Sunday, 31 July 2011

Thing 9 - Evernote

I have to admit that until I came to the cpd23 blog post for Thing 9, I had never come across Evernote, so had absolutely no idea what it did, or that such a thing even existed. Therefore my initial reaction was a little sceptical...I was sure that never having felt the need for such a tool, I wouldn't find it very interesting. In fact for a little while I considered skipping Thing 9 entirely! However, I decided to give it a go, and was pleasantly surprised at how it could be put to use.

I just spent some time playing around with it  and seeing what it can do. It is certainly very useful to be able to annotate useful websites - but it did remind me a little bit of Delicious, which I have tinkered with over the years but always forget about and then come back to it - by which time a lot of the stuff on there is irrelevant! Anyway, if I were able to use this at work it would be fantastic, as it allows you to do so much more than just 'add bookmark' - I am forever adding bookmarks to my work PC, but then I forget what the website was used for 6 months down the line, or I forget its name and so can't find what I want in my list of bookmarks! So Evernote would really provide me with a useful tool in that respect. Only problem is - yet again - I am now allowed to download anything like this at work, so I find that I am encountering the same problems over and over; namely that I am trying out a load of different tools, which is great, but workplace restrictions mean that I can't always put them to use in my daily role. It's a pity, because that is where I would probably get the most value from things like this. Unfortunately I can't see me being allowed to download Evernote to my work PC - which is a shame.

I think the capacity to archive pictures is really useful also - if you want to combine all aspects of life, not just your workplace one, then the potential benefits from this kind of program are manyfold. I am not sure if I would ever want to use the sync with facebook/twitter abilities of Evernote, but I can see that a lot of people would find this of great value. Again it's just personal preference.

 There is definitely a lot to be said for having one place to go to where you can pull together all this content, organise it however you like, and the ability to make notes on everything undoubtedly makes life a lot easier when it comes to tracking down that website you came across by accident 6 months ago and that was a lifesaver! I would definitely like to try and use Evernote regularly - and will try and do so at home, and will update you all  here if I have any further thoughts on it. Apologies for the brevity of this post in the meantime!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Thing 8 - Google calendar - Getting organised

So we're moving swiftly on to Thing 8 - using the Google calendar.

I am not embarrassed to admit that it has taken me several years to actually get used to an electronic calendar at work, let alone an additional one! Yes, I am afraid I remain a bit old fashioned and still carry a paper diary in my bag, simply because when I am looking forward at dates for a holiday, for example, I find it really hard to do so using an on-screen calendar - the information just doesn't sink in, whereas if I look back or forwards at a paper diary/calendar, suddenly all becomes clear! Admittedly this might be just a little mental block that I only I have, but let's just go with it. HOWEVER - I am approaching the Google calendar with an element of scepticism that I shall ever actually use it on a regular basis. Not because I don't think it's a great little tool, but just because of my inability to work fully effectively with electronic calendars!

When I first started the cpd23 challenge, I managed to add all of the 23 'things' to my Google calendar, so I guess I had access to one already, albeit unknowingly! Other than checking it now and again over the last few weeks when I want to see, for example, what the next 'thing' is, I am afraid to say I haven't used it at all. Nonetheless, undaunted, I read through the cpd23 blog post and followed the instructions on how to add the calendar to my iGoogle page - DONE. I have to admit already it's pretty useful to have it on there, because I do log into my Google page when at work because I use a Google reader to access my RSS feeds. However, I don't actually know anyone who has a Google calendar so I am unable to 'share' mine at this point. Nonetheless, I genuinely can see that there could be a lot of benefit derived from doing this - in much the same way as there is in sharing calendars in the workplace. However, the benefits only work if everyone keeps their calendars up to date! I fear this is where I could come a cropper with the Google calendar - I find it hard enough to remember to update my work calendar - unless someone sends me an appointment, and therefore the event goes into my calendar automatically, I can on occasion be very slipshod when it comes to maintaining it.

In terms of using a Google calendar in our library, I have to admit it's something I had never considered before, and so it was interesting to read the cpd23 post on how other libraries are using it to publicise opening hours, for example. In all honesty, it would certainly come in handy when we run the many training sessions for new trainee lawyers every September - November, but other than that, I am not sure how much it would be used - simply because we are a very different kind of library to one which is in a university, or a public library. Our users are all internal and are well aware of the general time frame that we are in the library. Secondly, we don't run 'events' in the way that another kind of library would, so other than the group training sessions we run every so often, I don't really think it's something we would get a lot out of.

I don't mean to sound like an old-fashioned killjoy - I fully appreciate the benefits of having a calendar online that everyone can access and it certainly makes setting up meetings at work a lot easier, because you can generally see at a glance if someone is free when you are. However, for personal arrangements, I sometimes pop them in my work diary if I am at work when I make them, but I always try and add them to my paper diary too. I think it's just reassuring for me to have that paper diary close to hand, because I can access that at any time and any where - the same can't always be said for online calendars! Secondly, I think a paper version is more reassuring because it's actually tangible...

