Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

CourtListener, Onit, and – Things Can’t Get More Exciting Than This

I’ve had time during the last week or so to play with some of the new web apps I’ve learned about.  Suffice it to say, I’m about as excited as a Scandinavian Lutheran can be.  So, what has me so excited? alpha – Thanks to Steve Lastres for pointing this one out to me. allows you to set up news that is drawn from Tweets with links in a newspaper format.  It provides a few different ways for pulling the content together including by Twitter Username, Twitter hashtags, or Twitter Lists.  I tried each one, finding that the one I liked the best was by Twitter Username, although I need to explore the Twitter list more. 

Using the create custom newspaper function, I created the Strategic Librarian Daily.  The news is drawn from my tweets and the tweets of the individuals I follow.  I follow individuals who have interests in knowledge management, competitive intelligence, intranets, libraries, etc.  I have to refine it a bit but I’m happy with the results so far.  Even if no one else subcribes, which I am hoping you do, it is a great way to read the substantive tweets from those I follow.

I went with the custom username newspaper as I was able to edit the title – hence the Strategic Librarian name.  Yes, there are ads but the format is so good, in my opinion, that I don’t really notice unless it is an ad for a product or services for the legal market.  Overall, I would give this web application an A+.

Onit beta – I received an email from the developers asking me to check this web application out.  Since I’m always looking for new tools for project management, I was very interested in how this worked.  I started out using the previous version to the one they just released during the last week and found it useful, but the new version of the product makes it really useful. 

At first I thought the new interface was a bit clunky but the more I’ve used it, the more I understand the developers vision.  Onit is a simple, intuitive tool that provides the ability to create multiple projects with multiple project teams, tasks, notes, documents, alerts and more.  The dashboard interface allows for customized views of the projects by user.  The beta is free so I may or may not be using it in the future depending on price but for now, it has been great to use. 

CourtListener – According to the About page on the CourtListener site, it was

created by Michael Lissner as part of a masters thesis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information. Michael was advised by Assistant Professor, Brian Carver. The goal of the site is to create a free and competitive real time alert tool for the U.S. judicial system.

I’m passionate about current awareness, whether it is court information, news or other sources that can be sent to individuals to keep them up to date and am always on the lookout for new products.   In this case, CourtListener reports on all precedential opinions issued by the 13 federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. They also report on the non-precedential opinions from all of the Circuit courts except the D.C. Circuit. 

The alerts are easy to set up – create a search and save it to an alert.  I started by creating an alert for the 8th Circuit Court prescedential opinions.  After my trial and error attempt didn’t give me the results I wanted, I contacted Michael, suggesting that being able to create alerts by court was needed.  Both he and Brian responded with tips on how to do just what I wanted.  If I had read the help on search sytax, I would have learned that the powerful search capabilities the system has allows for very custom alerts. 

Here’s a screenprint of the alert I have been receiving.  Nice, clean and easy to read.  The links allow you to download the pdf from the court or from the backup created by CourtListener.

Like the alpha and beta products listed above, this web application is a work in progress with the developers looking for feedback and suggestions.

One endearing factor these products have in common are that they are free – at least for now.


Keeping Up : Personal Current Awareness

There are many resources out there for us to read to keep up with the many interests we have for work and at home.  Let’s face it, there are too many and we have to stop somewhere to keep up but keep it manageable.  The following are the sources I look to regularly for information and updates about managing libraries, intranets, knowledge management, product development, strategic planning, and more.  I would be interested in sources you use to stay ahead of the curve.

Google News Alerts– “knowlege management” “content management” “enterprise 2.0” “competitive intelligence” – Google News tells me what’s new on Internet news web sites and blogs.  They generally contain no more than 10-12 news items and I can quickly tell if something interests me.  I could narrow the search to try and get specific news but this gives me what I want without too much noise.

Blogs – besides those that I list on my blog roll, I receive RSS feeds from APQC’s knowledge management blog, Bob Mixon’s Blog, CIO’s Knowledge Management, CMS Wire, Column Two, elsua: The Knowledge Management Blog, The Engaging Brand, The [non]billable hour by Matt Homan, Wired GC.  I receive these feeds and the feeds for the blogs in my blog roll using Newsgator for Outlook.  There are a few hiccups using it, but it is probably due to also accessing my small business software and Outlook tools from my Outlook as well. 

