Busy Day at Lexis - Sells Off CIS; Announces Web Archiving Services

There were two pieces of news coming out of LexisNexis today. The first was the announcement that ProQuest has acquired Congressional Information Services (CIS) and University Publications of America. The Second announcement was the launching of Reed Tech Web Archiving Services powered by Iterasi that will focus on preserving "web-based content to support the growing need for litigation protection, e-discovery, and compliance."

Seems like LexisNexis is streamlining some of its products in anticipation of the upcoming split between their legal and risk departments. I'm assuming that the Reed Tech Web Archiving will be headed into the "Risk" portion, while the CIS portion makes the "Legal" portion a little lighter in the transition. Here's a little more about the CIS move:
“As LexisNexis continues to transform its portfolio of products and services, we are very pleased to place this business unit with ProQuest as it is an excellent fit for them and their customers,” said Mike Simmons, senior vice president of Specialty Businesses at LexisNexis. “We look forward to working with ProQuest – including licensing back certain legislative content sets from ProQuest for our legal professional customers.”
CIS and UPA editorial staff members join ProQuest and will continue to be based in their Bethesda (MD) offices. Product names will remain the same, but will begin to include the ProQuest brand in 2011.

ProQuest has acquired the following LexisNexis products:
  • LexisNexis Congressional (to be renamed ProQuest Congressional)
  • LexisNexis Statistical Insight (to be renamed ProQuest Statistical Insight)
  • LexisNexis DataSets (to be renamed ProQuest DataSets)
  • LexisNexis Statutes at Large (to be renamed ProQuest Statutes at Large)
  • LexisNexis Government Periodical Index (to be renamed ProQuest Government Periodical Index)
  • LexisNexis Primary Sources in US History (to be renamed ProQuest Primary Sources in US History)
  • Congressional Hearings Digital Collection
  • Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection
  • Congressional Research Digital Collection
  • US Serial Set Digital Collection
  • US Serial Set Maps Collection
  • All CIS microform and print products
  • All statistical microform and print products
  • All UPA microform collections
LexisNexis is retaining these academic-oriented products:
  • LexisNexis Academic
  • LexisNexis Library Express
  • LexisNexis Scholastic
  • LexisNexis State Capital
  • LexisNexis for Development Professionals

Bookmark and Share

Genieo – Create A Personalized Home Page

I ran across a little program called Genieo the other day, and after playing around with it, found it to be an interesting way to compile a pseudo-news page of things that are interesting to me. You can think of it as a product that combines some of the traits of those Twitter newspapers (Paper.li), iGoogle, and bookmarking resources. Genieo follows you as you surf the web and identifies the sites that are important to you, and builds updates from those sites that should be of interest to you.
Before going too far, I guess I should point out two things that might influence your ability to test this, or want to test it:
  1. It is a small program that is installed on your PC (no Mac support at this time). So, if your employer doesn't allow that, then you'll need to try it at home (unless your significant other doesn't allow you to download programs at home…)
  2. It doesn't follow you onto secure websites (those with "https" in the URL.) But, it will follow you everywhere else.
Although Genieo is promoted as a personalized "Home Page," you don't have to set it up as your home page. You can bookmark it or double-click the icon in the quick launch area to bring the latest version up in your browser. So, what exactly does Genieo do??

First of all, it is very similar to what you get in an RSS feed. It shows you new stories that have been posted on the sites that you follow. Whether it is the local newspaper site, or your favorite blogs, it will pull the new items posted on those sites and put them on your Genieo page.
It also brings in Facebook and Twitter contacts (if you allow the integration.) All those pictures and birthday reminders are right there in its own little space.
Genieo will bookmark those sites you visit the most and list those in the level of interest that you appear to have in them. You can manipulate those levels if you want, and delete those that you may visit, but don't want to show up on your Genieo page.
There is a Mini Topic Filtering System that is used to categorize the information, and attempts to bring back only the most relevant items based on your usage. 
Live Updates help you track sports scores or company ticker information. There are also little notification windows that can pop up from time to time to let you know of new items that have been added to your Genieo page.
You can share the information directly from your Genieo page through Twitter, Facebook and more by clicking the appropriate share button next to the item, or you can even build your own magazine from all of the items that Genieo has compiled for you. (I haven't actually been able to get a "clean" copy of this magazine to work yet, so maybe this one is still in the pre-beta-phase of production…)
I think that Genieo is a useful resource, but still needs a little bit of polishing to be something I'd use as my home page. It's worth a look (if your boss lets you install little apps on your PC), so go to Genieo and test it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Bookmark and Share


I Do Declare! Independence for the Modern Lawyer

Last night, I was reading our Declaration of Independence--don't ask me why--and I noticed something very interesting. First, let me say that I am no expert on it. Just another average joe with a law degree.
You know how programmers in the early '80s always built "back doors" so that if they had to hack back into the program, they'd be able to get back in?
Well, I found the Declaration's. Seriously.
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Just thought I'd share.

The other neat-o thing is that they weren't too subtle about it either. It's the last half of the third sentence!

Poor, mad King George didn't stand a chance against ye ole' "I can't tell a lie" George W. ... I'm just sayin'.

Bookmark and Share

Thomson Reuters Competes With Its Customers?

Jordan Furlong brings up an interesting insight in his recent post, "Law firm of the 21st Century.” He notes “the company that used to sell lawyers their textbooks and caselaw databases is now, in effect, competing with them in the delivery of legal services.” He’s referring in large part to the recent acquisition of Pangea3 by Thomson Reuters (TR). I think he is sounding the right alarm bell here. I’ve been surprised we haven’t seen more of an out-cry over this. Maybe that is yet to come.
For years I’ve kept an eye on both TR and LexisNexis (LN), waiting to see if they will cross this line. In the past I even brought it up with reps from both companies. I suggested there must be some temptation to go around lawyers and sell directly to clients, cutting firms out of the middle so-to-speak. In the past, these comments were met with quick and decisive responses that such a move was not part of their strategy.
The Pangea3 acquisition noted in Jordan’s post deal got me thinking about a number of moves by TR that suggest this opinion may no longer prevail there. Some things to consider:
  • As posted on 3 Geeks, TR is cutting services to large firms. Laying off the people who sell and service law firms indicates, at a minimum, a shift away from them.
  • Last year I had to remind a consultant connected to TR that we were their client, not the companies we represent. I had seen too many reports, articles and comments from consultants on how clients can cut their legal fees using AFAs. In fact, I am still waiting for consultants to approach firms on how to deal with AFAs. Instead these consultants are going around firms, represent clients' interests against them.
  • In October TR acquired Serengeti. This is a matter management and e-billing tool for clients. I repeat – this tool is for clients not law firms. It serves as “a system that helps in-house counsel control legal spending.” Or in other words, cut law firm revenues.
  • This month, TR buys Pangea3 which sells legal services to clients in direct competition with law firms. Over 90% of the press I have seen on LPOs shows them selling to clients – not law firms. I understand some law firms are hesitant to be public about using LPOs, but either way, clients are the buyers right now. The best example is clients using LPOs for first review in discovery. Although this saves clients money – this also is work that used to go to law firms. In this instance, TR has completely crossed the line into competing with their customers.
Now – do I understand why TR is doing this? I understand there is money to be made. However, I also understand whose market they are taking.
I know all too well clients are trying to save money on their legal spend. An example is clients growing refusal to pay for online legal research costs. So this cost is now hitting law firms’ bottom line. With so many firms looking to save money, I wonder how they will chose which primary law provider(s) to use?
TR provides an excellent online legal research tool. But they may also be providing law firms with an easy decision on which duplicate subscription services to eliminate. Whatever happens, law firms should wake up to what's going on in the market and know who is there to help them ... and who is not.

Bookmark and Share

At Your Service--Are Service Level Agreements Something for Libraries to Consider?

