I don’t think I am telling anyone something new when I say that the relationship between legal information providers (vendors) and legal information professionals (law librarians) are at all-time lows. A once vibrant and symbiotic relationship has become one of simple buyer and seller. This has been somewhat of a slow burn evolution as vendor consolidation began in the late 1990s with the West Publishing transition into Thomson West (then eventually into Thomson Reuters), the acquisition of LexisNexis by Reed Elsevier, CCH and Aspen into Wolters Kluwer, and BNA absorbed into Bloomberg. On the librarian side, there is the seemingly reduced influence of law students on vendor products, much lower budgets from government law libraries, the “single provider” movement from law firms, and the idea that law firms are somehow still suffering from the great recession, despite most big firms posting sky-high record profits and breaking the $3 billion revenue barrier.
I just finished renewing a vendor contract over the past couple of weeks and the experience left a bitter taste in my mouth. Sudden changes in how the product is structured caused our existing “all-in” contract to suddenly become an “almost all-in” contract. It wasn’t so much that I was surprised at how it went as it was disappointment that this game is still played by vendors. Before I go into what happened, let me pull out a pop-culture reference to set the stage.
In Season 5 of the television show, Modern Family, part of the family goes to Las Vegas, and the father (Jay) pulls some strings to get the “Excelsior” package from the hotel. This is supposed to be the ultimate level of luxury and very exclusive. However, Jay later learns that there is actually another level created by the hotel called the “Excelsior Plus” package, and although he’d been told he was getting the best package, the hotel actually created something even more exclusive, and Jay learns that there are benefits that he cannot use.
Well… that about sums up my renewal. Three years ago, we rolled the dice and bought the “Excelsior” version of a very expensive product. There were modules that would come later that would be included in our subscription. No longer would we get to an important piece of information only to find out that it was outside of our contract. It was like being on the top floor of a luxury hotel and knowing that we were probably spending more than we really needed to, but we had the comfort that at least if we needed something, it would be available. Oh, the confidence that comes with luxury.
Then came time to renew.
Yes, we knew that there would be a jump in price, but we could negotiate that and come to an agreement that both sides could at least stomach. At least we would still have the “Excelsior” package and the feeling of comfort that comes with knowing that you wouldn’t get a call from a Partner in the firm asking why she was not allowed to get into this exclusive part of the product. Granted, she may never even know that part is available… but who wants to take that gamble?
Then I read the offer.
My “Excelsior” package was now a second-level subscription. No longer would “Excelsior” mean “all-in” it now meant “almost all-in.” New modules were being launched those would be outside the “Excelsior” package, and would now be a part of the new “Excelsior Plus” package. My gold user id and password card suddenly looked a little worn on the edges and I realized that it was just gold plated. We thought we were top clients, valued for taking the chance to go “all in” when the product was still an up and comer. Instead, we realized we were played by a group of executives who sat in a room and cleverly came up with an idea to screw over the top customers and create a new way of squeezing more out of us.
Then I realized that I am not a top-tier client. I am not an early adopter who will be rewarded for believing in a product when others wouldn’t. I am just a customer, and the vendor sees us as numbers in a renewal spreadsheet. Like I said earlier, I’m not surprised, I’m just disappointed.
We made the decision to stay at “Excelsior” and risk that call from a Partner one day asking why she couldn’t get into that exclusive part of the products. Time will tell if we long for the luxury of an all inclusive product and the comfort that comes with the “Excelsior Plus” package. For now, gold-plated will have to do.
One more thing.
Back to the Modern Family reference. It turned out that “Excelsior Plus” was actually not the top-tiered package. That was actually the “Excelsior Ultra” package. So, when I go to renew the next time around, I’m sure there will be an “Ultra” level renewal offer available, and that feeling of disappointment will return.
I wanted to use this platform as a way to share our experiences on the new mandatory eFiling system for Texas Civil Courts. I have talked with many librarians around Texas over the past few weeks and have found many of us have been tasked with preparing our firms for the new mandate, and working with the vendors in testing the new system. To say it has been a strain on our sanity may be a bit of an understatement.
So that we may “share the pain” (or, if you have a success story, please share that too), please comment with your experiences on this post. I know that many have decided to switch from traditional vendors because of their inability to adjust to the new eFiling system, or for the inability to also meet the mandate for eService for the ten largest Texas county courts.
Here is the statement from the eFileTexas.Gov site on the mandate:
In December 2012, the Texas Supreme Court mandated e-filing in civil matters. The first group of counties (Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, Collin, Denton, El Paso, Hidalgo and Fort Bend), the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the 14 Courts of Appeal become mandatory January 1, 2014. This means that attorneys will no longer be able to file paper documents at the clerk’s counter. E-filing in all other counties will become mandatory on a graduated schedule through July 1, 2016.
