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

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.

Embedded librarianship in law firms: issues and opportunities

By Sarah Sutherland, Manager of Content and Partnerships, CanLII

There has been a fair amount of talk recently about law librarians using embedded librarianship as a model to increase their relevance and centrality to legal practice. This is an interesting idea; however, I believe there are limits to what we will be able to accomplish in implementing the original concept of the embedded librarian as it was developed in the form of the informationist in the medical field. Here is a link to the article that first proposed this model. Continue reading