Host Phil Rosenthal talks to Laura Chance, Cynthia Brown, and Nina Jack about how the unique challenges in law libraries push librarians to develop their own solutions. As experts in research and organization, librarians are well-poised to become innovators. Together, this panel discusses the ways librarians use data, tech tools, and vendor partnerships to bring renewed vitality to their profession and better library services to lawyers.
Laura Chance is Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP’s project manager for research & library technology.
Cynthia Brown is director of research services for Littler Mendelson.
Nina Jack is the director of product at Fastcase.
Special thanks to Fastcase for sponsoring this episode.
On The Road
AALL 2019: Makers in Law Libraries
Intro: This episode is brought to you by Fastcase and its comprehensive suite of legal intelligence tools. Fastcase offers the full suite from legal research to analytics, document tracking to secondary treatises, AI tools, legal news and more. Fastcase is the smarter way to run your law library, and now onto the show.
Phil Rosenthal: Hello and welcome to another edition of On The Road with Legal Talk Network. This is Phil Rosenthal and I’m the host for today’s show, which is being recorded on location at the American Association of Law Libraries’ Annual Meeting & Conference from Washington, DC.
Joining me now I have Cynthia Brown, the Director of Research Services at Littler Mendelson. Laura Chance, the Project Manager for Research and Library Technology at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, and Nina Jack, the Vice President for Product and Content at Fastcase.
Welcome to the show.
Cynthia Brown: Hi Phil.
Phil Rosenthal: Hi.
Laura Chance: Hi Phil.
Phil Rosenthal: Hello.
Nina Jack: Hi Phil.
Phil Rosenthal: Hi. And before we get to our topic, Makers in Law Libraries, please tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you do? Cynthia.
Cynthia Brown: Well, I run a team of 26 library professionals in Kansas City and we are with Littler Mendelson, as you said, and we have a team of 60 in our KM department, and at Littler, the library is nestled in with knowledge management. We find the data, refine it for them and curate that and send it out to our many firm projects.
Phil Rosenthal: Great. Thank you.
Laura Chance: Laura Chance here. I am the Project Manager for Research and Library Technology. I help our team of 50, utilize technology in meaningful ways that help make the lives of our researchers and our library staff much easier. I also work on incorporating the library into the larger picture at the firm. So I make sure that we are represented on our Internet that we’re talking with practice groups and making sure that they’re getting the resources that they need easily and quickly.
Nina Jack: I’m Nina Jack. I lead the product team at Fastcase and my team and I are tasked with working with our largest partners, our law firm partners, Bar Association partners to really understand their needs and build out solutions that help them do their jobs better in the day to day.
Phil Rosenthal: Well, thank you. Well, let’s start with a threshold question of just why make your own tools and what is the role of the library in making the tools?
Cynthia Brown: Well, why make your own tool because you need it. The opportunity is there and I think for many years we’ve been talking about how to make libraries and librarians more relevant. How do we save our jobs and how do we keep this profession going, and I think it’s interesting.
I don’t feel like that’s a problem anymore. I hire every year. I hire several people and I was able to beg for one more person at the end of this year. I think there’s a great need for librarians and I think there is a need to create tools to fix your individual problem. So there’s fantastic vendors, lots of partners that we like to work with but they don’t always solve every problem.
And sometimes, I can create a solution using the bodies I have to create and get us started on our goal and then maybe down the road, I can get some money freed up to buy something from a vendor or to create it with a vendor. But if there’s a need and I can do it myself then why not? Why wait?
Laura Chance: Absolutely, I agree. I think that we know our problems, our issues, our challenges better than anyone else. And I think that we’re underestimated as technologists and as builders and as people who can get real scrappy and get things done and I wouldn’t trust anybody but a librarian to help me solve my problem if it’s library related.
So I think it’s really important that we’re represented in all aspects of what we do including not just vendors that are selling things to libraries but with our document management systems and other tools at the firm, library is a big part of that and we understand what we’re doing.
Cynthia Brown: And if I could add, we’ve had situations where a librarian comes to me and says, you know, we saw this problem and I fixed it and here’s what I did to do it and here’s how I did it, I built it and here you go.
