How to Benefit from Attending Practice Group Meetings

By , August 13, 2010 4:51 pm

by Sue Mecklem

In the past year, our firm’s librarians have had a goal of figuring out how we can assist our attorneys more effectively. There are many approaches to gleaning this information, from casual water cooler conversations to electronic surveys to educated guesses. One idea we decided to explore was  attending practice group meetings to figure out how we could assist our attorneys in their work. The experience has been a productive learning experience for me.

My approach to attending practice group meetings at first was to ask the practice group meeting organizer if I could attend an upcoming meeting to listen and learn. For my first visits I did not prepare formal presentations or ask to be included on the agenda but gave the group a quick spiel on how we librarians were looking for ways to assist them and how we were interested in learning more about their practices. I always had positive responses to my sitting in on practice group meetings.As I became more comfortable sitting in on their meetings, I started providing a small paper bookmark with at least one practice group book title, subscription database link, or website they might find useful. I borrowed my colleague Fred Hanson’s idea of compiling a list of practice specific periodicals for certain groups.

The benefits of attending a few practice group meetings a month far outweigh the time spent sitting in one of their meetings. The tangible results include better use of and knowledge about our low cost resources, more reference and research requests, and better knowledge about what we librarians can do e.g. company research before an interview with a potential client. The less tangible results include a broader group of lawyers using our services, collaboration with our paralegals, and forging friendly working relationships. I have grouped the benefits of attending practice group meetings into five arbitrary categories below.

Low Cost Resources Are Utilized More

I made a point of reminding each group about one important low cost resource that pertains to their practice such as a firm-wide Westlaw or Lexis electronic library or subscription database. I have realized that it’s a good practice to give people information more than once; in particular, busy attorneys tend to operate on a need-to-know basis when it comes to learning about library resources, and may not recall information from their library orientation and or read their emails from the library regularly, if at all. An in person visit allows for immediate questions about our resources, and a short follow up email in the next week reinforces what they learned. I always had at least one attorney (often a partner) who was completely unaware of a particular resource; it saves money when attorneys use the resources we’ve already paid for.

Librarians’ Company Research Capabilities are Better Known

A big concern in all law firms in the past few years has been finding new clients. We librarians are experts at compiling company information but some of our non-library users had not thought of asking us to do this kind of work. If an opportunity to research a company mentioned in a practice group meeting arose, I would prepare a quick company report and email it to the group to reinforce what we do. I’ve had lots more requests for company information than I did before advertising our expertise at practice group meetings.

Librarians and Paralegals Collaborate More Effectively

One interesting benefit from attending practice group meetings has been getting to know what our paralegals are working on. After attending a couple of environmental practice group meetings, their paralegal and I have collaborated on a number of projects since she learned what we librarians do. The group of paralegals as a whole asks us for assistance more often now because they know what we have to offer, and that we are actively looking for ways to help them.

Librarians Learn About the Firm’s Practices

It’s been very gratifying to learn about the inner workings of each group, what they are focused on, who their big clients are, and what kinds of marketing opportunities there are. Sometimes a comment or question at a practice group meeting can lead to educating attorneys about a little known resource. I have benefited by learning more about the jargon and acronyms in certain practices, and learning about the stressors a particular group has to deal with. It’s been useful to attend firm-wide groups meetings to get the big picture view of who does what, and to see the evolution of practice groups not based by geographic boundaries but on their practices.

Improved Working Relationships Benefits Everyone

It has been great to see what smart, funny people I work with. One group is well known for having the best food at their practice group meetings; another group laughs heartily and often. At firm social events, I know more people and can chat about something more exciting than the weather. In elevators, it’s easier to share relevant information informally about a new article or new resource. I have been in practice group meetings in which one of the attorneys has given unsolicited kudos to us librarians; it’s gratifying and leads me to think we are doing something right.

I definitely suggest attending your firm’s practice group meetings on occasion to remind attorneys what resources you have and how you can assist them but also to learn more about their concerns. The amount of work it has garnered hasn’t been overwhelming but the positive responses to my interest in their practices has made a noticeable difference in my working relationships. Marketing our libraries and our skills can be difficult, but in this day and age, it’s important to let our attorneys know we are here to help with their information needs, and can save the firm money.

3 Responses to “How to Benefit from Attending Practice Group Meetings”

  1. Brenna Louzin says:

    Thanks, Sue.

    I could not agree more with the embedded/engaged librarian concept.

  2. Michael says:

    This is a great post. I’ve been looking to attend practice group meetings at my firm (75 lawyers).
    Would you mind telling me more about your firm? Size? # of practice groups? Do you attend all the practice group meetings and how often are they? Was there initial resistance to your presence at first and how did you overcome that?



  3. admin says:

    From Sue Mecklem:

    Our office has about 90 attorneys, and about 500 firm wide. There are numerous groups – practice groups, sub-groups of the PGs, client groups, and various other groups. I try to attend at least one meeting a week – it’s not realistic to do much more than that. I’ve never had anyone resist my attending – I can’t imagine why they would. When I ask to attend, I explain that I’d like to observe the PG meeting so I can learn more about their practice and thus be more helpful in knowing what resources they might use. The next time I attend, I might give a very short presentation about a new database, or hand out a list of relevant books.

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