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Law Library Efforts Fueling Innovation

Librarians Richard Buckingham and Liza Rosenof discuss the library’s unique connection with Suffolk’s Legal Innovation and Technology Institute, and detail particular projects the Suffolk library has pursued to offer yet another angle to the student “LIT” experience. 

 

“Everything changes and nothing stands still.” Any librarian would nod knowingly upon hearing this line from the Greek philosopher Heraclites. In a world where nothing stands still, librarianship has demonstrated its ability not only to adapt and grow in the face of change, but to further drive progress through its own invention. [1] Centuries of innovation throughout history have spawned lasting changes that patrons still enjoy today. Law librarianship specifically has undergone its own evolution. While it is perhaps taken for granted today, patrons can now access thousands of law library resources from beyond the walls of a brick and mortar building, something that would have been unheard of only  twenty-five years ago. 

 

At Suffolk University Law School, law librarians already offer training on research databases, experiment with new technology to improve library services, engage in research projects for faculty who write on the intersection of law and technology, and explore new tools for students and faculty to improve and track their own research projects. Given this adaptive and exploratory role, it is fitting that librarians at Suffolk would support the Law School’s Legal Innovation and Technology Institute’s mission to leverage technology and innovation to improve delivery of legal services and respond to the new demands and opportunities within the practice of law. Librarians at the Suffolk’s Moakley Law Library have been using their unique skills to advance innovation through a number of channels.

 

By way of just one example, a library without a leader dedicated to collaboration cannot fuel innovative efforts in a law school.  As Director of the Law Library, Rick Buckingham has spurred innovation both within and outside of Suffolk. He co-developed one of the Law School’s first fully online courses, an advanced legal research course focused on Massachusetts practice.  Last year, he managed the build-out of the registration and payment systems for the Law School’s new Legal Innovation and Technology Certificate program. [2] And he was part of the winning team at the third annual American Association of Law Libraries Hackathon. [3] His team’s “hack” was a chatbot, built using QnA markup [4] – a computer language developed by David Colarusso, the Director of Suffolk’s Legal Innovation & Technology Lab – that would help library users navigate the often-confusing process of finding government documents online. 

 

That librarians perform research is not news to those in the academic community. At the Moakley Law Library, librarians have been involved in a number of projects related to law and technology. For example, to help build the Hate Crimes Reporting App—a project from the American Bar Association Center for Innovation [5] —Legal Research Librarian Greg Ewing provided comprehensive research on state and federal hate crime statutes that was used as the dataset. To help with another project, Legal Research Librarian Ana Delgado researched and built a Quick Guide Research tool that compares twenty different legal research databases in more than a dozen categories, including cost, coverage, and finding tools. [6]

 

The idea for the resource was borne out of a collaboration between the Law School’s Institute on Legal Innovation & Technology, the Legal Innovation & Technology Concentration, and Suffolk’s Legal Practice Skills program. [7] Finally, several librarians worked together to create the most far-reaching list of legal writing competitions open to students who attend law school in the United States. Larry Flynn, the library’s Computer Services Specialist, used the list as the dataset to build the interface for what is now called iCompete Writing: A Compilation of Legal Writing Competitions. [8] The library continues to update the list regularly. 

 

In 2017, the Moakley Law Library administration decided to formalize the library’s connection to the various legal innovation and technology efforts and programs at the Law School and created the new position of Legal Research and Innovation Librarian. A Legal Research Librarian already at the library, Liza Rosenof, was hired to fill the role in 2018.  About one-third of her time is dedicated to exploring, using, and teaching about legal innovation and technology.  This includes serving as the library’s liaison to the Law School’s Institute on Legal Innovation & Technology; working on projects that provide educational opportunities for students and create user-friendly technological solutions to legal issues; identifying legal technologies that are relevant to law students, staff, and faculty; and developing and implementing training programs on legal technologies.