I think this is definitely an interesting 'thing' to consider, and while it may not be completely relevant to my particular role in the workplace, at least it's provided me with the impetus to sort out my calendar and get it to appear on my Google page - it's a step in the right direction, and I may try to start adding information to it, at least in terms of personal plans and so on.

Having said all that, despite now having a work calendar AND a Google calendar online, I can't quite bring myself to give up my little paper diary quite yet...!

Image provided by:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Thing 7 - Face-to-face networks and professional organisations

Slowly catching up with the backlog and even managed to catch up with a couple of my favourite blogs: Joeyanne's posting on networking for introverts (really interesting stuff!) and another fellow cpd23-er's blog (Growth of a Librarian) - really enjoyed reading about how the concept of 'networking' can actually be a little cringey, but once you get past the rather horrendous images it conjures up, then there is a lot to get out of it....

As per my Thing 6 post, I'll just talk briefly about the face to face networking I have done, and then what I would like to do going forward, having read through the latest cpd23 blog - some great ideas there to explore.

Without a doubt the most important association that I am part of is BIALL - British and Irish Association of Law Librarians. Membership is paid for by our firm as my managers fully support the opportunities BIALL provides in terms of events, seminars and the 'Legal Information Management' journal. I have been a member of this organisation in every law firm I have worked for, and consequently have attended quite a few seminars and other events, such as the annual cheese and wine party and a quiz night. All of these occasions offer the opportunity for networking. I have to admit I have had varied success in this respect, and I agree with many other cpd23 participants - networking as a concept is a daunting thought, and it can be - for many people, myself included - really difficult to walk into a room full of people and get talking to some or even one of them. It is definitely made easier when I attend the events with someone I know - but it's a double edged sword, because if you are with someone, it's all too easy just to talk to that same person all evening (especially in my case when the person I often go with is a close friend with whom I used to work - turns into a chance to catch up on the gossip!) Therefore I am the first to admit that although it's definitely harder to go to these events alone, you probably do get a little bit further in terms of meeting new people. A couple of months ago I attended an event on recruitment organised by BIALL, and because I was on my own, I was forced to make conversation with the person next to me, as well as a couple of other people in the coffee break. It was hard, but also satisfying because you do feel like you are raising your profile.

One thing I do find difficult to understand, however, is what defines successful networking?? Is it simply making conversation with a new person at such an event, or is it only defined as 'successful' if you come away with a business card/email address etc for that other person? Sometimes I feel it's simply not appropriate to start asking for contact details - again it simply feels to cliched and 'obvious'...but should we let that stop us? Is it better to just brazen it out?! It's unlikely the other person will refuse if you have been talking to them for some time - and after all, chances are they are hoping to 'network' just as much as you are!!!

I think CILIP offers quite a few opportunities for networking, but I have to admit I have very little experience of them - the main reason being that I have only been a member of CILIP for a year or so. My current employer is the only law firm I have ever know who supports CILIP membership. There does seem to be a great deal of people out there in the law library world who don't rate CILIP at all - all of my previous managers included! (We won't go into that now though - save it for another posting!) Anyway, I am in the process of Chartership as you know, and the one CILIP event I attended was one which introduced the Chartership process. I found it really useful, and it was also a fantastic opportunity to get talking to other librarians/information professionals. I was the only law librarian at that session, and I ended up chatting to school librarians, NHS was great! Everyone was really nice too and it was so enlightening to talk to people from those fields and hear about how different their jobs are on a daily basis to mine. So the upshot is - I am very 'pro' CILIP and definitely want to get involved in future events - not just those relating to Chartership.

City Legal Information Group is a forum for legal information professionals that work in the London area. This group is very inexpensive to join, and they offer many events throughout the year, including a spring party and an AGM that members can go along to. I have attended seminars on areas of interest to the kind of research I perform - for example, they arranged a fantastic presentation by people from Bloomberg on corporate debt - not the most scintillating of topics, you might think (and you are probably right!!) - but it gave a really useful overview of the terminology used by lawyers in this line of work. Again at the end of these sessions they usually provide drinks and nibbles and thus the opportunity to network. I have got talking to a couple of other people at such an event - and because they are generally attended by people who are working in very close proximity to me, it does provide an opportunity to make connections at other law firms....and you never know how this might benefit you in the future....

Organisations I didn't know of
I loved reading the long list of organisations provided by Bethan in the Thing 7 post - I have decided to explore LIKE - London Information Knowledge and Exchange and the SLA - Special Libraries Association. I'll let you know my thoughts on these in due course...

I definitely think there is a lot to be said these days for networking, and I find it quite intriguing that the information profession have really picked up on this concept - it totally goes against all the old stereotypes of librarians who don't want to have any contact with others!! Although at times I think it does sound like a very cliched idea, nonetheless I feel that the society is developing in such a way in terms of virtual networking, that face to face networking is equally important - making connections and raising your profile can lead to many other things, be it simply just being able to ask a fellow professional for advice or assistance with an enquiry, or even find out about job leads. It's not something that I would say I actively enjoy at this stage, but this particular Thing has definitely given me a bit of inspiration to really make an effort to do more of it....

