Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.


Electronic Resource Management and AgentLegal

Electronic Resource Management (ERM) has become a complex task when you compare it to the time when we had fewer electronic resources and we hadn’t yet determined the best way to management them.  As the use of electronic resources have increased, we’ve discovered that the simple set of tasks we used in the beginning doesn’t work.  The days of buying, installing, training and paying for a resource are long over.

In the place of a simple acquisition of a resource as described above, we now find ourselves talking about electronic resource management as a complex set of tasks that ensure the firm or company get the most value for the dollars spent on these resources.

While I was at my last firm, I found myself, like many of you, trying various procedures for managing these resources.  I also decided at that time that ERM isn’t just about purchasing and paying for resources.   Instead, ERM is managing the process from the first inkling that a resource was available to ongoing training of users.

I was lucky to have a great staff who brainstormed how to deal with electronic issues with me on an ongoing basis.  I was also lucky to have a web developer on the library staff who was eager to work with us to figure out the process and develop a web-based workflow that allowed us to manage the resources while giving better access to our end users.  We called it Research Central and were fortunate to receive the SLA Innovations in Technology award in 2003.

Whenever I showed Research Central at various conferences and other venues, I was asked where I got it  by the audience and if they could purchase it too.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t something the firm wanted to sell.  We used it to manage trials, all of our resources,  users, userids/passwords, training and more.  It even had some usage tracking functionality.

Fast forward to today and even though there are library management systems that have ERM modules, none of them manage the entire process.  That is until the AgentLegal products were developed.  You may have seen a press release in November that announced a partnership between my company and AgentLegal.  When I saw there product for the first time, I couldn’t help but think of Research Central.  Selling and supporting it seemed like a good fit for NPCI.

You can learn more about AgentLegal by going to the AgentLegal site or attending a complimentary webinar, Electronic Resource Management – Your Sanity Check,  where I will be presenting on ERM followed by a demo of the products.  It will be brief but should give you an idea of what the product does.  If you would like a personal demo of AgentLegal, you can request it via our contact form on ninaplatt.com or by calling or emailing me, Nina Platt, or Emma Campbell.


Creating a Research Portal Webinar

Electronic resources are said to be the future of the library where the library exists on user’s desktops instead of down the hall.  While this sounds simple, providing clear access to the many resources a library licenses for its users can be complex. Register now to attend our webinar called Creating a Research Portal, to be held on Thursday, January 21st, 2010, from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM Central Time.

This session will help librarians focus on how to present electronic resources via the intranet or a research portal in a way that makes sense to users. The topics covered include:

  1. Method for design
  2. Necessary technology
  3. Successful implementation

Who should attend? Anyone in leadership who plays a part in business decisions. Participants could come from the following groups:

  • Library Directors
  • Library Managers
  • Library staff
  • Intranet Managers
  • Information Resources/Services Directors

Whether you are in the beginning stages of creating a research portal or redesigning your current solution, consider inviting your intranet committee or governance team members to attend the program with you.

Speaker: Nina Platt, Owner and Principal Consultant, Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.

Moderator: Carrie Long, MLIS – Research Analyst, Nina Platt Consulting, Inc.

Registration fees: $25.00/participant

Group registration fees: $50.00 for 2 or more participants from the same organization

Questions? Contact: Amy Witt


Response to Quote in ABA Article

Although I wear the LookUp Precision product manager hat in addition to the consulting I do for firms and other vendors, I have no intention of using this blog as a means to pitch LookUp Precision (except for ads you may see on the page once in a while).  That said, I have do have to make a comment about a quote in a  recent article in the ABA Journal Law News Now, Your Law Librarian Is Watching: ‘Hot Stuff’ Tracking Software Can Cut Costs, as I expect that many of you will read the article and not the comments I made below it.

The article originally stated that a ballpark price for LookUp Precision is $100,000.  After talking to the author, the article has been corrected to say:

A ballpark cost to track 1,000 different databases, according to one librarian who is considering LookUp Precision, is about $100,000 a year. (Nina Platt, product manager for LookUp Precision, says the $100,000 figure is inflated and “grossly incorrect,” but did not agree to publicize more specific prices in an interview with the ABA Journal.)

My comments left with the article are as follows:

  1. Comment made before article was changed:  I am the product manager for LookUp Precision.  The ballpark price you listed for LookUp is grossly incorrect.  That number is many times the price currently being paid by our clients.  Please make a correction.  I can only guess that the number came from one of our competitors who has been known to make incorrect statements about LookUp Precision’s cost and functionality.
  2. Comment made after the article was changed: LookUp Precision is not priced by number of databases tracked.  Rather it is tracked by number of unique users within a month.  If a user accesses one database during that month, he is tracked once.  If he accesses another database or returns to the same one he has used, he is not tracked again.  We are willing to share the pricing information for any interested firm but not in a public forum.

