4/30/10

Thomson Reuters Legal COO on New Philippine Office: "it's not legal outsourcing. We're hiring and training them as our employees"

Well, at least now we can assume we know where a lot of those 132 jobs at Banks-Baldwin are going to wind up. According to the Philippine Business Mirror, Thomson Reuters Legal (TR Legal) is using its 275 employee Taguig City, Philippines office as a launching pad. According the article, the Filipino office will be where the "data are processed, codified, proofread, analyzed and validated by Filipino employees and packaged as products for the customers in print, digital or online format."

Outsourcing to India and the Philippines is not new, even for TR Legal. I did find it interesting to see the wording that TR Legal COO Vin Caraher used when describing what they are doing.  Caraher said that this office is "not legal outsourcing. We're hiring and training them as our employees." Granted, this is not legal outsourcing, but the semantics of the discussion are probably pretty hard to hear from those at Banks-Baldwin who are watching their jobs go to overseas offices. It's also got to sting when they also read from Caraher that TR Legals expansion in the Philippines "reflects our commitment to growing our capabilities in the Philippines. The work being done at this site by our highly skilled and talented team is critical to our global content operations, and in supporting legal professionals around the world."  John Elstad, Senior VP of Legal-Editorial Operations, seemed to go a little further in his comments than TR Legal usually does when discussing the work performed at its off-shore operations by saying that they don't just gather data, but analyze the data and "add value to it."

It seems that legal editorial work has gone the way of manufacturing and is making its way out of the United States and off to India and the Philippines. Again, not a shocking statement... we've all watched this trickle away for years now. This is just one more chapter in the ever shrinking legal publishing market, and the race to find the cheapest labor pool. Perhaps the good new will be that will all the savings that TR Legal is getting through moving positions overseas, perhaps we'll see a drop in the price of their products?? If not, then how are we, the customer benefiting??

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Libraries and KM: Can't We All Just Get Along??

This week has seen a great string of blog posts that discuss the relationship between Librarians and Knowledge Management professionals. I'm going to give you a reading list below (read them throughly, there will be a test!). As I read through these posts, a slightly morphed quote from Will Rogers kept popping into my head... "I'm not part of any organized profession. I am a Law Librarian." Let's face it, the term "Librarian" can bring up a range of legitimate categories that others place us in...  from "book shelvers" to "catalogers" to "researchers" to "collection development'ers'" along with a dozen or more other categories. As Mary Abraham states, "Consider that 25 years ago, an information professional was a librarian and during the last 15 years, knowledge managers have become the information professionals du jour."

The title of "Information Professional" or "Knowledge Worker" is no longer owned by the library, and I think this frustrates a lot of librarians (myself included) whose talents for managing information bleeds over into the area of what is perceived now as Knowledge Management. The area that Nick Milton's graph identifies as the "Explicit Knowledge" (that information that is created and organized within the firm) is where the battle seems to be taking place. But, I agree whole-heartedly with Nick and Nina Platt that KM and Libraries either stand together with a common goal and take advantage of the talents we each bring to the table, or we all get marginalized.

KM and Librarians are all under the pressure of "taking the human out of the process." The biggest strengths for both of us is the human analysis we bring to what we do. Many of the powers-that-be think that they can slap a Google Search Engine on some huge internal database and magically organize all the data that flows in and out of the firm. Both KM and Librarians are walking on the edge of a very sharp sword where we have to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of how we organize and manage information (external and internal), while at the same time being asked to look for ways that automation basically reduces the number of people we need to do our jobs. That's a tough job to do when you're working together... fighting over that sliver of turf in the middle makes it that much harder.

Reading List:
  • Reflection on KM and Libraries in Law Firms
    When the library is under the KM folks, the library tends to be marginalized.
  • Librarians vs Knowledge Managers?
    How much [library marginalization] was due to difficult personalities or bad management?
    Is there something in the law firm “caste system” that makes it challenging for lawyers and non-lawyers to work together?
    Do librarians respond differently than knowledge managers? If so, is this due to personality type or training?
  • KM and Content Management, The Turf War
    Either [KM & Libraries] sit in one team...or we have two teams but with a common framework and aligned strategies. We don't fight each other, as this puts both content management and KM equally at risk.
  • Content Catalysts
    [I]n an effort to shift the conversation, I’d propose to expand the roles available for information professionals.   What if we were to add a new category:  Content Catalysts?
  • Musings on the Librarian’s Role in Knowledge Management in Law Firms
    I have always said that librarians will be employed in law firms for a long time to come and have never been too concerned with those who have been painting a darker picture.  Lately, I’ve been doubting my stand on this topic and have been become more and more concerned with our future.
  • Catalog Content Not People
    At the end of the day, it’s critical to know what work needs to be done and then assign the right people to the task based on their talent, experience, temperament and inclination.  That is a far better approach than to match people to tasks on the basis of labels or stereotypes.
  • Knowledge Managers, Librarians, Practice Support, and Business Analysis
    My guess is that in a decade, BigLaw will have more clearly defined business process experts and analysts and a range of practice support professionals. Some of the them will do KM and library work; some will be KM professionals or librarians.

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4/29/10

"Daily on Twitter" - Creating Newspaper-Like Results from Other's Twitter Feeds

A couple weeks ago, Bob Ambrogi (who has a great looking new site, by the way) reviewed Paper.li, a resource that creates a newspaper-like result out of specific Twitter accounts. Paper.li, or "Daily on Twitter" as they call it, does some pretty cool things, including automatically categorizing tweets into topics (Technology, Travel, Health, Crime, etc.) The resulting page also has embedded video and pictures, which partially satisfied my need for "The Daily Prophet" type interaction. I have to say that I really like what I've seen so far, and have a few "advanced features" that you might want to test out for yourself.

About six months ago, we reviewed another Twitter-To-Newspaper site called Twitter Times. I still use it almost everyday in order to catch up with those folks out there that I follow. Right off the bat, however, I noticed that Paper.li offered some advanced features that Twitter Times doesn't (create a paper based on a hashtag "#" for example).

Make Use of the Hard Work of Others (The Work Smarter, Not Harder Approach)

First of all, you can "Daily on Twitter" someone else account. Why would you want a "Daily on Twitter" of someone else's Twitter account? One obvious reason is that there a some people out there that have a very focused use of Twitter.  Say they only follow what Law Firms are tweeting; or the only follow topics of politics; or they only follow issues like technology or health. With Paper.li, you can take advantage of all their hard efforts and have a daily synopsis of what issues they are discussing or reading.  Let me give you an example of how this feature would work using the topic of "Health".

The first thing I'd want to do is look at Paper.li's "Health Topic" page to see who the "big players" are that already have a "Daily on Twitter" set up. Right off the bat, I found someone that fits the profile I'm looking for by the twitter name of @hxjournprof.


I click on her "Daily on Twitter" feed, and I narrow that down even more by going to the "Health" section of the paper and clicking the "Health" link to take me directly to the health section.  Right away I see this is a gold mine of Health Topic information and I book mark this page to return to later. If I wanted to, I could actually have Paper.li send me an email notification (via the "notify me" link) letting me know when the page has been updated (usually every 24 hours).


