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.

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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