AALL Spectrum Blog

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The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
7/20/2013 7:00:39 PM

Foreign, Comparative and International Law (FCIL) Librarianship Core Competencies

Compared to other sessions held during the Annual Meeting, this past Sunday’s FCIL Librarianship Core Competencies session (coordinated by Neel Kant Agrawal, Michael G. Moore, Lyonette Louis-Jacques and Mary Rumsey) was unusual in that it had two purposes: in addition to educating the attendees on the topic discussed, this session was a collaborative effort to begin the creation of a resource to be shared with the rest of the profession.

 The session began with the attendees breaking up into eight moderated breakout groups, each discussing one of eight aspects of FCIL librarianship:

  1. Researching Foreign and Comparative Law
  2. Researching International Law
  3. Reference
  4. Teaching
  5. Technical Services
  6. Collection Development
  7. Skills
  8. Information Management and Trends

Each group discussed its designated topic for about half an hour, working together to draft a list of core competencies for each specialized aspect of FCIL librarianship; afterwards, the groups disbanded and the participants repeated the process by discussing a new topic in a different group.  The session concluded with the moderators summarizing the conclusions reached by the two groups discussing each topic, and then sharing these summaries with all of the attendees.

 I found myself appreciating the group discussion format as the session progressed.  Participating in two groups left me with two very different experiences; I not only had the opportunity to learn about widely different issues, but also gained an appreciation for how varied FCIL librarianship can be.  This format also took advantage of the experience of the more senior attendees; the topic groups brought specialists together with the newer librarians interested in their areas of expertise, giving newcomers like me the opportunity to learn by listening to the experts discuss their work.

 Hearing the summarized result of each group’s discussions was definitely food for thought.  Each aspect of FCIL librarianship had unique core competencies, but many core competencies were common to several aspects: subject matter knowledge, familiarity with available resources, a flexible approach to patron services and a working knowledge of foreign languages apparently came up in many of the group discussions.  By far the most widely suggested core competency, however, was the ability to network and form collaborative relationships among libraries.  While hardly a shocking result, given that the discussion groups were composed entirely of librarians attending a professional conference, this conclusion was supported by the fact that the sheer range of what is involved in FCIL librarianship (and the resulting value of specialization and cooperation) were well established by the end of both of the group discussions I was able to join.

 I definitely enjoyed attending this session, and I am looking forward with interest to seeing how future FCIL Special Interest Section events or publications might build on the results of this session’s discussions.

Posted By Daniel Donahue at 7/20/2013 7:00:39 PM  0 Comments
7/19/2013 5:58:40 PM

Program Review - G2: Meeting the Needs of Students and Their Future Employers: Discussions on Legal Research Instruction and Student Services Inspired by Practitioner Feedback

Presenters:  Maureen Cahill, Co-moderator & Speaker, Student Services Librarian, University of Georgia; Patricia Dickerson, Co-moderator, Student Services and Reference Librarian, North Carolina Central University School of Law Library; Shawn G. Nevers, Speaker, Head of Reference Services, Brigham Young University; Erin Schlicht, Coordinator & Co-moderator, Access Services Librarian, University of Minnesota Law Library

At the 2013 Annual Meeting this week, I attended several programs and roundtables centered on improving legal research instruction and meeting the needs of students. This program, however, differed from the other programs in that it was based on empirical evidence, rather than purely anecdotal information, of how practicing lawyers conduct legal research and practitioners’ opinions of new associates’ research skills. From that evidence, program attendees brainstormed specific solutions to meet the gaps in students’ and new associates’ legal research skills. I found that this program zeroed in on things we librarians can do to make our instruction and services more relevant to the practice of law.