[Guest Blogger - Marlene Gebauer]

Do you have a Service Level Agreement, or SLA at your library? If you do, I would love to hear about it. If you are wondering what I am talking about, Wikipedia defines an SLA as “a part of a service contract where the level of service is formally defined.” SLAs are common in the IT industry and particularly in the ISP world. How it works is that IT supports various Line of Business (LOB) clients (in our world think departments and practice groups) and formalizes service levels with each of them.

What is interesting about SLAs is that they define the service to be provided, and when they are commonly used, can set standards across an industry. When used appropriately, SLAs can be an excellent service marketing tool that executive management can understand and clients appreciate.

Make no mistake, an SLA is not a goal or mission statement. One of the key elements of an SLA is that the service to be provided be defined in measurable terms. So instead of saying “It is our mission to provide timely research service…”, as you might in a mission statement, you instead say “We will provide an initial response to a research request during normal hours of operations within 15 minutes of posting..”

“Wow,” you might say to yourself, “That sounds great, but how do I quantify the appropriate time? “Using dashboards with reporting functionality can assist in quantifying what, in the past, has been difficult to quantify. We use a dashboard product, Footprints, produced by a company Numara, that we have customized to record pertinent reporting data for our teams of Research, Acquisitions, Systems and Education. So with the right customization, a report can be created to see the average time a request is in queue before it is picked up. Based on this sort of reporting, you can determine a reasonable SLA focus point, whether it is time of initial response, timeframe to disburse expenses or something completely different.

Still not comfortable making a formal declaration of service levels? No problem, you can first establish Service Level Objectives, or SLOs, internally. After tracking your success rate with the SLOs, you might be more comfortable going public with an SLA.

The idea of quantification and establishment of SLAs is something for knowledge centers, research departments and libraries to closely consider. While the total scope of our work and skill cannot be boiled down into statistics, being able to clearly define to our clients and to executive management what we can deliver, even if just on a few points of service, can be invaluable because we are speaking in the language of business objectives and expectations.

Bookmark and Share


What If "The Social Network" Was Directed By Someone Else?

The Social Network director, David Fincher, may have brought his experience from films like Fight Club and Seven, but you may have wondered what The Social Network would have looked like had someone else taken the director's reins.

Luckily, CollegeHumor's production gives us a chance to see it through the eyes of famous directors like Wes Anderson, Michael Bay, Christopher Guest, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo Del Toro, and Frank Capra. Makes me wonder how M. Night Shyamalan would have messed this one up…

Bookmark and Share

Reed Elsevier Splitting LexisNexis Into Separate "Legal" and "Risk" Units

When Reed Elsevier announced the retirement of its current CEO, Andy Prozes, it also outlined a change in how the LexisNexis business will be organized after January 1, 2011. LexisNexis will be split into two different units, each with its own CEO. There will be a "Risk Solutions" group with Jim Peck as CEO, and a "Legal Businesses" group with Mike Walsh as CEO. Both Peck and Walsh will report to Reed Elsevier's CEO, Erik Engstrom.

A LexisNexis spokesperson told me that more information will be released on the overall objectives of this move following the February 2011 Reed Elsevier annual meeting. At this time, the purpose of the split is to allow each of the units to "focus on their respective priorities and create value for their customers." Apparently, the Risk Solutions unit will have a much broader market in which products like ChoicePoint will be marketed, while the Legal Businesses unit will narrow in on the legal industry. The LexisNexis spokesman said the idea was that the "risk and legal businesses will continue to leverage each other’s content, technology, sales channels, and other resources."

According to one report, the move to split off the legal businesses unit is an effort to "help it win back market share lost to Thomson Reuters' Westlaw in a difficult market." With Thomson Reuters new initiative to push its product into the one- to three-attorney firms announced last week, and LexisNexis' push into that same market with its Lexis Advance for Solos product, it should be quite a battle between LexisNexis Legal Businesses and Thomson Reuters Legal in 2011.

Bookmark and Share

Leverage: The Real Lever for Law Firm Profit

This is the third post in an emerging series on law firm profitability. The first was on AFAs and LPM, and the second was on realization’s role. This one explores the role of leverage in profitability.
Traditionally when lawyers spoke of leverage, they were referring to the good ole pyramid. When I talk about leverage, I am focused on two very different things:
  1. Pushing tasks to their lowest cost labor source, and
  2. Improving the profitability of work
Old school leverage is an unsustainable model of growth. This new school leverage is about restructuring a firm for the future.
Recently I saw a presentation from David Wilkins, a Harvard law professor specializing in law firms. He drew a simple, yet elegant graph that helps illustrate my point:

[Graphing technique borrowed from ThisIsIndexed]
The previous post on realization mentions the "rule of three." When firms measure profitability, they apply a cost rate for each timekeeper. In our rule of three, this cost rate covers the two components of comp and overhead. The graph visually displays this rule – at least for non-partners. And it shows that very ‘young’ associates generally don’t generate enough revenue to create profits. The sweet spot for profit comes from experienced associates or other non-partners, whose revenue to cost ratio is high. Looking closer at this rule shown by the graph, what emerges is the understanding that the rule of 3 only applies to non-partners. This is reasonable, since a portion of partners’ incomes come from that profit. In other words, their revenue to cost ratio is negative especially when you account for their own, base comp. In turn this means firms generally don’t make profits on partner hours billed. As with all rules there are exceptions to this one. Very young partners with relatively low comp and high rates can have profitable hours. Or partners who bill (and collect) extremely high numbers of hours can be exceptions. This happens since cost rates are calculated on a per hour basis, and super high numbers of billable hours drop the cost per hour. A benchmark of billable hours per year for this ‘rule’ might be 2600 per partner. As you might guess, this happens infrequently, so the general rule above on the profitability of partner hours holds pretty well.
The graph makes it abundantly clear that law firms profit from associate hours. And the path to profitability becomes clear: leverage your work. Send as much work as possible to higher margin associates.
Seems simple, doesn’t it?
Yet most firms don’t get this. Primarily because comp systems reward a different behavior. They’re not designed to reward profits - they reward hours and revenue. This is the case since these compensation systems were designed under a different model. This was a cost-plus business model, where profit was built into prices (a.k.a. rates). So partners have not focused on the metric of profitability in this fashion.
Once partners understand this, then it becomes quite natural to shift work to its lowest cost, effective labor source. Ron Baker will likely appreciate this statement: Tasks should be performed at their cheapest, most effective, level of timekeeper. This behavior will lead to improved profitability for law firms. But more importantly, this same behavior will lead to lower costs of service for clients. On a simple, illustrative level this means partners should not be performing tasks associates or paralegals can perform sufficiently well. Doing so undermines profits and raises costs for clients.
So why is this not already happening? Why are firms and clients not behaving like economists would expect? IMHO – because they don’t get it. They don’t yet understand how things have shifted at this basic economic level. This underscores the real transition facing law firms right now. They have lived in the cost-plus world for 50 years and now have to figure out the profit margin model.
Oddly, many clients are actually demanding partners perform most of their tasks. They see this as a “hire the lawyer, not the firm” decision. They want the high expertise of the partner and think an associate is less efficient. This approach assumes all or a majority of tasks are best performed by partners, which is not accurate.
When clients figure this out, and they will, law firms have the much bigger task of living in a profit margin world. This will be the subject of the next post in this series.
Conclusions: Leverage is the key factor in law firm profitability. Although realization has an influence, leverage has a much greater impact. In modeling various fee deals, small changes in leverage have measurable impacts on profitability. I always enjoy quoting Karl Marx when lawyers push me on this issue, “You get rich off of the sweat of another’s brow and not your own.” Which is to say, you make money leveraging the work of others. Both law firms and clients alike will do well to understand this. As they come to an awareness of these dynamics, I predict significant shifts in market behavior.

Bookmark and Share

Elephant Post: Which Fictional Character Would Be Outstanding In Your Profession?