How great is that??  I've just taken advantage of all the work that an expert in this particular topic has compiled (hope you didn't mind, Christy!!), and now I have a quick and easy way of keeping up with all that information in one handy place! I think my Dad calls this the "work smarter, not harder" technique. One thing to remember is that the topics are limited, and are automatically generated.  This means that you don't have a great amount of flexibility, and things tend to get mis-labeled based on the limitations of Paper.li's taxonomy algorithm.

Create a Newspaper Focused on Particular Twitter Accounts


This approach is something that can be really useful if you set it up correctly. Let's say that you want to create a Daily on Twitter newspaper based solely on law firms that use Twitter. What I did was set up a separate Twitter account (@amlaw100) and followed a bunch of active law firm twitter accounts. I cheated by going to some twitter lists that I knew of, and just went through and followed the active firms. Within a few minutes, I had about 70 firms that I was following. Then I went back to Paper.li and created a "Daily on Twitter" of law firms. Easy as pie! Now I have a single page I can go to and easily read what the law firms are tweeting about. It's a nice looking format, and I can share it with others if I wanted... like I'm sharing it with you right now!!



Limits of Paper.li

  • Paper.li is still in Alpha testing, so they could actually pull this at any time, or completely re-write how they set up the results. So don't get upset if either of these happen, as that's part of "Alpha testing". 
  • You're limited to 3 "Daily on Twitter" papers that you can create. This is based on you giving Paper.li access to your Twitter account... if you have more than one Twitter account, each one can have up to three.
  • Paper.li cannot index "private" Twitter accounts (make sense to me.)
  • Topics are limited and controlled by Paper.li
  • Results are automatically indexed under topics based on Paper.li's taxonomy, and a lot of results can be mis-labeled, or simply not placed under a topic at all.
Even with all of these limitations, Paper.li definitely has some use for people that like their information in an easy-to-read and easy-to-access format. I highly recommend that you go give it a test drive and see if it is something that you find as useful as I do.

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Will Other Firms Centralize Administrative Departments? Cities Are Paying Cash to Those That Will!

One of the big questions that rolled around in my head about WilmerHale's centralization of their Administrative Departments into one Ohio office was "How can they afford to move all these people and relocate to a place where they don't have an existing office??"  Well, it turns out that the State of Ohio, Montgomery County, and the city of Kettering are laying out huge cash grants and tax credits to lure WilmerHale to the Dayton suburb.  According to the Manufacturers Group Inc.:
(WilmerHale) has been awarded a 65 percent job creation tax credit for an eight-year term as a result of the company’s project in the City of Kettering (Montgomery County). The value of the tax credit is estimated at $1,456,570 over the term, and the company would be required to maintain operations at the project site for at least 11 years. WilmerHale has more than 1,000 lawyers, with offices in 12 cities in the United States, Europe, and Asia. WilmerHale provides legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of its clients. This $3.4 million project is expected to create 187 jobs. (emphasis added)
The Springfield News-Sun also mentioned the large cash and tax incentives that WilmerHale got for moving its folks from New York, Boston and Washington DC:

There was also a list of financial incentives, most significantly a $1.46 million job creation tax credit approved Monday, April 26, by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority.
The Montgomery County Commission approved a $250,000 economic development grant April 20, and the city of Kettering and Miami Valley Research Foundation each pledged $500,000 in support. (emphasis added)
I've actually got to tip my hat to the WilmerHale partners like Jay Westcott for taking advantage of a down economy and governments that are willing to pay you to move to their towns. According to the Springfield News-Sun, Westcott looked at 32 cities for the centralization and the Dayton suburb apparently struck the right deal with the firm.  Westcott said, "Of all the places we looked, this was the place we were most comfortable, that had a strong labor pool and really a very cooperative group of people who worked with us."

In an area that has businesses like LexisNexis, NCR there has to be a great labor pool.  I'm sure that the fact that their moving into the old Deloitte Consulting offices along with a few million dollars in grants and tax incentives made the move a no-brainer.

Everyone knows that BigLaw is notorious for being a "monkey-see, monkey-do" industry. If WilmerHale shows that local governments are willing to pony up millions of dollars for a couple hundred jobs, then it can be assumed that more firms will start to centralized their operations. Firms will no longer need to house administrative employees in Class-A real estate offices in high-cost cities.  Soon you might find that many of your IT or Accounting staff is located in cities like Kettering, Ohio, or Tupelo, Mississippi, or Lincoln, Nebraska. Places where economic times are tough and the states are betting that paying millions for a few hundred jobs now can help their struggling economies rebound out of the current recession.

The WilmerHale deal is for ten years.  This makes me think of those Wal-Mart incentives that cities give for a few years, and then after they expire Wal-Mart looks to the next city for another deal and leaves the initial town with an empty building.  Perhaps firms can leverage these few hundred jobs every few years and find local governments willing to pay them to come to town. Get ready to 'centralize'!!

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4/28/10

New Associates and Their "Emotional Intelligence" Demands

I ran across a great article this morning which stresses how "Emotional intelligence is the new benchmark to a successful legal career."  Alison Bernard and Niki Kopsidas of Fried Frank collaborated on the article "How High Is Your 'EI'?" in the New York Law Journal's "Special Report: Law Schools". Bernard and Kopsidas lay out a path for law students to follow to help them traverse the additional elements that law firms are now looking for in their incoming associates. Firms are starting to look beyond a high class ranking at an Ivy League law school when looking at candidates.
To be a successful attorney in this economy, it is imperative to not only be an expert in a legal field, but to also offer superlative client service and maintain client relationships.
The article goes on to discuss what law firm recruiters need to start focusing on when interviewing candidates.  Grades and pedigree are starters, but other factors such as "social and emotional competencies... being flexible, adaptable, creative, empathetic, self-aware, optimistic, confident and self-motivated, and the ability to persevere, exert self-control, display good judgment, influence and get along with others" are critical to seeing the candidate's potential.

Skipping over the what do to during interviews and while in law school sections, I liked how the article finished on what associates need to focus on when they actually start working. There are a number of opportunities for new lawyers to work on their 'hard skills' through the firm's professional development training in order to learn the "practicing law" part of the job (although as we mentioned this week, sometimes a little 'retraining' needs to take place). Bernard and Kopsidas stress that new associates should also work to develop those "soft skills" that "cover how to be a professional at a client service organization."

I'd argue that many firms don't stress "hard" or "soft" skills enough. Many times it seems that the process of training is to push associates into the deep end of the pool and expect them to start swimming. Other professional services, such as the big four accountant firms, have training that goes on for weeks before they allow their new employees to start working on their clients' matters. Perhaps this model should start working its way over from the BigFour to BigLaw.

Even though this article was written from the perspective of a law firm Director of Attorney Development and a Director of Legal Recruitment, you could apply most of the ideas across almost any industry that provides a service to its customer.

