Tag Archives: Legal Research Training

SLA Program: Cost Recovery vs. Cost Prevention

I moderated a fantastic panel at the annual SLA conference last week, and wanted to share the tips that were developed during the discussion. These tips are not difficult or costly; however, the impact on the bottom-line of the firm can be huge.

To focus more on cost prevention instead of cost recovery is to shift from a reactive environment to one that is proactive. This is something that can be undertaken by every librarian, no matter their influence or clout within the firm. Additionally, if the impact of these changes is being measured, the potential to raise the profile of the library is tremendous.

Our 5 easy tips:

  1. Get to know Accounting. If the librarian does not have full access to any and all of the data that impacts the library, how can informed decisions be made? The librarian cannot take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes to developing this relationship, and accessing this data.
  2. Manage and control the conversation around the firm’s contracts with large vendors. Another benefit to a relationship with Accounting, is finding out how much the firm spends with some of the large vendors. Imagine the bulk discounting that might be possible if the librarian could leverage the entire spend, and not just that of the library. Talk about a direct savings to the bottom-line!
  3. Education/Training. Controlling the training and education of your users is a great way to prevent unnecessary costs. Vendor representatives only train on their own products, and promote new content and services. This probably isn’t the most cost effective use of all the research resources purchased by your firm. It is imperative that training sessions be vetted by the library or conducted by a librarian, if possible.
  4. Using knowledge management (KM) to leverage internal and external resources. This doesn’t mean you have to implement some complicated KM software, it just means that you need to look for efficiencies in everything that you do. For example, the library could create an internal wiki to share answers to regularly asked questions, contacts, and/or frequently accessed internal content. This is KM, and once a small step is taken, more will follow.
  5. Creating innovative and simplified contracts. Vendors have been using the same contracts since they started offering their online services. Has anything else in your library stayed the same over all these years? How about exploring contract structures that reflect how you use the product, instead of accepting the same old, one-size-fits-all contract. Work closely with your vendor before you are even presented with a contract to let them know that the status quo isn’t going to work for you anymore.

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Accuracy, Currency, Reliability…Oh My!

As legal research alternatives start to proliferate the landscape and the Law.gov movement continues to gain steam, the question arises regarding accuracy, currency and reliability. This issue was highlighted by Erika Wayne over at Legal Research Plus earlier this year. Although this isn’t a new issue and didn’t originate with the Internet, it is one that we all take very seriously.

No publisher, in either print or online, is perfect. We are all human, and thus what we produce has the potential to be flawed, BUT, when someone is relying on a procedural  rule (as highlighted in Erika’s post), what responsibility does the publisher (or site host) have to make sure that the content is accurate and current, and not just a direct  feed or data dump from another site? Does the answer change depending on whether or not the content is free, low-cost or expensive? Government or privately published?

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, this is a part of the (expensive) service that you get with Lexis and Westlaw. In theory, you don’t have to worry. I’m not saying that these publishers don’t occasionally produce products with errors, but they take accuracy and reliability very seriously, and they pay a lot of people to safeguard against excessive errors, make corrections and make sure that he most current content is available. Hence, many legal professionals view these products as irreplaceable.

What about a low-cost options? In Erika’s example, she found that Fastcase and Casemaker both had the current rule, but Bloomberg Law did not. Free sites? This entire post originated with Cornell’s LII and the fact that it had the wrong version, which they source from a government site. In all fairness, the Rule was accurate to the currency date at the top of the page: 2007. However, we all know that no one is going to stop and look for that. As Erika asks, should there be a disclaimer on these sites that is easier to see? What about print? In all likelihood, the newest version of any Court Rules pamphlet would have been consulted, which would contain the current version.

As I mentioned above, this isn’t a new problem, and when you think about it, has been around since John B. West published his first reporter. However, it has been exacerbated with all of the options available to legal researchers, and their subsequent lack of understanding regarding accuracy, currency and reliability. In my opinion, it just heightens the need for law librarians to continue to educate their users, as in “all things old are new again.”

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What’s Missing from this List?

It’s always interesting to see what resources are really being used by Summer Associates. Paul Lomio posted an unscientific quick poll of his Advanced Legal Research class last Friday, and the results are interesting. Here is the list of resources and the number of students who used it:

Google – 18

Westlaw – 14

LexisNexis – 11

Books – 8

Various databases licensed by Stanford University – 6

City/municipal codes – 5

PACER – 4

A librarian – 4

HeinOnline – 3

EDGAR – 2

PubMed – 2

ONLaw (California CEB database) – 1

SSRN – 1

Although the students worked for a wide variety of organizations, both private and public, it is interesting to note that Fastcase, Casemaker and Loislaw are not on the list at all. It’s hard to promote alternatives when new attorneys aren’t even aware of the options.

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Associate Training Back in the News

Associate training and retention has certainly taken a backseat in this new era of layoffs and deferred start dates, but Drinker Biddle is bucking the trend with a new program for its Fall Associates. The comprehensive training program includes courses taught by attorneys, professional development staff and clients. Associates will also shadow partners and may assist with some client work. Initial feedback from clients has been positive.

Kudo’s to Drinker Biddle for responding to client feedback and thinking long-term about the success of their young lawyers.

To read more about the program, click here.