We thought we would have a little fun this week and play off of the "geek" in our contributors. This week's question is:
Which Fictional (Star Trek, Monty Python, Dr. Who, mythical, etc.) character do you think would be outstanding in your profession?
Off the top of my head, I picked Mr. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think he would make a great librarian… especially in these days of electronic books, databases and Google searching. Of course, I'd have to teach him a little bit about the "reference interview" technique, but I think he'd catch on after a few months behind the reference desk (especially around 4:50 PM on Friday's before a three-day weekend.)

We want to "give thanks" to all of the different perspectives we got this week and wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. While you're on the couch – taking that obligatory nap – think about contributing to next week's post. We'll make it an easy one, since I'm sure the tryptophans are probably going to slow you down. So, read all the perspectives, then take a look at next week's question to see if you want to dive in and add your special perspective. If you do, then simply email me or tweet me and I'll give you the instructions on how to contribute.

Patent Librarian
Information Junkie
Kristin Whitman

Hermione Granger, no question!  Her nose is always in a book, cross referencing information, double-checking facts, and using logic to put the whole picture together.  She makes full time use of all sources available to her (including the Hogwarts Library restricted section), but won’t be fooled by a honeyed sales pitch (least of all from those Ministry of Magic types!).  She’s got her (extendable) ear to the ground and a mind like a Devil’s Snare, always gathering new information.  She’s the real behind-the-scenes hero!

The Teacher’s Perspective
Instant knowledge
Véronique Abad

The obvious character for me would be Mr Spock!  He would just have to put his hands on the head off his students and they would instantly know the full content  of the course! Or understand what they done wrong! No communications problems! Also it would be fun to see how he would react to the behaviour of the young generation living their virtual lives online while they are supposed to be practising an exercise.

Brain Power
Kathryn DeLia

Going with someone new, Megamind would be a good marketer. Lots of brain power, creative, clever, able to be good and bad at the same time, dresses well and able to choose music. Plus he has good delegation skills as his gives tasks to Minion and his brain bots. See the movie and you’ll know what I mean!

AFA Perspective
Solution Focused
Toby Brown

Austin Powers.  Cuz he’s the International Man of Mystery.  Talk about a man ready to face any challenge head on ....  For example: A challenging partner-like personality - Dr. Evil.  Aggressive Colleague - Felicity Shagwell.  Unexpected group reaction - The Fembots.  Crazed ego-maniacs - Goldmember.  Hands-on research - directly sampling Fat Ba$tard’s ‘evidence.’  Embracing new technologies - running the DVD on the phonograph.  Setting difficult but achievable goals - the Japanese twins.  Keeping a positive attitude no matter the circumstances - Yeah Baby!

Online Marketing Perspective
The Great and Terrible
Lisa Salazar

Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: Because there’s no place like home ... and don't look behind the curtain!!

Law Librarian Perspective
Going the Extra Light Year
Janet McKinney

I think Scottie (original Star Trek) would be a good librarian, because of his dedication to his job, co-workers, and organization; his ingenuity when having to resolve problems; and because he’s often “givin’ her all she’s got, Captain.”  And knowing how to operate the transporter could be a desired skill in a law firm.

The IT Perspective
Winning in a no-win situation
Scott Preston

Captain Kirk.
One of my favorite Captain Kirk stories is the Kobayashi Maru story.  The Kobayashi Maru refers to a test that is a no-win test.  It is designed to see how a cadet handles a no-win situation.  Kirk who has taken the test twice already figures out how to reprogram the simulator to make it possible to have a winning outcome.  We are, on occasion, faced with what seems to be a no-win situation.  It would be great to have Captain Kirk reprogram the problem to have a winning outcome.

Knowledge Management Perspective
“Shockproof and can think faster than [a] super computer
Ayelette Robinson

Stitch, from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, is described by his creator in the film as “shockproof and can think faster than [a] super computer.” I couldn’t think of a better skill set for knowledge managers -- the ability to bounce right back from challenges is key; and as the liaisons between attorneys and technologists, we need to be able to address substantive issues both quickly and correctly. As for Stitch’s “superhuman strength,” well... we can dream, can’t we?

Law Librarian Perspective
“Ford Prefect”
Ellen Quinn

Ford Prefect, the roving researcher from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is my choice for an outstanding library related science fiction character.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide is originally set in 1980s England where Ford, an alien from another planet, meets up with his friend Arthur Dent, just minutes before the earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass.  As Ford later explains,  he was sent to earth to research the entry for an encyclopedic electronic book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”  While Ford’s work ethic is somewhat lacking, he spent 6 years on earth and his entry in the HHTTG for the earth is:  somewhat harmless.
The books in the series are loaded with odd quirky humor and sarcasm.  My brother once described the books as just too weird, even for him.  I have always found them to be delightfully odd and very funny.  The focus of the books, radio program, the 1981 BBC TV series (highly recommended) and other HHGTTG spinoffs is an e-book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Please note that at the time these books were written, there were no ebooks, no one had personal computers and there was no internet or world wide web.  Name any other TV show or book about a book.  Ok, maybe you can com up with one or two titles but none with the style and wit of the HHGTTG.  The late Douglas Adams who created the HHGTTG also wrote some episodes of Dr. Who, but it is his love of words, satire and humor combined with a very Dr. Who like science fiction world, that make these book and the character of Ford so appealing.
References to the HHGTTG appear throughout the internet.  Have you ever gone to Yahoo’s Babelfish translator and wondered at the odd name for this service?  It is named after the Babel fish, a creature described in the HHGTTG that provides instant language translations.  Although in the book you have to drop the little fish in your ear and it instantly translates any spoken language into something you can understand.
The very sarcastic references in the book to Megadodo Publications are a welcome bit of comic relief for those of us that have to deal with large publishing companies on a daily basis.
Type the “ultimate answer to life the universe and everything” into Google and you will get an answer straight from the HHGTTG = 42.  You need to read the book to get the joke but it is a widespread bit of humor.  The internet was developed by people who clearly knew and loved Adam’s books.  And his anti-authoritarian style while it was developed in the late 1970’s still rings true today.
Ford is Arthur’s guide through the galaxy and like today’s librarians, he interprets the world around him for others and explains the mysteries of the universe.

Another Librarian
Guts & Savvy
Mark Gediman

For my money, Gowron would make a great law firm librarian.  His wild expression and unpredictable nature hid a shrewd politcal operator.  Not everyone could have manipulated both the Romulans and the Federation into fighting a civil war on his behalf.  Can you imagine what this guy’s budget meetings would look like?  Not mention his reference interview skills.  He may not know the answers but can sure manipulate someone into telling him what they are.  And imagine the consequences for those who have the nerve to question whether he’s “necessary.”

Yet Another Librarian
Gorilla Librarian
Jan Rivers

Next Week's Elephant Post Question:

What Free (or very low-cost) Product do you use everyday that helps you accomplish your job?

Although the saying of "you get what you pay for" usually applies, there are some products that are out there that don't cost a dime, yet are extremely useful. I probably should have added the caveat of "with the exception of Google," but I'll even keep that option open. I know there is one product that I use a lot that is free (although I have contributed to the developer in the past for his hard work.)

If there is something that you use and you'd like to share the name of the product and how you use it, then send me an email or tweet and I'll give you the instructions on how to submit your contribution.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Bookmark and Share


The Cost of Not Hiring a Law Firm Librarian?

Law firms need libraries and need law firm librarians. There have already been several rebuttals posted in reaction to Mr. Lamb's article, but mostly from the perspective of the library, who presumably want to keep their spaces and their jobs. I however, as a competitive intelligence practitioner, come at from a different perspective – I couldn't do my job as effectively if I didn't have law librarians doing theirs and I know many an associate or partner who would feel the same. The question we should be asking instead, is what is the cost of not hiring a law firm librarian??