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Google Helps Find Webpage "Relations"

The Official Google Blog mentioned that they are bringing one of their features out of the shadows in order to help searchers find sites that are related to those in the search result. According to the post, Google has actually:
offered a "Similar" feature on results for a while now as a way to discover new, useful sites, but it hasn't been too visible. Since we've been continuously improving this feature and we think it's really useful, we're now going to start showing these alternative sites more prominently. Starting this week, for queries where similar sites are likely to be helpful, we’ll display a list of "Pages similar" at the bottom of the results page.
So when you do a search now, some of your results will now have a "Similar" link next to the handy "Cached" link.


The current search is then re-ran and sites with similar content are supposed to appear.  I tested it out briefly this morning and liked what I saw.
For those of us "advanced" searchers, we can manipulate what Google's doing here to help in other ways.  Say for example that you want to find sites that are "Similar" to 3 Geeks...  simply type in this search:
related:geeklawblog.com
The resulting search will show you other blogs that have similar content to us. This type of searching can be helpful for Competitive Intelligence Analysts that find unique websites and want to see others that are like it... or are looking for competitors of a certain company.  For example, if I type in "related:dlapiper.com", I get a listing of other BigLaw firms.  If I type in "related:westlaw.com", I get a list of legal research websites... and so on, and so on.
This is a pretty useful option that Google is giving a second chance. If you're wanting to find your website's relations, then the "related:" option from Google is something you'll want to test out.

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4/27/10

WilmerHale Takes "Centralization" to the Next Level

Very interesting press release from WilmerHale yesterday announcing that this September they are opening a 187 employee "Business Service Center" in Dayton, Ohio. WilmerHale is moving existing employees from their current offices (along with some new hires) to handle the administrative support functions for the following areas:

  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Information Technology
  • Operations
  • Document Review and Management
  • Practice Management
The idea behind the centralization is to "provide improved efficiencies for administrative teams and the firm, and reduce significant operational expenses." 
I did notice that other departments -- Library, Knowledge Management, Marketing, Business Development to name a few-- missed the cut to be included in this consolidation of administrative functions. At least they missed it this time around. It makes me think whether these departments could actually work under a centralized method that is outside any of the actual offices that house lawyers??  Quite frankly, I can see a strong argument for both sides. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these WilmerHale departments eventually winding up in Dayton.
I do have one suggestion for WilmerHale to rethink the name they've given to this centralization project...  don't be surprised if those that you're asking to relocate, or those attorneys that have to deal with the logistics of a remote staff end up calling the "Business Service Center", the "BS Center".  
[Update 4/28]
According to the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun, WilmerHale was offered a $1.46 million job creation tax credit, and there will be $1.25 in City and County "economic development grants" to support this move.
That answers the "how can they afford to move so many people" question...
The new WilmerHale Business Services Center facility is actually in Kettering and previously housed Deloitte Consulting.

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Discounts versus Rates - What's that price again?

After seeing and hearing too many fee discussions about discounts - a new thought clicked in my head. Clients are negotiating on discounts, not rates. The actual rates might matter with a wide a variation, but in most circumstances when clients push on law firms, it's not on the absolute rates, but instead it's about how big is the discount.
Upon reflection, there is a logic of sorts to this method. In-house counsel get pressure from management to cut legal fees. The simplest, most direct and seemingly logical message to bring back to management: We increased the discount by X% (which might be interpreted as - our legal fees will go down by X% this year).
The problem is - you can't and shouldn't make that leap of faith about savings . Even if the client/in-house lawyer keeps a close tab on hours billed (not the highest value task IMHO), then the absolute rate is what should matter - not the discount.
My suggestion to clients: If you want to maximize the return on your efforts with hourly billing, instead of talking discounts, focus your negotiations on rates.

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4/26/10

"If the Client Has to Ask, You Just Lost Them"

Over lunch Greg and I were watching a new waiter be trained in how to best serve diner clients. The Mentor was giving constant feedback to the Trainee. At one point the Trainee had just walked past a table when the Mentor asked if the customers at the table needed more water. The trainee responded: "They haven't ask for more water."
The Mentor did his best to contain himself and very succinctly stated, "If the customer has to be the one to ask, you just lost them." He explained that customers do not want to beg for service, they just expect it and are willing to reward it. Without this service, which the Mentor described as "reading their minds," the customer will not be coming back.
Lesson: If your clients have to ask you for AFAs, you have already lost them. Or at a minimum you may be well down the road to losing them.

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Inefficient Westlaw Searches Causes One National Firm to Hold Mandatory Training for Associates

A memo (see snippet below) was sent out to all associates at one national firm last week mandating any associate that "utilizes or intends to utilize Westlaw" to attend a training session to learn the firm's "Best Practices". I'm actually glad to see that a firm has stepped up and created a "Best Practices" manual for using resources like Westlaw, and is using the professional staff in the library to do the training (rather than having the Westlaw rep come in and do it for them.)
Training is "supposed" to be an ongoing event for the firm, especially on a product like Westlaw that can be one of the biggest expenses for the firm. But, let's be honest... how many associates attend the weekly or monthly training sessions held in the library? Probably very few. What firms are left with then are self-taught associates that probably do not understand the difference between an in-contract search versus an out-of-contract search... or how cost recovery even works. I'm sure many of us have heard someone ask "it's all in our Westlaw contract, right? Therefore it doesn't cost the firm for me to use it, right?" And then watch their eyes glaze over when you explain what each search costs the firm, and how the firm eats the costs of their searches that are not billable to a client.
Training is one of the areas that has been hardest hit in the library, especially after the Great Recession put the squeeze on firms. When you basically turn associates loose on expensive resources like Westlaw or Lexis without giving them the proper training, then you're asking for trouble. But like most things in a law firm, the problem has to explode before anyone will take it seriously. Creating "Best Practices" document (it should be written down, you know!!), is a great start. However, this problem of poorly trained associates didn't happen overnight, and it won't be solved over a one-hour lunch program either.
I'm hoping that the associates walk away from this lunch training with a better understanding of how the firm's contract with Westlaw works, how the client is billed (or not billed) for the work, what additional costs can be incurred through poor researching techniques, and the email and phone numbers of the folks in the library to contact the next time they have questions on how to use Westlaw properly.

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LexisNexis' Share of the Shrinking Legal Publishing World


Just to prove that Thomson Reuters isn't alone in its quest to gobble up the legal publishing market, I thought that I'd put together a list of Reed Elsevier mergers (LexisNexis' Parent Corp.)  Again, the mergers are uploaded to a Google Docs spreadsheet for anyone to download and add play with in your own spreadsheets.  Of course, I wouldn't have thought to pull this together if it weren't for Sarah Glassmeyer's inspiration.  Kudos also to David Curle for his revenue perspective of legal publishing mergers.