In 2011, the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section appointed a Task Force on Identifying Skills and Knowledge for Legal Practice. This Task Force was charged with identifying the current and future research skills that law school graduates need to succeed in legal practice. To accomplish this charge, the Task Force developed and distributed two surveys, one for practicing attorneys and one for law firm librarians.  Both surveys were designed to determine how current practitioners conduct research and the adequacy of the legal research skills of new associates. While the law librarian survey is still being reviewed, the results of the practitioner survey have been reported and were the basis for Program G2 at AALL 2013. 

To begin the program, Shawn Nevers reviewed the data collected from the practitioner survey and shared questions he believed arose from the results. Maureen Cahill then addressed the question of how a “Student Services” librarian could use this information to change both teaching and activities outside the classroom. She emphasized that we must listen to students, faculty and administrators to learn what students will be doing in the future and to anticipate student needs. We then must take this information back to the law library and involve all library staff in adapting law library collections and services to those needs. 

Some highlights from the roundtable brainstorming sessions include:

1. The survey data indicated that younger attorneys start their research with Google. Mr. Nevers asked whether we were teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Google.  Suggested solution: Use the infographic “Get More Out of Google” from HackCollege.com.

2. The survey data showed that attorneys use indexes and tables of content frequently and continue to use terms and connectors searches. Mr. Nevers asked how we would show these survey results to students to emphasize the importance of legal research tools. Suggested solutions: a) Prepare videos of summer associates/interns speaking on the importance of legal research, or b) Insert into class power points quotes from recent grads on “what I wish I had learned in legal research class.” 

3. Ms. Cahill exhorted us to go where the students are, talk with them, and listen to them. How do we get students to talk to us about what they need? Suggested solutions: establish relationships of trust, show your enthusiasm for legal research, and demonstrate your understanding of the practice of law by providing real life examples of research problems.

4. One discussion question focused on the assessment of students’ legal research skills. Suggested solution: Conduct a practical skills test at the end of each semester. Each student has 45 minutes to demonstrate competency in using both a digest and the “one good case” method to find case law. Each student also must demonstrate competency in using a citator. This type of test also may present “teachable” moments that stick with the students.  

Posted By Marsha Stacey at 7/19/2013 5:58:40 PM  0 Comments
7/19/2013 2:46:14 PM

What's My Bottom Line: Managing Law Firms Through the Great Recession

Pamela Rogers Melton hosted this session, and was joined on the stage by James Lehman and Christine Sellers, both from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.  Lehman is the Managing Partner, and Sellers is a Research Specialist, at the firm. 

I liked the way Melton kept the session informal and conversational.  The speakers sat in chairs on the platform, without using the podium or tables.  Questions were encouraged and integrated into the discussion instead of being left for the end. 

The session provided audience members with valuable insights into management's perspectives on issues facing law firms and law libraries.  Lehman made it clear that firm attorneys appreciate and value the work done by law librarians.  He acknowledge that firm management probably takes the value of law librarians somewhat for granted (though in a positive way), and encouraged the audience to work to develop new ways to demonstrate their value to the firm.

Lehman highlighted the economic issues continuing to affect law firms.  He noted that there has been a bankruptcy involving a major law firm each of the last five years, and stressed "that there are still a lot of challenges to work through before we are on solid ground."  Demand for legal services remains relatively weak; as a result, clients continue to enjoy significant pricing power.  Information technology continues to be very disruptive to the legal industry, a trend he did not expect to go away anytime soon. 

The session highlighted Nelson Mullins' approaches to cope with these problems, including efforts to work more closely across practice areas in order to offer a diversified portfolio of services to clients and to maximize their chances of winning engagements.  Lehman believes we will continue to see the movement of support services to low cost areas, both in the United States and offshore.   He described the inherent fragility of the law firm partnership structure, in explaining why firm management needs to respond proactively to any signs of trouble.  Despite these challenges, he is confident that clients will continue to value the attorney's role as trusted adviser, and is optimistic about the industry's future.   Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons from the session is the need for law librarians to continue to strive to be this "trusted adviser" for the firm's attorneys. 

Posted By Douglas Southard at 7/19/2013 2:46:14 PM  0 Comments