8/14/17

"Do You Miss Me Yet?" - Reestablishing the Corporate Librarians

It almost never fails when I run into someone I used to work with. The conversation starts with "Hey... how's the law library world? It's gotta be tough with all those books being online now." (The implication being "aren't you worried about becoming irrelevant?") I reply with "Yeah, that makes it a whole lot more difficult to manage with all that information in a dozen different places than it did when it was a book in the library." I'm not sure who they think is managing the information which is usually behind a very expensive paywall. I would guess they either think that it is managed directly by the vendor, or worse, that the Information Technology department is now the de facto library managers.

One of the benefits I get from being the current President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is that I get to go to different types of meetings and engage with legal professionals who are not law librarians. These are law professors, recruiters, marketers, technology/security professionals, legal administrators, in-house counsel, and others in the legal industry. One of the questions that I've heard, especially from in-house and corporate lawyers is the fact that they need help managing their legal information. When I ask if they have a librarian or some type of specialized legal information professional, the answer is typically "no." When I prod further, I find that many corporations downsized or eliminated their corporate library staff during the Great Recession period. I don't think that is a surprise to many of us. Corporate libraries were devastated at the beginning of this decade. I think that is coming back to haunt some corporations.

This isn't to say all corporate libraries were eliminated. There are still many out there that are around and thriving. But, more often than not, most were severely affected by the economic downturn, and seen as an easy cost reduction because the corporate management saw libraries as books and space, and librarians as keepers of books and space. In reality, librarians are managers of information, and we have more information at our disposal than ever.

It is time for the corporations to rethink how they are managing their information. My rule of thumb for law firms is that somewhere between 1% to 2% of revenue is spent on external information resources. It's a guess on my part for corporations, but I wouldn't be surprised if that same rule of thumb applies to them. If there are no information professionals, such as a librarian, or an information analyst, managing these resources, then I would bet they are being mismanaged.

IT departments are not equipped to manage these types of vendor relations, nor are they experts at understanding what type of information best fits the corporate environment, and what alternative products are out there. Information professionals do.

Corporate lawyers may understand some of the valued resources that are needed for their departments, but do you really want your attorneys dealing with vendors, researching new products or updates to existing resources, and establishing training? Information professionals do.

Secretaries and Administrative Assistants are great people and wonderful at supporting the corporations. However, many are just not experienced in what it takes to plan and create a strategy for what the information needs are for the entire company, or even for an individual department. Information professionals do.

In this era of readily accessible information, we do not suffer from a lack of information resources, we suffer from an abundance of irrelevant information that looks on its surface to be relevant. Information professionals are your line of defense against the abundance of information, and are your due diligence agents for identifying the resources which best fit your needs and your budgets.

If you are one of those corporations who reduced your library staff because you thought "all those books are online now," it may be time to think about reestablishing those duties. I would suggest reaching out to a local library or law library association if you have one in your area. Or, get in touch with an organization like AALL, SLA, or other specialty library associations and have them point you to someone local who could advice you on where to start. That information is not going to manage itself, so step up and get the professional help you need to get your information resources under control, and part of your overall corporate strategy.

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8/10/17

“How Do You Document Real Life When Real Life Is Getting More Like Fiction Every Day? ”

I recently started a new job in a different building in downtown Toronto. I left law firms after working in firms for almost 15 years. Afraid I would miss law firm life, I thought binge watching Suits, would help remind me of my previous life.  As it turns out, the show is also filmed in my new office tower, so there was too much coincidence in it all to ignore the serendipity.  I am embraced Suits, and now Mike Ross (photo courtesy of usanetwork.com) and Harvey Spector occupy time in my brain alongside my daily work conversations about legal applications for artificial intelligence, how machine learning and natural language processing can be applied to legal due diligence, competitive intelligence, deal structure precedents and contract automation. I also spend time looking at research tools and platforms, those produced by Thomson Reuters for whom I work and others in the industry. I try to define use cases, articulate what I think to be the value in the market and understand how all of these products are shaping the future of both the practice and business of law.  And more often than I should, wonder if Mike Ross and/or Pearson Hardman use Practical Law checklists, Neota Logic solutions or Handshake software for example.  It  would make sense to me that a non-lawyer pretending to be a lawyer would use these or similar tools and we never actually see Mike doing anything other than research in very traditional ways.  More to the point it occurs to me very often, that regardless of where you sit on the “robots are coming for the legal profession” continuum whether you think it is happening tomorrow or never - you can't ignore that in the face of wanting (or being forced) to increase practice efficiency, the industry has created tools that are so sophisticated that someone without a law degree might be able to practice law. Would not having a law degree count as a form of "artificial intelligence" in the practice of law? Assuming you were able to actually get away with it in real life for as long a period as it seems Mike Ross can.

