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.


Writing a Business Case

Whether you are making a justification for staff additions, new software, new online resources, next year’s budget, or the myriad of other reasons libraries need resources, you will do a better job of solving problems or improving services if you use a business case to plead your case.   What is a business case?  The many books and articles on the topic will tell you it is more than a memo or a hallway conversation and can be created following a formula that is straightforward.  The following seven components of a business case come from a Business Case Toolkit available through the BPR Online Learning Center.   

  • Situational assessment and problem statement
  • Project description
  • Solution description
  • Cost and benefit analysis
  • Implementation timeline
  • Critical assumptions and risk assessment
  • Conclusions and recommendations

Your next question may be “How do I use a business case in a library setting?”  To answer that, let’s do a better job of describing what each component represents.  Additionally, let’s use a specific project like purchasing electronic resource management software (e.g., OneLog, Lookup Precision, or Research Monitor) as an example – We will call it the ERM Project and assume that the firm has 200 electronic resource titles.   Please note that I’m making the comments brief.

Situational assessment and problem statement – Describe what the current situation is or the problem your project or action will address.  Be succinct but include the details that need to be considered. 

ERM Project –  [Firm Name] has approximately 200 electronic resources including online services (e.g., Westlaw & Lexis), Internet subscriptions, CD-ROMs, and custom built interfaces for accessing resources. While we have provided easier access to these resources through our portal, we continue to have some users who find it difficult to use electronic resources. Additionally, while we have worked to improve recovery of costs for these services as they are used for clients, we see room for continued improvement.

Project Description  – Describe the project including goals, time frame, resources needed and cost. 

ERM Project – The goal of this project is to improve access to electronic resources, increase recovery of associated costs, improve management of userids and passwords, …  This project will be completed by [month, year].  Costs for the project include hardware, software, staff, implementation costs, ongoing costs, etc.

Solution Description – The purchase and implementation of ERM software provides the ability to:

  • Manage userids and passwords and autopopulate those userids and passwords for the electronic resources being managed

  • Track the use of online resources

  • Prompt for and validate client matter number to allow recovery of costs associated with the online services

  • Produce usage report to use to disburse expenses to clients

  • Produce reports that can be used to determine value of electronic resource as well as training needs of researchers

Cost and Benefit Analysis – Cost/benefit analysis includes the cost of the project along with the benefits and any estimates at the return on investment (ROI).

The cost of the ERM solution is ____ including software, hardware, etc.   You will probably want to show the breakdown of each component of the purchase.

The benefits the purchase and implementation of an ERM solution include:

  • Better management of the 200+ electronic resources for which we are currently paying. 

Better management is probably too general a statement, as most of the justifications are probably anecdotal.  I would still list it as a benefit and probably use the number of hours of library staff time that could be put to use in other areas of their work.  See below for a formula you can use to calculate the hours.

  • Improved management of userids and passwords.  With the password management and autopopulation, it would be easier for users to access the services.  This would reduce the lawyer and staff time spent looking for and using the electronic resources.   The calculation for ROI could go as follows:

((____ researchers x ___ minutes spent looking for userids per day) / 60 minutes) x average hourly rate = fees recovered by better management of access

Example: ((400 researchers x 10 minutes) / 60 minutes) x $250 = $16,667 of lost revenue per day.  If you expand that to number of workdays per year, you might take 166 days x the lost revenue per day.  If you use the $16,667, the annual lost revenue would equal $2,766,722. 

My minutes may be a bit high and not every attorney could be counted as a researcher but what ever calculation you use should produce significant results in relation to your firm size.

  • Increased cost recovery.  Providing validation of client matter numbers allows researchers to enter the correct number at the time of research reducing exceptions and allowing for quicker disbursements.  Validating against the client/matter numbers in Elite would allow us to manage exceptions (wrong client/matter number – use of firm admin matter numbers) more efficiently.  

Accounting staff currently spend  time working on exceptions and/or doing data entry for disbursements (for services that don’t provide electronic files for uploading disbursements.) This would not eliminate the time needed for these projects but it would reduce it to a very small amount of time.

___ hours not spent managing exceptions  x 240 work days per year (allows for 4 weeks of paid time off) = staff hours that could be freed up for other work. 

Example: 2 hours x 240 days = 480 hours (.24 full time equivalent in staff hours)

$__ per month for Westlaw and Lexis where the costs are disbursed to firm admin numbers x ____% of charges that could be disbursed to clients (this would be a guess but even 10% of the charges would be significant) =  additional $________ in dollars recovered each month

You would probably see better recovery for other services as well as the Westlaw and Lexis recovery represented here.  You may also do much better than the 10%.

  • Reduced use of duplicate materials that account for $_______ of the library budget.  Easier access to resources should increase the use of the electronic services and reduce the need for some of the print duplication.

This doesn’t take into account the cost of the server and the resources needed to set up the system initially, but those costs are only incurred initially and as the software/server gets upgraded.  If you wanted to show that, you could show the costs of the system across 2-3 years against the ROI to demonstrate actual cost.

Implementation Timeline.   A timeline can be a simple list of the project milestones (events in a project) or tasks. 

  • Install software & all integration components (client/matter number tables) and provide training to administrator by [date]
  • Set up resources that will be managed by system [date] 
  • Set up userids and passwords by [date]
  • Set up integration with client matter numbers in time & billing system by [date]
  • Turn on functions (e.g., autopopulation, validation)
  • Begin testing by [date]
  • Provide training to pilot group by [date] 
  • Begin pilot group use by [date]
  • Introduce to practice groups by [date]
  • Release to firm by [date]

You can probably provide less detail than the list provides but I include it to give you an idea of what might need to be done.  Also, you may use less functionality than listed here and there may be other functions the vendors provide that are not listed.

Critical assumptions and risk assessment

  • Assumptions
    • Information Technology staff and Application Development staff will be available to work with Information Resources staff during times needed
    • ERM would be purchased at end of trial using dollars budgeted for this purpose if it works properly and if the script creation is something that can be managed by Information Resources staf
    • Information Resources staff will take the time to test and will provide feedback
  • Risks
    •  The system may not deliver on its promise
    • The system may not evolve as the needs of the firm does

 Conclusions and recommendations

  • The benefits of the system outweigh the costs and the risks
  • The firm should go ahead with the purchase

This is very much a first draft of a business case that is no doubt missing something and far from perfect.  However, it should provide you with the basics of writing a business case.

A recommended quick read: Developing a Business Case (Pocket Mentor)