Leader Profile: Chris Laut

Chris Laut, the 2020-2021 President of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), has been a long-time active member of the law library community.  Chris has served as the President of the Association of Boston Law Libraries and has participated on the PLLIP Summit committee since its inception over 10 years ago.  He’s also been a member of the Westlaw In-House Counsel Law Library Advisory Committee, Bloomberg Law’s Knowledge Management Advisory Committee, and the AALL Advisory Board for the 2019 State of the Profession Survey. He currently serves as a Board Trustee for the Insurance Library Association of Boston and as a Trustee of his local town library. Chris is the Director of Library and Knowledge Services at Sullivan & Worcester where he is responsible for the full spectrum of the firm’s research, knowledge management and records management services.  He has worked in-house at Liberty Mutual Insurance as the Director of Law Libraries and Knowledge Services, as well as at various Am Law 100 firms such as Ropes & Gray and Goodwin Procter. 

Answers compiled by Patricia Barbone, Director of Library Services, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP.

You recently changed jobs and moved from a corporate environment to a law firm.  What’s been the most striking difference? 

I had worked at Ropes & Gray and a number of other private law firms prior to my 12 year stint in-house at Liberty Mutual. So, I understood the different dynamics at both.  Still, there are big differences, the most obvious of which is who holds the ultimate power of the purse and pulls the reins on the strategic direction of the organization.

In-house lawyers must be more responsive to the leadership of an organization, and pivot quickly to structural and business objective changes.  It is public knowledge that Liberty Mutual, in my 12 years there, eliminated internal distribution models for agents and brokers, spun off billions of dollars of asbestos liability, sold their life insurance business, engaged in multiple multi-billion dollar acquisitions, and closed down and opened operations in at least five countries.  Each time one of these events occurred, the legal department responded by restructuring, which sometimes meant sending certain operations to other companies, or developing wholly new legal structures.  Although the lawyers almost always remained the same, they had to have the qualities of embracing wholesale changes and finding ways to get to “yes”.  There were no lawyers at Liberty Mutual who were not good communicators.  Furthermore, their bosses were unequivocally business people; not other lawyers.

At law firms, the equity partners still hold the ultimate power. Many Am Law 200 law firms developed new C-level roles, wresting some advisory powers away from the equity partners into the hands of the management committee, which often includes C-level roles. When the C-level roles are filled with experts in their given fields (operations, finance, marketing & business development, innovations & knowledge services) and granted firm-wide decision-making power, then non-attorneys can help firms to accelerate change in the evolving legal market.  If these positions are subjugated, or filled with practicing lawyers, then the opportunities for developing to new paradigms is often lost. 

In general, I find lawyers at law firms to be brilliant practitioners with strong academic credentials. In-house attorneys may not always have the same credentials, but they usually make up for it through strong communication skill sets and an ability to adapt quickly.

What is your top priority for your year as Chair of the PLLIP-SIS?

I don’t have one top priority. So, I will name three.

  • As an organization, I’d like us to purposefully adopt tactics to be responsive to institutional racism and confront those issues that the Black Lives Matter movement has help bring to the forefront of our nation’s conscious. In that vein, to help us reflect on our own individual responses and develop a more affirmative approach to diversity, equity & inclusion as an SIS, Cynthia Brown, the chair of the Summit Committee, has agreed to hold a late winter summit on DE&I.  We will make every effort to collaborate with other diversity caucuses as well as the new Black Librarian SIS. We will also make every effort to influence the efforts of the AALL Law Librarianship as a Career Guidance Review Special Committee to ensure we are doing everything we can to help underserved communities and people of diverse backgrounds know about the great opportunities in our profession. Which brings us to the second priority . . .
  • Our PLLIP Strategic Plan hasn’t been updated since 2014.  This is our roadmap for our SIS and incorporates goals, objectives, and action items.  I’d like us to bring this up to date, and add DE&I objectives and action items.
  • Last but not least, PLLIP information professional directors currently have no forum to discuss difficult issues.  We will work to develop a “My Communities” board for PLLIP directors.
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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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Providing Career Growth at All Levels of the Library

By Allison C. Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson

Reposted with permission from PEGA-SIS Blog.

Three years ago, we started discussing ways to provide career growth opportunities in Littler Mendelson’s library. As our library grows, new positions are often entry-level. Promotions to more advanced positions come along less frequently, even when a dedicated employee has learned, grown, and proven their skills for advancement. Here, we provide tactics for retaining valued employees and offering career growth, even without the availability of senior librarian positions.

The Problem

Over the years, law librarians have expressed concern and discouragement with the lack of senior librarian positions available in the job market. The danger for managers and directors is that they will lose their best talent to senior positions open at other institutions. Effective leaders provide their staff with professional development opportunities, challenging projects, and rewards for succeeding in career growth. Finding a solution to the conundrum of limited promotional opportunities for rising star librarians requires creativity and assessment of the library’s goals in advancement of the firm’s mission.

The Solution

Career advancement opportunities will look different at every institution. Our project may not fit everyone’s needs exactly, but the foundations hopefully provide all library leaders with a jumping off point.

Evaluation of current roles and the skills and tasks necessary to complete them is the first step. We looked at projects and tasks completed by all of our Assistant and Research Librarians and listed out the requisite skills employed. This was accomplished thinking in terms of job descriptions. For example, familiarity with legal research databases allows librarians to pull requested documents and train users on using the tools. Expertise with legal information sources expands the research and analysis capabilities necessary for a librarian to perform advanced legal research projects.

With all of the library’s work laid before us, we identified projects that wouldn’t necessarily require the expertise of a Research Librarian but that need expertise beyond an early-career employee. Those we designated as mid-level, or transitional skills: ones attained after an Assistant Librarian has mastered more than entry-level skills, but when they do not have enough experience to move into a more senior position. We also evaluated the extraordinary projects and contributions of Research Librarians, asking ourselves what it looks like when a Research Librarian has performed beyond their job description.

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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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The Value a Librarian in an Association Leadership Role Brings to the Law Firm

By Cyndi Murphy, Knowledge Manager, Stewart McKelvey

Too frequently, when asked to run for executive office or chair a committee for a national law library association, law firm librarians respond by saying that their employer would not support the time commitment required. However, becoming a leader in a library association benefits the law firm, not just the individual librarian. Continue reading