It's hard to believe that 2 months have passed since our " Westlaw Legal Research Best Practices at Dykema" sessions. As promised, here is the full story.
Our Chief Operating Officer has an executive assistant; a partner transitioning into retirement. That partner works as a liaison between the practice groups and the COO, particularly for expense review; chalk it up to the economy. One of the most successful partners was shocked by the cost of a Westlaw search,done by an Associate. He started an email discussion in the Litigation Group which quickly reached the exec assistant partner. Three of the most successful partners in the firm quickly joined in. All three are avid Library users. I'm happy to say that it wasn't long before everyone recommended "Get the Library's help."
The decision to not include the Westlaw reps was based on a couple of issues. The partners wanted all Associates to feel free to ask any questions they wanted and not feel stupid. They knew the Librarians would give specific examples to illustrate each research tip. The partners also wanted us to be able to cite specific firm policies, possibly something more sensitive in nature- which we might not do with a vendor present. We have a great relationship with our Westlaw reps. They knew the decision wasn't a criticism of their work. In fact, they helped us write the program.
We divided the program into 2 parts. I spoke about the subscriber agreement, and how it really isn't a flat-fee contract despite what your billing attorney may tell you. The reference librarians addressed the specific tips, and how they do a search in Westlaw. We had more than a dozen questions, and took the time to give detailed answers. We wanted to be sure that each question got a clear answer.
Of course, it was a big success: attendance was 100%. (Remember, this was a mandatory program. Attendance was taken- food was served!) As I review the monthly search reports out of QuickView, I can tell that the effort paid off. We also had feedback from both partners and Associates. The partners want this program to be mandatory for summer associates, and for the fall associates- even if it's a repeat for them. Associates are calling us for guidance before they start a complex project.
We use some of the material as part of orientation for lateral hires.
My thoughts are that Dykema is a trailblazer in the area of making sure that Associates use resources efficiently. Although it may seem extreme to make all of the Associates attend mandatory training, it really shouldn't be seen as extreme at all. USING RESOURCES LIKE WESTLAW OR LEXIS IS EXPENSIVE... TURNING UNTRAINED ASSOCIATES LOOSE ON THESE RESOURCES IS IRRESPONSIBLE!!! The first training slide in the presentation lays out the fact that the firm does not have a "FLAT FEE CONTRACT" with Westlaw... and that the firm is charged for each and every search conducted. The idea of a flat fee contract is a holdover from the Associate's law school days, and it is one of the most difficult things that the law firm librarian has to break in the Associate's head.
In the presentation that Dykema presents, it lists out 17 points that help the Associates become better researchers. None of the 17 points are earth shattering ideas... but, if you've never been trained, or you've gotten sloppy in how you conduct research, it was good to be reminded of these simple ideas. It lists the "do's" and the "don't's" of research and specifically lists some things to stay away from (e.g., 50 State Survey Reports at $250.00 a pop...) But perhaps the best slide came with the idea of "Talk to the Experts!!" The slide points out that there is no additional charge for contacting the Westlaw reps or research attorneys for help... it also points out there there are experts on staff in the library that should be contacted as well. I'm glad to see that these points were taken to heart by the Associates and they are now contacting the research experts in their library before jumping into a complex project. That alone shows the benefits that Dykema is reaping from requiring all of its Associates to attend the training.
I give all of those at Dykema that are responsible for initiating, conducting and following up on this training a big round of applause for showing the rest of us the need that exists and a way to take on the challenge through educating those that need help. I hope that all firms learn from this and start working on their own training sessions to improve the way their Associates conduct research.
I love the last slide in the presentation... which dovetails nicely with the Einstein image above. Remember: it is called Research for a reason.