Saturday, 27 August 2011

Jack of all trades, master of none? Should a law librarian specialise in one area of law?

Jack of all trades...?

It seems to me that law firms tend to take very different views of a law librarian becoming a practice area-specific information specialist. Some of the very large law firms seem to have this as a matter of course, along with one central information/resources department, while the smaller ones tend to only have the occasional practice area specialist.

Part of my original remit in my current role was to work closely with the intellectual property (IP) group, and seek to provide them with a very tailored current awareness and research service. This was without a doubt a daunting task - the firms I had worked at previously had only very small IP groups, and they were all pretty self sufficient, therefore I had almost no prior knowledge of this practice area at all! The only thing I knew was the key textbooks, simply because I had been in charge of acquisitions in London in my last role, so I was pretty clued up on the core texts for most of the common practice areas in a corporate law firm.

The first thing I did was speak to a close friend who works as an insurance litigation specialist in one of my previous firms, in a bid to try and understand how she had developed her expertise in this area. One of the most helpful tips she gave me was to try and get a handle on as quickly as possible of who their key clients are and what sort of work they're doing most frequently. This in turn would enable me to get a feel for what current awareness information would be most relevant to them.

My first few months in the role were quite literally a baptism of fire. There was a huge amount to take in - I had no technical knowledge of trade marks, copyright or any other facet of IP, so I took it upon myself to do a lot of background reading in my spare time. Fellow law librarians will agree that the best to place for this kind of easy to understand overview is PLC (Practical Law Company - subscription database). I felt that by acquiring an understanding of what, for example, a trade mark actually is, why you register them etc etc, would mean that I would at least know the terminology when all the enquiries started coming through.

There was quite a strong expectation that I should also be taking an active part in the IP team's weekly meeting; for example providing them with solutions to projects/research questions, and in doing so, basically promoting the work of the Information Centre (the law library) to the team. Yet again, this was in all honesty pretty horrendous for me to begin with! I had never had to attend another team's meetings, so to do so on my own was nerve racking. What also made it worse was that this team had traditionally been pretty self sufficient and were, shall we say, slightly sceptical that there could be anything I could assist them with. (You can imagine the sheer satisfaction I feel now, 18 months down the line, when I go on holiday and all hell breaks loose because they are actually now quite dependent on me!) However in the first instance, my efforts to try and develop a relationship with the team were met with a lot of resistance, and looking back, I think it was only through sheer dint of pretty much forcing myself upon them at every opportunity and promoting our services as much as possible, that got me to the stage where I am now.

In the time I have been doing my current job, I have actually developed a genuine passion for the work I do relating to the IP team. It seems to me that you can't have it both ways, and this is where I think the biggest law firms have the right idea when they have specific practice area information specialists - and that is what they are; their role is clear and they can put all their efforts into one practice area, and in providing those fee-earners with a high level service.

On the other hand, many law librarians are traditionally a 'jack of all trades, master of none' - and I don't mean that in a derogratory way, because there's still a big part of my role that necessitates that! But I am just trying to show the differences between the 2 types of law librarian. Working in the general Information Centre as I do, until I joined there wasn't really an official assigned analyst (what we call ourselves in the firm) to any practice area. It was well known that 2 of my managers are insurance and litigation supremos (and i am not kidding. there is NOTHING they don't know!), but they weren't officially in charge of any of the associated practice areas. As a rule, law libraries like the one I am in now require the law librarians to be flexible, and able to pick up any enquiry from any practice area and turn their hand to it. Very often this involves doing a bit of quick reading first, just to try and actually understand what they're asking about at a very basic level!

 I still do enough non-IP enquiries to ensure that I keep my hand in at other practice areas, but I think further down the line, I may need to decide how I want to move forward in my career, and if I would like to focus on IP more than anything else. As I said earlier - and sad as it may sound - I genuinely find this area of law interesting and I never thought that would happen! So it would seem a shame to have come so far with it, to just drop it in my next role (whatever that may be). However, there is the downside that perhaps I am limiting myself quite severely to IP-information specialist roles only - and I do wonder if that is the wisest thing to do, given the ongoing poor economic climate...

Nonetheless, I think the question of law librarians specialising in one field of law is a very interesting one, and I would definitely be keen to hear others' views on this...

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Thing 14B - Mendeley

It looks like this week's Thing is going to be fairly brief for me, as I have ruled out Zotero owing to the Firefox restrictions, and having had a look at the 'citeulike' tour, I don't think it's quite for me - although I can see a lot of benefits with regard to writing collaboratively. I think the ability to share articles and references in such a way is great - it just doesn't really relate to anything I do, so while I am glad to have actually found out what it is, I am not going to go any further with it at this stage.

I decided to explore Mendeley instead, simply because I am in the early stages of writing an article for a journal, and consequently have what feels like about a zillion different articles that I'm in the process of reading through, or have decided could be useful in terms of extracting material from. So to find a tool that will help me to keep track of all this is fantastic. I completely agree with Isla - the last big piece of written work I did was my MSc dissertation, and the manual insertion of all the references was something that took me quite literally hours, as I was so worried about making a mistake that I ended up checking them through several times - and nearly losing my sanity in the process!

Mendeley is not only great because I have been able to upload all my PDF articles to one place, but it also will hopefully enable me to create my final bibliography with a lot more ease than the manual job I had at dissertation time. I also love this annotation functionality - I used to have to work from hard copies because I like to highlight/annotate as I read, which you can't normally do in an PDF onscreen. With Mendeley you are able to do this, and then you don't even lose your annotations when you print - brilliant!