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4/23/10

Automate Your Web Browser with iMacros Plug-in

If you've ever wondered if there is a program out there that can automate some of the processes you need to do through a web browser, then iMacros from iOpus is the plug-in you need. Believe it or not, I used to program web browser macros using the Visual Basic for Applications program in Microsoft Word. It was time consuming and a pain to program, but a few hours of setting up a macro saved me days of time when I had to do data entry of thousands of records that had to be type in by hand, one at a time, through a web browser. Fortunately, I don't have to remember Visual Basic commands like "Dim htm As IHTMLDocument2" or "TextBox1.Text = WebBrowser1.LocationURL".  Now I can use the iMacros plug-in to set up the macro for me.

So you may be thinking of why you might need to have a macro plug-in for your web browser. Let me give you a couple of examples.

  1. Those darn forms that have 15 text box fields (14 of which are generic, but still need to be filled in) and only one of them that is unique. Think of a UPS form, a new matter opening form, an InterLibrary Loan form, or a research request form that you have to fill out multiple times. Instead of typing in your name, address, blah, blah, blah... you can record a macro using iMacros (right in your browser), and then have it automate all those repetitive steps for you.  
  2. Those darn websites that you need to run a search in everyday because they don't have an 'alert' feature that would do it for you. This works especially well for those databases that you access through your public library. Instead of having to re-run the same search manually, set up the iMacros to go to the sight, log you in, go to the right database, run the search and then either copy or email you the results.

The iMacros plug-in is available for IE, FireFox, and now for Chrome (my favorite!!). There is also a stand alone version that does much more complex web macros, like update from Excel or Access tables (free 30-day eval, then $49.00 - $499.00 depending upon version). There is even enterprise versions that start at $699.00 and goes up to $4999.00.

iMacros are fun to play with and create, but really can save you a lot of time on certain projects if you set them up right. Go take a look at some of the demos to see some of the features that iMacros offers.

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4/22/10

Graphing the Shrinking Legal Publishing World


Hats off to Sarah Glassmeyer for graphing out the shrinking legal publisher market in a way that really shows how much consolidation has been going on over the past 30+ years (see the full graph).  Glassmeyer lists out the three big publishers (Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier, and Wolters Kluwer) and show how much of the market that these big players have gobbled up.

The list is primarily showing the actual print publishers like Banks-Baldwin (which was shut down by Thomson Reuters last week.)  I thought I'd have a little fun and add in some of the other legal products that have also been gobbled up. It was a heck of a project, so I just did the Thomson Reuters mergers and put it out on a Google Docs page so that anyone can copy and paste it into their own spreadsheets if they want.  [note: you'll need to do some re-formatting when you put it into your own spreadsheet.]

I'm sure that I missed many of the mergers that have taken place, but it gives you a visual on how much the market is shrinking under a few umbrellas. On the other hand, there are still a lot of upstarts out there that are entering the market all the time, so maybe that will help balance things out in the end.
I hope that someone (or a crowd of people... hint, hint) will take the time to make a Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer spreadsheet and share it with the rest of us. 

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4/21/10

Strategy - The Space Between AFAs and LPM


Let's assume for a moment that Legal Project Management (LPM) exists and we have an LPMer ready to go. Now let's assume we have just acquired an Alternative Fee Arrangement (AFA) matter on a fixed fee. So ... we're ready to go?
Hold on there scooter. Not so fast.
Although the LPMer is the right tool, we haven't given them enough information about the work yet to turn them loose on it. Even with a defined scope (which is typically quite vague in the legal world), the LPMer needs a bit more information before deciding how to allocate resources on the matter.
What needs to be decided is the matter legal strategy within the context of the budget. By this I mean the lawyer and client need to sit down and talk about 'how' these limited resources should be allocated. For instance, in an employment case should more money be spent early in the case to discourage the plaintiff and push for a quick settlement? Or should the case be drawn out leaving resources for the end of the matter when the plaintiff is desperate for a settlement check? Each option will fit a different client and circumstance. The LPMer will not know how to allocate and focus limited resources without this knowledge in hand.
This need for strategy information further highlights the growing need for lawyers to talk to clients about fees - early and often. Recognizing that lawyers generally do not like to talk about fees, in this situation they may have a higher comfort level. This puts a fee discussion in the context of legal strategy - something they LOVE to talk about.
Perhaps firms and clients should start talking about this case and fee strategy as a precursor and primer for LPM. It could serve as a middle step, where people are more comfortable. And it will provide knowledge critical to the success of our first LPMers.

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Let Us Help You...

[Guest Blogger Mark Gediman]
My phone is ringing off the hook these days with folks who want to do me a favor and negotiate with my vendors for me.  First, yes, I did say "my" vendors even though I know that they are here to service the needs of the firm.  I am a firm believer (no pun intended for a  change)  in looking at our vendor relations as a partnership.  It requires cooperation, negotiation and a measure of trust.  Adversarial relationships don't work.  For example, I have a very good realtionship with an online service vendor.  I have done white papers and testimonials for products of theirs  I like and, in return, they listen to (and occasionally implement) my suggestions to improve their service and/or product.  When we have a problem with one of their products, they quickly respond with several technicians to resolve the issue.  They also provide weekly office hours in our main office.  Now, a mid-level firm not headquartered in a major metropolis cannot usually expect to receive this level of service.  But yet we do.  This approach has given us a contract we're happy with as well as a vendor we know we can count on to go above and beyond.

Second, most of these consultants don't know me or my firm. All firms are not the same.  The culture, habits and processes of the attorneys in my firm are unique and a "one size fits all" approach won't work for us.  The fact that they listen to my feedback puts me in a unique position to influence the developoment of the product to meet our particular needs.

Third, I'm starting to hear from vendors that they will not deal directly with these firms.  So it seems to me likely that just using them as advisors would stand a good chance of wiping out any savings you may realize from their services.  When you couple this with the Non-Disclosure Agreements most of us are forced to sign with our vendors, it makes this situation problematic.

This is not meant to condemn these folks or deny them an opportunity to earn a living as they choose.  Some of these consultants, having worked for a particular vendor in the past, can provide unique insight into that vendor's sales practices and processes.  Much like the former IRS agents who open tax consultancies.   Some Librarians don't like to negotiate and this is an alternative for them to avoid the "unpleasantness" of the negotiating process.  My view is that these consultants may have some value as advisors.  However,  they can interfere with the partnership between the firm and the vendor.

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Thomson Reuters Launches $25K "StreetApps Challenge" to Mobile Apps Developers

Hats off to Thomson Reuters for testing out the 'crowd' to help them build mobile apps for their Thomson Reuters API through their "StreetApps Challenge".  There are six "prizes" for apps builders ranging from $15K in cash to an iPad for external contestants, to "Thomson Reuters Points" and "Shown on Thomson Reuters Jumbotron in NYC" for internal TR employees.  There is a long list of official rules, but here's the two rules that I like the best to show what TR can get in return for its $25K investment:
  • All submissions must use the Thomson Reuters API, may employ other, external data sources, and must operate on a qualified mobile device for the Blackberry, Android, iPhone, and iPad platforms.
  • Thomson Reuters and its subsidiaries will retain all Intellectual Property rights to any applications chosen to receive prizes, and may use those applications as they wish in the future.
So, for $25K they could end up with six working mobile app for four platforms, and retain all IP rights on these apps (including any money they make off of them.) Brilliant!!  This particular competition is for TR's financial products, but if this is successful maybe they'll start expanding to their legal products as well. One of my friends commented to me that if it is really, really successful, they can start laying off more people.

