My Remarks and Highlights from the AALL 2017 Conference

I'm finally back in my office in Houston today after taking a week to visit Austin and attend the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) annual meeting. Looking back on the last week, all I can do is take a deep breath and say… "WOW!!"

Here are just a handful of highlights:

  • AALL announced that it is removing Texas from consideration for future conference location due to the Texas Legislature, Lt. Governor, and Governor's anti-LGBTQ stances and laws. (I got to be on local TV and in Texas newspapers.)
  • Bryan Stevenson gave perhaps the best keynote that I've ever seen, and inspired everyone in the audience to get proximate, change the narrative, stay hopeful, and make a conscious decision to do uncomfortable things. (AALL members can see a recording of the talk, here.)
  • AALL's inaugural Innovations Tournament was held, and BakerHostetler's Katherine Lowry, and University of North Texas' Jen Wondracek, each won the $2,500.00 prize for their innovations. Georgetown's Tom Boone and Matt Zimmerman were a close third. The fact that the top two winners were both women tech leaders speaks volumes for the Association, and is something that makes me very, very proud.
  • Speaking of AALL and technology, Bob Ambrogi had a wonderful write up of how AALL isn't just a great conference for legal information professionals to discuss legal content and research, but that it is also a great legal technology conference. I want to quote Gabe Teninbaum (who gave a wonderful presentation at the PLLIP-Summit):
    "It's [AALL Conference] got nearly as much legaltech as any conference branded as legaltech, but a fraction of the push toward selling products."
    High praise, indeed!
  • John Waters...  yes, that John Waters, is going to be the 2018 AALL Conference Keynote speaker in Baltimore. I mean, it's Baltimore. He was my immediate choice!!
  • About a million other things happened. (Please post some of your favorites in the comments, if you'd like to share.)
  • I officially became the AALL President for 2017-2018.
On Monday, at the AALL Business Meeting, I gave a talk on what my plans are for the upcoming year. The Baltimore conference theme is "From Knowledge To Action," and I wanted to highlight some of the actions I would like to take. Now I have to get back to work!!

Here is the speech:

I am excited about the upcoming year, and proud to serve as your president. In the past 20 years, I have gone from academic, to government, to outsourced consultant, and to private law firm occupations. The constant throughout that change has been AALL, and I am honored to have the opportunity to lead an organization that has given me so much.

The Association has endured many challenges over the past decade. A global recession which decimated parts of our profession, especially in the corporate, private law, and government library sectors, and a retiring baby-boomer population which made up a large percentage of our overall membership. 

We face competition from other associations for roles which are traditional or law librarian created functions.  Now we face a legal educational market in retraction after decades of expansion. 

AALL faced these challenges and we have adapted to become a leaner association. Staffing levels are down, and we have adjusted how the Association spends money to ensure we are fiscally responsible and providing stability for the future of the Association. 

We are still losing more members than we are gaining. That is a situation we must address, and the long-term strategy of the Association must adapt to this trend. We have held off most of the losses through cuts. However, I am a big believer that you cannot cut your way to prosperity. 

The Association must look at new revenue sources, and I believe that there are many opportunities out there to find ways of increasing the numbers of new members, finding options for retiring members who want to stay engaged with the profession, inform stakeholders about the value of professional development for our members, and providing programs to attract those who do not think of themselves as law librarians or legal information professionals, either into the Association as members, or through other revenue generating offerings. 

We have so much knowledge and expertise in this Association that is of considerable value to the industry. We need to leverage that and put it into action. 

I have written many times in my blog that the law librarian, or however you refer to yourself on an individual or department basis, is one of the most valuable and most credentialed members in your work place.

We all work tirelessly for our organizations to support the overall strategic goals of our employers. Our voices should be heard, our leadership and expertise recognized, and our contribution to the success of our organizations acknowledged. 

Our professional Association should assist us in these efforts through leadership training, professional development opportunities, and promoting the overall value of law librarianship to our direct stakeholders, and others in the legal profession.

AALL is stepping up on this front to make the law librarians’ voices heard beyond our inner circles. This year we are working with a public relations firm to increase our reach and highlight the critical role we play within the legal community.  

