Will Robots Take Over the Law Library?

by Lora Johns

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In recent years, websites have sprung up that allow the anxious professional to input her job title and find out when she will be replaced by automation. Based on the calculations of an Oxford University report, Will Robots Take My Job? puts the reference librarian’s chances of obsolescence at 65%.

Tools like this tap into one of our fundamental anxieties: in the age of Google and information aggregators, what is the point of us? Most people, after all, can find most of what they need most of the time with a natural-language web search.

Physicist and author William Poundstone offers some hints. In the recently released paperback Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up, he charts our complicated relationship with information and the truth.

In it, he identifies a major information problem: the Dunning-Kruger effect. This principle holds that “those most lacking in knowledge and skills are least able to appreciate that lack.” They are ignorant of their ignorance. Americans grossly overestimate the proportion of minority groups in society (leading, perhaps, to a fear that straight, white, native Christians are endangered). They overestimate unemployment by more than a factor of five. Yet only a third of those polled admitted “I was just guessing” on questions whose answers they did not know.

The implications are troubling, especially when you consider that it applies to knowledge of the news—fake or mainstream—and informs how people react to current events. People don’t think they need to know facts because they can always look them up—but people won’t look up facts that they don’t know they don’t know. How can we make people care about smartening up when they don’t even know they’re, well, dumb? Moreover, let’s say someone does recognize her own ignorance on a topic, so she Googles it to find out more. How will she assess the credibility and agendas of the websites she encounters? Can she tell good information from bad?

This is where the librarians can come to the rescue far more than any AI. Computers can serve up information quickly and cheaply—but that information is either undifferentiated or overly cherry-picked, keeping the reader locked in a filter bubble that only lets in concurring viewpoints. Librarians train themselves to not just find sources of information, but critique and assess their quality. We are a profession dedicated to information literacy, and people know it—in an August Pew Research survey, 78% of U.S. adults said they rely on the library to help them find trustworthy, reliable information.

Law librarians have an especially important role to play. Poundstone highlights attorneys as people who function knowing “nothing except where to look up what [they] need.” After all, no one can know by heart each line of the Federal Register. Yet living inside a Dunning-Kruger bubble is as bad for a law professor, lawyer, or legal scholar as it is for a journalist or scientist. But in this media-rich age, there’s more information available than any individual could ever hope to survey, let alone appraise and digest. As law librarians, we can provide the kind of information curation and gentle nudges to expand one’s horizons that Google (or Westlaw or Lexis) don’t and can’t. When information on law and politics is easier to find and harder to verify than ever before, we can help, to borrow from James Madison, “refine and enlarge the public views” by illuminating the gaps in our patrons’ knowledge and helping them find the most credible sources to fill them with.

Plus, as humans, not commercially-developed artificial intelligences, we can critically evaluate the algorithms behind services like Google Search and Washington Post’s customized news app that determine what content the user sees. Being outside the automated process of information delivery allows us to better apprise our patrons of the reliability or bias they may find within these helpful tools.

In short, we are nimble, socially responsible information professionals, trusted by the public and constantly evolving. Siri’s got nothing on us.

Posted in Artificial intelligence, Issues in Law Librarianship, Technology | Leave a comment

Hindsight: Realizing the Importance of Legal Research

by Bret Christensen

Once upon a time, I taught legal research and writing at a local law school. One day, a former student came to me and told me that he hated the class so much that on the last day of class, he burned all his notes during a weenie roast at the beach.  When he finally graduated from law school and passed the bar, he landed a job with the District Attorney’s office. His assignment was to write briefs laying out the issues of cases so that attorneys would know what is going on. With little over an hour to write each brief, it was critical that his research and writing skills were tack-sharp. At about this point, he asks me, “Can you teach me what you taught in that legal research and writing class (you know, all those things that were in the notes that he burned at the weenie roast)?”  Yeah, no.  First, because I didn’t have the time and second, because karma. It’s really nasty when it wants to be.