It makes me wonder if Toby and I can pony up $25 (that's twenty-five dollars, not thousand), if we could get one of our readers to develop a mobile app for the 3 Geeks blog.  Of course, that depends upon whether Toby has $25 in his wallet right now ('cause I'm a little short.)

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4/20/10

Outsourced Library & Info Services - Bad for Librarians Or Filling a Need?

If you say the word "Outsourcing" to a law librarian you'll notice a few physical reactions that take place. Watch how the hair tends to stand up on the back of our necks; how we tend to raise one eyebrow a little higher than the other; and particularly notice how both hands are clinched into tight fists while we wait to see where you're going with this "outsourcing" idea. In other words, it tends to get an immediate negative response from most law librarians. Many of us remember the Baker & McKenzie and Pillsbury outsourcing of the 1990's and those experiences have left many law librarians very defensive when it comes to outsourcing. However, does outsourcing of library and information services have to be a bad thing for law librarians? Perhaps not.

This morning I saw a press release from Integreon announcing that the 140+ attorney UK law firm of "Foot Anstey Engages Integreon for Library and Information Services." After unclinching my fists, I read through the press release and began to view this as something that may potentially have more of a positive effect on the law librarian field than negative.

Foot Anstey is what we'd call a mid-sized firm with a regional practice in the UK. Firms of these size have a difficult time justifying having librarians and legal research support staff because of the overall costs. So, as a result, these firms tend to hire one person in hopes that he or she will be able to 'do it all'. In reality, however, it tends to lead to a situation where the librarian is asked to do too much (research, filing, ordering, budgeting, etc.) and in the end, no one is happy. Now, there are exceptions to this story, and I'm sure there are super-librarians out there that can take on the role of solo librarian and fill the needs of everyone in the firm, but that's got to be an exception and not the rule. For every super-librarian out there there is the poor secretary or file clerk or paralegal that is asked to take care of the library although he or she has no idea how to run one properly.

Therefore, for firms that fit in this category, would it be better to try to manage a library and information services department in-house, or would that money be better spent outsourced to a service like Integreon offers? If Integreon is using experienced law librarians (those with Masters in Library Science or JDs or both),  and they are giving firms like Foot Anstey an opportunity to access quality law librarian staff through the use of outsourcing, then perhaps this could be an opportunity for the law librarian community. It will be interesting to see how this outsourced library and information services project works out, and if we are seeing the beginning of a new trend in mid-sized law firms.

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What I Really Want is "The Daily Prophet"

I finally gave in and ordered an iPad 3G this week. Although I do not have it in my hands right now (delivery scheduled for --cross my fingers-- 'late April'), I've already have some big plans for it and am looking forward to testing how much I can make use of it.

When I was listening to the podcast of the Law Librarian Conversations from last Friday (4/16), I heard someone (Jason Eiseman or Tom Boone) say that he enjoys his iPad, but what he really wants is something like The Daily Prophet newspaper you've seen in the Harry Potter films. Apparently, the iPad has some great features with newspaper-like information, but really lacks the integration of text, video and user-integrated actions that will probably be a reality some day soon. Add to this the idea of having something on a paper-like platform and you'd put a geek like me into a tech-induced coma!!

We've seen pieces of the technology for years... animated .gifs, flash and quicktime integrated video (like those "I'm an Apple / I'm a PC" ads that walk around the website you're surfing), and the new HTML5 videos that are now hitting the Internet. However, we've still not seen anything close to The Daily Prophet.

Last fall, there was a couple of 'video ads' that appeared in print magazines like Entertainment Weekly. These were novel approaches to integrating multimedia into existing print materials, but probably too expensive and too clunky to go very far in that format. There is some talk about finally seeing "e-paper" video screens that would allow you to have a paper-like platform (although, let's be honest, it will probably feel more like a stiff piece of plastic more than a piece of paper). This particular e-paper version uses the e-ink like the Amazon Kindle, which means it would be black and white rather than color. I'm actually okay with that. After all, The Daily Prophet is in black and white (although, I've never seen a Sunday version to see if they run the comics in color...)

I hope that someday we'll get something close to The Daily Prophet (only more interactive and maybe in color). Until then, I'll have to settle for what the iPad can do. I'm sure I can make do with that for now.

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4/19/10

Change Happened


Following on the heels of my prior TECHSHOW post on clients being smart ... another phrase I heard repeated often at the conference was that we are experiencing rapid change. Really?
Finally I heard a variation of this that rang true to me. I overheard someone say, "The Change has already happened."
After giving this some thought, I have to whole-heartedly agree. The change has happened. There may well be further changes, but the market shift change everyone seems to be yakking about has already occurred. We're in a buyer's market. There's tremendous pressure on hourly rates and on the number of hours lawyers bill - regardless of how many AFAs are in use. Clients have changed their legal spend habits. So what we're really experiencing now is a Darwin effect. After change comes adaptation.
Two Thoughts:
1 - If you're waiting to see what the new normal will look like. We're there.
2 - You should focus your efforts on adapting. Following a survival theme, this means doing things differently, not the same way only smarter (again - see my "Clients are Smarter?" post).

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Oldest Legal Publishing House Is Shutdown - Work Moves to Phillipines and India

The news that Thomson Reuters announced that they are shutting down the Banks Baldwin Company seems to have flown under the radar. Last week, Thomson Reuters' spokesman Scott Augustin announced that it will shut down the 207 year old Banks Baldwin Company and shift the work of the 132 laid off employees to New York, Minnesota, the Phillipines and India. There were three sentences in Augustin's statement that I want you to read and think about:
  • "After it closes, the work will be shifted to New York, Minnesota, the Phillipines and India"
  • "It's important to note that this action is in no way is a reflection on the performance of the Cleveland office staff or the quality of their work"
  • "the [Thomson Reuters/Westlaw] merger had no bearing on the [Banks Baldwin] office's closing"
Thomson Reuters already started the layoffs last Friday and plans six more rounds of layoffs this year and will shut the Banks Baldwin office down for good by the end of 2010.
It seems that Banks Baldwin was a victim of its own forward thinking ideas. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History:
Banks-Baldwin has long been an innovator in legal information product development. The company established computer databases for its publications in the early 1970s; established the first monthly session law service in 1971; published the only Approved Edition of the Ohio Administrative Code in 1977; provided access to Ohio unreported appellate cases beginning in 1981; launched new product lines for handbooks, journals, and newsletters throughout the 1980s; licensed its publications for online search and retrieval in 1985; and pioneered the development of CD-ROM products for the legal market beginning in 1988.
So, it wasn't like Banks Baldwin was just a stodgy old print shop operation. However, like many within the US manufacturing industry, the 'work' those employees perform is a lot cheaper to do in India and the Phillipines, although the quality may not be as good. It makes you wonder whether there is a future for not just law books, but also whether there is a need for legal research and editing within the United States or if it can just all be outsourced to the cheapest resource?
I hope that another publisher (maybe a new upstart from the ashes of Banks Baldwin) can use the talent that is being left behind in Ohio.

