Thursday, 24 June 2010

ALLICE Bursary to the BIALL conference - Report

Notes on BIALL Conference 2010 - "Risks and Opportunities: Managing Information in Difficult Times"

Thanks to a bursary from ALLICE, I was able to attend the BIALL conference in Brighton this year. It was my first conference and I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to go. The sessions were useful and thought-provoking, not just for my job at Mills & Reeve, but also for the Masters in Information and Library Studies which I am working on at the moment. I tried to attend as many sessions as possible, including ‘Have your say’ and the Q&A with suppliers where I learned that loose-leafs are not going anywhere just yet! The exhibition gave me the opportunity to chat to some of our suppliers, and whilst I didn’t win anything in the raffles, I believe some ALLICE members did have luck on their side. I was also able to sample a slice of Legal Information Management cake which I think must be a once in a lifetime experience! The conference gave me my first experience of ‘speed networking’ which wasn’t as traumatic as I had expected it to be and I met some interesting people. The two dinners were great fun, although I was disappointed that my table did not win the quiz on the first night! The Grand Hotel was a very impressive venue for the formal dinner with a panoramic view of the seafront at the drinks reception. If you have not attended the conference before, I would definitely recommend it! Not only do ALLICE offer a bursary, but you can also apply direct to BIALL. At the AGM which was held at the conference, the Awards and Bursaries Committee said that they had money left over this year because they did not receive enough applications, so it is definitely worth putting one in.

The notes below do not cover all the sessions I attended, but they are the ones I found most interesting and useful.

People 2.0: Working in a 2.0 World – David Gurteen (Gurteen Knowledge)

In this opening session, David was keen to point out that People 2.0 could be seen as a slightly “cringeworthy” (his words, not mine!) concept. He set out what he means by People 2.0 and what it means for organisations. He gave some background on the history of Web 2.0 and the transformation of the web from read only to read/write through social media and participatory tools. The concept of Enterprise 2.0 emerged when these tools started to be used in organisations and brought with them challenges to traditional power structures and confidentiality and privacy issues. Whilst the original concept of Knowledge Management was about extracting knowledge from people and putting it in databases, KM 2.0 is more about connecting people. His overriding message was that “2.0” was not just about social media tools, but about participation. In order for Enterprise 2.0 and KM 2.0 to work, people need to have a participatory “2.0” mindset which basically involves being open minded and having a lot of conversations! He used a number of quotes to illustrate his point, but my favourite was one from Alfie Kohn, an ex teacher, who said that: “An innovative, healthy organisation requires that we work with people rather than do things to them.” In the Q&A session afterwards people raised various concerns including that hourly billing means it is impossible to work like this in practice; that conversations on web forums can get very out of hand, very quickly and that the legal system is highly structured and this in itself presents many challenges to a 2.0 way of working.

Delivering Change. Changing Perceptions – Catherine Kenwright (Irwin Mitchell) & Anthony Davies (Lexis Nexis)

This was a really interesting session which showed how suppliers are changing the ways in which they work with their customers. Catherine and Anthony talked us through a collaborative project between Lexis and Irwin Mitchell to deliver a comprehensive integrated knowledge solution into the Firm. A major factor that led Irwin Mitchell to embark on the project was the firm’s growth, which included a number of mergers. This resulted in disparate IT systems and duplication of resources. In addition, the recession meant that their big clients wanted cheaper, faster service. Finally, the information services team wanted to change the way they were perceived within the firm, not just as law librarians but also as information specialists. Anthony outlined how they went about working together on the project. Lexis conducted 37 hours of interviews with senior executives at the firm in order to identify the business needs. They were not pushing Lexis products and were working to become a strategic supplier to a business partner, not just a vendor. Catherine said that they chose Lexis in the end because it was a one stop shop, they could integrate the products with all their internal systems, and it was a large, risk averse business. Also, the pricing model meant that it was possible to always plan for the next three years, and drive down internal costs by improving efficiency. The general mantra was that Lexis provided them with “solutions not products”.

Emerging Alternative Models for Managing Information Resources in Law Firms: Outsourcing, Co-sourcing and Offshoring” – Chris Bull & Michael Maher (Integreon)

This issue is at the forefront of many people’s minds at the moment and needless to say it was a very well attended session! I had only really been aware of the negative aspects of outsourcing so it was a great opportunity to get the insider view on how it works and what it means in practice for legal information professionals. Their shared library service is made up of four elements – collection management, research enquiries, management of e-resources and user education and guidance and Chris and Michael explained how each of these worked in practice. It was interesting to learn how outsourced library services would run an enquiry service for multiple clients. It involves a centralised enquiries system, but with separate inboxes for each client. In order to maintain confidentiality, replies to enquires can only be sent from the client specific inbox. It is also possible to allocate sensitive enquiries to a specific person, although apparently no clients have requested this yet. Chris and Michael said that people working in legal information would get more opportunities to progress and gain specialist knowledge if working for a company like Integreon rather than within a law firm. Integreon want to be seen within the profession as an “employer of choice”.

Knowledge Management Refocused – Harriet Creamer (Outer Circle)

Harriet Creamer discussed how library and information services could support KM within law firms. The session focused on the idea that those working in library and information need to be aware of how the business works in order to support KM effectively. She went on to demystify terms such as revenue, gearing, utlization, blended rates and volume discounts – things which I have heard discussed before but have had absolutely no idea what they meant until now! She highlighted the need for legal information professionals to have an awareness of what makes the business profitable and understand where costs are incurred. This can be done through building good relationships with finance departments not just in terms of your own budget, but also on a strategic level. She gave practical tips such as encouraging lawyers to rely more heavily on external services where appropriate. For example using PLC to produce basic documents. The key areas which library and information services can be involved in are supporting better working practices; promoting efficiency; delivering profitability and deepening client relationships. However, this relies on having an awareness of the issues affecting the business.

Legal Research in Practice; Transition from Law School to the Work Place and Beyond – Thomas Laidlaw (Lexis Nexis)

Whilst this session was mainly about training, we did get a sneak preview of some new features that Lexis will be rolling out soon. These include:

§ Drop down box of search suggestions when typing in search terms
§ A Google style ‘did you mean’ function if no results are found
§ Legal terms navigator – will provide definitions, basic resources, cases and legislation

Thomas also alerted us to which has a number of training videos that would be useful for law students and trainees. The videos are also available on youtube at

There is a write up of this session in this month’s Legal Information Management. (Volume 10 Number 2 2010 p.124)

For more thoughts on this years BIALL conference, keep an eye out for the next edition of the BIALL newsletter which will be published at the end of July.

Jasmin Hollingum
Library/Information Services Officer
for Mills & Reeve LLP
+44(0)121 456 8257

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