Features - Law Librarians and their Evolving Role as Information Technology Managers

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Sabrina I. Pacifici is the Editor, Web Master and Publisher of LLRX.com.  For the past decade, she has been a legal newsletter editor and publisher, as well as a frequent writer and speaker on issues relating to law firm technology.  Sabrina has been a law firm librarian in Washington, D.C. for 18 years.


In law firms whose practices span numerous areas and jurisdictions, there is a tremendous volume of pertinent resources available to facilitate research. Managing this information, which may be available in hard copy, CD-ROM, the Internet, intranets, online database services, government sponsored dial-up bulletin board systems, e-mail and push technology, is a substantial enterprise.

Essential factors in the efficient administration of these resources include evaluating the considerable costs of information resources, determining the quality of their content, specifying required hardware and software interfaces, designing and allocating space to house associated staff and support services, and developing short and long term plans to utilize these resources in a competitive and quickly changing environment. All of these factors contribute to the expanding role that many law librarians are fulfilling in the management and utilization of the increasingly complex information environment.

The challenges inherent in the development and implementation of internal and external information resources for law firms require innovative management solutions. The availability of so many sources of information has inevitably raised the expectations that law firms and clients have of their legal information managers. In response to these expectations, and often in anticipation of them, legal information managers are focusing on the goal of providing universal access at the desktop to a full range of resources, including retrospective proprietary data and up-to-the minute information. This process, which is necessarily a collaborative one, is enhanced by the expertise and initiative of law librarians, whose thorough understanding of attorney requirements for information and research services is a definitive advantage in managing legal information.

In today’s increasingly complex and demanding legal marketplace, law librarians are qualified to play a role in their firm’s efforts to maintain the competitive edge in information technology. By participating in strategic projects for the development and implementation of information services and systems, the role of law librarians has undergone a positive and beneficial evolution in both perception and purpose. They are managing a growing range of resources coming onto the market faster than was ever the case. Each resource must be carefully evaluated within the context of the firm’s business needs and potential integration into the existing array of current resources. Technology has introduced new requirements for information collection management, and the emphasis is now on linking information resources for better access, user friendly functionality, and high quality content. The administration of this task is a formidable one.

For decades, law firm librarians have been creatively managing the information and research resources of their firms on behalf of attorneys and clients. The evaluation, acquisition, organization, sharing and distribution of information in all formats, including books, periodicals, online services such as Lexis and Westlaw, internal work product documents and database resources, is an integral part of their expertise. Similarly, providing comprehensive research services utilizing a wealth of legal and non-legal resources is a service of long standing. In addition, law firm librarians have extensive experience in training attorneys and paralegals in the use of the full range of information resources to minimize the amount of time involved and maximize the quality of the result.

The management expertise of law librarians has become increasingly evident within the context of the numerous enterprises firms are undertaking to expand the infrastructure of creating and delivering digital information to the desktop. Capturing and reformatting valuable legacy information, creating new proprietary digital resources, and harnessing the exploding world of Internet information within a Web-based law firm network, or intranet, are increasingly under the domain of law librarians. Leveraging the firm’s information capabilities requires an integration of its knowledge base, the world of information resources utilized from commercial information vendors, the vast resources of the Web, and the considerable resources of the hard copy library. Law firm librarians are experts in the administration and utilization of all these powerful tools.

Proactive, technologically savvy law librarians throughout the country, in organizations of all sizes, are managing new kinds of libraries utilizing this paradigm of collaborative resource development and delivery. I recently conducted interviews with law librarians working at firms in four major cities. Although their firms and circumstances are different, the underlying theme that prevailed was that they were all energetically adapting to the challenges of the 21st century law firm environment with tremendous enthusiasm, creativity and skill.

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Pam Soreide, Director of Research Services
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

Pam’s participation as a member of the firm’s Intranet/Internet Development Committee is an example of the way in which librarians are actively involved in the development and implementation of the next generation of information resources.