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4/16/10

Utah Court Tells "Citation Happy" Attorneys to Give Facts, Not Just Cites

You got to love a court opinion that starts out by reminding the attorneys of their responsibilities in filing petitions on appeal.  In B.J. v. State of Utah (PDF) the three-panel judges from the Utah Court of Appeals spends about 1/3rd of the opinion explaining to the attorneys that spitting out a series of citations without any facts to place those citations in context is failure to meet the requirement set by the appellate court.  Here's the quote from the court:
As a preliminary matter, the court takes this opportunity to remind all counsel appearing in child welfare proceedings of their responsibilities to file petitions on appeal, and responses to those petitions, that comply with the requirements of rules 55(d) and 56(b) of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure. While the court is mindful of the restrictions placed upon litigants due to the expedited appellate process in child welfare proceedings, petitions on appeal and responses to those petitions must be designed to zealously advocate the positions of the parties and to assist the court in resolving the matter. In so doing, the parties should provide the court with an adequate statement of facts that will allow the court to understand the nature and history of the case. Further, the parties should attempt to apply legal authority to the particular facts of the case. See In re B.A.P., 2006 UT 68, ¶ 12, 148 P.3d 934 (discussing the obligation to include an argument section in a petition on appeal). Legal citations unaccompanied by an application to the particular facts and issues involved in the case are rarely helpful. Ultimately, counsel should consider petitions on appeal and responses thereto to be more like briefs than docketing statements. [emphasis added]
 Hat's off to Judges Davis, Thorne and Roth for handing out a little wisdom as well as a decision.

[note:  Thanks to Mari Ferguson Cheney for pointing this out via Twitter.]

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Thomson Reuters (West Pub.) Pulls Out Old Tricks - Unsolicited Shipments

If you ever want to see a law librarian blow his or her top, then do to them what Thomson Reuters (West Pub and Warren, Gorham & Lamont (WG&L))  is doing right now. It seems that someone at TR Legal decided that it would be a great idea to start sending out new print publication titles (specifically the new "KeyRules" titles for the state court rules series.)  For any law libraries that currently subscribe to the West's State Court Rules series, you will be automatically sent the new volume of that series and it is up to you to either keep it and pay for it, or send it back (postage pre-paid by TR Legal).

This is an old trick of hoping that law librarians are either too busy to notice that they've just received unsolicited material, or that they simply give in and decide that it is too much of a hassle to open up all the boxes, reattach the return labels and have the items shipped back to West.  Just do a quick Google search on "law-lib unsolicited West" and you'll see complaints going back to 1995 (probably earlier) complaining about this very practice. In a letter attached to WG&L's new title Transfer Pricing Strategies, TR Legal makes it sound like they are doing me a favor by sending this $135.00 book (plus shipping and handling) to me without my being asked.  And, they make it sound like it is no big deal that they've burdened me (and hundreds of others) because we could just simply slap a return label and ship it back.  Here's a copy of the letter I got from WG&L telling me how lucky I am to get this unsolicited title.

I understand that print sales have fallen off a cliff over at TR Legal, but stunts like this will only serve to make customers angry. Hopefully, AALL's CRIV (Committee on Relations with Information Vendors) is looking into the practice and asking TR Legal to stop it.  I noticed that something like this has happened in the past where West claims that because they sent out an email alerting everyone that they were going to ship these, that makes it "okay" and not regarded as "unsolicited".  Even if that 'technically' make is okay, it still smells of trickery and desperation to me.

I talked with my West publication reps about this and they are taking care of it.  So, I appreciate what Ann and Terri are doing to make this right.  I also don't personally blame either of them for this happening, but did ask that they pass the "chewing out" that I gave them up the ladder to those that made this stupid decision.

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4/15/10

Requirements and Differentiators


Some recent posts on the hot and getting hotter topic of Legal Project Management (LPM) somehow reactivated some dormant college brain cells. After 'enjoying' 10 years of Economics I did my best to suppress those memories, but yet they still seem to pop up at the oddest times.
The concepts that came to mind were market requirements and differentiators. A market requirement is an asset or skill required to be a participant in a given market. If you're a ditch digger, a shovel and the ability to dig would be market requirements. A differentiator might be an extra sharp shovel for digging in hard rock. In a market - a requirement gets you in; a differentiator gets you hired.
LPM, as such a new concept is an obvious differentiator - for the future. But my thought is that there is actually an immediate differentiator to consider when buying legal services. In my experience, some lawyers have innate project management skills, or they may have picked them up in a prior professional life. In any event, these lawyers know how to manage a legal matter to a budget and thus have a significant market differentiator right now.
If you're a client, now is the time to look for these differentiated lawyers. You probably already know some, but may not have thought of them in this way:
Requirement: Excellent legal skills
Differentiator: Good project manager
As a client - recognizing and rewarding this differentiating factor may do more to reach your goal of saving on legal fees than discounts and AFAs will - especially in the short-run.

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4/14/10

Lexis Had an iPhone App First

This morning I was getting an update from LexisNexis on their new and yet-to-be announced stuff and happened to see something flash by on one of the screens. I said: "Whoa- back up there." Listed on the 'already have' section of the presentation was an iPhone App.
After having heard ad nauseam about how Fastcase was the first to release a legal research iPhone app - I had to ask: When was that release?
Answer: Last November.
Two points:
1 - Apparently Fastcase didn't have the first one.
2 - LexisNexis could have had all that press and market buzz if they had been more Web 2.0 savvy.
BTW - once I get word back from LexisNexis on what is public, I will be posting on some of their upcoming stuff. There's some interesting tools in the pipeline.

