Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

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.

Managing the Library Research & Reference Service

We’ve talked before about how important it is to be able to report on metrics in making cases for the programs and services offered within a library including staffing, resources and more.  With the changes in our economy making funding of those programs and services more uncertain, it it more important than ever to begin tracking metrics.

In the past it was enough to place a tic mark on a notebook page for everyone who called, emailed or came into the library and/or asked a question at the reference desk.  The tic marks were somewhat useful if everyone who was responsible for tracking users did so consistently.   Most library directors know they were less than accurate and often gave up on their use.

Other former (and in some libraries- current) metrics tracked included:

  • Books checked out
  • Books shelved (after use in the library)
  • New acquisitions
  • Books cataloged
  • Books processed
  • Subscriptions received
  • Subscriptions routed

and more.   It has always been and, in many cases, still is  more about the resources we managed than the services we provided.

While that approach worked in the past, they don’t work any more.  At least, they don’t in private law libraries where the resources are sometimes secondary to the services.  Yes, they can still be used to demonstrate the support provided by technical services, but, what of research and reference?

Trudi Busch, the very strategic information resources director at Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly (Minneapolis, MN) knew these metrics were needed in 2001.  At that time, she worked with her staff to develop what they called the IR Tracking Database – a system for tracking research and inter-library loan.  When I first saw it, I was a blown away.   It had the following features:

  1. A simple web based interface.
  2. A menu that allowed users to add a new record, search existing records, access unfinished work, and manage inter-library loan.
  3. Records that tracked the requestors name, time recording number, client/matter number, time spent on project, completed check box, delivery method, description of work done, cost, resource usage (users could select from all of the electronic resources the library used), and any associated inter-library loans.
  4. Search function that allowed access to existing records by name, date, client/matter number, and description.  It also allowed users to conduct the search on their own records or on records with interlibrary loans.
  5. Unfinished work function that allowed the users to retrieve a list of any records that had not been marked completed.  The list included the date the work was received, the description of the work and the librarian responsible for completing the work.
  6. Inter-library loan management function that allowed the staff to manage circulating items and lending libraries.  It also provided a search functionality for the ILL records.
  7. Reports including overdue book notice, management reports showing billable and non-billable work by staff, location, practice group, charts that demonstrated the billable, non-billable and total requests by practice group, and ILL request reports.  Data is downloaded into Excel where the charts, etc. are created.

Why did Trudi decide to create the system?  The benefits she described at the time included:

  • Online resource evaluation
  • Workflow monitoring/improvements
  • Trend spotting (e.g., ratios of billable to non-billable by practice group)
  • Annual report preparation
  • Sharing of knowledge by library staff

Now that is what I call a strategic librarian!  I’d also use words like resourceful, innovative and in possession of un-ending energy to describe Trudi as well. 

Today, there are many products that libraries can purchase to track research and reference services.  Many of the library management systems include the functionality as well as products that have been created just for the purpose of tracking these metrics.  We reported on one of those products (Altarama RefTracker) in an earlier post.   

NOTE: If you don’t have the time or money to implement something new, you might try to devine more information from the time-recording reports that your accounting department might be able to provide.

Whether you are using in-house custom systems like Trudi or purchasing something off the shelf, now is the time to start thinking about what you need to do to track what research and reference work gets done in your library or information resources/services department.

For more information about what other libraries have done to track their services see the recent article, Solving the Information Workflow Tracking Dilemma  (you must be a member or subscriber to access the article on the SLAsite) written by Ann Cullen, Tomalee Doan, Toby Pearlstein for Information Outlook, November 2008

If you know of other articles worth reading on this topic, please post a comment with the title, author, etc.

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Justice Hunt, We Need To Talk About Your Views on Cost Recovery of Online Legal Research

j0303025A couple weeks ago Fulton County Daily Report and several law library blogs reported on a Nov. 7 court order where, according to those sources, U.S. District Court Judge Willis B. Hunt decided that:

Among the expenses Hunt disallowed was $93,960.67 for LexisNexis, Westlaw and Online Library Research, writing,

This Court is of the opinion that charging separately for use of a research service is akin to charging for the use of a case law reporter. That is, the research service is a tool, much like a computer or a pen, and this Court considers the use of such a service part of a firm’s overhead. … Moreover, this Court is aware that many firms pay a flat rate to Lexis and Westlaw regardless of their usage, and class counsel cannot claim such flat rate payments as an out-of-pocket expense.