Image courtesy of:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Thing 6 - Online networks

I am on holiday at the moment - forgive me for falling so far behind in cpd23 - can't believe suddenly we're talking about Thing 9 and I am only on Thing 6! Please bear with me as I may not be able to catch up properly until next week. In the meantime...

Having read through the cpd23 blog post on online networks, I was immediately amazed at how many networks there are out there which either a) I knew nothing about or b) had heard of, but never quite got around to exploring. Therefore I have been able to get a LOT out of Thing 6 already, as it gave me some new networks to explore and sign up to. Before I talk about that though, I just wanted to touch on the ones that I was already a member of:

1) LinkedIn
I originally signed up to LinkedIn because it's a very useful tool when I am asked to look for biographical information on potential clients for the fee-earners (I know - not exactly what my reasoning should have been for joining, but hey...) - however since then I have come to realise the value of this particular network. Once on there, I ended up linking to a couple of recruitment agents whom I have used in the past - I thought this was an excellent way of keeping tabs on the job market, especially in the current climate. I also connected to a number of colleagues past and present, and find it amazing that you can share blog content and other such activity.

At present I have not filled in my profile any more than citing my previous and current employment; I realise, however, that there is great scope to add more information and actually provide some narrative about what my job actually is. Having had a look at some of the example profiles, it is pretty impressive to see how people are utilising this network. While it's now a well known fact (!) that I am uncomfortable with putting a lot of personal information out there in the public domain for anyone to access, I do once again appreciate the value of a network like LinkedIn if you do use it in the way it's intended.

2) Facebook
Not much to say on this as I think I have discussed in previous posts that I am not happy at using Facebook in a professional capacity and prefer to keep it purely for personal use. That having been said, I think I shall go along and find the fan page for 23 Things as suggested!  Will probably also add CILIP to my list of pages as well.

I have to admit that I do feel personally that if you use LinkedIn to its fullest capacity, there is no need to use Facebook in a professional capacity as well - I really don't see what else Facebook could do, other than let professional contacts and colleagues have access to your life out of work, which is not always strictly necessary! However I am aware that I am most likely in the minority on that one and maybe goes hand-in-hand with my obsession (!!) with retaining my privacy!

3) Lis-Law
I have been a member of the Lis-Law community for as long as I have been an legal information professional. I guess it qualifies as an online network although it's really more of a forum to which you can post questions and comments - but never mind, I'll include it here anyway! Lis-Law is a forum/network for people working in legal information, be it in a law firm, an academic library, or any other capacity. I have used it on many occasions when I am working on an utterly hopeless enquiry for a fee-earner, and neither myself nor any of my colleagues have any idea where to turn to next for the information! The idea is that you post your query online and it gets emailed to all of the Lis-Law subscribers, any of whom can then contact you with ideas/tips etc. I found it exceptionally useful when I was trying to find legal information professionals to interview for my dissertation, and indeed found 90% of my interviewees this way. For the most part (with the odd exception, but this isnt the place to go into that!!) I have found fellow users to be very polite and eager to help. There have been a few occasions where no one has come up with an answer, but it's a great tool to know is there. I think the only way I could get more use out of this in terms of networking would be to take more of an active part in terms of helping others. There have been occasions where I have seen someone post for help and I have known of a suggestion I could make - but time constraints at work have prevented me from replying to them. I think this is something I should work on...

4) Networks I wasn't aware of/hadn't explored

LISNPN - had never come across this one - just signed up and have to admit it looks pretty interesting - there's some great discussions going on, and I like the fact that you can post a reply to any topic you want or indeed start a new thread. Looks pretty straightforward to use - think will need to come back to you on my thoughts on this one once I have had more of a chance to use it.

CILIP - I had heard of CILIP's networks but this was one which I hadn't really explored in great detail. I am a member of the Career Development Group (CDG) and also CLSIG - Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group - but I haven't really done much more other than read the Impact newsletter from CDG and check out the CLSIG updates I get by email. However in terms of forums I have not explored this avenue at all. I'll come back to you on this one!

Thinking about what might be the most useful online network, I would have to say that LinkedIn and Lis-Law appear to me to be the most relevant and potentially the most helpful in terms of making new connections with fellow professionals. I think LISNPN might also be of value, just from my initial browse of the discussions going on. The one I don't feel has so much relevance in the professional world is definitely Facebook. I would have to agree with the Reid Hoffman quote given in the cpd23 post, that Facebook is indeed the 'backyard bbq', while LinkedIn is definitely the office! I don't think the two need to be mixed in all honesty.

Yet again, this particular Thing has given me loads of food for thought on how I can increase my online participation in networks. I think they are a concept that definitely needs to be embraced - like it or not, the way we interact on both a professional and personal level is changing, and so I think it's important to make sure we don't get left behind. I also think we are particularly lucky as a profession - information professionals do seem to be at the forefront of a great deal of the latest social media trends, therefore it's easy to learn from our colleagues.

With regard to the next 3 Things, I promise I shall be blogging on these over the next week, but for now, I am off out to dinner in the sun! :))

Image courtesy of jscreationzs:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

It's a bit like being a detective - those pesky requests for foreign company information...

