When I was in the US Army, we used to have a saying: “Do not tick off the Mess Cook, the Supply Sergeant, or the Payroll Officer.” The reason was simple… you didn’t want to worry about what was in your food, pay for items that were mysteriously signed out to you and then lost; or, find that your check got routed to Ft. Dix, NJ and will make its way back in a couple of weeks. None of these guys were your boss, or even that high ranking a soldier. However, they had power and could use it in ways that could make things difficult for you if they wanted.

Think of that saying when you read this little email advertisement that was sent out by someone at Westlaw.

“Are You On A First Name Basis With The Librarian? If so, chances are, you’re spending too much time in the library.”
This little doozey was making its way around the law-lib listserv on Monday and was causing quite a stir on at least one blog. Although this is a pretty poor advertisement, I don’t think they meant it the way it came out. A fact which was verified by Anne Ellis later on Monday.
Here is what the ad department at Westlaw was probably trying to say: “If you’re a lawyer, you shouldn’t rely solely on the law librarian to pull your documents or do your research.” That would actually be a great ad.
This contentious ad seems to promote the idea that the librarian is a resource of last resort. Of course, this flies in the face of the argument that most librarians (including myself) tell their lawyers and paralegals, which is: “if you cannot find what you are looking for in a short period of time, call the law librarian for help. Chances are he or she has already researched that topic and can point you in the right direction.”
I’m pretty sure that the genesis for the Westlaw ad was the fact that the sales reps from the legal research providers see the librarians as “gatekeepers.” All of us know how frustrating it can be to deal with gatekeepers, whether it is a certain secretary, paralegal, junior partner, etc. So, in a way, I can understand how the creator of this ad came up with the idea, but the fact that they actually sent this thing around as an email was just bad judgement. You can criticize gatekeepers all you want to your friends and colleagues, but for goodness sakes, don’t put it in an email and broadcast it.
Just like with my Army buddies at the mess hall, the supply room or the payroll office, law librarians have a job to do, and as a general rule, we do it well. So, let’s be a little more careful with how you think lawyers should be using the librarian as a resource in your next ad.
  • I love my librarians; in fact, I have always had a secret desire to be one.

    West should watch it–they are biting the hand that feeds them!

  • Here is a good response to West's "Love Letter To Librarians" response. Adam Lederer says :

    Going forward, librarians should refuse (en masse) to appear in any advertisement for one of these information providers. The profession should make a statement that these large institutions, in the so called "business of information", cannot coddle with one hand and slap with the other. Our jobs as information professionals require us to be source neutral and these advertisements (see AALL Spectrum), regardless of content and copy, are tantamount to endorsement of one source over another. We are not here to act as billboards for these companies. I, along with colleagues, have questioned these ads as they pertain to the so called "ideals" of information professionalism and the possible quid pro quo involved.

    I'm thinking that this grenade that got tossed yesterday hasn't gone off yet.

  • Although I've been heard to tout the end of the listserv… I've decided to post a comment to the law-lib listserv on this topic:

    A deeper problem that I'm seeing here, is that there is a shift in the Thomson/Reuters methodology on how they are handling their library relations. The last two messages I've seen from Anne Ellis are her reacting to decisions that West has made (non-participation in AALL Annual Vendor Price Guide, and this Ad Campaign). The Law Library Relationship program was supposed to work as a way for the law librarian community to have a voice within West and I seem to remember Anne telling me that her position was to work as an ombudsman between the powers-that-be at West and the law library community, and not a part of West's Marketing campaign. Instead, what we've seen is Anne being sent out to placate librarians whenever there is a decision made inside West that law librarians question or criticize.

    The past couple of years have seen a decline in the Library Relations program (reduced funding, reduced visits, and experienced people laid off.) So, my biggest concerns are that as West becomes a smaller portion of the Thomson/Reuters franchise, are these ad campaigns and refusal to contribute to the law library community resources going to continue? Is the Library Relations program going to be a two-way communication or will it continue down the marketing path and become the mouthpiece for Thomson/Reuters to the library community with the constant message of "here is why we did this" ?

