Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


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Cutting Costs of Online Research Services

It has been 11 years since I cancelled my first set of reporters.  What followed was the cancellation of all print reporters in that firm.  Like many of you reading this post also experienced, it wasn’t easy.  That said, we can now say that most of the lawyers within  firms (who cancelled reporters) have made the transition from print to electronic/online case law.

What’s next?  Many firms are making decisions to go with a preferred provider – Westlaw or Lexis – to cut costs.  The CIOs, CMOs, and CKOs who now oversee the library or research department see this as a way to reduce paying for duplication.  Depending on what content your firm uses, this may or may not be the best way to proceed.  Even so, while this may be necessary there may be strategies you can use  to manage costs of online services.

Note: I realize that many firms have already taken some of these steps or have it planned for the future.  I also understand that all of these suggestions may be or not be right for your firm depending on needs and culture.

  • If you have a flat rate contract or a special offer that includes case law, cancel your print reporters.
  • If your flat rate contract or special offer includes access to the online digests, start training your users on the use of these tools.  Eventually, you will be able to cancel the digests.
  • If your firm is serious about recovering costs for online resources and you haven’t already implemented an ERM tool for client/matter validation, do so now.  It will pay for itself and then some.
  • If your flat rate contract(s)  exclude resources and/or you have access to other resources with the same content, use ERM tools to redirect your users to the right resource.   It is a lot easier than training users to select the right resource.
  • If you haven’t already done so, cancel the print versions of the newsletters or journals you now get in electronic format.
  • If you have WK Intelliconnect, BNA libraries and electronic newsletters, or RIA CheckPoint, or other similar services cancel the print newsletters and looseleafs that provide the same content as those services and use ERM tools to block access to the databases with the same content on Westlaw and Lexis.  Alternatively, you can use those same tools to redirect your users to the right resource.
  • If your firm attempts to recover costs for Westlaw and if you have Westlaw eLibraries that include caselaw where you don’t charge clients for the use, remove all case law from the eLibraries.  If you don’t, you will very likely see eLibraries cannibalize the cost recovery of your Westlaw contract.  I’ve done analysis of eLibrary use where the trend line in my spreadsheet showed the use of eLibraries went up at the same rate that the use of Westlaw went down, eventually meeting at a point that the lines crossed.
  • If you’ve worked with Lexis to set up custom user interfaces (CUI), it is very likely that the use of the interfaces are charged separately from your main contract.  The issue that I’ve seen arise is that the use of these CUIs is generally low.  This can be changed with the proper training and by redirecting the use of the resources using your ERM tool.  Just make sure they get used or cancel them.
  • If your firm charges clients for online services and you are considering adding expert witness or briefs and pleadings to your contract, don’t.  The use of these types of resources are so closely tied to litigation matters  that clients are generally willing to pay for their use.  They don’t represent the library resources that clients expect to be treated as overhead.
  • If your firm doesn’t require refresher training for online resources, recommend that they do so and that it become an ongoing program.  A lot of the client push back of cost recovery is based on the high costs.  Researchers that participate in cost-effective research training will research online more effectively, reducing those costs.
  • If you don’t have a research portal that provides personalized access to resources, implement one.  It will reduce the time researchers spend looking for the right resource and reduce costs for the firm’s clients.

These are just a few ideas based on experience.  I would love to hear other ideas for cost cutting, cancellations of duplicates, etc.  I would also like to hear from you if you don’t agree with me.


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Westlaw or Lexis: Single Source Analysis

The following is a case study we just added to our web site.   I thought it might interest some of the Strategic Librarian readers.

We’ve had discussions with firms who are interested in reducing their spend on online legal research by reducing the cost of their contracts or in moving to one legal research resource – Westlaw or Lexis.

Reducing the cost of the contract is most often done by benchmarking the firm’s contracts for these resources against other firm’s contracts to determine if they have a good contract or to start the process of negotiating a lower price. We do this type of work with our partner BST who has years of experience in expense management and contract negotiation.

The Challenge

The possibility of moving to a single source, the topic of this case study requires more analysis of firm needs than benchmarking. To really make an informed decision, the firm’s needs should be taken into consideration. While some firms may think this mean’s asking researchers about their needs others, our client in particular, have made their decision based on analysis of their usage.

Our client, a large AmLaw 100 firm, called asking to speak to us about a project they wanted to do. They were considering options, such as moving to a single source, reducing vendor contract(s), the plausibility of substituting another vendor for their current number two research vendor but they wanted the usage data to support their decision rather than just basing it on which contract meant more expense for the firm.

The Solution

We started out with 6 months of usage from each vendor, organized the data to be able to compare apples to apples as well as supplemented the data with more information about each user. Once this was done, we provided spreadsheets back to the client that provided more information about usage than anything the vendor could provide. But we didn’t stop there.