If there is one thing that I get asked to do very regularly, it's to find out as much as I can about a particular company, or indeed group of companies. Simple enough, you might think? Ah, if only! The problem that we always encounter is where a company is not based in the UK: unless it's a pretty big operation, the chances of finding out anything authoritative can be very slim indeed. The main reason for this is that filing requirements differ drastically from one country to another - and just to complicate things even more, in the USA, the requirements vary from state to state.

Please note that this is by no means an authoritative guide to looking for company information - this is just to give you an idea of the kind of things we often do when we are asked for this kind of info. Every law library has its own methods/resources/preferences in terms of procedure.

One thing to bear in mind from the outset - whether it's the UK or USA, make sure you establish the correct company name. If you are looking at one little company that's part of a big group of other little companies, they can all have very similar names. Make sure you are looking at the correct entity, and not just a company with a name that's almost the same as the one you were given.

Anyone who does this kind of research regularly will know that in the UK, we are quite lucky when it comes to being able to obtain basic information on a company, because generally speaking, (and I am being VERY GENERAL here -  if it's a partnership for example, there will  be less available - but we won't go into that now!) we can pay for and download a number of documents from Companies House. So if the company has been alive long enough to have filed a set of accounts and an annual return, we can obtain these documents, which give us information like who the company directors and shareholders are, for example. If the company is only recently incorporated then there won't be any of these documents available, but there will be the set of incorporation documents, which will show the directors at the time of incorporation - which is a start at least!

If we're looking at non-UK companies from the outset, then we will often check and see if it is possible to obtain any information free or at cost from the company registry of that country/US state. We also have access to a number of subscription company information databases which we can go to and see if the company is on there. These databases pull their information from a number of sources - sometimes local registry filings, sometimes a wide range of other reports - we try not to rely on them wholly though, as you rarely can be 100% sure that the information is accurate. Where possible we would rather obtain a source document ourselves, but if this can't be done, then databases like this can be invaluable. If we do rely on them, we make it clear to the lawyer where the information has come from and warn him that it may not be 100% authoritative.

If the company is a very large (and if so, it's generally listed on a stock market) then always check the company website. If it is a publicly listed company, then they are required to publicly file annual reports and a plethora of other financial information. So for example, if it's a US public company, they are required to file at the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) - if you look for a form 10-K for that company on the SEC website itself, OR in most cases on the company website as well, then you will be able access a wealth of information, as the 10-K is an annual report. Along with this report and all the information about the business it does, the directors and so on, if you look at the list of Exhibits filed with it and go to Exhibit 21, you will find a list of that company's main subsidiaries - this can be invaluable for many reasons.

If we are looking into a non-UK, very tiny company, and we can't find anything at the local registry AND there isn't any information on any of our databases, then sometimes there is nothing else to do but general internet searching (ssshhh - obviously we don't encourage taking information from unauthoritative sources, but when all else fails, it's a good last resort!) Press searches are worth a shot too, as by this stage, you are often so desperate to just find anything to prove that the company does - or did - actually exist, that even just a random article mentioning them can make your day! Moreover, this kind of searching may not lead you to the company name you have been given by the fee-earner, but it might just lead you in the right direction somehow - you might find a company owned by the same group, for example, which might in turn provide you with another lead for the company you were looking at originally...

Sometimes after establishing who is behind the company, we then go onto find out information about them - if they are individual people we will try and find out what other companies they are associated with; and if it's another company that owns the company in question, we will try and find out more about it. Often you end up tracing the chain of people/companies involved back further and further until you either reach the top of the chain, or you find that you come across an entity that is registered in somewhere very remote like the British Virgin Islands - and suddenly you will find that your searching almost grinds to a halt!

Companies registered in places like the Cayman Islands/British Virgin Islands and so on, are generally filed there for a reason - the main reasons being that there are various tax benefits AND the filing requirements are minimal - so it's good for the company owner, not so good for us back in the UK trying to obtain authoritative information on them. These offshore types of registries do make it very difficult to obtain any information at all - the process is often extremely protracted and if you do manage to follow it through without losing your sanity in the process, then you often find that all you get at the end of it is little more than an incorporation date!

It's times like this where we can offer our lawyers the services of a specialist company information provider. Most law firm libraries tend to use one - the prices for obtaining information on non-UK entities can be pretty pricey, which does put a lot of our lawyers off using them, but if they are really desperate, there is often no other way. These providers often have links to agents in the very country in which you're interested, so they can obtain information a lot easier than we can back in good old Blighty....

Well - there you have it - a VERY general look at the problems and pitfalls of conducting research on non-UK companies. Sometimes it really does feel like being a detective, as one small piece of information from the most random place can lead you to the very information you need on a particular company.

 Now I wonder what jurisdiction I'll be looking into this week...anyone know the filing requirements in Albania....?!! :)

Image courtesy of:

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Thing 5 - cpd23 - Reflective Practice

Thing 5 is upon us - in fact, as I write this, we are almost ready to start on Thing 6! I am feeling a bit happier this week though, as I finally got the chance to blog about some other things that have been going on - although there's still a bit of a backlog, at least it's a bit of progress!