In retrospect, I suspect that had he started with “as a law librarian (and former instructor), can you suggest some resources to help me review what we learned in class or, maybe even, just give me a quick refresher on the basics of legal research?” and then ended with the part about the weenie roast, things might have turned out different. The problem is that he got caught up with all the resentment of law school. I mean I get it; law students hate legal research and writing. It’s so, so, so….practical (whereas everything else in law school is theoretical). It’s like going 1,000 mph taking contracts, torts, property, crim law….and then having to slam on your breaks because you got stuck behind some old lady doing 20!

Take, for example, the newly minted attorney who came dragging into my office the other day. She recently passed the bar, decided to hang out her own shingle, accepted her first divorce case, and realized she didn’t have a clue where to start. She was telling me how much she hated legal research and writing and, yet, received the highest score in many of her other classes, was Ms. Wizard in trial practice, moot court was a breeze, flew through the bar, and slammed up against reality when she started practicing law and realized how important that one, single legal research class really was. Good thing she had sense enough to realize that if she didn’t have a clue how to do legal research, that someone at her local county law library could and would, at least, give her some pointers on how to get going.

Turns out, she was right. While I wasn’t about to do her research for her, I was able to point her to some helpful resources. Since one of the issues she was dealing with had to do with the valuation of a family business, I suggested she take a look at:

  • American Jurisprudence Proof of Facts TR; Vol. 137, 3d series, page 267.  What is great about the 3rd series of POF is that many of the proofs include sample complaints, discovery plans, and actual proofs (i.e. questions) attorneys can use to question witnesses in depositions or trials.
  • American Law Reports TR; 16 ALR6th 693. Traditionally, not my immediate go-to-resource, it so happened that the article in this ALR spoke directly to what newly minted was looking for, so, why not?
  • Business Succession Planning: strategies for California estate planners and business attorneys CEB; Chp. 18: Business Valuation.  When the new attorney saw the part in the title as “estate planners,” she started in that it had nothing to do with what she was dealing with. “Excuse me?” said the legal information professional (i.e. me).  If you don’t trust anyone else, trust the law Librarian – because we’re not here to waste our time wasting your time.
  • California Civil Practice: family law litigation TR; Vol. 1, Chp. 5: Character and Valuation of Property. The running theme, here, is to find something that will help with the valuation of a business. Most states have something on the topic; California has scads of resources about it.
  • California Forms of Pleading and Practice Lexis; Vol. 18, Chp. 222: Dissolution of Marriage: Property Division and Valuation.  If you practice law in California and you have avoided touching California Forms of Pleading and Practice, then maybe you should be a dentist or something other than a lawyer. It’s full of sample briefs, motions, discovery and other templates. Pleading and Practice is one of the best resources for the newly minted or thoroughly seasoned practicing attorneys.

And off she went to develop her case (and make money).

Moral of this story: if you happen to be in law school, and you happen to be taking legal research and writing, and you happen to be thinking that you are wasting your time and that you’re just going to have your secretary or paralegal write all your motions and briefs as soon as you pass the bar anyway. That, my friend, is a pipe dream. Best to pay attention and take copious notes because as omnipotent as your local county law librarian is, we’re not going to do your work for you.

Blog about you, yes.  Work for you, no.

Posted in Career, Legal Research | Leave a comment

The Fight to Bring Legal Research to the Front

by Brandon Wright Adler

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Last week I gave a lecture to the Advanced Legal Research course about the economics of legal research. Most of the students in this class are 3L’s and nearly ready to take on the legal world. Well, even if they aren’t, they are about to be thrown head first into their chosen career path. Anyhow, in this lecture, for shock value (and for actual value) I opened with the anatomy of the billable hour. Going over the pros and cons of using the billable hour system, the students seemed to be aware, if not mildly comfortable with what this system entails. This was including the part where they are at work for an actual total of 50 hours a week, not including drive time, but only really billing for 37.5 hours AND the fact that those 50 hours will not get them anywhere near the respectable average of 1800 billable hours annually (on the low end). However, fear and shock quickly struck as I was showing them price list examples of the BIG 3 legal databases: Westlaw, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law. What I quickly learned as the lecture went on is that these 3L law students were not so comfortable with the plethora of low-cost and free legal research resources out there. By not so comfortable I mean, they had little to zero knowledge that much of anything existed outside of the Big 3. This post today will not serve to reiterate what these resources are as most of us know these resources probably inside and out. Instead, I want to point out the benefits and the reason it is necessary that we as legal information professionals are talking to our administration and curriculum committees about the importance of making Advanced Legal Research (taught by law librarians) a required course to graduate.