Our next step was to take the enhanced data and make a decision about what database usage needed further data enhancement and analysis. With the databases selected, we created a matrix for each resource that showed the database, access points used, usage in terms of cost, whether a substitute was available on the other service, the substitute database name, and notes that showed coverage for each.

What was interesting about the project was how many Westlaw and Lexis databases (sources) there are within each resource that are exclusive to the respective vendor’s service.

The Result

Our client choose to do their own analysis with the data we provided to reach their conclusion, but we could have taken on that part of the project as well. Their response when we handed the project back to them, “We now have what we need to make a good decision. One based on the firm’s research needs to provide superior service to our clients.”

Beyond the single source decision they also plan to use the data for other analysis. We didn’t talk in detail but here are a few ideas of what could be done:

  • Do specific individuals need more training?
  • Are the alternative access points (e.g. Westlaw eLibraries and Lexis CUIs) provided to their users be used as expected?
  • How are their users moving between the two systems?
  • Is there a correlation between being good at research and successful as a lawyer? They would need more data for this but it could be provided by looking at usage history and who made partner or who partner’s see as being successful associates.
  • And more…


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One Way to Cut Overhead

I ran across Ed Weseman’s post titled “10 Ways to Cut Overhead” yesterday.  I find his writing to be very useful but have to take issue with this one.  Before reading it, I guessed that “one way” was to cut library expense, as any article that talks about cutting firm expense generally does include the library.  Sure enough.  The  following is the point he made about firm libraries.

  • Library. Lower costs through a combination of reduced on-line research and managed availability of services.  By aggressive negotiation with a single on-line vendor for all offices, firms can leverage lower costs for services and related subscriptions.  At the same time, firms can move toward the elimination of subscriptions and reporting services that are not heavily used or are available from other sources such as court, bar association and local law school libraries.

  • I have to say I am puzzled.  It appears he is suggesting reduced online research along with reducing the print collection as well.  He goes on to suggest that lawyers start using libraries (court and law school) that were intended for other purposes.  He also suggests using bar association libraries.  This can be a hit or miss prospect depending on the bar.    

    This type of article always scares me as it takes issues that are complex and reduces them to a single paragraph.  Additionally, it is generally written by someone who is not familiar with the nuances of services needed in a firm.  Not one size fits all – no matter what expense the article covers. 

    So, how do we respond to the need to cut expenses that are seen as overhead?  Here’s my take on the suggestion regarding libraries:

    1. Reducing the use of online research can be risky.  If it is done at a firm that has a policy to recover the costs from clinets while contracts are still in place, a firm could create more expense.  Use goes down, recovery goes down but the cost to the firm remains the same. 
    2. Reducing the use of online research can create liabilities.  Using print libraries that other organizations fund may sound like it will reduce costs but there is more than just costs to consider.  Online services provide more than print services.  By that I mean that a library could never be large enough to hold the materials the online services have to offer.  If a law firm isn’t making similar use of online resources as their opponents are, it is likely that they will do more harm to their clients than good.
    3. Managing access to services can be costly.  The more research resources that go online, the more people it takes to assist researchers (mostly lawyers) to use them.  This may change over time as more lawyers coming into firms are more skilled in online research, but that hasn’t happened yet as new associates are computer savvy but not resource savvy.
    4. Moving to a single source for research without considering lawyer/practice needs can be a mistake.  Yes, a single source does reduce costs but does it provide the resources the firm’s lawyers need?  I did a project recently where I analysed 6 months of a firm’s use of Lexis and Westlaw.  Part of the analysis included identifying what resources were exclusive to each vendor.  It was surprising to me how much they are different.  Don’t eliminate one without doing your homework.

    My next post will focus on how firms can manage library costs more effectively.


    Conference Board: Best Practices in Managing Information Vendor Portfolios

    We might not think of the resources we manage as being part of a portfolio but, in today’s language, they are.  Following on that, just like a stock portfolio, our portfolio of resources and the vendors who sell them need managing.  To that end, you might want to check out the Conference Board report, Best Practices in Managing Information Vendor Portfolios, created in 2010 by the Conference Board Information Research and Management Council.

    The report begins with tips on creating an overall management strategy including:

    • Conduct a comprehensive needs assessment
    • Create a strategic accounting process
    • Conduct annual budget reviews
    • Consider planning budgets with stakeholders
    • Use a communication plan for rollout and ongoing marketing/support of the product.

    The report covers these tips in more detail and goes on to cover:

    • Evaluation of the portfolio
    • Contract management including the standardization of contracts, global contracts and simplifying the process
    • Using metrics to determine the value of the collection
    • Managing vendor relations
    • Development of a strategy to obtain cost reductions

    Finally, the report is complimentary to download with registration. 