Looking back at the first 4 Things, I am amazed at how my outlook on using many Web 2.0 technologies have changed in such a short time. Looking back at my very first blog post, I was VERY unsure and apprehensive of the concept in its entirety, and had no idea what I really wanted to get out of blogging, other than taking part in cpd23. I cannot deny how surprised I am at how every time I write a post, I feel just a bit more confident and at ease with the concept. I certainly still have a lot to learn, and I have no idea how much any of my posts are being read (with the exception of my two followers of course - thank you Kate and Jo!! :)) ) It is undoubtedly an encouraging feeling when people take the trouble to subscribe to the blog, because it makes me feel that I am not just talking into a great big black hole - and moreover, that what I am saying is actually of some interest!!

So already I have found that this is fantastic way of reflecting on my professional development, not just for the purposes of the cpd23 challenge, but also for my Chartership goals. What also - yet again - surprised me, was how interesting Thing 2 is on an ongoing basis. Checking out other blogs has been an excellent way of gaining an insight into such a variety of information roles - the only problem I have is lack of time in which to do a bit more browsing. But it's really interesting to read about how other participants are finding the programme, and also, it's quite enlightening to see the various styles of writing, and what people are writing about other than cpd23. I definitely feel that my professional awareness - that is, my understanding of the challenges faced by other information professionals in different fields - has increased purely from reading and commenting on other blogs. I really do hope to carry this activity on throughout the whole challenge - and hopefully beyond. Previously I had only followed the the BIALL (law librarian association) blog and that of a fellow legal professional: The Running Librarian. While I still follow these blogs, it's been nice to get a chance to sample such a huge assortment!

Looking back at Thing 3, where I considered my personal brand, I must admit that I still feel a little unsure as to what that actually is! I talked at length about my apprehension over writing this blog as 'me', and explained why I had chosen to write under a pseudonym. I have to admit that I still stand by that decision and I am going to continue writing in this way, as I do feel more comfortable and more free in what I talk about. At the same time, however, when I go along to one of the networking events, I certainly wouldn't go as far as to conceal my identity and deny that I am 'Law Lib Extraordinaire'!! I do realise that I am making it a bit harder to network, compared to everyone who writes very clearly as themselves, but nonetheless, I am sticking with it.

In addition to this, I definitely feel I am establishing my 'brand' with every blog post. I think I mentioned that I wanted to come across as informative, but in a chatty, informal way, and steer away from what I see as the more negative connotations of a typical 'librarian'....

Thing 4 led me into the world of Twitter, RSS feeds and Pushnote. I have to admit this is probably been the 'Thing' that I got the least out of. I was already pretty confident in my use of RSS feeds - I use Google Reader to follow a number of blogs that relate to work, and also to aggregate a number of Google search alerts I have set up to track particular things for fee-earners' current awareness. I did sign up for Twitter, and while I have to say, from just observing other cpd23 participants' tweets, I can see how it could be useful for short bursts of real time information or chat, it just hasn't been feasible for me to take part because the site is blocked at work. My aim was to 'tweet' of an evening, but as you know, I am struggling to find sufficient time to keep this blog updated - and also to be perfectly candid about it, when I am tired after work and I sit down in the evening, I simply don't feel inspired to come up with anything that would be of interest!! Just too tired I think. As you know I decided against Pushnote as I didn't really see any benefit to it in the workplace - not to mention the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to install the program at work anyway. So Thing 4 was a bit of an anti-climax for me - but it's made me look forward to what's next on the agenda even more!

Looking forward to Thing 5 on networking - will hopefully make it along to the London meetup as well....

Image courtesy of: Danilo Rizzuti -

Dealing with urgent requests

Another thing you may be learning about me is that I very much enjoy checking out the Harvard Business Review Daily Management Tips. Admittedly some are a bit less relevant to the law library than others - i.e. the very full-on, worthy of an MBA Grad/Apprentice candidate ones, but at least a couple of times a week, there's something that I can definitely relate to.

The most recent one fitting that category was called 3 Tips for dealing with an urgent request, and it immediately struck a chord with me; the reason being that working for lawyers who 99% of the time don't just want something now - they want it yesterday! The first tip that is given is 'don't assume urgent means right now' - and this is definitely something I can relate to.  It means that the environment we work in can be very high-pressured a lot of the time, as more often than not we are juggling a number of enquiries at once. However, over the years I have come to realise that given the chance, a number of lawyers will say that a query is 'urgent'; that they need something done by the end of the day, when in actual fact they won't be reading the work we send back to them for several days! Therefore in order to provide an efficient information and research service to everyone - and to ensure that we can prioritise the genuinely time-critical requests,  if we are really pushed for time we will try and tease out of the fee-earner if there is any capacity for flexibility in terms of the deadline they have given - and nine times out of ten, they are able to extend the deadline they originally gave. So while we always aim to get back to someone as quickly as possible, on the occasions where this is just not possible, you need to know how to best handle a stressed-out lawyer - it's important to show that you still consider their request as important as the others, and that in order to ensure you produce a comprehensive piece of research, if any leeway on the deadline can be given, it would be very helpful in achieving this.