Most importantly, we will begin to share all the content created by our members broadly with the media, both legal and non-legal.  We are confident these efforts will position us as the only national association committed to championing the essential role law librarians play in the legal profession. 

We have a wealth of knowledge within AALL, and we will put into action processes to expose that knowledge.

We are currently working to develop a knowledge management system which will capture, share and use content in support of members.  We are currently overhauling the AALL website, which will have more intuitive navigation, Boolean search, and taxonomic functionality.  We will expand the site’s Knowledge Center so information and work product can be easily shared across AALL entities. 

This will produce an evergreen process for identifying current and emerging competencies that will translate into knowledge points to apply to all or our education, publications, and programs. 

We are also expanding our education programs, and this October and holding a one-day Competitive Intelligence program in Chicago, facilitated by Zena Applebaum, a well-known expert in the field. 

The theme for is the 2018 Annual Meeting & Conference in Baltimore is, “From Knowledge to Action.” 

As I mentioned earlier, law librarians and others in the legal information profession are some of the smartest and most credentialed members of their organizations. However, this does very little when you’re not part of the decision-making team. We need to find ways of exposing the powers-that-be in our organizations to the power of people in their law libraries and knowledge resources departments. 

I want to see our members producing more White Papers, placing articles in journals and other publications that are read by those decision makers, and finding opportunities for members to engage with industry leaders. 
We need to have more interactions with our own stakeholders and others in the legal profession in ways that presses the question of why aren’t they leveraging this talent in better ways to benefit the law firms, law schools, government institutions, and other businesses which have law librarians and legal information professionals on staff.

A local Houston politician once told me, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” She is right. It is time to go beyond being smart, and credentialed, and helpful, and nice. It is time we take action and create success for ourselves, our profession, our Association, our work place, and the entire legal profession. 

It is my goal for AALL to work alongside you providing the tools and support to make that leap from knowledge to action.

As much as I have enjoyed having you all here in my home state of Texas, I’m excited to be in Baltimore next year. The AMPC committee, led by Kim Serna, is already in action, and will be reaching out to all of you to put your knowledge into action in Baltimore.

We have a lot to do between now and then. Please feel free to reach out to me with your ideas, and let me know of your own successes. I look forward to representing AALL and all of you this year. 

Thank you.

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Knowledge Management in the Age of Need to Know Security

[Ed. Note: Please welcome back guest blogger, Keith Lipman, President at Prosperoware. Keith is a long-time friend of the Geeks, and well-known leader in the information management field of the legal industry. -GL]

Double-edged Sword: Protect & Deliver
2016 was a banner year for cyber incidents as records breaches increased by 556% with more than four billion records leaked. The regulatory and client response has been significant. The regulatory side brought the introduction of the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYS DFS) cybersecurity regulation, in addition to pending other regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which also mandate security requirements. From the clients, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) released their Model Information Protection and Security Controls for Outside Counsel Possessing Company Confidential Information. The provisions of all these effectively create a standard of care for handling and protecting client data; that standard is fairly clear that firms must lock down access to only those who require it. This means that only those who clients authorize to have access to their matters can have it; this is commonly referred to as ‘need to know’ access.

Historically, firms have operated open access environments under the guise of knowledge sharing and collaboration. They must now fundamentally change an entrenched practice that has generally allowed everyone inside the firm access to clients’ sensitive documents. The challenge is that lawyers rely upon prior work product as the basis for new work product.

As firms scramble to comply with these new mandates, they’re concerned that locking down and limiting access to data repositories will impede knowledge sharing. They fear that cutting-off access to valuable work product will diminish operational efficiency, and that need to know access will destroy knowledge management. For those firms already thinking about the bigger picture and finding other ways to leverage their valuable data, need to know security may be an opportunity, not a hindrance.

Need to Know Access May Limit the Value of Prior Work
According to most indicators, electronic information is doubling every two years and will exceed 44 zettabytes by 2020.  The amount of data firms manage has been growing, exponentially. Disappointingly, firms seem to have struggled to properly collect, maintain, and harness the vast array of data they process, or even make use of that which they already manage.

