#TBT: Inspiring 2015 Article on Georgia A2J Lawbrarian Laureen Kelly

I was recently accepted to present research on law librarianship and self-represented litigants at a library and information sciences symposium next year. I’ve already started reading more academic research on legal self-help centers and law libraries, but I also like searching for background info in older news articles and archived web content.

That’s how I stumbled on this older article from The Daily Report highlighting the tireless work of law librarian Laureen Kelly in Albany, Georgia. The article does a great job showing the emotional stress that can come along with being a public law librarian, and the desperation that many self-represented litigants go through while trying to find affordable legal help.


Lauren Kelly for The Daily Report/Law.com (John Disney/Daily Report)

A snippet:

The family spent about 45 minutes in the library, including most of what would have been Kelly’s half hour off for lunch. She even gave her purple grapes to the little boy, taking time to wash them first.

Kelly said the family was typical of the people served by the law library, one of the busiest of about 10 legal help centers funded by court fees and run by local governments.

Law librarians like Kelly are working to fill the gap between the need for legal services and the lack of access to attorneys, particularly in rural communities like those surrounding Albany in deep South Georgia, according to Michael Monahan, pro bono director for Georgia Legal Services.

Rural communities are hit especially hard by a lack of access to legal assistance, and it seems Kelly’s library in Albany gets visits from neighboring Georgia counties. In addition, the article points out that the local legal aid organizations were already overloaded with cases, so the rejected would-be clients flock to the law library for free help and resources.

My plan is to try and speak with Kelly to see if this need has increased, decreased, or remained stable throughout the years since this article was written. It would also be interesting to find out whether any tools or resources have been developed to ease Kelly’s workload, especially since the article notes that, like many other county employees, she has not received a raise since she started working for the law library.

Read the full article on Law.com.


Legal Design Lab’s ‘Law + Design Workbook’

The most interesting part of library school has been learning about all the intersections between law librarianship and human-centered design.

I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that much of librarianship is about customer service, and supporting (or designing!) systems that enable patrons to better search for and discover information. Obviously, this task takes on new dimensions when trying to make the law more accessible.

Margaret Hagan, a good friend and head of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, created a Law + Design Workbook that may be helpful to those trying to address gaps for service providers. Can’t wait to crack it open (figuratively speaking, of course – it’s accessible online) and see how I can apply these concepts to law librarianship + A2J. Click the photo below to check it out:Law-Design-Summit-workbook-even-newer-copy


First Things First: Basic Legal Research for the Newly Minted — from the RIPS Law Librarian Blog


I often notice a great deal of fear and frustration when many 1Ls approach the reference desk with legal research questions. The kicker: I’m trying not to show my own fear as a new law librarian!

This RIPS article is mainly about helping new attorneys, but as the author notes, it’s beneficial for pro se litigants and other legal researchers as well. Check out the article at the link below:

When you know what you’re looking at, you are better prepared to know what you’re looking for.

via First Things First: Basic Legal Research for the Newly Minted — RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Prison Libraries as Agents of Rehabilitative Change

This online course sounds incredibly interesting. Taught by Massachusetts prison librarian William D. Mongelli, the month-long workshop aims to teach participants how to advocate for the library as a program environment and not just a “simple management tool”:

Library-based programs such as consequential thinking, book discussions, writing-as-therapy, humor-as-therapy in the correctional environment, and the respectful treatment of women will be examined. The instructor will also share examples of course materials, curricula, and post-program data analysis. 

Learning Outcomes

  • Participants will create a short, persuasive project proposal that they can submit to their respective institutions.
  • Participants will be introduced to a variety of rehabilitative programs currently offered in prison libraries.
  • Participants will be able to advocate for the rehabilitative potential of their library to institution Administrators.

Who Should Attend

  • Current professional prison librarians
  • Library Science students interested in prison librarianship
  • Professional librarians with a strong interest in services to prisoners
  • Public librarians who are motivated to partner with prison librarians to expand library services to prisoners

Seriously considering forking over the student registration cost to learn more about this field! It makes sense to me that A2J would include prison inmates – after all, many of them are self-represented, and many inmates have great difficulty understanding their legal issues.



South Dakota Prison Replaces Legal Aides with Tablets

From South Dakota’s Bristol Herald Courier:

… prison inmates will no longer have access to paid legal aides and instead can use a tablet app to access a legal library.

Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk says the legal aides cost $200,000 a year. Instead the LexisNexis app will be installed on inmates’ tablets which cost $54,000 annually.

KOTA-TV reports Kaemingk says that solves the rising cost of counsel aid and limited time in the law library.

The inmates will have to learn how to use Lexis on their own. Not sure if their tablets have full access to the Internet and all the self-help legal research guides online, or if it’s only a portal to the local law library’s website and its resources.

Legal Self-Help Support & the Increased Demand for Legal Tech

Mary Juetten writing for the ABA Journal:

We appear to have created a chasm between done-for-you-by-a-lawyer and DIY solutions. The bridge or answer is mobile technology with appropriate legal support. For years, Thomson Reuters’ FindLaw survey has analyzed client behavior. The most recent figures from 2016 consumer survey respondents demonstrate the need for immediate attention from local legal experts using mobile applications.

  • 71 percent use their smartphones to find a solution to a legal problem.
  • 58 percent look for an attorney within a week of their legal incident.
  • 45 percent consider legal expertise as top selection factor.
  • 78 percent wish to hire a local attorney.

Therefore, clients are demanding mobile applications that provide direct access to a firm. In addition, consumers want education; online questionnaires to gather information rather than in-person consultations; and free legal forms for specific practice areas. Rather than fighting this trend toward creating mobile legal products and services, attorneys can use online information-gathering tools to triage and educate clients and focus on professional judgment for problem-solving.