The second tip given is 'respond, but don't necessarily act'. Again, this is incredibly apt! One of the things that we always do as a department is acknowledge every single email that we are sent, and if necessary, clarify the deadline and anything else that is unclear in terms of the task. I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough, because I think (and I realise this is something of a generalisation, but please just go with it!) lawyers are by nature the sort of people who like/feel the need to be kept in the loop at all stages - nothing seems to frustrate our lawyers more than the feeling that we might not be giving their request the attention it merits. What is also interesting is that I have several 'regular' fee-earners who come to me directly for research, and out of them I have a couple who, from time to time, will send me an email with a very vague request, and ask me to contact them to discuss in more detail. Dutifully I do so with haste, only to find I reach their voicemail. I leave a message asking them to call back, and offering to come and see them when it's convenient. I'll also back this up with an email, just to cover myself in case they miss the voicemail. Days, then weeks, will go by, and I won't ever hear any more about it! Earlier on in my career this would worry me terribly, as I would fear that for some reason, they may have missed my communications and be thinking that I just hadn't bothered to get back in touch, but now, I don't let it bother me at all, for I know that there are simply always one or two fee-earners who I honestly think just like to feel that they are my priority! And/or they have a grand idea about something they want to find out, but don't really think about it in any more detail, and so when I push for more information, they never come back to me because it wasn't really that important in the first place...!

The third and final tip is 'be prepared to say no' - now this one that I struggle with in all walks of life, not just in a professional capacity! I think it truly takes some effort to teach yourself how to say no to requests, be they from friends or colleagues, because for lots of people, it's natural for us to want to help out, even if it puts us out. As a department, we rarely ever decline a research request - in fact I would go so far as to say that the 'can-do' attitude of my bosses is the best I have ever known out of all the law firms I have worked for. I know that our Director takes pride in the fact that there is very little research that we won't carry out - and we are fortunate to have someone like this at the helm, for I believe such an attitude from the No.1 trickles down through to the rest of the team. The only occasions on which I have had to tactfully tell someone that we cannot assist him/her was once when we were extremely busy and a paralegal asked me if I would go through a manual and update any references - our Director felt that this was something the paralegal could easily do himself, in light of us being so busy with far more urgent work for fee-earners. I think there was also an occasion in the last year or so, whereby a fee-earner decided he wanted 'everything' on the internet that mentioned a particular phrase - 'everything' was clearly impossible, for where do you draw the line under 26000+ Google references?!

I think the upshot is that in our line of work, you should really only say 'no' sparingly, and not just because a task might take longer than you would like! Where there is a worthy reason, eg. you don't have access to the relevant resources, or a task simply isn't a good use of time at a particular point, then saying 'no' is often necessary - but always cushion the blow by saying 'no' in such a way that the fee-earner still feels he/she is your number one priority. After all, our main purpose is at the end of the day to support the fee-earners and provide a high-level and efficient research and information service, so in order to justify our very existence, saying 'no' should not be a regular occurrence.

So there you have it - an insight into dealing with all those 'urgent' requests in a law firm library. Respond to your fee-earners in a timely manner, but don't be afraid to negotiate a deadline that is still as soon as possible, but that doesn't involve you dropping every other matter you're working on. And if the request really is utterly outlandish/unfeasible, learning to say 'no' will also educate the fee-earners in what actually is a reasonable request to make.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Effectively Fighting Information Overload - Dow Jones Webinar: Some reflection...

For those who know me well in the information world, I have something of a fixation with the concept of 'information overload', having studied its effects on legal information professionals and PSLs (Professional Support Lawyers) in great depth for my MSc dissertation. So when I had the opportunity to take part in this free webinar offered by the new Dow Jones Knowledge Professionals Alliance, you can imagine my excitement....!

The session was hosted by Jonathan Spira, chief Analyst of BASEX, a research firm focusing on the issues faced by companies in what he terms today's 'knowledge economy'.

A common definition of information overload is 'an excess of information that results in loss of ability to make decisions, process information and prioritise tasks'. My interest in this concept stems from a realisation that just through being trained information professionals, we are not immune to the crippling effects of overload. The only difference is that we may be more aware of it and consequently be better placed to counteract it.

Jonathan began by telling us how a number of high profile individuals feel about the problems they face as a result of too much information. Peter Miles, EVP of BMW described it as 'a scourge on modern day society', with other executives from companies like IBM also maintaining that the volume of information they receive on a daily basis, through emails, instant messages and phonecalls effectively means that they are prevented from getting to the information which is relevant.

A survey conducted by Dow Jones revealed  that one of the most common problems faced by knowledge professionals (or information professionals if you prefer) is keeping up with the various channels of e-news that feed into them from various sources. Indeed this was my number one reason for experiencing information overload, therefore it's interesting to see that I am not alone in this feeling. Jonathan discussed the fact that some 10-15 years ago, we would never have foreseen this, because there was great excitement over the plethora of information out there - we revelled in the fact that we could send an email to hundreds of people all at once, if we so desired. But today it is a double edged sword. The almost constant stream of information, be it from emails, instant messages (apparently many big firms now have an Instant Message system), RSS feeds, Twitter and other social media, means that sometimes we are forced to sift through so much useless, irrelevant information, that we end up missing what is valuable. Furthermore, the feeling that we never have enough time to keep on top of it all can lead to frustration and/or fear, that we are unable to do our jobs effectively and that we are never quite working to our full potential.