What I quickly learned as the lecture went on is that these 3L law students were not so comfortable with the plethora of low-cost and free legal research resources out there. By not so comfortable I mean, they had little-to-zero knowledge that much of anything existed outside of the Big 3. This post will not serve to reiterate these low-cost or free resources, as most of us already know these resources. Instead, I’ll point out the benefits and the reasons it is necessary that we, as legal information professionals, are talking to our administration and curriculum committees about the importance of making Advanced Legal Research (taught by law librarians) a required course.

First, it is absolutely necessary that legal research skills be taught beyond the first year of law school. During the first year of law school, students are learning so much brand new information that they will be lucky to remember their names by the end of the year. Further, the first year of law school forces an individual to completely break down nearly all of their already developed learning habits and start from square one. You do not get taught the same way in law school as you did for previous educational programs (Socratic method, anyone?). You are not tested the same way in law school as you have been tested through every other educational program in life. And, therefore, you do not study the same way in law school that you studied for other programs. So, as law schools are teaching basic legal research skills during 1L,  students are also keeping in mind that their doctrinal courses are worth far more credit. They are also weighing the fact that they only need to learn enough to complete their writing assignments. Whether legal writing and legal research are taught together or separate, the students are not building any sort of foundation because they are not asked to use these skills again. And they are generally not being asked to use these skills any further than Westlaw or Lexis Advance because that is what they have available to them through the school. Or, perhaps, they are using Fastcase or Casemaker because their summer employer may have those databases through bar association memberships, although, students can now use their Westlaw and Lexis accounts for summer employment, too.

Second, we have to keep in mind that not all students graduate from law school, pass the bar, and go on to work for big law firms. Especially here at Loyola New Orleans College of Law; we have a lot of students who go on to practice in a solo or small firm capacity. While it is not logical to have students learn about these low-cost and free legal research resources as a 1L, the opportunity to give these resources context will increase as the students attend more classes, write seminar or journal papers, join a clinic, or participate in more internships during their 2L and 3L years. Particularly, in their 3L year, students may be solidifying the type of law they would like to practice and in which type of atmosphere they would like to be. In a small firm or as a solo-practitioner, low cost and free legal research resources can make or break the new, budding attorney. By break, I mean it literally; if they do not know how to use low-cost or free resources they could potentially bankrupt themselves or lose clients. Even many large firms today no longer pass on the cost of research using these expensive databases because clients are asking for a more specifically itemized bill and refusing to pay the exorbitant cost.

Third, students who are under educated on the topic of legal research, especially low cost, free, and alternative legal resources, run the risk of one day being sanctioned by the Bar as an attorney. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit illegal or excessive fees.[1] Further, Rule 1.1 requires that a lawyer “provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”[2] Failing to represent one’s client to the best of their ability, without passing on any burden to the client, is of utmost importance, and as legal educators, we should strive to provide our students with the absolute best opportunity to do so.

The point is, we all know that every legal case begins with research. Why, then, does legal research seem to take a back seat after the first year of law school? In order to make our students the strongest practitioners possible, we need to make advanced legal research a required component of the curriculum.

[1] Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 1.5 (Am. Bar Ass’n, Discussion Draft 1983).

[2] Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 1.1 (Am. Bar Ass’n, Discussion Draft 1983).