To enable their professionals to benefit from the wealth of experience learned from prior matters, firms allow lawyers to search for prior work product. It makes little sense to reinvent the wheel for every new, yet similar matter when lawyers can rather improve service delivery in terms of time and quality by re-using others’ prior work.

Logic dictates that implementing need to know access will throw a wrench in the works by limiting the pool of prior work product any one lawyer can search or access; specifically, it would limit them to re-using only the work product for certain clients from other lawyers who provide services as a team.
Many law firms’ document repositories already exceed tens of millions of documents; contrary to what some might assume, this actually may improve efficiency. This is because the more limited dataset being searched could ensure a greater relevance of results, making it easier to locate specific items that lawyers need, especially when searches are being conducted on such a regular basis. Nevertheless, this alone is not the answer.

The Solution for Efficiently Locating Prior Work: Matter Profiles and Experiential Data
The problem that needs to be solved is how to enable lawyers to find work product they don’t know exists and for which the firm does not yet have any published template. Firms need to enable their lawyers to find others’ work product. Thankfully, there is a solution.

If firms properly tracked and organized the correct metadata around their engagements and used it to create matter profiles, this challenge would be solved – and the firm would be positioned to improve numerous other aspects of its operation. Matter profiles are also beneficial to business development, marketing, and knowledge management. Having robust matter profiles makes searching far more powerful.

Matter profile search can readily drive key knowledge sharing needs. Profiles deliver a more holistic method for readily identifying the most appropriate work product, even when the lawyer already has access to the documents. Matter profiles provide better context as to the purpose of each document.

Some examples of the data that should be tracked in such profiles include:

  • Matter type, sub-type
  • Area of law
  • Qualifiers or tags
  • Deal / Demand / settlement amount
  • Court / Location
  • Industry

Lawyers can track and easily find an appropriate matter and then request access to the data, without falling foul of maintaining need to know security. This ability to ‘pierce the veil’ allows a combination of need to know security while offering a method to enable awareness of the wealth of experience and prior work that exists within a firm.

These same matter profiles would also empower business development and resourcing decisions. Firms can make more intelligent decisions about where to invest and focus resources and marketing programs to improve pitch success rates. In this regard, that same metadata can drive:

  • Opportunity Management for firms to track and forecast pipelines
  • Proposal Generation to streamline and reduce costs and improve results
  • Matter, Client, Lawyer, Staff, Vendor, and Other Profiles for better search capability; and,
  • Comprehensive Firm Directory with integrated Experience Scoring to more quickly locate and identify appropriate personnel

Need to Know Security Doesn’t Apply to Public Data
The requirement to apply need to know security is not applicable to public data. As such, that data is easier to handle from a knowledge management standpoint. A significant portion of the data that law firms work with is or eventually becomes public. Examples of this type of data include pleadings filed in court (except for matters under seal, which are rare) and documents filed with most government agencies such as the SEC or UK Companies House. This data is still important to and plays and integral part of the broader firm knowledge management initiative. Although today it can be readily automated, prior to everything being made available in electronic format, lawyers manually created indexes to track this type of data; this included pleading indexes, closing indexes, bundles, and other various indexes.

Streamlining the creation of pleading and closing indexes is ‘low hanging fruit’ for process re-engineering. Ensuring the data is ordered in an optimal format is valuable to clients and lawyers for sharing and future re-use; almost all the valuable matter profile information is contained in these documents. Information such as closing dates or key court dates and transaction amounts are typically included in the closing index. A trained person can easily extract and capture such valuable metadata during preparation of an index.

Better Investments in Templates 

In today’s competitive market for legal services, firms must be able to demonstrate expertise, understand cost structure, price competitively, manage a pipeline of work, and recognize opportunitites for cross-selling. Core to all of these processes is leveraging the firm’s data, and it goes well beyond knowledge sharing.

In the age of need to know security, the argument asserting the inherent value of sharing prior work product without any limitations can no longer eclipse the security needs and demands of clients. Rather, firm leaders should take the opportunity to invest in the right technology to complement the new processes. This includes better data collection and management as well as automation of processes such as creation of forms for volume practices. This is an opportunity to improve data practices overall. Everything firms do today is related and can be tied-together with the same core data—and the mandates of need to know security just provide another opportunity for improvement.