A very interesting little fact that Jonathan also told us is that a 30 second interruption means you take 5 minutes to get back to where you were. It doesn't sound like much until you think about all those little 30 second interruptions caused by emails, telephone calls, messages on Twitter etc. In a nutshell, the 'recovery time' from an interruption is generally up to 10-20 times the duration of the interruption!!

Now I realise as I write this that it does seem like I am completely going against Thing 4 in our cpd23 challenge, which was of course to get to grips with things like RSS feeds and Twitter and so on. So please don't think I am discouraging this!! These tools play a valid part in my keeping up with current awareness on behalf of my fee earners, so I certainly won't be stopping any of them - but what is definitely important, is to develop skills to manage all the information that these tools provide, and NOT  to let the information manage you....

Which leads us nicely onto the last part of the session, which was looking at ways to combat information overload. One thing Jonathan highlighted was to be cautious in one's use of the 'reply all' button on emails, as very often, we include people on the distribution list who have no real need to be party to a particular email, which in turn contributes to other's overload.

He also introduced us to the concept of 'BLUF' - Bottom Line Up Front' - and said that this is a useful acronym to bear in mind when writing emails. In general, people often don't read beyond the 2nd paragraph of an email - not very good for those of us who keep all the juicy info to the 3rd, 4th and 5th paragraphs! But by following BLUF, we can ensure that people get an immediate idea of what the email is going to cover, and so they can decide within a matter of seconds if it's relevant to them. So it basically means spelling out that the email is going to cover X, Y and Z.

Finally another solution offered was one that, in theory, should be second nature to information professionals like ourselves, and that is, to control our search results - use BOOLEAN logic operators to narrow our search results to a more manageable number. Jonathan said that the majority of queries run on Google use no form of Boolean logic whatsoever, and instead are just natural language questions. This is where information professionals are trained to manipulate the huge amount of information out there more effectively than the average searcher.

All in all, it was a very interesting session and it definitely served to remind me why I have such an interest in examining the effects of information overload on my profession. As always, any thoughts/experiences on this topic are more than welcome, not just from legal information specialists, but from anyone who has encountered this in their working life...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

An unusual enquiry...historical climate data...

I was recently asked to obtain very specific information with regard to the climate, over a specific period in a very specific part of the UK! And - of course - it was super urgent. Needless to say this wasn't something I had ever had to look for before, and because of the need for very precise data, even just (just!?! - ah the irony) obtaining copies of weather forecasts from old newspapers for that area would suffice.

After much Googling/general frustrated tearing of hair, it became apparent that all roads lead to the Met Office, if you want to obtain reassuredly authoritative and accurate data. I was delighted to find that they could indeed supply the data that I wanted, from a recording station that was as near to the area in question as possible. Brilliant. The downside was that there'd be a hefty charge involved, which never goes down well in today's cost-conscious environment...Anyway, the upshot is that owing to a lack of other options,we paid the fee and got the data, and in the process I learned a great deal about humidity and temperature - everyone's a winner!!! ;)

Just a little taste of the randomness of some of the things we are asked for here in the law firm library....

Monday, 11 July 2011

Take a grownup recess...why taking a break away from your desk is a good thing

Just came across this item from the Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day and it definitely struck a chord with me, because this is a habit that I am trying to acquire at the moment!

Harvard Business Review states:
"It's widely accepted that children need time to get out of the classroom and just play. Why do we assume adults grow out of this? The truth is taking breaks from work makes you more productive."

The reason I decided to change things - or at least try to - was after a conversation with a friend, following protracted discussions trying to arrange a simple lunch meetup. My friend was horrified that there were times I felt guilty over leaving the office for more than 15 minutes at lunchtime! She reminded me that getting away from your desk for a more substantial amount of time shouldn't even be regarded as a luxury, but rather a necessity! Since then I have tried on at least some days of the week, to take at least 45 mins, if not the full hour. I have to admit it's a struggle at times, because when we are all really busy as a team, it's hard to walk away from it even temporarily, while some others beaver away at their desk whilst gulping down a sandwich at the same time. However, I was also thinking recently about what the qualities of a 'good' manager are, and I realised that one of the things I admire most in current/previous managers are those who not only encourage their team members to take adequate breaks, but also those who set a good example by taking a break themselves also. I think this really helps to ease any guilt that team members may feel otherwise.

Consequently I am trying to look upon my taking a more adequate lunch break not only as something that will benefit my own health and wellbeing, but it's also something that is setting a good example to the others in my team - and since building up a more mentoring/supervisory role with them is one of my aims, I think that this can only be a good thing.

When I do take a prolonged break at lunch, I either go to meet a friend for coffee or a quick bite, or simply just take my book and sit outside (plenty of benches and walls to sit on near our office that are thankfully set a little bit away from the madding crowd of the City!). If I have telephone calls to make, I'll do that if possible too - although interestingly, one of the tips from Harvard Business Review was actually to switch your phone off!