We know that in most jurisdictions, there is still a ban on non-lawyer ownership of firms and we know that para-professionals are doing more and more for clients who require legal services.  Alternative providers are disrupting the industry and incremental change is happening everyday. I firmly believe there won’t be a big bang but a slow and steady change to the way law is practiced and how the services are bought and sold. If I have learned anything reading this blog, it is that the legal industry is experiencing its industrial revolution moment in every possible way.


I haven’t watched all six or seven seasons of Suits yet, so please don’t spoil it for me, but the question of who could practice and provide legal advice always seemed sacred to me, a  (qualified) lawyer had to over-see the robots, go to court, and be sworn in as a judge, but maybe that too will change?  Could fiction become reality? 

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8/3/17

Convergence Initiatives and Panel Programs — What If The Data Says We're Wrong?

Self-reflection can easily become self-delusion. I’m either about to write something that runs counter to my own vested interests, or I’m preemptively defending those interests from unfriendly empirical evidence. I don’t know myself well enough to tell you which. Regardless, I’ve long believed most convergence initiatives waste considerable time for limited benefit despite the fact that I regularly consult on convergence initiatives.

[For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “convergence” is the prelude to a preferred provider, or panel, program. It is the consolidation process by which a law department selects their preferred providers. These initiatives can often reduce the number of firms used by 60% or more. While a few win big, hundreds of firms can lose a client in the process.]

I am saying this now because AdvanceLaw and 25 of their GC’s have forced my hand (see here, here, here, and here for more details on this fantastic undertaking; see here for my initial encounter with AdvanceLaw).

AdvanceLaw is publicly conducting a study of what works and what doesn’t with respect to outside counsel management. This includes convergence initiatives, which are part of my consulting business. I therefore feel compelled to lay down a marker.

AdvanceLaw is performing a mitzvah. I could not be more in on their bringing data-driven decision making to the retention and management of outside counsel. Yet I am moderately confident that their findings will not bolster my sales pitch (another instance where I would be ecstatic to be proven wrong).

I predict that they will find little-to-no correlation between convergence initiatives and satisfaction with outside counsel. That is, when AdvanceLaw comes out with a data-supported list of the approaches that drive the most perceived value for in-house counsel, convergence initiatives will not rank near the top.

And that is because convergence initiatives, in isolation, do not accomplish much. They are a stage-setting exercise. They are a precursor. To me, a finding that convergence does not deliver high independent value is like finding that the mere purchase of home exercise equipment or gym membership does not result in physical fitness.

To be fair, convergence can, on its own, confer some immediate administrative benefits. Reductions in the number of data security audits to be performed is a straightforward example. The fewer firms you use, the fewer firms you need to expend the resources to audit. There are many similar loads to be lightened, such as annual performance reviews, obtaining diversity data, socializing changes to the invoice submission protocol, etc.

And while I am as dubious as ever about ‘discounts’, convergence remains an excellent opportunity to leverage volume to reduce unit cost. Unfortunately, that is about as far as most corporate law departments take it.

I vividly recall speaking to the head of legal ops of a massive corporation that had just completed a similarly massive convergence program. She was quite proud of the rate concessions her department had extracted from the surviving firms. I had the audacity to ask her what the law department intended to do next. Now that they had preferred providers, how were they going to use the attendant leverage and administrative surplus to drive better business outcomes, deliver better legal service, and develop better relationships with their firms? She looked at me quizzically. For her, the preferred provider panel was the end state. For me, it was just the beginning.

