Keeping the Conversation Going: Revisiting AALL Sessions on Research Skills and Technology Training

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As we get to the end of fall, it seemed timely to revisit associate and law student training topics discussed at this summer’s AALL Annual Meeting and see if anyone had implemented new associate training initiatives or new approaches to legal research classes this fall. This post covers attorney research skills, and a second post about technology training will be published next week. 

by Kathy Skinner, Director of Research Services at Morrison & Foerster LLP

“Keep the conversation going” was the resounding feedback from attendees at the 2015 AALL program, “Attorney Research Skills: Join the Conversation between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians.” Based on program responses, there’s a clear need to discuss law school and law firm research training methods and adapt them so they are more meaningful, practical, and consistent. So, how can we keep the discussion going in order to realize change?

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Wrapping up 2013.

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Kate Greene Stanhope, Manager Library & Information Services, McInnes Cooper

 2013 is winding down and planning for 2014 well underway. Historically, end of year was the natural time to evaluate departmental performance and set new goals. However, in 2013, we seemed to be doing this weekly – daily sometimes. Our small Library and Information Services group has moved away from the emphasis on library as a physical space and is focussed on the information services that add value to our firm’s business. Research advisory and reference services are still in high demand, though their value is diminishing in the eyes of some. The recent transition to a sole source environment for online research has resulted in increased requests for assistance finding material previously available at our fingertips. This is not a bad thing, but achieving balance between active participation in firm knowledge and information management projects and availability for “just in time” research is challenging.

So, as I contemplate my 2014 Business Plan, I reached out to colleagues in other Canadian firms. They shared their thoughts on what kept them busy this year and what 2014 might look like. A few common themes emerged.

 Beyond legal research – The intersection of library and marketing:

More law libraries are collaborating with marketing, whether formally or informally, to lend expertise in the areas of Competitive and Business Intelligence. In the past year, our L&IS group has worked with Marketing to produce client and industry profiles and we foresee this continuing. Currently, we are trialling an online research product that will enhance our ability to turn these requests around more efficiently and without sacrificing detail (I learned a lot about CI in law firms at the CALL 2013 conference at a session moderated by Agathe Bujold of McCarthy Tetrault).  

 April Brousseau, Assistant Director, Library and Knowledge Management at Stikeman Elliot, shared that her group works closely with Stikeman’s marketing department to provide in depth company and industry research, and assists in the preparation of related materials for RFPs. Another colleague from a smaller firm notes that marketing related work now approaches 50% of his time and includes input into the use of social media, assisting in the creation and editing of visual advertising, and even assisting with the creation of individual lawyer strategic business plans.  Although this work often gets set aside when a lawyer requires research assistance, he delegates some research to students when things are really tight.

 KM for Library & Information Services  

Legal information professionals continue to drive Knowledge Management within firms, but KM practices have relevance in helping us manage our internal know-how, specifically the collective knowledge amassed in the provision of research and reference services. Leveraging this knowledge through identification, classification, and retrieval of “frequently asked questions” can free up time to devote elsewhere. April’s group at Stikeman’s plans to enhance the database of reference question responses they maintain and my group continues to improve our use of Outlook categories to profile reference answers.  We are also looking for better ways to capture metrics about the kinds of questions we receive and the resources used to answer them (See Eve Ross and Bess Reynolds’ presentations Library Metrics and Metrics 101: Proving Your Value for detailed discussions of the value of metrics for information professionals).

 Prominent Roles in KM and Technology Projects

Fellow Nova Scotia law librarians Linda Matte (Library Manager, Cox and Palmer) and Cyndi Murphy, (Knowledge Manager, Stewart McKelvey and current CALL Past President) devoted significant time this year to projects which introduced new technologies to their lawyers practices.

 The cost of updating of print versions of Civil Procedure Rules (CPR’s) is a significant line item in many library budgets. With 30 subscriptions to manage, Linda sought to reduce these costs while still providing current, convenient access to this information. She investigated the use of iPad’s to access CPR’s and discovered that pdf versions of the rules, freely available online, don’t require wifi to use after they’ve been download. She tested the $5 GoodReader app to manage content (bookmarks, notes, highlighting), and found it to be very effective. The pilot project was optional and was implemented over 11 month, with an initial trial group of 10 lawyers. It was a success from the start and as word spread Linda eventually had 100% buy in, with savings approaching $18,000 by 2014.

 When Stewart McKelvey decided to deploy Recommind’s Decisiv Email Management software to better manage e-mail volume, Cyndi was a key member of the implementation team, along with a project manager, technical advisor, and a member of the Stewart McKelvey IT staff (a consultant was retained to assist with the planning and change management aspects of the project because of its impact on lawyer practices). Reporting to the Chief Professional Resources Officer, who was actively involved in the roll-out, Cyndi took the lead on liaising with the IT trainers to compile one-page handouts on the filing and searching features of Decisiv, created the portal page dedicated to Decisiv, and worked with the trainers to populate it. When Decisiv was rolled out to users throughout the firm, she assisted in conducting training sessions. Cyndi acknowledged that it was difficult at times to balance the demands of the project with her day to day work, especially with the travel required to the firm’s other offices. But, support from her staff and recognition from the firm of the role she played in the success of the project contributed to personal and professional gratification.

 Looking ahead, the dynamic nature of the work we do as Legal Information Professionals will probably be reflected in the changing composition of our groups. At Lawson Lundell, an innovative, team approach is described in the advertisement for a new position, Manager of Information Resources.  And, in 2014, my group will welcome the firm’s Conflict and Audit Coordinators as we become more involved in the life cycle of information within the firm, from new business intake to closed file management, and everything in between.

 Now, if I can just get that Business Plan done before Christmas Eve . . .

 

 

How to Sit at the Table: Lean In

by: Joan L. Axelroth, Axelroth and Associates, Library & Information Management Consultant

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the challenges facing law firm librarians, including the obstacles to success and what we can do to overcome them.  Always a worthwhile topic, it is of particular interest these days as I work alongside a stellar committee on programming for the upcoming Private Law Library Summit to be held this July as part of AALL’s annual meeting.   Continue reading

When the lawyers ignore the law

For those of us who work within law firms, we know there is one true and inviolable rule – whatever any law may say, it definitely doesn’t apply to lawyers.

However, the fact that this rule is only in effect inside the heads of lawyers leads to problems for those of us who do have to work within the law. In particular, it brings problems for information services staff, when you uncover activities that the lawyers have been engaged in that they really shouldn’t be. Nothing criminal (no bodies being disposed of in landfill sites, or shipments of suspicious powders being couriered between offices), but things which breach certain contracts, or certain laws. Favourites are: Continue reading

Not lesser. Just different.

Working within a law firm, there is a very clear division in staff: there are lawyers, and there are non-lawyers. Lawyers believe that they are important, intelligent, innovative, indispensable, and all sorts of other “i” words.  In the eyes of the lawyers, us non-lawyers are often seen to be none of those “i” words…we are other i’s – irritating, in-the-way, inconvenient. Which can create quite a number of problems for those of us who make up that generic mass of non-lawyer staff, particularly librarians. Continue reading