1/17/17

Road(s) Soon To Be Taken

In about 10 days, I will be presenting as part of a panel at the Thomson Reuters 24th Annual Marketing Partner Forum. The session I will be presenting will be focused on differentiation in a highly competitive market. Aside from being a hugely important topic at this moment in time generally as we usher in 2017, the topic is a reaction to the 2017 State of the Legal Market Georgetown/Peer Monitor Report which is now available. The report tracks firm financial and other performance metrics in the US over the course of the last decade since the "Great Recession". Not surprisingly, the report paints a somewhat bleak picture of the current state of legal services – from an operational point of view. I will leave you to read the report, but the Coles Notes (Cliff's Notes) version indicates that:
  • demand growth is flat;
  •  there is declining productivity;
  • firms are experiencing growth in expenses, and
  •  increasing cost of leverage; despite
  •  ability to raise rates 2 to 3 percent a year, which is countered by;
  • steadily declining realization rates. 
Much of which can be attributed (in whole or in part) to:
  •  a buyer's market;
  •  death of the billable hour pricing;
  •  erosion of the traditional law firm franchise;
  •  declining effectiveness of traditional leverage; and
  •  growing segmentation within the market for law firm services
It’s a bleak and scary picture, one that in my mind doesn't even take into account the effects and affects of technology on the profession, in practice and in operation. 
 
The report, does offer a couple of rays of sunshine – the silver linings if you will for those of us not on the practicing side of the equation. The first quote that animated me was this:
 
"If the large firms in the middle cannot offer sufficient differentiation for their services, clients will have little incentive to change this behavior."
 
Differentiation is largely the work of marketing to articulate, even if KM, Pricing, Library, and others are doing the executing. This provides huge opportunities for marketing departments and agencies who work in this space. It is getting harder and harder for firms to differentiate themselves in any meaningful way, but we know that each firm is special or unique in some way. The challenge is in figuring out how to illustrate each firm's unique value proposition in RFP responses, pitches, branding efforts and pricing mechanisms. The crucial bit for people like me, is how do we use this statement as a catalyst to bring about the cultural and operational changes required for firms to make a discerning mark. Defining what a firm does differently is a hugely difficult and exciting task, one that requires those in firms who are not necessarily practicing law to break silos and work together to shape a new reality to law firms (see the last 3 Geeks post on libraries-marketing-money-credit). Which brings me to the second point in the report that buoyed me. 
 
"broader reimagining of the overall model for legal service delivery, one that includes paraprofessionals, technologists, information specialists, process managers, and others – in addition to lawyers – as part of an integrated system for the delivery of legal services"
 
 Law firms, much like many other businesses from insurance to retail, education to food services are being forced to rethink their way of earning profits. The industry is under pressure from clients, suppliers, and staff to meet technological, social, financial and other impacts head on. Law firms have been long insulated by established protocols and relationships, both of which are now vulnerable to market conditions. Its time, as the report says to lean on others in a truly collaborative partnership to boost client service and in turn, revenue/profit. There are all these fabulously smart people in firms who are limited in their ability to contribute by virtue of their non lawyerlyness. Imagine the impact a firm could have with all of its intellectual capital playing a more active role, that could (should!) be the new road to competitive differentiation.
 
So while growth is relatively flat, and realization rates may be low, the opportunity to find new roads, and new open spaces to drive the legal business in 2017 are endless.

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1/12/17

Libraries, Marketing, Money, Credit, and People

Perhaps I'm one of the lucky few that has always had a good relationship with the Marketing Department. Although I am the incoming President of the American Association of Law Libraries, I am also a member of the Legal Marketing Association, and I find value in both. I have leveraged the relationships built by the Marketing teams to advance my own ideas and projects, and have partnered with Marketing when they need resources and research to advance their own processes and projects. It just makes sense, and there is a mutual benefit for all when there is a trust and partnership between the two groups. After all, we are on the same team, and we can do more together than we can individually.

This is why I am amazed when I see dysfunction between these two departments. And when I have run across firms where the relationships between the two groups exist, it usually comes from the following issues:

  1. Money
  2. Credit
  3. People
When I was still a newbie in the law firm environment, I made an effort to determine how the individual components of a large law firm administration functioned. I saw the power of interaction with the Partners that the Marketing team had versus the Library's operation which tended to be more service oriented and low-keyed. Both serve important functions, but the "attitude" of each group was different. Although Marketing had influence and the ear of the partners, the Library held the power of the purse strings, products, and relationships with the vendors that provide those products. Marketing had their MBAs, and the Library had their JDs/MLIS'. Marketing was a three-year revolving door of talent, and the Library had members that did orientation when the Managing Partner was a first-year Associate. The two departments have their different structures, but again, played for the same team.