While this tool definitely has a lot of potential use in terms of writing articles, or even keeping track of current awareness materials that are particularly interesting, it doesn't really have any relevance to me in my day to day job - nor is it really something that we would be promoting to the fee-earners; simply because this kind of tool is not something we actively use in the corporate law library. I could see great potential for people who work in academic/education libraries, but less so for corporate users. Nonetheless, I am really happy to have discovered this tool - I had no idea such applications even existed!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Social media at work - Facebook

 I don't think there is any doubt nowadays that social media - for better or worse - has become a part of our working lives. Those of who have been following some of my other posts will be well aware that in this particular law library - and indeed law firm - all social networking sites are blocked. To my knowledge, there are no plans to review or change this policy going forward. Yet what with taking part in cpd23, and reading so much about ways to engage with social media, I am more aware of it than ever, but definitely think it is a concept that many law firms simply don't know how best to handle - therefore it's safer to remove the issue altogether, as fears of employees tainting the brand/employees frittering away precious time continue to grow.
Because of the fact that websites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in our office, I always pay particular attention to articles discussing the pros and cons of using such media in the workplace - therefore I enjoyed a recent post on the Stephen's Lighthouse library industry blog titled Infographic: Social Media Policies in the Workplace, in which he refers to a post from the Marketing Technology Blog that discussed the results of a survey into social media in the workplace.

It was very interesting to note that in this global survey, approx 70% stated that social networking sites were actively blocked in their workplace, and more than half of the respondents stated that there is a policy in place regarding social networking - and often usage inside AND outside of work. However, a quick search of our Intranet here in the UK did not retrieve any mentions of social networking practices at all. Could it simply be that there is an unspoken assumption that employees should not use social media in a way that could damage our firm's reputation and so on; in other words, it's a kind of 'common sense' policy?

Having worked in a few different law firms over the last few years as social media usage has increased dramatically, the one thing that initially all of the firms had in common was that they were completely against it being used in the workplace. In one of my previous firms, one of the reasons given for certain sites being blocked was simply that it would encourage time wasting and potentially lead to the network becoming overloaded. It's hard to say whether this would be the case, but given the fact that I sometimes log in to Facebook for 5 minutes -and then 30 minutes later I am still on there - it's a fair point! However, attitudes in the legal domain have slowly but surely been evolving - an article last year in Legal Week is testament to this: Social media grows - new survey show more acceptance of technology among lawyers. An annual survey of the American Bar members showed the following:

"Large firm respondents were the most likely to report personally maintaining a presence in an online community/social network (63%). The highest percentage of respondents reported maintaining a presence in LinkedIn (83%), followed by Facebook (68%), Plaxo (18%), Connected (4%), LawLink (2%), Twitter (2%), Avvo, LegalOnRamp, and LegallyMinded (1% each) and 4% other social networking websites."

It seems to me that the advent of LinkedIn has definitely helped to increase acceptance of social networking in law firms. Often dubbed the 'professional' version of Facebook, it is worth noting that I have never known this site to be blocked, although the fundamental concept and means of using the site is very similar to Facebook.

It is also worth noting that every law firm I have worked at has also had a 'network' on Facebook which employees can join - something which I find a bit contradictory, in all honesty. What's the point of having a network that is potentially a marketing tool, on a site to which staff only have access out of the office? To me this highlights the reason why I feel that your Facebook life and your work life should never be mixed - if the boundaries become blurry, it potentially makes people feel that they can't ever get away from 'work'. Even though I barely ever post any comments on Facebook at all - so there is nothing on there that would offend them - I still don't ever join my employers' networks on there - it's just a bit too 'Big Brother' for my liking.

However, I am well aware that I am often in the minority camp with these opinions when it comes to fellow law librarians! Information professionals in general appear to be at the forefront of the social media revolution - the fact that cpd23 has attracted so many participants is tantamount to the interest the profession has in staying up to date with such technologies. I am certainly not against social networking per se in the workplace; I just think that there's a forum for 'social' social networking (Facebook), and a forum for professional networking (LinkedIn). I am happy to market my personal brand and indeed employer on LinkedIn, but don't feel the need to do that elsewhere. In addition to that, I think there are some firms which are more suited to marketing themselves on Facebook - for example the leisure industry...but I don't think it's quite the same for a corporate law firm!

By the way, I realise that we haven't really covered the use of Twitter in the law library - and on a broader level the law firm...think we'll save that one for another day!

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Monday, 15 August 2011

Take a nap at work - not in the law library you don't...

It did make me chuckle when I saw this particular tip from Harvard Business Review, titled 'Take a nap at work'. The author explains how the more hours a person works without a break, the more their productivity actually declines, therefore taking a short nap between 1 and 3pm will revitalise you and thereby kickstart your productivity levels again. There's no arguing with this, I admit - but how many people out there would actually be in a position to take a lunchtime/early afternoon siesta??

The author suggests 20-30 minutes - any longer leaves you hazy, apparently. The three steps to getting your sleep are to schedule a time, find a quiet place, and tune out, setting your alarm of course so you don't end up going AWOL for the rest of the day.

The reason it made me smile was simply because this would never be feasible in any law library I have worked in. Scheduling a time would be the first hurdle - although we have agreed, staggered lunch hours, I find mine is rarely when it should be, because if an urgent enquiry comes in, it needs to be dealt with, and saying I had a nap scheduled wouldn't quite cut the mustard with my managers! Second problem would be finding a quiet place - short of retreating to the ladies toilets (and even then I don't think they are particularly quiet, given how many people share them!) - there is nowhere I could go that would ensure I wouldn't be disturbed. I think this would be different if you had an office, but even then, our firm is not the kind of firm where doors can be closed and privacy reigns - they are glass panelled, so discretion would be impossible!

The third step in the napping at work process is to 'tune out' - but in our library it's something I find very difficult to do. When it's all systems go and there are several enquiries being dealt with at once, I struggle to simply switch my mind off from it all, say, if I slip out at lunchtime. Therefore while a peaceful, daytime power nap would be lovely I'm sure, I think actually falling asleep at work goes against every mental belief I have - it's against my nature to associate the law library with a peaceful sleep!!

