Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Are Librarians Wearing a Glass Ceiling? The American Association of Law Libraries Members Final Chance to Vote For the Future

Today members of The American Association of Law Libraries will have their final chance to vote on the proposal to change the organization's name to the Association for Legal Information. The name change has triggered an emotional debate on both sides of the issue.

C-level positions in Law Firms by Gender

Upward Mobility In a "Feminized" Profession
There has been one "elephant in the room" that has been largely ignored in the professional discussion boards, so I will raise it now. AALL is an organization composed of 75% women. Should we not even consider the possibility that maintaining a professional identity  which is aligned with an historically female profession, may limit professional opportunity and have a negative impact on members incomes?

While I value my professional training as a librarian, I believe that ongoing association with a historically female profession will limit professional opportunities available to the next generation of information professionals. It is well

documented in scholarly literature that "feminized" professions are consciously or unconsciously  associated with subservience-- not with power and leadership. 

Demographics as Destiny AALL has never acknowledged how this demographic fact may be influence the opportunities and career trajectories available to its members. The ABA which represents lawyers (an historically male profession)  encourages lively and open discussion of the impact of gender in the legal profession. It is no secret that female attorneys are under-represented in partnership ranks of Amlaw 200 firms. Why should we think that  as law librarians we would be immune from similar obstacles to for upward mobility?  Why don't we take this opportunity to remove one of the obstacles by voting to change the name of the association?

Upward mobility for female administrators in law firms is largely unexamined. The data is not easy to find. Leadership Directories produces a "Yellow Book" of Law  Firm Leadership   and database that includes C-level staffing data which I analyzed to produce the charts in this post.*
  • C-level Leadership in Law firms is predominantly male (64% ) to (36%) female.
  • The positions most likely to be included in the C-Suite are historically and  predominantly male (Operations, IT, Finance).
  • Chief Knowledge/Library/Research Officers represent fewer that 1% of C level positions in law firms  ( And many of these C-level positions are held by non-librarians.)
C-level positions in Law firms by Gender

When I entered the law librarian community in New York in the 1980's there was a cynical rubric which stated that an MLS degree was the only degree that you could combine with a JD which would make your salary go down. There I was with a JD and an MLS shaking my head in disbelief. Please don't let this be true - 30 years later I believe that it is.

I was present at the creation of a  digital legal research revolution. Law Librarians were often the only online research experts to unlock the mysteries residing in the dedicated Lexis and WL terminals. We were the ONLY people practicing the magic of competitive intelligence and curated news using the complex and primitive "dial-up" systems such as Dialog and Orbit where hidden universes of scientific, medical, business and trade data were buried. We could write our own ticket - we held the keys to the information kingdom- our futures were assured.... or not....

Progress to the C-level Since the mid 1980s

In the early 1980's law firms did not have IT or Marketing staff... and yet in 30 years these professionals were hired and  soon leapfrogged over information professionals into the C- Suite. Knowledge is certainly no less important than technology or marketing. In fact it could be argued that knowledge is more essential and core to the practice of law than either of these other disciplines.
Clevel positions began to appear in law firms in the 1990s.

Librarian Representation in The CSuite. The chart above compares 5 positions ( executive director/administrator, IT, HR, Finance and Libraries/KM)  that existed in the 1980's ( before firms started designating C-level staff) . It illustrates that of the 5 positions the librarians/knowledge managers have the lowest representation in the C-Suite (2% of C-Suite positions), followed by Human Resources Professionals ( at 7%.) Is it a coincidence that the two groups with the lowest representation in the C-Suite are predominantly female? By contrast the 3 positions which are predominantly male have the highest proportion of C-Suite positions (91% of the C-level positions in this analysis).

Time is Short Fast forward to this decade - law firms are hurtling full throttle toward alternative staffing models and embrace of augmented intelligence tools. Time is short, if information professionals can contribute to this future (and I believe that law firms will be better off if we do) we must pivot quickly and find our footing 21st century roles ...  We need a professional organization focused on the digital future, not the bound to the hardcopy past.

Professional Identity: Does it Open Doors or Close Doors?
Taking a purely pragmatic position -I urge members to vote in favor of changing the name of AALL to the Association for Legal Information. It is a name which will open up  new opportunities to its members. The  bottom line is that there is shrinking need  in law firms for traditional librarians performing traditional library management work.  In a twitter world - time is short, attention spans are shorter. Opt for a message of the future.

* I downloaded the data in April 2015.

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  1. All that you've said makes sense ... if only it led to the Association of Legal Information Professionals (which stands for a profession) rather than the Association for Legal Information (which stands generically for legal information and, moreover, whose acronym would be confused with the American Law Institute). I'd vote for ALIP. I've voted against ALI.

    1. Nonetheless, as I have said before "the perfect is the enemy of the future" -- I am not sure there is a perfect name. But time is running out, we need a professional organization and a professional identity that points to the future not the past and the Association for Legal Information is facing in the right direction.

    2. I almost didn't vote because I was so torn on the proposed the name change. I beleive a name change is important to our future. But at the last minute, I looked seriously at the name, and honestly, I found it to be meaningless. I agree, add Professionals, and I think it makes a LOT more sense.

      There's a lot of time and money that goes into a name change. We have to hit on something that works before we can take that kind of step. We could end up worse off if we strip any semblance of our identity from the name.

    3. While "the perfect is the enemy of the future," so is the vague, confusing, or divisive. Perhaps you as well as the Executive Board didn't perceive "Association for Legal Information" as having such flaws to a significant extent -- and who can say objectively whether you were right or wrong? But if enough people object, we can't move forward as a group. Now that the membership has said "no" to ALI, we can have the conversation that we should have had initially, in order to come up with an imperfect but more clear and agreed-upon way forward.

    4. ... Incidentally, I feel that you point to a way forward by using the term "information professionals" three times in your post. "Legal information professionals" isn't a perfect catch-all term -- since some will prefer "law librarians" -- but I think it's the best we've got now.

  2. No doubt that there have traditionally been "blue" jobs and "pink" jobs - and the sooner all jobs can be perceived as "yellow" or "green", the sooner either the men or women who do them will earn equal respect and compensation.

  3. Plenty of librarians have already changed the perception of what "librarian" means. If you are smart about collected data, presenting it in a clear and compelling way, and making the case for what librarians do today (which has little to do with books and everything to do with saving time, money, and helping win cases), then you will change minds without having to change your title. It works. If you haven't figured out how to make a case for yourself, then changing your name to "information professional" or whatever meaningless verbiage you want to come up with, will have no effect.

  4. I think the organization should prepare a RFP from professionals who know about the importance of name recognition and the obvious connect to the profession. I understand that there must be acceptance and "buy-in" by those affected by any name change. However time is of the essence and the organization needs to find a way to speed things along. Otherwise this name change may be discussed for the next 20 years!