One aspect of the changing role of the law firm librarian is demonstrated by Pam Soreide, the Director of Research Services for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, who has been with the 650-attorney firm for 21 years. She supervises libraries in 14 offices, with 21 employees. Pam reports to the firm’s Executive Director and the Managing Partner. She describes her role as one with a primary focus on long term planning for new technologies, and evolving the library "from a location into a resource." This involves an emphasis on resources such as the Internet, a corporate intranet, and CD-ROMs that can be provided in a global environment to the attorneys. An integral component of this program is the ongoing review and evaluation of which resources are best delivered electronically and which are best delivered in hard copy. A thorough knowledge of attorney research requirements facilitates Pam’s ability to manage this endeavor.

From Pam’s perspective, all the work associated in developing the firm’s technology environment, including hardware, software and resource issues, must be balanced with appropriate management services. This strategy is essential for the attorneys who must work within the changing environment, and adopt its applications as a routine part of their legal practice. Therefore, her department provides the attorneys with the requisite tools and support to effectively function in an increasingly "digital" law firm environment. The content of the services is the focus of her department’s work, not the network hardware. This involves evaluating CD-ROM products for addition to the networked towers, creating pathfinders for area specific topical research assignments such as corporate intelligence, assisting attorneys in utilizing all the libraries resources, online or hard copy, and choosing content for the intranet.

Pam’s participation as a member of the firm’s Intranet/Internet Development Committee is an example of the way in which librarians are actively involved in the development and implementation of the next generation of information resources. This committee, whose other members include the Director of Information Systems, a lawyer who is charged with practice system development, a technical Web master, and the manager of applications development, culminated their work this past June with the delivery of a firm-wide intranet. The intranet is considered to be a communications tool for the firm, and includes a firm directory, firm policies, a library page with internal and external resources, a marketing page, and a practice system page to work product retrieval. In addition to the intranet, Pam is also the Web master for her law firm’s external Web page (www.gdclaw.com), and administers updating its content and resources. Perhaps the admonition of Pam’s screensaver sums up her management philosophy best: "It’s all very well to be on the right track, but if you don’t keep moving you’ll get run over anyway."

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Christine Fisher, National Director of Library Services
Sullivan & Cromwell

The importance of training and retraining her librarians to stay ahead of the complex demands of this increasingly technological environment is also a factor in the success of her department.

Christine ("Chris") Fisher, national Director of Library Services for the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, is another example of a proactive law librarian. Chris has been with the 431-attorney firm of Sullivan and Cromwell for 13 years. She reports to the firm’s Executive Director and to the Library Partner. With management and administrative responsibilities for libraries in the firm’s nine offices, and a staff of 13 in the New York office, Chris is an information professional whose firm clearly recognizes her value and expertise. Under her direction, the firm’s librarians are actively involved in providing thousands of hours of research services each year. In close coordination with practice groups and the Practice Development department, her department also assists in the development of new client opportunities.

From the beginning of her tenure with the firm, Chris has been in the forefront of developing and implementing library automation initiatives, initially with an online catalog and computer assisted legal research applications. This work has evolved in her department’s participation in the delivery of a range of technology systems, including a CD-ROM research network, Internet walk-up stations, and the testing and review of CALR software for the attorney desktop. Her keen interest in technology solutions for distributing information services facilitates her active role in advancing technological applications through a number of committees and departments charged with this responsibility.

Chris is a participant in the firm-wide technology committee as well as the technology advisory group. As a means of understanding attorney requirements for resources and research services, Chris regularly attends firm luncheons and departmental practice group meetings. In cooperation with the firm’s IS department, Chris helps to set priorities for new desktop applications, as well as defining their content, the user interface, and training users.

With an excellent understanding and proficiency in research and technology applications, Chris is well positioned to share her expertise with the firm as it plans its strategy for an intranet. Experience with the development of the firm’s external Web page (www.sullcrom.com) laid the foundation for her work as chair of the intranet steering committee, whose focus is on providing access to internal firm documents and information. The importance of training and retraining her librarians to stay ahead of the complex demands of this increasingly technological environment is also a factor in the success of her department. With extensive knowledge of her firm’s practice requirements, client needs, and technology applications, Chris is a fine example of the proactive manner in which many law librarians are assisting their firms in meeting the challenges of the increasingly complex corporate technology environment.

