Article below was originally posted in Legal Sourcery blog
(February 11, 2016):
The librarian in law firm setting is part of profit-making business, which inevitably leads to a different type of role than a librarian in a university or public library. One of the main differences is that they have an ongoing relationship with their clients. Often librarians will attend practice group meetings to keep abreast of what files the lawyers are working on. They are highly specialized professionals, involved in research, library administration, and collaborating with other departments. This article will primarily deal with research.
Most legal reference questions are complex, and even the basic ones require some subject knowledge. A basic question could involve retrieving a list of cases for a brief of authorities. Frequently the questions are more complex:
I remember a recent case in Alberta involving a homeowner who sued a golf course over golf balls that landed in their property. Can you get it for me?
The librarian must parse the question, frequently asking for more details. It also helps to know that every lawyer is very subjective when it comes to the term “recent.” Complex reference questions can mean many hours of labour or pulling in other staff to assist. Legal research is satisfying and intensive work as there is often a time crunch. It is not for the faint of heart. Research is often the most visible responsibility of a law librarian.
Another, more invisible, role the law librarian plays involves collection development, or ensuring the library maintains current information to meet the practice areas of the law firm. Sometimes collection development also means canceling looseleaf services, if the same information is now delivered electronically. Librarians keep tabs on emerging fields of law and emerging authors adding to the print collection. Often librarians need to make some hard decisions about their budget so costs are manageable. They also undergo continuous training in order to be effective researchers using the latest features of commercial databases, like WestlawNext Canada or Quicklaw.
An overlooked aspect of having a law librarian on staff is that their effective research skills save the firm money. In private practice wasted time is a waste of resources and money. For example, the commercial database searches are the opposite of Google in certain ways. They work best with focused or Boolean searching, so plunking keywords into WestlawNext is a case of garbage in and garbage out. Not only is it an ineffective practice, but unnecessary searches can have other ramifications, such as driving up the cost of such databases. Librarians aim to train lawyers so they firstly reframe reference questions to find background information in textbooks before searching on commercial databases.
The advent of CanLII has been a tremendous boost to online research, but it does not have specialized tools like encyclopedias or newsletters providing context to the case law. It is hoped over time there will be more innovations from CanLII leading to even more secondary sources.
Some research will likely be handed over to the librarian as it may be time-intensive and very specialized legal research. Historical legislative research tracing back how an act has changed is fascinating and complex. It involves a deep dive into annual statutes and consolidations, laying out the print volumes to see how they relate to each other.
Although this article has explored the research process, the law librarian is also involved in administration like budgeting and contract negotiations of databases, as well as collaborating with other departments. Collaboration can look like implementing a memos database with IT or developing competitive intelligence projects with marketing. Librarian Shaunna Mireau of Field Law in Edmonton, for example, is involved in overseeing firm-wide knowledge management projects so information is shared and used effectively.
The law librarian plays an integral role in research at a private firm. The information will feed into an opinion letter to a client or legal memo. Librarians save the firm time and money with their honed research skills, freeing up lawyers to complete other tasks. “We support our users by giving them the answer, not teaching them how to get the answer – most of the time,” said librarian Karen Sawatzky of Tapper Cuddy in Winnipeg.
Some of the research time may be billed to clients, too. In firms in which the librarians bill their time, they can be directly contributing to work product as well as generating revenue. Librarians billing their time, however, is another topic to be explored.
Many law librarians will say that research is their favourite part of their day as it is never boring and always challenging. Librarians strive to do research using both print and electronic resources while also training lawyers to improve their skills. After working in different types of libraries, I must say that legal research is rewarding and fascinating because it has real life implications.
Demers, A., ed, Legal Information Specialists: A Guide to Launching and Building Your Career, (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2012).