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Library Managers - Be More Like Scotty and Less Like Geordi

Yes... the title is a Star Trek reference (after all, this blog is called 3 Geeks and a Law Blog).  We'll get to the management styles of Engineers Montgomery Scott vs. Geordi La Forge in a minute.  
Since the Great Recession started in October 2008, I've been seeing and hearing more and more comments about how librarians need to give up certain things in order to survive the economic downturn. While some of those statements may be true, I'm not sure I like the blasé attitude that I'm hearing from others in the field about ceding ground on a number of library issues.  For example, I had to sit through a library meeting on the east coast a few weeks ago and listen to a consultant tell the group that if your employer (law school, firm, court, etc.) is discussing layoffs... go ahead and volunteer some of your staff for layoffs so you'll be seen as a team player.  WHA??? I looked around at the room waiting for someone to jump up and hit the speaker, but very few in the audience seemed to have noticed the great insult the consultant hurled at them. I had missed the first half of the presentation, so I thought maybe I missed the front end of this story that made the "go ahead and volunteer some staff to be laid off" as the punch line to the joke mentioned earlier.  But when I checked with a friend afterward and she said that it wasn't a joke and that the consultant was giving clients the same advice. And, just think... those clients are paying for that advice.
This morning, I read an article on LLRX.com called "From the Law Firm Library Trenches: A Conversation Between Two Veterans" where a running dialog between two experience law firm librarians (Karen Krupka and Elaine Billingslea Dockens) discussed a variety of issues.  Now, I'm going to be a little unfair to the two authors because I'm going to criticize a small piece of an otherwise great article and probably take the comments out of context as well. So, now that I've apologized in advance...
When discussing the value of membership in professional organizations, attending professional conferences, and continuing education programs, both Karen and Elaine agreed that if the firm doesn't pay for these activities in its professional development budget, then "you should pay for it yourself and include the expenses in your personal budget."  I agree... but felt that about five "you should fight for this" statements that were missing between the "firm not paying" and the "pay for it yourself" statement.  The library's professional development budget is probably one of the smallest line items in your budget.  Giving in on this produces very little "budget cutting" and ends up being a morale buster and in my opinion creates a situation where you're hamstringing your ability to be risk manager for your firm.  It is through professional development events that we connect with our peers, get the latest information on what new products are being introduced, and have the ability to foresee issues that will affect the firm in the near future and be ready to proactively address them now rather than react to them later. Rolling over on issues like this may make you a team "player", but it most certainly doesn't make you one of the team "leaders". 
There is always a "game" being played between the leaders of the law firm libraries, and those that want to cut what they see as firm overhead.  In the crudest of terms, it can be called the "Prove Your Worth Game."  First of all, if you don't know there's a game being played, or you don't know the rules of this game, you've probably already lost.  Libraries tend to have one of the highest budgets in the firm, and are always under attack.  Since you probably spend most of your money on two specific vendors, it makes it that much more difficult on other line items (such as professional development).  When you're faced with the situation where you have to make cuts, you can be a team "player" and methodically go through and trim line item after line item and even volunteer a few more things along the way.  Or, you can be a team 'leader' and start trimming those same items, but at the same time standing up to those that want to cut overhead and let them know the overall effect that each of these cuts will have on the firm and the library's ability to manage risk for the firm.
This brings me to my Scotty vs. La Forge comparison.  Take this conversation between the two engineers and see if you can spot who is the team player and who is the leader:


Geordi: Look, Mr. Scott, I'd love to explain everything to you. But the captain wants this spectrographic analysis done by 1300 hours.
Scotty: [thinks about it some time] You mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.
Geordi: Yeah. Well, I told the captain I'd have this analysis done in an hour.
Scotty: How long would it really take?
Geordi: [annoyed] An hour!
Scotty: [looks unbelieving] Oh. You didn't tell him how long it would REALLY take, did you?
Geordi: Of course I did.
Scotty: Oh, laddie. You've got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker. 
There will be many times when you'll need to cede ground on issues like professional development and have to face the fact that if you want to do it, you'll have to pay for it out of your own pocket.  However, items like professional development shouldn't be given up with out a fight; otherwise those that are looking to cut overhead will see you as weak and will be back for more.  If you are expected to pay for your own professional development today, and you give in without a fight, then what will you be asked to pay for out of your own pocket tomorrow?  


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4/13/10

The Semantic Web & Legal Practice

Brian Harley, LLM at Columbia, is writing an interesting multi-part article entitled "Semantic Lawyering: How the Semantic Web Will Transform the Practice of Law", where he discusses the potential to use advanced and emerging technology to analyze information in order to create "smarter information" that assists lawyers in how they conduct legal research and thusly how they practice law.

The idea of using the concept of Semantic Web technology (which Harley defines as "a way of making data smart") isn't new, even in the legal field.  However, with the massive amount of information that exists, combined with the additional information that is created over time, many believe that there needs to be an automated method that makes the information more understandable by "computers" and in return, makes relevant information easier to find by the "human."

Semantic Web technologies are already being looked at by companies such as New York Times, recovery.gov, BBC, and Thomson Reuters. Harley attempts to take us in the future of how legal information is created, stored, tagged, queried, analyzed and formalized into a 'set of machine-readable rules'.  Harley even ponders that in such a future "would we even need lawyers and judges, or could they be replaced with computers and Semantic engineers of the law?"  Since practicing law is more of an art than a science, the Semantic Web may not replace those lawyers and judges, but it might make them much better at practicing their craft.

Although Harley's article begins with Richard Susskind's quote of "predicting the future is a hazardous business", it is interesting to read a practical application of how the Semantic Web might affect the practice of law. I look forward to seeing part four of Harley's vision of the future.

Semantic Lawyering: How the Semantic Web Will Transform the Practice of Law:
Part 1 - The problem: too much data
Part 2 - What is the Semantic Web?
Part 3 - A Machine Readable Version of the Law?
Part 4 - Smart documents and semantic contracts (coming soon)

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4/12/10

Replacing Justice Stevens with a Law Librarian - Who Would You Pick?

I started bouncing an idea around in my head this weekend while all of the Sunday Morning news shows were discussing Justice Stevens' retirement. "If I had to replace Justice Stevens with a law librarian... who would I pick?" Now, you may chuckle about the idea of having a law librarian as Supreme Court Justice, but it may not be that far of a stretch to think of someone with the skills of a law librarian to put on the black robes and write judicial opinions.  In October of 2008, US News and World Report said that the "Best Nonpolitical Job" for a political junkie was a librarian. The US Supreme Court is supposed to rise above the fray of politics, so who better to do that than a law librarian?

If I weren't limited by the fact that serving on the Court requires you to be alive, my choices would have immediately gone to two personal legends in the field;  Roy Mersky (1925-2008) of the University of Texas or Bob Oakley (1945-2007) of Georgetown University.  Both were known as "giants" in the field of law librarianship and deeply respected for their leadership.  Although I'd only met Roy Mersky a few times, it was clear that he commanded whatever room he was in.  I had the pleasure of serving with Bob Oakley on the American Association of Law Libraries' (AALL) Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age special committee, where Bob made sure that all of the committee members stayed on task. However, since Merksy and Oakley are no longer around, who are the giants of the law library field that we could nominate today?

We could look at the list of past presidents from AALL for names of leaders within the field.  Cornell's Claire Germain (2005-2006) jumped off the list as someone that commands a room like a Roy Mersky.  Claire would most likely make a great Justice, but her French accent may not play well on some of those cable news networks. Another great choice might be Barbara Bintliff (2001-2002) who was just announced as the new law library director for the University of Texas.  I'm not sure if Barbara is willing to give up a great position in the capital of Texas to take up one in Washington, DC at this moment.  How about someone like Mark Estes (1992-1993) from the Alameda County law library?  Mark and I have made some appearances lately on Rich Leiter's Law Librarian Conversation podcasts, so I hope I haven't diminished his chances for nomination.

