The Essential Role of the Law Librarian with Robert Ambrogi

February Business Meeting

Our February business meeting convened on February 18 over Zoom and had 53 CALL members in attendance.

President Lindsey Carpino opened the meeting by reminding attendees that the CALL election is going on until March 15 and that this month the community service has arranged for CALL to support the DuSable Museum of African American History (more on these in the committee announcements below).

She also thanked our speaker Robert Ambrogi, noting that outside of a remote meeting it would be difficult to schedule a meeting with him present. Vice President Jamie Sommer introduced Mr. Ambrogi, who is a long-time expert on legal technology, practice, and ethics. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of and writes a technology column for Above the Law.

The Essential Role of the Law Librarian

Mr. Ambrogi opened by saying that he’s not a futurist and isn’t interested in making predictions, citing William Gibson’s quote, “The future is already here–it’s just not evenly distributed.” Mr. Ambrogi published a book chapter on artificial intelligence (AI) and law libraries last year in Law Librarianship in the Age of AI, which was the focus of his discussion.

He asserts that we can get some insight on the future by looking around at what’s already happening. There’s been a general agreement that legal professionals’ use of technology has accelerated over the last year, and while AI is implicated, that trend has applied toward analytics and other areas as well.

There has been some fear among lawyers and information professionals that AI would take jobs away, partly propelled by rhetoric. E.g., some of the anthropomorphizing of AI by naming such tools things like CARA and ROSS has fed that concern, as has legal services touting that we’ll have a conversational research process with AI tools. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and information professionals will be incredibly valuable in guiding the use of AI and machine learning tools.

Four Roles for Librarians

Mr. Ambrogi discussed four roles for librarians when it comes to using and teaching AI and machine learning: gatekeeper, guide, ethicist, and interpreter. These days it’s near impossible to be an information professional without being a technology professional.

Librarians as Gatekeepers

In many organizations, librarians have become technology gatekeepers that evaluate, screen, and vet the best and most useful new technology. AALL is one of the biggest legal technology conventions in the country, and librarians have the skill and savvy to scrutinize vendors’ claims and ensure the technology does what the vendors say it does.

Librarians as Guides

The librarian is also the guide in the firm for using technologies that have become available. They facilitate the use of AI and analytics, train lawyers and students, and continually evaluate AI systems, in part by analyzing search results. Librarians can also help refine machine learning results and tailor applications. Ed Walters has said that librarians play a critical role in the internal development of the use of AI.

Librarians as Ethicists

When Mr. Ambrogi discusses librarians as ethicists, he’s not suggesting that information professionals will become ethics professionals but instead implicates the attorney’s duty of technology competence. There is a gap between what the ABA rule expects and the competence lawyers have, and librarians can help bridge that.

Technological skill and varies among attorneys—consider the attorney who couldn’t turn off his cat filter during a Zoom hearing. Attorneys in charge of a case have a duty to manage the use of technology. Those with background in law and technology will be vital members of teams to ensure the team meets the duty of competence.

Librarians as Interpreters

Librarians as interpreters will help professionals in firms understand AI and algorithmic technologies and what they’re capable of. AI isn’t inherently intelligent—it’s the application of algorithms to data, and algorithms are created by humans, so they have certain biases and flaws that lead to different results.

Susan Nevelow-Mart has demonstrated that different legal research platforms return different results for the same query. Diana Koppang has compared litigation analytics products and demonstrated the same. It’s important for researchers to understand the biases that may be inherent in these systems and practice diligent scrutiny in evaluating search results.

AI is not coming for librarians’ jobs. The future of law librarianship is in AI and will make the job even more multifaceted.

Audience Q&A

Q: I think about the librarian’s duty to stay abreast of technology. Should there be a formal way to ensure librarians are staying qualified to do this?

A: That could be useful. As long as you’re interested in staying informed, there are plenty out there to help with that. E.g. there’s no mandatory CLE in MA, but it’s not really a problem there. People stay up to date in their areas. Organizations should provide a means to stay abreast of this information

Q: Do you have any advice for being better advocates for our profession?

A: I think you do a pretty good job, especially the organizations. There are a lot of misunderstanding of the role of the librarian among legal professionals. The best way to change this is to write, be on podcasts, and communicate to broader audiences when you can. It’s public relations in a sense.

Q: As you look around at the landscape of legal research providers, are any of them emerging as a future cornerstone for our work?

A: CaseText is one to watch. They’ve turned the tables a bit so that Thomson Reuters and Lexis Nexis are playing some catch-up. Nobody had anything like CARA when that started. The industry has changed in the last decade so that little companies are spurring a lot of innovation.

Q: Should we be advocating for a change in the curriculum for librarians to be learning statistical methods so we can better understand AI and machine learning?

A: I’m not a librarian, so I can’t say too much about the MLS curriculum.  The subject at least needs to be discussed. Maybe not the math aspect, but people should know how algorithms are developed and how they work.

Committee Announcements

Meetings (Jill Meyer) –

The initial CALL Media Club meeting in January went well, and the committee is planning the next meeting in April, which will cover a movie. An email will circulate for people to recommend movies. They’ll compile top suggestions and then send a survey in March.

Meetings (Eugene Giudice) –

On March 18 at 5:30, CALL members can participate in a virtual tour of the Pritzker Military Museum. Right now there’s a special exhibit on the World War II campaign in Pacific. There will be a $5 fee to participate.

Nominations and Elections (Joe Mitzenmacher) –

The 2021 Executive Board Election is open. Members should have received a link to the ballot and their pins on Monday, February 15. Let Joe know if you did not receive the link.

Continuing Education (Todd Hillmer) –

There are two Continuing Education programs coming up. On February 24, Trellis will give a presentation on AI-driven analytics strategies for Illinois litigation. On March 4, UI McKinney librarians will discuss how MAALL states deal with legislative history.

Community Service (Jesse Bowman) –

For this meeting we’re donating to the DuSable Museum of African American History. There was a link in the email. Note there’s no way to indicate that a donation is related to CALL, so don’t worry about that.

Bridget MacMillan was present representing Lexis Nexis for the drawing of two $25 Amazon virtual gift cards. Our winners were Julie Pabarja and Todd Hillmer.