Innovation Is Changing the Role of Law Librarians—And They’re Ready for It

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 5 (May/June 2022), pgs 14-16.

By G. Patrick Flanagan, Legal Research Manager, BakerHostetler; Jill L. Kilgore, Research Librarian, Littler Mendelson, P.C. and Jennifer Mendez, Director of Knowledge Management Innovation, Fisher & Phillips LLP

As AI and other innovative technologies continue to disrupt the practice of law, law librarians will continue to be at the forefront of adoption, training, and increasing productivity.

Law librarianship has evolved over the last several decades. Gone are the days when law librarians were thought of as simply the gatekeepers of stacks of books—so long Federal Reporter! Law librarians have been embracing and driving innovation since at least the introduction of microfiche, which may not seem like a disruptive innovation today, but its history proves otherwise. It’s no surprise then that the role of the law librarian has continued to evolve just as the technology used in law libraries has evolved. As evidenced by details in the 2021 AALL State of the Profession report, the role of law librarians now encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and impacts various groups within the organization—“84.8 percent of firm/corporate teams report that they are involved in partnerships and endeavors outside their department that utilize their research skills, technical knowledge, leadership, and adaptability.” While the report highlights law librarians’ collaborations and contributions to marketing, business development, management, litigation, professional development, and information technology, law librarians in our firms have led or participated in opportunities beyond those listed in the report and we think that trend is here to stay. (Learn more about the 2021 AALL State of the Profession report at bit.ly/AALLSOTP.)

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, have become all the rage recently. It seems every legal research vendor is either selling or creating an API. Because, at its core, an API is simply about giving the user access to the underlying data without an interface, law librarians have become instrumental in evaluating and procuring APIs.

Because law librarians are content specialists, they have a thorough understanding of all the data available via research platforms. They understand the coverage, reliability, and currency of the data offered by the myriad of research platforms and can make recommendations based on the question or use case. Whether you are looking to enhance litigation matter profiles automatically or normalize a list of judges or companies from within your firm’s systems, a law librarian will be able to make a recommendation based on their knowledge of the data and the tool.

As Jean P. O’Grady put it in her March 2022 Dewey B Strategic blog, “For years law librarians and knowledge managers have been begging legal publishers to free their data from their proprietary interfaces.” (View the post at bit.ly/MJ22DeweyB.) Now that vendors have set the data free, there is no group better suited to work with technologists and attorneys to leverage that data than law librarians.

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Interview of Research Services Librarian Yael Rosenblatt

This post introduces Yael Rosenblatt, Research Services Librarian at Reed Smith in New York.

What was your path to law librarianship?

Law librarianship was a natural outgrowth of my 9+ years spent at Westlaw which brought me into contact with some of the largest firms in New York City.  I really enjoyed seeing what law librarians do and was so impressed by the wide range of projects within the law firm that they were involved with.  I believed my skill set would dovetail nicely with that and was excited when an opportunity presented itself.

Did you have a mentor or librarian who helped you and/or influenced your work style/ethic?

I was fortunate to work with so many smart and talented librarians at many firms and to observe many different work styles and many different work settings.  I think most of the librarians I had contact with have served as a mentor for me in his or her own way.  I have tried to adopt for myself some of the qualities I most admire.  Since moving to Reed Smith, Brian Blaho’s help and guidance has obviously been invaluable to me.  I have also kept in regular contact with many of my librarian contacts who have provided lots of advice.

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

My career really began when I served as law clerk for a judge in New Jersey.  Even then, I always loved research.  I even served as a research assistant for a professor in law school.  I transitioned to Westlaw and so my focus was exclusively on Westlaw , and eventually on the whole suite of Thomson Reuters’ legal offerings – and how those products can bring value and efficiency to lawyers and law firms.   Now my focus (in terms of research) is finding out how each product I have access to can bring value to the work I am doing.  It’s a learning curve – and it’s exciting to learn — in depth – about other resources.

What is your biggest challenge at work?

Currently my biggest challenge is still learning about all of the available resources.  I have so many great research tools to choose from.  It takes time to figure out what is available and then what is the most cost effective and thorough research platform to use in the particular instance.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy working with all different people in a law firm – and I enjoy learning about the diverse practice areas.  In my prior position, I always tried to meet attorneys in different practice areas.  I’ve continued trying to do that and enjoy working with corporate attorneys as well as litigators.  It keep things challenging and interesting.

How do you keep up with news and trends in law libraries?

I joined AALL and the local library associations.  I also follow popular blogs.  The librarians in my firm are also great about meeting regularly to keep in touch and keep each other up to date.

What job would you have if you had not become a law librarian?

I would be a private investigator.  I love the quest for information.  It keeps things interesting!

How do you reach out to your attorneys to let them know how the library can help them?

I am fortunate that I get a chance to meet with each and every attorney that starts – whether they are new associates or laterals or partners.  In this way, I can impress upon them the many ways the library can help them and show them what an essential resource the library team can be.