AALL Annual Meeting Session Recap- Legal Deserts in America: What is Meaningful Access to Justice for All?

Stephanie Huffnagle, a faculty member at Erie Community College in Buffalo, NY, was one of this year’s recipients of a Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) grant for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Meeting.  Stephanie wrote the following recap.

“Legal Deserts in America: What is Meaningful Access to Justice for All” proved to be an informative and worthwhile session. The session not only provided statistics on the current state of affairs in terms of lack of access to legal services, but also highlighted the reasons behind this reality and presented concrete examples of programs aiming to fill the justice gaps throughout the country.  The presenters were all stakeholders in the battle for justice for all, and they provided their first-hand insight into the issue of legal deserts.  

Lisa Pruitt, Professor of Law at UC Davis, discussed her research, which served as the backbone to the legal desert information in the 2020 ABA Profile on the Legal Profession.  The findings of Lisa and her research team echo and expand on the idea of the justice gap, showing specifically where the gaps exist based on the number of attorneys at the county level.  Lisa explained that legal deserts are those counties where there are either no lawyers, or only one to two lawyers.  The research shows that 40% of counties have less than one lawyer per 1,000 people.

While Lisa focused on the why and some general tools to respond to the situation, her colleagues discussed ongoing recruitment and training programs designed to combat lack of access and legal deserts.  

Suzanne Starr, Director of Policy and Legal Services at South Dakota Rural Recruitment Program, outlined South Dakota’s response to the issue.  South Dakota initiated a rural attorney recruitment program back in 2013.  This is based on a financial incentive to get attorneys into rural areas.  It was interesting to hear how the program was started and to recognize the influence that one person/a small group of people can have by being change agents.

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AALL Virtual Conference Recap: Speakers, Panelists Highlight Inclusion and Diversity Efforts

See the link below for a wrap up of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) 2021 virtual conference, titled “Leading with Wisdom & Insight”.  Authored by Thomas Lang, Senior Legal Analyst at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S., the wrap up highlights some of the educational sessions and key trends you might have missed at this year’s AALL annual meeting.  Thomas hones in on some of the diversity and inclusion themes in particular, and provides a great summary of Tina Tchen’s keynote address.  Tina Tchen currently “serves as president and CEO of TIME’S UP Now and the TIME’S UP Foundation, overseeing the organizations’ strategic plans to change culture, companies, and laws in order to make work safe, fair, and dignified for women of all kinds”, according to the TIME’S UP staff page.  Prior to joining TIME’S UP, she worked in the White House under the Obama administration and worked as a lawyer specializing in workplace culture.  

Read Thomas Lang’s article–Strategic Perspectives:  AALL Virtual Conference Speakers, Panelists Outline Inclusion and Diversity Efforts in Workplace, Legal Profession (Wolters Kluwer, July 2021)

PLLIP Diversity Summit 2021: Using Personalized Experiences to Apply DE&I Initiatives in Your Library

By: Ana Ramirez Toft-Nielsen, Research Attorney; Jill L. Kilgore, Research Librarian; and Autumn Collier, Assistant Librarian II, at Littler Mendelson, P.C.

Our experience attending the virtual 2021 Diversity Summit was unexpected and invaluable. Each of us left with surprise takeaways, including some that hit close to home. In particular, the panel and breakout sessions provided us with more than one perspective or dialogue on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We agreed that these personalized sessions made this a reflective experience. The personal stories were affecting—whether allowing us to relate to someone else’s experience, or by showing us a glimpse of what marginalized groups experience regularly. Being aware is a priority, but what’s next? As individuals, we should evaluate how to apply our experiences from the 2021 PLLIP Diversity Summit. What actionable steps is your workplace taking? What actionable steps are you taking? Let this be one phase in your progress toward change.

Leading where you are

We can lead in this work from where we are by identifying the initiatives and commitments made to DE&I at our institutions. We all work at Littler, where leadership supports Diversity, Inclusion and Equity opportunities for our library department. Examples of opportunities include attending conferences such as this Diversity Summit, internal initiatives, and organizational involvement. For this Summit, our director provided the team with the program’s information, supported the registration costs, and provided us with coverage for our daily work, enabling us to focus solely on the conference. When a call to write was sent out, we were urged to write about our experience. With other conferences, such as the AALL Leadership Management Institute, we were encouraged to attend, and offered guidance and assistance with alternative ways to reimburse our costs or help in applying for grants. This encouragement and financial support made us feel empowered to learn and grow. We have the latitude to reflect on these experiences and bring back what we learn to our team.

Within the “walls” of our library, opportunities for open dialogue and professional development abound. We can subscribe to newsletters, including a Littler library-curated weekly newsletter with a DE&I section. We have round-table discussions on a rotation of topics in our book club; this month we are taking time to discuss our experience at the Summit and share with our colleagues.

