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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This question was posted to the PLLIP MyCommunities page on January 26, 2022.

Remote!

  • Remote forever. The flexibility paired with increased productivity makes up for loss of in-person comradery and mentoring. While admittedly I’m a bit Zoom-weary, especially by Friday. I did visit the office a week ago, and the fluorescent lighting was so enervating and hurtful to my eyes…no way I will go back unless by command.

  • Remote is right for me because I am allistic and ADHD and I have sensory processing challenges that create an energy drain when I have to work in an office. I am much more efficient and effective if I don’t have to expend energy unnecessarily on dealing with crowds, public transportation, traffic or driving, just to get to the beginning of my work day. Particularly when nothing I do requires me to be there in person, as evidenced by the fact that I’ve been working from home for the last 2 years without incident, it seems particularly insensitive to waste two hours of my day on moving from one location where I could do all of my work to another location where I can also do work but under much worse circumstances. For those wondering why it takes a two hour round trip to get to work, note that I would need a wealthy partner (or for Joe Biden to forgive all of my student loans) if I wanted to live on a librarians salary, in a one-bedroom apartment, closer than 30-60 minutes from the office. I am also excellent at creating and maintaining deep connections with people who I interact with online. This is also generally true of many other non-neurotypicals who, like me have difficulty processing verbal communication. It’s not impossible, it’s just a huge drain of my energy that could be better used for something else. A well written email is always going to be easier for me to understand than someone talking their words at me into the air. For me, working from home is a dream come true because now I can manage my energy levels better and avoid autistic burnout which takes a long time to recover from and demands complete rest in a room with no other people, no noise, and no light. In short, I take fewer sick days and I feel more positive towards my employer when I am allowed to work from home.
  • My preference is to stay remote.  I have a long commute and mostly take public transportation.  During the pandemic transportation service had been reduced, and currently it remains reduced for lack of drivers. If I go into the office, my time is  limited because of the reduced bus schedule, or I need to drive (which I prefer not to be on the roads with crazed, high speed, reckless drivers). Our team is very busy.  Being at home I have plenty of work.  I also have the flexibility to stay online and work late if I need to. Though being in the office is nice seeing people, I also find I get less research work completed when I go into the office.
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Remote Work Proves the Firm Library Is More Than a Physical Space

By Marshall Voizard, Reference Supervisor, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP

When I started my career as a librarian approximately 15 years ago, I worried I was entering a profession in decline, but I liked the field enough to give it a shot anyway.  Between increasing online access and shrinking print resources, it’s no secret that the traditional library model had been under pressure for decades.  Old timers spoke to me of bygone times of larger staff sizes and law firm libraries that took up entire floors.  There was a feeling of fighting a rearguard action, always losing ground, just trying to slow the loss of staff and print.  An unsaid thought was, when the library finally winked out of existence, would librarians disappear too?

In a sense, the COVID-19 pandemic and our forced work-from-home experience has finally answered this question.  For most firms, print and the physical library location was out of reach for at least a year, and yet in my career I’ve never seen as many job postings for law librarians as I have in the last 12 months.  Correlation may not equal causation, but adding in a number a recent legal news articles on this trend along with many anecdotal stories from colleagues, I’m happy to say I think we can all feel confident that we stand on stable ground.

“The expectation that an attorney would have intimate knowledge of dozens or more legal research or technology products, in addition to their full time job as a practicing attorney, is simply unrealistic….we librarians are well positioned to act as product guides, trainers, and even marketers.”

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This question was posted to the PLLIP MyCommunities page on September 16, 2021. 

We’re Open!

