater importance in our era of digital transformation. Among senses in which we still “like the books,” we believe copyrighted works deserve the widest dissemination among our clients. The words “libraries” and “librarian” suggest that we care about sharing resources and expertise, and maintaining a right of access as close to ownership as possible. They suggest that we favor the continuing availability of interlibrary loans and that we oppose digital licensing restrictions impairing access rights. And they suggest that we belong to a collective enterprise that sustains the indispensable benefits of these unique forms of sharing and preservation for future use.

My ambivalence has no ideal remedy. The nearest approximation to a remedy falls consideration short, but I cannot think of a better alternative than to offer a “hybrid” idea for rebranding. For example, the name “Private Law Librarians and Allied Knowledge Professionals” (PLLAKPro) comes perilously close to sounding like a Dickensian Office of Circumlocution. Whatever name emerges, perhaps PLL-SIS can accommodate a hybrid, emphasizing the primacy of librarians, so that we can continue to signal the ideals of librarianship.