Being new to this vendor thing , I have been very surprised at how some vendors act.  I may be naive but I would not stoop to make incorrect statements about a competitor.  As I said in my comment above, I can only guess that a competitor provided the costs mentioned as the numbers would have never come from the LookUp Precision team.  I value direct honest communication and only know how to operate in that way.  What I’ve learned in the last few months is that one of our competitors does not hold the same values.   Very frustrating.

I’m stepping off my soap box now and calming down as best I can.  Thanks for listening.


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.


Managing Law Firm Library Overhead Expenses in 2009

j0308879This is the second article in a series of articles on managing law firm libraries in 2009.  The previous article was on strategy – Using Strategy to Stay Relevant in 2009.  This article will cover managing overhead expenses (those that cannot be recovered).  The next article will be on cost recovery.

Overhead expenses are the bain of any law firm.  If you or the services/resources you provide are considered overhead (and you most likely are), you already realize that you will probably struggle with others in the firm misunderstanding your value.  This doesn’t mean you should try your best to move everything from the overhead status. 

Whether partners like it or not, they must incur some overhead costs to stay in business.  I was visiting with the executive director of a firm when she told me, “XX (we’ll call him Rodney), the managing partner, thinks that the firm runs on thin air.  He won’t authorize more staff or more resources but wants to run the firm as if it was still as small as it was years ago.”

While you may have known some Rodney’s in your work life, the fact is, air alone does not sustain a firm.  Lawyers breathe life into a firm.  I won’t negate that fact that they are the most important players in the law firm.  I do, however, think it is time that the lawyers (even those that charge their clients four-figure hourly rates), need to take the time to understand how important a firm’s non-lawyer (I actually hate that term – but it is what gets used the most to describe us) professionals and staff are to the firm.

We can help the Rodney’s of the world get up to speed (or at least, we can try) by each of us individually seeing our contribution as an important one and focus on managing our department’s resources to move the firm’s goal forward.  This includes creating or improving our focus on managing overhead.  What does that look like?

Find a partner to act as liaison.

Having a liaison in each practice group or in each office if they are small, gives you someone who can communicate with when you need decisions made.  They have more opportunity to speak to their fellow practice group members and will get more attention paid to the issue than most of us “non-lawyers” can.

The liaison should be a partner as an associate may be ignored when making decisions others don’t like.  Once you have buy-in from your management, approach group leadership with the request that they assign someone to the position.  Other ideas to consider:

  • Develop a job description and procedure manual to use when talking to leadership or the individual selected to work with you.  It will also help build some consistency in how this position works from one practice group to another.
  • If you aren’t already doing so, create an annual budget that allows you to identify your purchases and payments by practice group and/or office.  I would suggest the following:
    • Office – Practice Group – Type of acquisition or payment (new purchases, serials, standing orders, electronic subscriptions, etc.)  OR
    • Practice Group – Office – Type of acquisition or payment
    • Whatever you decide, you will need to make it work within the confines of your firm’s budgeting process and general ledger accounts and your firm’s needs depending on size.  The advantages this type of budget is that it gives the firm makes the offices and practice groups (or whatever divisions you have) responsible for the library collection the firm has purchased on their behalf.
  • If possible, meet with the liaisons quarterly to review possible cancellations, etc.  Work to develop a relationship with each of them where they see you as an asset to their group and they have a “we’re in this together view of the assignment.” 
  • If the individual the practice group selects to work with you is less than effective, try to get the position reassigned.  Getting a partner assigned to this type of work will be a lot easier if you go to the group leadership with an idea of who you think would do the best job.  Have a few names selected as the group’s managing partner may have reasons not to agree with you.   Be prepared.
  • Don’t accept the group head as your liaison if you can do it.  He/she may think this is an easy assignment that they can do along with their other administrative duties.  Disabuse them of this idea as experience has taught me that they will not have the time to do the work or may not be as available as you need them to be. 
  • Make sure the group head and liaison understand that they aren’t there to make decisions on their own (especially when it comes to cancellations) – they need to talk to other members of the group to be able to make good decisions. 

Think of budget cuts as opportunities. 

I think I’ve mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning again.   I worked in a library where the management would ask us to reduce the collection budget by 10-20% every other year.  While this sounds like a problem, I learned to view it as an opportunity as there were always materials that had been purchased for a certain case or looked like they would get use when they were purchased but, in reality, got little use.

