Leader Profile of Cynthia Brown: Collaboration is Key to Creative, Innovative KM

Three Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals were honored this year as part of the 2020 Fastcase 50 —Cynthia Brown, Andre Davison, and Diana Koppang. Thanks to all of them for being such great representatives of law firm librarians. This week, we have been publishing profiles on each of the honorees. This profile is on Cynthia Brown Senior Director of Research Services, Littler Mendelson

Fastcase 50 profile:

Cynthia BrownSenior Director of Research Services, Littler Mendelson
https://twitter.com/Littler

“It’s no overstatement to say Cynthia Brown is the epitome of a forward-thinking librarian leader in BigLaw’s ever-evolving push to stay ahead of research and knowledge management technology. As Senior Director of Research Services at Littler Mendelson, Cynthia’s impressive track record includes starting the firm’s legislative tracking project, as well as a digital “Knowledge Desk” that helps the firm’s many attorneys easily interface with expert librarians and the vast knowledge management resources at Littler’s disposal. In response to COVID-19 Cynthia and her team pivoted to develop a vast array of constantly-updated and public-facing employer fact sheets that have been used by businesses across the country. Cynthia has demonstrated that legal services can be more than billable hours, and that information professionals in the firm can create new, data-driven legal services for clients”

Profile by Linda-Jean Schneider, Manager of Digital Access, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP

In these uncertain times with threats to a stable personal and professional existence, we in the legal information profession can often look to our colleagues for support and inspiration. I highly recommend spending time finding out what makes others in our field ‘tick,’ and how they found their way; much like reading biographies of others, it can inspire and motivate us to find our own path. The interview I recently conducted with Cynthia Brown of Littler Mendelson for this OFG profile provided such an occasion for me. She shared numerous insights and experiences that have created and solidified her role as a leader in the profession. Her experience is an example of how elevating our levels of service to not only meet, but to exceed expectations, can expand our ability to thrive and survive.

Cynthia is Senior Director of Research Management at Littler–a position she assumed early in 2020 after 13 years in various positions in the firm’s Library and Research operation, now part of its Knowledge Management Group. In this role, Cynthia continues to lead an exceptionally focused effort to provide essential KM support for the major labor and employment-focused firm, and to motivate and lead her staff to exceed their own expectations and those of the firm. She considers this responsibility to be the rewarding culmination of her career.

Why did you pursue a career as a legal information professional?

Cynthia’s early years in the field — first as a law student and then as a legal information provider representative — drew Cynthia toward her specialization in law firm legal information management. She discovered that the private law firm provides the environment where she feels she can have an impact and be most effective. The chance to be engaged and involved in a profession dominated by talented, collaborative colleagues, with opportunities to excel while learning and contributing to advances in legal research, was irresistible to her.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Some professionals when asked this question will focus on opportunities for advancement, the chance to expand their network, or even acquiring specific skills that could take them into another field. Cynthia names the opportunities for collaboration, flexibility, and mutual support among the firm’s administrative levels to be high points for her. She has been encouraged to identify new ways to directly integrate the research and content her team uncovers into the firm’s work-product, which provides a sense of being directly engaged in the success of the firm.

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Leader Profile of Andre Davison: Champion of Diversity and Innovation in Law Firm Libraries

Three Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals were honored this year as part of the 2020 Fastcase 50 —Cynthia Brown, Andre Davison, and Diana Koppang. Thanks to all of them for being such great representatives of law firm librarians. Over the next week, we will be publishing profiles on each of the honorees. The first profile is on Andre Davison, Research Technology Manager, Blank Rome LLP.

Fastcase 50 profile:

Andre Davison
Research Technology Manager, Blank Rome LLP
https://www.twitter.com/andreldavison 

“If we have finally come to the realization that our colleagues with superior technical skills can also be colleagues with exceptional interpersonal qualities, it is in large part because of people like Andre Davison…In 2019 Andre was honored as the winner of the Third Annual American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Tournament for his project on “Seamless Access to Secondary Sources.” Beyond technology, Andre is active in the area of diversity and inclusion within Blank Rome, as evidenced by his selection for the firm’s prestigious Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones Diversity Award. He was recently elected Vice Chair/Chair-Elect of the newly constituted Black Law Librarians Special Interest Section of AALL. On a broader scale, Andre has generously served as President of the Houston Area Law Librarians (HALL) for the 2019-2020 year, and is a current member of the Executive Board of AALL’s Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section. The legal information and wider world are both better off because of those who build, lead, and serve like Andre.”

Answers compiled by Kevin Miles, Manager of Library Services, Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP

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

Technology is changing the legal industry at a rapid pace. The changes from 2010 to 2015 were eye opening. The pandemic has forced us to be collaborative.

What role will knowledge management professionals play going forward?

KM professionals are key to the firm as we move into new roles as facilitators of information, research and efficiencies.