As Mr. Lamb mentions in his article, the pace of information creation is accelerating. It is my job to take that mess of information, digest it and provide my lawyers with something tangible, actionable and competitive. And how do I do that? For a start, I employ law firm librarians, to help me at every stage of the process. In addition to being the best keepers of information, law librarians are also the most knowledgeable in respect to what sources are the best. As many people (especially inexperienced associates), I am a creature of habit. When a problem comes across my desk – I turn to the sources I use time and time again whether paid subscription databases (which law librarians also spend time vetting and scrutinizing for useful content), free sources or media searches to answer the question. And every time I run into a wall – I send the question to my law librarians, telling them what I have already done and they, without fail, the librarians (seasoned and new) suggest another several places I should look. I've seen many partners, students and associates often doing the same. Moreover, once we've strategied about new places to source additional information, they do that looking for me, saving me time – letting me get straight to the analysis. To put it in basic terms without over simplifying what they do, law librarians know stuff and they know how to execute. They know how to look for stuff, where to look for it and most importantly in the billable-hour-is-king environment, they know how to do it efficiently.

Which brings me to the next point of Mr. Lambs article that has had me in a fit for several days, "why would a firm need or want to draw a line between where that information came from?" followed closely by the differentiators of "internally created information" vs. "externally created information". In the land of law firms, there is and should be a huge difference between these two positions and the two positions need to remain distinct, despite Mr. Lamb's assertion. After all, it is the internally created information that is both a law firm's currency by way of product and the service it has to sell. Not to mention that librarians as a general rule are not in habit of sourcing material of their own creation. Law librarians (or any librarian as far as I understand) tend to leave the creating of information for the law makers, the authors and the journalists.

Mr. Lamb posits that there is a gap between the way librarians describe themselves and how he would like to see them described. I disagree, law firms and the holy grail of client service are all about relationships, about building trust and being armed with the best possible answer to a problem. Would it not make sense then, for those in the position to broker this information – be it legal research, business development dossiers or client current awareness be imbued with the very same characteristics of loyalty, accuracy, intelligence and friendliness that clients want and expect from their lawyers? Law firm librarians are doing it right - they are meeting the ultimate goal of expert client service and consistency, they are evolving with firms and will continue to do so, as long law firms continue to have information and research needs.

Bookmark and Share

Write-downs, Write-offs and LPM

Based on comments from the prior post, "The End of Write-offs?” I thought it would be a good idea to peel back another layer on this onion. The prior post was purposely over-simplified, to focus on the issues of AFAs and LPM. This post will better explore the impact of realization on profitability.
First-off – why is realization important? One comment to the post talked about 50% realization on $2000 per hour is still $1000 per hour. Although $1000 per hour sounds like a high rate, if the timekeeper involved is compensated as if they bill at $2000 per hour, that’s a different matter. The real issue is the relationship between compensation (comp) and billing rates. Rates need to cover comp, overhead and profit. This follows the basic rule of three where rates are broken down into three components: 1) comp + benefits, 2) firm overhead, and 3) profit (a.k.a. partner income). The general rule states that each of the three comprise about one third of the rate.
Functionally this means that every point off of realization means 3 out of profit, since comp and overhead remain the same. This also means that as you approach 67% realization on a timekeeper, a firm’s ability to make a profit disappears. So - $1000 per hour is fine if the timekeeper is compensated at a rate relative to that number. If the timekeeper is compensated relative to the $2000 rate, then 50% realization means the firm is losing money on this person. Since I don’t know many firms who run with rates that high compared to comp, it’s unlikely that $1000 per hour is a profitable rate for a firm in that scenario.
Another point made is that write-offs can come from clients that just don’t pay. This is absolutely true. I focused on write-offs in the prior post, since they are client-identified candidates for no or low value effort. However, write-offs occur for other reasons. It is also true that write-downs occur for multiple reasons. These may be ‘back door’ rate discounts or more likely recognition by the partner of low/no value work by timekeepers on the team. This is yet another prime target for LPM to tackle as it is typically time billed by associates but deemed not worthy of the client bill. LPM would suggest it’s a better idea to direct resources to certain tasks instead of condemning no-value tasks as worthless after the fact.
This was the main point of the prior post. Instead of targeting AFAs, LPM should be focused on eliminating and reducing no and low value efforts by lawyers regardless of the type of fee arrangement.
(The other, actually more important driver of law firm profitability is leverage. But that’s a topic for another post.)
On a final note – Anonymous comments “One additional point, write offs often come from clients that have no money. The client intake process is what needs to be addressed not LPM.” More importantly, I would argue that profitability needs to be addressed. Once that is a firm’s goal (instead of billables/revenue), then LPM, client intake and pretty much every other function at a firm will change. LPM is focused on a symptom - meeting budgets. The better focus is on profitability. That focus will drive real change for firms.

Bookmark and Share

ILTA TV Roundtable: Is Legal Project Management Practical?

Toby had a chance to sit down with Shy Alter, Peter Krakaur and Andrew Terrett to discuss the practicalities of Legal Project Management. The ILTA TV program discusses the issues surrounding LPM and whether we are attempting to turn attorneys into defacto Project Managers along with the principles and best practices of LPM in law firms.

ILTA TV Roundtable LegalPM from Shay Alter on Vimeo.

Bookmark and Share


Are You A Solo/Small Firm Attorney? Get Ready for Phone Sales Onslaught!

We mentioned last week that Thomson Reuters Legal is going to double-down its efforts to sell its products to the one- to three-attorney law firms. From some of the people I've talked to, it appears that the majority of these efforts are going to take place through an increase in phone sales focused on these attorneys. So that headline that popped up on the Twin Cities Business website that lead with 60 Eagan, Minnesota jobs going away, but followed up with
"On the flip side, the Eagan campus plans to add an unspecified number of customer-facing sales and marketing positions in order [to] put more of a focus on a growing clientele – one- to three-attorney law firms." 
I guess "customer-facing" was more figurative than literal in this case.

I know how much we all love sales calls, so I thought I'd point out a few things that my solo and small firm friends might want to do before they head out for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Do Not Call List
Most of the companies you'll deal with should comply with national Do-Not-Call (DNC) requirements and honor opt-out requests through that service. To add your name to the national DNC list, you may register at www.donotcall.gov. Check with your local state to see if it has also created DNC lists for their residents.

Company Privacy Statements
If you wish to be removed from specific company direct sales lists, you should check out the privacy pages that most (if not all) of the legal publishers post on their websites. I have to give some recognition to LexisNexis for having a very straight-forward opt-out page that isn't hidden like some of the other publishers seemed to have done. Here is a list of the privacy/opt-out pages that I could find:

Westlaw Online Privacy Policy
LexisNexis Direct Marketing Services Opt-Out
Aspen Publishers Internet Privacy Policy (w/Opt-Out) [note: I did not find one that covered all of Wolters Kluwer Publishers]

Personal Relationships Trump Phone Sales
The key message that I want to spread here is that most of us are turned off by phone sales. Most of the folks I've talked to really like dealing with their local representatives (even if we don't agree with how they are pressured by the regional, national or international managers they work for.) We would much rather sit down with them and go over the new or existing products that may help us in our work. I didn't talk to a single person that said that they would prefer having direct marketing via phone sales over their local representative. Well… I did have a couple mention that they know the area codes that these calls come in from, and tend to ignore those calls.

We may poke fun at the vendors, but don't think that a faceless voice on a phone is going to be a better option when it comes to sales and building relationships with your customers.