See Class Lawyers Against Coke Get More Than $31.5 Million.

He went on to write:

[C]omputer-aided research, like any other form of legal research, is a component of attorneys’ fees and cannot be independently taxed as an item of cost in addition to the attorneys’ fee award.

citing Leftwich v . Harris-Stowe State College, 702 F .2d 686,695 (8th Cir. 1983) . 

See Billing Wexis Expenses, posted on BARCO 2.0 : Law Library Reference for a summary of that opinion.

The Value of Online Legal Research

I’m sorry, but I don’t think Justice Hunt understands the value of online legal research.  The value of online legal research is very different than the decision by a firm to attempt to recover costs and the clients decision to pay or not pay for the expense – although it does play into that decision. 

What do online resources do for us that case reporters don’t?  A short answer would be “a lot”.  For example an online resource:

  • Provides many access points– Where a case reporter is organized by citation, online resources provide the ability to search by citation, assigned classifications (a numerical topic index), full text and more.   Not to say that books are no longer needed.  Before starting to use an online resource, researchers should use treatises or encyclopedias/dictionaries  to familiarize themselves with a legal issue or point of law.  Note:  These “books” may be available in print or online. 
  • Reduces the amount of time a lawyer needs to spend doing research  –   Rather than an associate going back and forth between digest and case reporter which can be very time consuming, that same associate can start with online digests or full text search to find a case, KeyCite or Shepardize it, find more cases, check to see if it is still good law or if it has been overturned, and more.  Researchers still need to use the critical thinking skills they developed in school (and for which their firm charges their time) but they are now able to move through the materials more quickly.
  • Produces more complete research results – There was a time when the amount of time it took to do research using books, resulted in researchers not being able to find and review all of the case law that existed that may have been on point.  In fact, they were most likely limited in the resources they had available to them as well.  The computer has changed that.  There is still a need to stop at some point but researchers can use the computer to find and review the materials more quickly.
  • Contains overall legal research costs– Researchers who has been schooled in what the cost is for online research, how to be cost effective in doing legal research online, when to combine the online research with the use of printed materials, and who does the bulk of there research online, will be able to produce the same or better results as one using print only within the same price points.  In the end, their time billed to the client is reduced making up for the online resource cost   Note:  You might argue that many young associates don’t know how to research.  That is the responsibility of the firm that hired them.  If firms want to recover these costs it is incumbent on them to make sure their associates are well trained.  That just touches on the issue which would take another entire article to cover.

Using an online resource is nothing like pulling a case reporter and locating the case by citation.  It has the same content but it has so much more in terms of tools that assist researchers in minimizing the work they need to do for a client.  The combination of the lawyer and the computer is very powerful.  Something you just don’t get with print.

The Decision to Recover Costs

With those comments on the value of online research, I would like to turn to a firm’s decision to charge their clients for the use of online resources.  It isn’t an all or nothing decision as it may have been in the past.  There are many instances that the work done using online resources warrants charging the client.  Yet, there are some tasks completed with that same online resource where the expense of the searches and their results should not be charged to clients.

For example, if a researcher has a list of cases she would like to read, she could do so using an online resource much like finding a reporter on the shelf and photocopying it for later use.  When the work being done isn’t substantive, and the analysis is done by the lawyer after the case is pulled, it probably needs to be treated as overhead.


There are many more examples like this where a firm could make a decision not to charge the client.  At the same time, any substantive research done online, requires a set of complex tools that the firm chooses to use on the clients behalf reduces the time a lawyer will track referencing the client’s matter,  contains cost and improves the quality of the output.  If a firm incurs expenses while doing this work, the client should most likely be charged.  

To make the decision to charge, the firm needs to evaluate the work for which they will or will not charge their clients, develop a Cost Recovery Policy that includes statements about the value of online legal research and communicate that policy internally and externally. 

Note:  My company focuses on assisting law firm clients with knowledge, information and library management challenges including working with those clients to improve their cost recovery of online resource expenses while doing their best for their clients.

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SLA Conference : More Products of Note

In an earlier post, I described what I learned about Bloomberg Law at the SLA conference in Seattle earlier this month.  This posting will briefly describe other products I saw in the exhibit hall that made an impression on me.