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Creating and Using RSS in a Post-RSS World

There are a few things that have happened in this decade that I look at and think, "Man, I've gotten old." Things like trying to figure out why Kendrick Lamar is so popular, and hearing that OK Computer turns 20 years old this week are just natural progressions on life moving on, and newer things taking over. One thing that I still don't understand is how RSS feeds have fallen out of favor in the technology and information world. When Google Reader shutdown in 2013, that still makes me shake my head. RSS feeds and readers are such an easy and effective method of distributing information. But, apparently, I'm old, and can't see the future in the social media distributed content world. I feel like going out on to my porch and yelling at this concept to get off my lawn and bring back my wonderful RSS distribution processes!!

It may be a post-RSS world, but I'm not going out without a fight. There are many times where I've gone to websites that distribute information, but do not give you an option for using RSS to let you see new information as it is created. Luckily, I came across a handy tool that allows me to create RSS feeds myself.

Feed43 is a straightforward tool to create a free RSS feed out of almost any website. It takes a little bit of HTML or XML knowledge, but once you've set up a couple of feeds, it really isn't all that hard to master. They even have an advance interface to use to create the output template.

The way that Feed43 works is that it extracts the data via "HTML scraping" and looks for patterns within the code to pull back the relevant content. The content is then organized and the information is pulled together using output templates and forms a user-friendly feed. That feed is converted into a valid RSS feed on the fly and can be placed into your RSS reader application. In my case, it is placed within SharePoint pages to update current awareness tools. We also augment our news aggregator with these RSS feeds for sites that may normally be outside the scope of our aggregation system. Some news aggregators may do that for you, but even those that scrape webpages for new content, may benefit from this type of RSS creation because it limits the scope of the content it is processing. In other words, you're more in control of what is important on those pages.

I was thinking of drafting out a step-by-step instruction showing how to create your own RSS feed from a website, but luckily for both of us, Feed43 already did this for us. Here are some links that will help you understand how to create your own feeds:

Again, Feed43 takes a bit of playing around with to understand how it works, but once you've done a couple of feeds, it becomes much easier to set up new feeds.

If you have other RSS feed creators that you are using, please let me know.

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Sophisticated law departments should conduct onsite service delivery reviews of their law firms (yes, really)

"This is all very feudal, isn't it?"

I loved that quote. Unsurprisingly, it is about a law firm.

The nugget was relayed by a former lawyer now working at the global design firm IDEO whose presentation served as the exclamation point on a great ACC Legal Ops conference. The presenter, Sean Hewens, was recounting the IDEO team bringing design thinking to a law firm. Hewens himself, like his co-presenter, IDEO's GC Rochael Adranly, had lived the law firm life. But other team members were making first contact with our peculiar tribe. The keen insight came from a psychologist emerging from his maiden voyage into a partner's office.

There is much to unpack from law firm as feudal state. Fiefdoms. Vassalage. Rituals at court. Noblesse oblige. Responses to threats to the established order. I can't do the quote justice. I won't try. Instead I want to explore the event that engendered the observation. The IDEO team went onsite at a law firm to understand how lawyers work. It is a novel concept. More novel than it should be.

Site visits are de rigueur for IDEO. It is what they do, to the extreme. One designer spent the day as a patient in a hospital that had retained IDEO to help recalibrate their customer experience. He recorded the entire journey and played the footage for hospital executives. With a few brief interludes, the video showed hours upon hours of a blank white ceiling.

Actual experience is key to exercises in empathy, user stories, and mapping. Simply asking people what they do can be misleading. And not just because people lie to make themselves look better. And not just because people misremember to avoid cognitive dissonance. People are genuinely ignorant—in the neutral, non-pejorative sense indicating lack of information rather than lack of intellectual capacity or epistemic humility. They aren't doing things wrong on purpose. They do things wrong because they don't know any better.

IDEO provided a great example of this myopia. They were investigating medication routines. They asked an elderly woman whether she had any problems opening her pill bottles because, well, everyone has problems opening pill bottles. To their surprise, she responded that opening pill bottles was easy. In watching her routine, they learned just how easy and why. She was using an electric meat slicer to chop the tops right off.