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Al Podboy, Director of Libraries
Baker & Hostetler

...the role of law librarians, now and in the future, is as "information wizards and problem solvers," pulling information from disparate resources, under considerable time constraints, and using resources in any format to support the requirements of attorneys and clients.

Al Podboy, Director of Libraries for Baker & Hostetler, and based in the Cleveland office, is a widely respected information professional who has been with his firm for 19 years. As the director of Baker & Hostetler’s ten libraries and staff, Al is a manager who maintains a strong focus on balancing resources and services to meet the requirements of a large multi-practice firm. He reports to the firm’s Legal Services partner. This structure identifies Al as part of a team of experts within the firm who work together to coordinate legal services and client development activities.

Throughout the year, Al travels to the other offices to consult with practice groups and individual attorneys to establish their information requirements. He also makes presentations on a variety of topics, including the Internet and other technology issues. In conjunction with these efforts, Al works in close coordination with the firm’s IS department in the development of services. The Library’s expertise in software applications is balanced by the IS department’s expertise in hardware and networking. The Library continually reviews technology for the firm, and beta tests software prior to its implementation for the attorneys. With the firm’s plan to rollout Windows NT and an intranet by the end of this year, the Library has been actively involved in choosing and reviewing resources for delivery to the desktop.

Having practiced law several years prior to becoming a librarian, Al is keenly aware of the value of client development, and has positioned his libraries to stay ahead of the curve in their command of the many legal and non-legal resources which support firm marketing efforts. According to Al, the role of law librarians, now and in the future, is as "information wizards and problem solvers," pulling information from disparate resources, under considerable time constraints, and using resources in any format to support the requirements of attorneys and clients. With clients calling upon the expertise of law librarians directly, excellent communication skills and a thorough knowledge of client expectations is a necessity. Al has honed his skills in this area as Chair of the Ohio State Bar Association’s Law Libraries & Legal Information Committee, and as an instructor for the Notre Dame College of Ohio legal assistant program. This combination of management and communications skills serves him well in administering the financial, information and personnel resources under his direction.

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Teresa Juzba, Information Services Director
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

As a member of the firm’s Technology Committee, Teresa makes significant contributions to the ongoing cooperative process of introducing new technologies. This is evident in her department’s coordination and management of the expanding range of available digital information.

Teresa Juzba joined the Los Angeles office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips five years ago with a strong technology background gained from her previous work in a large corporation as well as with a software vendor. As the firm’s Information Services Director, the ten person staff under the umbrella of her supervision services 165 attorneys in three offices. Teresa reports to the Executive Director, and states that the overall goal of her department is to create a firm-wide vision and management structure for the dissemination of information. In terms of her staff, this involves routinely reviewing developments in information and knowledge techniques, providing continuing education programs for her staff, and developing cooperative information products. In regard to the attorneys and legal assistants, this translates into providing them with the resources that they need, when they need them, and in the format or media they require.

Teresa’s department includes traditional library services as well as technology and information services. The latter encompasses creating databases which may include court cases, depositions and case management issues, administering docket/calendar and work product retrieval (which is standardized on Folio), and managing the Electronic Information Center (EIC). The EIC is a precursor to an intranet, where relevant firm information from every department is accessible through one interface. If there is something that you want to know about the firm, such as practice area information, an individual phone number or attorney work product, it can be located through the EIC.

As a member of the firm’s Technology Committee, Teresa makes significant contributions to the ongoing cooperative process of introducing new technologies. This is evident in her department’s coordination and management of the expanding range of available digital information. Included are the firm’s external Web site (www.manatt.com), the development of an intranet page for Information Services and productivity databases whose focus is on very specialized applications such as family law, where complex calculations are required. In addition, her department has implemented an extensive series of training programs for attorneys focused on each specific technology application, including CD-ROMs, the Internet, the intranet, Lexis and Westlaw.

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With their active participation in such projects as the scaling and customization of information to the requirements of practice groups and individual client projects, capturing invaluable proprietary in-house information into databases, delivering online catalogs of library resources to the desktop, administering library CD-ROM network applications, and developing intranet applications for research services, legal information managers are uniquely positioned to make significant contributions in the coming years to their firms’ technology development.

 

This article was first printed in Legal Times, September 29, 1997, S68.