Where I've seen the divisions between the two come to a head when it comes to money, is typically the Marketing Department needs a resource, and wants the Library to pay for it. In a good environment, this means that the two heads of the departments meet and work out a plan to evaluate, test, and determine what the correct product is that solves the problems faced by the Marketing team (and by proxy, the firm.) In a bad situation, the Library determines that they will not work with Marketing because the library staff will not be the ones using the product. Or, Marketing goes out and buys the product without working with the Library, and then sends the Library the invoice. These two latter situations are more common than they should be, and completely unnecessary if there is a good relationship between the groups. When it comes to money, I have a very over-simplistic approach that I take. First - It's not my money, it's the partnership's. As long as the powers-that-be approve this, it's fine. It doesn't affect the money I take home at the end or the month, it affects the money that the partners take home at the end of the month. Second, I make sure that these types of increases to my budget are made apparent to those that monitor my budget, and I show where it was approved by those powers-that-be. If the money hawks are concerned...  I point them to those that approved it, but also point out that the expense was something that will help leverage our firm for the future and (hopefully) bring in new clients and revenue. We're all on the same team, so don't throw your team-mate under the bus.

When it comes to credit, this is where feelings tend to get hurt, and power trumps cooperation. The typical story is that the Library conducts research and analysis for a Marketing Business Development or Client Development project. The work is compiled and sent to Marketing, and then it is restructured (sometimes) and sent to the Partner for action. When the project is successful, Marketing gets the credit, and the library gets ignored. Again, when the two groups work cooperatively, this happens less. However, I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when it comes to credit, the last person to handle it, tends to get the credit. This happens when reports are turned over to Accounting to add in "the numbers," or IT to add in the tech specifications, and with Marketing when it comes to analysis and action items. The best way to solve this situation is to have a conversation with the other department to make sure that the value your team put in is made clear to the other department, and when appropriate, to the partners that use the final product. It is also important to have a thick skin and sometimes understand that, while what you did was very important, credit doesn't always come back as you would like. It's okay. Put it down for your "wins" list in your annual evaluation and take credit for it then. If you're running Marketing, make an effort to credit the Library when appropriate. 

This brings me to the people part of the process. Leaders that deem their value by the size of their departments are not leaders at all. (Insert [in]appropriate joke here.) 

Librarians are visionaries. We tend to see trends before others and position ourselves to handle those trends. I've written many posts before where I argued that giving the "Information" title to the computer networking department was probably the biggest defeat in the Library world. We were the leaders when it came to information technology, we were the leaders when it came to knowledge management, we were the leaders when it came to competitive intelligence. We've been in the forefront of artificial intelligence and analytics. Unfortunately, we also tend to start these programs, and watch them be pulled out of our departments and sent to others, or spun off and created in a different department altogether. I am perfectly okay with that (well... mostly okay with that.) What I don't appreciate is when the Library creates a successful group, typically these days, a Competitive or Business Intelligence group, and then the Marketing department comes along and snags it away from us with the perception that this should have never been in the Library in the first place, and that it belongs in Marketing. If that is true, then why did it have to originate in the Library to begin with? Why didn't it begin in Marketing? The biggest reason is that the Library has the external relationships with the vendors and industry to build these departments. If there comes a time when it makes sense to spin them off and move them, then it's a blessing for the department that takes it over. Unfortunately, it tends to become a turf war where the acquiring department somehow belittles the Library for taking this on in the first place. That is such a silly concept an doesn't have to happen when there is a good relationship between the departments. I mentioned earlier that Librarians should not throw their team-mates under the bus. That also goes for other department leaders that leverage the Library's work to make themselves look better, or increase the size of their departments. Quite frankly, if you grab a group from within the Library to make your own, you should increase the Library Director's bonus to include a recruitment stipend.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again:

ALL PROBLEMS ARE COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS!!!