And it was so simple and obvious but it took a librarian to do it and then I could just announce to my boss, hey, look at this great thing we did, and it was with tools that were already existing in the firm. So why worry about the red tape, just get it done.
Phil Rosenthal: Right, you know your problems better than anyone else would, just fix it. I love it. I love it, and actually why don’t we talk a little bit about the kinds of things that you’re doing?
Now, Laura you spoke yesterday here at AALL, if there was a great example of being a builder about Do-It-Yourself APIs and take a moment, tell us about that program and some of the initiatives that you are working on.
Laura Chance: Yeah, absolutely. So the program was focused on building your own APIs and learning how to read documentation, how to understand the tools that are available for folks that don’t know and then also giving them examples of real-world solutions that they could have or think they could build that apply in their libraries.
So my role on the panel was not to do the coding but to show examples of things that are happening and we’re doing at the firm to solve solutions. I don’t build APIs if it’s okay that I jog over a little bit and talk about some other solutions that I’ve worked on.
Phil Rosenthal: Sure.
Laura Chance: We’ve been using a tool we already have at the firm called Contract Express in an out-of-the-box way, we’re using it to standardize workflows and procedures and automate processes. So things that usually, for example, arrivals workflow when attorney comes into the firm, is sort of death by a thousand cuts.
There’s a lot of communication back and forth between the librarian, the manager, the person who is ordering the credentials and then the user themselves. And so, what we’ve done is we put everything into a single form with a bunch of checkboxes, really simple, you just check off what you need, and then on the back end, all of the emails, the communication, the documentation that’s going to go to the attorney is included based upon what you select.
So we’re trying to find ways to cut time and not get bogged down and all those email back and forth, and a few years ago, right before we rolled out our ticketing system for research and reference requests, I built a SharePoint ticketing system for electronic services requests to demonstrate in a much smaller scale how beneficial it would be to have a tool that could track our work, allow us to do some analysis and processes, and then would also create a knowledge base that was searchable and more transparent.
And it made us a lot more efficient and understanding as a team of what we were working on and how we could do it better.
Phil Rosenthal: And it seems you’re working with software from partners and it may bring in some of the partner perspective. I will turn to Nina because it looks like there’s a great opportunity to collaborate and help the librarians build the tools.
Nina Jack: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the best things about being here at the AALL Annual Meeting is being able to have in-depth conversations with people like Cynthia and Laura, and understand the challenges that they’re having.
And we’re kind of trying to sell this in two ways. So, first of all taking their feedback into account as we work through the roadmap for our legal research platform, for docket alarm, for AI sandbox. What are the gaps that exist in our products, and also what are the gaps that exist generally, and how can we help to fill in those gaps?
The other initiative that we’ve undertaken in the last few years and truly because of the feedback that we’ve gotten from law librarians is to instead of just serving up our platform to kind of think of it as a pyramid where the platform is at the top of the pyramid, our search APIs underlie the user experience in the platform and then the data underlies those APIs.
And how can we serve up content either as a data feed to help supplement products that you guys are building in the libraries or how can you build on top of our search APIs, how can we customize our APIs in order to allow you all to do what you do really well in integration with for example our primary law.
And we’ve been really fortunate to forge such wonderful partnerships where we can truly figure out where we can do what we do best and support librarians as they build it in the library.
Phil Rosenthal: It’s interesting you raise the data questions. We talk a lot about tools but tools usually need to operate on something, and so I’m curious, both from the perspective of firm, data, is the data ready, like you are such a wealth of data at first proprietary beautiful databases no one else has. And is that data ready to build the tools and also what other kinds of data, because Nina you were talking about APIs that partners could provide as well.
And so, Cynthia, if you have thoughts about?
Cynthia Brown: Yeah, we’ve been collecting data for a long time and it’s interesting to me how it started. We used to, I don’t know 8-10 years ago get those emails late in the afternoon and we have to have this everyone stop what they’re doing and it would take days and weeks to get this information and then everything else is backed up.
And it only took maybe two times for this to happen, where I said wait a minute, and this was happening in class actions in our firm and we said, we have got to have this ready for them.
