After the (Conference) Dust Has Settled

Blog post by Shay Elbaum, Reference Librarian, University of Michigan Law Library

We’ve all ended conferences full of ideas and full of resolve to apply them in our work, only to lose track of them once things get busy again. Please imagine that this conference summary post is an attempt to break that cycle, resurfacing some of this year’s AALL Annual Meeting programming a couple of months after the fact and reflecting on how my library has used it and can keep using it moving forward. It’s definitely not just a very late post-conference post. 

In a standing-room-only session at July’s AALL Annual Meeting, Michelle Hook Dewey, Kristina Niedringhaus, Patrick Parsons, and Leigh Zeiser presented the Georgia State University Legal Tech Competency Model. You can read more about it in their own words in this libguide or this forthcoming paper. The model divides the universe of legal tech into four categories, depicted as quadrants: practice technology, data, automation and efficiency, and emerging technology. These aren’t mutually exclusive; a product, service, or educational program could fall into two or more of these categories. The model also incorporates levels of competency for each quadrant. All attorneys need certain basic tech competencies to meet their professional and ethical obligations, and they can go beyond that B.A.S.E. (Basic Applications, Skills, and Expectations) to reach the model’s “Know,” “Integrate,” and “Create” levels of competency. These are loosely based on Bloom’s taxonomy, and the presenters emphasized that they’re descriptive rather than prescriptive; that is, for some people, roles, or activities, the “Know” level will be perfectly sufficient, while for others, “Create”-ing may be the goal. 

The session closed with some small-group discussion about how attendees could use this model to plan or assess their own legal tech programming. I spotted two of my colleagues across the very crowded room, and we had a great mini-planning session for our own upcoming program, a Legal Tech Series of lunchtime talks for law students. After mapping our current offerings onto the model, it became clear that they were clustered in one particular quadrant and in the “know” skill level. The model is agnostic on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – it’s up to us to interpret in light of our own goals – and I recall we decided that we should aim for more varied topical offerings but keep this series at an introductory level, and think about other opportunities for higher-level offerings. 

Shortly after the Annual Meeting, another legal tech competency model popped up in my email: Sarah Glassmeyer’s Competency Model for Legal Technology and Innovation. This model also defines levels of competency within particular domains, but has a different approach to the domains: instead of domains of legal technology, it includes six domains of legal work and knowledge, e.g. “Delivery of Knowledge and Services.” Each domain’s description includes tools and products – technologies – used in that domain. The levels of knowledge – Foundational, Intermediate, and Advanced – are described with a greater focus on using technology for tasks and processes. 

I’m not sure if their creators see these models as competing with one another, but I don’t at all; they just seem like different ways of describing and organizing an amorphous field. I could imagine the GSU model being more useful in settings where a technology focus is already in place – for example, my library’s lunchtime Legal Tech Series – and the Glassmeyer Model being more effective where it’s important to integrate technology skills with others in the broader domain, like in a law school’s clinics. We haven’t tried a similar planning and assessment exercise with the Glassmeyer Model yet, but I suspect that would expose different gaps in and strengths of our programming. 

We launched this semester’s Legal Tech Series this week, and it’s off to a good start. The talk had the most attendees we’ve had at a Legal Tech Series program yet, which I don’t think is related to using this model in our planning process, but we definitely feel more confident about our lineup this semester. When it’s time to assess this semester’s offerings and plan for next semester, it’ll be interesting to do so with reference to both the GSU model and the Glassmeyer model. 

Research Librarian, Perkins Coie LLP