A memo (see snippet below) was sent out to all associates at one national firm last week mandating any associate that “utilizes or intends to utilize Westlaw” to attend a training session to learn the firm’s “Best Practices”. I’m actually glad to see that a firm has stepped up and created a “Best Practices” manual for using resources like Westlaw, and is using the professional staff in the library to do the training (rather than having the Westlaw rep come in and do it for them.)

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

  • Thanks for this post! At my firm, we in the library are currently brain-storming about reducing CALR costs (among other goals) through additional training. We now have more ideas to present to administration and to our colleagues in professional development.

  • I'm not sure I would eliminate outright the WL and LN trainers from consideration when presenting online research best practices to the associates. While there are certainly some WL/LN reps who earn more when users confuse in-contract and out-of-contract databases, in my experience most want the firm to maximize the value of the contract by using what was negotiated, and don't want to trick the firms into spending more. It's an excruciating process for a rep to secure a credit for such out-of-contract usage (because more managers than reps live for the "gotcha" game) so most reps try to avoid it up front.

    Librarians will, of course, have this same objective, but — and not to put too fine a point on it — mastery of online research is a very different skill than end-user training. I've seen too many librarians with no training in how to be a trainer take over a training session and no one learns anything.

    A good librarian with a background in end-user training working with a conscientious vendor rep can be a very fruitful partnership.

  • Tim,

    I agree that the WL/LN reps can be great trainers for their products. The thing that I've found that a librarian (that is also a good trainer) does is brings in the "whole picture" to the training session. In other words, they tend to know all of (or at least most of) the subscriptions that the firm has. So, when an issue comes up about what to do when you need to research something that isn't included in a specific vendor's product, many times the librarian can point to another product that is available.
    In fact, any time that a message comes up that a product is "out of contract" or has those infamous "$$$" next to it, a "Best Practice" would be to contact the library to see if that same resource is available somewhere else that wouldn't cost the firm or the client additional charges to access it.
    That sort of topic just would not be covered by a WL/LN rep.
    I'm also sure there is a "gotcha" game out there, too. But, most of the librarians I've talked to about training aren't about embarrasing the associates, but rather about preventing the associate from making a costly mistake in the first place (one that the library ends up having to place on its budget and explain to the partners later on.)
    Perhaps a combination of WL/LN reps training on specific resources, coupled with someone within the firm who knows the resources available to the associates could be a good solution.

  • CAB

    We have had mandatory Westlaw/Lexis retraining for years. The associates have to do this once a year to maintain their passwords. It is taught by the rep but the outline is created by the librarians and we sit in on the training to "chime in". It is a great way to show new enhancements and explain the cost of the new enhancements and the alternatives available.

  • CAB – How often do you do retraining?

  • Anonymous

    Westlaw needs to change its pricing model to reflect reality. The cost to them per search is de minimis, yet the collective cost they are charging is insane.

    My Paralegal program's Westlaw access was set up so we received a sample bill each month. My law school's program did not have the same service. I think that is a disservice, receiving the sample bill really pushed how much it costs.

  • Great post, Greg. I second Dave's question to CAB about how often they retrain and would also love to know more specifics about the national firm's Best Practices. I'm also curious about if/how one retrains partners (who often forget some basics or miss new enhancements b/c they may not use WL as often.)

    Our firm library does a combination of cost-effective Westlaw training taught by the Westlaw rep along with an overview of how our contract works, included vs. excluded usage and our cost-recovery policy. While Westlaw pricing can make it difficult to understand, we try to get the key points across.

    My thought is that if associates understand this process from the outset, it can help them to be more cost-effective researchers and better manage costs for their clients (and the firm) when they become partners.

  • CAB

    We retrain annually in the spring. That means all the fall hires and laterals who have joined over the last year get included before the summer associates arrive. I got the firm management to mandate this but it does not include the partners. Most partners if they haven't been online for a bit have an associate or the library staff do their searching. I do monitor usage every week and contact anyone who looks out of line in charges. It creates a one on one training session.

  • Great post, Greg! We've been meeting with private law librarians & academics in Boston & I hear a lot of need for this kind of training up here. I hope your post triggers more interest! I posted a link at Out of the Jungle: http://tinyurl.com/22stw8r