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Seeking Advice…

This letter to the Jobs page recently appeared in a Washington post advice column:

I’m in middle management at a small law firm. Of every three associates we hire, we inevitably part with two within a year. The pattern is always the same: The associate is hired, struggles with his hours for the first few months, and then develops problems maintaining a responsible level of contact with clients. Then he struggles with deadlines, and finally when the partners and I are at our wits’ end, the associate pretty much stops working, stops billing and becomes a liability. We offer training and performance plans, we have scheduled weekly meetings with the associates, and we’re small so someone is always available for guidance. Is firing people just the way it is?

The advice given centered around asking the right interview questions, developing a list attributes required for success, evaluating the training program, etc. Every time I read something like this, I can’t help but wonder how much emphasis was put on research and writing skills during the evaluation and interview process. Associates spend approximately 80% of their time during the first few years conducting research and writing memos, so if a new associate lacks these skills this kind of turnover ratio is to be expected.

Although it hasn’t been done in the past, my advice would be to stop worrying about what school someone graduated from or what grade they got in Property Law 1, and have them submit a writing sample. Heck, why not give them a fact pattern, send them to the firm library and ask them to come back with a basic written answer in a few hours. Not only will you be able to evaluate their answer, you can really see how they responded to the assignment.

Solving the turnover problem by hiring the same graduates and following the same process, and expecting a different result, is like hitting your head against a wall and expecting it not to hurt.

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Locke Lord and Loislaw…a Love Story?

Just in time for Valentine’s Day came this news from Above the Law. Here is a copy of their firm-wide memo:

LOCKE LORD BISSELL & LIDDELL FIRM-WIDE MEMORANDUM

In today’s economic climate we recognize that our clients are becoming increasingly sensitive to legal research costs passed on to them as disbursements. In an effort to enable you to reduce the frequency and dollar amount of these charges, the Information Services Department has entered into a firm-wide contract with Loislaw, a legal research service owned by Wolters Kluwer/CCH. Loislaw allows searching Primary Law (cases, statutes & regulations) on the National and State level. A detailed list of the contents of the database is included at the end of this e-mail.

The Houston office has been using this service for several years for both non-billable and billable research whenever possible. It is not viewed as a substitute for Lexis or Westlaw, but as a tool to be used to familiarize yourself with precedent related to new cases or issues or simply to find cases, statutes or regulations. You can then continue your research on Lexis or Westlaw allowing you to complete your research in substantially less time and a lower cost to your client and/or the Firm. The Firm pays Loislaw a reasonable fixed fee for the year and receives unlimited service. You will have the ability to add a client/matter number when you want to bill the client, but will not be forced to do so for non-billable research

The following Guidelines for Legal Research are effective immediately.

* All non-billable legal research involving case law, statutes or regulations at both the state and federal level should first be performed using Loislaw.
* Loislaw should also be used for billable research where appropriate, resulting in a much lower cost to the client.
* If additional research is required on Lexis or Westlaw that research must be billed to a client/matter.

This says two things to me: (1) LoisLaw has come a long way from where it started, and is being seen as an option by large law firms, and (2) law firms are finally starting to look at ways to control legal research costs and match research habits with cost-effective tools.

How do attorneys conduct research these days in a cost-effective and, just as importantly, efficient manner? As Amy Wright points out on the Zeifbrief, she encourages students to first use a free or low-cost option, and then switch to Lexis or Westlaw. Most researchers loathe using a cost-based research service for their initial searches, so they turn to Google. Is this what we want them to do? Probably not, but what has been the alternative?

It will be interesting to see how the researchers at Locke Lord respond to LoisLaw. I think that there are probably other large law firms with the same policies, we just don’t know about it. What is the impact of Locke Lord’s decision? It is too early to tell, but stay tuned.

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Doctors Trained Like Lawyers?

Does that question send chills down your spine? At a recent symposium on legal education, Professor David Chavkin of the University of Washington School of Law, put it this way:

“If the goal of medical school were to teach students not how to be doctors, but how to think like doctors, would you want to be a graduate’s first patient?”

Practical legal education has been a topic of discussion for at least the last 20 years, but the noise seems to be growing louder and louder. In today’s world of increased competition, the need to hit the ground running and be immediately productive, is extremely high. Those new lawyers who were exposed to the actual practice of law, are bound to be more successful than their counterparts.

While law schools continue to add more clinics and practice-based classes, I would argue that it is incumbent upon law firms to implement comprehensive training programs that address the needs of new lawyers, including legal research and writing. Surveys show that new lawyers will spend 80% of their time in the first three years on legal research and writing. If that is true, then sharpening those skills is even more important than almost anything else.

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Integration vs. Orientation

After reading this article from NALP, I’m intrigued by the idea of an ongoing “integration” versus a two-week orientation for new associates. The definitions for these two activities could not be more different. Orientation is merely an “introduction” to new surroundings, while integration is an act of combining into a whole (dictionary.com). I  think that firms who adopt a new associate integration policy rather than a two-week orientation, must have lower associate attrition.

A big part of this integration policy should include comprehensive legal research skills training. Contrary to common sense, this training is rarely given much time on the orientation agenda, even though new associates will spend the majority of their time researching and writing. Food for thought as we head into new associate season.

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