KM, AI & Client Engagement: The Changing Role of Law Firm Librarians, Part 1

Reposted with permission from Gregg Wirth of the Legal Executive Institute’s LEI Blog

By Gregg Wirth, a financial journalist and the Content Manager of the Legal Executive Institute’s LEI Blog.

law firm librariansAmid all the dramatic change in the legal industry, it may be the image of the law firm librarian that has changed the most. Gone is the quiet, staid librarian housed in an oak paneled room, locating dusty legal tomes upon request. Today’s law firm librarian is much more likely to be one of the most tech-savvy members of the executive team, and the lynchpin of the firm’s strategies around knowledge management, information resources and business process improvement, all while keeping a hand in the latest innovations, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence.

Perhaps exemplifying this vocational evolution best is Katherine Lowry, Director of Practice Services at BakerHostetler. Lowry recently discussed with Legal Executive Institute her role at the firm, the value of collaboration and the thrill of interacting with clients.

Legal Executive Institute: Five years ago, you became BakerHostetler’s Director of Practice Services, a position that not a lot of law firms currently have. Briefly, could you describe what you do in that position?

Katherine Lowry: When I first joined in 2010, I was Director of Information & Resources, but the aspiration was that the role would become more prominent. We just had to define it, and we had to create it. There definitely was a strategy in place to do more with that position and have it integrated into IT and not just be traditional library services. So, it wasn’t too long after that — a little more than two years — that I became Director of Practice Services.

With that new title came a great expanding of my responsibilities. I went from overseeing traditional library services and records & information services, to also handling Legal Innovations, which now includes a data analytics and business intelligence strategies; User Services and Lateral Onboarding, Information Services Training and the Project Management Office, which was completely revised with a new governance model and methodology to apply to the entire Information Services department and the CIO’s office. Then of course, earlier this year, I was given responsibility for IncuBaker, the firm’s initiative in the areas of blockchain, artificial intelligence and data analytics.

My responsibilities expanded over the years, and I was challenged to transform such groups as the PMO and Lateral Onboarding, and then give over responsibility to those groups to others. In fact, to make room for continued growth in innovations through Legal Innovations and IncuBaker, I now manage fewer teams. However, the constant theme throughout my tenure at Baker is to focus on services delivered to our attorneys and ultimately our clients and to ensure the needs of the business dictates the integration of technology.

For example, the librarians — we call them legal researchers, because I think people have that connotation that librarians are all about helping you check out books or that it’s mostly print-driven — are key in the firm’s technology integration. For example, we wanted to adopt IT as a service, rather than IT as an engine. The idea of IT as an engine, is that ‘We’re here to keep the lights on. We’re here to keep making sure that Word doesn’t crash for you, and that you have mobile devices and whatnot.’

IT as a service model, under my group, really means that we’re driving and creating different services to the firm’s attorneys, whether it’s legal research or micro-education about our suite of offerings in information services.

Legal Executive Institute: 
So, it’s a different way of looking at the firm’s knowledge and information resources, is that right?

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Katherine Lowry, Director of Practice Services at BakerHostetler

Katherine Lowry: Yes, and I’m going to step outside the library for just a minute, to give you an example. One of the groups that I manage is training for all of the CIO’s office. Our group is deeply entrenched in trying to make sure that there’s a greater level of adoption for the technology that we have across our enterprise. That is our core goal, so we’ve revamped exactly how we do that. We offer training classes that are more web-based so we can cast a wider net. We’ve worked with target segments inside of our offices, creating these local active advocates of the technology, so that they can be another line of defense and adoption. And we’re pushing this knowledge across each office. As a result, secretaries are getting greater expertise, and they’re helping us spread the word about integration of technology.

Most recently, we’re working on micro-education on-demand. If you need to know something, we have a platform now called Brainstorm, where you can search. No session is longer than probably two-to-three minutes. It’s just a quick bite of how to do something, or where to find it, that sort of thing. It really boosted our Microsoft Office 365 integration, by helping people understand the software’s capabilities and how to expand those.