Our leadership wants us to take an active role to further Littler’s overall Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals. Many of our team members are involved in special interest or other professional organizations. Given the uniqueness of our library department, we have the option to attend development opportunities offered not only by AALL, but also by the American Library Association, local chapters, the International Legal Technology Association, and many other professional organizations. These experiences allow us to bring back new knowledge to team members who might not make that step. We can increase awareness and open discussions in our team meetings, book clubs, and newsletters. The work is ongoing. We will continue to explore DE&I initiatives and continue the conversation that brought us to the Diversity Summit.

Additionally, firm initiatives such as Littler’s Volunteerism Program provide a means for employees to voluntarily participate in social justice opportunities. Employees donate their time, and in exchange, Littler will make a monetary donation to an organization of the employee’s choice. Messages of support flow from the Managing Director and are always accompanied with personal growth and learning opportunities.

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Leader Profile of Kim Nayyer: Building Bridges and Amplifying Voices

We are continuing our coverage of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) inaugural Diversity Summit, hosted in conjunction with the Black Law Librarians (BLL) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). The Summit’s theme was “From Difficult Conversations to Collaborative Action”, and the session, “Diversity Shares: Listen to Learn”, featured three members of the law library community as panellists, Ramon Barajas, Catherine Deane and Kim Nayyer.

This profile is on Kim Nayyer, Edward Cornell Law Librarian, Associate Dean for Library Services, and Professor of the Practice at Cornell Law School. Previously, she was Associate University Librarian, Director of the Law Library, and Adjunct Associate Professor at University of Victoria in Canada. Before joining academia, Kim worked for many years as a research lawyer and information specialist at an appellate court and in small and large private law firms in Edmonton, Calgary, and Toronto, Canada.

Answers compiled by Megan Moltrup, Librarian at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington, DC.

What is your role at your institution?

I oversee the Cornell Law School library and serve on the administration team of the Law School. My law library is one of few in the US law school landscape to be administered by a university library system in conjunction with its law school. I see my role as a bridge-builder and an advocate, ensuring responsible administration of law library spaces, resources, services, and staff, and upholding of my ABA accountabilities in our legal education program. As a Professor of the Practice, I also teach credit-bearing courses in the Cornell Law School JD, LLM, and MSLS programs.

What has been the biggest single change you have seen in the industry? And what changes do you see ahead?

Since I began either legal practice or legal information practice, I’ve seen many changes, several of them pretty big and influential. The single biggest one I can identify, though, is one that we’re in the midst of right now. This is the immense amount of data—legal data, practice and operational data, user-generated data. Information professionals have understood for some time that we can extract value from data to make better operational decisions, to support our colleagues and organizations, and to make better predictive legal analyses in support of our clients. The significant influence of data we’re still wrestling with, is the impact of the vast amounts of real-world data and how they influence the innumerable machine-manipulated tools and resources we use daily. The influences are difficult for our users and communities to see, for information professionals to discern, and—increasingly—for even developers to know and address.

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Member Profile of Catherine Deane: A Servant-Leader, Focused on Facilitating Change and Empowering Others

We are continuing our coverage of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) inaugural Diversity Summit, hosted in conjunction with the Black Law Librarians (BLL) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). The Summit’s theme was “From Difficult Conversations to Collaborative Action”, and the session, “Diversity Shares: Listen to Learn”, featured three members of the law library community as panellists, Ramon Barajas, Catherine Deane and Kim Nayyer.

This profile is on Catherine Deane, who goes by Deane, and uses the pronouns they/them. Deane has been a law librarian for over 10 years. Most of their career has been in major cities in California. They also spent 4 years working at Vanderbilt Law Library in Nashville, TN. They have experience in both the academic law library and a law firm library environment and they are currently available for management or senior positions at law libraries in California. They have recently become a facilitator for Come Abide Here LLC, a provider of racial intelligence coaching to White members of diversity, equity, and inclusion committees, strategic planning committees, and other organizational leadership groups that seek to achieve true effectiveness and transformation around diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations.

Answers compiled by Megan Moltrup, Librarian at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington, DC.

What is your role at your dream job?

My dream job at the moment would be a management position. I would love the opportunity to create a culture of respect for human dignity at work. I would like to foster a workplace where you can bring your whole self to work and where I play a servant-leader role, ensuring that everyone has the support and autonomy they need to do their best work.

How has your role as a facilitator impacted you?

On the weekly podcast that I do with Bathabile Mthombeni of Come Abide Here, we strive to be welcoming and accessible. We are in service to the White community of individuals who choose to do the tough inner work necessary to effectuate lasting and impactful change.

I feel grateful for this opportunity to be the change that I want to see in the world. There have always been White people fighting alongside other races for racial equality. It is a gift to get to support them in their evolution and to empower them to shift paradigms. We offer a dinner conversation where they can express in a safe container their feelings about race based on their personal experiences. They may arrive at the dinner believing that they are allies in our fight. My only goal is to provide guidance so that they can move towards a paradigm where they see that the same systems that oppress marginalized communities, also oppress them. So this is just as much their fight as ours.

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