Bookmark and Share


Law Firm Website Foundational Best Practices: Highlights of the 2010 Amlaw 100 Websites Research

[Guest Blogger – Deborah McMurray]
I spoke last week at the San Francisco ILTA lunch meeting, held in Littler’s offices. There was a great bit of interest in the topic: “Website and Intranet Best Practices and Highlights of the 2010 Amlaw 100 Websites Research” – so much so that the Albuquerque ILTA chapter joined in by LiveMeeting.
I first launched the study of AmLaw 100 websites in 2005 after realizing that law firms were spending millions and millions of dollars (collectively) on websites, but visitors weren’t getting any happier. Those sites then were not answering fundamental questions of buyers of legal services – what have you done? For whom have you done it? What can you do for me?
My company, Content Pilot, sponsored the research, and in 2005, 2006, 2007 and now 2010, hired industry specialists in key areas to conduct the evaluations. We have just completed the analysis of the 2010 research, and I am now writing and speaking about the findings.
Certain of the Ten Foundational Best Practices and attributes have evolved over the years. The broad web industry has changed, visitor expectations of all websites have changed, and buyers of legal services have told us in client interviews what they are looking for in a law firm website. The 2010 list reflects these changes:
1. Communicating your message
2. Graphics and design
3. Navigation
4. Lawyer biographies
5. Narrative content
6. Web site interactivity and outreach
7. Site search
8. Site optimization for online awareness
9. Firm citizenship
10. Site “hygiene”
Scoring for each of the Ten Foundational Best Practice attributes is on a 100-point scale, and each of the Ten FBPs has 4-8 attributes. It’s important to note that there are no subjective criteria – it’s not our opinion about what’s good or working well, and it has nothing to do with what we like and don’t like. The criteria were all measured objectively. And remember, these are “foundational” best practices – the must-have features and functionality for today’s law firm website. The attributes are quite basic, the antithesis of “out there.” Every major law firm could conceivably earn a perfect score of 100.
There were five industry professionals conducting the research: Jeff Yerkey, Right Hat/Charette Design; John Toth, an experienced freelance legal industry writer; and Blake Davis, Keith Wewe and me, from Content Pilot. We were each assigned one or more of the Foundational Best Practices.
Here is my slide deck, so take a look and contact me with any questions.
Briefly, there is great room for website improvement among the United States’ largest law firms. In 2010, only one law firm earned a score of “excellent,” which was 86-100. Davis Wright Tremaine (www.dwt.com) ranked at the top of the AmLaw 100 list with a score of 87.8. The Top 25 firms all scored above 70.6. “Good” is from 71-85 on a 100-point scale. Interestingly, even though the Ten FBPs were slightly changed from our 2007 research, the total scores in 2007 were surprisingly close to those in 2010. In 2007, only one firm scored excellent (WilmerHale – www.wilmerhale.com), but the Top 25 firms all scored 77.0 or better.
What brought the 2010 scores down? Lawyer biographies (the 4th FBP), the most important section of a law firm website (more than one-half of all visitors to a law firm website go to the lawyer bios, and often that’s the only place they go), ranked only “Fair” with a score of 65.5. One of the attributes is, “Includes links to social media profiles and pages.” Only one AmLaw 100 firm included them – Winston & Strawn (www.winston.com). Only 30 firms organized the bios in a way to accommodate long lists of experience or news/articles – i.e. displaying 5-10, with a “view more” (or all).
Another FBP that should have received higher scores was Foundational Best Practice #6 – Website Interactivity and Outreach. These criteria relate to how dynamic, interactive and “Web 2.0” the sites are. Only 14 sites include social media links – “Effectively uses LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter on Careers pages or other pages of the site.” Only 34.7% include links to blogs from practice, industry and bio pages. And only 28.5% “Effectively use video on site to further messaging.”
I have a White Paper coming soon that will include the Top 25 firms for each of the Foundational Best Practices, plus additional findings and comparison between the 2007 and 2010 research. I will alert you when it’s ready!
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about the other part of my presentation “2011 Intranet Best Practices.”

Bookmark and Share

Who needs a Librarian anyway?

By Mark Gediman In his recent post on the ABA Journal’s The New Normal Blog (“Does it Pay to Hire a Law Firm Librarian”), Patrick Lamb posits that only those firms that need a resident expert for online research would need a Librarian. In fact, Mr. Lamb doesn’t think a library is necessary. Needless to say, this post has created some waves in the Law Library Community. In my mind, I agree with John DiGilio that this post is a consequence of the “they know what I do and where to find me if they need me” mindset that we find all too often in law firm libraries. How to change this dynamic?
  • Sell your services.
  • Posts both here and elsewhere have discussed in detail the value of continually marketing both yourself and the library to the firm.
  • Provide simple user interfaces to facilitate access to firm resources.
  • See my previous post on this topic.
  • Create products and services customized for practices and departments.
Something as simple as a daily news sheet, offering customized resource training or meet with each practice group. Create specialized products for Competitive intelligence. In short, only you can raise your profile. Now, I do think Mr. Lamb is wrong about a few things:
  • Print is not obsolete for four reasons (at least):
  1. Some specialty treatises are only available in print;
  2. It is more efficient to use the print materials in some cases (such as the Rutter Guides);
  3. Attorneys still prefer to use the codes they reference daily in print;
  4. It’s easier to bring book when a visiting a client than going online.
  • Librarians are not only research consultants.
  1. We may not know the answer but we do know how to find the answer, quickly and efficiently.
  2. We can identify opportunities for savings through elimination of redundant resources and contract expertise
  3. We know how the firm works as a whole as well as its parts. We can tell you who knows what or where to find what.
My feeling is that Librarians and Libraries are morphing beyond just keepers and repositories of knowledge. They are becoming high-speed retrieval and analysis specialists that leverage the vast knowledge base of the firm, both internal and external, online and print. Without our expertise (yes, full disclosure, I’m a Law Firm Librarian), firms would waste time and money-wait…those are the same thing. Mr. Lamb does not appear to be very well informed when it comes to the role of both Libraries and Librarians in the Modern law firm. Librarians are not a holdover of a bygone age. We have evolved into necessary navigators through the hybrid (both digital and print) world of legal research.

Bookmark and Share

Heck of a Week at Thomson Reuters Legal!!

Whether you like ‘em, hate ‘em, or just don’t care about ‘em… you have to admit that it has been an exciting week for the folks in Eagan, Minnesota. Let’s just step back and break down what happened this week:
11/16/2010 –  Major outage of Thomson Reuters online products (Westlaw, WestlawNext and more)
11/17/2010 –  Word of layoffs start coming in for members of the West Library Relations Management team.
11/17/2010 –  Turns out not just the West LRM team is effected… 60 total employees are cut.
11/18/2010 –  We get a letter from Chris Cartrett explaining the layoffs and TR Legal’s plans on moving forward.
11/18/2010 –  BARBRI sends out a letter announcing that TR Legal is exploring selling off BAR/BRI.
11/18/2010 –  TR Legal announces that it is buying Pangea3, an Indian Legal Process Outsourcing firm for $35-$40 million.
Now, we’ve been hearing mumblings all this week about the layoffs, and apparently, the 60 mentioned may be some creative accounting on the part of TR Legal. We’ll have to see once the dust has settled if it turns out that more folks were let go that may not technically count as “layoffs.” I also found it interesting that one of the comments that came out of TR Legal’s Scott Augustin, was that TR Legal is going after the one- to three-attorney law firms for its business. I wish my solo and small firm friends the best of luck on that!!
The news about the Pangea3 LPO purchase is one that may not have hit the radar of the mainstream law firm or law library world, but trust me on this… this may be the biggest news of the week, and it may have a ripple effect for months or years to come. Again, we’ll have to see what happens when the dust settles.
A friend of mine that recently returned from Greece, Tottie Keal (you may remember her as Tottie Degaitas) and pointed out a few substantial statements that Thomson Reuters made in its November 6K filing. The areas of concern are that:
1.      Print subscriptions are at historic lows (probably going to get worse)
2.      Law firms are watching expenses and are not using online databases that are outside of their contracts.
3.      It seems that Thomson Reuters had a sizable risk in the foreign currency market, and took a bath from losses in the British Pound and the Euro.
Here’s the section of the 6K:
For the three months ended September 30, 2010, revenues from subscription offerings, which include Westlaw and other businesses, increased 8%. Subscription growth was led by our international businesses which increased 14%, (including contributions from Revista dos Tribunais and Canada Law Book, which we acquired in May and August 2010, respectively), Intellectual Property which increased 7%, and FindLaw which increased 23% (including contributions from Super Lawyers, which we acquired in February 2010). Increases from subscription offerings were offset by lower print and non-subscription revenues, which each decreased 4%. However, the print attrition rate has slowed substantially from the prior year period and is nearing historical levels. The moderate decline in print also reflected that the first half of 2009 benefited from some favorable timing. Within our non-subscription businesses, revenues from trademark searches increased, however, we continued to experience double-digit declines in Westlaw ancillary revenues as customers continue to monitor spending above their base subscription contracts. In the nine-month period, subscription revenues increased 5%, while print and non-subscription revenues declined 10% and 5%, respectively.
Our operations are diverse and global in nature and therefore expose us to foreign exchange risk related to cash flows in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, in particular to the British pound sterling and the Euro.
In 2010, we implemented a program to mitigate our foreign exchange exposure by entering into a series of foreign exchange contracts to purchase or sell certain currencies in the future at fixed amounts. These instruments have not been designated as hedges for accounting purposes. As such, we recognized losses of $32 million and $4 million, reflecting the change in the fair value of these contracts, within “Other finance income (costs)” for the three and nine months ended September 30, 2010, respectively. The cumulative notional amounts of contracts outstanding at September 30, 2010 were $385 million to sell Euros, $227 million to buy British pounds sterling and $110 million to sell Japanese yen. These arrangements settle at various dates over the next 12 months and represented a net liability at fair value of $10 million at September 30, 2010, which was included within “Other financial assets–current” and “Other financial liabilities-current” in our statement of financial position. We may enter into additional derivative financial instruments in the future in order to mitigate our foreign exchange risk. See note 20 of our 2009 annual financial statements for additional information. (emphasis added)
Thomson Reuters is a huge muti-billion dollar company, so this is a little blip on the radar screen for them. However, for those of us having to deal with Thomson Reuters “Legal” group, these shakeups, layoffs, acquisitions, losses and trends are something that remind us that the days of dealing with our friends at “Westlaw” are long gone. 

