(photo (c) 2009 Kordite, available here)


In the last few years, have you found yourself answering more software troubleshooting-oriented questions? “How do I restrict my search results in this interface?” “Why does this program make my system crash?” “Why doesn’t this software do this?” “Where can I find this specific information using this software?” “What software should I use?” Clearly, due to technological innovations and big law’s ever-shifting strategic plans, the law firm librarian profession has recently been in a very volatile state. One of the changes I’ve observed, now that the sands have shifted this particular way, is a strong prevalence of people sending me reference questions that entail troubleshooting library information sources—getting various library interfaces and software to play nice or perform some discrete action.

Our library department employs a database that saves statistics pertaining to all of the reference questions our firm research librarians answer. This database has a “request type” field that aims to provide statistics on the different categories of questions we receive; one of the values for “request type” is “troubleshooting.” “Troubleshooting” is a catch-all for all of those software-related questions that involve programs not producing the desired result, operating correctly, or crashing. I put together a usage statistics report and found that in the last six years the number of “troubleshooting” questions our reference staff has fielded and answered has quadrupled. To be honest, we do receive a lot less of these types of questions than others, but the upward trend is hard to deny.

Neil Cameron’s article Can Most Lawyers Use Their Law Firms Expensive IT Properly answers its titular question with a resounding no. Impeding successful technology implementations are attorneys’ refusal to value or attend IT-led trainings, Cameron states. Also, most attorneys have a fundamental lack of basic IT skills according to Cameron via D. Casey Flaherty’s articles concerning an Attorney IT Skill Audit Flaherty designed and carried out. This lack of skill leads to an underutilization of expensive firm-purchased IT hardware and increased costs for the client. In summary, both Cameron and Flaherty state attorneys have poor computer skills.

In light of our library interfaces propelling towards next generation interfaces (Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance are the obvious examples), this divergence really interests me: firm technology continues to get more complex, while attorney IT skill appears to remain at a static (perhaps low) level. And, as these new interfaces get implemented at the cost of old interfaces (Classic Westlaw and getting sunsetted), I can only assume more troubleshooting-oriented questions will be asked and fielded—this appears to be an area where librarians can really become valuable. There’s a niche developing that’s a little more specific than IT support and vendor customer service, where librarians can really be productive: troubleshooting and training on specific information interfaces and software (all the while being cost-conscious).

Of course, this also brings up a big horse-and-cart issue as it pertains to training. As Cameron stated, there are impediments to getting attorneys to train, and really two macro approaches that seem to occur: offer training opportunities before a software implementation occurs (and see if anybody shows up), or flip the switch, axe the old software, and force your users to adapt to the new environment (and see how hot the kitchen gets). I look forward to hearing the stories about this as, again, Classic Westlaw and Lexis Advance are rumored to being sunsetted. Before the storm, how is your library going to handle this transition? Is your experience getting attorneys to participate in training similar to what Cameron and Flaherty discuss? Do you believe attorneys are poor computer users? Are you embracing or intimidated by the prospect of a trend toward more troubleshooting questions? Do you believe this trend exists and will continue?