Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

LAC Group & Rapid Research Solutions: R2S

LAC_LogoI’ve made a few career changes over the last few years, but nothing compares to what I am currently doing.  I was asked to join LAC Group last year and was very excited to start in July after discussions with law librarian, founder, and CEO, Deb Schwarz, and industry veteran and COO, Rob Corrao.  What I’ve found since I started is that LAC Group is as innovative and dynamic as they both told me.

LAC Group started out as a law library consultancy in Los Angeles and has since grown into an international company that serves law firms but also serves government, corporations, financial services, professional services, academia, and broadcast and media.  Often thought of as a recruiting company,  LAC Group is much more as it offers consulting, information management, and expense reduction services.  Each of those areas cover many types of services.  You can view the LAC Group website to learn more.

As Senior Director of Legal Market Services, I provide consulting to law firms but I have another responsibility that I think demonstrates how innovative LAC Group really is.  While we’ve always provided research services, in 2012 we took it a step further with the introduction of a new service called Rapid Research Solutions: R2S.  With R2S, we provide both on-demand and in-depth research services complete with a research portal.   As the manager of the service, I worked on the initial launch of the service with Michele Lucero joining me in October as Director of Business Development and Client Services.  Since then we’ve been meeting with law firm library directors and staff across the country extolling the service’s virtues – and there are many.

A research portal is part of the R2S offering.  It allows users to make a request, track the progress of the request, and retrieve the results in the format the firm has specified.  A recent press release explains more about it – LAC Group Introduces the R2S Portal to Support its On Demand Research Business.

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Legal Research One of Leading Irritants says New Survey on Cost Recovery

A new Legal Technology News article, Cost Recovery Breeds Client Frustration in New Survey, written by Robert Mattern, reports that legal research is one of the leading irritants for law firm clients.  He further reports that the number of firms that do not charge clients for this service is 27%  – a significant drop from the 3% the Mattern survey reported last year.   While this number seems significant, it should be noted that the 2010  ABA Technology Survey confirms this % for all sizes of firms but reports 9.8% for firms with 100+ lawyers, 19.2% for 50-99 lawyers, 18.8% for 10-49 lawyers, 32% for 2-9 lawyers, and 47.7% for solo firms.

Mattern goes on to provide some suggestions regarding how firms might maintain their billable cost recovery revenue.  His recommendation for legal research?  He writes, “For legal research, develop a fair pricing policy that reflects the firm’s actual cost for these services.”  I have to say I agree with him but would like to take this idea a bit further. 

My presentation, Cost Recovery: Creating a Policy & Plan, has a recommendation along the same lines.  I’ve embedded it below but want to run through some of the ideas for you.

Steps for better cost recovery:

  • Develop a policy that outlines the what, when and how of cost recovery
  • Develop a cost recovery plan and procedures that detail how the policy will be implemented
  • Create and implement a cost recovery communication plan

Seems simple but the execution is made complex when you add people.  So, what makes up each step?

Develop a policy that outlines the what, when and how of cost recovery

Lawyers work with clients every day to develop policies but generally (while they may not admit it) when it comes to creating policies for their business, they often have difficulty.  If they have written policies, they can be written in a form that readers only get a nuance of the policy.  For example:  The Firm recovers external costs for telephone, copying, legal research, etc.  That doesn’t do enough to provide information to billing partners or researchers to give them an understanding of what the firm does with online research disbursements.

I suggest that legal research have its own policy with just a bit more information.  It makes sense when you consider the large sums spent on online legal research services.  What would I include besides the fact that the firm intends to recover the costs?  The following could be included:

  • What resources are selected as those the firm will attempt to recover
  • What resources are provided to clients at no cost
  • How discounts are applied
  • What training researchers are required to participate in to keep up their cost-effective research skills
  • That researchers will be required to respond to requests to provide correct client/matter numbers if asked
  • How will write-offs be handled

Note:  While researching this topic and working with firms, I’ve found that most firms use a hybrid method for recovering online research costs.  For example, what could be considered as a commodity (and what most resembles the use of books), finding and printing case-law and articles are comped while the cost for substantive research done using the online resources technology and applying directly to the matter is treated as recoverable.

Develop a cost recovery plan and procedures that detail how the policy will be implemented

Policies are bound to fail if there is no plan for implementation.  Beyond the simple need for a roadmap, cost recovery plans can be used to inform billing partners and researchers about the process.  What could you include in a plan?