Posted in ABA, Access to Justice, Career, Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Ethics, Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, Legal Technology, Patron Services, practice ready, Teaching (general), Technology, Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Law Library Security – How Safe Are We?

by Emily Donnellan

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Following the tragic library shooting in New Mexico, library security has been on my mind. It’s not something I think about often. My primary responsibility is to patrons, but after a tense interaction, I’m left thinking that libraries are not secure places. Between 1990 and 2014 visits to public libraries grew by 181%. Libraries are high traffic areas with limited security (if there is any security at all). Various patron groups are all vying for the same limited resources. In a university setting, law schools operate in their own building, and they are often open for extended hours, if they aren’t accessible 24/7. Law schools are unique in that they may be located in different cities from their main campus, as my library is. Our main campus is over 200 miles away. There is no campus security here. We are an island unto ourselves. So what happens when security becomes an issue? What happens in public libraries or law firm libraries? How do we ensure that our librarians and patrons are safe while still providing access? We must plan for the worst and hope for the best.

The Unruly Patron

When I think of unruly patrons, I think of one specific example. A patron had asked to use the restroom. A student worker kindly showed the patron to the restroom. Then the patron refused to leave the building, instead barricading themselves in a study room. Everyone had left, and it became a standoff between the student worker and the patron. Luckily, the patron wasn’t violent. Police were called and the patron was escorted out. It could have been so much worse. There was no plan B, no backup, it was the student vs. the patron. If the patron had been armed or violent, I worry tremendously about what would have happened. Every librarian has their unruly patron story; it is these situations that an emergency plan is designed for.

Who Do I Call and What Do I Do?

At a university library, it is expected that you call campus security before the police. Or in an emergency situation when police are called, you must also follow up with campus security. What if there is no campus security though? What if the unruly patron is the one in the situation above, only violent? This is why it is important to have an emergency plan that includes phone numbers outlining who to call in specific situations. And the list should be thorough. Libraries must also hold employee training sessions about how to handle patrons — both positive and negative. It is not enough for the law school, firm, or court to have a plan. Librarians need to formulate our own emergency responses while thinking of issues that may arise that are specific to us and the type of work we engage in.


I believe the best in patrons. Interacting with them is one of the highlights of my day. I don’t want you to walk away from this blog post feeling all doom and gloom. This post is intended to be an awareness tool. If your library does not yet have an emergency plan, one should be implemented as soon as possible. We all believe that bad things won’t happen at my library, that my patrons wouldn’t do such a thing. But we must prepare for the worst even if the worst never comes. It is my wish that all law libraries are over-prepared in case of an emergency. Share in the comments how your library is preparing and what types of emergency protocols you may have.

Posted in Current Events, Issues in Law Librarianship, Patron Services | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Review of Summer Associate Skills

by Erik Adams

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Our summer associates have gone back to school, and we’re taking a few minutes to review their tenure in our law firm. Usually this involves swapping war stories about ridiculous research projects assigned by mentors, like legislative histories of code sections that can trace their lineage back to colonial times or 50 state surveys on obscure points of law. At my library, this means thinking about three specific questions, and asking if we need to do anything different next year.

First, were there any signs of clumsy or inefficient research? Thanks to websites like Westlaw Analytics, we can really dig into the search habits of our users, without having to stand over their shoulders. Generally, every other year I must have a conversation with a summer associate about how their research could have been done more quickly or efficiently. But this year my group was better behaved than previous years. I’ve written before about the problem of “Google think” and the excessive costs and wasted time it can lead to. This year we saw none of that. This may be because during our orientation we made a point of introducing associates to the concept of Google think, which seemed to resonate. But I’d like to think that law school students are getting better at doing research.

Second, did the associates make effective use of all the resources we have to offer? In other words, did they use websites other than Lexis and Westlaw? Like most large law firms, we offer a lot of subject-specific resources like Docket Navigator and RBSource and countless more. I don’t think these websites get the same exposure in law schools as Lexis and Westlaw because my summer associates always seem a little surprised to learn about them. They generally aren’t the first stop in a research project. But this year was different: in our orientation we made a point of telling our class that the firm had many resources side from Lexis and Westlaw, and that often these resources will save time and money, and make them look good. The message stuck, and we were often asked if there was some tool better suited to the research project at hand.