I think the feelings of guilt that we often associate with taking a full lunch break are sadly part and parcel of working for an extremely busy firm in the 21s century...but I would be interested to hear if anyone else has encountered such problems, and how they have dealt with them...

I'll leave you with HBR's top 3 tips on 'grownup recess':

  1. Take a cell phone break. Turn off your device for 30 minutes. Give your mind a rest from the stream of incoming messages.
  2. Treat yourself to a weekly food splurge. You have to shop for food anyway, why not find ways to make it more fun? Buy an unusual food you've never cooked before or visit a new farmers' market.
  3. Do a crossword or read a book at lunch. Again, no extra time involved. Use the 20 minutes it takes you to eat a sandwich to engage in a non-work activity.

Thing 4 - followup

Finally got a chance to post some follow up thoughts on my experiences this week with the current awareness tools in Thing 4! Been another manic week in the law library but got a few interesting things I would like to blog about whenever I get the chance! Anyway, back to Thing 4...

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I already used an RSS reader and found it really useful. This last week I decided to add a few more cpd23 participants' blogs, as I have been finding it difficult to find the time at work to explore other blogs and see how others are getting on with the programme. This has worked quite well and so I feel a bit happier in that I have actually had a chance to find out how others have found Thing 4.

One post I found particularly useful was from Palely Loitering - Laura's thoughts on Twitter really helped me. I was struggling to use Twitter in a professional capacity - I think I mentioned this in my earlier post - firstly I can't access it at work anyway, and secondly, I wasn't sure what I would actually Tweet even if I could! However, Laura reminded me that I can use it just as much to follow others and thereby aid my own current awareness on a real-time basis, as I can follow things as and when they happen, as opposed to, for example, waiting for a weekly newsletter rounding up developments in my field. I have since started following several people/institutions, and although I can only access it at home, I can definitely see there is a benefit there. I definitely want to try using it more actively at some point, but for now, I feel happier that I can at last see a purpose in it in a professional capacity! Following some fellow cpd23 bloggers as well as @CILIPinfo and @BIALL_uk....

Have to admit I am pretty glad there is a reflection week coming up, as I think I could do with some time just to consider all we have covered so far. I am really enjoying the programme, not least because I enjoy writing this blog. Now all I need are just a few more hours in the day.... :))

Monday, 4 July 2011

cpd23 - Thing 4 - Current Awareness

Can't believe Thing 4 has come round so quickly - or so it feels to me! We are busy beyond belief at the moment and I haven't even had time to do much more than scan a couple of other blogs with regard to Thing 3 from last week! Aaaagggghh!! I still really want to do that, but one thing I am learning from this programme is that my job is so full on that it simply doesn't allow me to write my blog at the same time every week, for example - so I am trying to go with the flow (ha!) and know that I shall get around to exploring some other blogs again, but it might not be feasible on a regular, weekly basis!

Aaaaand BREATHE....

Okay, so Thing 4. Yet again - really enjoyed reading the cpd23 blog entry - think it gives a fantastic overview of all three of these elements of current awareness: Twitter, RSS feeds and Pushnote. Prior to reading this post, I had a pretty good knowledge of RSS feeds, a working knowledge of Twitter, and absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about Pushnote! So already I have learned something from this Thing, which is a good feeling!

First off, Twitter.  I enjoyed having a look at the #cpd23 tweets on there and I can definitely see its value with regard to things such as following a conference feed or just sharing current awareness really quickly. I have therefore set up an account - feel free to come and find me @LawLibExtraord !!! Only thing is I do not have access to Twitter at work, therefore my 'tweets' may be limited to evenings and weekends only....nonetheless, I am looking forward to giving this a shot, as although I am on Facebook in a personal capacity, I have never ventured into the world of micro-blogging!!

Second thing - RSS feeds. This is one current awareness method that I have been using for about 18 months now and absolutely love it. I use Google Reader and I have a whole host of work-related feeds on there - some relate specifically to the work I do for fee-earners, as one of my ongoing jobs is providing a very tailored current awareness service to the IP practice, and I find RSS feeds are great for being updated on news on a particular topic/case/person etc.

I also use RSS feeds for my own professional development - namely following a number of blogs, such as The Running Librarian and the BIALL Blog;  I also very much enjoy the daily management tip from Harvard Business Review! I would like to add to this list and will try to find the time to have a look at some of the recommendations on the Thing 4 blog post, and hopefully find a few new feeds to add....will keep you posted.

The final thing to look at was Pushnote; however, I have decided not to take part in this aspect of Thing 4, simply because I feel that with Twitter and the RSS feeds, and knowing how limited my time is during the day at work, I have enough to be going on with - so for now, I am going to hold off on getting involved with Pushnote. Be interested to hear how others get on with it though...

My aim is to come back and post again at the end of the week and let you know how I have got on with all of the above, and what I have got out of it all...

Oh and in other news, I ran an induction session for our summer students today that I would quite like to blog about, so again, when I have time, I'll let you know how that went also...