My opinions on this topic are not exactly shrouded in secrecy. I bring a relational view to managing a supply chain that includes law firms and alternative legal service providers. I genuinely believe continuous improvement can be woven into the fabric of every primary supplier relationship. But I don’t believe in magic. Improvement does not occur spontaneously. It is a deliberate exercise requiring sustained attention over an extended time horizon. While beneficial, on net, real improvement initiatives consume finite resources, especially time and focus.

Costs matter. But I agree with Bill Henderson that we make a mistake by framing our challenges as a cost problem. At core, we have a productivity problem. If you think in terms of costs, then a process to secure greater discounts seems like a solution. If you think in terms of productivity, then discounts present as the sideshow they are. Rather, you concern yourself with creating and enhancing systems for legal service delivery. You see the value in regular, onsite service delivery reviews as a part of an ongoing, structured dialogue.

All credit to AdvanceLaw. They get it. The headline to this article warmed my little heart:



I am not alone. There are many convergence initiatives that proceed from the right premise, including many that have followed the path I advocate without my influence, let alone my involvement (see e.g., Avis, Barclays, and 7-Eleven). Indeed, in the last year, I have reviewed more than 40 preferred provider RFPs that I did not write. Some are better than others. But almost all of them include questions about value-related aspects of service delivery such as project management, analytics, technology, ALSPs, knowledge management, or automation.

Yet the sense I get from inside and outside counsel is that, in most cases, this remains lip service. The shared assumption is that these are box-checking exercises, the responses to which are not read. Even if they are read, the responses do not factor into retention decisions. And, after retention, the topics are never revisited. In short, there are no measurable improvements in service delivery that result from most convergence initiatives.

This is not pure waste. Even lip service affects norms. Asked the same variant of a question enough times, law firms might recognize the need to formulate a cogent response. They might even see the need for the behavioral changes that would underpin that response. Still, the lost opportunity is substantial.

My statement earlier about the AdvanceLaw data potentially hurting my sales pitch wasn’t quite accurate. My pitch already includes the observation that what follows the convergence initiative is far more important than the initiative itself (though the initiative should be designed to support the program that follows). Admittedly, you will still have to work really hard is not a great pitch. But it is an honest one. My real concern is that the AdvanceLaw data will result in fewer pitch opportunities.

That’s not a bad thing. We could use more discipline. Most law departments are interested in progress rather than committed to change. Progress is incremental. Change is transformative. Interest means you do it when it is convenient. Commitment means you do it even when it is hard. Too many precious hours are being wasted chasing headline-grabbing shiny objects like convergence or comprehensive AI solutions. AdvanceLaw’s data will not be the final word on what works. But it could prove to be the best first words: “Start Here”*
A personal anecdote to close: Many lives ago, I assisted a large corporation navigate state-level statutes that governed incentive payments to their retailers. The corporation ran national incentive programs that had to satisfy every idiosyncratic state-level law. Always too precocious for my own good, I once asked a VP why not do some A/B testing to determine what worked—i.e., run different incentive programs in different states to understand which approach drove the most incremental sales. He responded, “Son, I’ve been in this business 30 years, I know what works.”

As it happened, later that day, I was speaking to one of the VP’s direct reports. He could not help but express his incredulity at the utter stupidity of the way the company’s incentive program was designed. Apparently, he had advocated for a different approach. I asked him how he knew his alternative approach was superior. He replied, “Son, I’ve been in this business 30 years, I know what works.”
As stated, I could not be more supportive of what AdvanceLaw is attempting to do regardless of where the data comes out.
* I lifted the Start Here concept from a great new collaboration involving my friend John Grant and several other innovators.

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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.

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7/27/17

Predicting Case Outcomes: Polytopic-ness to Measure Procedural-ness

[Ed. Note: Please welcome guest blogger, Ravi Soni, data scientist from Casetext. I was introduced to Ravi by Casetext's Vice-President, Pablo Arredondo, and asked to publish Ravi's discussion on how he uses analytics at Casetext to determine if "the holding in a case is more procedural or more substantive," and how to leverage that information to potentially predict outcomes. - GL]

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One of the biggest constraints to innovation in legal research is how hard it is to scalably classify and quantify information without significant human intervention. At Casetext we’ve made real progress using advanced analytics to better leverage the wealth of content within the law to predict certain outcomes with more precision. The applications for this can range from anything between practice management, case strategy, or in my case, legal research. There is one such challenge I’m particularly interested in, namely, how to quantifiably determine whether the holding in a case is more procedural or more substantive.