To meet the challenge, we would create a report that listed each title in the collection along with the cost (whether we purchased it by subscription or standing order).  In other words, that report had total cost per year for each title and each copy of the title. 

For example, if we received four updates for a title that was updated by pocket parts, we would add up each payment made during the year for that title to create the total cost of that title. 

4 updates @ $220 each = $880 total cost for the title

The report included both subscriptions and the titles where the payments were made per receipt of the updates.  You can generate this from your library management system – more on that in another post.

Once the report was created, we would send it to the practice group liaisons for them to share with their group to make the decision of what to cut.  The report makes it easier to have this discussion because they can see the titles in relation to what they cost and then determine if they use the resources enough to keep them.  Also, if they can’t make the % cut that has been asked for, they will have better information for supporting keeping the materials regardless of the budget cuts the firm is seeking.

Consider what you can get from other sources and cancel/withdraw items that get little use

While the process I described above made it easier to manage costs, electronic resources have made it more difficult because of the expectation that firm leaders have that print materials are no longer needed.  We all know that we haven’t reached a point where the electronic only library is a reality.  Until we get there (I don’t think I’ll be here to report it), there are ways to manage the size and cost of your print collection while seeking to meet firm goals of reducing library size.

Start with the type of report I described above but add a few more columns as follows. 

  • Available on Westlaw
  • Available on Lexis
  • Available on HeinOnline
  • Available on CCH IRN
  • Available electronically from BNA
  • Available at a local library where the firm has borrowing privileges
  • Available on any other electronic resource you may use

While this list is being worked on – you may be able to get your vendors to work with you on it – check the shelves for books that are currently updated and is always on the shelf when you or your staff file new pages.  Alternatively review the collection for items that are never on the shelves because of high use.  I asked library clerks to work with me on this since they knew what was on or off the shelf more often than me.  

Note what looks like the lack of use on your collection cost report with the pricing, etc. Now you have a list that will tell you and your liaisons what titles cost, whether they (anecdotectally) get used or not, and where they can be located should there be a need.   This gives you good information for making recommendations and the liaisons ideas for discussing the collection with the other lawyers in their groups. 

Be resourceful in finding other ways to reduce costs

There are many more strategies/techniques librarians have been using for years that can assist you in better managing the cost of your collections through out the year.  Some of them listed briefly, include:

  • Charge the client for the purchase of materials being used for individual matters and not added to the firm’s collection.  Keep records that will assist you in canceling and withdrawing the materials when the research on that matter is completed.
  • Keep track of how many individuals are on each routing list (for routed materials).  If the lists drop below 3-4 individuals, cancel the copies you no longer need.
  • Ask your users if they still want to receive materials that are routed or distributed to them.   This includes subscriptions and the desk sets that can be so costly.
  • Track usage of electronic subscriptions via vendor reports or by using counters available from vendor tools like Lookup Precision, OneLog, etc.
  • See if you can borrow a new title before purchasing it to see if it is something that would really be used.  Alternatively, order it on approval but be careful of doing to much of this as the work that needs to be done to process something on-approval is more time consuming and will use more resources.
  • Use your library management system to reduce the time it takes for staff to order, receive, process, route, pay invoices and other tasks.
  • Analyze how you can reduce overall costs on an annual basis if you have the staff to work on these types of tasks.  You should be able to make a business case for additional staff if the benefit (reduction in materials expense) is greater than the cost of staff on an ongoing basis.
  • Remember that making these changes will take time.  Don’t think you can accomplish them all at once but, alternatively, don’t be defeated before you start. 

Conclusion

Take heart and stay as positive as you can be about a downturn in the economy.  It is much harder to get lawyers to make decisions about canceling materials that just aren’t being use when times are good.  Downturns assist us with right sizing our collections and reducing expense that may no longer be needed.  

If we approach managing costs by thinking strategically and being proactive, even the Rodney’s we have in our firm’s may very well start to understand the value of the firm spending money on the libraries and staff we manage.

I would be very happy to continue this post but it has to end sometime.  Because there is more to say, I am hoping that those of you who have other ideas or best practices, will share your them by adding a comment or two.

Look for the next article in this series, Managing a Successful Cost Recovery Program, to be posted next week.


Practice Innovations October 2007 Issue Available

The October 2007 issue of Practice Innovations Managing Change in a Legal Environment published by Thomson West is available in PDF format at the Thomson West site.  If you are a subscriber, look for your print copy of the publication in the mail in the near future.  I may be a bit biased as a member of the editorial board and a contributer, but I think this issue is packed with some great ideas.  What, you ask, might be the topics that have me so excited?

