Archive for January 11th, 2010

Book Review: Information Needs of Lawyers by Joelle Rogan

Rogan, Joelle. 2009. Information Needs of Lawyers: A case study evaluating the information needs of lawyers in a major City law firm. Germany: VDM Verlag. 70 pages. $71.00.

Information Needs of Lawyers is substantively intelligible and insightful. It springs from a case-study Joelle Rogan first conducted while working as a library assistant in a law firm and completing the requisites for qualification as assistant librarian. In spite of its substantive sophistication, however, Rogan’s book is somewhat unrefined methodologically. Still, I find Rogan’s book to be accessible and imaginative.

The second chapter of the book is dedicated to a literature review where Rogan examines various ideas from such authors as: David Nicholas. These ideas are “the main guidelines used for this project, which formed the basis for the interview questions.” She finds lawyers’ information needs to be characterized by: subject, function, nature, intellectual level, viewpoint, quantity, communication, date/currency/urgency of need, place, and processing and packaging. These characteristics are discussed at length and supported by attorney interviews. Rogan also discusses the obstacles to meeting information needs: time constraints, resources, awareness and training, access, and information overload. Both the characteristics and obstacles are extremely useful for assessment. Librarians may use these characteristics to define information needs and the ability to overcome obstacles as measurement of how needs are met.

Rogan also observes the significant role of technology in meeting every aspect of information needs. As a result, the relationship between the law library and information technology (IT) department may be very tenuous. One challenge Rogan uncovers is that partners and IT managers typically make the ultimate decision on what technology is purchased while the responsibility for determining the usefulness of these technologies falls on librarians. In her opinion, librarians should be brought into the discussion before decisions are made as librarians possess taxonomy, classification, and indexing skills

In chapter five, Rogan discusses the methodology she used to conduct her case-study. However, she does not sufficiently address how Nicholas’ work, which is used as her framework yet focuses on the information needs of journalists, is specifically adapted to address lawyers’ information needs; how these adaptations are used to formulate interview questions; or, how interviewees’ responses are weighed and analyzed. As a result, there are some missing links between the framework, interview questions and answers, and Rogan’s conclusions.

Later in the same chapter, Rogan makes a rather contradictory point. Apparently, one attorney refused to be recorded during her interview. To this refusal, Rogan responded “that the dissertation would not be published but as an ex-journalist, [the attorney being interviewed] was a very untrusting subject, probably used to more exploitative journalists than the author whose sole intention was for research not scandal.” However, Rogan’s book is, in fact, the publication of her case-study and dissertation. And, the recorded attorneys’ interviews are the basis of her case-study. Moreover, the transcript of one attorney’s interview is provided in full in appendix three. This contradiction causes readers to wonder how interviewees were selected or persuaded to volunteer to interview.

Overall, Ms. Rogan’s book has its strengths and weaknesses. Its weaknesses may prevent it from appealing to librarians with experience in methodology. However, because it clearly delineates lawyers’ information needs, it may be useful to law firm librarians, law firm library support staff and library school students.

Taciana Williams is associate director of the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law Library in Houston.