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Sam Wiggins of Norton Rose, writes about his experiences of the BIALL Conference 2012, held in Belfast. Sam was the recipient of the CLIG bursary which helps with costs toward attending the conference.

This year’s conference was my first experience of BIALL on a larger scale, having previously only attended its seminars. It was also the first time I had been surrounded by so many librarians and information professionals working in the legal sector. I am a strong believer that networking with other sectors brings strength to our own by providing new ideas and alternative solutions to problems, however it was refreshing to be able to talk about the finer points of the sector without having to first find common ground.

This year’s conference was themed around the idea of ‘no borders’; a concept that was certainly delivered. I attended sessions about US law, top Australian legal sites, and learned about how the law operates in Ireland. Adding to the cross-border experience, it was good to see a strong international contingent in attendance, with representatives attending from CALL (Canada), SLA (America), AALL (America), and ALLA (Australia) to name but a few. At a time where law firms are extending their reach ever further, and phrases such as ‘the world is a market’ are being used, it is ever more important to make connections internationally and understand not just your home jurisdiction, but try to have a handle on all of the markets that your firm operates in. BIALL allowed time and space to reflect on this, and understand the truly global nature of our profession.

The far reaching impact of law firms was touched on with Jas Breslin, Susanna Winter, and Sara Batt’s session on ‘Communication, Culture and Context’. I made a point of sitting next to a colleague from Norton Rose South Africa during the presentation, providing the opportunity to compare thoughts on how our offices interact with each other, and address areas of potential miscommunication. A great idea put forward by the presenting trio was to identify the different office cultures, take an aspect of their working style and attempt to incorporate it into your own methods.

In her second presentation at the conference, Jas Breslin of Morrison Foerster, spoke about her work unifying the enquiry service at her firm. New software was introduced - ServiceNow - to create a global inbox in which enquiries are recorded. The software has helped to produce clear statistics on how the service is performing, as well as making better use of the firm’s information professionals, sharing enquiries globally to answer them more efficiently. All information staff received additional training on the various jurisdictions so that they are able to answer enquiries for foreign jurisdictions, strengthening their overall knowledge. Despite this though, there were still limitations based on geography, such as licensing for products, the location of hardcopy texts, and a need to explain that whilst it was a global service, it was not 24/7. To accompany the enquiry service unification, a new, single email address, research@Mofo.com, was introduced.

Richard Gaston of Addleshaw Goddard also spoke about branding the service with the ‘research’ tag, but took a different approach to MoFo, embedding the information service within the firm’s departments. This proved to be one of the more prominent talking points of the conference, seeming to divide attendees into either agreeing, or disagreeing with the approach taken. Richard’s team has been slowly re-branding itself as a research team, gradually losing the information services label altogether, in an attempt to better integrate the information professionals into the business. Many of the techniques used in this process rang true to any service, integrated or otherwise; using the same language and terms as your key stakeholders, refining information prior to giving it to your enquirer, and ensuring that the smaller, mundane tasks are carried out with the same accuracy and care as more in-depth projects. The primary split among attendees was the discussion surrounding the renaming of information professionals as ‘research analysts’. Time will tell how effective this proves to be, and if it is a trend that will catch on, but in the short term the service’s success in the Halsbury’s awards (best legal information services, commercial sector), suggests it has been popular so far.

Sarah Fahy from Allen and Overy provided a neat roundup of the interrelationship between law and business, as well as a more positive view on keeping the ‘library’ branding. The presentation covered the way in which information services have changed and adapted over the last decade or so. Of particular interest was the explanation of the relationship between the reputation of lawyers and law firms. This seemed particularly relevant in the wake of Dewey and LeBeouf’s collapse, blamed in the legal press by too many lateral hires for so called ‘star partners’. Culture also became a strong feature in Sarah’s presentation, warning against its potential dilution. If a culture is to change, Sarah explained that it must be relevant to your business. Contrary to Richard Gaston’s presentation, Sarah put forward the idea that we must be wary about leaving our librarianship tag behind; rather it should be built upon and developed. Other roles such as business research can be performed with greater ease by others. It is worth making use of the library brand, people trust it.

The conference provided a fantastic opportunity to meet and discuss law librarianship with a much wider range of people than I would ordinarily have the chance to meet. Thanks to the bursary kindly provided by CLIG, I have gained a better insight into how BIALL works, made new contacts and broadened my legal knowledge. I have been able to take new ideas back to my workplace and discuss them with colleagues. Thank you again to CLIG, as well as to BIALL for putting on a great conference, and to Belfast for hosting a lot of librarians!

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