Having said that - kudos to anyone who can pull this feat off!!

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Thing 13 - Google Docs, Wikis and Dropbox

I have to admit I was quite intrigued when I read this week's blog post, because I had never heard of Dropbox and although I had heard of Google Docs, I had never investigated, so it's been really good for me to get the chance once again to try out some new concepts in terms of technology. One thing that cpd23 is teaching me is that in some respects, I am pretty far behind in terms of knowing what's cutting edge in terms of IT/social media etc! Never would have thought that before, so it's great that cpd23 is opening my eyes to all kinds of new tools/websites etc.

Google Docs
I know I keep saying it, but I am quite dumbfounded that something like this exists! It is so easy to use, you can even import documents already created or create them online. It is undoubtedly a great way of collaborating on a document. There is no way we would be able to use it here at work, simply because we have a very rigid filing system, and so most documents are saved to a server, and other people can edit them if you, the creator, give them rights to do so. So we already are able to collaborate in that way - but I have to say, Google Docs is a really nice application, and while I can't find a use for it at work, I am thinking of all the other ways I could use it out of work. You can also upload photos and videos - it really is fantastic. My fiance and I have a wedding planning spreadsheet that is currently on my laptop - this could be a great way of sharing access to it and thereby making life a lot easier! I'll definitely be looking for ways of integrating this into my general life.

I was impressed by this as well, although my initial reaction was it's a bit 'samey' in terms of functionality - to me it does pretty much the same as Google Docs, ie allows easier collaboration. If I had to choose, I would stick with Google Docs because it's all under the Google Account umbrella, and this way I don't need another login to remember! Having said that, another blogger just mentioned that she was using Dropbox to clear out some old documents to free up room on her laptop - I thought this was quite a good idea as well, although less about collaboration, admittedly!

This is the point where I have to hold my hands up and say I really have a strong dislike for anything to do with Wikis. I don't know exactly why, but I have never found them useful - with the only exception being Wikipedia!! Although in principle I can see it's a good way of sharing info and encouraging everyone to keep it up to date and so on, I just try and steer clear of them. I think this could be because in one of my previous jobs, a Wiki was set up in which our team was meant to share info on our job roles, so we all knew what everyone did...we all became somewhat disillusioned when everything - literally, everything, was modified in some way by the manager after hours! Kind of defeated the purpose of group collaboration in my eyes and I think that may explain my aversion to all things Wiki-related! That having been said, in the right environment, and as the cpd23 blogger points out, it's a great way to keep track of particular duties, for example, among a small group of people. The Library Routes project is a great concept also. I am happy to hold my hands up and say that it's probably me who needs to get over this dislike of Wikis - something to work on, I guess!

Thing 13 has given me loads of food for though - aims are to utilise Google Docs and explore the world of Wikis a little further than just Wikipedia!

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Thing 12 - Putting the social into social media

Can't believe I have fallen slightly behind - AGAIN - with my 23 Things posts - apologies, it's been one of those weeks/months etc...

I think if you have read previous blog posts of mine, you will know all too well now that while I am fairly well-versed in using social networking on a personal level, I have struggled to incorporate it into my working life. That having been said, the very fact that I am taking part in cpd23 is in itself an indication of the value of social media in the workplace and in terms of professional development.

There is no doubt that social networking helps to foster the feelings of a community - certainly that is my experience in terms of the information world. Before I got involved with cpd23 and chartership (which was roughly all at the same time!), I felt like a fringe member of the legal information community, and as for the wider information community - well, I didn't feel like I belonged to that at all! However, as I have got more involved with CILIP and cpd23, my awareness of the wider library community has increased tremendously. Prior to this, I always held the belief that I didn't really 'belong' in any non-legal information communities - I suspect this is partly due to the fact that my various managers over the years have tended not to encourage wider community involvement.

Thanks to social networking, I have opened my eyes to the fact that there is a huge community out there and it is for all librarians, regardless of their specialist domain. Reading other cpd23 participants' blogs continues to be an excellent way of raising awareness and increasing my knowledge of what is going on in a number of different fields. It's interesting to read about how our professional experiences differ (and indeed overlap!), and being able to comment on each other's blogs brings another element of personal contact into it, which is great.

One of the most significant groups I have joined thanks to cpd23 is LIKE - London Information and Knowledge Exchange. I had no idea this group existed and now I have joined, I am amazed at the 'community' spirit that prevails in all the discussions, and the fact that they organise 'real world' meetups means that it's a real opportunity to get to know others from a whole range of backgrounds. LIKE is run on the LinkedIn website, and I think LinkedIn itself is a great example of how social networking can be used in the workplace. I must admit I still guard my privacy on there, and as discussed before, I don't put all my CV on there, just a little information, but since joining LIKE I have added a few more people to LinkedIn, which I am really pleased at.

I think social media definitely has a place in the workplace now - and while my particular workplace remains against it to a certain degree (no access to Twitter or Facebook), I think in time this will change, as the realisation dawns that so many people can be reached my these means. I do also find it somewhat ironic that our firm has set up a Twitter feed, yet in the UK at least, we can't access Twitter when we're at work...!!!

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Monday, 8 August 2011

The Incompetent Boss - and how to manage him/her

I don't think there's many people out there who haven't at some stage of their career had to deal with a particularly frustrating or difficult manager. I certainly have had some trying experiences in this respect, so it's no surprise that this particular Harvard Business Review management tip caught my eye: Dealing with your incompetent boss. I am always looking for new ways and ideas on how to cope with more 'challenging' people in the workplace in a professional manner - but also in a manner which doesn't end up with you losing the will to live in the process - so this post by Amy Gallo seemed pertinent.

Without a doubt in my eyes, the most common reason I have known for ending up with a 'bad' boss is because firms frequently promote members of staff who have been with the firm for years, they know the people and culture inside out, and they often have excellent technical ability. Indeed Gallo comments that:

"Ineptitude in managers is unfortunately common. McKee says that's because too many companies promote people for the wrong reasons. People get ahead because they show results or have the right technical capabilities, but they often don't have the requisite people skills."

There is no doubt in my mind that just being a technical whizz kid at your job does not a good manager make! In my eyes, the qualities of a good manager in a law library are not just being able to answer every research question proficiently, but also having the ability to coach and mentor team members; having a desire to help others develop and realise their potential; being approachable and ensuring that your staff know they can come to you for guidance and do not feel intimidated or dread asking you a simple question for fear of how you will react. (And in case you're wondering, yes, I am speaking from experience here!)

One other valid point that the writer makes before going on to suggest coping mechansims is not to judge your boss too harshly without considering what factors may be impacting upon them with regard to the powers above them:

""Be cautious about your judgment until you collect the evidence," [...] Remember she may have stressors you don't see or fully understand. "It's very common for people to completely miss the pressures their boss is under. Partly because a good manager will buffer you from them,""

 I do agree with this to an extent; it is not insignificant that in every firm I have worked in, morale in general can be strongly influenced by the management style that filters down from the very top of the hierarchy. I worked in one team whereby I had a very supportive manager, but the manager above her was an extremely difficult person to deal with in every respect, which caused my immediate manager a lot of stress and put her in a difficult situation on more than one occasion. So yes, sometimes we can be very quick to judge without knowing the full story, that is definitely true.

However, there are some managers who, no matter how many ways you look at their situation, are simply not equipped with the requisite key skills to make them a 'good' manager. This is when we need to find ways to improve our situation and make it more bearable - after all, we spend a substantial part of our lives in the office, very often in close proximity to the very person who seems to be causing all the problems!

Gallo makes a number of suggestions; I'm just going to pick out a few that struck a chord with me. Firstly:

"...Look to peers or people outside the organization for advice and a place to vent. This doesn't mean indiscriminate moaning about your boss. "You're not going to help by joining in on the complaining," says McKee. Instead find confidants: a trusted colleague, a spouse, a mentor, or a coach. Explain what you are seeing, how it is impacting you and your work, and ask for advice."

This is definitely something to bear in mind. It's all too easy to get into the habit of bitching about your boss to a friend or colleague, without actually trying to find ways to improve things. But getting someone else's perspective on the situation can often help you to look at it in a different way, or they might be able to make a suggestion with regard to how they would cope with it, if it were their boss. Don't get me wrong - I know all too well that sometimes you just need to get something off your chest - there are many times when I come home absolutely furious, rant for 20 minutes at my H2B and then it's forgotten (until the next morning, that is...!) But I agree you need to be wary of just bad mouthing your boss to other people at work. I have been party to many a heated, whispered conversation in the kitchen at work, but as I have moved from job to job and climbed the ladder a little higher each time, I have also become more aware that it is simply not appropriate to say too much about a boss to anyone - particularly a team member who in theory is more junior than you are - even if you are close friends, it can be a dangerous line to cross. One thing that always struck me about one of the best bosses I ever had was that although she had a fellow counterpart who was decidedly less popular than she was, she never ever said one single thing against her - although I am sure she must have been tempted at times! 

So the moral is - a vent now and again is human nature, but regular bitching and bad mouthing your superiors is never a good course of action!
Another salient point made by Gallo relates to finding ways of getting your boss to do what you need them to do - in other words, managing your manager:

"Managing your boss works best if you frame requests and interactions around your needs. Be specific about what you want: his input on your work, an introduction to another colleague, his permission to reach out to a client, etc. If he is unable to help, suggest an alternative: perhaps you can ask one of his peers or superiors for input or an introduction. Help him solve the problem."

In my opinion, this is definitely one of the best ways of coping with an ineffective manager. While it is always great to have a boss who anticipates and understands your needs, and what you require in order to develop professionally, when you aren't lucky enough to have someone like this, the best thing you can do is be firm and assertive, express your needs clearly and concisely, and suggest how they can go about helping you achieve whatever your goal may be. 

Gallo also suggests trying to alleviate the situation by looking at where you could fill some of the gaps. Those of you who read my previous cpd23 post on Mentoring will remember that my informal mentor is a lady who took it upon herself to train me in the basics of legal research when I first started out in law libraries, after she realised that my manager was pretty much leaving me to flounder. While some of you might think, why on earth should I do my boss's job for them, you should look at it as a chance for you to gain some experience in supervising/coaching etc - which will always stand you in good stead should you wish to progress within the organisation hierarchy:

"Rather than giving up on an ineffectual boss, focus on what you can do to fill in the holes. "It's the calling of leadership to understand what the office or organization needs, and what the customer deserves and to then help them get it. [...] You don't have to cover up mistakes but do what's best for the organization. [...] You need to do this without harboring resentment. Do it because you know that it's necessary for the good of the team"
The final point that struck a chord with me in this excellent article is the question of whether or not it's ever advisable to go above your boss, or go to HR about them:

"When you're working for someone who isn't getting the job done, it can be tempting to go to your boss's boss or another leader in the organization. First consider the consequences. "Hierarchy is alive and well. And this person has more power than you do. If you're going to expose them, you need to understand the political current in your organization," warns McKee. People at the top of an organization may feel threatened if they see someone trying to take down their peer and may be unwilling to help. Useem agrees. "It's hazardous to speak up in a very pragmatic sense. If it becomes known that it was you, who's going to be the first to go?" he says. So if you do decide to formally complain, he advises doing it carefully. Test the waters with someone you trust before going to HR or a superior." 

