Category Archives: Business of Law

AALL or AfLI: What’s in a Name?

While I have left law library employment, I was a lawyer librarian and a member of AALL for over 15 years. I’ve been slow to the debate over changing the organization’s name. I still have mixed feelings. But also have perspective as someone who has departed to, at least, the far fringes of the profession.

The American Association of Law Libraries is considering changing its name to the Association for Legal Information. The change has been recommended by the Executive Board and will be voted on by the membership. In 2009, the Special Libraries Association rejected a similar change in name (to the Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals). My prediction is that the AALL membership will also reject the change. My own feelings are mixed.

I no longer work in a law library. I left a senior role in an academic library for complicated reasons. This was most immediately related to local issues and local dysfunction in a particular organization. But I also had become rather disillusioned with the state of librarianship, or at least of law academic librarianship into which I had personal visibility. Legal professions and academic institutions have, to date, both been very slow to change. But rather than the progressive forces within our parent institutions that, I think, most librarians imagine themselves to be, I had increasingly come to see the library as part of the problem — needlessly conservative about extremely costly collection practices, determined to wait for various outside white knights to fix scholarly and legal communications crises in the response to which we would rightly sit squarely in the center, and with almost nothing but defensiveness to offer in response to the current dilemma of legal education in finding a way to better provide responsible, cost-effective, and sustainable service to our student customers.

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Why is so much law in PDF files?

In January, I came across Margaret Hagan’s “short manifesto,” Law’s PDF Problem, on the blog of her Open Law Lab project. She argues that too many public-facing legal resources — her examples include several explanatory and instructional charts or tools for the lay public — are locked away within PDF files, often as small parts of much longer PDFs. She argues that the lack of responsiveness of PDF files to different device sizes and screen formats, along with other obstacles to easy end-user interaction with small parts of larger PDFs, are a usability obstacle to general public access to law. As it happens, I’ve also been thinking a lot about legal publishing and the PDF, from a somewhat different angle.
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LegalHackCHI, “Hacking Law,” legal services innovation

November 19, 2014

I’ve been following the #legalhackCHI tweets today as the Chicago legal innovation and technology meetup holds what sounds like it has been a very well-attended introductory meeting. Daniel Katz of Michigan State spoke about his data-driven, algorithmic, modeling and prediction of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Andrew Baker and Amani Smathers, who help Seyfarth Shaw integrate data-driven decision-making into its client services model (which also integrates Six Sigma process-management techniques into legal services) spoke about “tiny data.” Carla Goldstein, formerly of Seyfarth Shaw and now with BMO Financial Group, gave an in-house counsel perspective on legal innovation.

These kinds of events, along with somewhat related “hackathons” to bring coders/developers and the legal community together at a low-level, practical, level, have been going on around the country for a while. Rob Richards, of the Legal Informatics Blog has been listing and digesting posts from these events — describing them as a movement — since 2012. The CALI folks have been involved, promoting their A2J (Access to Justice) platform for automating/scripting “interviews” to provide web-based document assembly.

The Computational Legal Studies blog likens this movement to the Homebrew Computer Club of the 1970s.