Lambert, G., “In the the age of Google, law librarians manage your time, people and money” (January 12, 2016), 3 Geeks and a Law blog, online:
- Brenda Wong
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When I first joined the profession, I was interested in the debate of librarian as service professional amidst a world of doctors and lawyers. Doctors and lawyers are a closed group of professionals defined as high status with high salaries paying fees to a regulatory agency. Their skills are specialized and not everyone has the capacity to practice in those careers. Value is measured by high salaries or expansive budgets.
Repeatedly librarians lose focus on the fact that we are service professionals. Being a service professional is distinct from the standard definition of professionals. Librarians are helping professions much like teachers or nurses. We assist others in finding information. Often it may involve a process, which is difficult to quantify and value consequently. The public views us through the same lens as teachers or nurses in that “it looks easy and I can do it.” Quite the opposite is true as when one really analyzes the responsibilities of librarians as they juggle them.
Perception is tricky as it is built on what we observe and think we understand what we see. Librarians are not given respect as professionals as the perception is that anyone can find information on the Internet. I personally became interested in librarianship because of the Internet, and I know how much information is not digitized or found on it. The rise of the internet has likely contributed to the myth that all information can be found all the time on it.
Librarians as a group are also confused with the public library. There is so much more to librarianship than the books on the shelf. But the public library exists in the imagination much like moms and apple pie. We don’t really understand how the library works, because the workers add value to the institution, which would otherwise be a book warehouse.
Also as service professionals, we have a strong vocational aspect to our work. That feeds into others thinking we are noble, and perhaps doing the work for intrinsic rewards over external rewards (high status, big salary and budgets). I really feel respect is at the heart of the matter. Librarians need to prove themselves constantly as professionals. It may or may not lead to more status, bigger salaries and big budgets. But we will always need to advocate for our cause and counter prevalent misperceptions.
I see the enthusiasm and energy of colleagues like Shaunna Mireau and Alan Kilpatrick, who work at their day jobs and also blog. It inspires me to work harder and improve myself. My inspiration for this article was Alan’s post at Legal Sourcery.
It is an unfortunate dynamic in how we typically value professionals in the complex relationship of status, monetary reward, and ultimately respect. Ultimately librarians will need to advocate on their own behalf to counter strong misperceptions.
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Sometimes the simplest tools solve the seemingly simple problems. Last week I was introduced to a visual feedback tool, Answer Garden, that displays the answers in elegant word cloud. You make a question then people answer it. The answers looks like a word cloud. If more people answer similarly then the words are bolder and bigger. It would be great for teams in the workplace as well as the classroom. It is both a web site and an app. See here for a demo.
Disclaimer as I created a sample word cloud..not through Answer Garden. But you get the idea.
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I volunteer a lot. I realize events don’t happen without volunteers, and if I’m participating in something, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to try to make it memorable for me. So if I can, I try to help out.
I also run. I’m rehabbing right now, so instead of signing up for races, I’m signing up to volunteer. Sometimes I don’t feel needed at an event, and then I consider my volunteer time wasted. Other times, I’m assigned a job that is necessary, and I feel useful. This past weekend I volunteered for the overnight shift for a 24 hour endurance trail event called the Lemming Loop. It was the most fun I have ever had volunteering.
Library events run on volunteers. It can be a challenge to recruit the right mix of expertise to ensure a memorable experience for participants. Most of the time you’re at the whim of whoever decides to sign up. I know I pick and choose which events I’ll volunteer for. I want to feel like I’ve contributed in some way, and be proud of the end result.
What I learned from the Lemming Loop is that if it is at all possible, keep your volunteers busy. I was on my feet doing something (washing dishes, serving runners, making soup) almost the whole eight hours. There is nothing worse than just standing around, waiting to do something. (Sometimes, there’s no choice – you need a help station staffed in case someone needs help, but no one comes.)
A compliment goes a long way. The runners were grateful for the help they received at the aid station, and expressed it often. We were thanked, told we were awesome, and so many other forms of appreciation were sent our way.
Do something for your volunteers. I’m heading to a volunteer appreciation party this evening – a hayride and bonfire at a nearby provincial park.
