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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Leadership Academy Recap: Becoming an Effective Leader

By Whitney Brionez, Business Intelligence Manager at Holland & Knight LLP

Every other year, AALL holds a Leadership Academy, a program developed to guide participants on being effective leaders. I was accepted into this year’s 2020 Academy which was originally scheduled for Chicago in March, but ended up becoming a virtual program in August. The three day agenda included interactive discussions, leadership assessments (and what they mean), group coaching, collaboration, and networking.

There was much uncertainty and many questions leading up to the Academy, especially after the program was postponed and then became virtual. I was apprehensive about having the program in this format, as the greatest potential benefits to me were networking with peers, meeting new people, and sharing stories, and I was unsure how this would work in a solely-online environment. Thankfully, while we did not have those impromptu, passing-in-the-hall-on-break conversations, we did all get to meet each other and share stories over multiple break-out sessions.

Before the Leadership Academy began, we had the opportunity to meet our fellow participants in an afternoon virtual chat – a perfect way to start getting to know our colleagues. The first official day of the Academy began on the afternoon of August 6, and started with introductions from our facilitators, Karyn Nishimura Sneath and MJ Tooey, and our coaches: Julie Pabarja, Halle Cox, and Jean Wenger.

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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

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.

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