Guide on the Side – TRIPLL: Reflections on the Origins of a Unique Series of Conferences

Previous Articles by Marie Wallace

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries‘ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities.

Today across the country practicing attorneys are more effective researchers because of the instruction they receive from private law librarians, who in the 1990’s honed their presentation and instruction skills. How librarians accomplished this is tied to the story of TRIPLL (Teaching Research in Private Law Libraries) Conferences. While law librarians were always expert legal researchers, they were not always expert at transferring their know how to attorneys on a customized basis.

This is a story of a new kind of information partnership. It begins for me before TRIPLL was created, when I was invited to speak at the Graylyn Conference on Effective Teaching of Legal Research in a Technological Environment in November 1989, a program for law school librarians sponsored by Mead Data Central, Inc. (MDC), now LexisNexis.

Along with firm librarian Barbara Geier, I was invited to Graylyn to speak on the client-oriented research assignments typically received and handled by new associates in private settings. (My presentation was subsequently published as “Fast Forward, or Legal Research in the Real World”* It included an idea how to market research strategies in law libraries with neon signs such as “Read the Damn Statute.”) As we listened to the academic law librarians’ presentations, we realized that the research skills required for law school are unlike those required for practice. The research resources are also quite different.

Graylyn was (and is) a magical executive retreat center near Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Graylyn is a fine example of elegant amenities and facilities promoting a program: Indoor swimming pool and self-service galleys on each sleeping floor stocked with pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. The number of conference attendees was small providing opportunities to smooze with everyone including the conference hosts MDC. During free-time the private law librarian contingent, (Barbara Geier, Tory Trotta, who was leaving academe for a firm in Phoenix, and I), took a walk and discussed how fruitful it would be to have a Graylyn-type Conference for private law librarians. Later when Bob Berring delivered the summation, he threw out a broad challenge about teaching legal research “If you don’t do it, who will?” The three of us interpreted this question as an annointment of our idea.

Subsequently, we made a proposal to Nick Finke, MDC Director of Large Law Firm Marketing, who had been at Graylyn and was aware of its collaborative, learning community setting. We outlined our ideas about topics and speakers, such as Ethan Katsh, who had just published The Electronic Media and the Transformation of Law.*

By December, Nick reported our Conference idea had been approved by MDC, Ethan agreed to be the keynote speaker, and the Westfield’s International Conference Center in Chantilly, Virginia was reserved for a planning meeting and the proposed Conference. A Conference Council to plan the Conference was selected with an eye to geographical and institutional balance. It consisted of law librarians: Marie Wallace, Barbara Geier, Jim Hambleton, Gitelle Seer, Tory Trotta, Suzanne Zumbro and MDC staff: Nicke Finke, Marian Parker and Linda Couvion.

The Conference Council convened in January to plan a Conference to take place in April! It was very heady to go from proposal to execution so quickly. This really was “fast forward” and in the words of Nick Finke, MDC had “empowered us to further the cause of legal research.”

Empowerment took two forms. One, MDC funded the travel, meal and lodging expenses of the Conference Council members plus meal, lodging and registration expenses of the Conference attendees. Two, final decisions on the program were made by consensus of the Conference Council. In other words, MDC was the enabler not the decider. For those who have never been to a TRIPLL or spin-off conference, MDC, later LexisNexis, never planned the Conferences to market their products. The Conferences are devoted to improving the quality of instruction.

There were many issues to be considered and decided by the first Conference Council and only a few days to it:

Title, structure, scope and content of the proposed conference

Guidelines for faculty selection

Criteria for attendee selection (over 200 applications were received for 35 slots)

Who on the Conference Council was responsible for each conference module.

The MDC staff expedited the planning pace by using state-of-the-art displayed thinking techniques to plan: flip charts, brainstorming, idea pumping, workable agreements, active listening, and deciding in advance how to decide. “Aha” moments became the norm. There was a blend of divergent thinking (idea generation) and convergent thinking (idea evaluation). After several exciting and intense days, we looked around the room and saw the architecture of our program on the walls–“mind-mapped” in color, images, arrows and revisions.

The displayed thinking techniques became the pattern for Conference Council planning–even though each year there were new members on the Conference Council, a new theme, and a new program. Continuity and change were built into the TRIPLL governance. The Conference Council was sensitive to the network of existing professional organizations and looped in representatives from AALL and PLL-SIS on each Conference Council.

The first Conference program in 1990 had a diverse faculty of 25, consisting of professors, partners, comedians, different types of librarians, paralegals, professional development personnel and was designed around five basic areas:

  • Presentation skills
  • Teaching options
  • Modifying content for different audiences
  • Cooperating with law schools
  • Working with in-house professional development programs

Each Conference applicant completed an application questionnaire (a form of needs assessment). The 35 people selected to attend were asked to come prepared for a two-minute presentation to be videotaped. Other Conference formats were lectures, discussions, panels, breakout sessions and free peer to peer time.

In less than six months the first TRIPLL Conference went from dream to reality. It took place April 26 through the 29th, 1990 at Westfield’s International Conference Center with the title, Conference on Teaching Legal and Factual Research in Private Law Libraries. It was a stunning success and laid the groundwork for subsequent annual Conferences. The Proceedings* covering most of the presentations were published by Rothman. By 1993, the name for what had become a continuing Conference series was shortened to the acronym TRIPLL (Teaching Research in Private Law Libraries) and generically used to reference the earlier Conferences which were published by MDC as Highlights from the 1991-1993 Conferences.*

Barbara Geier and I continued on the Conference Council for six years and Tory Trotta served intermittently. We remember the TRIPLL Conferences and working with the LexisNexis staff, the Conference Councils and the diverse faculty members as unique and enriching experiences. For instance, if your handout materials met the deadline, you were rewarded by LexisNexis with a massage at the Conference hotel. In 1997, LexisNexis expanded the TRIPLL format to a new Conference topic and Advanced Management for Private Law Librarians (AMPLL) was introduced, alternating every other year with TRIPLL. In the meantime, other types of law librarians perceived a need for similar programs and in 1998 a conference was created for academic law librarians, Teaching Research in Academic Law Libraries (TRIALL) and in 2001, a conference was held for the court and agency law librarians (TRICALL). Earlier in 2002, the 10th TRIPLL Conference was held, marking a decade of remarkable professional development.