In one sense, good for grandma. She macgyvered a solution to a genuine problem. But the result was less than ideal—permanently open pill bottles with knife-like plastic edges and off-label use of a machine centered around razor-sharp blades. Yet she'd acclimated to her suboptimal routine to the point where she did not recognize the opportunity for improvement. We all get locked into patterns. Interested outsiders can bring fresh eyes to issues that are so embedded that we've stopped regarding them as obstacles to be overcome.

Interested outsiders are often clients. Site visits are standard practice in managing complex supply chains. In different parts of their business, Walmart, Apple, Amazon, McDonalds, JP Morgan, et al. conduct site visits to understand how their suppliers operate. Toyota and the other Japanese automakers are particularly renowned for helping their suppliers improve their operations (more here and here).

Active engagement by large clients can have a material impact on supplier behavior. Indeed, one of the hottest areas in law is supply chain liability where companies are held liable for harms caused by their suppliers. Legal merits aside, the concept reflects the broad recognition of the economic reality that large corporate clients are central nodes in complex systems rather than individual consumers purchasing at retail.

This logic has been applied narrowly in the legal market. As I've written before, data-security audits were necessary for law firms to start bridging the knowing-doing gap.

For years, law firms made money advocating for audits of third parties who held sensitive client data. But law firms balked whenever it was observed that law firms were themselves third parties who held large quantities of sensitive client data. The law firms explained that they clearly knew the importance of data security—after all, clients were paying them for counsel on the topic. Further, the law firms cited all sorts of fiduciary duties around confidence and competence that compelled them to take data security seriously. These affirmative defenses actually worked, for a while.

Eventually, sophisticated clients determined they should trust but verify. The results were not pretty. Without mechanisms for transparency and accountability, law firms had a poorly calibrated incentive structure for making large capital investments in data security. Without institutional controls, individuals lawyers encountered the tradeoff between convenience and security that frequently bedevils us all. Many firms/lawyers were gliding along the path of least resistance.

Or, maybe more fairly, many firms/lawyers directed their finite attention to that which clients seemed to genuinely care about. For years, data security guidelines were buried in the more-honored-in-the-breach outside counsel guidelines. Meanwhile, in-house lawyers focused exclusively on ongoing matters. The external lawyers, unsurprisingly, responded by going above and beyond to get that work done quickly, competently, and comprehensively. Data security was an issue left for another day by both sides.

When the day of reckoning arrived, clients did not flee en masse (though the burden of data security audits are a part of the story behind insourcing and convergence initiatives). Instead, clients directed more of their own resources to shaping the way law firms secured sensitive data. The law firms responded in kind. We're nowhere near perfect. But we've gotten orders of magnitude better in a short period.

I hold out similar hope for diversity where years (decades?) of virtuous statements, policies, pledges, committees, task forces, etc. have not moved the needle. Finally, transparency and accountability are gaining traction.

Yet, as far as I know—and I would be grateful to be informed of my own ignorance on this point—I might be the only person who conducts site visits at law firms on behalf of law departments with an emphasis on legal service delivery. This despite the fact that law departments have been complaining about law firm service delivery for years. The presumption of competence that staved off data security audits does not apply.

This strikes me as odd. Law departments have paid me (and many others) to bring a fresh perspective to bear on their own legal service delivery. But, despite clear interdependencies and constant complaining, law departments seem to take minimal interest in how their law firms are creating systems for legal service delivery and leveraging expertise through process and technology. This runs counter to the economic logic that drives site visits in so many other areas of business. As Peter Drucker long ago explained:
The legal entity, the company, is a reality for shareholders, for creditors, for employees, and for tax collectors. But economically, it is fiction....
Knowing the cost of your operations, however, is not enough. To compete successfully in an increasingly competitive global market, a company has to know the costs of its entire economic chain and has to work with other members of the chain to manage costs and maximize yield. Companies are therefore beginning to shift from costing only what goes on inside their own organizations to costing the entire economic process, in which even the biggest company is just one link.*
This incongruity in the legal market ties back to last post where I lamented the missed opportunity of law departments failing to adopt a relational view with their law firms. Where I would not expect onsite service delivery reviews to be ubiquitous—as always, there is a cost—my worldview suggests they should be common for large, stable relationships between sophisticated law departments and their primary providers. They aren't. Per usual, my worldview leads to erroneous predictions of actual behavior. In another post, I will try to lay out why I think that I am right despite the market telling me I am wrong (for now).

