Are New Attorneys Competent Legal Researchers – And How Would You Know?

By Gail A. Partin, Director and Law Librarian, Montague Law Library, Penn State’s Dickinson Law

Gail served as Chair of the American Association of Law Libraries’ Legal Research Competency Special Committee from July 2014 to July 2016.  Prior to that, Gail was a member of three separate task forces AALL created to develop and promote principles and standards for legal research competencies.  With fall associates starting and training and orientation underway at many firms, we thought this was the ideal time to highlight the AALL Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competency, along with related resources available via the AALL website.

As newly minted lawyers pass the bar exam and begin their legal careers, they will be confronted with research scenarios wholly unlike the problems they encountered in law school. Specialized practice areas require deeper knowledge of information resources that many law students have had little experience using. And even basic research skills are applied differently in the practice environment, leaving new graduates uncertain about their own competence. Consequently, efforts to improve research competency are underway within AALL and among our colleagues.

The AALL Principles and Standards for Legal Research Competency (PSLRC) are a good place to start to determine what skills attorneys should master to become competent, effective, and efficient legal researchers. These Principles and Standards offer a compendium of benchmarks to draw upon and a structure for focused training that can dramatically increase the effectiveness of newer lawyers. Typical practice competencies, emanating from the PSLRC, might encompass a scaffolded framework beginning with the new associate level through the one-year mark, similar to the approach described in Hitting the Mark: AALL Legal Research Competencies from Classroom to Practice (AALL login required). The PSLRC or an internal law firm framework can serve as the foundation for a core competency training and skills assessment program for new associates or other researchers that can be applied at any point on the continuum of a legal professional’s career and in any specific field within the legal profession. The AALL Legal Research Competency web center contains high quality resources detailing current practices and approaches to assessing and improving research competency.

Two major components to any competency improvement plan are assessment and instruction. Simply put, skill levels must be assessed before they can be remediated with appropriate training.  Evaluating the research skills of new lawyers, who are most likely adjusting to the time constraints and demands of their emerging careers, can be a challenge. Self-assessment can be a convenient, non-threatening evaluation tool to obtain a detailed audit of an individual’s unique strengths and weaknesses. The research competencies enumerated in the AALL Principles and Standards can be used as a baseline to construct self-assessment exercises similar to those described in this article, Creating a Legal Research Audit: Assessing Competency. More formal assessment tools, such as quizzes, demonstrations, essays, or self-paced tutorials can be considered as well — keeping in mind that the key purpose for assessment is to improve research proficiency and to develop instructional methods to achieve those desired improvements. Continue reading


Moving from Content Aggregation to Content Intelligence

Emerging Approaches to Information Services aims to shed light on the shifting role of the information services function

By Steven A. Lastres, director of knowledge management services at Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, as part of Ark Group’s new book Emerging Approaches to Information Services.

In order to give clients their best advice, law firms need to ensure that their lawyers are informed about the latest news, legal developments, decisions, and deals – as well as keeping an eye on the competition. Forward-thinking firms are taking content aggregation tools used
for over a decade to the next level by providing content intelligence platforms.

Content intelligence combines business intelligence with content management. This helps law firms manage a vast amount of unstructured data and helps the lawyer make smart strategic and tactical decisions. The primary benefit of content intelligence is that it delivers personalized information to each individual or team within an organization based on their particular focus and personal preferences. Some of the user features include real-time current awareness dashboards with the ability for lawyers to search across the entire data warehouse of the firm’s premium subscription services and internet resources and providing them with the ability to create their own alerts. Additionally, by taking advantage of the technology and the expertise of information professionals embedded within practice groups, client teams, industry sectors, and market teams, firms can publish curated e-newsletters that
pinpoint the specific needs of their audience more accurately.

Actionable intelligence is also being pushed directly onto practice groups, client teams, and industry intranet pages as well as their lawyers’ mobile devices for easy access. Lawyers can now keep up on a real-time basis with the latest relevant information that affects their practice and clients, making them not only knowledgeable but proactive in servicing their clients.