  • Goals for recovery
  • Participants and the roles they play
  • Hi-level description of the process
  • Plan for tracking your success including process and timing
followed up with a detailed procedure for how disbursements get processed.
Create and implement a cost recovery communication plan
Although this part of the process gets all but ignored, communicating the cost recovery policy and plan is the most important component for success.  Transparency in cost recovery is needed for clients to feel comfortable with how the firm is handling the disbursements.  To do this, firms may have to go beyond the simple description now included in most engagement letters.  To provide this to clients you might want to consider the 4 P’s of communication in your messaging:
  • Purpose – Why
  • Picture – What
  • Plan – How
  • Part – Who
Once an overall message is established, there are multiple audiences and vehicles for the communication:
  • Announcement of policy by management committee
  • Explanation of plan by library director / accounting director / executive director
  • Use various formats to introduce plan
    • Email, meetings, individual visits, small groups, orientation
    • Link plan to policy (handouts, intranet links, etc)

Existing Clients

  • Billing partner has responsibility to inform clients
  • Library/Accounting can assist by providing materials
    • Policy
    • Talking points

New Clients

  • Engagement letters
  • Consider adding copy of policy as attachment to engagement letter
  • Let them know that you expect their goal would be to provide training that leads to cost-effective research not up sell content not in your contract or software and services you don’t use
  • Provide copy of policy
  • Tell them you expect them to act as partner in cost recovery
  • Work with them to help form their communication to researchers (too many vendors like to say that their resource is free because of a flat rate contract or special offers – stop that message in its track)

Cost recovery is not easy but many firms make it more difficult for themselves because they haven’t addressed the issue in a manner that could, more likely, lead to success.  What I”m suggesting may sound time-consuming, create some conflict in the process or be difficult at best.  Still, the value it brings in terms of return on investment can be immense.

The Value of Legal and Other Online Resources

Every now and then someone writes an article saying that information is free and decrying the practice of law firms to charge for online research services.  I see these as poorly formulated attempts to move the access to information to a free model.  Peter Schwarz’s recent article, The Reinvention of Legal Research: The Future is Now, Huffington Post, August 13, 2009, stating information is a commodity is no different.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do think that some information should be treated as a commodity.  Information that is freely available and has been produced by government entities should be treated differently.  On the other hand, information that has been produced by individuals or companies, with an expectation of profit, should be able to realize that profit.  The creators of technology and editorial analysis that  helps researchers quickly answer a question or obtain information have that same right to charge for the use of the tools they created.

The paragraph talking about the fluidity of information is particularly puzzling:

Information is liquid. We now live in an ocean of information, and are swept along by its riptides and currents. The challenge is to manage our relationship to this information so it serves us our higher purposes. We need ways to filter real-time story-telling and reporting so we can identify narratives that have substance and reject those that are ephemeral, partial, distorted, or trivial.

I can only conclude from this paragraph that managing and filtering of information is more necessary today than in the past.  The commercial companies that create the means to find, filter and manage information do so for profit.  Even those that appear free (e.g., Google) have some type of business model that makes a profit.  Yes, some non-profit companies exist, but, for the most part, the companies that have delivered this technology are for profit.

Given that, let’s examine (again – in other words, get ready for a re-rant) what the value these companies provide is and why it can be disbursed to clients – for a more complete description of the each of the following points, see  Justice Hunt, We Need To Talk About Your Views on Cost Recovery of Online Legal Research.

Online legal and other online resources provide the following:

  • Creates multiple access points – You are no longer restricted to the table of contents, index, or even the print indexes that used to sit on library shelves.  Those print indexes only gave access by title, author, and subject.  Keep in mind that the subjects were assigned by individuals who made judgement calls.
  • Reduces the amount of time a lawyer needs to spend doing research – Yes, the client may still need to pay for lawyer time in addition to the legal resource but think of how that time has been reduced by the use of computers.
  • Produces more complete research results – Storage on computers allows for the addition of more information where a book is limited to what the author writes or the editor decides is the right number of pages to make the book sell.  More information, more complete results.
  • Contains overall legal research costs – while some of the research done for a matter is still done using books (there is information that you can’t get on a computer at this time or the lawyer doing the work believes books are better), the reality is that the cost of the research is less than if all of it was to be done manually.
  • Provides information to support the matter that would not be available on a  firm’s library shelves.  Many non-legal resources that get used for matters are specialized and complex.  The vast information available to us today is endless and growing exponentially.  In the hands of expert researchers (i.e., librarians), that non-legal information used to support a matter is available today where in the past we would not have had access.  The information found can make or break a matter.  Information and the time of the librarians doing the research is valuable and is also open to disbursement to clients.