This is something that I feel very strongly about. In my opinion - and bear in mind this is only an opinion, based on my own experiences - your boss's boss rarely wants to hear about the alleged shortcomings of his or her managers - managers who they may have chosen for the job themselves. No matter how good your relationship may be with your boss's boss, you may be very surprised at how the shutters come down and you are met with utter resistance when you suggest that your immediate manager is not performing as they should be. As the writer mentions above:

'People at the top of an organization may feel threatened if they see someone trying to take down their peer and may be unwilling to help'.

It is likely that the manager about whom you're complaining is regarded by their manager as the lynchpin of the team in terms of technical knowledge (even if they rarely share that knowledge!) - consequently their boss does not want to enter into a situation in which they run the risk of losing that person. As Gallo says: who will be the first to go?

Approaching HR in this kind of situation is also an option, but if you do decide to exercise this right, in my experience you must make sure you have a written log of incidences whereby your manager has mishandled a situation, for example. Without this kind of evidence, it is highly unlikely they will be able to - or indeed want to - intervene. I also think that once again, you need to consider the other implications of speaking to HR about your boss - realistically, it is going to have a big impact on your working relationship with your boss, and in short make your life very uncomfortable. Whilst I certainly don't agree that you should just have to put up with an incompetent boss, my own experiences have led me to believe that if you can find ways of working to improve your situation as Gallo suggests, it may make your working life easier in the long run than if you have to deal with the political fall-out of going over your manager's head.

Having said all that, nobody should have to put up with a situation at work whereby their boss's behaviour is making them physically and/or mentally ill, and if you really don't see a way of managing the situation, then you must speak out - or seriously consider looking for another role!

""We can come to work every day and pay attention to this horrible boss or we can choose to pay attention to the people we are happy to see every day or the work we enjoy. We can choose which emotions we lean into,""
Some might say it's only psychobabble, but to be honest, it's probably a fair point - I certainly wish someone had said that to me in years gone by...!

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Sunday, 7 August 2011

'The Magical Law Library Staff' - is it true that law librarians are often underrated?

Abracadabra, your research is done...

So I came across this Linex Systems blog post titled The Magical Law Library Staff on another favourite blog of mine, The Running Librarian. It looks like it has struck a chord with a lot of us law librarians out there, which is why I felt I had to mention it myself!

In every law library I have worked in, it has been a long standing joke (although sometimes uttered with more bitterness than at other times, depending on what we have just been asked!) that the fee-earners have no concept of the amount of behind-the-scenes work undertaken by us on their behalf, to make their working lives easier. Journals that appear like clockwork every week on the lawyer's desk can often be the result of a several week-long battle with a particular supplier, trying in vain to understand why, if they have our correspondence details correct on their system as they claim, the journal has been sent to our old address 2 miles up the road for the last 3 months. That beautifully formatted, clear and concise current awareness bulletin is the result of onerous trawls through reams of news bulletins and other online/paper publications. And that neatly laid out and fully referenced answer to a horrible legal research question involved at the very least, a crash course in a very obscure point of law!

Now while some of you might say, well, what do you expect - that's what you're employed to do; that's your job to ensure all of the above and more happens as it should happen. And yes, that is true, of course it's our job - if we weren't actually making a difference to the fee-earners' lives then our existence wouldn't exactly be justified. So it's not so much that I need to be profusely thanked every single time I do something at work - far from it. No, what my own personal bugbear is that without exception, in every law firm I have worked in, there is still a core of people who simply have no clue that we are the ones managing the online databases on which they are so dependent; or that we are the ones constantly keeping abreast of the fee-earning work being done across the firm, and providing a tailored current awareness service as a result. Sadly it seems like there will always be some people who think that 'all' we do is tidy a few shelves every day.

In some ways though, the law firm library is its own worst enemy, as it often seems to me that librarians/information specialists or whatever job title we use, are not by nature the kind of people who blow their own trumpets. We tend to remain very much in the background, not seeking glory for what we do at all. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't want to be part of a team that did project an image of superiority, because I don't think that makes for great working relations with other departments! No, I just think that sometimes, the law firm library is highly underrated, which is a great shame. And even those general administrative tasks are still important - who wants to come into a library where there is a huge big messy pile of books and journals waiting to be shelved? If we didn't attend to tasks like that, as well as all the other things we do, then people would certainly notice us - and not in a good way. But when these things are all being done without fuss or faddle, you do sometimes wonder if people even stop to think about how much time we spend, making sure the library is a pleasant place to visit, and moreover, a useful stop for research.

I think another part of the problem is that the information profession in general is underrated. In fact, to some people, even calling it a profession is something they would question, because an astonishing number of people have no idea at all that, for example, in order to move up the ladder in law firm libraries, 9 times out of 10 you need to have attained at the very least, a post graduate diploma in information science/library studies etc, although the majority of my colleagues actually have the Masters qualification, or they studied the subject at undergraduate level. But on the rare occasion I have had cause to mention this fact to one of my fee-earners, without fail they react with genuine surprise. Sadly even in this day and age, librarianship is not like, say, accountancy, where it's  pretty well-known fact that you have to sit many exams before you fully qualify. People tend to know about teachers, doctors, nurses - but not many people know how we qualify!

One thing that also makes me laugh (or want to cry!) is the fact that a lot of fee-earners really do seem to think we are in fact magicians. No really, they do. You see,here's an example: fee-earners in my experience tend not to like spending money, and so when they come across an abstract of an article that is apparently exactly what they're looking for, they often find it very difficult to accept that, in some cases, the only way to access it will be for us to pay for it. I think they believe we have access to a magical, cost-free repository of data, which contains everything from that 2003 copy of the Journal of Fracking (yes that is a made up title, although believe it or not I was looking to 'fracking' last week!) to unreported cases from the 19th century! While it is certainly very flattering - perhaps we are just so good at our jobs that the fee-earners simply cannot believe there are things we can't obtain for them without incurring a cost - at the same time it can be frustrating after you have explained for the 3500th time to a new trainee that no, just because when you're at uni you have free access to every journal under the sun, doesn't mean it's the same here - particularly when we're in the cost-cutting climate that we are right now...