So we started tracking filings and settlements and great deal of information about class actions, and because we had a librarian set it up, we had very defined fields, we knew exactly how we wanted that information entered, we had taxonomies built.
And so now, fast forward 10 years, we have a great database of information and all that data and we are looking for ways to partner with our different vendors and with Fastcase on okay, how do we use that now. And it includes both — it includes firm data and public data. So that throws an interesting wrinkle into it as well and how are we going to do this, but because we have been tracking the information for so long, we already have a rich environment to work in, which is really exciting.
And anytime we started seeing requests that would repeat, we said well, is this something that we should be following, should we start? And we started with the spreadsheet, because that’s what we had and we wanted to keep it and we have been able to evolve it, and I am excited to continue to evolve, because now we look at it and say whoa, big data, right, we have this data and it’s already in a good form. Because I think a lot of firms struggle with oh, yeah, we have that information somewhere in some tool, what does it look like, we don’t know. And so they are trying to figure out how to clean up that data and how to make all those different programs talk to each other, but we already have a lot of this collected.
Phil Rosenthal: Well, it sounds like you were far ahead of your time, ten years ago having structured data is not something that we hear all the time and often there is a challenge of how do you structure it, and I was wondering what your perspective was?
Laura Chance: Yeah, large law firms are — they are just ripe for this kind of opportunity. I mean Morgan, Lewis is a firm of 1,900 or more and definitely more attorneys and 2,000 staff and just the challenge of knowing yourself really well at that scale is enormous, and I think librarians are well poised to begin to ask those questions and to bring that data to light, because we answer questions for everyone at the firm.
Something as complicated as a securities research question, to as simple as who do I contact to find a fax machine, that all comes through us, and I think we are — you would be really well placed to work at experienced management at the firm, connecting people, not just to resources like we do so well, but to other people at the firm.
And then on a different note, I was really — I am very impressed with something at the firm that came out recently — came out with recently regarding the #MeToo cases that have been popping up. And Grace Speights, our Global Leader for Labor and Employment, spoke today about our #MeToo Bot, which is a bot that will crawl any textual data, so emails, Slack channels, text messages and it will highlight language that is potentially harmful and could be — and could cause risk for a harassment case.
That kind of e-discovery is just incredible, and to have it being used in such a positive way I feel is something I think the firm should be really proud of, and I hope that we can continue to use e-discovery tools to look at that unstructured data, make sense of it, and then harness it in meaningful ways.
Phil Rosenthal: Is the bot something that’s used for — mostly for e-discovery or also is it a tool that you provide the clients that they can fit — that they can use to check their content?
Laura Chance: Absolutely. We are leveraging it with clients and letting them take a look at what’s going on. It’s really good for historical going back and looking at the past and what’s been happening at an organization, a business, et cetera. But if you have access not just to emails, but if information is on a firm phone, for example, you could analyze texts in real time, so you wouldn’t have to do these reactionary cases where harm has already happened, you can actually mitigate harm and you can say, all right, this happened, let’s stop it before it gets even further and more severe. It’s really, really impressive.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, real time sounds fantastic.
Laura Chance: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Rosenthal: And I am intrigued that you are talking about — when you were talking about building tools, it seems that there is multiple kinds of tools, and Laura, you talked about how you could really hyper-customize all the software and now you are talking about tools for clients.
And Cynthia, I know Littler has also pioneered building amazing tools that are for the clients as well.
Cynthia Brown: Yeah, the same idea of let’s help the clients before there is a big problem. So Littler CaseSmart is the way that we help our clients. And the tool is to respond to either lawsuits or EEO charges, but the data they get back, they get a dashboard and they can look at it and say, we are getting a lot of cases that come out of this store or this location and they all seem to be about disability discrimination.
And so the client can then go back and say, we need to train some people or we can identify that there is an issue. And so clients want that. They want to know how to fix something before the problem happens, because they are tired of getting sued and they should be.
Phil Rosenthal: Right. Now, you mentioned something interesting earlier about having your own data and some public or third party data and how that added some wrinkles and I thought we might explore that more and also maybe bring in, as a potential third party partner data providers, how all of that fits together and see if — Nina had some thoughts as well on that interplay with combining different databases?