Online Publications – BNet Today, CIO,, Law Technology News, LLRX, The Mckinsey Quarterly, MALL Newsletter, MIT Sloan Management Review, PLL Newsletter, The Virtual Chase.  These tried and true publications are a must read for me.  I have access to a number of these publications online and in print but generally read them online only.

Print Publications – CI Magazine, eContent, Information Outlook, Inside Knowledge, KM LegalLaw Firm Inc.Law Library Journal, Spectrum, ToastMasters Magazine

In addition to these publications, I also keep up with a few listservs.  I have to admit that I don’t read all the articles in each pubication and sometimes they go unread for a week or so when I receive them by email or U.S. Mail.  I do know though, that the reading I do is a lifeline to staying in tune. 

Do you have suggestions for keeping up that is not listed here?


Current Awareness Part 2

I’ve done some serious thinking about current awareness since my first post.  The result is that I still believe that the best practices I mentioned before, are worth reading, but I think we have a long way to go to really deliver on the promise of current awareness.  So, what keeps us from attaining the goal?  It could be the following:

  1. We rely on users to tell us what they are interested in reading.  It is sad but true that in today’s new world that is spinning much faster than in the past, those seeking current awareness do not have the time to maintain a profile of topics.  How do we solve that problem?  We work on delivering the news based on what they know about their community through internal systems.  While at Paul Weiss, Debbie Panella set up a current awareness system that did a nightly search against their time and billing system and updated the profile for client news based on the clients each lawyer was working with at that moment in time.   This is moving in the right direction.
  2. We have systems that are too rigid.  Every user is different.  When the library staff at Faegre & Benson LLP set up the delivery tool that they call The NewsClipper, they (including me) were certain that lawyers wanted to see their current awareness in one e-mail.  Fast forward 5 or so years and they are starting to think differently.   After doing a small sampling of querying the lawyers there, they are finding that some want their news delivered in one email but others want their news delivered with one email per article.  They say it allows them the opportunity to see the titles and decide whether they want to read the article.  They will study the needs further, but this does raise questions regarding the creation of systems that limit users.
  3. We only deliver the news from aggregators.  I mentioned before that their are plenty of sources for RSS feeds besides the large vendors.  Beyond that, we should be looking at other services or subscriptions that contain news.  BNA Reports (Bureau of National Affairs), CCH (A Wolters Kluwer Law & Business company) updates, and other newsletters have news that lawyers currently have to scan the resources to find what they need.  The answer is to partner with the vendors to move in that direction.
  4. We accept duplication of articles.  No matter what we do with current tools, there will be duplication of articles. There has to be some way to fix this problem.
  5. We don’t deliver news on the granular level it needs to be delivered.  Our topics are too broad.  Delivering a newsclip on broad subjects still requires our users to hunt and peck for what they need.

Before leaving the firm to begin working as a consultant, the staff and I worked on a current awareness project code named Nirvana.  The goal was to develop a system that would deliver as much of the news the lawyers were receiving, through a current awareness tool.  In addition to current news sourced from the aggregators, we worked on setting up topics for the news coming directly from publishers.  They would only get the news that was relevant to them at the time it was published and when they were interested in the topic.  Sounds like Nirvana, right?  The problem with Nirvana is that it takes a lot of effort to attain it, especially for a library staff in one firm.   We didn’t fail but the staff is still in search of what seems unattainable.

We weren’t wrong to start the project.  After all is said and done, all of us want to deliver the resources to the lawyers in a manner that works best for them.  To do that, we need to start thinking beyond what is possible today.  

To learn more about what was done at Paul Hastings and Faegre, check out the ILTA webinar, Current Awareness: Managing Client and Practice News 
 from June 2006.

Now that I have the comments function working on this blog, I would REALLY like to hear what others are working on or thinking about this topic.   

Current Awareness

We hear and often use the phrase “Information is power” but we’ve probably forgotten who first said it or in what context.  When I started on this post, I decided that I couldn’t use it without first looking up the quote.  I found out that Robin Morgan (child star, feminist, author of “Sisterhood is Powerful” along with other feminist writings, and editor in chief for Ms. Magazine from 1989-93) said it. 