The Linex Systems blog post states that:

"The librarians are the ones who take the vague query they’re given, work out the core of it, learn the legal issues around it, collate relevant materials, and pass back a useful and relevant answer…even if sometimes the answer is “there’s no answer”, because nobody’s covered that point before (which happens a LOT more often than is fun for us – it’s not our fault no material exists on certain points!). We know our users, and which ones will expect not only the requested material, but also for you to have read it, and be able to have discussions about the content of that material."

I definitely empathise with this one as well! Sadly, we very often find in our job that what we are trying to prove as much as we can is that there is no answer to a query - and again, that's not something any lawyer likes to hear. While it is a lovely feeling when you discover a passage in a textbook or in a case or journal article that appears to all intents and purposes to be the very answer you're trying to ascertain, sadly this doesn't always happen, and so you end up simply trying to show that nothing appears to have been written about that particular issue yet, and/or that there is just no caselaw debating it.

The blog writer also mentions that:
"...And maintaining a master list of their passwords, because they NEVER do as they’re told, and keep the email with the information on it in a safe place."

Ah, the delightful forgotten password scenario. If I had £1 for every time a fee-earner forgets their login details...well, put it this way, I wouldn't be sat here writing about it! At our firm we are quite fortunate in that the most frequently used resources are now all IP-authenticated, meaning that login is automatic because the database recognises IP address from our office, and I can't tell you the amount of time that is saved in terms of forgotten password queries. That having been said, there are still several specialist databases that require passwords, and so when I set up access to these, I specifically ask if the details can be sent to me first, and then I can send them onto the new user myself, meaning that I can make a note of them on our passwords list and that way it doesn't matter if that new user loses their details down the line. Obviously it is a problem if they change the password they are given and don't tell us, but to be honest, I have only come across a handful of lawyers who ever actually have the time to do that! The other problem is that there are sometimes data protection issues that prevent some database administrators from sending a user's login to someone else, which means that I have to contact that fee-earner, pre-warn them that they will be receiving an email directly and so NOT to delete it assuming it's junk, AND kindly request that they forward it onto me so that I can maintain the password record. And if you're wondering how many people actually do as I ask, then you've probably guessed correctly - not many! AAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!

So I guess the big question is: are law librarians really underrated? In my opinion, I think unfortunately there are some fee-earners who will never see us (if they see us at all) as anything more than book shelf stackers, but before this post puts you off ever contemplating a career in a law firm library, let me reassure you by saying that for every non-appreciative fee-earner, in every firm I have worked in I have had just as many very grateful fee-earners, who truly do seem to appreciate the hours we spend on ensuring that they have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information and resources, and having their research requests answered efficiently and promptly.

Ah, the sweet life of the City law librarian....

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Thursday, 4 August 2011

Thing 11 - Mentoring

Funnily enough, I am in a very similar position to Meg who wrote this week's cpd23 post on mentoring - I have 2 mentors also, and again, one is on an informal level, and the other on a more formal level.

The mentoring relationship, however, is not something that I had given a lot of though to, until the time came for me to have an official mentor. My 'official' mentor I had to find as part of the CILIP Chartership process that I am currently involved in. While CILIP state that your mentor does not need to be someone from the same field as you, I decided I would prefer someone from the law library field purely because our kind of librarian roles tend to be worlds apart from that of academia or public libraries, for example, and so I really didn't feel that there would be much benefit in getting someone from another domain for this particular purpose - although on an informal basis it is always very interesting to talk to librarians from all areas!!!

The mentor I have been lucky enough to find to accompany me down the Chartership road does seem to personify everything a mentor should be. He has a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge of the industry and his finger is on the pulse of every new trend and how it affects the information profession. He also plays a very active part in the law librarian community, and indeed the wider librarian/information profession as a whole. Without a doubt he is someone to emulate and frankly, I do not have a clue how he manages to keep all the balls in the air! He is also extremely personable and easy to approach, and always very reassuring/calming when I have emailed him in a tizz over some Chartership-related thing! He is also very honest; I believe that if he doesn't think something I am doing/writing is for the best, he will tell me so - he criticises constructively and gives praise where it's due. Equally, I find I can be honest with him and tell him if I don't understand or agree with what he suggests. I have confidence in his opinions and advice and am happy to be guided through the minefield that is putting together a portfolio by him!

But what of the mentee, i.e. me? What do I bring to the mentoring relationship? Meg talks about how a mentee should do the following:

"...[as a ] mentee, your role is not to accept the advice and assistance of a mentor passively, but to try to give back in terms of gratitude, professional sharing, and enthusiasm. You should be quite clear about your strengths and weaknesses and be honest about what sort of assistance you would like your mentor to provide."

This is quite significant to me, as sometimes I am fully aware that I lack confidence in my own opinions, and so very often I prefer to just ask for someone else's opinion to either back up my own, or just to base my actions on - therefore I have to always consciously work against the notion of just taking the advice passively. I try my best to take on board what he says, but - as I mentioned above - tell him what my thoughts are, and if I am not happy or comfortable enough to go down a particular road.

I hope that I give back in terms of gratitude (not least by writing this glowing testimonial on him...!!) - I always thank him for his assistance, and try to actually action what we talk about, rather than just agree with him on everything, but never actually get anything constructive done after we have met. The one thing that does worry me is professional sharing - sometimes I do feel that really, what is there that I could possibly share with him that he doesn't already know? But then I think, well, we might work in the same field but actually, we do very different jobs, therefore there are probably many experiences that I have that would be new to him, and vice versa.