D. Casey Flaherty is a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas. He is Of Counsel and Director of Client Value at Haight Brown & Bonesteel. He serves on the advisory board of Nextlaw Labs. He is the primary author of Unless You Ask: A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, written and published in partnership with the ACC Legal Operations Section. Find more of his writing here. Connect with Casey on Twitter and LinkedIn. Or email casey@procertas.com.

* Drucker, Peter F. (2009-10-13). The Essential Drucker (Collins Business Essentials) (p. 99-100). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition

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Freestyle Legal Practice: Inferior Lawyer + Technology Beats Expert Lawyer + Technology?

One of the best things that sometimes happens at professional conferences is when a speaker says something that makes you sit up and pay attention. That happened to me at the British Irish Association of Law Libraries (BIALL) meeting earlier this month when Nick West, Chief Strategy Officer for Mishcon de Reya LLP, paraphrased chess grand master Garry Kasparov and stated:
An intermediate chess player and a computer beats a Grand Master chess player with a computer.
Now for a little background on why that made me sit up and pay attention.

There's been so much buzz about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to replace so much of the legal industry, that it is overshadowing something that we've known in practice for over twenty-five years. Lawyers and technology have a symbiotic relationship that will continue to deepen as technology advances. Yes, some tasks that are now conducted by lawyers will eventually be completed by technology, but there will also be tasks that at this time can only be conducted by highly trained and experienced lawyers, that will someday soon be accomplished by intermediately experienced lawyers with the assistance of advanced technology. This isn't some amazing claim; it has happened already, and will continue to happen into the future.

I talked with Nick West after his presentation, and he pointed me to an article from Deloitte authored by Jim Guszcza, Harvey Lewis, and Peter Evans-Greenwood entitled, Cognitive Collaboration: Why Humans and Computers Think Better Together. In the article, the authors discuss that the concept of AI mimicking human thinking is a distraction from where the real value in "the ways in which machine intelligence and human intelligence complement one another." The concept that they believe needs more focus than AI is Intelligence Augmentation where "the ultimate goal is not building machines that think like humans, but designing machines that help humans think better."

I won't rehash what Guszcza et al, write in their article, but I do want to go back the Kasparov statement mentioned earlier, and how I see this applying to the legal field that could mean that an average or intermediate skilled lawyer and technology could be better than an expert lawyer, even if that lawyer had the same technology. First of all, let me state the actual quote from Gary Kasparov from his New York Review of Books article, "The chess master and the computer."
Weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.
Kasparov came to this conclusion after he held a "freestyle chess" match where any combination of computer and human chess players were allowed to compete. The result was that a couple of American amateur players using three computers simultaneously won over grand masters, even when the grand masters used state-of-the-art computers to aid them. Kasparov evaluated the amateurs won because they were "skill[ed] at manipulating and 'coaching' their computers to look very deeply into positions effectively counteracted the superior chess understanding of their grandmaster opponents and the greater computational power of other participants." In other words, they understood how to leverage the computers' to perform freestyle chess, and that skill proved greater than the skills needed to be a chess master playing freestyle chess.

Will the same concept apply to the legal field? I would say that the probability is very strong. The skills needed for the future lawyer, aren't necessarily the skills needed for an expert big law partner today. Those lawyers* who understand the legal concepts and applications and apply the proper technology using a superior process can be better, faster, and cheaper than the highly skilled lawyers who cannot or will not leverage that technology, or who cannot understand how to effectively leverage the application of that technology.

I would say that this is not a future concept, but rather one that arrived in the legal profession years ago. As William Gibson famously said, "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." There are already a number of "average" lawyers using technology and effective processes who are already out there. As the technology improves and helps additional average lawyers think better, it is going to be harder for expert lawyers to prove their value. The skills needed to win in Freestyle Legal Practice will be held by those that understand the roles played by the lawyer, the technology, and the process.

*The fact that I got this idea from attending a law library conference may mean that it's not just the average lawyer who may be the only ones able to leverage these skills.

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