Friday, November 20, 2015

Has the Librarian-ship Sailed? The American Association of Law Libraries Board Votes to Rebrand As the Association for Legal Information

“The future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.” William Gibson, author and futurist.
The uneven “distribution of the future” is fueling an intense debate within the American Association of Law Libraries. Last week the  organization announced that the Executive Committee had voted unanimously to change the name of the organization to the Association for Legal Information.
The recommendation came after the organization retained a consulting firm and spent  months engaged in analysis. The members  of AALL will get a final up or down vote in early 2016.  
AALL membership which includes members from academic, law firm and government organizations represents  a mix of institutions which are in varying stages of disruption and transformation. Law firm members are out on the “bleeding edge” managing virtual teams, assessing issues such as outsourcing, offshoring, project management, big data and lean Six Sigma. They are living in a world of change. The future isn't quite so present in all member institutions. Some members insist that change can be postponed. Others insist change is overdue!
I “got” what the name Association for Legal Information was about when I considered a peer organization-- ILTA The International Legal Technology Association. It is a thriving diverse community  which offers an annual meeting which is routinely attended by  Executive Directors, CMOs, CFOs, General Counsel.  It is a spectacular professional platform for technologist presenters to shine before their firm's leaders who are in attendance. ILTA is an organization which has basically claimed dominion over legal technology and to be the voice of the legal technology community.  So why shouldn’t law librarians, knowledge managers. legal researchers and  information strategists claim dominion over the larger universe of legal content?  Association for Legal Information works for me.   

Here are some of  the issues which demonstrate the compelling need to modernize, enlarge and redefine The American Association of Law Libraries: 

Does A Name Or a Title Open Doors or Close Doors? Do the words “library” and “librarian” open doors or close doors? These may be completely neutral and even positive terms in academic and government organizations. In law firms these are career limiting terms. Libraries are viewed a business units which exist for the benefit of the associates --not  feeding the strategic information needs of the firm’s leadership, business and practice units. Although librarians have created the infrastructure for legal and business intelligence in law firms over the past 20 years, they remain largely outside the C Level planning. Although librarians may be the most highly credentialed administrative professionals in firms -- their peers in IT, HR and Marketing have leapfrogged over them into the CSuite. As of 2013 only 17 -- less than 1% of the 1,020 Clevel positions in large  law firms are occupied of Chiefs of Library or KM.
In 10 Years, Half of AALL Members Will Work in Institutions Without Libraries  According to the 2014 ALM Library Survey, 68% of ALM firms expect to eliminate their print collections in the next 5 to 8 years. Firms without libraries are likely to  question the relevance of staff memberships in a library organization. If AALL doesn’t pivot dramatically toward the future, private firm members will migrate towards  an organization such as ILTA which is ready to claim dominion over all aspects of  legal information.
Increasing Opportunities For Members. I am convinced that there is an untapped world of opportunity in smaller firms who have no need for a librarian but who have an enormous need for information professionals to curate news, to manage digital  resources, build portals, or to institute a km project. If these lawyers and administrators had to go looking for a professional to handle these non-bibliographic projects -- are they likely to go to AALL or an organization called the Association for Legal Information?  And if Association for Legal Information doesn’t exist,  these law firms  will recruit through  ILTA not AALL since they don’t have a library!!!!

 Moving From Content To Process As legal information products incorporate more tools for analytics, drafting and workflow, information professionals also need to learn new non-bibliographic skills to support this transition and to train lawyers to integrate these new resources in their workflow.

Diversity of Membership Will Enhance Opportunity and Creativity Opening membership to a wider group of members from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines will accelerate creativity and enhance the kinds of collaborative learning available to members. It will enhance the our ability to participate more effectively in creating new information infrastructures and workflows to support the practice of law. Yes we want to preserve the past but our members should play an important role in building the future.

Collaboration Is the Future of Everything. Technologies cause convergence. The bright line between administrative departments in law firms will fade. We need to be prepared to  lead teams including a variety of professionals with differing skillsets—the skillsets defining traditional librarianship are morphing and merging with skills from other disciplines.

Attracting Innovative Graduates Into the Profession. Graduate Schools of Library Science are transforming themselves into Schools of Information. Will the best and the brightest these grads seek out a “library association” or “The Association for Legal Information” as the best community for professional advancement?

It’s Time! AALL was founded in 1906 (14 years before women had the right to vote!) The name has served us well for 110 years but in a legal  world embracing AI, curation and  big data analytics  it is time for a change that points to the future not the past. 

Fear and Disbelief? We are Not Alone-- The Legal Profession Faces a Transformed Future

 Earlier this week there was an article in the Legal TimesWe’re not even at the fear stage”--Richard Susskind on a very different  future for the legal profession”  Susskind predicts a dramatic change in the work performed by lawyers. He sees the legal profession as evolving through 3 stages. 1) Denial – they don’t really need to change the way they work, 2) Sourcing legal work differently – focus on setting up low cost centers; 3) Disruptive legal technologies. “  will dramatically change the work performed by lawyers. By 2025 lawyers will be described as legal process analysts, legal project managers, legal knowledge engineers. When asked if lawyers were afraid of these changes Susskind answered : “ The major emotion I find – and it’s probably a rationalization—is disbelief rather than fear. We are not even at the fear stage.”


  1. Jean,
    Regardless of one's position on the proposed name change, this post does an excellent job of illustrating the changing environment for lawyers and law librarians. Thanks!

  2. I agree. The name change is probably necessary to reflect the need for a new brand that includes changing needs and roles in the legal services marketplace today.

  3. I am not at all against omitting librarian or libraries from the name, but I'll say here as I have on other platforms, let's just add in the people and say Association for Legal Information Professionals. This is an excellent post, however, I agree, and expresses why I think omitting library-related terms is a positive step, as it will, of course, also include people who work in all media.

  4. Jean's post is insightful as usual. I agree that a name change is in order and prefer Marylin's suggestion of Association for Legal Information Professionals to the proposed name. I learned a while back that, and as the name implies, AALL is an association of libraries, not librarians. For instance, if your employer pays the membership fee attached to your name, the membership stays with your employer. We need to put the focus back on the professionals who are the real members of the association, membership fee rules aside. Plus, referring to ourselves as "professionals" projects an accurate image which indicates that we hold advanced degrees and are far beyond the librarians of decades past who had clerical work as their focus. I do wish we could add the word "knowledge" into the name though as it represents the analytical work which is done by many while "information" makes me think of simple data or fact gathering.

  5. You have identified compelling advantages for the proposed name, but do they obviously outweigh the costs? Whatever their other connotations, "library" and "librarian" signify core ideals that transcend commerce in "legal information." In addition, "librarian" suggests a unique set of skills at the cost of under-inclusiveness; "legal information professional" gains in inclusiveness at the cost of comparative vagueness about our skills. Perhap these seem like marginal tradeoffs, but I see no sel-evident reason to think so.