Bookmark and Share

Librarians and "Business Values"

[Note: I had someone email me this to post, but needed to stay anonymous]

I read a great article in the ABA Journal entitled, Does It Pay to Hire a Law Firm Librarian? by Patrick Lamb.  I though Lamb offered a very pertinent discussion about the future of law librarians and about staying relevant, particularly the points about about knowledge management (internal and external), resource evaluation and finding information and making it pertinent.

Lamb touched on the notion that we have a unique role in that we touch vendors as well as many internal departments and consequently have a deep and unique knowledge base of both internal and external information bases. As this articles suggests, it is important that we spread that message and take advantage of opportunities that may arise.

One point I think Lamb missed was ability to critically analyze and present information  Through experience, education or both, librarians are and can be subject matter experts who take large amounts of data and distill it into relevant summaries of information.  If you send out a newsletter of selected stories and summarize the contents, you are doing this.  If you summarize, however briefly, the results of a research request (yes, even highlighting the pages to review), you are doing this.   As Lamb notes, with more and more data out there, the art of honing in on what is important will be a highly desirable skill.

I was a little surprised to see how “a small group” of librarians allegedly characterized their value to an organization, based on the results of a “recent survey.” Not that the characteristic noted are not important.  I like loyalty as much as the next person! And my cataloging skills are so nonexistent, that I am grateful for anyone who has that ability.  But I am not the audience to impress.  What the comments lack is a tie back to business values and an adequate description of what unique skills librarians have to support those business values.  Those are the sorts of characterizations that make decision makers pay attention.

Bookmark and Share

Summarity – Summarize Text or Websites on the Fly

Let's face it… sometimes you just skim through those documents, websites, blogs or news articles because you just don't have the time to digest it all. We all do it, but what if there were something that could help you skim through a document and quickly identify the key sentences for you? I ran across one such tool yesterday and thought I'd share my review with you.

Summarity is a software/website that condenses articles into digestible pieces. Through a "sophisticated yet elegant" process (or, as I like to call it… "Magic"), Summarity culls through the text and finds the sentences that seem most relevant. The result is something that (usually) sums up the article in a way that lets you hit the high-points of what is being discussed.

Summarity produces two types of results – block text of the summary, or a skimmed version that puts the summarized sentences in bold type. You can also use the Summarity bookmarks in your browser to block text or skim the actual website you are reading. As an example, here is Summarity's version of the letter we got from Thomson Reuters yesterday explaining the field changes going on at TR Legal:
Library Relation Managers are a core part of how we service our clients – as are our reference attorneys, research specialists, account managers and sales executives. 
We remain deeply committed to fostering the library community through innovation, service, product excellence and corporate citizenship.
The changes we made this week are centered in two areas: 1) We have to utilize all of our resources to service our clients, and 2) we must do a better job of servicing the growing branch offices of our clients. This week’s changes aligned our resources across the company to give us greater coverage to more firms and more librarians.
Thank you, Chris Chris Cartrett Vice President, Sales and Account Management Large and Medium Law Firms Thomson Reuters
That's actually not a bad result in my opinion.

You can also take the same text, through the Summarity website, and it will highlight these sections and allow you to skim through the entire piece.

The other options are to use the Summarity bookmarks to either block text the web page or create a skimmed version of that page. Using the same example as above, here are the links to view what it looks like:
The whole process isn't perfect, but it seems to do a pretty good job from the tests that I've run on it. I'd have to say that I'm more of a fan of the Skimmed Text version than of the block text, but that may just be me being careful that I'm not missing something important in the text.

I actually used this yesterday after I got a long set of "new guidelines" on an upcoming project. Once the guidelines were put through the Summarity sophisticated yet eloquent process, I was actually able to identify the key aspects of the new policy a lot faster through the highlighted sections. 

Give Summarity a try and let us know what you think of it.

Bookmark and Share


Field Changes at Thomson Reuters – Response from TR's Chris Cartrett

As many of you probably know by now, there was a shake-up at the Thomson Reuters Legal (West) Library Relations Team where about half of the team was laid off. The changes at TR Legal went well beyond this specific team, but since many of us personally know some of the team, it was this transition that immediately caught our attention. When something similar happened back in January, Anne Ellis sent me an email explaining the decision and what the plans were going forward. I asked Anne yesterday to let me know about this round of layoffs, and she asked Chris Cartrell, Vice President for Sales and Account Management, to respond to my question. Below is Chris' email and I am now sharing that with you.

Hey Greg,
I hope you are well. Anne forwarded your information request on to me. I am sorry that I could not respond yesterday but we were still communicating with individuals that had job changes. I hope you can appreciate our need to communicate with each individual before responding in a public forum.

I believe your specific question was related to our Library Relations team. We made some changes within our sales and account management organization this week which will help us better respond to the changing marketplace. And as you noted, the librarian relations program was not immune to the changes. We did create several new opportunities and positions, but there were also some positions eliminated. Library Relation Managers are a core part of how we service our clients – as are our reference attorneys, research specialists, account managers and sales executives. We have had to adjust our customer-facing roles to address the core changes the legal marketplace has seen in the past several years, while looking broadly at our work with customers to make sure we are providing excellent service and training as efficiently as possible. We remain deeply committed to fostering the library community through innovation, service, product excellence and corporate citizenship. To that extent, all of the recent changes in our service approach are intended to meet the changing needs of librarians.

The changes we made this week are centered in two areas: 
1) We have to utilize all of our resources to service our clients, and 
2) we must do a better job of servicing the growing branch offices of our clients. 
This week’s changes aligned our resources across the company to give us greater coverage to more firms and more librarians. Specifically, we have increased our dedicated coverage to branch offices six-fold. Our librarians have consistently requested that we assist them with more in-house training, e-learning, on-demand virtual support options, and greater support of branch offices. The moves we have taken this week help us achieve these goals.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Obviously, these are difficult decisions, but we do feel that these changes allow us the best opportunity to service you better. We are working closely with employees affected by these decisions to help them transition to their next role, either with Thomson Reuters or outside the business.

(Please feel free to post this entire email via your blog.)

Thank you,

Chris CartrettVice President, Sales and Account Management
Large and Medium Law Firms
Thomson Reuters

Bookmark and Share

Elephant Post: What Drives You Crazy When Dealing With Vendors?

Dealing with vendors isn't always a bad experience… but we all have our horror stories. This week we've asked our group of contributors to share a few of those, or to share some positive experiences as examples for other vendors to learn from.
Without Naming Names (unless you want to…) What drives you crazy when dealing with vendors? – And/Or – Have you had positive dealings with a vendor that other vendors could learn from? 
I put this question out on a law library listserv last week, so we have a lot of library vendors stories. I'm sure you can relay these stories over to your own perspective.

Next week, we are having some fun with the Elephant Post, and we are hoping to get a lot of short answers from a lot of different perspectives. So, to make it easy for you, I'm listing the question here in hopes that you will email or tweet me for details on how to contribute to next weeks Elephant Post:
Next Week's Elephant Post: What Fictional Character (Star Trek, Monty Python, etc) would be outstanding in your profession?
Because next Thursday is Thanksgiving, we'll post next week's Elephant Post on Wednesday, November 24th.

The AFA Perspective
Vendor’s “Lack of Homework”
Toby Brown

I appreciate that vendors need to make cold calls to generate business.  That being said, it is very easy to screw these up and hard to get them right.  If you are going to spend the resources on such an effort, make sure you handle them well.  If you don’t, not only have you wasted your time, you have wasted my time, creating a negative impression of your company with me and my firm.

For some reason I have had a recent burst of vendor cold calls.  My advice based on this recent experience:

Before you call me do a little homework to find out what my role is at my firm.  My LinkedIn profile is very easy to find, so this is not asking much.  When you call to pitch a records management product to me (well outside my role), you take your first strike.

The next big mistake I have seen, repeatedly on these calls, is the sales person ask for me to give them the name of the person at the firm that handles records management.  Really?!?!?  You were too lazy to find out my role and now you take that laziness a quantum leap further and ask me to do your job?  And in the process expose a colleague to the same treatment you just gave me?  I think not.  This reminds me of an old Jerry Seinfeld bit.  Next time I should ask for their home number so the “right” contact at the firm (in China) can call them at their convenience ... around 2:00 a.m.

The bottom-line: customer service starts at the beginning - even with a cold call.  Make sure this is a good experience and your success rate will increase.

The IT Perspective
Vendor’s “Lack of CRM”
Scott Preston

What drives me crazy is getting a cold call, email, or a request for an appointment to ‘discover opportunities’ from a company that is already our vendor.

Two weeks ago I received an email that went something like this:
Dear Scott,
We provide long distance call analysis to many law firms similar to Fulbright.  We would like to have a short meeting to discuss how Fulbright can benefit from our services . . .

Here is a list of firms that currently use our services:
ABC Firm
Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.
XYZ Firm.

Come on vendors, stop wasting my time (and yours).
How about a little quality assurance?

The Library Perspective
Vendor’s “TMI”
Greg Lambert

One of my favorite memories of dealing with a vendor was when I worked for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. I sat across the table from a vendor and we announced that we were not accepting the offer that they made. What happened next was surreal. The vendor told us that we had to sign the contract because “My reps have mouths to feed at home.”

Look… I’m a pretty compassionate guy, but I had to basically say “I Don’t Care!” to that.

Negotiations are business decisions, not personal ones. Don’t confuse the fact that I may like you (or not like you) personally, with the value of your product. Those two things are completely separate. When it comes to your product, I only want to know three things:
What It Is
What It Does
How Much It Costs

That’s it. Trying to tie personal feelings to the decision making process is not going to get you anywhere… no matter how many mouths you have to feed at home.

[Note: I had another experience this week that I thought I'd share with you... I really don't like it when a vendor sets up a phone meeting with you and cannot figure out that the Central Time Zone is only one hour behind the Eastern Zone. When they call an hour late (or two hours early), I usually let it roll over to voicemail.]

The Internet Marketing Perspective
Legal Services Vendors: Friend or Foe?
Lisa Salazar

I have a favorite rep.

She does everything right: right amount of phone calls, right amount of e-mails, right amount of in-person meetings. She’s personable, kind, thoughtful.

In the 6 years that I have known her, she has managed to do what I wish attorneys would do: she’s become a friend.

A Second Library Perspective
7 Ways to be a Strong Vendor/Partner
Jill Strand

Having been a sales rep for a large trade publisher, I see my vendor reps as potential partners who can help my Library (and their company/product) be perceived as a valuable asset to my firm.  While I am quite certain that I didn’t do everything right as a rep, I did learn that my knowledge of products, understanding of my buyers’ needs and willingness to tackle problems would be my strongest selling points.  As such, here are the qualities I value most in my best vendor reps:

  1. Acknowledging my email/voice mail so that I know they have my request.  If they can’t get back to me quickly, they usually at least give me an idea of when they can.
  2. They thoroughly read and note all of my questions in an email.  It can be frustrating to organize and craft careful questions only to have some go unacknowledged.  Again, knowing that the rep is working on it and when they think they can get back to me is most helpful.
  3. They let me know in advance if prices for their product(s) will be increasing if they think I’m interested in making a purchase. NOT: This is not the same as asking me to rush my decision-making process to meet the vendor’s end-of-month or end-of-year sales goals or to take advantage of a "time-sensitive" offer or discount.  My job is to do what is best for my firm, not what is best for the vendor’s bottom line.
  4. They'll ask me for a start date before initiating a free trial.  We try to schedule trial for when certain groups are most likely to be available to take part and offer their feedback.
  5. They have a thorough grasp of the content, scope and features of their products.  I’m often reviewing a variety of tools for different practice areas and rely on reps to explain what makes their product valuable and unique from the competition.  We certainly do our own testing but I leave it to the rep to do the selling.  The best ones will also pay close attention to attorney’s questions during a demonstration and answer them there or follow up with answers or more detail soon afterwards.
  6. Actively solicit and act upon feedback to improve their products.  While I'm happy to volunteer for beta-testing of new products, it is frustrating to suddenly have a new version or interface pushed out that hasn't had a proper vetting.  Testing products in a pristine technological environment without exposure to commonly used programs on most of our computers won't fly.  Gaining buy-in and input from clients and potential customers is more important than unveiling something new by a specific date or at a certain trade show.
  7. They make it easy to understand the pricing and cost increases for individual items and content sets.  Bundling titles, print and electronic, etc. may appear on the surface to save us money but it actually makes it harder to compare apples to apples, much less track costs.  Even if they don't have control over how pricing is set up, creating a simple spreadsheet with cost breakdowns and projected price increases is a huge help, particularly as I try to budget for new products.  However, if obstrufication is a vendor's vehicle to profits, then my firm will never be a profitable client. 

With reps, colleagues and clients, I’ve always tried to be straightforward about any concerns or issues.  We all drop the ball once in a while and appreciate a chance to improve.  So if I need something more from my rep, I will ask them for it first before speaking with their manager.  That said, many thanks to all those vendor reps who go out of their way to make my job easier because they understand that, in the long run, a happy client will make their job easier.

The Competitive Intelligence Perspective
The Hard Sell
Zena Applebaum

We recently had a vendor arrange for a demo of the product to a wide variety of lawyers.  The product came with rave reviews from a  number of lateral hires who claimed to not be able to live without it.  The demo started well and everyone was enjoying the products ease of use and search capability from research staff to associates and partners, everyone of the 20+ people in the room could see a use for the product. Then, without warning, the mood turned aggressive.  When asked if there any questions in the room, no one spoke. So the vendor did, asking the entire room full of people what he needed to do to get us to buy the product, he pushed further, asking if it was a issue of money or licenses or competitor products.  Details and processes for purchase that fly well over the heads of most firm users.   I finally had to break the awkward round of questioning and point out that a product demo to a room full of lawyers who don’t manage research budgets was likely not the appropriate place for this type of conversation.  Needless to say, the partners in the room were not to pleased that they had spent their “billable” time being sold to.

