How Law Firms Succeeded During the Pandemic

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 6 (July/August 2022), pgs 18-20.

By John DiGilio, Firmwide Director of Library Services, Sidley Austin LLP

Communicate meaningfully, set boundaries, celebrate successes, and be empathetic.

For most of us in the law firm library world, the response to the pandemic felt a like a fire drill that we have been preparing for our entire careers. We have long talked about electronic resources, serving clients at a distance, virtual learning, and so much more. Conference after conference and through innumerable articles, we have been lamenting the slow pace of change among firms when it comes to fully embracing these possibilities. Yet wise was the person who said that necessity is the mother of invention. All that hesitation ended abruptly when the world went into lockdown under the rapid spread of COVID-19. Not only did we successfully make that transition from office to remote, but we did so almost overnight. Rising to the challenge, however, came at a price. Staff reported being overwhelmed. Some even burned out. Currently, we are in the midst of a chaotic job market and what is being dubbed “The Great Resignation.” As a manager, I knew from day one that a big part of my job was going to be making sure that my team had the space, flexibility, and respect necessary to not only pull off a successful transition, but to do so in good health and good spirits.

Communicate Meaningfully

We knew immediately that electronic communication was going to be one of the keys to successfully move from in-office to remote working. But even when we were in the office, one of the biggest issues we faced was the ever-growing glut of emails, texts, and instant messages we were already receiving. “Email overload,” for example, was already a very real and pressing problem. Now that communicating was no longer as simple as walking down the hall to talk to colleagues and co-workers, we expected this issue would compound itself exponentially—and it did. Within weeks of going remote, we were all using at least three virtual meeting platforms and two instant messaging programs in addition to what we already had on both our computers and smartphones as well as tablets. We were wired for speed and confusion!

For my team, I made the decision that while anyone was free to make use of any of the tools being offered by the firm, there would be certain base expectations. Everyone was asked to stick to one of each of these communication platforms. This way we could easily see who was available, everyone was guaranteed to see important messages and announcements, and we did not have to do a lot of jumping between applications to connect with our colleagues. This helped reduce some of the communication fatigue that was evident early on. Everyone was also asked to attend one monthly all-department meeting in which the various service directors talked about projects completed and those underway.

I also decided to encourage a meaningful approach to virtual meetings. I knew we would be adding a good number of online social events to make up for our lack of in-person gatherings, so I wanted again to make sure that heaping those on top of an already busy schedule of administrative and work-focused meetings did not overwhelm our staff. We needed to reduce unnecessary meetings, or what I call “meetings for meetings’ sake,” and ensure that the ones we were scheduling were kept tight and efficient. Everything of importance would be recorded to take pressure off those with conflicts, pressing projects, or who were not even on the clock at the time of the meeting. Not only did I preach this gospel of efficiency, but I also had to lead by example. Entire schedules were rethought and redone. But it was worth it. With remote working likely here to stay, this practice is going to serve us well going forward.

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Member Profile: Emily Florio

Florio_Emily_LinkedIn_(2017)
Emily Florio, a member of the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals SIS, is the Vice President of the American Association of Law Libraries and Past President of the Law Librarians’ Society of DC. She is the Senior Research Services Manager at Hogan Lovells in Washington, DC.

Answers compiled by Megan Moltrup, Librarian at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington, DC. 

What would you name your autobiography?
With a Little Help from Family and Friends

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose and why?
I think it would be great fun to be Mary Russell, a strong, independent female sleuth, and partner to Sherlock Holmes in the mystery series by Laurie King. She travels the world solving mysteries and when she needs a break, she goes to her home in the English countryside.

What’s the last photo you took on your phone?
Given that I’m responding during the pandemic and under the work from home order, there aren’t a lot of things to see, so my cat Mae gets her photo taken a lot.

What’s your favorite thing to do to relax?
For over 25 years, riding horses has been my favorite form of relaxation. I can’t say our thoroughbreds are always relaxing to ride, though being at the farm with all the animals and friends has continually brought me joy.

What is something you learned in the last year?
Being agile and willing will only help you in your career and life.

Have you ever had something happen to you that you thought was bad but it turned out to be for the best?
In my career I’ve had some horrifying bosses that tested my patience and ability to remain positive, though ultimately taught me how not to manage and certainly how not to “lead.” I do not miss those people, but am pleased that I learned something from the experience, which ultimately ushered in better and new opportunities.

What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this?
Definitely something where I’d be surrounded by and playing with animals all the time. Maybe a zookeeper or owner of an animal sanctuary.

What’s your favorite thing about being involved with AALL?
Without a doubt it is the colleagues and dear friends that I’ve met throughout the years.

What advice would you give to recent new law librarians?
Get involved and volunteer! There are shorter and longer term opportunities at every level and it is a great way to learn about our library types, positions and opportunities. And if you don’t know where to begin, reach out for guidance. You’ll find that we’re a very welcoming, supportive and thoughtful group of people.

Final thoughts
I look forward to connecting with colleagues and friends, both those I know and those I haven’t met yet. I am humbled to have this exceptional opportunity and am graciously anticipating all we can do together.

Fastcase 50 Honorees Include Marlene Gebauer, Global Director of Strategic Legal Insights, Greenberg Traurig LLP

Marlene Gebauer, Global Director of Strategic Legal Insights at Greenberg Traurig LLP, has been named one of the Fastcase 50 honorees for 2019. Fastcase 50 recognizes lawyers, judges, legal technologists, librarians and others for their contributions to the legal field. Marlene is a PLLIP member and a co-host with Greg Lambert on the The Geek in Review podcast, which covers “the Legal Information profession with a slant toward technology and management, along with interviews of key players in legal information and technology.”

From the Fastcase 50:

Marlene is a visionary in the application of legal technology, and was one of the first to bring data analytics into the day-do-day functions of law firms. She applied analytics across the entire firm, not just in one practice group or the other. Through her work at Greenberg Traurig she has boldly reinvented the way her firm approaches practice by creating the firm’s Innovation Lab, which implements processes through gamification techniques. Marlene routinely shares her knowledge on the popular podcast “The Geek in Review”, which she hosts with fellow librarian and Fastcase 50 honoree Greg Lambert.

LawNext Episode 43: The AALL’s Femi Cadmus on the Changing Face of Law Librarians

Reposted with permission from Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites

By Robert Ambrogi

“We are not your grandfather’s law librarian.” As president of the American Association of Law Libraries, Femi Cadmus makes that point emphatically. Her organization recently completed it first-ever AALL State of the Profession report, an in-depth look at what information professionals do and how they do it. The report’s bottom line is that technology is making the role of the law librarian more diverse and more essential than ever before.

As the AALL prepares to convene in Washington, D.C., in July for its annual meeting, Cadmus shows LawNext host Bob Ambrogi to discuss the state of the law librarian profession and the evolving role of information professionals in law firms, corporations, law schools and government.

Born in New York and raised in Nigeria, Cadmus is currently at Duke University School of Law, where she is the Archibald C. and Frances Fulk Rufty research professor of law, associate dean of information services and technology, and director of the Michael J. Goodson Library. With almost three decades in law libraries, she was formerly at Cornell University, where she was Edward Cornell law librarian, associate dean for library services and professor of the practice. Her earlier experience includes positions at the law schools at Yale, George Mason University and the University of Oklahoma.

Cadmus’ educational background includes an LL.B. from the University of Jos, Nigeria, B.L Nigerian Law School; an LL.M. (Law in Development) from the University of Warwick, England; and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Oklahoma. She is admitted to practice in New York.

Visit Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites to listen to the podcast episode with Femi. 

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