How about someone that is not on the AALL past president's list?  There are a few names out there that always seem to be discussed in law librarian circles.  Jim Milles from the University of Buffalo would be a good choice.  Although, anyone that knows Jim might think that his trail of blog posts might make him a target of some within the Senate confirmation hearings.  Tom Bruce of Cornell's Legal Information Institute (LII), might be another law librarian to consider (note: although, not officially a law librarian, his work with LII earns him an honorary title).  Tom's work with LII, and his current affiliation with Carl Malamud's LAW.gov effort might also make for some interesting Senate hearing discussions.

With the exception of Mark Estes, it seems that the picks for law librarians to replace Justice Stevens have an academic bias. So, let's pick a couple of names from law firms.  There's Bob Oaks from Latham and Watkins.  That would be an easy choice since he's already right there in Washington, DC.  There's also the famous "Al of Cleveland" Podboy from Baker Hostetler.  However, I just don't think that Al Podboy would want to give up the comforts of Cleveland and move to Washington.  My personal favorite in the law firm category would be Steven Lastres of Debevoise and Plimpton.  Anyone that can master libraries, knowledge management, and records management (and I'm sure a few more departments on top of those) should be able to step right in to the Court without blinking an eye.

[Note:  It was pointed out to me that I did not list any women law firm librarians on this list despite the fact that probably 80% or more of the AmLaw 100 library directors are women.  I apologize, for there are a number of qualified women that make the list with Jean O'Grady from DLA Piper being one, and Gitelle Seer from Dewey & LeBoeuf being another of a long list.]

I'm sure there are a number of well qualified law librarians I missed on my very short list of potential replacements for Justice Stevens.  So, if I missed your name, or someone that you would like to see nominated for the high court, chime in below.

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4/9/10

Is a Texas Court's Requirement to File Exclusively Through LexisNexis a RICO Violation?

Texas resident Karen McPeters has brought a class action lawsuit against Montgomery County Judge Fredrick E. Edwards, Montgomery County Court Clerk Barbara Gladden Adamick, and LexisNexis claiming that requiring her to exclusively file documents through LexisNexis' FileandServe product is a violation of US and Texas laws, and that the county and LexisNexis are engaged in RICO violations with their exclusive agreement.  McPeters, through her San Antonio attorney, Robert L. Mays, Jr., has filed the class action suit in the US District Court Southern District of Texas in Houston (Civil Action No. 4:10-CV-1103).

McPeters' claim states that Court Clerk Adamick requires all of Judge Edwards civil cases to go through LexisNexis FileandServe, and will stamp any documents filed directly with the Court Clerks office with a "VOID" stamp and return the documents unfiled.  In her complaint, McPeters states that Adamick is relying upon an unsigned order from Judge Edwards from February 10, 2003, and there "is no standing order, signed by all of the District Judges in Montgomery County, establishing e-filing requirements for one, or more, of the courts of Montgomery County."  According to the 2003 Judge Edwards order, only civil litigants are required to file through FileandServe and that criminal defendants are not required to use FileandServe.  Judge Edwards also excluded the following from the same requirement:

  • The State of Texas
  • Child Protective Services
  • Adoption Agencies, and
  • New divorce and annulment cases that are resolved within 90 days.
McPeters claims that the agreement between the courts and LexisNexis is a RICO violation through what she calls the "Plan" between the court and LexisNexis that requires her and other litigants "to pay filing fees, service charges and taxes that are no authorized by statute, and that exceed the amounts required by statute." She believes that the "Plan" also financially benefits the county and that Judge Edwards and Court Clerk Adamick have gone beyond their official powers to require electronic filing and refusing to accept or file any documents presented directly to the Court Clerk's office.  
The claim goes on to add that the exclusive agreement violates McPeters' and other litigants' due process rights, equal protection under the US Constitution as well as the open courts and due course of law rights under the Texas Constitution.  McPeters is seeking exemplary damages and wants the County enjoined from requiring that the court documents be filed exclusively through FileandServe.
It is always interesting when courts get into these agreements with private vendors where the court gives the vendor the exclusive rights to something like electronic filing. Yes, it does make things convenient for many of us who file regularly with the court, but what is convenient for some may not be for all litigants.  Requiring someone to only use a private vendor to file court documents, while at the same time refusing to accept the physical documents through the Court Clerk's office seems like one of those situations where a Draconian Rule overrode common sense. It will be interesting to see how this suit takes shape over the next few months and what affect it will have over other courts that have exclusive contracts with vendors for e-filing, and if they can force everyone to use (and pay) that vendor while the court clerk refuses to accept any documents filed directly with his or her office. 
Thoughts??


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4/8/10

Radian6 and "The Engaged Brand"

“The days of sitting in our rooms as marketers -- defining our message -- pushing it out there -- are over.  Now your brand is the sum conversations about it….  This changes entirely the rules of engagement.” -- Marcel Lebrun, Radian6 CEO 
While going over a Fulbright Forum PDF Presentation called "MySpace Is Everyone's Space", I saw a mention of Radian6, which was defined as a "platform to help companies listen to the social web to know what is being said about [their] company."  I jumped over to Radian6 website and started looking around (and watching videos) to see what they, and their motto of "The Engaged Brand" were all about.

Radian6 makes its money through a social web monitoring software with their pricing starting "at $500 per month, per profile for up to 10,000 new monthly results... and $100 per month, per user ID."  There is a great write-up on Radian6 and their new console over at TechCrunch-- pay particular attention to the comments after the review and notice how Radian6's customers rave about the product.  Even if you're not interested in the software, there is tons of information resources available at Radian6's website.  If you scroll down to the bottom of the Radian6 home page, there is a list of resources that would help those trying to understand the social media impact on their business... all the way up to Case Studies of how companies like Pepsi, UPS, and even Cirque du Soleil are monitoring, listening and engaging in the 'sum conversations' about their brand.  So, even if you're not ready to plunk down the cash for the Radian6 product, there is still a lot that they are offering to help educate a marketer understand, plan, engage, and evaluate how the company brand is being discussed in the social network community.

One example that I liked was the PDF presentation called "The Why and How of Social Media Participation" where they laid out the reasons that social media participation matters and the need to have a plan for building a listening strategy and engaging the social community.  I especially enjoyed the section on building awareness of who your company is, and what you do.  On the social web, the factors that help build that lasting awareness are:
  • Relevance: How what you're doing aligns with what someone needs or is interested in
  • Context: Whether you're present and engaged when and where your audience needs you to be
  • Resonance: How much your presence and solution endures and stays relevant over time
  • Accessibility: How well you provide your community access to the people behind your brand
No longer will the "one-size-fits-all marketing" approach work.  With the social web there is an expectation of "a more shared, human approach." 

For a marketer, or anyone that is looking for information on how to get started in social media, monitor social media, or show others the importance of engaging in social media, then I suggest going to Radian6's website... scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and read the case studies, presentations, white papers, and blogs that are Radian6 has put out there for you.  You'll learn a lot, even if you don't spend a penny.

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