By Sue Mecklem, Oregon Chapter, Legal Division
I’m back from my first SLA conference, which was a wonderful, stimulating experience. I attended some interesting Legal Division and CI sessions, heard thought-provoking speeches by Thomas Friedman and James Kane, met some great people, and came back feeling energized about the profession.
One of the best parts of attending the conference is that I finally feel like I “get” what Future Ready is all about within the context of working as a librarian in a large law firm. I’d frankly been a bit irritated with the whole idea, in great part because law firms are typically late adopters of technology and not known as innovators. (See Eric Mankin’s article “Innovation in Practice: Why’s It’s So Hard” to learn why firms are slow adopters.) I felt left out of the party because SLA was focusing on these wonderful technological advances and cool toys (e.g. 23 Things, the Innovation Lab) and as much fun as I had testing them out and playing with them, I couldn’t see much value for my law firm.
But…my days being immersed in all things Future Ready at the SLA conference have shown me that Future Ready is not at all about the technology. It’s not about the gadgets or cool social networking tools that we just don’t use here at the law firm. It’s not about the coolest open-source software.
What Future Ready is about is looking forward while keeping your eye on the here and now, and doing what we all do best – being ready to connect people with information, in whatever format they need at that particular moment. At law firms, being Future Ready may mean slow adoption of new technologies and introducing new ideas in a measured manner, but the underlying readiness to connect our attorneys to quality information is what’s important. Law firms are not known for innovative practices but because of recent changes in the economy, the practice of law must change because clients are demanding it.
I’ve let the ideas and information I encountered at the conference marinate since I got back from Philly and I’ve come up with a few things we law librarians can do to gently pull slow adopters into the future. The first is to become more comfortable with technology and online tools ourselves. Knowing how to search Twitter for news about a potential client, how to search LinkedIn for an executive’s current place of employment, and how to send emails and attachments that are readable on mobile devices are basic skills we all need, and will help us show the value of new tools to the decision makers.
The second thing we can do is be patient and offer to train attorneys the way they learn best. High performers often hate looking like they don’t know something and can get easily frustrated so individual training might work better than lecturing to a group of people. Other ways to reach out include creating podcasts and online guides so attorneys can refer to them when they need them.
A third important thing is to find advocates within your firm who are interested in new ways of doing things. Attorneys interested in new technology can help informally market new ideas from the library when they tell their colleagues about them. Share interesting tidbits and cool new tools with the community of those who are interested, even if they are small in number. They will pass along helpful, interesting information to their colleagues.
Being Future Ready within the context of a law firm means encouraging the use of new technology and new ways of thinking, being patient with slow adopters, and collaborating and aligning with attorneys and others who are forward thinkers. It really is as basic as connecting attorneys with information, in new ways.
Sue Mecklem is the Reference Librarian in the Portland office of law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. She’s an active member of the Oregon Chapter of SLA and serves as its secretary.