UniCourt Influencer Q&A with Jean O’Grady of Dewey B Strategic
An original Knowledge Strategist, Jean O’Grady has spent her career working within AmLaw firms and has been a pioneer in the field of knowledge management for lawyers. With more than 30 years of experience developing strategic information initiatives for AmLaw firms, Jean also has an extensive background working as a law librarian, adjunct professor, and sought-after speaker. Currently, she is the Editor and blogger for the website Dewey B Strategic, a collection of articles on “risk, value, strategy, innovation, knowledge and the legal profession.” As a legal blogger, Jean is a key part of the marketplace of ideas that spur change and innovation in the legal profession.
We were fortunate to sit down with Jean to discuss her career trajectory and her role as a law librarian, blogger, and columnist.
UniCourt: Tell us your story. What is your background, and what led you to the work you are currently doing?
Jean O’Grady: I trained as a librarian and an attorney and today I describe myself as a Knowledge Strategist. I became a librarian because I loved books. I am still a big reader in my personal life. I have totally embraced the transformation of legal research from print to digital. I became a blogger because most of the legal tech bloggers were men and librarians weren’t getting the credit they deserved for driving innovation in law firms. So that was a key mission of Dewey B Strategic – which is a play on words using the name of the founder of American Librarianship, Melville Dewey, and asking are we strategic? (and my answer is a resounding “yes”). Librarians were often the first people to set up an internet account and start exploring this thing called “the web” in the 1990s. They are the original taxonomists and knowledge managers.
UC: Tell us more about your career as a law librarian and knowledge strategist. What does your role entail? How has it evolved?
JOG: I have been working as the Director of Research/Knowledge in ALM 100 firms since the early 1980s. I have had the privilege of watching the entire transformation of legal research and knowledge. I started out overseeing large print libraries. I was ahead of the curve in moving lawyers off of print to digital desktop libraries. When you eliminate print you eliminate a ton of administrative work. This enabled me to redeploy and retrain staff to help build digital libraries and focus on taking on AI projects, learning about analytics, and building workflow solutions. I developed one of the earliest law firm KM systems back in 1985. I am constantly learning.
UC: What do you like best about being a blogger?
JOG: In my role as a blogger I have had the chance to get to know so many tech entrepreneurs. Almost all of them had a germ of an idea that arose in their frustrations in practice of law. I enjoy watching these small companies grow. They also play an important role in the transformation of the legal tech marketplace. Start-ups are responsible for creating the analytics revolution and Westlaw and Lexis had to play catch up. Start-ups keep pushing the envelope and forcing the dominant players to adapt and respond to the new ideas and products they bring into the market. Lawyers benefit from the churn of ideas and implementations through the market.
UC: What are some of the greatest setbacks in law firms with respect to the use of data? What are their greatest weaknesses? How do you think they can overcome these challenges to make better use of data?
JOG: Law firms are recognizing that they can gain powerful insights from cleaning up their internal data, e.g., client data and DMS data, and then linking that data to external data sources such as client info and market data as well as litigation data such as UniCourt provides. The biggest challenge is normalizing internal data. All data is not equal, so librarians and information professionals need to be involved in helping law firms identify and evaluate data products. There are a lot of variables in understanding data such as dates of coverage, courts covered, types of cases covered, tagging of data fields. Some vendors offer data but don’t allow for API access to that data. Law firms are starting to hire data scientists to help them build out dashboards connecting internal data with external commercial analytics.
UC: How do you think COVID-19 has impacted innovation within law firms? How do you expect firms to leverage these challenges for growth in the rest of the year and throughout 2021?
JOG: COVID accelerated trends that were already in place. The biggest impact of COVID was probably the accelerated adoption of technology. Everyone had to learn to work remotely. Lawyers that relied on books had to get comfortable with digital resources. Lawyers had to embrace collaboration tools in order to work on virtual teams. I don’t think budgets for innovation will increase but firms will get smarter by focusing on driving workflow enhancements and insights using the tools that are already in place but haven’t been fully explored or adopted.
UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? Do you have any examples of how you’ve seen those sayings come to life in your personal or professional lives?
JOG: Early in my career I heard the phrase: “Sometimes it’s better to seek forgiveness than permission.” In my first library director position, I found myself in a situation where there was an opportunity to transition away from “dumb” dedicated research terminals (Lexis Ubiq and Westlaw Walt) and replace them with IBM PCs. The PCs would allow us to add workflow software and a wider range of research platforms. The Director of IT refused to approve the PCs so I went above him. He was furious with me for a few months, but he later admitted that I had made the right decision.
UC: Are there any upcoming events in the legal tech space of which we should be aware?
JOG: The next event I will attend is Legal Tech which is normally an exciting networking event in New York. This year it will be virtual. Then I hope to attend the American Association of Law Libraries Conference which I hope will be in Cleveland in July.
UC: Thanks for speaking with us. Where can we learn more about you and your work?
The O.G. Knowledge Manager
As a career law librarian and knowledge management professional, Jean O’Grady has witnessed an evolution in the way lawyers consume information. Now, in her role as a blogger for Dewey B Strategic, she is a key part of the distribution of information about tech, innovation, and strategy that is driving meaningful change in the legal field.
We look forward to continuing to follow Jean’s career in the coming months and years.