Cynthia Brown: Sure. Well, clearly there is a great deal of confidential information in law firms and we want to keep that information confidential and be ethical and certainly protect our clients. So any client data, we have to treat very carefully, and specifically in the class action arena, when you are looking at settlements, so frequently those settlements are confidential, they aren’t publicized, they aren’t printed anywhere, and that’s pretty important to the client. They don’t want anyone to know what they are settling those cases for.
So it’s valuable information, very, very valuable, because it can help you craft your — plan on your next case, it can help you decide how you should settle a case, or if you should go to trial, but we can’t let that information outside of the firm.
So we are in a difficult position where we want to figure out how can we best leverage this data and are there — there are — we have seen a lot of exciting vendor tools that we think oh, we could use that and put our data in there and manipulate it and use it just for us, but once it goes outside that firewall, that just sets up alarms for everyone, as it should. Our clients need to be able to trust us and we have clearly promised we are not going to share this information with anyone, and so it makes it tricky to figure out how can we make this work.
But I think there is a way. I think we have to live that way. I think we have to have this idea that there are solutions, because otherwise how can you continue to be innovative if you just see the roadblock and go, oh darn.
Phil Rosenthal: Right. So if the data can’t leave the law firm, are there ways things — and Nina, are there ways things can be deconstructed to help with that?
Nina Jack: I mean I think this goes back to the point that Cynthia made at the outset, which is that the role of the librarian is now being cemented as kind of that keeper of information, and in an innovative role with a firm like Littler and Morgan, Lewis, like when we know the librarian that we are working with and when the folks on my team know the librarian that they are working with is able to implement solutions on their side, I mean my team would love to get in on the other side of your firewall and help you connect information, but we can’t do that for all of the reasons that you just brought up, and knowing going into a partnership that there is going to be a team of people in the library that can help make those solutions happen, I think just really drives that partnership home.
The other thing that I love about working with folks in the library is that you all are I guess trained and do such a great job of pattern recognition. So I have had so many conversations with librarians, just like the ones that you guys brought up today, where we think that there might be a pattern within Slack that we need to pick up on because of potential #MeToo litigation, or we had two requests come in for settlement information, we need to build a database and partnering with people who have that kind of foresight just makes us all better and improves the state of the art.
Phil Rosenthal: Yeah, it seems like there is quite a two-way collaboration where both learn from each other. In fact, maybe I want to look a little bit at the educational and training aspects of this, because there was a report that recently came out from AALL on the state of the profession, and one of the things it asked about is what librarians most want to learn to improve their core competencies and what invariably came up across sectors, not just law firms, was to learn more about AI, learn more about analytics and I think blockchain as well.
And I wonder how these efforts might be helpful in helping librarians to learn more about the tools and the technologies and stay ahead and be the experts at the firms. And so Laura, what are your thoughts?
Laura Chance: Absolutely. I think it’s really important right now for librarians to learn about technology, it could be any of those that you mentioned; like if you want to become an expert in AI, that’s going to take some time; data analytics, same thing, you have to invest in something.
I think even if you aren’t in a role where you can implement that technology by coding or maybe you don’t feel comfortable coding, it’s going to give you the confidence to go to the vendor, to go to the partner, to go to whoever you are working with and talk the talk and walk the walk at the same time. You know what you are talking about, you understand these systems, you can speak code, and that helps you advocate from the end user’s perspective.
And then for those who do want to code, you have got an extra tool in your toolbox and you can really, I don’t want to say do some damage, because that sounds bad, but it really is, sometimes you really have to get in there and break things to learn about them and failure is a huge part of this. You are going to fail 100 times, but don’t let it discourage you, you will learn something from it every time and it shows that you are dedicated and that you are really willing to make something be successful. So I think it’s incredibly important.
Phil Rosenthal: That’s great. And Cynthia.
Cynthia Brown: Yeah, I think if you want to be a part of this profession in the future, if you want to be the informational professional of the future, you have to learn about technology, and you have to learn about whatever is new. You have to be looking for the cutting edge.