This issue focuses on standards and frameworks in play today in law firms that are helping to improve processes and improve client service among other things.  These articles include Six Sigma and Law Firms by Silvia Coulter, Managing Director of CoulterCranston, ITIL: Taming Technology with the Law Firm by Don Phimlee, Principle/Consultant at DonPhimlee.com, and BPR: An Old Process Improvement Tool Shows Up Anew in Law Firm Toolkits authored by me. 

 In addition to the focus on process improvement, Janet Accardo, Director of Library Services at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, focuses on defining needs and objectives in the article, Electronic Resource Management.  Finally John Duvall, Administrative Analyst at Hogan & Hartson LLP, Defining Moments: The Internet Revolution.

If you aren’t familiar with this publication, you might want to check out back issues to find more great articles that focus on innovation in law firms.  If you aren’t a subscriber, click on subscribe on the Practice Innovations archive web page to start getting the print publication.  I think you’ll be glad you did.


The Growth of Electronic Resource Management (ERM)

I’ve been interested in electronic resource management (ERM) since I worked with the first CD-ROM services back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Implementing these services demonstrated how very difficult it was to implement and/or support electronic access to content than to it was and is to purchase a book.  Beyond the difficulty of adding a record to the catalog for this new medium (at least it brought up a number of questions from the catalogers that I had never thought of), there were problems with networking and little reason for any researcher to want to take the time to try to use the CD-ROMs for research.

As networks improved and the Internet and World Wide Web were introduced for commercial use, the number of online services and the use of those same services increased.  While you would think librarians and publishers should had worked out the problems in managing these resources, they only increased.  This led Nola Vanhoy (Alston & Bird) and Cindy Adams (Mckenna, Long & Aldridge) to dream of a better mousetrap.

Ultimately the cost recovery vendor, Advanced Productivity Software (APS) – maker of the client/matter validation tool called Online Lookup as well as other law firm software application, was contacted and asked for support.  APS responded by working to create Lookup Precision – a tool that allows firms to use validation, but also track sites, auto-populate userids and passwords, and report on usage across all services.

APS licensed Lookup Precision to Thomson Elite for exclusive sales to the legal market.   While with Thomson Elite and later Thomson West, the product was branded with two different names – Elite Research Manager and West Research Partner respectively, Then sometime during the last two years, APS took the license back and rebranded it with the original name, Lookup Precision.   If this seems confusing, you’re not alone.  To set the record straight, the product is Lookup Precision and the company you buy it from is APS.

During the same time, Research Agent, a ERM product sold by a company with the same name, was eventually sold to nQueue, a legal software vendor that provides solutions for expense recovery.  They rebranded Research Agent to Research Tracker and eventually took it off the market according to the staff at their exhibit booth at ILTA.   What is curious to me is the fact that the Research Agent web site is back on line.  I haven’t recieved an answer to my query about the status of their product and would appreciate an answer to anyone who might know.

OneLog, produced by Info Technology Supply Ltd (ITST) which is based in the UK is a newcomer to the legal market.  While implementing their OneLog product at a US law school a few years back, the suggestion was made by the school that ITST should enter the law firm market.  At that time, OneLog had only been sold primarily to schools for user authentication from remote sites, etc.  Entering the law firm market meant changing functionality.  As they began to approach law firms, they found librarians willing to work with them to develop the tool and have since sold OneLog to a number of firms. 

LexisNexis has been part of this market as well with LexisNexis Cost Recovery Manager.  At this time, I don’t have much information about their product except I believe it evolved from their validation tool (Westlaw has a validation tool as well) but does more, (e.g., site tracking for other services).  If anyone has more information about the product and/or are using it, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Finally, while at SLA this summer, I ran across another vendor from the UK.  Priory Solutions Ltd, maker of Research Monitor is an interesting entrant to the market.  They do not have a client base in the US as of yet, but expect to hear more from them. 

While these products have been available for the last four years or so, the adoption has been slower than one would expect.  I think that will change, as a survey conducted recently indicated a large number of firms will be purchasing in the near future.  As the vendors have been selling their software to law firms, librarians have provided feedback that has already produced functionality which changes how those firms manage their online services making the use of these products attractive. 

I think this is just the beginning of better ERM.  Now, if we could just figure out better ways of presenting the hybrid (print & electronic) library interface beyond the traditional online catalog, we may be able to better turn our attention to other challenges like the on-demand training needed by our users.