  • We opened up on September 3.  Before that secretaries were coming in 2 days a week.  Associates are encouraged to be in the office, some partners are not coming very much.  I, the librarian, have been coming in 1 day a week for the last 16 months and I can continue with that schedule.  We are a firm of about 30 attorneys.  Most of the large firms in the area are not back in full time.
  • We have been asked to be in the office at least 2 days a week since July 6.  They had expected to change that to 3 days per week after Labor Day, but we’re still on 2 days a week because of the increase in cases.  This isn’t a hard mandate (I don’t know if they’re checking), and we’re not required to select the days and stick to a schedule.
  • Our offices are open, and we are welcome to work in the office if we want to, or need to, but we’re not currently required to be in the office.   There are no incentives for coming in, but they were rewarding those of us who are in with lunches or special afternoon snacks.  I think the lunch ordering became problematic, because that has stopped.  But, they did issue gift cards to local food places as a thank you for those who have been coming in. Nothing has been said about when we would be re-opening, or what the options would be once we do.
  • The office reopened after the July 4th holiday with a hybrid schedule.  They request 3 days on site and 2 days remote per week. This change is supposed to be permanent going forward.  They also relaxed the dress code so that we can wear jeans every day, and have been bringing in free lunch on Wednesdays. As far as I can tell it is working well.  The office is quiet and half full any given day, which is good for social distancing.  They’ve recently asked that we wear masks in hallways and common areas, but not at our desks, due to the unfortunate continuing wave here in the state.
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Leader Profile: Leading with Wisdom & Insight

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 1 (September/October 2020), pgs. 24-27.

Emily R. Florio assumed the role of president for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) in July 2020.   According to AALL’s announcement, “Florio, whose term as president officially began at the conclusion of the organization’s first Virtual Conference on July 17, is currently senior research services manager at Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, DC. She has been a member of AALL for 14 years…Florio is a former president of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC (LLSDC), member and former treasurer of the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIP-SIS), and a member of the Professional Engagement, Growth & Advancement Special Interest Section (PEGA-SIS). Prior to becoming senior research services manager at Hogan Lovells US LLP in June 2019, Florio was director of library services/research & information services at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP.”

Emily R. Florio found herself on the path to law librarianship as many do, by accident. “My mom is a librarian, so I grew up familiar with public libraries and elementary school libraries,” notes Florio. “But when I was finishing library school, I was applying for a job—any, any, any job—and I ended up in a law firm and haven’t looked back.” She became a member of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) in January 2006 and has since been very active on committees, special interest sections, and within her local chapter. In her new role as president, she hopes to continue to move the legal information profession forward, to increase engagement with members, and to bring new librarians into the profession. She further plans to grow AALL’s eLearning platform, as well as to provide members with the right education and tools to become leaders within the profession.

In 2004, Florio received her BA in English from the University of Vermont before moving to Boston, Massachusetts, where she obtained her MLS degree from Simmons College. Her first official, though not professional, job was at a small law school in Boston doing interlibrary loan and document delivery, while she worked toward her degree. She began her career in Boston at Fish & Richardson, where she held various positions, resulting in the manager of libraries and library information systems role. “It’s funny, I think probably a year and a half in I was looking for other work because I was bored,” said Florio. “But my boss at the time started giving me other opportunities that were far more interesting and allowed me to learn and continue on. And that led to my first promotion. After a while it was time to move on from that firm and that’s when I moved to DC.” She then moved to Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP, an intellectual property firm, as the manager of library services, before expanding her role into directing all aspects of the research team, including budgeting, staffing, and training, along with leading the firm’s intranet redesign project. She then became director of library services/research and information services before moving to her latest role in July 2019. Florio is currently senior research services manager at Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington, DC, a global top 10 law firm, where she leads the implementation of the global Research Services strategy within the Americas. She has been a member of AALL for 14 years and has served on several committees, including chair of the Appointments Committee and Executive Board Strategic Directions Committee, and as a member of the Executive Board Finance & Budget Committee. In addition, Florio is a former president of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC (LLSDC), a member and former treasurer of the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIPSIS), and a member of the Professional Engagement, Growth & Advancement Special Interest Section (PEGA-SIS). In 2015, she received AALL’s Emerging Leader Award. Here, Florio discusses her goals for the coming year, how COVID-19 has impacted her professionally, and how she stays engaged within the profession.

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