    I'm hoping that Anne sees the changes that are going on and can go back to the powers-that-be and push for the Library Relations program to go back to its original mission and be a better voice for the law librarian community within Thomson/Reuters. If it turns out that Thomson/Reuters has decided that the Library Relations program should be more of a marketing tool than a representative of the law librarian community, then I would ask that Anne and the others within the Library Relations program resign in protest. I sincerely hope that it does not come to that.

  • Greg – thanks for your post, interesting and not the first nor undoubtedly the last post I will read on this subject. I understand that West have now apologised for the email, which is great.

    I'm not sure Adam's response is a good one, if we did this where would it stop? Would we have to stop commenting on resources in magazines and journal articles, would we end up boycotting social events organised by these companies?

    As you say an advert that says "If you're a lawyer, you shouldn't rely solely on the law librarian to pull your documents or do your research." would have been great and we actively encourage people to do this, that is why we pay Westlaw and Lexis Nexis the money we do so fee-earners can access these database without having to go through us all the time.

  • I spend significant amounts of time each day researching. That is what associates do. I have a few thoughts about this "ad" from Westlaw.

    I started law school in 2002 and, although both Lexis and Westlaw were readily available, we were not allowed to use "online sources" for the first semester. We learned to use digests, the ALR, West's keynumber system, and Shepard's print reports. Legal research involves more than the "/s" and "/10" commands that I use so frequently today. Online sources will not replace actual libraries.

    Next, my firm has a flat-rate subscription to Westlaw. That subscription allows unlimited searches of: case law, statutory law (but not the CFR), and a variety of secondary sources. It is a good subscription and it covers nearly all of my research needs. But, it doesn't cover everything.

    If there is a source that my subscription doesn't cover, it is much more effective for me to walk two blocks to our state or federal court and use the libraries there. I'm not going to pay a couple hundred dollars to print a few sections out of Couch or Appleman on Insurance or McQuillin on Corporations; I can get an actual person to help me find what I'm looking for — for free!

    I still frequent the BYU Law Library (my alma mater) and the University of Utah's Law Library. At both places, I get free access to materials and treatises that would rack up thousands of dollars in Westlaw fees in a matter of minutes (and I can even check out and take most of the stuff that I need). As legal costs continue to skyrocket, libraries become an excellent, cost-effective way for lawyers to get the information they need.

    My firm is small; 15 or so attorneys, a couple of paralegals, and staff. Our firm library is even smaller. If I need something we don't have, I call up the librarian at another firm in our building. She is the best. I will ask her if they have what I'm looking for ("they" is Snow, Christensen & Martineau in Salt Lake if you are wondering). There is no comparison between the help she provides and the worthless "click here for assistance" option offered by West.

    A good librarian's knowledge and expertise cannot be overvalued; it is that personal touch that online, subscription-based services cannot imitate. Especially when you consider how much a single query can cost!

    I'm sure that West and Lexis think that they will eventually replace law libraries and librarians. I'm also sure that, back when computers started becoming the norm, there were some people who predicted that the days of estate planners and transactional attorneys were numbered. After all, a computer could handle form-based practices more quickly and efficiently than an actual lawyer. Last time I checked, however, there are still plenty of estate planners and transactional attorneys. There are some things that technology has yet to replicate; the knowledge and personal touch that comes from a well-versed law librarian is one of those things.

    Finally, with the number of free, online resources increasing exponentially, I would think that West would be trying to create alliances with librarians (so that the librarians would continue to direct students to pay-based products rather than free online resources) rather than alienating the very people who help the rest of us find what we need.

    I don't think the theory that "any press is good press" applies here. If anything, that "ad" hammers home the point that I would be more effective if I spent more time in the library researching the nuts and bolts of an issue rather than reading annotations of 2,037 cases that fit my query.

    I hope my brevity is appreciated.


  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately you might just have to get used to the disconnect from TR. As former and current "Westies" will tell you the direction of the co. has gone south, and over seas. The general mood there is not great. Most of the experienced staff in all departments are either being laid off or forced into retirement. There is a high expectation for profit and busy work vs. quality. As the experience of the staff dwindles you will see more of these kinds of "mistakes" and non-communication between departments. Everyday I leave and shake my head over what has become of our beloved WEST.