Law Librarians: Keeping The Industry Honest

Reposted with permission from Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites

By Robert Ambrogi

I’ve just returned from a much-too-brief visit to the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries in Baltimore. Although the conference started Saturday, family obligations kept me away until Monday. Then yesterday, flight cancellations along the east coast had me scrambling for a route home, forcing me to leave much earlier than I’d planned to catch the Amtrak to Boston.

Pretty much all I managed to do, therefore, was explore the exhibit hall and speak with vendors there.  From my vantage point, that’s a good thing. As I wrote after last year’s conference, AALL’s annual convention has evolved into one of the leading conferences for legal technology.

The reason for this is partly due to the evolving role of the law librarian. Back in 2014, I wrote about the changing role of law librarians, concluding, “To my mind, there has never been a more exciting or important time to be a legal information professional.” Four years later, that is even more true. As I said in last year’s post, law librarians wear an increasing number of hats these days, and a major one is legal technologist.

Hand in hand with the changing role of law librarians is the fact that information science itself is being radically transformed by technology. The buzzwords permeating this conference were the same you’ll hear at any legal technology conference — artificial intelligence, analytics, blockchain. But this is buzz with real substance behind it. Advances in technology are driving advances in legal research and even redefining the meaning and scope of what we’ve traditionally considered legal research to be.

In this regard, it says something about the state of innovation in law that prominent among those showing off leading-edge technologies at AALL were two of the industry’s most-established companies — Thomson Reuters with its AI-powered Westlaw Edge and LexisNexis with its new Lexis Analytics suite.

I was able to catch up with both companies at AALL and also see more of two new LexisNexis products, Context, which rolls out in September and will help lawyers understand what language judges find most persuasive, and Lexis Search Advantage | Transactional Powered by Intelligize, which is now available and allows firms to mine rich information out of internal document collections. (See this post for more.)

I also got the chance to see a demo of another new product I recently wrote about, the Analytics Workbench from Fastcase and its recently acquired docket-tracking company Docket Alarm. The idea of the Workbench is to allow legal professionals to build their own bespoke litigation analytics across any court, practice area or litigation event.

Visually, the analytics you create in Workbench look like Docket Alarm’s existing analytics product, PTAB Predictive Analytics. The difference is that these same analytics can be applied to virtually any court or type of docket activity. (Docket Alarm includes all federal dockets but is limited in its coverage of state dockets.) Michael Sander, Docket Alarm’s founder and CEO, said the goal is to make it easy for attorneys to create custom analytics, without requiring sophisticated tech expertise.

Wandering the exhibit hall, I was able to get updates from several companies I’m familiar with and make introductions with several I had not seen before. There will be more to come on this blog about some of those companies.

But something I heard over and over again from the vendors at AALL mirrors what I said above about the changing role of law librarians. Law librarians get it, the vendors said. They understand the importance of technology in advancing the legal profession, and they are more likely than other legal professionals to understand the mechanics of technology, to be able to get under the hood and size up whether a product is what it claims to be.

We see this at law firms, where law librarians are often the gatekeepers for new technology, helping to vet and evaluate products before their firms plunk down precious dollars. We see this at law schools, where law librarians are often at the forefront of pushing for teaching and program initiatives in technology innovation and competence. We see this in court systems and government agencies, where law librarians are often helping to lead the charge for expanding access to justice. Continue reading

Law.com Article on Librarians Making Themselves Heard, Performing Firm-Critical Functions

Steve Kovalan, Senior Analyst at ALM Intelligence, wrote a great Law.com article, “Quiet No Longer: Law Librarians ‘Forgo the Status Quo,’” highlighting how law librarians are making a difference within their organizations. Steve helped compile ALM’s 2017 Survey of Law Firm Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals (aka The Law Librarian Survey), so he is well-aware of the roles librarians currently play at their firms and how those roles have evolved. The “Delivering Value” section of the article includes some charts from the ALM survey and “illustrates just how many functions critical to the success of firms are performed by their libraries.”

Excerpts from the article are posted below with permission from the author.

“Delivering Value

In the post-recession new normal, libraries and knowledge services departments serve as an indispensable resource. Figure 1 below, reflecting responses to ALM Intelligence’s Survey of Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals, illustrates just how many functions critical to the success of firms are performed by their libraries.

Figure-1_Law-Library-Brief

Those key functions include libraries and their staff filling their more traditional roles in legal research support. As clients become more cost conscious, firms can source legal research to their library staff as an efficient, low-cost alternative to billing the same tasks to firm attorneys. And they also include the effective procurement of the growing array of technology-based research and analytic solutions fundamental to the day-to-day operations of today’s firms. In evaluating the effectiveness of tools and negotiating subscription details, libraries are responsible for identifying new tools and controlling costs through negotiating favorable contract terms.

Next, there are the roles that library staff are increasingly filling as researchers in support of firm business initiatives (Figure 2 below).