 

Like most librarians, Liza wears many hats. She still operates as a research librarian at the law library, staffing the reference desk, participating in the 1L legal research and writing program, and teaching for-credit Law School courses as an adjunct. In addition, she dedicates about a third of her time to working as liaison to Suffolk’s Legal Innovation & Technology Institute. Prior to this move, she was already playing the role of investigating technology and implementing new programs into library services. She has regularly trained students in upper-level courses and in moot court [9] to take full advantage of Microsoft Word’s more advanced features so that they could format legal memoranda neatly and efficiently. After adding a piece of citation management software called Zotero to her own research arsenal, she introduced it to the rest of the library staff, as well as a number of students and faculty. 

 

What’s more, today’s cutting-edge librarians are even learning how to code. Liza is running a study group for students who want to learn Python [10] (and learning Python herself in the process). She has also supplemented this by regularly attending Suffolk’s LIT Lab—located within the Law Library—where students used Python (among other tools) to build a website to facilitate faculty members sharing open source textbooks. To help with marketing the LIT academic concentration, she learned how to use Visio to create a flowchart that would be featured on a flyer. One final example of a contribution is that she reviewed a number of modules with videos and written content for the Legal Innovation & Technology Certificate program. Much of her transition into her new role has focused on gaining competency in a new area. Though this position is new, it is in keeping with the general librarian responsibility to constantly be learning about new content areas in order to assist patrons and perform research.

 

Law librarians are adept at developing their skills and competencies to be able to stay ahead of industry changes and better serve their patrons.  They’re used to mastering new tools in order to train students and provide the best research results for faculty.  

 

It is a natural fit for them to be involved in fueling legal innovation and technology efforts, and they make an impactful difference for students and faculty at Suffolk. 

 

 

Notes  

[1] See, e.g., Amanda Robert, Law Libraries Chart a New Direction for the Future, New Report Shows, ABA Journal Web First (April 16, 2019), http://www.abajournal.com/web/article/law-libraries-chart-new-direction-for-the-future-aall-report-shows, on law librarians adapting to recent technological shifts in librarianship.

[2] https://www.legaltechcertificate.com/.  The certificate program offers fully online courses for legal professionals who want to develop their knowledge of tools and techniques that are changing the way legal services are being delivered.

[3] AALL eNewsletter/August 2016, https://www.aallnet.org/enewsletter/aall-enewsletter-august-2016/.

[4] QnA Markup (https://www.qnamarkup.org/) “is a really simple, easy-to-use question-and-answer tool for lawyers. You can even use it as a basic document assembly tool.” Sam Glover, QnA Is a Free Tool for Adding Questions and Answers to Your Website, Lawyerist.com (April 28, 2015), https://lawyerist.com/qna-is-a-free-tool-for-adding-questions-and-answers-to-your-website/. It allows users with little to no programming experience to create chatbots for their websites.
[5] ABA Center for Innovation Will Hold Design Event to Create App for Hate Crime Victims, ABA J. (Mar. 3, 2017), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/aba_center_for_innovation_to_hold_design_event_for_hate_crimes_app.

[6] Quick Guide Research Toolhttps://www.suffolk.edu/-/media/suffolk/documents/law/academics/lps/lps-research-tools-quick-guide_pdftxt.pdf?la=en&hash=6A70FCE83EC4236F56A1BDF108E34C4ECC391071.

[7) Legal Practice Skills is a required course for first-year law students focusing on legal research and writing.  See https://www.suffolk.edu/law/academics-clinics/academic-resources/legal-practice-skills---lps

[8] iCompete Writing: A Compilation of Legal Writing Competitions, https://www.suffolk.edu/law/academics-clinics/academic-resources/legal-practice-skills---lps/icompete-writing--a-compilation-of-legal-writing-competitions.

[9] Moot court is an extracurricular activity at many law schools in which students prepare memoranda and participate in oral arguments in a simulated appellate courtroom. See, e.g., https://www.suffolk.edu/law/academics-clinics/student-life/competition-teams/moot-court.
[10] Python is a general, high-level programming language. What Is Python? Executive Summary, https://www.python.org/doc/essays/blurb/.

About the Authors
Liza Rosenof is Legal Research & Innovation Librarian, Suffolk University Law School.

 

Rick Buckingham is Director of the Law Library and Information Resources, Associate Professor of Legal Research, Suffolk University Law School. 

 

 

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