Third, were any of them annoying? My mother was a fifth grade teacher, and by the second week of every school year she had a pretty good idea of who the troublemakers were in her new class. Every year she would tell us stories of the latest “star” pupil, except for one when she came home and announced “No troublemakers this year; they’re a little slow, but well behaved.” Similarly, after a few weeks with our summer associates we know which ones will need extra attention and which ones will only need to hear an explanation once. This year, none of my summer associates were annoying, which was a pleasant change. And I wouldn’t describe any of them as “slow” either.

(We also talk a lot about the research projects the mentors assign. I think some of them save up obscure questions solely for the purpose of giving the summer associate a challenge.)

So, I say “good job” to those of you teaching legal research at law schools. At least for my group, things this summer went smoothly. The summer associates were willing to listen and seemed to appreciate that research isn’t a mindless task that can be overcome by brute force. Hopefully it will continue when they return with their freshly printed JDs.

Posted in Legal Research, Legal Research Instruction, practice ready | Leave a comment

Institutional Subscriptions to Quimbee

by Sarah Gotschall

Law school librarians wish our students well and want them to do well in their classes. Traditionally we have supported student achievement by stocking the reserve section of the library with a variety of study aids. Last year a librarian at my law school reported hearing that a lot of students were using Quimbee, an online law school study aid source, and suggested getting an institutional subscription. It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, mainly the expense, and I forgot about it until the 2017 CALI conference this summer where I saw an impressive presentation about Quimbee’s educational videos.

What is Quimbee?

According to the Quimbee website, the company launched in 2007, has served over 102,000 law students, and is “hell-bent” on helping students get A’s in every course they take. Quimbee offers individual student and institutional subscriptions to their site which contains four types of materials to assist students with class and exam preparation: course materials, case briefs, outlines, and practice exams.

Quimbee has course materials consisting of multiple videos and practice questions for 31 subjects. It also provides over 12,700 case briefs for the principle cases in 171 casebooks. Additionally, it provides outlines in the 1L subjects of Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Torts, and Real Property, as well as a few for 2L/3L subjects. The practice-exam library contains 216 practice exams that attempt to emulate real-world law school exam or Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) questions.

Institutional Subscriptions

Quimbee sounds interesting, but one might wonder, what does Quimbee have to do with law school libraries? After all, even though law school libraries have traditionally provided a copy or two of popular study aids for student use, we have not traditionally provided each student with her own individual copy. And any student who wants to subscribe to Quimbee can easily sign up on the website for the bronze, silver, or gold plan for, respectively, $15, $22, or $24 a month. Well, it seems to me, Quimbee is basically just a database of information, and providing access to databases is what law libraries do. Also, many libraries have already dipped a toe into the business of providing online access to study aids through the purchase of subscriptions to West Academic Study Aids.

After the impressive Quimbee presentation at the CALI conference, I investigated the company’s website to determine if I should revive the discussion about a subscription at my law school. I looked to see other law schools that had subscribed and found a list of 19 schools. The list includes state law schools, such as University of Tennessee and University of Hawaii, and also top law schools such as Yale and Northwestern.

When I contacted a Quimbee representative to get a demo password to explore the site, I asked if the company had information about how many students from my law school were using the site. The representative said there is no definitive number since students don’t have to sign up with their university email addresses or identify their institutions. He could tell me that that 189 students with @arizona.edu addresses have signed up for Quimbee since its inception. Also, during that time, 86 students identified themselves as University of Arizona law students and 39 of those subscriptions are currently active. He noted that Quimbee password sharing is common so the actual number of students using Quimbee could be considerably higher. The representative also said that institutional subscribers could get detailed information on student use to consider when deciding whether to re-subscribe the following year.