I beg and plead with all vendors  of legal products and services out there to save the heavy sales talk for the appropriate stakeholders (if you have to use it at all) and not anyone who may one day come in contact with the product.  We’ve since subscribed to the product because it is a good one but based on the sales savvy of the organization, I would have ended our relationship right then and there during the hard sell demo.  Let your products do the talking and the selling for you.

The Knowledge Management Perspective
“No” is Not the Right Answer
Ayelette Robinson

If you’re working with a customer who makes a request, don’t say “no.” And certainly don’t say “no” followed by a litany of reasons why it’s a ridiculous request. This does not mean that you have to accommodate every request; it means that the customer has a need that you’re not addressing. As the product designer/developer/customizer, it’s your job to ask more questions and listen to what the customer really needs. It may be that the solution the customer offered was not the best one, but it’s part of your role to understand what the underlying need is and to find the right solution - i.e. get to “yes.” What will win you points is not your ability to describe a product’s existing features, but rather your ability to design creative and elegant solutions to a customer’s needs.

Another Library Perspective
Vendor Shout Out
Karen Lasnick

I probably have the same countless horror stories that everyone else has, but I have to give a shout out to our West inside rep, Paul Baranek, who handles all our offices in the U.S. He does a great job for us, no matter how bad the situation is and always with a great attitude. I've never felt like I was being mollified or give a load of b.s. from him, even when what he tells me it isn't what I want to hear. I would be much less inclined to grumble if all our vendors were like Paul.

Another Library Perspective
Database Vendors Who Don’t Believe Me When I Say:
Ellen Quinn
Don’t go around me to the attorneys.  I will find out and then I will have a bad opinion of you and the product you are trying to sell.
Price matters.
Quality matters.
Reliability matters.
Customer support is critical.
Down time is unacceptable.  Don’t tell me why your database is down, I don’t care.  Just tell me when it will be back up and that this will never happen again.  I am keeping track so you can’t fool me.
No means no.
If your product does not meet my user’s needs,  I will find one that will.  

Another Library Perspective
Be a Boy Scout
Janet McKinney

A couple of years ago we were looking to add some current awareness tools to our intranet.  One vendor in particular (most of you would recognize the name) had solutions that looked very promising.  We decided to make a push for getting some budget allocations for the product in the next fiscal year and arranged for a demo with the CIO and a couple of other stakeholders.  The person giving the presentation simply wasn’t prepared.  It was obvious that he didn’t know his audience, seemed to have no clue about the positions some of them held, and he didn’t really focus on our interests.  This information was supplied to the sales rep., but either didn’t get to person doing the demo or he forgot it, so the demo went off like a disastrous cold call.  I think it will take a turnover in administration for this vendor to be considered any time in the future.

And One More Library Perspective
How About A Little Respect?
Jan Rivers

Maybe it's just me, but I really wish vendors would stop with the "sales-speak" and would just talk to me like a normal person. Spare me the jargon and buzzwords and let's just have a conversation. Everyone uses the same descriptors for their products, so they are meaningless to me as a way of making your product stand out from the others. In fact, the more "salesy" the speech, the less substance I feel it has regarding actual information.

Vendors seem to travel in groups, which is fine if you are expecting more than one person for your meeting. If I've set-up a meeting with one person, I am highly irritated if they show up with two or three others in tow. If you plan on bringing more people with you, tell me in advance so that I not only can ensure having a conference room big enough to accommodate everyone vs. meeting in my office, but I also am better prepared to have a meaningful dialogue with the additional people. Also, please be on time or let me know you are running late.

Sometimes I just want some basic information about a new resource. Don't assume that every inquiry for information means that I want a price proposal for it. Please give me the information I ask for and if I want a trial of the product or pricing information, I will be back in touch with you.

Please do not contact my managing partner or my firm's attorneys directly. It not only is discourteous to me, but they will also just refer you back to me. It does nothing but waste their time and yours and generate irritation with me and others in my group.

Finally, the trend by some vendors of transitioning their product to a new platform which they only offer via enterprise-wide subscriptions is doing all of us a disservice. Budgets are tight and where previously we may have had a few people with access to the product, now we are being asked to pay many, many times more for the revised product since it's now only available as an enterprise-wide service. Tough choices have to be made- disenfranchise a small group of people who really need the resource or disenfranchise others via cancelling other products so that we have the funds to cover the increased costs of the new product. Budgets aren't going up in proportion to the cost increases imposed by vendors. The more vendors who move to this kind of model, the fewer products all of us will be able to afford.

Just Kidding… One More Library Perspective
You Didn't Get My Business… Ask Me Why
Elaine Dockens

What continues to amaze me is that a vendor on the losing end of a  head-to-head competition for our business,  never makes an appointment to find out why they lost.    This bothers me because I don’t feel it’s my place to call up the vendor and say – this is why you lost and if you do x, y, and z next  time, you might win.   However, if asked, I would make comments that would be general enough to share with both sides equally, but still be helpful.
When vendors compete for our business, it benefits the law firm if they both are at the top of their game.  I’ve seen a vendor win a contract, not because they were so good, but because the other side was so bad at reading what the firm actually needed.  By doing a post-game review, the losing vendor  could  improve their chances for next time.
As for other things that bother me about vendors,  I pretty much exhausted my list in the article I wrote for LLRX last year [Vendor Pitfalls in Negotiating Large Multi-Year Contracts – or How to Lose a Million Dollar Contract.]

Seriously… This is the last Librarian Perspective (for now…)
Half-Baked Sale – Vendor's Lack of Product Development
Nancy Warren

One of my greatest frustrations with vendors is being pitched a product that is half-baked.

Two examples:

  1. One of the major legal content providers wanted to sell us a suite for transactional attorneys.  After reviewing the product for less than an hour, I found content that was mislabeled and out of order, navigation that was redundant, navigation that was missing, a complete lack of scope notes for the content areas, and category labels that were so vague, it was impossible to anticipate how to accomplish any research using the product. 
  2. Another one of the major legal vendors wanted to sell us an additional content library.  Since the other content we have from this vendor is satisfactory, we invited a handful of attorneys to the initial presentation.  This was a huge mistake as the sales representative had almost no knowledge of the new content library and thus, no awareness that it was utterly insufficient to be a viable resource for that area of law. 

Two requests for vendors:

  1. Please understand that the library staff are specialists in reviewing resources.  We will scrutinize the content, compare it to resources we already have and to potential purchases, and will weigh its value against our needs and budget.  We are also very familiar with a variety of user interfaces and understand which ones are more intuitive for our users.  Don't insult us and don't waste our time by showing us half-baked products.
  2. If you want to show us half-baked products, get us involved earlier in the development  process.  I realize that this takes money and time and that there is pressure to release products as soon as possible because the competition is tight but we are willing to provide feedback when doing so will benefit our institution.  Our expertise and time are valuable and a coffee gift card isn't enough. 

Doing it right:

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised during a demonstration of a legal services product.  We had seen the product about 7 months ago and at that time, expressed some interest but said that it was missing some key features.  Not only did they implement the one item that we said was a deal-breaker but they added some of the other features we recommended to their development schedule.  While it is possible that current customers were also asking for these features, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the product was noticeably improved and that the vendor specifically addressed the feedback we had provided.  Needless to say, we are considering making the move to this vendor.

Remember that next week's Elephant Post on What Fictional Character Would Be Great In Your Profession, will go out on Wednesday!!
Email or Tweet me for information on how you can contribute to this fun post!!

Bookmark and Share

© 2014, All Rights Reserved.