If you work for the same law firm, you are on the same team. You don't have to like each other, but you cannot be successful as a firm if you are undermining each other, or you are so sensitive that you think other leaders are out to get you. Administrative departments of law firms are the grease that makes the organization run smoothly. Find ways to talk to one another. Understand the strategic goals of the firm. Fix problems that the firm is facing (the firm's problems, not your department's problems.) And, realize that when you look good, we all look good. We are all allies here. Let's act like it.




  

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1/3/17

Why Sole Provider Isn't Really A Thing and I'm Not Going to Say It Any More

[Ed. Note: Please welcome back guest blogger, Marcia Burris, Research & Information Services Consultant for HBR. - GL]

A lot of attention has been given lately to the trend of law firms cancelling subscriptions to expensive online resources. This is often referred to as going “Sole Provider” since it has long been assumed (for a few decades, at least) that “good” law firms subscribe to both of the Big Two legal research providers, Lexis and Westlaw. In recent years however, many firms have decided they no longer need both. In an effort to measure the trend, law library surveys, including the one administered by HBR Consulting, routinely ask about whether firms are planning to (or already have) cut Westlaw or Lexis. However, while the term Sole Provider is easy to say and generally understood in the law library community as cancelling one or the other of these two services, it really isn’t the best way to describe current practices in the world of legal information, and in fact can cause harm to the conversation. So here’s why Sole Provider isn’t really a thing, and why I’m not going to say it any more.

  1. First of all, it isn’t true. Certainly not in Big or Medium Law, and probably not even in the vast majority of Small Law. No firm uses only one source for all its legal research needs. Cancelling one of the historical duopoly providers doesn’t mean attorneys will be limited to just one single source for all their legal research questions (although some attorneys may by choice return to the same well over and over again.) Law firms will continue to offer a variety of information resources – and formats – to meet their attorneys’ practice needs.
  2. Using the term “Sole Provider” needlessly reinforces the expectation of legal research Duopoly by implying that firms are choosing one and cancelling one, and fails to adequately describe the variety of different choices firms are making today. In doing so, it devalues the contributions of numerous providers beyond the traditional duopoly, whose innovations are creating new ways to think about and use legal information. This can cause real harm, as holding to the outdated duopoly concept hamstrings the decision process, limiting creative thinking about what resources firms should be offering to their attorneys and distracting from important discussions about new opportunities to evolve and modernize research services.
  3. In addition to reinforcing the idea of duopoly, the Sole Provider concept is often associated with cost reduction efforts, and this creates a value judgment which critics can leverage against firms (and librarians), no matter which way they go with the decision. Firms which keep both traditional major providers can be criticized for overspending, while firms which cancel a major service are criticized for prioritizing cost reduction over efficiency and service. (This reminds me of the working mom vs stay-at-home mom controversy – truly a debate with no winners.) Just as the duopoly concept narrows thinking about options beyond the Big Two, the question of Cut vs Keep limits the discussion to an either/or which fails to address the nuanced resource needs of individual firms, which ultimately drive their purchasing decisions.
  4. By referring to only a single facet of resource selection, the term devalues the important work law librarians do in carefully curating information collections to best meet their firms’ needs, and distracts from the question we should really be asking: What is the best mix of resources to meet our firm’s needs now and into the future?

It’s time to reframe the discussion. Instead of referring to “Sole Provider” decisions, let’s start talking about *Legal Research Optimization*. The discussion should include subpoints related to content (primary & secondary), efficiency of use and administration, attorney support, resource interrelatedness and content integration, cost, practice-specific needs, business needs, evolving technology, and client demands. Rather than allowing the status quo to set the tone of our discussions, let’s ask what should we include as we build the law library of the future for our firms. Firm needs and information resources continue to evolve, and libraries today have the opportunity to do more than ever before to support attorney practice needs. With the baggage of the sole provider conversation left behind, we can move forward and continue working to align information resources with firm needs, with freedom to explore the best fit for the future.

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12/29/16

After Siri and Alexa Comes Azuma Hikari, The Holographic Personal Assistant

Roommate needed: Must like to watch anime, wake me up with a good morning, let me know if I need an umbrella for work today, text me during the day, turn on the lights as I'm coming home, and tell me good night as I drift off to sleep. I'm looking for someone with blue hair and a cute dress, and comes in her own 12 pound sealed container. I'll pay up to  $3,000 to have you shipped from Japan, and will wait up to a year for you to arrive. Because, apparently, I'm extremely lonely.

