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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
12/11/2013 8:16:55 AM

Book Review: The Generalist Counsel: How Leading General Counsel are Shaping Tomorrow’s Companies

Dubney, Prashant, and Eva Kripalani, The Generalist Counsel:  How Leading General Counsel are Shaping Tomorrow’s Companies (Oxford:  Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), ISBN 978-0-19-989235-8 (softcover), xvii + 193p p. (incl. index), $49.95.

As law librarians, our work supports a profession often deemed incapable of innovation.   Not so in the office of the general counsel –or the generalist counsel, as Dubney and Kripalani dub this position.  The authors, Kripalani herself a former general counsel, stake out the world of in-house legal work as incredibly dynamic, spurring changes in not only the companies GCs serve but also making broader waves across the legal profession.

So what is a generalist counsel?  No longer a “minor management figure,” the authors claim,  “[t]oday, leading General Counsel are sought out by their peers on the senior leadership team for strategic input to decisions that will move the business forward” (p. 2, xiv).  This term speaks to a “significantly broader skill set” than that traditionally honed among general counsel or law firm partners, for that matter.  Generalist Counsels not only master the law but also function as a key part of the corporate team.  Success in this position requires a host of proficiencies not often instilled in the traditional law firm setting:  communication, trust-building, understanding the corporation’s business in detail, and critical risk-assessment.

Just as generalist counsel are being shaped by the new business environment, they are shaping a new legal environment and join this evolution.  The authors offer some advice about how law firms can improve their relationships with in-house counsel.  Law firms will face greater scrutiny in light of the more sophisticated skill set of their clients, and they will benefit from heightened attention to the business context of their advice.

The authors rely heavily on personal narratives to convey their vision of the generalist counsel and how to become one, providing concrete illustrations.  One of the most memorable of these came from Jeff Kindler.   After a stint at a firm, Kindler became general counsel at McDonald’s.  When the company bought Boston Market, Kindler saw opportunity where others did not.  As a result, he was given executive control of brand, acting not as its general counsel but as its president.  Kindler’s story illustrates the interwoven nature of legal judgment and business acumen the authors see as the essence of the generalist counsel.

 The authors successfully craft a broader framework from these stories in many ways, but the book could deploy that framework more effectively.  For example, the authors describe various paths to achieve the generalist counsel title, outlining three main categories:  fatalist, careerist, opportunist.  Described in the second chapter, these labels loose some heft, as the authors do not leverage them throughout the work.  In spite of these occasional missed opportunities, however, this title remains a valuable one for most libraries.

The authors provide lots of advice for those interested in becoming a generalist counsel.  But it also merits a place in both law firm and law school libraries.  Firms can learn much about how to improve their relationships with and service to in-house counsel.  Law schools will also benefit, in part because the authors offer specific curricular advice, including project management courses.

Susan Azyndar is a reference librarian and adjunct professor at the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University.

Posted By Susan Azyndar at 12/11/2013 8:16:55 AM  0 Comments
TOPICS: book reviews
11/26/2013 3:03:42 PM

Check Out the December 2013 Issue of Spectrum, Now Available on AALLNET

We hope you enjoy the latest issue of Spectrum and encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback using the "comments" box below!

Public Relations: A Day in the Life 2014
How will you document your library? 
By Frances M. Brillantine 

Law Firm Librarians in Transition
Career changes and challenges 
By Elizabeth A. Greenfield 

Law Librarianship in China
Challenges and opportunities 
By Kara Phillips, Wei Luo, and Joan Liu 

LibGuides, Blog Posts, and Articles, Oh My!
Library-supported portfolio pieces for law school students and graduates 
By Marie Stefanini Newman and Taryn L. Rucinski 

Research Competition Awesomeness
Implementing legal research competitions at law schools 
By Lisa Junghahn and Richard L. Buckingham 

Happy Anniversary, Treatise!
A celebration of longevity: comparing Moore's Federal Practice and Procedure with Wright and Miller's Federal Practice and Procedure 
By Adrienne DeWitt 

Be Our Guest!
What reference librarians can learn from the hospitality industry 
By Andrea Alexander 

MLZ: Citation Management for Law School
The new citation manager MLZ, based on Zotero, helps collect, organize, and use research materials 
By Mitchell L. Silverman 

Massive Open Online Courses
One participant's perspective 
By Colleen Williams 

Online Only! Put Your Library on the Map, Part 3: Surrender and Success
By Ashley Krenelka Chase 

From the Editor
Dear Peace Corps, I'm Finally Here, Almost . . . 
By Catherine A. Lemmer 

Washington Brief
Law Librarian Advocacy in 2013 
By Emily Feltren 

The Reference Desk
I recently accepted a position as librarian-manager in a local law firm library. When I was hired, I was told that I would report to the executive manager. However, a couple of days after I began working, the senior administrative assistant, Carol, sought me out and told me that I should actually be reporting to her. When I asked the executive manager to clarify, he responded that he didn't know why Carol would say that. I'm worried that he won't set all this straight and there will be a clash in the future. Do you have any suggestions for what I should do? 
By Susan Catterall 

Announcements
AALL Announcements, Memorials, Stu's Views, and Next Issue of Spectrum 

Member to Member
What creative phrase or statement describes your past year? 