To be exact, she said,

Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility.

She was right, information is power. I don’t believe she was talking within the context of delivering information to lawyers.   The great news is that law firms are starting to understand that there is power in information. 

I went to a National Online conference about 12 years ago where I learned about the advances librarians in corporate America were making with current awareness.  It was exciting to see the types of systems and processes that were being set up to manage the current awareness process. 

I came back to the firm where I was employed at the time and suggested that we needed to move beyond distributing newsletters and towards an automated distribution of current news delivered according to profiles that distinguished the interests of the recipients.  No one got as excited as I was.  I had a solution where there was no problem or need for it.

Fast forward to today where competition for clients is a motivating factor for the need for current awareness.  Lawyers want immediate access to news about clients, perspective clients, industries, legal topics and more.  In response, many law firm libraries and marketing departments have or are working on developing the best delivery of news for their firm.

Current awareness systems are generally made up of 5 components:

  1. The database(s) that contains the news and is updated in real time or at least daily

  2.  The topics that are created using some type of search against the database

  3. The profiles that describe the user and what topics she wants to receive

  4.  The topic search results in the form of news delivered in full articles or abstracts

  5. The system that manages the database, topics, profiles and search results.

With millions of sources of information that are very good, not so good, bad and really bad, and the system as complex as it is, delivering current awareness isn’t an easy task.  In this environment, I can’t help but wonder what the strategies or best practices for completing the task might be.  Based on what I learned from the experience at my last firm, I think they would look a little like this:

  • Collaborate with Marketing or better yet, see your role as supporting them in the delivery of current awareness.  They have a keen interest in lawyers becoming more knowledgeable about their client’s and prospect’s businesses and industries and may be the biggest driver of participation.

  • Involve your clients in the implementation of the system.  Ask them what they need and how they want it delivered.  Do one-on-one interviews and focus groups.  Using web surveys might work depending on the culture of your firm, but don’t rely solely on that means of learning about your client’s needs.  A presentation with question/answer time regarding current awareness at a practice group or team meeting can replace a focus group where you may get more participation than asking lawyers to attend one more meeting.

  • Don’t forget administrative staff as potential users of current awareness. 

  • Use RSS and don’t limit your news source to one aggregator.  Since no vendor can deliver all of the news, look for multiple sources.  In addition to fee-based aggregators and publishers, keep track of what government agencies and courts are delivering in RSS format.  They are growing.  Also, consider Google News, legal blogs and other free Web resources.

  • Use aggregators and other sources that provide same day news.  Old news isn’t necessarily good news.  Some vendors have more same day news than others. 

  • Learn about the database indices before starting to set up topics.

  • Consider topics like clients, prospects, industries, legal issues, legislative & regulatory updates, new cases by practice area, new case filings and more. 

  • Look for vendors who have created the system for you.  Their product should:

    • Provide complete indices.  Empty fields do all of us a disservice.  If the vendor has a system, where the assignment of metadata has been haphazard and some metadata wasn’t entered, the results of searches across those indices won’t be complete. 

    • Search across multiple indices.  If the vendor is an aggregator, they should provide results according to their own indices but also provide results based on the indices the publisher of the content uses.  For example, Factiva has its own index.  The best results when using LexisNexis Publisher is to be able to search across the Factiva index along with the LexisNexis index and to aggregate the results.  

    • Deliver the news in a single email regardless of the number of topics a user subscribes to via a profile.  With the focus on the billable hour, delivering the topics in individual emails will only irritate the recipients.

    • Provide the news via RSS feeds.  If you do this, you will need to use a third party system to manage the topics, profiles, and delivery of the news.  Using an enterprise RSS application like Newsgator will do just that but it needs the content in the RSS format.  An alternative is building a custom application to manage and deliver the news, but one caveat, expect maintenance of the application to be a major consumer of staff time.

    • Provide regular updates on their services including what’s new in content and formatting.  A current awareness tool for administrators

I could list more but this post is already too long.  Look for a Part Two on this topic sometime in the future.  In the meantime, if you have ideas regarding what should be added to a best practices list on current awareness, please post a comment.