I started with a collection of 47,464 briefs written by top law firms in the country. Using the citations and nature of suit (NOS) code associated with each brief, I was able to determine how many unique NOS codes were associated with each case. I defined this as how “polytopic” a case is. In other words, I counted all the unique NOS codes from the briefs that cited to each case and assigned that number as the polytopic score for each case. Ultimately, my goal was to use polytopicness as a proxy to measure proceduralness.

The idea behind using polytopicness to measure proceduralness comes from a simple concept. Let’s say we have a lawyer at an AmLaw 50 firm working on a massive M&A, a public defender in a small county appealing a death penalty verdict, and a boutique immigration firm working on a deportation case, and they all cite to the same case. What does this case have that all three of these attorneys found useful? The short answer is probably nothing substantive. What is more likely is that they are all citing to this case because it is a foundational case that sets the framework for some common motion that transcends practice area.

Let’s look at a concrete example. If I ask a roomful of lawyers if they know about A to Z Maintenance Corp. v. Dole 710 F. Supp. 853 (D.D.C. 1989), it’s quite unlikely that any of them would be able to tell me much, or anything at all. If I asked about a case like Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly 550 U.S. 544 (2007), any attorney in the room should be able to tell me how it changed the standards for dismissal. Looking at Figure 1, we can see how there is a difference in citation count and polytopic score between these two procedurally distinct cases.


In this example comparing these two metrics clearly show a difference between the procedural and substantive case – but does this hold for all cases in the data set? 

To find the answer, I first looked at the average number of citations per distinct polytopic score, as seen in Figure 2. To clarify what that means, I’ll use the point at roughly (50, 2500) as an example. This point can be translated to the following: Cases that have a polytopic score of 50 will on average be cited for a total of 2500 times in the briefs data set. The fact that it is a positive slope is intuitive and somewhat trivial; since a case that has a polytopic score of 5, must have been cited at least 5 times. The interesting piece here is the exponential growth, which means that proportionally, the cases that have a higher polytopic score will have a higher citation count. This finding was the first bit of evidence used to confirm our initial assumptions.



Next, I wanted to see what the distribution of polytopic scores look like in order to better understand how many cases are monotopic, bi-topic, etc. To do this, I aggregated the count of cases based on polytopic score (see Figure 3). Easily we can see that most cases in our brief data set are mono or bi-topic. However, when looking closer at the NOS codes (there are 102 in total) it seemed like some of the NOS codes could have been clustered together to make larger groups. For instance, there were codes like Personal Injury: Other, Personal Injury: Marine, Personal Injury: Automotive, etc. that could have been grouped together to make our groups more distinct from one another. As such, after grouping it seemed like any case that is associated with a polytopic score of 6 or more could be considered more procedural.


Although looking at polytopic score is useful, there are some corner cases where this metric would fail in measuring proceduralness. For instance, if a case has a polytopic score of 7, and it has only been cited 7 times ever, then to say it is procedural may not be correct. This is due to the fact that such a small number of citations may not be enough to give us an accurate polytopic score. As such, we need to account for how often cases are cited and adjust the polytopic score accordingly. Looking to Figure 4 we can see the overall distribution of case citations to better understand how often cases are cited. Figure 4 specifically looks at cases that have been cited at least once. 

Here, we can see that roughly half of all cited cases are cited less than 20 times. (In the same light, of the 8.99 million total cases that make up the common law, 5.65 million or about 63% have never been cited at all.) Using this citation information and the polytopic score for each case, I was able to distill an updated polytopic score that accounted for the number of times a case is cited. 

With the help of lawyers, I was able to manually go through 10% of cases that were most procedural and 10% of cases that were most substantive based on our polytopic scoring. I used this to determine whether or not this measurement was accurate in determining if a case is procedural or not. Overall, our assumptions were verified and we can say with some confidence that using polytopicness is a reliable measure of proceduralness for a case. For reference, here are the 10 cases that were shown to be the most procedural. 