I remember, I hope it was a long time ago, I was in a meeting and someone asked me if this product was SaaS and I said I don’t know what that means, and they explained Software-as-a-Service, and then I still thought I am not sure I know what that means either.
But I went home and figured it out, wasn’t going to happen to me again, but it was an important lesson for me to say I have got to be able to be a part of the process and a part of the conversation.
So if you know what a chatbot is, then learn how a chatbot works, and even if you are not going to build a chatbot at your firm, you should understand what it is, so that if they come to you one day and say oh, we had IT build us a chatbot and we want you to implement this, you are going to feel comfortable with that process, and then take every opportunity to learn the next step.
We were in the process of evaluating vendors to create a chatbot and I learned about robotic process automation and then I was really excited, I knew what a new acronym was, so now I talk about RPAs all the time. But you have to continue to keep yourself valid and fluent in the technology language so that you can be relevant and you can join in every conversation and you don’t have to sit back and say oh, well, they are not asking a research question, I guess this isn’t about me.
Phil Rosenthal: It sounds like you are saying it’s also helped increase the visibility of the library and what it can do, and what have you both seen in terms of how it changed the stature of librarians at the firm, hopefully making you the go-to person in the future, like you were saying Cynthia, and if you have any examples along those lines, Cynthia or Laura?
Cynthia Brown: Yeah, I would say absolutely raising the visibility of all of my staff. Anything they can do to make the attorneys’ life easier definitely gets someone’s attention.
And this is somewhat related to your question, we have created as many people know the Knowledge Desk at Littler and the service that we have provided and being able to answer questions quickly and being able to utilize additional tools that just — the attorneys don’t have time to learn all of these tools. We do it for them and provide them that expertise and that new piece of fantastic technology, because they can’t do it themselves and they shouldn’t. In my opinion, they shouldn’t, they should not become an expert in analytics, because they are an expert in the law. I can give them the information, explain to them what the report is and they can go apply the legal principles to it and help their client.
And so that’s helped raise the visibility of our team and I think really turned people around. I have been with Littler for 12 years and the last five years everyone has always appreciated the library, but since we launched the Knowledge Desk and started taking more on, they really think we are magicians. We get emails that — we get emails addressed to the KM wizards, which we really like.
Laura Chance: That’s amazing.
Nina Jack: That’s really fun.
Cynthia Brown: I know that.
Phil Rosenthal: And Laura.
Laura Chance: Yeah, I think on a grand scale we are getting more seats at the table or we are just being invited to the table, the library. We were just invited to be a part of the Steering Committee for our next document management system upgrade, which is a significant change to the platform. So it’s not just a simple upgrade, it’s a lot of change management, communications, so the fact that we are there at the beginning is awesome. We get to have that voice.
We are also being involved in project committees firm-wide to taking a look at and analyzing everything that’s happening firm-wide and having a say in what’s being prioritized is huge. A lot of the times client work is prioritized over staff work or over less sexy institutional work, but you have got to have really good bones in order to provide good client work. So we are excited to be able to advocate for fixing some of those bone breakages, so to speak.
And then for me, personally as a librarian, I am getting emails every day from people, I hear you are really great with SharePoint and I can’t fix this, can you help me. Or hey, I want to start coding, where do I start? Or can you read this for me and tell me what it means? And even if I can’t give them the answer, the fact that I am willing to sit with a person at my firm and be curious with them it’s really raising our profile. It’s showing that we are going a little bit beyond average research requests or even just like your typical work requests and it builds partnerships and it makes people say hey, you are innovative and creative and you are helpful. People just want helpful folks around.
So it’s definitely changing, and in the four years that I have been at Morgan, I feel like my role is literally different. I have gone through two different positions to get to the one that I am at now, but as a person, as Laura Chance at Morgan, I feel very different.
Phil Rosenthal: That’s great. And Nina, what can the partner do, the outside partner do to help librarians future proof their careers and to help them showcase what they can do in the way we have been talking about today?