Views from You
Views of the modifications made to Harvard Law School's Pound Hall 

Members' Briefing
Identity, Meaning, and Names 
By Steven P. Anderson

Posted By Ashley St. John at 11/26/2013 3:03:42 PM  0 Comments
TOPICS: spectrum
11/24/2013 5:46:57 PM

Essay

 

THE GIFT OF LAW LIBRARIANSHIP

What I have learned about law librarianship from being away 5 years

 

Dear Readers,

AALL Spectrum Blog and I welcome your comments.  Please see the last paragraph for instructions.       

 

Background:  After 5 years doing a good job at a good job (Reference Librarian at Florida A&M Law Library), I was out of a job for 5 years due to the severe recession.  At times I didn’t know if I really wanted to be a law librarian more than anything else.  Finally I realized, and I say this with humility, that I have been given the gift of law librarianship.  And one does tend to appreciate what has been lost.  I am now grateful for my comeback and can embrace the profession like never before.  Especially during this season of thanksgiving and gift-giving.                   

Come to think of it, shouldn’t the holidays have gift-giving and then thanksgiving?!   Anyway, I carefully chose this date – Sunday, November 24 – to publish my article.  Monday and Tuesday are workdays, so people can have a little time to read it.  Then come Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.  Christmas Eve is exactly one month from tonight.

 

“The gift of law librarianship” can refer to the gift of law librarians to their communities.  I won’t address that here.

And I am not talking about those few “gifted” law librarians.

I will discuss having a gift for law librarianship, and having a gift from it.

I believe that most successful law librarians have “a gift” for the profession. 

They have a gift for it if they the ability to do this job well and to help other people.

An example of having a gift for law librarianship is the reference librarian who can often find an item in a huge academic library within 5 minutes, pleasing the patron and satisfying themselves.

They also have a gift from law librarianship if they make a sufficient living from it.

As far as making a living, the gift of law librarianship may not be the most lucrative, given the credentials.  It is up to the individual to decide whether to accept the compensation of this profession or of a certain job.  I know I look at this a lot differently than I did five years ago.  I imagine that many librarians, even those at libraries where no jobs were lost, look at this differently, because there were other libraries where people did lose jobs.

Note this article is not entitled “The promise of law librarianship.”  Because of what has been called the “crisis in legal education” (“Academic Law Libraries and the Crisis in Legal Education,” by Genevieve Blake Tung, Law Library Journal Vol. 105:3 [2013-14]), I believe the profession may have a dim future for entrants.  And it is possible that more experienced librarians will lose their jobs than in the Great Recession, because when a law school shuts down, all of the librarians lose their jobs there.  But I certainly hope those events do not occur.

However, economic realities do make having a job as a law librarian even more of a gift.

 

So these are the gifts of law librarianship.  As far as the competency-based gifts for the profession, I propose that one has the gift for any profession, including law librarianship, based especially on three factors:  talent, education, and experience.  (Personality traits are vital, but I think these largely innate qualities are related to talent.)  The highly talented individual, the genius, also has to develop the gift (education and experience).  The difference is the result, often spectacular.

Looking at the ones I best know about, reference librarians, who deal most directly with the law, I look at the core talent that makes success possible.  They may not have demonstrated legal or law-related talent in high school or college (debate team, moot court team, etc.), perhaps due to personality traits.  Often the core talent is manifested by academic ability, as was the case with me.   

The second competency factor is education.  That was library school for most of us.  For those who went to law school, many of us were not that interested.  Again, this was possibly because of personality traits.  But we were probably already developing as law librarians, especially if we already had a library degree.  And it actually took more legal drive for many of us to keep up with our studies and even stay in school, if we did not know whether we wanted to practice law.  We may have asked, “What am I doing here?”  But we persevered and got that law degree.

Obviously one needs experience to get from school to professional competency and then giftedness.  Let me just share a little of my own story.  After library school, I could have gone into general academic librarianship, but that’s probably no longer possible.  I have over 5 years law librarian experience, but no general academic in the last 12, and before that only an internship.  So the third prong of experience has sealed my identity as a law librarian.      

Starting in law school over 25 years ago, I have thrown law back several times, but it keeps coming back.  My situation may be a little different, going to a “top” law school; that was a trap in some ways.  Plus an unusual set of circumstances.  But I try to see things positively, that my talent, education and experience have combined to give me the gift of law librarianship.      

 

By the way, if you thought that “the gift of law librarianship” has a nice ring to it, neither this phrase nor “the gift for law librarianship” can be found (0 Google results), so they are basically original phrases.

 

AALL Spectrum Blog and I would welcome your comments on this article and/or topic.  Just click the Comment link below. The article will reload with a comment box at the end.  Your comment will be authenticated to make sure it is not spam, and it should post by tomorrow (Monday).  Thank you!

 

Gary Yessin is currently regaining the gift of law librarianship at the Florida A&M University Law Library in Orlando, where he focuses on providing reference services. 

Posted By Gary Yessin at 11/24/2013 5:46:57 PM  1 Comments