David Watson of Watson, Farley & Williams, writes about his experiences of the BIALL Conference 2013, held in Glasgow. David was the recipient of the CLIG bursary which helps with costs toward attending the conference.
On the afternoon of Wednesday the 12th of June, I found myself rushing across Euston Station. I was pretty sure I’d left enough time, but couldn’t be too careful – to say I was eagerly looking forward to this trip would be an understatement. It was to be my first Biall conference, and indeed my first conference at all. I had spent the previous few weeks reading up online about what to expect and look forward to – now, finally getting my seat on the train up to Glasgow I was on my way. I made sure to check twitter - hashtag #biall2013 - and saw that dozens of legal librarians and information professionals from across the country were converging on Glasgow – or had already arrived. After a thankfully non-eventful train ride up the length of the country I too arrived, the train pulling into Glasgow’s grand old Central Station. This was a sight that was quite well known to me – I originally hailed from Glasgow. Whilst I would miss out on some of the added excitement of seeing a brand new city that some attendees would enjoy, I hoped to see another side of my native city, both literally (The West End business district and Hilton Hotel were not places I had frequented before), and perhaps metaphorically, with a gathering of information professionals who had come from all over the country to this one place to share and learn their work and profession.
After making my way to the hotel I did not have long to settle in before I had to rush off to my first event – my conference starting with the Justis Bollywood party. Justis held a fun, Bollywood themed event at the Kama Sutra Indian restaurant, which after a lovely meal culminated in a performance of Indian music and dancing – following which we were able to have a go ourselves. Henna tattoos were one of the most popular features of the evening, and I saw many of these again and again throughout the conference! During the evening I made many new friends, from many sectors of the information world I had had little experience with beforehand, such as Academic Law Librarians, government and Inns of Court Librarians.
Thursday morning and time for the Conference to formally begin! My head was still lightly spinning from wine and Bhangra music, but no time to relax yet - the first day hadn’t even started! I didn’t need to search too hard to find the location – just joined the stream of people heading into the first floor conference centre at the Hilton Hotel. After picking up my badge and bag, I headed in the main hall, already filling up with Legal Librarians and Knowledge Managers from across the country and beyond.
The conference started with the Keynote and Willi Steiner memorial talk by Professor Hector MacQueen, an interesting talk on the situation of Scots Law. Wittily drawing on the situation of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Professor McQueen pondered whether Scots Law had suffered fatal wounds – or just a scratch. Shamefully, despite hailing from Scotland my knowledge of Scots Law is poor, but Professor McQueen gave a good primer on its current state of affairs – which is fragile. Many companies doing business in Scotland prefer to use English law, and because of the economic downturn many Scottish firms now do back-end work for English firms. The Scottish courts system is proportionately underused, and many Scots Judges seem unwilling to make the law-settling Judgements that a common law system requires. However, the situation was not completely desperate. Much needed reforms in the system were slowly developing, and regardless of how the Independence Referendum of 2014 went it seemed likely that in future there would be more devolution and leeway for separate Scottish institutions.
Following this was a talk on the work of Legislation.gov.uk by Carol Tullo, the director of Information Policy and Services at the National Archives. Legislation.gov.uk, the official web accessible database of UK legislation, is well known to Legal Librarians and Information Professionals. Carol talked about why they had developed Legislation.gov.uk – legislation has to be accessible to all interested citizens – and where they were going with it in the future. The goal is to have all the Legislation on it revised and up to date by 2015 – at the moment much is only as it is when passed, which means this resource will be much improved for use in a legal setting. I was interested and pleased that Law Librarian was one of six ‘personas’ they considered to be heavy users of Legislation.gov.uk, along with professional non lawyers, concerned citizens and MPs.
Carol also talked about the GoodLaw initiative, an attempt to make legislation simpler, more direct and consistent in its formatting and style. For instance they would endeavour to get rid of superfluous conditions, inconsistent numbering systems and make the language was clear and easy to understand.
After these sessions I made my first visit to the exhibition, where suppliers had set up their stalls. Many of the suppliers I knew as they supplied my own firm, but others I had never seen before. Over the course of the conference made sure to visit every stall, and find out what their products were. Soon enough I was weighed down with freebies – dozens of brochures, pads, pens, even a slinky. Fortunately there were also some free bags!
I also attended the New and overseas delegates welcome, a lovely chance to have a cup of tea and meet many other new attendees, and those who were visiting the conference on behalf of BIALL’s overseas sister organisations.
Knowledge management is one of the biggest issues in the legal information world, and later that day I attended an interesting talk on Emerging Trends in Knowledge management by Karen Battersby of Lexis Nexis. She noted that times are tough – and Knowledge Management can be seen as an overhead, difficult to measure impact and link to profit. Firms therefore need to develop a knowledge management strategy and maintain a tight focus on it, concentrating on specific firm knowledge rather than generic material. Client Facing Knowledge Management is increasingly being offered keeping existing clients aware of legal and regulatory developments in their sector, and this is even offered in the pitching process. Within teams, Social media sites such as Pintrest and Storify are increasingly being used to aid and compile knowhow.
At the end of the first day was the First Night dinner sponsored by LexisNexis at the Hilton – a lovely meal where I made even more new friends at my table, followed by music and dancing, once again, into the night.
Only slightly the worse for wear, I started the second day of the conference with a talk by Nicola Sales of the University of Salford on Information skills and Legal resource Training. Like many of us Nicola had done her share of inductions where, despite best efforts some attendees spend the time with their mind clearly on another subject if not another place entirely, and so the University of Salford tried to a different strategy – flipping the classroom. In this inductees were expected to watch videos and carry out simple exercises before attending the sessions, which would then deal with any issues they faced or brought up but would not simply repeat the material. This means that students owned and controlled the learning process, at could progress at their own pace. This strategy was wildly successful, with attendance of the induction seminars going from 10% to 90%, and 90% of those attending engaging with the pre-session material. Whilst this particular example was from an academic setting this strategy could well be applied to many other settings.
Colin Frankland of Linkedin gave tips on how to build your online Professional Brand using LinkedIn and other social media – most importantly, own it and manage it. If you weren’t happy about certain aspects of yourself being publically revealed or receiving certain advances, there were doubtless settings you could change to avoid that.
The next session, ‘Copyright – Compliance and Communication’ was one I was particularly looking forward to, as I have a particular responsibility for maintaining copyright compliance in my own firm. Dunstan Speight of Berwin Leighton Paisner presented the impressive and ambitious copyright permission tool his firm had built, and the challenges and issues they faced with that. Copyright compliance is an increasingly compex issue that information departments and law libraries face, as publishers increasingly tighten their licences and clamp down on exceptions. The increasing range of media formats further complicates matters.
At Berwin Leighton Paisner they built a complex and sophisticated intranet page, where users would work through a series of questions based on what they wished to do with the material – such as save a copy for archive, mail to clients, whether they wished to print or scan, and what publication it was, and would then be provided with a definitive answer on what they were able to do, and with a link to the terms and conditions in case they did not like this result. This was not just helpful to the end users but also support staff such as secretaries and the information team, as it gave confidence to refuse unreasonable copyright requests.
Dunstan gave further advice on what they had found to work on lawyers, such as scaring them with the potential consequences of breaking copyright, but then being helpful and offering what you could do legally. This was not just important for the users or the firm but also the librarian and information department, who need to be able to show they have made all reasonable efforts to enforce copyright compliance. I was very impressed with the effort that Dunstan and his team had made – but wondered just how long it had taken to build that database!
The final session I went to on that second day was a guide to ‘Doing more with Less’ by Susie Kay of the Professionalism Group. Susie recommended a series of very sensible steps that I will endeavour to follow, such as don’t buy into the fallacy of multitasking – it’s impossible and just leads to stress and poor work. Concentrate on one task at a time. Make a prioritised list of items to do every day, and ‘eat the frog’ – do the worst, most troublesome task first rather than putting it off and letting it hang over you. What’s more, whether you work in a team or as a sole practitioner don’t feel alone, as you have access to mentors and a supportive peer group in BIALL.
That evening was the BIALL annual dinner and awards, at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. This is a grand and beautiful Victorian Museum, and before we sat down to dinner we were allowed to wander through its collections, which include Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John on the Cross. The dinner tables were set up in the main hall of the museum, a pleasingly grand venue for the dinner! As a Scot I was pleasantly surprised that Haggis featured in both this meal and the previous night’s, though I knew that some of the other attendees perhaps hadn’t intended to be so adventures! The final entertainment was a raucous band of drummers and pipers, giving another Scottish twist to the evening.
The conference was a great experience that allowed me to meet many law librarians I would never have had a chance to otherwise and share in their collective knowledge. Thanks to BIALL for putting on this interesting and packed conference – and many thanks to CLIG for the sponsorship