Figure-2_Law-Library-Brief

Those business research responsibilities are growing to the point that many survey respondents expect the number of business research requests to eclipse the number of legal research requests in the near future.

Finally, as information and research experts, libraries and knowledge services departments are perfectly positioned to facilitate knowledge sharing within the firm through activities such as conducting training sessions and curating newsletters on key subjects. Furthermore, because knowledge not shared is knowledge lost, for law firms operating in the age of the lateral move, knowledge sharing can also be a key mechanism promoting institutional stability.”

Interview of Research Services Librarian Yael Rosenblatt

This post introduces Yael Rosenblatt, Research Services Librarian at Reed Smith in New York.

What was your path to law librarianship?

Law librarianship was a natural outgrowth of my 9+ years spent at Westlaw which brought me into contact with some of the largest firms in New York City.  I really enjoyed seeing what law librarians do and was so impressed by the wide range of projects within the law firm that they were involved with.  I believed my skill set would dovetail nicely with that and was excited when an opportunity presented itself.

Did you have a mentor or librarian who helped you and/or influenced your work style/ethic?

I was fortunate to work with so many smart and talented librarians at many firms and to observe many different work styles and many different work settings.  I think most of the librarians I had contact with have served as a mentor for me in his or her own way.  I have tried to adopt for myself some of the qualities I most admire.  Since moving to Reed Smith, Brian Blaho’s help and guidance has obviously been invaluable to me.  I have also kept in regular contact with many of my librarian contacts who have provided lots of advice.

How has your job evolved from the time you first began your career?

My career really began when I served as law clerk for a judge in New Jersey.  Even then, I always loved research.  I even served as a research assistant for a professor in law school.  I transitioned to Westlaw and so my focus was exclusively on Westlaw , and eventually on the whole suite of Thomson Reuters’ legal offerings – and how those products can bring value and efficiency to lawyers and law firms.   Now my focus (in terms of research) is finding out how each product I have access to can bring value to the work I am doing.  It’s a learning curve – and it’s exciting to learn — in depth – about other resources.

What is your biggest challenge at work?

Currently my biggest challenge is still learning about all of the available resources.  I have so many great research tools to choose from.  It takes time to figure out what is available and then what is the most cost effective and thorough research platform to use in the particular instance.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy working with all different people in a law firm – and I enjoy learning about the diverse practice areas.  In my prior position, I always tried to meet attorneys in different practice areas.  I’ve continued trying to do that and enjoy working with corporate attorneys as well as litigators.  It keep things challenging and interesting.

How do you keep up with news and trends in law libraries?

I joined AALL and the local library associations.  I also follow popular blogs.  The librarians in my firm are also great about meeting regularly to keep in touch and keep each other up to date.

What job would you have if you had not become a law librarian?

I would be a private investigator.  I love the quest for information.  It keeps things interesting!

How do you reach out to your attorneys to let them know how the library can help them?

I am fortunate that I get a chance to meet with each and every attorney that starts – whether they are new associates or laterals or partners.  In this way, I can impress upon them the many ways the library can help them and show them what an essential resource the library team can be.

Keeping Current with News Aggregators

by Stosh Jonjak, Manager of Library Services for the Pittsburgh office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

digital-marketing-1563467_640Librarians and information professionals are accustomed to delivering relevant, late-breaking current awareness to our users. We have access to the latest and greatest news aggregating software currently available on the market. Yet, we have a tendency to overlook our very own information needs. We specialize in using news aggregators, so why not use them to stay current with law librarianship and related fields?

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Contemplating a Name Change

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Change:  A Constant Refrain

By Andrea K. Guldalian, Research Librarian at Duane Morris LLP

Over the years, American Association of Law Libraries’ members and presidents have ruminated on the growth and evolution of law librarianship, and on the internal and external forces affecting our profession.  These AALL advocates have called for the association’s members to look forward, to adapt, and to be proactive in addressing the challenges facing the legal information profession.  Law librarians answered that call by shapeshifting into knowledge managers, competitive intelligence professionals, information specialists, and research analysts, among other roles.  However, many of us maintain that, despite new titles and new roles, we are still essentially librarians, putting valuable and timeless librarian skills to good use organizing, finding, and disseminating information, regardless of format.

Have we finally reached the tipping point though?   In the face of all the changes, does the librarian name still properly convey all that we contribute to our organizations, and all the roles that our positions encompass?  Or are the cumulative changes to our profession so great that a new, broader name for our association is warranted?   Well-informed, reasonable minds will differ on this point, and American Association of Law Libraries members will have a chance to vote on a proposed name change beginning tomorrow, January 12, 2016.

As we mull over whether Association for Legal Information appropriately represents our soon-to-be 110-year-old association and its members, we thought it would be worth reviewing some of the myriad reflections on our ever-changing profession and professional environment.

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