Deep Web Technologies’ Explorit Research Accelerator

Explorit Research Accelerator is a federated search engine developed by Deep Web Technologies.  I’ve long thought that federated search was a project that wasn’t worth doing.  My problem with this type of search is that while the search engines are able to bring the results back from many sources, I’ve never seen a federated search engine that did a good job of displaying the results in a way that made sense.  Usually the results for each resource were displayed individually or they were combined in a way that overwhelmed.  Explorit surprised me.  The results were returned in clusters of topics, dates, etc. that allowed for filtering of the results.  The example I saw provided clusters that organized results by topic, dates, publications, and more.  I may have to start rethinking my position on federated search.

I tried searching the website for knowledge management to see Explorit in action

 Altarama RefTracker, DeskStats, Virtual Reference, etc.

Altarama Information Systems, a company based in Australia with a business unit in the United States, is described as follows on their web site:

Altarama Information Systems focuses on the development, supply, and support of software, products and services that improve information management in libraries, with a special focus on the needs of reference librarians.

RefTracker is a web application that provides the ability to

  • Receive reference/research requests
  • Assign the requests to a librarian (the requests can be self assigned)
  • View a dashboard of new, open, and completed requests
  • Enter and view information about the work done on each request. 
  • Track the online systems that were used to answer requests
  • Create reports with metrics that demonstrate who requested  what (with demographics),  how it was done, who worked on it, when the work was completed, and where the requests came from.
  • Integrate cost informaiton with internal accounting systems

Other products in the Altarama line include

DeskStats – allows libraries to track the simple questions that librarians are asked much like the system librarian’s have used in the past (making a mark on a sheet of paper that reflects each question.)

Reference by SMS – allows users to make requests via mobile phone

Virtual Reference– provides the ability to communicate with end users via instant message, online co-browsing, etc.

ScheduleSource – creates reference desk schedules

Llesiant Relevance

While this isn’t a new product to many of you, it is the first time I’ve seen Llesiant RelevanceLlesiant, based in Austin TX, provides a current awareness service that allows users to search, save and track information.  While not real time, it does provide same day news.  Content from Reuters (now Thomson Reuters), Moreover Technologies, Comtex News Network, and the Economist Intelligence Unit is aggregated and delivered through various means (email, intranet, etc.) to users who have defined the topics/news items they would like to receive.  Along with general news sources, they also have made or are forging partnerships with legal information vendors.  While no current awareness system gives you all the features you want, this one is worth checking out.

My favorite description found on the Llesiant website is “Llesiant Relevance is built upon the three pillars of actionable intelligence – content, context, and delivery.”  A lofty endeavor.

There were many other vendors/products at the SLA Conference that are worth talking about.  I will be writing about them in the future.



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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.

SLA CE : What Do You Do After You Log Off – Mary Ellen Bates

I moderated a SLA Legal Divisionsponsored CE at the SLA Conference (currently happening in Seattle) called “What Do You Do After You Log Off” presented by Mary Ellen Bates, consultant and author of Library of Fortune.  Mary Ellen’s presentations are always thought provoking and extremely useful at the same time.  I’ve never come away from any of them without learning about important research tools and tips.    This program was no different. 

Without trying to cover the 4 hour program, I thought I would highlight some of the ideas and resources she talked about for use in packaging and delivering information as well as sources for producing statistics that go beyond what we have traditionally delivered to our library users.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good enough” – Here Mary Ellen talked about the need we all have as librarians to provide the perfect answer while the reality is that we may not have those types of expectations from our users and we most often don’t have the time to do it either. – This is a tool for creating trend results of subjects that have been written about in blogs over time.  You can search on a topic or the name of your company, firm, client, prospect, etc. and see the trend results for the last 2, 4, or six months in a chart format.  It has other features to check out as well.  Click on the following image to see the amount of times Target Corp was blogged about during the last 2 months.

Google Trends– This trend analysis tool will tell you what people are searching on over time.  You can also compare search terms over time as well.  This goes back farther than BlogPulse.  You can search for trends in searching from January 2004.  You can also limit by region/country or by year.  Here again you could use this to search topics, companies, industries, etc.  Click on the following screen-shot to see the trends for “competitive intelligence” shown with a chart and the top 10 in regions, cities and languages. – This is a social networking site that has tons of features.  Mary Ellen demonstrated it as a tool that you can use to save urls for resources that you discovered while researching a topic.  Once saved, you can share with others, produce a citation list, etc.  No more copy and pasting into a report to send to your client.  I haven’t had time to explore it myself, but it looks like a great resource for managing and delivering research results worth sharing.

This is only a minuscule part of what Mary Ellen presented.  Definitely 4 hours that were worth it.  As she does repeat this program at various venues, I would recommend attendance you you have a chance.