In terms of being honest about strengths and weaknesses, I must admit this is something I do not struggle with. I am by nature quite an upfront person - if something is bothering me, I prefer to just get it out in the open; equally, I don't pretend to know all about things I actually know nothing of. From the outset I have been very clear about the areas I feel are weak - this is something I need to do anyway, in order to set myself goals during the Chartership period, so it would have been foolish to pretend that I have no major weaknesses! Strengths are equally important, and hopefully my mentor is getting to know what mine are.

My informal mentor is a lady I actually mentioned in my (lengthy!) Thing 10 post. If you didn't quite make it that far, said lady is someone who started a couple of weeks after me in my very first law firm job, although obviously she was at a higher level, as at that point I think she had at least 5 years - maybe more - experience in law firm libraries. I can say with my hand on my heart - I very much doubt I would have stayed in that first job as long as I did if it hadn't been for this woman. She quickly realised that I had absolutely zilch experience in all things legal, and moreover, that no one else in the team had bothered to go through the very basics of law - for example, what a law report actually is; how legislation is made; how to find cases and legislation online - and many other things of that ilk. She took it upon herself to go through a number of topics with me, answered my questions, gave me useful websites to look short, she became my unofficial supervisor.

I definitely believe that a mentor is someone who you should look up to and have as a role model, and this lady remains that person for me today. Over the years I observed a great deal about her that I very much admire - and it's not just about her technical knowledge, she has a wonderful way with people and can relate well to everyone from all levels. She has a natural, warm persona which makes her very approachable, and when you do ask her something, she will explain it very clearly, and answer any questions patiently, without ever making you feel like a nuisance for asking. This is something I admired greatly and have tried to ensure is the impression I give to colleagues. When we worked together, I loved the way she interacted with the lawyers - she is the sort of person who can make friends with everyone, and although I know I will never be quite the same - in short I am probably a lot more shy - without a doubt she remains the best role model I could ever have for doing my job, and indeed I base a lot of the training sessions that I give today on her methods. She has a wonderful sense of humour , probably quite similar to mine, and she has a unique way of keeping training sessions light hearted, but getting the points across clearly and concisely at the same time.

As we got to know each other better, our friendship grew stronger outside of work as well as inside, and she has supported me through many ups and downs over the last 6 years. In fact to this day we still joke about how to me, she will always be 'senior librarian', and although I don't work with her anymore - we both left the firm within a month of each other - I still draw on my observations of her handling of many situations. I believe I am very lucky to have met someone who has had such a strong influence on my career, and even now, I don't hesitate to ask for her advice if something is troubling me at work.

It is only when I think about it that I realise how much I have got - and am getting - out of the mentoring relationships I have, that I realise how important a mentor, be it formal or informal, actually is with regard to your professional development. The experiences I have had with mentoring have definitely made me want to give something back - and I do try to do so when I can with our library assistant, for example. Qualifications are important of course, but you can also learn a great deal from just asking and observing colleagues whom you think do their job particularly well. It would be nice one day to be one of those people!

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Thing 10 - Graduate traineeships, Masters Degrees, Chartership, Accreditation

Having read a few other posts on this topic, and from what I know of other acquaintances, it is amazing how so many of us didn't set out to work in the information profession right from the start of their working careers, but rather found out about it further down the line. Others, of course, studied information or library studies at university, or at least did their library qualification straight after university, and had a clear idea of the type of library/information role they would like.

I fall into the former category - after graduating with a modern languages degree, I had no clear career path, other than that I did NOT want a job involving languages - the last 4 years had well and truly seen to that! What had been a joy at school had ground me down somewhat, and so I had no inclination to study further at that time and get, say, my translating postgrad qual, nor did I have any desire to move abroad and find work there. (I'm something of a home body!) So my first job was actually working as a trainee claims adjuster for a small - and dare I say - somewhat...unethical medical insurance company. Yes, the salary was utterly pitiful and some of the small print of their policies made me cringe on many occasions, but I was working on the iconic (at least to me!) Baker Street and living in London for the first time, so I was deliriously happy nonetheless. I was lucky enough to start this job on the same day as a girl in exactly the same boat as me (21, just graduated, new to London etc) and to my delight we became close friends, and remain as such to this day.

In spite of this, however, my enthusiasm for the insurance world started to dwindle rapidly, and so my roles for the next couple of years took me out of the claims adjusting field and into simply more general admin roles: team secretary, office administrator and PA to a Customer Relationship Manager to name but a few. I grew accustomed to the corporate world, but I still wasn't 100% happy or fulfilled in my roles.

Librarianship was actually a career my dad suggested I would enjoy many, many years ago, mostly because as a child I loved reading and spent hours in the library with my like-minded father. But as I got into my teenage years and my longing for the bright lights of London grew stronger, somehow becoming a librarian quite frankly didn't seem glamourous or exciting enough. Furthermore, I had no idea that librarianship as a profession existed out of public libraries and academia. Working in a law library is just not something the careers officer would ever suggest where I come from!

While at university I did work for a year in my college library after winning a library scholarship to assist me with my studies. I really enjoyed this work, but have to admit I was teased mercilessly by my friends about it, proving yet again the bad press and stereotypes that are given to our profession. This certainly didn't encourage me to look into this field as a potential career - in fact, if anything, it made me shy away from it even more.

In all honesty I don't know if I would ever have gone down the road of librarianship had it not been for the sudden loss of my beloved father, which - and I know this sounds cliched - did make me stop and think about where I was going in terms of my career. So I started doing some investigating, and via the CILIP website, came across a graduate library admin assistant post in a city law firm. It sounded perfect for me, as I had by then a lot of solid admin experience, plus a genuine desire to learn more about what a law librarian role actually entailed.