The need to move beyond content aggregation

The use of content aggregation tools in law firms is nothing new. Most firms adopted these tools almost a decade ago as a way to solve information overload. In the past, lawyers were inundated with dozens of daily emails from vendors pushing their publications directly to a lawyer’s email inbox and clogging the communication channel meant primarily for clients. Content aggregation tools solved this problem – one email
a day contained all the updates, and so became widely adopted in law firms. As good as they were, content aggregation tools are no longer an effective solution for delivering current awareness. What changed? With the age of the internet came the disaggregation of the major legal publishers. A handful of legal and business publishers mushroomed into thousands of publishers from traditional media as well as social media. As a result, there has been exponential growth in the sheer volume of current awareness content that we are pushing to our end-users. Furthermore, the business downturn in the legal industry since 2008 increased lawyer’s focus on business development – reducing the time lawyers have to spend keeping up with current awareness both for the practice and business of law.  Continue reading Article on Librarians Making Themselves Heard, Performing Firm-Critical Functions

Steve Kovalan, Senior Analyst at ALM Intelligence, wrote a great article, “Quiet No Longer: Law Librarians ‘Forgo the Status Quo,’” highlighting how law librarians are making a difference within their organizations. Steve helped compile ALM’s 2017 Survey of Law Firm Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals (aka The Law Librarian Survey), so he is well-aware of the roles librarians currently play at their firms and how those roles have evolved. The “Delivering Value” section of the article includes some charts from the ALM survey and “illustrates just how many functions critical to the success of firms are performed by their libraries.”

Excerpts from the article are posted below with permission from the author.

“Delivering Value

In the post-recession new normal, libraries and knowledge services departments serve as an indispensable resource. Figure 1 below, reflecting responses to ALM Intelligence’s Survey of Knowledge Management, Library, and Research Professionals, illustrates just how many functions critical to the success of firms are performed by their libraries.


Those key functions include libraries and their staff filling their more traditional roles in legal research support. As clients become more cost conscious, firms can source legal research to their library staff as an efficient, low-cost alternative to billing the same tasks to firm attorneys. And they also include the effective procurement of the growing array of technology-based research and analytic solutions fundamental to the day-to-day operations of today’s firms. In evaluating the effectiveness of tools and negotiating subscription details, libraries are responsible for identifying new tools and controlling costs through negotiating favorable contract terms.

Next, there are the roles that library staff are increasingly filling as researchers in support of firm business initiatives (Figure 2 below).


Those business research responsibilities are growing to the point that many survey respondents expect the number of business research requests to eclipse the number of legal research requests in the near future.

Finally, as information and research experts, libraries and knowledge services departments are perfectly positioned to facilitate knowledge sharing within the firm through activities such as conducting training sessions and curating newsletters on key subjects. Furthermore, because knowledge not shared is knowledge lost, for law firms operating in the age of the lateral move, knowledge sharing can also be a key mechanism promoting institutional stability.”

Thomson Reuters White Paper on Law Librarians

Thomson Reuters has published a new white paper “Taking a Closer Look at the Changing Role of Today’s Law Librarian.” The white paper summarizes a survey of 123 respondents from large and medium firms, and reports that a “staggering degree of change” has occurred in the past three years:

“…more than half of respondents said their role had undergone substantial change within the past three years, with 15 percent reporting ‘extreme change.’ …Forty-eight percent of respondents reported spending more than three-quarters of their time on activities that were not part of their job descriptions three years ago.”

Respondents indicated that they have taken on new responsibilities in the past three years: research (95 percent), due diligence (37 percent) competitive intelligence (23 percent), and knowledge management (19 percent) were the top four categories. Due diligence (35 percent), knowledge management (20 percent), competitive intelligence (19 percent), and legal project management (10%) were the top four expected responsibilities in the next three years.

The white paper also covers staffing, resources, and budget issues.

Promoting the Value of Law Firm Knowledge Management and Librarians

Over the last year a diverse group of PLLIP volunteers has worked on a plan to help elevate our voice and message to the law firm C-suite.  Our message is this:

“With our unique skills, institutional and cultural knowledge, and expertise, today’s law librarians go beyond traditional knowledge management and legal research to lead the way on discovery and adoption of technology and provide the deep and authentic human insight necessary to drive practice innovation, operational efficiencies, and the business/legal intelligence that the law firm C-suite require to remain competitive.”

This plan, recently presented at the AALL annual meeting, is now in place. It includes the following elements:

  • Targeted presentations at national and regional legal industry conferences
  • A full series of powerful thought-leadership articles and blogs published on the website
  • Distribution of relevant content though social media including Twitter, My Communities on , and a quarterly email newsletter to keep you informed
  • Building more direct relationships with influencers and the legal press

Here is how all of our members can help:

As the new Chair of the PLLIP section, I am committed to proactively elevating our voice and our value throughout the legal industry. With your help and support, we can make a difference.

Elaine Egan
Chair of PLLIP