These and other initiatives were first called ‘practice innovation’, but now we call it ‘legal innovation’, and it’s really just our strategy to help innovate on a practice level or on a more specific topic. And the integration and adoption of such technologies has always been a core focus of mine since I’ve been at the firm, regardless of what title I’ve had.

Legal Executive Institute: It sounds like you work with IT, research and other groups to integrate technology into the firm’s practices. How important is this collaboration and how can you fend off the silo-mentality that seems so prevalent at larger law firms?

Katherine Lowry: If we want to address a question like, ‘How do we coral this kind of knowledge into a practice group’s or practice team’s workspaces and integrate it all into the document management system, so that everyone can share the same information and data across all 14 offices?’ — then that typically falls in the knowledge management function and means we’re going to have to stretch the solution across the entire firm for it to work well.


The integration and adoption of such technologies has always been a core focus of mine since I’ve been at the firm, regardless of what title I’ve had.


For us, that means we’re rapidly trying to introduce data analytics across the firm, develop a formal Business Intelligence strategy, and make sure that we know what data we have across the firm, so that we can make better decisions and not just trying to find data in one silo that may not be representative of other pieces and parts across our enterprise.

Getting rid of the information silos here, locating and assessing all our internal knowledge, then creating knowledge graphs across all of our practice areas — it’s not easy work. Sometimes, we had nothing to start from. We had to kind of create from scratch, and ask ourselves ‘How do we structure this? What does it look like?’

And with AI feeding raw data into the mix, we now have to be the cleaners and tag it. We have to create these knowledge maps and graphs that represent our work and illustrates what we know. If we do that, then I believe that we’re going to be able to leverage AI even more.

This is a major culture change — not just for us but for the industry. And it’s definitely not a discreet project; it takes a horizon vision. It takes asking yourself, ‘Five years out, what is that going look like and why do we need to be owners of that? And, who else can help us with that?’

In Part 2 of our interview with Katherine Lowry, Director of Practice Services at BakerHostetler, we’ll discuss her role in business development and client engagement, and the firm’s newest initiative, IncuBaker.

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With Thoughts of Spring, Come Thoughts of Training

The March/April 2017 AALL Spectrum is now available online from the American Association of Law Libraries, and it looks like baseball players aren’t the only ones focused on training this spring!  The issue features some great articles on training and on teaching legal technology, including some contributions by the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section members.

Check out the articles below to see what PLLIP members have to say on best practices for effective training and education. Continue reading

Keeping the Conversation Going: Session Summary from AALL 2015, In the Wake of the Kia Audit

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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. The post about the Attorney Research Skills session is available here

By Debbie Ginsberg, Educational Technology Librarian at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law Library

“In the Wake of the Kia Audit,” a 2015 AALL session, focused on the importance of technology skills and training programs for law students and new lawyers, and on how librarians can be a part of the process. 

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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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Connecting the Dots: Proving Our Value Throughout Time

connecting-the-dotsby Jeffrey Nelson, Research Services Manager, Squire Sanders (US) LLP

Connect, collaborate, and strategize. As information professionals look to the future, these themes are nothing new, but at this year’s SLA Annual Conference never have they made more sense to discuss. As we try to prove ourselves as invaluable assets to our firms, a pop culture reference immediately comes to mind. Fans of the television series The Good Wife will be familiar with Kalinda, the in-house investigator at the fictional law firm Lockhart & Gardner. Kalinda is often sent out into the streets to get the scoop, dig for dirt, or find anything she can get her hands on to help her firm win a case. She knows which sources are credible and she knows when information is actionable. She performs competitive intelligence research on other firms, background checks on individuals and corporations, and most importantly, she finds the needle in the haystack every time. With these skills and unstoppable determination, Kalinda’s ability to establish herself as an important asset to her firm’s partnership is commendable. Most of you will recognize these responsibilities as what we are asked to do each and every day.

