NJLLA Grant Winner 2010

Sarah Jaramillo, Rutgers Law Library – Newark

I had a great time at the 2010 American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. I was able to attend this year’s AALL Annual Meeting thanks to the generous support of an NJLLA Grant. During my 6 days in Denver, I was able to attend a variety of educational programming, go to business meetings of different special interest sections and caucuses, learn about new developments in legal information databases, and meet and reconnect with many, many librarians. The following is a small snapshot of my experience at AALL Denver, but I hope it captures what a positive and educational time I had.

When I arrived in Denver, Colorado, I was pleased to take in the natural beauty of the area. With views of the nearby Rockies and the beautiful, dry weather, it was a nice change of pace from the urban New Jersey/New York environment within which I work and reside. My welcome to my first event – the CONELL Dutch Treat Dinners – would prove to be representative of my interactions with the other attendees for the remainder of the conference. Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and eager to talk about what was going at their respective law libraries.

I found the Mile-High Summit on Training, Research Guides 2.0, and Tax Research 101 to be the most informative and engaging educational programs. During the Mile-High Summit on Training I learned about Drinker Biddle’s new six-month training programs for new associates. In this program, new associates are paid a lower salary than is typical for associates and large law firms. During the first 6 weeks of this training program, new associates are taught the basics of being a client-centered attorney and being a thoughtful-problem solver. Mentors are assigned to each associate based on their practice group. After the six week program expires, associates are then broken up into a litigation and transactional group for in-depth training on research, writing, and practice.

I found this model that emphasizes core competencies over billable hours to be refreshing. However, a few people in the audience raised some challenging questions. One question related to the long-term economic viability of this training model. In other words, is this training model too expensive given that most of these associates will not become partners at Drinker Biddle? The presenter responded that this program will pay off even for associates who leave the firm because they will always represent the firm, even as former employees. Therefore, any former Drinker Biddle associate who has participated in this training program will contribute to the good reputation of the firm. I am not sure if that response gets to the heart of the long-term economic viability of the model.

Another excellent question came from co-presenter David I.C. Thompson, Professor and Director of the Lawyering Process at the University of Denver: Have the hiring practices at Drinker Biddle changed since the implementation of this core-competencies training program? The answer, in short, was no: Drinker Biddle still hires the top students from top-tiered schools. Or, put another way, the firm hires students who have aced doctrinal, theory-based classes who come from schools that largely have been slow to adopt more skills- and practiced-based curriculums rather than students who have excelled in practice-oriented coursework or come from schools that have embraced Carnegie-Report-style practice-oriented curriculums.

This exchange emphasizes that the Drinker Biddle approach, while laudable, is far too small in scope to change nature of legal education or the research competency of law students or new attorneys. Thompson emphasized, in subsequent comments, how the whole system needs to be overhauled. Law schools need a curriculum that emphasize practical legal training and put “doctrines in context.” That Drinker Biddle still incentivizes the traditional legal education model through its hiring practices undercuts holistic efforts by law schools to make law students more prepared for practice upon graduation.

In the end, this program was my favorite because it emphasized the need for collaboration between firms and law schools, and more specifically firm librarians and academic librarians. As an academic librarian, I hunger to hear what the typical research tasks are at firms nowadays and what databases or sources practitioners are actually using with regularity. Collaboration would not only produce a more realistic problem-based pedagogical approach, but it would also produce law school graduates who added more value to their firms at a quicker pace. Most librarians and legal educators know this fact, but the real challenge is to actually get this dialogue going. Involvement in NJLLA is a great way to facilitate such a dialogue since there are librarians of all stripes in its membership.

The two business meetings that were the most engaging for me were for the Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section (SR-SIS) and the Document Delivery Caucus (DDC). At the SR-SIS meeting, all the present members were very eager to continue the group’s mission to be the conscience of the Association. Possible educational programs were discussed, as well as expanding the service project the group sponsors at each Annual Meeting to attract more Association-wide participation. At this meeting, I had the opportunity to volunteer to run the SR-SIS’s annual book drive at next year’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. This project hits close to home for me, since I value access to information so highly.

The fact that the document delivery caucus meeting began at 7am and had no breakfast provided did not detract from how interesting and relevant I found it to be. This caucus while small has some energetic members. I have been interested since I started working at Rutgers Law Library – Newark two years ago to discover more ways to increase efficiency in the interlibrary loan process.

During the meeting, we had a good discussion of the newly-revised Bluebook Rule 18, which provides more guidance than ever before on how to cite to Internet sources. Rule 18 also contains these intriguing words: “An Internet source may be cited directly when it does not exist in a traditional printed format or when a traditional printed source […] exists but cannot be found or is so obscure that it is practically unavailable.” The revised rule may relieve law review editors of their obsessive need for finding an exact copy of the original print source and make life easier for interlibrary loan departments. For example, historical newspapers are often extremely difficult to obtain, since most lending libraries have HTML version of historical newspaper articles rather than archives of the old print newspapers, microfilm or PDF versions.

As interesting as these educational programs and business meetings were, the most satisfying part of the meeting was reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. I find librarians to be a very welcoming and giving community. I easily met more than 10 librarians a day while I was in Denver. The energy level was quite infectious.

I left the Annual Meeting full of new ideas and with a stronger interest than ever to be the best librarian I can be. It is hard for me to find the right words that are not tired, worn out, or overly sentimental to express my gratitude to NJLLA for giving me the opportunity to attend my first AALL Annual Meeting. So I must go with the traditional “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” And, I would like to give NJLLA members Karen Brunner and Katie McCarthy a special thank you for giving me tips on how to maximize my time at the Annual Meeting and introducing me to lots of cool librarians.