Enter: Gatebox's Virtual Home Robot, Azuma Hikari.

Okay… I haven't quite decided yet whether this is cool, or creepy. It's probably both. Actually, it's a lot of both. But, it is probably the next phase in integrated home technology and personal interactive technology. The video below shows the lonely Japanese professional and how his day is brightened by the sweet robot's comments, suggestions, tweets, and courteous actions throughout the day. Once you get passed the weirdness of it all, I think that you can see the attraction (both in a good way, and in a bad way) of how this type of technology will advance the likes of what we have with Apple's Siri, and Amazon's Alexa voice response systems.



The system is being presold now (around $3,000 with shipping), and as of last week there have been over 200 units sold. A more extensive, 27 minute explanation and demonstration is available from Tokyo Otaku Mode's Facebook page.

Creepy or not, I think this is the first of many virtual holographic personal assistants to come.


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12/12/16

Understanding the Technical Bias of Westlaw, Lexis Advance, Fastcase, Google Scholar, and Casetext

Definition of algorithm : 


noun al·go·rithm \ˈal-gə-ˌri-thəm\  - a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end especially by a computer


When I attended the WestPAC Law Librarian meeting in Jackson Hole, WY a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on 
University of Colorado Law School's Susan Nevelow Mart's presentation on legal researcher's reliance on algorithms for online legal research. Susan's presentation discussed her SSRN Paper entitled "The Algorithm as a Human Artifact: Implications for Legal {Re}Search" where she breaks down the algorithmic affects of Westlaw, Lexis Advance, Fastcase, Google Scholar, Ravel Law, and Casetext. 
The key thing to remember, says Mart, is that we "need to remember that the algorithms that are returning results to them were designed by humans." That includes all the "biases and assumptions" that come with the human experience. In other words a little bias and assumption on the part of the people developing the computer algorithms can cause dramatic changes in the results produced with similar content and search terms. As a researcher, Mart states that it is important that we "acquire some expertise about the technology at the meta-level." How can you trust the results if you are not familiar with the way the tools are designed to index, search, and retrieve those results? The problem with this argument is that most legal research providers don't want to reveal very much about the processes that go on behind the scenes to pull those top 10, 25, 50, or 1000 results. Mart is calling for more "Algorithmic Accountability" from our legal databases in order to help legal researchers better understand the biases present in the retrieved results.
Mart's paper and research behind it attempt to test the different legal research databases on same search terms and same data content, and evaluate the results to see where results overlap and differ. The experiment wields results that are, in Mart's words "a remarkable testament to the variability of human problem solving." The top ten results from each resource showed very little consistency, and "hardly any overlap in the cases, and only about 7% of the cases returned were in all six database results. That low of a return rate should cause a bit of a shudder to run up the spine of legal researchers.
What is a researcher to do in this day and age of very little Algorithmic Accountability? First, researchers need to call upon these database providers to give us more detailed information about how their algorithms are set up, and the technical biases that result from these rules. Mart states that "the systems we use are black boxes," that prevent us from understanding how these technical biases skew the results of our searches. "Algorithmic accountability will help researchers understand the best way to manipulate the input into the black box, and be more certain of the strengths and weaknesses of the output."
Until we better understand the processes that go on in the background, researchers today should expand their searches, and use multiple databases in order to reduce the effects of technological bias. Mart explains that, "[t]he uniqueness of results may show something about the world view of each database that suggests that searching in multiple databases may be the 21st century version of making sure that multiple authorial viewpoints are highlighted in a library collection’s holdings."
Within the SSRN paper, Susan Nevelow Mart presents the findings of her Empirical Study and breaks out the results by:
  • Uniqueness of Cases
  • Relevance
  • Relevant and Unique
  • Number of Results Returned by Each Query
  • Age of Cases
The different databases have individual strengths and weaknesses in each category, and the results, read as a whole, back up Mart's suggestion of searching multiple databases. Until legal research providers begin to open up their black boxes and adopt more Algorithmic Accountability, researchers will need to expand our own legal information literacy with a better understanding of how each database compiles, categorizes, indexes, searches, and prioritizes the results. Hopefully, Mart's research, and pressure from lawyers and researchers will help push these providers to shine a little more light into their algorithmic black boxes.

[ed. note - Updated at 11:30 CT to include Ravel Law as part of the databases reviewed by Susan Nevelow Mart. - GL]

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