Legal Research

In addition to providing students with a database of study aids, I wondered if Quimbee might be useful for legal research classes, either for student individual study or for use in a flipped classroom. With my demo password, I explored the Legal Research and Writing course. It was created by Michelle Dewey, Heather Simmons, and Sara Benson, law librarians from the University of Illinois College of Law. The course’s nine chapters consist of 35 videos, 185 multiple-choice questions, and 9 practical exercises. The chapters include Foundations of Legal Research and Writing; Understanding and Working with Cases; Understanding Legislation: Statutes and Codes; Understanding Regulations and Administrative Law; Understanding Secondary Sources; Systems and Tools for Legal Research; Searching, Filtering, and Evaluating; Legal Research: Planning and Process; and Legal Writing: The Basics.

I viewed several of the videos and worked through the quizzes. I must say that I was quite impressed by the quality. If my school had a subscription, I would further explore them and consider assigning some for use in my introductory legal research classes. I would also definitely add them to my list of resources for optional reading/viewing.


After I raised the issue again, our library still didn’t subscribe to Quimbee, mainly due to the expense. However, I still like Quimbee and might keep trying! In any event, it was very easy to obtain a demo password to explore the site, and I would encourage any librarians with interest to do so.

Posted in Legal Research Instruction, Library Collections | 1 Comment

Technology and Humanism: Reflections on Austin

by Paul Gatz

Most readers of this blog are likely already aware that law librarians are awesome, but it’s nice to see some folks outside of the profession come to the same conclusion. The two examples I have in mind both came in the wake of this year’s AALL Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. Above the Law’s LawProfBlawg recognized AALL’s refusal to continue to host meetings in Texas in protest of the state’s recent legislative attempts to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And on LawSites Robert Ambrogi elevated AALL to his list of the best legal tech conferences to attend. Each of these examples reveals something deep and true about our profession, but it is in the combination of the two that the essence of law librarianship dwells.

The library itself is a technology, a tool for preserving and accessing knowledge. From the Alexandrian Pinakes of Callimachus to the automated storage and retrieval systems of a library like the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library, this technology has developed into a sophisticated system, which, like all technology, is determined by and constructed with the available technological tools and systems of the time. The durability of the library as a technology has been and will continue to be due to the continued openness of librarians to new technologies.

This openness does not always come naturally. Change is always difficult. It is easy to feel one’s livelihood is threatened by automation or algorithms – and this fear is not always unwarranted! But fear clouds the mind. The librarian’s interest in technology does not come from fear, but is instead based in curiosity and openness. We want to know how these things work, to understand how they can fit in to our libraries and organizations, and to use them to build a better library.


Saddened to never have seen a bike chained here.

A technology always serves a purpose, although not always the purpose its inventor intended and not always the purpose its promoters proclaim. Technology is not neutral. The purpose of a given technology carries with it value-laden assumptions that provide the implicit justification for the existence of the technology and the way it is used. The library, as technology, is no different. As a tool for preserving and accessing knowledge, the library contains the idea that knowledge is a good thing and that it should be preserved and made accessible.

But what counts as knowledge? Which knowledge gets preserved? Who gets access to it? These things all depend on the way the technology is used. Is the library used to make a profit? Is it used to elevate certain voices and marginalize others? The answers to these questions do not follow straightforwardly from the beneficent ideal of the library. They depend on the values that librarians bring to their work.

As law librarians, I would hope that the values that inform our work would include compassion, toleration, a respect for human dignity, and the furtherance of justice and the rule of law. The Association’s decision to take a stand against LGBTQ discrimination indicates that my hope is not misplaced. It is hard to see these values at work in the everydayness of our lives and jobs, but the Association’s decision, along with Bryan Stevenson’s keynote address (about which I wish I could say more, but I am unequal to the task), reminded me that our humanity is central to our work – in the decisions we make, our interactions with others, and, ultimately, what we hope for our profession and for our world.

As librarians, our work is the library, whether it is conceived as a building, a collection, a service, a technology, or an idea. Always eager to learn and explore new possibilities, we use whatever tools or technologies available to improve the library. Key to our use and development of technology, key to the library, and key to librarianship, is the fact that the library must be used by human beings to address human problems. We must all be technologists. We must all be humanists.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment