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Dimitri Zissimos, Research Librarian at Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, attended the BIALL Conference in June 2011, held at Gateshead. Dimitri was the recipient of the CLIG bursary which helps with costs toward attending the conference. Here's what Dimitri had to say about the conference and the presentations he attended.


The 2011 BIALL Conference was the first conference that I have attended and it was certainly a great one to start with. The conference was held in the space-age Norman Foster designed SAGE Centre with its impressive auditoriums and sweeping views of the Tyne, the Millennium Bridge and the adjacent Quayside making it a memorable venue to attend lectures, network and socialise in.

It was a bit of a surprise to be informed on the morning of my first day that our Library team had won the Halsbury’s Awards for London Legal Information Service (Corporate) - and finding myself up on stage jointly receiving the award with my manager Dunstan Speight - lucky no acceptance speech was required!

If there was a narrative theme to this year’s BIALL Conference then it was how to make the Legal Information Service continue to be a relevant and indeed a vital component to your organisation. This is especially important to the sector that I am in, which is the commercial law firm, where as one of the speakers at the Conference noted the law librarian is often viewed by the fee earner as “an overhead” and the spectre of the Integreon model hangs over all of us.

Certainly of the sessions that I attended all seemed to deal with this need to raise the profile of the Library within your organisation by continuing to make the case for its importance. This theme was taken up by Penny Bailey, managing director of Bailey Solutions in her talk entitled “Prove Your Value and Survive: Using Evidence Based Enquiry Statistics to Demonstrate Your Worth” in which she set out a variety of ways for a library service to achieve this goal, including using a centralised enquiry tracking system linked to e-mails so as to better record those enquiries, as well as, a time-recording system to show how much time is spent on each enquiry.

This theme of adding value and increasing your worth to the organisation was also taken up by Nick Davies, a former barrister and part-time stand-up comic in his entertaining session “How To Make Your Training Engaging: Presenting so People Learn” which provided useful tips and techniques on how to establish “an emotional connection” with your intended audience through the use of humour, anecdote, memorable mnemonics and props. In fact he was so successful in proving his point that I went straight on to his practical workshop session immediately afterwards – and I also plan on catching his stand-up routine the next time he’s in London!

The library’s role in training was also one of the topics covered in the Members’ Forum (aka “Have Your Say”) where there was much debate on the ongoing problem of the trainees perceived lack of legal research skills (including their over-reliance on Google) and whether this was best tackled at the undergraduate, law school or the commercial law firm stage.

Another theme that was addressed at this year’s Conference was the problem of information overload and the need for the librarian to better manage this for benefit of the firm.

Rob Martin, managing director of Solcara Ltd., looked at this in his session, entitled “Taming the Online World for the Benefit of the Firm”, in which the role of the librarian has gone from managing hardcopy resources to helping users navigate the increasing number of online resources available - with the consequence that the Librarian needs to have an in-depth knowledge of what each one covers. Rob looked at two case studies whereby law firm libraries had set up Google-style search screens to allow users to search all of the available online content at once (and thereby weaning them off using Google as the “magic bullet” solution to finding information.)

Fiona Fogden from Baker Tilly also looked at this issue of information overload in her talk entitled “Mashing, Merging and Manipulating Content: Lessons in Harnessing Technology to Overcome Information Overload”. Fiona outlined the year-long project that she and her team undertook to stream and better manage the provision of current awareness within her firm so that the problem of lawyers being bombarded by numerous alerts from a variety of different sources could be tackled.

After deciding to by-pass the firm’s IT dept. Fiona described embarking on the project management route that was ‘needs and relationship driven’ eventually settling on using Linex (for the ‘front end’ system) and Thomson Reuters Newsroom (for the main content feed). The resulting current awareness service achieved Fiona’s identified goals by streaming the alerts into one e-mail, being ‘content agnostic’ (the content would look the same even if the vendors were to change), having a searchable archive where CA could be stored and being more automated (allowing for the service to go from 35 to 185 alerts). Fiona ended her talk by noting that the result of this project was to raise the library’s profile and the esteem in which it was held with the firm.

The last session that I attended “The Integreon Model - a year on” was also perhaps the most eagerly anticipated talk of the Conference for obvious reasons. The presentation by Michael Maher and Kate Stansfield from Integreon covered how the knowledge transfer process worked, the length of time involved in working through Service Level Agreements (12 months), what services were kept in-house by the participating law firms (up from 3 to 7 law firms in the past year) and which were outsourced. The different approach adopted for CMS Cameron Mackenna (the so-called “hybrid model”) was also touched on, where some enquiries would be dealt with by the shared library enquiry team and others were sent to their own dedicated team.

The Q&A session afterwards highlighted some of the many questions that we probably all wanted the answers to, such as the issues of confidentiality (confidential information is “stripped back” before going to shared services team), the loyalty of the outsourced worker to the client and measuring client satisfaction (feedback through regular user surveys).

Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to explore all of the myriad issues involved and of course this is still very much a work in progress. I’m sure like most people in the audience we will be looking forward to the update at next year’s BIALL Conference no doubt - same time next year then!

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