I must be honest here and admit that it was not an easy decision to make purely on a practical level - the reason being that although I was bored in my admin roles, I had moved up the ladder pretty quickly and so was earning not bad money for a 23 year old. Accepting the role of library admin assistant meant a pay cut of £5500 - not exactly a negligible amount.

Anyway, the upshot is I took the job, and that was the beginning of my career as a law librarian. I spent 3 years at that first law firm - when I started, unlike many trainee positions in law firms, there was no fixed term contract or expectation to study for the Masters degree in librarianship. The role was really open ended, which to be honest was a double edged sword. On the plus side, it meant it was a flexible role - my manager at the time was very good about letting me try and answer basic enquiries - but on the down side, it meant that there was no real focus or goal in sight - and after a year or so, I began to feel restless - I couldn't stay as an admin assistant forever, even if I was getting more legal research experience than many of my counterparts at other law firms. There was simply nowhere for me to aim, and nice as my manager was, she had never bothered to create an official training programme, for example, therefore my learning was very much on the job. In fact if it hadn't been for an older, more experienced colleague who started at the same time as me, I would never have had any training in the fundamentals of legal research - case law, legislation etc. (I shall talk more about this lady in Thing 11 - suffice to say she was my unofficial mentor all the years I worked in that firm, and in many ways remains a role model today)

After being in the job for about 1.5 years,  I decided to ask if I could apply to do my MSc in Library and Information Studies part time. An arrangement was made that my employer would pay for half of my tuition fees, plus let me have day release to attend lectures once per week in term time. A clause was added to my contract that said if I left within so many months of obtaining my qualification, I would be obliged to pay back all or a proportion of the fees they had paid for me. As luck (not sure if that's the right word!) would have it, for a number of reasons, none of which I shall go into right now, things changed very quickly within our team - and not in a good way; and so at the end of my first year of studies, I decided to leave the firm for a new role as a fully fledged Information Officer in another law firm library.

Despite a period of almost crippling financial hardship thanks to the tuition fees debacle with my previous employer, making the move was definitely the right decision for me. I needed a new challenge desperately, and I was very fortunate that this employer was willing to take into account my experience over the last 3 years, and offer me the job - despite only being at that point semi-qualified in an official sense. They were also very accommodating in terms of letting me continue my studies - although without any financial support, admittedly.

I truly reaped the rewards of that role, and I believe this is mostly because it was actually a solo librarian role - the head office of the firm was based up north, and so I ran the London library myself - although with much support from my bosses in the other office, and with whom I was in very regular contact. But I think when you are thrown into a situation like that, you just HAVE to learn, somehow, to cope, and I gained so much more enquiry experience - yes, it was frightening and very stressful at times, but I was also allowed to really get involved with the acquisitions side of things for the London office. I had made some contacts with regard to the main sellers of legal publications, and so I was able to use these contacts to overhaul the book buying process in London. Within a year of being in the role, I could look back on how I was when I first joined the firm and feel quite amazed at the experience I had acquired in such a short time.

For the most part, I was happy in this role, particularly as I took it just as the full force of the recession hit - redundancies were being made in law firms across the board, and I just thanked my lucky stars I got out of my old firm when I did. There was, however, a 'summer of discontent' when we all had to take a period of unpaid leave, as the partners tried desperately to cut costs - but we all went along with it because it was still better than being put out of a job. That having been said, the morale did drop a bit in London, certainly, and so by the time my 12 month anniversary had been and gone, I was feeling a little disgruntled with it all, but nothing major.

However, fate or whatever other forces are at work out there led me to change jobs once again, just shortly after I had submitted my dissertation and so finally finished the MSc studies. It so happened that a recruitment agent I had used previously let me know of a vacancy that had arisen, and thought I would be suitable for. To cut a long story short (although looking at the length of this post thus far, it could be a little late for that!!) I put myself forward, got the job, and that's where I am today, working as the senior analyst in the information centre AKA library of yet another City law firm.

At the start of the year, I made the decision that I would like to at least try and Charter. Prior to this, I had always been of the mindset that after spending 2.5 years working on my MSc, whilst holding down full time work, I would never, EVER do anything remotely connected to workplace study again....but whatever, here I am in the middle of it!

I have to admit that Chartership does seem to be something of a controversial issue amongst law librarians. Some are very enthusiastic about it and say that it is definitely worth doing; others, like some of my former bosses, say that it means absolutely nothing to them and would not recommend it at all to someone in our profession. My current employers are supportive of me doing it, but at the same time, are not going to be giving me a pay rise or any other bonus if I do manage to attain this qualification.

Although I am hoping to be able to submit a portfolio to CILIP at the end of the year, if I am perfectly honest, I think the most important thing to be able to advance in the law library world is the Masters degree. When I was interviewing for my second job, when I was halfway through the MSc, there were SO MANY firms who wouldn't even deign to interview me, despite me having as good as - if not more - experience than the average graduate trainee. All they were interested in in the first instance was me being qualified. I realise that many would agree this is important - I am just looking at it from a different perspective, and think it's a shame when good experience and a person's cultural fit is overlooked because of a lack of one qualification.

Furthermore - and I do realise this may not be the case for librarians in other sectors - but for the most part, my MSc was just a means to an end - it has advanced me up the career ladder, and I had to get it in order to do so - but I would say only a very small part of all I had to learn actually has any bearing in my day-to-day role.

Finally, I studied part time at City University, which basically involved day release every week during term time for 2 years, then I had 6 months in which to complete my dissertation. City was recommended to me by my boss in my first law firm - she felt that the course there was contemporary and more relevant to what we do in a law firm from a technology point of view.

I won't lie and pretend it was a cinch - those 2 years of attending uni once a week and working full time the rest of the week were damned hardgoing! But if you're in that position, stick with it, because it will be worth it later on.

This is surely a record for the longest blog post year! I'll let you have a break before I do my next one on mentoring!

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