A lot has happened in the last couple of months. My normal inclination is to write one humungous post where I try to make sense of everything, but I don’t think that such a post will ever be finished - at least not before my life has moved on and I’m thinking about other things.
So here’s one part of it. My new job.
For some reason this job seems totally different, even if it’s not. After all, I’ve worked as a law librarian before - that’s what I did when I first started blogging. Being a law librarian was my initial goal when I decided to become a librarian.
The difference is that my previous law library position was in an academic law library. The majority of my career has been in academic libraries, but this new job is with a big law firm.
In Australia, law firm blogging doesn’t seem to have taken off in the same way that it has in the US. For the time being, I’d rather not mention the particular firm where I work. It’s no dark secret (actually I am really glad to be working for this particular firm), but once I mention that word here, my name and my employers become inextricably linked through Google and other search engines. Later on I may change my mind and provide those details. That’s fine and I’d rather err by being over-cautious in the beginning. After all, if I say everything now, I can’t unsay that later on.
My initial impression is that being a law firm librarian is very different from being an academic law librarian and it’s also different from non-legal special library positions I’ve had.
One big difference from being an academic law librarian, is that in the law firms, information is not meant to be free. It is expensive and it is power and there are some boundaries which it is not permitted to cross.
The most obvious boundary is attorney-client privilege.
Another way that information is constrained are by Chinese Walls, to use the un-PC Australian colloquial term. Other words include firewalls and cones of silence. Whatever you call them, these are used when one firm represents different parties with different interests about something. It would not be a good idea to have information flowing freely between the lawyers representing these different interests.
I’ve noticed another aspect of this information exchange issue. When I receive a research request, I don’t usually receive a whole lot of background or contextual information. It was very different in academic libraries, where I saw reference interviews which resembled interrogations. It is true that more contextual information usually helped the research process.
The more I’ve started to think about this, I wonder if maybe this lack of context is a mercy. After all, it would be quite disturbing for me to to hear detailed information about how my work was facilitating behaviour by individuals or companies which were at odds with my own personal values.
This leads to the next big issue on my mind, which will be the topic of my next post. It is important for me to go to work knowing that I am doing good of some sort in the world. At the very least, I don’t want to be causing harm.
How are these concerns resolved in the law firm environment?