TRIPLL conferences had impact far beyond the stimulating programs. They:

  • Activated joint “Bridging the Gap” ventures between firm and law school librarians.
  • Prompted Ellen Callinan to form the Research Instruction Caucus (RIC) within AALL (now AALL/RIPS) to promote annual Teach-Ins and AALL. programs such as “Teaching Legal Research to the MTV Generation”.
  • Moved MDC to create a Librarians Relations Group to enhance the partnership.
  • Had a Sundance film festival effect releasing passion and creativity.
  • Became a lab for law librarians to experiment and through-line the results to their jobs.
  • Demonstrated how local arrangements (site selection and accommodations) can accelerate learning with pleasant, relaxing and comfortable surroundings.
  • Celebrated newly acquired confidence at Annual AALL receptions.
  • Encouraged people to write and publish their experiences.

Bob Berring ended his summation of the first Conference in 1990 with this comment: “Ten years from now, What I really would love to do is see Mead Data Central sponsor a “ten years after” conference.” Bob’s wish has became a reality in more ways than one. LexisNexis and the private law librarians took up the challenge and later academics, court, and agency law librarians followed. Ripples from the original TRIPLL cascaded out farther and farther.

At this writing, over 400 law librarians have been enriched as a result of a TRIPLL, AMPLL, TRICALL or TRIALL conference. Uniformly they are enthusiastic about TRIPLL and write: “high-energy,” “intense,” “practical,” “pertinent,” “rewarding,” “immediately useful,” “gave me confidence,” “focused,” “interactive,” and “improved my presentation skills.” As for we three with the idea, we all went on to do new things. Barbara Geier is now Director of Organizational Development for the Professional Development Center of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. and Tory Trotta is Director of the Law Library and Associate Dean, Arizona State University. I retired and use my TRIPLL experiences as an inspiration for many of the monthly Guide on the Side columns.

Selective TRIPLL Bibliography

“The Effectiveness of Law School Legal Research Programs” by Joan S. Howland and Nancy J. Lewis, 40 Journal of Legal Education 381, 1990

The Electronic Media and The Transformation of Law, by M. Ethan Katsh, Oxford University Press, 1989

“The Evolution of Private Law Librarians as Smartly Dressed Trainers” by Marie Wallace in PLL Perspectives, v. 11:2, p. 1, Winter 2000

“Fast Forward, or Legal Research in the Real World”by Marie Wallace in Trends in Law Library Management and Technology, v. 3:3, p. 1, Oct. 1989 and PLL Perspectives, v. 1:4, p. 1, Apr/May 1990.

Graylyn IV Legal Research: Preserving an Essential Lawyering Skill, Confer­ence Report edited by Donald Dunn, Mead Data Central 1991.

“High Impact, High Energy Instruction” by Marie Wallace in SCALL Newsletter, v. 19:3, p. 9, Jan. 1992.

Highlights: A Selection of Presentations 1991-1993 From the Conference on Teaching Research in Private Law Libraries, Mead Data Central, 1993 .

“Legal Research and the Private Law Firm” by Gayle Lynn-Nelson in PLL Perspectives v. 2:1, Sept/Oct 1990.

Proceedings of the Conference on Teaching Legal and Factual Research in Private Law Libraries, Fred B. Rothman, 1991.

“Research Protocols in Reference Service: Informal Instruction in Law Firm Libraries” by Ellen Callinan in 82 Law Library Journal 39, Winter 1990.

“Strange Bedfellows? How Myers-Briggs can Help Lawyers and Librarians work Together” by Maureen Provost in Update: The Lexis Newsletter for Private Law Librarians, v. 3:6, p.1, (“Lawyers and librarians are fundamentally different in the ways they focus their attention, absorb and process information, make decisions and interact with others”).

“Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries” by Judith M. Leon and Kathryn Kerchof in PLL Perspectives v. 2:1, Sept/Oct 1990.

“Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries: Conference Promotes Practical Skills and Techniques” in Lexis Update, Issue 3, 1991, p. 1.

“TRIPLL Conference: From Vision to Reality” in Update: The Lexis Newsletter for Private Law Librarians v.3:5, 1992

TRIPLL: Our Mission to Enjoy, Participate and Envision” by Rita Kaiser in PLL Perspectives, v. 11:4, p. 11, Summer 2000.

“TRIPLL 2000” by Greg McNown in Legal Division Quarterly, V. 7:1, Summer 2000, Special Libraries Association.

“Visual Technology Improves Legal Research Instruction” by Marie Wallace in Lawyer Hiring & Training Report v. 12:1, Jan. 1992, p. 4

“Yes, You Too Can Teach Legal Research” by Mary M. Ames in PLL Perspectives v. 2:1, Sept/Oct 1990.

“1991 Conference on Teaching Legal Research: Shifting Paradigms” by Paul Mitchell in PLL Perspectives, v. 3:1, Sept/Oct 1991, p. 21.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Legal Research Training, Presentation Skills