Vendor Relations FAQ

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November 2010

Policies

Does AALL have any policies that cover acceptance of donations from vendors?

Yes, donations are covered under AALL's Policy on Collaborative Activities and Joint Agreements. Particularly relevant is the following section (emphasis added):

Gifts and Contributions

Definition. Gifts and contributions may involve financial resources or other non-monetary support for an Association activity. These donations are accepted with the mutual understanding that they involve no grant of control or influence over the content of the activity to the donor.

AALL also has a statement of Ethical Principles. The section on Business Relationships says:

We promote fair and ethical trade practices.

We have a duty to avoid situations in which personal interests might be served or significant benefits gained at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

We strive to obtain the maximum value for our institutions' fiscal resources, while at the same time making judicious, analytical, and rational use of our institutions' information resources.

Is there a way to ensure that AALL Executive Board members don't have a conflict of interest?

All board members must annually sign a Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest Form.

AALL and Antitrust

How does antitrust affect AALL's activities?

As an association, AALL is subject to the principles of federal and state antitrust law (primarily the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits collective action in restraint of trade). The most significant area of antitrust concern for associations is price-fixing. Price-fixing in the association context is broadly construed to include any concerted effort or action that has an effect on prices, terms or conditions of trade, or on competition.

Accordingly, AALL cannot sanction programming, publications, or other communications that may provide the basis for an inference that members agreed to take any action relating to prices, services, production, allocation of markets, boycotts, refusals to deal, or any other matter having a market effect. AALL is responsible for statements made by speakers at our programs and in articles in our publications.

While this concern for antitrust may seem ironic and frustrating in the face of the shrinking competition among legal information vendors, the AALL leadership feels that simply ignoring the AALL legal counsel's advice would be irresponsible and would violate their fiduciary duties to the AALL membership.

Conflicts with Large Vendor Events at the Annual Meeting

Why doesn't AALL allow anything to compete with big vendor social events?

Actually, it does. The only "no conflict" times on our schedule are for the Opening Reception, Opening General Session, the Business Meeting, and three hours (one hour each day) for Exhibit Hall breaks. The Exhibit Hall breaks are intended to give members an opportunity to visit the Exhibit Hall without being forced to choose between exhibits and programs. These times in the Exhibit Hall were also used this year for making some of our awards, for our "meet the candidates" forum, and for prize drawings for prizes that are provided by AALL (not by vendors).

AALL Dependence on Vendor Support

Could AALL still hold the Annual Meeting if we didn't take any vendor support?

AALL could choose to stop taking vendor donations for the Annual Meeting, but obviously this would require significantly higher costs for registration fees, and some events would have to be canceled or require additional charges to members.

Do AALL programs besides the Annual Meeting receive vendor sponsorship support?

Yes, sponsorship dollars support the grant and scholarship programs. In addition, vendor sponsorship provides funding to produce the Membership Directory and to support the Educational Grants Fund. Clearly the absence of vendor support would have an adverse impact on these programs.

Do vendors exercise too much influence over AALL?

The gifts and contributions section of our collaborative activities and joint agreements policy specifies that acceptance of donations does not provide any grant of control or influence to the donor. Our annual sponsorship brochure specifies exactly what sort of recognition vendors may receive for their contributions.

Prices

Why doesn't AALL do something about the prices of legal information products?

The Executive Board is exploring various possible ways to try to better educate the heads of the legal publishing industry about the severe adverse effects that prices are having on law libraries, the legal profession, and the availability of legal information to the public. The board is open to member suggestions on what AALL can do to help. However, AALL must be cautious about not advocating actions that might place it in violation of antitrust rules.

Is AALL doing anything now to help members with price increases and vendors?

It is truly our individual members' libraries, not the Association, that are the customers of the information vendors. Therefore, AALL's current emphasis is on educating and empowering members to be their own best advocates. The Committee on Relations with Information Vendors (CRIV) provides a variety of tools to help members negotiate with vendors and advocate for the interests of their libraries. In addition, the Executive Board has also approved the position of a Vendor Liaison, to serve as AALL's liaison for fostering knowledge and information sharing between the law library community and legal information vendors. The Vendor Liaison will work closely with CRIV in meeting these goals.