Nina Jack: Yeah, absolutely. So I loved what both of you guys said when Phil asked the question about building competencies. Neither of you said we need to learn AI or we need to learn blockchain, you both really dug into the problems that the partners at your firms have and how you are going to solve those problems. And I think that the most important thing that vendors can do is walk hand in hand with librarians and also understand those problems and be partners in solving them.
Phil Rosenthal: Well, maybe for our last question we could look at the problem of herding the cats, of getting these are novel projects when building tools, innovative projects, how does one go about getting that approved and what are the challenges there, and start with Laura?
Laura Chance: You are going to start with me.
Phil Rosenthal: Yes.
Laura Chance: Oh boy. I think for me it was prototyping something small. So you are human, you are going to get frustrated, you are going to complain and say I want this to be better, but if you don’t have something to show, you are not going to get much traction or credibility.
So for example, part of the building our ticketing system for the Electronic Services Team was born from a struggle with communication across 50 librarians and also knowing when things had been completed so we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes. I just built something really simple and small in SharePoint and it took some adjustments, people didn’t want to have to fill out a form, they were used to just firing off an email and saying Laura, take care of this, and instead we kind of forced them to put in some information. I wouldn’t say forced, we asked them politely and then we sort of begged them, and then we called them and said hey, listen, if you want this to be useful, you have got to do it.
We saw a cultural change and after a few weeks I actually had librarians saying I really like the ticketing system, and when we moved from the ticketing system to our current research and reference system, which we combined all of our various ancillary departments, I actually had folks say like oh, I really just wish I could use Electronic Services Ticketing System, which is not to toot my own horn, but I just felt really good about it.
So I think you have to kind of show, even if it’s something small as a sketch, do a workflow map and pen and pencil or paper and pencil, write a very brief proposal, think it out, and I think that you can start there with working with management and really demonstrating it.
Phil Rosenthal: Cynthia, anything?
Cynthia Brown: Yeah, I think I have three quick points. Patience, speak in the business of the law and find the right champion. So, often things run slowly — well, I shouldn’t say that. The wheels turn slowly in a law firm sometimes and it may be in any business and so don’t be frustrated. I have often fallen victim to this. And I think that was my plan this year, it was my goal, but now it’s not going to happen. Well, maybe not, maybe it’s going to happen next year, stick with it and be patient.
And then when you are asking to do things and seeking approval, you need to speak in the terms of the business of law, you need to talk to your COO and your CFO in the terms that make sense to them.
So when you present a proposal it’s not because hey, I think this is important and other people are doing it too. No, here is your ROI and this is why we want to do it and this is the research that we have done and here is what you are going to get from it and talk dollars and cents, that’s really important to them.
And then I would say too, if you are trying to herd cats, find the cat that wants to run, find the one who is interested. We all have our library champions that love us, take advantage of it. They are willing to help you, they are happy to help you, and so pick the right person.
Phil Rosenthal: Well, thank you. And Nina, well, bring us home, how could the outside partner make it easier to get the project moving?
Nina Jack: Yeah. So many times as we are working with our partners, they are telling us exactly what they need in order to herd the cats. They are telling us about the cat that’s going to run, and second only to the product that we are going to deliver at the end is making sure that we can show, we can help that librarian show how we are going to improve ROI, how we are going to help them reduce costs, how we are going to make their operation more efficient, and we can give that to them in real numbers, because that’s what they need when they go to do their presentation in order to move forward with the partnership.
Phil Rosenthal: Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you all. Well, it looks like we reached the end of the road for our episode. I want to thank our guests for joining us today.
Nina Jack: Thank you very much.
Cynthia Brown: Thank you very much.
Phil Rosenthal: If our listeners have questions or wish to follow up with you, how can they reach you?
Laura Chance: This is Laura Chance, and if you would like to reach me, you can find me on LinkedIn and you can also send me an email at [email protected].
Cynthia Brown: I am Cynthia Brown. I would be happy to respond to your email. It’s [email protected].
Nina Jack: Nina Jack, my email address is [email protected].
Phil Rosenthal: Well, thank you and thank you to our listeners for tuning in.
If you liked what you have heard, please rate us and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app. I am Phil Rosenthal. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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