Using Kalinda as a fictional role model, how can we prove our worth as she has done? My first step was realizing I needed to take advantage of the network of knowledge I had access to – the SLA community. Despite qualifying for the Veteran Member Travel Grant, I had yet to attend one of the Annual Conferences. If I truly want to prove my value to the firm’s partnership as a resource for delivering credible, accurate, and actionable information, then I need to embed myself in the discussions of the community at large. The SLA Annual Conference not only reinforced many of my existing best practices, but also gave me a renewed confidence to take what I learned to the next level.

To follow the Legal Division’s 20th Anniversary theme set out by Chair Tricia Thomas of looking to the past, present and future, we must continue to keep ourselves in the forefront of the information age. At the Bloomberg Law/Legal Division Breakfast and Business Meeting, I found myself in awe of the amount of SLA star power in the room, which included our division’s past leaders, current division and organizational board members, and many of the organization’s rising stars. With so many influential members in one room, it is not difficult to see why the Legal Division, despite its young age, has grown into one of the largest and most active in SLA.

Our past truly is the key to our success. When looking to our past members and leaders, I saw that a great many of them are still extremely active in the community and take great pride in being a part of the Legal Division. Personally, I found the speech given by Connie Pine, founder and first ever Chair of the Legal Division, to be quite moving and inspirational. She and the other founding members noticed the growth of law firms and recognized that law librarians lacked a forum to collaborate and develop professionally within SLA. I learned about her positive and negative experiences during the process of establishing a voice for the legal community within SLA. These experiences have helped shape our division into what it is today.

This brings us to the present. Since founding of the Legal Division, the digital age ushered in countless challenges and the role of the librarian has been deeply impacted. Have we learned all that we can from our predecessors? What are we doing now to take on to these challenges as a community? At the Legal Division’s Unconference, one of the standout conference sessions for me, a group of us discussed the pros and cons of embedded librarianship, the struggles with cost recovery in the age of alternative fee arrangements, and determining the return on investment of tools such as reference trackers. It is discussions like these that underscore our biggest challenge – the possible need to rebrand ourselves while simultaneously boosting the bottom line for our companies. Fortunately, we have the information and skills to take this challenge head on. In a society driven by connectivity and collaboration, we have the necessary access to critical market information which our community can analyze, strategize, and act upon. I appreciate that SLA still places an emphasis on gathering in person once a year to strengthen our communal bonds. Discussion and collaboration strengthens our group; we can use our shared information to prepare for the future. As librarians, we understand the pitfalls of certain sources and we encourage our users to be aware of the information they collect and how they use it. Now, more than ever, it is important to manage information and demonstrate our capabilities as we disseminate it to those who rely on us. The conference taught me that the benefit of successfully accomplishing this will be twofold – it will not only help us in our jobs but also will help us strengthen our professional community.

Conference keynote speaker Mike Walsh spoke a lot about connecting the dots between the present and the future. For example, he shared with us that the company Intel keeps anthropologists on staff; they serve as the bridge between the creators of their products and the consumer. I realized that we are positioned perfectly to assume the role as anthropologists in our companies. Mr. Walsh advised us to “think anthropology, not technology.” This highlights the importance of having experts who not only understand information and its medium, but also how it is used by the user. Mike Walsh also suggested that it is not necessarily how we collect information but also how we visualize it in real time. Let’s listen to him and stay ahead of the curve. We can accomplish this by developing relationships and learning from one another. We may debate the titles of our positions – “information professional” vs. “knowledge officer” vs. “librarian,” among others – but with regular collaboration with one another and our ability to use information in real time to our benefit (either for our companies or our profession as a whole), I am confident librarians will be relevant for years to come.

Prior to attending the conference, I had been well aware of the various hot topics that are so often discussed among our community, but nothing beats interacting with other professionals and exchanging ideas in person. I’m appreciative of the opportunity I had to attend this year’s conference, and I hope to be able to return in coming years. The conference highlighted so many challenges that we face as information professionals but also assured me that we are well prepared for these challenges. We can face those challenges doing what we do best – finding the actionable information and making something of it. The single greatest takeaway from the conference for me was that our organization’s past has inspired me to be proactive in the present in order to ensure my spot in the future.

(Note: orginally published on http://legal.sla.org/newsletter/lddv2n2/connectingthedots/)