As Juetten pointed out in a previous ABA Journal article, the wide justice gap for low-income individuals in America is exacerbated by a lack of understanding of their issues. Many don’t even realize their problem is legal in nature and could be helped with an attorney.

Technology, especially mobile apps, can step in and provide a “road map,” as Juetten calls it, to accessing legal help. It seems that a lot of legal tech companies focus on providing services to firms, which is understandable – I assume there’s more of a monetary incentive to go in that direction. But the people who really need help are not inside law firms or even law schools.

Self-represented litigants may not understand the nuance of using self-help resources like websites and apps unless we spell it out for them and make them user-friendly. This is made abundantly clear by the number of frustrated people who go to law libraries in search of answers after they’ve used public Westlaw or Lexis terminals and are somehow more confused than when they started. The tech itself, while admirable, is just the beginning.


ROSS Intelligence start-up lands $8.7M to augment legal research with AI

From TechCrunch:

Armed with an understanding of machine learning, ROSS Intelligence is going after LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters for ownership of legal research.

… “Bluehill benchmarks Lexis’s tech and they are finding 30 percent more relevant info with ROSS in less time,” Andrew Arruda, co-founder and CEO of ROSS, explained to me in an interview.

ROSS is using a combination of off the shelf and proprietary deep learning algorithms for its AI stack. The startup is using IBM Watson for at least some of its natural language processing capabilities, but the team shied away from elaborating.

But the most telling quote:

“The work ROSS is doing with law schools and law students is interesting,” Karam Nijjar, a partner at iNovia Capital and investor in ROSS, asserted. “As these students enter the workforce, you’re taking someone using an iPhone and handing them a BlackBerry their first day on the job.”


I found this article in the KnowItAALL newsletter.

Courthouse Help Centers for Pro Se Litigants

From the Hamilton County Law Library Blog:

The Hamilton County Courthouse has a new tenant, one that will hopefully help level the playing field for Pro Se litigants attempting to navigate the legal system on their own.

The Help Center, located on the first floor of the Courthouse in room 113, is an amazing new resource for anyone with questions or who needs help with a legal topic. Staffed by a fully-licensed attorney and law students from UC, this center offers guidance and limited legal advice for any wishing to represent themselves or for those who cannot afford an attorney.

There are no salary caps or other restrictions on who can be seen. Currently, the Help Center focuses on small claims, evictions, garnishments and judgments and has many guides and cheat sheets about each topic. Staff and volunteers can help patrons understand and fill out forms, prepare for an upcoming court date, understand court processes and procedures and even give coaching on how to represent yourself.

Both “Self Help Centers” and “Law Libraries as Resource Centers” are listed in this 2008 Self-Represented Litigation Network report on Best Practices in Court-Based Programs for the Self-Represented, and this 2015 NCSC Trends report has an article that talks about law library-court collaborations. It would be interesting to know how many courts in the U.S. currently house Help Centers with law librarians on hand to help pro se litigants. I’ll look in those reports to get a general idea, and follow the trail from there.


The Federal Courts Web Archive

The Federal Courts Web Archive launched about two weeks ago, showcasing previous websites for the Supreme Court, federal appellate courts, trial courts, and other tribunals.

From the In Custodia Legis blog:

These sites contain a wide variety of resources prepared by federal courts, such as: slip opinions, transcripts, dockets, court rules, calendars, announcements, judicial biographies, statistics, educational resources, and reference materials. The materials available on the federal court websites were created to support a diverse array of users and needs, including attorneys and their clients, pro se litigants seeking to represent themselves, jurors, visitors to the court, and community outreach programs.

The site could be of great use for researchers, especially those exploring how courts have technologically responded to the access to justice movement.

The Law Library of Congress’s In Custodia Legis blog also has a good overview of the courts and the resources available on their websites.

Instagram and Snapchat Videos as Short-Form Library Tutorials

For those of us who like to use visuals to teach and learn:

[Librarian Cindy] Craig has a splendid new essay up in In the Library with the Lead Pipe, called “Modular Short Form Video for Library Instruction”; although it’s pitched at librarians, it’s useful for anyone interested in teaching multi-step processes.

[…]she focused on SnapChat, which allows 15-second videos, and Instagram, which allows 10 (and which also has the Boomerang app that lets you cycle images quickly back and forth). You can see the results here https://www.instagram.com/uflibrarywest/.

Craig’s list of best practices is pretty sound:

  • Carefully map out the research process from start to finish. Don’t assume users will even know how to find your library’s website.
  • Break up the research process into smaller chunks. Think about where users are likely to get stuck or confused. Your videos should help users over these hurdles.

You can read the rest of Cindy Craig’s best practices in Jason B. Jones’ article on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog. Her library’s 10 Second Library Hacks page on Instagram seems helpful, although I agree with Jones assertion that free screencasting software would look more attractive to users than a smartphone video recording. Also, the article states that Instagram only allows 10-second videos. I believe this time was increased to 15 seconds, and then recently increased again to a full 60 seconds. Lots of time there for a quick tip or two.

I will try to replicate this on our new (and barely used) Instagram page. It will be interesting to see how law library patrons engage with video tutorials. I predict that half the battle will be making patrons aware that we have an Insta page. Many seem tethered to the idea that a law library = books-and-study-space only, and seem genuinely (but pleasantly) surprised when they learn we have social media, presentations, reference hours, etc.

Obviously, anything we place on our public social media will be findable for members of the general public, too. In addition to library-specific tutorials, it could also be fun to use that 60-second window of time to give user-friendly and plain language topical overviews, such as a 101 tutorial showing users how to navigate online self-help legal resources.

I found this article in the American Association of Law Libraries’ KnowItAALL newsletter.