Welcome to the first interview in our new series. This interview focuses on training and cost recovery, and was conducted with Monice M. Kaczorowski who has been Director of Library Services for Neal Gerber & Eisenberg LLP in Chicago since June 2003.
How or why have you become such a champion for new associate training?
My background is technical services; I started in acquisitions and later became a serial cataloger. When I was at De Paul, each technical services librarian had to work the reference desk, which was my first exposure to law students. The students came wanting the answer, but I found that if you could get their attention for even five minutes you had that perfect teaching moment. I learned that I enjoyed teaching and getting users to the material I had cataloged.
In law firms, legal research training is an essential part of both the summer associate program and first-year orientation. The firm is investing time and money to recruit new talent and the library should help these associates become a success. Hopefully, we also instill in them what a library can do to support their research efforts at school and in the firm. You invest the time in your summer program so that when they come back as first year associates, it is natural to come to the library for research support and training.
What does the training program look like at Neal Gerber?
We work closely with Professional Development and Recruiting to make sure that our program is efficient and indispensable. We then ask that each associate meet with a librarian mentor on their first assignment. At that point, we work through the fact pattern and show them print and online materials that might be helpful. We also give them insight on the attorney assigning the project – what sources they use and what they like to see in a finished work product. We spend a huge amount of one-on-one time helping them work through the first few projects from beginning to end. The library also sets up vendor trainings for all of our online databases, while the librarians train new associates on the resources available via the Library Portal.
For the last few years, we’ve worked closely with our West Librarian Relations team to include topic and key number training on research questions developed by attorneys at our firm. We have also highlighted discussions from the West Legal Research White papers where actual Neal Gerber experiences have been highlighted. We stress that the library is here to support the research efforts of the attorneys and no question is stupid. We would rather they come to us then spend hours wasting time on a project.
What do you believe is the ROI of the training program?
I have fewer billing partners coming into my office complaining about high database charges. If I do get complaints, I explain that if I write down the charges then they need to stand behind retraining the associate on cost-effective legal research. Also I have gotten great feedback from my litigation partners who are working with associates that have gone through the West Topic and Key number seminars at the firm. They tell me that the associates have a better understanding of how and why the key numbers work. I think it is a real problem that Topic and Key number searching and using digests is not stressed in law school. You have this great indexing system and associates do not realize the power and value until they get into law firms where they are expected to know how to use it. This just doesn’t make sense to me.
You’ve actually increased your library space, which is the opposite of almost every other firm. Do you believe that the training program had an impact? If you train an associate to be a good, cost-effective legal researcher through the efficient use of print and online services, they will become a success. If they are a success, they will be given more work and produce more billable hours. If they are perceived as good solid associates, they will most likely make partner. As a partner, they then expect good legal research skills of the associates working on their client matters. Everything comes full circle.
We get a lot of foot traffic through the library and our space was enlarged due to increased reference staff and study space rather than more shelving for print. I would add that we have a competitive intelligence unit in the library that works closely with marketing to drive client development, and that also helped.
I know that you are also a big advocate of cost recovery, and you have been very successful. How do you tie the training efforts and your cost recovery program together (if at all)?
Online research training is mandatory before an associate or lateral, receives their passwords. Each attorney is trained in cost-effective searching and the vendor contracts are fully explained to them. Their online usage is tracked for cost-effectiveness for the first three months they are at the firm, and I sit down with each associate and go over their online usage in depth. Seeing the actual cost helps them understand what charges are being sent to the billing attorney and passed on to the client. This system has been very effective as a training tool.
Any advice for librarians who are looking to start new associate training programs?
It makes it a lot easier if you have buy-in from management. I often joke about how lucky I am because the “Neal” in Neal Gerber & Eisenberg is Phil Neal, the former Dean of the University of Chicago Law School, and he is a huge library user. Additionally, the partners are exceptional legal researchers both in print and online. They are often in the library with an associate in tow to explain the finer points of law or a case overlooked online but readily available in a digest.
My advice would be:
- Find someone in management to champion your cause.
- Be clear about the type of program you want, and its value to the firm.
- Make sure it fits the firm culture and recruiting practices.
- Make a long-term commitment. Our program took four years, and we are still tweaking it.
- Advertise your success to the firm, so they know that it is working
- Make your training program a talking point during the recruiting process. This will let prospective associates know that cost-effective legal research is taken seriously at your firm.