Your volunteers, like an organization’s employees, are your biggest asset. Keep them happy, and they’ll go above and beyond to perform for you. I had such a good time, I’ve already been able to recruit more volunteers for next year’s event.
Here’s to Lemming Loop 2016!
Filed under: Volunteers |
Tags: Best practices
I would love to add business and industry research to my reference repertoire. It seems like it would be easy enough to pick up, and would broaden the services I can offer my lawyers. With that in mind, I attended a CALLACBD webinar, “Conducting Business and Industry Research”, presented by Heidi Schiller, Manager of Infoaction, Vancouver Public Library’s fee-based research service. What a great webinar!
To make sure we were all on the same page, Heidi started by defining business and industry research:
The process of researching businesses to learn more about them or to acquire information on a specific industry.
The first tool Heidi introduced is NAICS, the North American Industry Classification System, or as she put it, the “Dewey Decimal System” for industries. These codes are often a shortcut to the specific industry being studied, on the various databases she demonstrated. While most of the sites are fee-based, Industry Canada provides a decent-enough free service for those who can’t afford the paid services or to supplement the information available on other sites. One point Heidi made was to check several sources to ensure you got a broad cross-section of information.
The paid sites were:
- Dow Jones Factiva
- FP Infomart
- Reference Canada (available through VPL, but not at my local public library)
- LexisNexis Media
- Business Source Premier (available through VPL)
Industry Canada’s home page, as well as Canadian Company Capabilities are good starting points for those with only access to free sources. Don’t forget the resources available through your public library. I use Canadian Newsstand – Major Dailies, available through my public library, when I want published company news.
Now I just have to convince my lawyers to “hire” me…
Filed under: Business Research |
Tags: competitive intelligence
Some people spend their summer traveling, but I spent my vacation time reading and researching. I have been designated researcher for a group of friends going away on vacation. It is one of my strengths to research and summarize what I learned. Part of research is also preparing myself for the school year and deep research.
Regular readers will know that I switched to school libraries, subsequently I still have a lot of learning to do about great authors and books in kid lit. Classics like Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and contemporary work by Gordon Korman are well known to me. But I am only scratching the surface of the children’s literature canon. Summer is the best time to read more in depth.
When I told friends that I am reading “Where the Red Fern Grows”, I get immediate recognition and even leads to 2 movie adaptations. I started reading this middle school novel with some doubt and feeling obliged to. It is on the reading list for novel studies. But the subject was…ugh. Dogs. Now if I had to choose between a dog and a cat for company, it would be cats every time. I have a strong preference.
But I was hooked by the strong narrator’s voice, the rural setting and promise of a good story by the end of the first chapter. Why was the narrator looking fondly at his prize cups, after an encounter with a feisty dog? My interest grew, despite my biases.
Great novels can transcend the personal and explore universal themes. Is it love or loyalty in the story? What kind of trials happen in the boy’s journey? I will let you discover for yourself. Make no mistake that this is a coming of age story, while the legend of the red fern is mentioned at the last possible moment.
If the author Rawls was still alive, I would try to book him as a speaker because the story of writing the novel is equally compelling to my students in rural communities. He longed to be a published author, but felt his lack of education held him back. He and his wife worked as a team on the book. Here is more background on Woodrow W. Rawls.
I always take my second original manuscript of ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ to show the youngsters. I want to stress to them how important it is to learn to spell, punctuate, and mainly how important it is for them to stay in school. They always look at the manuscript in disbelief. I hope I have some effect on these youngsters, I so enjoy each and every one of them.
Rawls quoted in Childhood memories relived, Idaho Falls Public Library
The book is a great read about setting goals, growing up and the relationship of dogs and a boy. The back story of Woodrow W. Rawls is equally engaging. A trip to Idaho Falls, anyone? Here is hoping more good reads for your summer.
Filed under: School library |
Tags: novel study