ASHCROFT V. IQBAL 556 U.S. 662 (2009)
BELL ATL. CORP. V. TWOMBLY 550 U.S. 544 (2007)
CELOTEX CORP. V. CATRETT 477 U.S. 317 (1986)
ANDERSON V. LIBERTY LOBBY, INC 477 U.S. 242 (1986)
MATSUSHITA ELEC. INDUSTRIAL CO. V. ZENITH RADIO 475 U.S. 574 (1986)
LUJAN V. DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE 504 U.S. 555 (1992)
CONLEY V. GIBSON 355 U.S. 41 (1957)
DAUBERT V. MERRELL DOW PHARMACEUTICALS, INC 509 U.S. 579 (1993)
KOKKONEN V. GUARDIAN LIFE INS. CO. OF AMER 511 U.S. 375 (1994)
FOMAN V. DAVIS 371 U.S. 178 (1962)

While this analysis has shown a strong relationship between polytopicness and procedurality, there is still some fine tuning needed to address the small subset of corner cases. The next step in continuing forward with this would be to see how clustering of NOS codes could be used to further refine the polytopic score. In the same light, this analysis has also opened up different avenues to explore. Some of which include, looking at different relationships between a brief and the cases they cite, how citation counts for cases differ in briefs and court opinions, or if we can predict what a case is about using substantive citations in the case documents. 

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to send me an email at ravi@casetext.com.

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Ravi Soni is a recent University of California, Berkeley graduate with a degree in Applied Mathematics. He is currently working as a Data Scientist at Casetext Inc., a legal technology company using AI to enhance legal research. Prior to joining Casetext, Ravi spent some time at other legal technology companies and worked as a legal assistant at a boutique IP firm where he focused on trademarks.


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7/26/17

Now I Want a ChatBot!

One of the highlights of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) conference in Austin this year was the Innovation Tournament which pitted three librarians' tech innovations against each other. With two prizes, each worth $2,500, up for grabs, the competition was pretty tough. There was a scanning project management innovation, a Virtual Reality presentation preparedness tool, and an innovative ChatBot for legal information assistance. The ChatBot really caught my attention as something that I would love to test out on a local level.

We've all probably seen ChatBots either on Facebook, or when we go to ask for customer service with our favorite online retailers. The idea is pretty simple in that it basically automates many of your frequently asked questions (FAQs) into an interactive chat session. From requesting a maintenance man out to fix your dishwasher to ordering a pizza, ChatBots are out there to handle repetitive tasks.

Imagine the FAQs for law libraries that a ChatBot could help answer.

  1. Point to practice groups specific materials
  2. Pull cases 
  3. Reset passwords 
  4. Identify book locations on a shelf in the office 
  5. [fill in the blank]
I would guess that pretty much anything that you have on your library portal page as a frequently answered question could be leveraged into a ChatBot.

There has to be a good role that vendors could play in helping law librarians out with some of these features. I can see where a citation pull could go directly into a Westlaw, Lexis, Fastcase, etc. citation box and retrieve the material automatically. Passwords could be reset through an API connection either directly from the vendor, or if you are using a content management system (CMS) like Research Monitor or OneLog, you could verify the person's identity and recover the password from your CMS. The ChatBot could interface with the library catalog and use the wealth of content knowledge contained there to quickly isolate materials the attorney needs. It could even point out that obscure print material that you've kept updated for just this specific occasion. 

There is a great opportunity for a collaboration on the local level for the IT departments and the Law Library to create ChatBots which highlight the functionality of the organization's web portal. There is also an opportunity for law librarian and legal information vendor collaboration for quickly pointing people to the right resources at the right moment. I understand that there are a number of logistical issues regarding whether ChatBots are locally hosted or cloud-based; is it only available on the local network, or can it be an app on the lawyers' phones; and how do we work with the different variations of ChatBot platforms that are out there? Even with all these issues, I still think there is a great opportunity here for those willing to blaze a trail with using ChatBots in their law libraries. 


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