    Other Conference Board Information Research and Management reports:

    How Effective Information Services Can Contribute to the Bottom Line (2008)

    Waddayaknow? Knowledge Management Can Be an Organization’s Key to Survival (2009)


    Back to Blogging and LookUp Precision

    It has been a while since I wrote a post for Strategic Librarian.  To be honest, it has been too busy to be able to get this in too.  Now that the pace of work has become less manic, I plan to get back to writing – something I really enjoy doing and I’ve missed.

    What’s been keeping me so busy?  A couple things.  The first:

    Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.  has recently partnered with Advanced Productivity Software, Inc.(APS) to manage the marketing, sales, account management and development of LookUp Precision.  

    LookUp Precision isn’t new to me.  Before becoming a consultant where I advised clients on electronic resource management, I selected LookUp Precision for the last firm where I worked as director of the library.  It was a powerful tool for us and improved cost recovery significantly while giving us more control over passwords and resources.  

    I’m excited to work with LookUp Precision again and to work with the firms that are using and will use the product.  In addition, I have a great team of individuals to work with me on the management of the product:

    • Lori Etheridge – Sales Executive
    • Emily Harder – Account Manager
    • Amy Witt – Project Specialist
    • Laurie Southerton – Marketing Manager
    • Dave Arnold – Product Specialist
    • John James – Research & Development Manager

    The first four individuals are part of the NPCI team while Dave and John are part of the continuing support APS provides.  These folks, along with the development, technical support and accounting teams at APS  keep the product working for clients, introduce the power of the product to new clients and create new enhancements.  

    The most recent enhancements include a new version of LookUp Precision coming out later this summer, and an import utility that clients can use to import Westlaw QuickView+ and Lexis PowerInvoice usage reports as well as other vendor usage reports. 

    Along with that NPCI will be providing some consulting services to LookUp Precision clients without cost.  Briefly, they include some cost recovery, cost management, and electronic resource management services. 

    Before I take my product leader hat off, I would like to invite those who are interested to see a demo of the product by calling or emailing Lori Etheridge – 612-235-7486 or lori@ninaplatt.com.  Also, for those interested, NPCI will continue to provide consulting services to law firms and legal information/software vendors.  For more information regarding those services, call or email me using the contact information found in the About page of this blog.

    That being said, you will note that (while I haven’t in the past) I will have a bias towards LookUp Precision as I write about electronic resource management in the future.  At the same time, I plan to continue to write about the strategies firms need to put in place as they work to manage the electronic resources they have contracted for or subscribed to as well as other topics concerning library strategy and management.

    NOTE:  The other project that I have been working on will be reported on another NPCI blog, the Law Firm Intranet.


    West Releases 3RD Quarter 2008 PeerMonitor Index

    West, a Thomson Reuters business released the 3rd Quarter PeerMonitor Index in recent days.  The market analysis shows a decline from last quarter, stating:

    Billable hours experienced a -5% contraction through August. But September hours rebounded, finishing the entire quarter down by only -2.5%. Productivity remained weak at -4.5% as adjustments to headcount lagged market conditions. Rates again were strong, and all told, fees grew at 5.5% compared to 10.5% a year ago. Direct expense growth slowed to 8% compared to over 9% a year ago. Overhead was 6%.

    In addition to the index being made available, West developed a Podcast that provides a summary of what the Index tells us.

    One interesting trend it reports on is the fact that the AmLaw 100 firms are experiencing more of an effect from the current downtrend than the AmLaw 200 are experiencing. 

    Here at Strategic Librarian we’ve done a poll on library budgets (see 2009 Budget – Do You Get to Increase or Decrease?).  While certainly not scientific especially with so few responses, the responses do seem to indicate that the east coast has experienced more in ways of cutbacks in budget for 2009 than those firms in the middle of the country.  If you haven’t participated in the poll, please check it out and respond.  Click here for the results to date.


    2009 Budget – Do You Get to Increase or Decrease?

    Many of you are probably already done preparing your budget for 2009.  I’ve heard from some of you that you’ve been asked to reduce your budgets significantly given the current economic environment.  At the same time, some firms are asking their library directors/managers to keep the budget flat.   As far as I know, there aren’t many who have been tasked with managing a small increase but there may be some. 

    With what I’ve heard, I thought it would be interesting to do a quick survey regarding increases and decreases in law firm library budgets.  Besides the possibility that it might provide some interesting information, it also gives me an opportunity to try out the MicroPoll polling site.  

    To participate, click on Take Poll.  Once you’ve entered your answer, you should be taken to a page where you can see the results.  Check back occasionally to see how others have answered the question.  I will post final results with a new question about how law firm library online resources budgets are faring.

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