AALL Annual Meeting 2019 Recap: AALL 2019 Tackles the Firm Librarian’s Role in Legal Research Competency

By Allison Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson

Allison Reeve Davis received a Speaking Engagement Grant from the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section to attend the AALL Annual Meeting.  Allison also participated in the AALL Innovation Tournament while at the conference and was the Judges’ Choice winner for her Tentative Rulings Database.

 I wrote up this report three weeks after AALL wrapped up in DC, and my mind was still swirling with the engaging programming and thought-provoking conversations I shared with colleagues.

The buzz surrounding the future of legal research training and the gaps in attorney research and technology skills caught my attention. At Littler Mendelson, we’re always trying to gain deeper insight into what the attorneys need to know, identify practice pain-points, determine how to best deliver training, and explore forthcoming technologies to ensure we’re ready when they’re rolled out.

Jordan Furlong, a global legal market analyst, gave a fantastic keynote during PLLIP Summit X addressing the changing legal landscape and future of law firm librarianship.  [Ed. Note:  The PLLIP Summit precedes the main conference and provides an opportunity for private law librarians and information professionals to focus on current issues and opportunities common to their firms and organizations.]  A key takeaway I got from the keynote was that legal information professionals can act as a backbone for the firm’s “advisory knowledge” demands, in areas such as client intelligence, analytics, and knowledge management. Furlong advised that librarians will evolve from traditional data mining to data refining. This means librarians should hone skills in delivering information with actionable insight and position themselves as a competitive edge within the firm.  Robert Ambrogi delved into the session in more detail in his post on Above the Law.  What I explore here is the thought provoking question asked by an audience member: as law schools start to teach students the practice of law and commoditized tasks are replaced with complex work, where will legal research training take place?  It became clear throughout the Annual Meeting that librarians from all institutional types have a role to play in attorney preparedness.

Related to this central question was the AALL session, “Assessing Legal Research Competency: Bridging the Gap between Law School and Practice,” presented by Nicole Downing, Jennifer Davitt, Taryn Rucinski, and Kelly A. McGlynn, and moderated by Theresa Tarves.  These information professionals work in a variety of institutions including law firms, government agencies, and law schools. Their diverse observations and viewpoints provided rich insight into attorney competency gaps and offered solutions for information professionals who assess and teach research aptitude. Areas for skill improvement ranged from research project intake and output to knowledge of administrative law and legislative history. The librarians provided methods of skill assessment, both formal, such as quizzes in the law school legal research classroom, and informal, like observations from reference interviews with legal clerks. Kelly, from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, discussed her library’s involvement in the firm’s attorney development program. The firm’s librarians teach an array of topics including cost effective research strategy, licensing, and client confidentiality. They gain insight on what to teach based on answers to reference interview questions such as “What are you working on? “What have you done already?” and “What practice group are you researching for?”

Let’s not forget to keep it fun, though! The librarians presenting on competency gaps reminded the audience that creativity and flexibility are essential to meeting the attorneys at a place for learning. As a PLLIP-SIS Speaking Engagement Grant recipient, I attended the conference and participated as a panelist for “Wanna Play? Leveraging Gamification to Increase Interest, Adoption, Technology and Research Skills” with Bradelynn Boyce-Dendy, Lisa Njoku, and coordinator Sarah Morris. Our group shared experiences harnessing the competitive streak in attorneys and turning resource training and adoption into enjoyable, engaged gamification.

AALL also accepted my application to participate in this year’s Innovation Tournament. My library’s project is a database of Santa Clara, California, Superior Court tentative rulings.  In building the tool, we have responded to the evolving client demands that our attorneys gain a competitive edge in judicial insight. This also required us to think through how to empower our attorneys to leverage the tool, understand its results, and apply them to their litigation strategy or business development. I thank PLLIP-SIS for the ability to attend, and the Innovation Tournament judges’ panel for their vote of confidence in Littler’s new cool tool.

Many of the sessions at AALL this year included calls to consider the law librarian’s role in preparing lawyers for the legal market and evolving information landscape. A combined effort of practice-focused classroom instruction at law schools, new attorney orientations in firms, and continuing research and technology competency training will prove the most beneficial to the attorneys we serve. The integral role of law firm information professionals’ involvement in knowledge competency development cannot be understated. As the practice of new attorneys moves from the commoditized to the complex, law schools will expand their teaching of evolving technologies, and clients will demand data-based practice insight.  Firm librarians will be required to bridge any gaps in understanding the complex web of information. After witnessing presenters’ proactive instructional design and learning about and sharing information on innovative tools and programs, l came away inspired and confident that librarians are positioned to partner with firm management and to offer attorneys the competitive edge.

As previously mentioned, I owe gratitude to the PLLIP Grants Committee for supporting my attendance. The ability to share my experience and hear new ideas is rewarding for myself, Littler’s library, and other legal information professionals. I encourage others to apply for the available grants as an opportunity to challenge your perspective and advance your department through professional development.