If I were a client, I would wonder about the lawyer and law firms that did not use online resources.  In fact, as a client of a local law firm here in Minnesota, I have been thankful when I see charges for research.  I’m also thankful that they have a librarian and that the research done is cost-effective.  Instead of talking about information as liquid and suggesting that all information should be free, we should be thinking about how to improve research skills and how to prove to clients that law firms are doing the best research on behalf of their clients.

FOR THE RECORD:  I am not against freeing government generated data and treating it like a commodity.  I respect books and believe that some books have a place in research.  The physical library treated as overhead is not yet a thing of the past nor should it be.  At the same time, I believe the power of today’s libraries is on our computer desktops.  I am not a schill for the online publishers and aggregators.

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SLA Conference : Products of Note – Bloomberg Law

My last couple days at the conference were spent visiting with vendors.  I visited with all of the vendors I’ve known as a law librarian and others that were new to the conference, or, in some cases, new to me.  I will be writing about them in future posts, starting with this one which focuses on Bloomberg Law.

Bloomberg Law

I’ve read a bit about Bloomberg Law and spent time on their web site, but had yet to learn more about them.  The most I had learned from other librarians was that Bloomberg had created problems for them by selling directly to the partners.  To my surprise, the product looked better than I expected.  “Looked better” is probably the wrong description.  After all, the interface for Bloomberg looks a bit like a terminal emulator of old.  [Terminal emulator software allowed users to work on a UNIX based computer or other mainframe computers.  The terminals used for those computers were often called “dumb” terminals.)  To date, Bloomberg has no plans to move away from this interface to a web interface.

I guess what I meant to say was the content looked better than I expected.  It includes 100+ years of case law with practice area/jurisdiction collections of case law, statutes, regulations, and other resources, company information, real time news, court dockets, SEC documents, alerts for dockets, etc. and more.  Searching seemed both easy and powerful (I would need to test more to say that definitively), however, the results display was difficult to navigate and read.  Most likely because of the interface.  It was too much text for me and in a format I gladly gave up some time ago.

The law reports that come along with the subscription (the Bloomberg subscription is $1800/month/desktop), can be delivered electronically or in print.  Interestingly, the electronic delivery of the reports web-based in a very readable format. 

I’ve heard from many librarians that if you subscribe to Bloomberg, they will deliver and install terminals that provide access to their system.  That isn’t exactly accurate.  Bloomberg may have been delivered that way in the past but now is software based.  You get software to install on any PC that you are licensed to use, to access Bloomberg Law.  That means that you can switch between software installed on the desktop already (e.g., Microsoft Word) and the Bloomberg service.

I spoke with two Bloomberg representatives, one who swore that librarians were his best friends and another who was a bit more forthcoming, saying that Bloomberg is contacting partners in firms and will continue to do so.    The reality is that this is a service that has some power behind it and the lawyers in your firms will want to look at it. 

My advice to law firm librarians would be, to be proactive.  Invite Bloomberg in for a visit.  Invite associates and partners to be part of the meeting where you will ask Bloomberg to demonstrate their service.  The associates need to be there to provide a reality check on whether they want to use the older interface while doing research.  After the visit, do a thorough comparison between Bloomberg, Westlaw, and Lexis, or if you’re using just one of the big vendors, compare that vendor’s product with Bloomberg’s. 

Meet with the decision makers at your firm to present your findings or, if you can’t get their time, write a memo that is brief enough that they will read it but provides the complete picture to them.  In the meeting or memo (actually, you probably want to do both), make a recommendation of which service you think the firm should use.   Be honest with yourself and with the partners.  If Bloomberg provides the best content for your firm’s needs and the lawyers at the firm are willing to step back in time to do their research on an interface that has all but disappeared from use, subscribe to it.

My advice to Bloomberg would be, move to a web-based solution.  The associates and librarians starting at law firms today who will be doing the largest part of the research and be partners some day (fingers crossed), have grown up with the Internet.  The lawyers and librarians who have worked in law firms for some time, have made the switch to using the Internet for research. 

Also, many firms today want to integrate the information they get from their research service into their intranets.  Yes, they probably could do it with your data and their custom interface but my understanding from the demonstration is that Bloomberg does not offer an API or web service to do this (please correct me if I am wrong).

To summarize, I was more impressed with Bloomberg Law’s content then I expected and more willing to consider subscribing than before I saw the demo, because of the content.  If I could just come to terms with the interface (I tend to shudder when thinking about terminal emulation because of the problems with it in the past), it looks to me that it could possibly be a contender.