Name one thing that you or your team is doing this year to meet the challenges ahead.

My team is involved in an initiative to help identify industry-specific information so we can address clients’ needs. We’re also working on ways to highlight the work our department does to keep leadership aware of our contributions.

What was your path to law librarianship?

My high school started a program in criminal justice. I worked with a law firm during the summer and in a co-op program in the law library. There I learned I like technology and research. Later, I continued to work in the law library through college and later my MLS.

How has your job evolved from the time you first began your career?

I started out as a paraprofessional, copying cases from books on a cart. That took about an hour. Now, I have a tool that will download the cases in 5 minutes. So, technology is making our lives easier, and more efficient.

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Leading with Innovation: Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute Interview with Marcia Burris

As part of their Transforming Women’s Leadership series, Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute recently interviewed Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, on her role in introducing knowledge management and collaboration platforms at her firm.

Innovation can be a loaded word in the legal industry, but broken down simply, it really means just introducing new things or methods to improve an established practice or process.

It’s a definition that Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, knows well and has applied throughout the many phases of her career. Always centered around library services, Burris began her professional path as a legal entrepreneur and then as an internal library services manager at an Am Law 200 firm. She also supported law firms as a consultant, helping them optimize research and information services.

Burris joined Nexsen Pruet — a major regional commercial law firm with more than 180 attorneys in eight offices throughout the Carolinas — about two years ago. She immediately set out to innovate the firm’s research and library services and ultimately drive efficiencies in attorney workflow by identifying and removing barriers to information access.

In addition to expanding legal research training and resource awareness programs, Burris worked with firm leadership to revamp the firm’s approach to online costs so that attorneys could conduct research without concerns about these potential costs to their clients. To make online access more seamless for users, she also worked with vendors to remove client matter entry screens and implement a single sign-on to eliminate the need for passwords.

These changes have spurred growth in use of online tools, enabling the firm to cut print materials and save administrative time on cost recovery efforts.

On the knowledge management side, Burris said she is seeking to enhance access to internal firm knowledge and determine how the firm can do the same for clients. Internally, Burris launched a new intranet platform that integrates financial data dashboards and organizes other common information sets, paving the way for future enhancements and team collaboration sites. Externally, the firm is adding portals to facilitate client access to work products and case management information, and creating virtual deal rooms to add efficiency to those transactions. These sites help to strengthen client relationships through added practical efficiencies and partnership with clients.

Burris’s approach in creating collaboration platforms, both internal and external, is to start small with one or two targeted projects for a small group of users. This “first step” allows her to learn from each user group and incorporate that as she rolls out collaborative platforms to new user groups.

In the external client project, Burris is creating client-facing sites with basic functionality like file sharing and then enhancing the sites based on what the clients want. “It’s not just about the technology,” Burris says. “We’re trying to be strategic to have conversations with the firm’s attorneys and their clients and make sure we are providing content that is going to help them manage their legal matters.” This client-centric approach is enhanced through use of user-friendly tools over which attorneys have significant control.

This approach has worked well. When a seasoned attorney, who was piloting the tool for firm-client collaboration, built his own homepage with no formal training other than Burris opening up the tool and giving him a quick tour, she knew the platform would work well for attorneys throughout the firm.

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Aligning Law Librarian Expertise With Knowledge Management

This is the first in a series of posts on SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) analysis for law firm librarians. This post suggests ways we can respond and provide value to our firms in the area of Knowledge Management.

Written By: Alirio Gomez, Director of Library & Information Services, Milbank 
agomez@milbank.com

Strengths:

There are a variety of activities that are innate to the Librarian’s role which uniquely identify our strengths. These core competencies can be seen in all of the methods that we use to identify and resolve the multiple information needs of our customers by selecting, identifying and providing the best resources using a variety of indicators such as relevance, 24/7 global research support systems, virtualization, web-based technologies, cost-effectiveness, among others. These same strengths provide an opportunity for the Librarian today to go beyond the traditional roles that we typically do to resolve information needs and “go beyond our comfort zone”.  This inevitable and gradual incorporation and integration of our research support systems and processes with other valuable knowledge resources located in Firms applications (such as document management systems, financial systems, forms and precedents, expertise directories, records management systems, etc) known as the repositories of  institutional knowledge assets is another way the Librarian can provide value.

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Knowledge Management in a Changing World

by Steven A. Lastres, Director of Library and Knowledge Management at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. 


Since the earliest days of libraries, librarians have served as knowledge managers. Whether they were maintaining the scrolls at the Library of Alexandria, creating the catalog for the House of Wisdom (a Ninth Century Islamic library), or assembling annotated links for the law firm intranet, law librarians have always been in the forefront of organizing information and adding value to it. Librarians have long excelled at getting information into the hands of the people who need it. The precise definition of knowledge management (KM) is an elusive one, but one pillar of KM practice holds that knowledge management “is the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets.”1

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