The eFiling system and consolidation under one platform is supposed to make it easier, faster, and more efficient for those filing matters with Texas courts. Has that been your experience? Have you jettisoned your current provider for a new provider? Have the Court Clerks for the counties affected been helpful during the transition? How are you preparing your attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, and other staff for the new eFiling system?
Please share your experiences with all of us!!
It was 1987 and I was in my High School Freshman English class. We were asked to pick a partner and jointly write a paper on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,
Washington Irving’s tale of a headless horseman who terrorizes a small
New England town. The assignment was to “be descriptive”. The teacher
wanted as many adjectives and adverbs as we could use to describe the
story, the characters, and the setting. The kid sitting next to me scooted his desk next to mine and we started
writing. Everyone else turned in a page or two, but we wrote eight or
nine pages and still probably had fewer sentences than any other team. I
bet that was the worst and the most painstakingly descriptive paper ever written on the subject, but we got an A.
was reminded of that incident recently when a colleague forwarded a
vendor’s email. The email was so full of jargon as to be comical.
“…we are a global customized research solutions provider. Since 2003, we have worked with a number of law firms in US
and Europe – supporting decision makers tasked with responsibility for their firm’s growth – with quick and insightful research on key initiatives relating to business development, client
retention or strategy execution.
“Our offshore research model
350+ analysts based in India – pioneered by McKinsey and now used by
many professional services firms
– allows us to cost-effectively service both urgent or
quick turnaround research requests as well as in-depth
market or competitor intelligence assessments.
[Our company] is a knowledge partner of choice to several Fortune 1000
companies and SMBs in
the US, Canada & Europe. We have executed
research assignments in more than 80 sub-sectors entailing analysis of
market and competition dynamics in 50+ countries, using a judicious
blend of secondary data sources and primary
interviews with industry stakeholders.”
I know what all of the words mean, but…
do people write this way? It’s not easy to read or understand. It
doesn’t make you or your company sound more impressive. If your
marketing materials read like my freshman English paper, I would really
hate to see what your research looks like. Try this…
“…we are a global [ ] research [ ] provider. Since 2003, we
have worked with a number of law firms in US and Europe – supporting [people with] responsibility for their firm’s growth – with [research] relating to business development, client retention or strategy execution.
model,] with 350+
analysts based in India – [DELETED Irrelevant] – allows us to [ ] service  urgent [DELETED
Redundant] research requests as well as [ ] market [and] competitor [ ] assessments. [Our company] is a [vendor] of choice to several Fortune 1000 companies and SMBs in
the US, Canada & Europe. We have [helped
more than 80 [industries] in 50+ countries, using [ ] secondary data sources and primary interviews with [people in each industry].”
Now, I’m not saying that’s the greatest copy ever written, but at least I can understand it without rereading it four times.
I’m going to make this post short and sweet. American Lawyer Media (ALM), stop acting like this is 2002 and quit with the Pop-Up Ads on your site. There is a good reason why Internet Explorer created a Pop-Up blocker in 2004!!
Nina Platt reminded me this morning of just how annoying and counter-productive these are when you’re trying to actually read something on an ALM site and you have to navigate through the pop-ups and the over-zealous ad placements on the page. I count two pop-ups surrounded by four additional ad placements. We all understand that you need to get ad revenue… but be a little more classy about how you do it, okay?? And LexisNexis, it makes you look bad, too.
|Count ’em… 2 Pop-Ups and 4 Inset Ads|
|Image [cc] Cacau & Xande|
A friend of mine pointed me to an article from Quidlibet Research, Inc.’s, Nina Cunningham, entitled “Leveraging the Assets of the Law Library.” I read it… then I read it again… then I read it again. Each time finding different things to agree, and disagree with. I sent it to staff for feedback… then I sent it to peers for feedback. Even after all of this, I’m still not sure what I think of Cunningham’s conclusions on how a Law Firm Library should be leveraged.
On my current read, my synopsis of Cunningham’s article is that Law Firm Libraries should focus on being really good researchers, and shift the managing, operations and vendor negotiations to other departments. Of course, I may read the article a few more times before completing this post, and my understanding of the article may shift once more.
Let me start off by pointing out a couple of sentences that my friend said caught her attention:
…firms of all sizes struggle to supervise law libraries. While libraries are operating departments run by professionals who should be self-supervising, the logical partner of the library is the IT Department.
This statement is backed up with the idea that Librarians are the content managers, while IT Departments are the distribution managers. This fits in with my synopsis that Librarians’ value is in researching and anything not directly related to this shouldn’t be managed by the library.
Cunningham goes on to the next segment of her article and talks about what most of us know as “Embedded Librarians” into law firm Practice Groups. She refers to it as “Subject Matter Experts” and sees it as a way to distribute the strengths of the library staff (researching) across the firm. The interesting part of the Subject Matter Expert analysis isn’t the concept of placing a skilled researcher within the Practice Group, but rather that the Subject Matter Expert should work in a very subtle way. Here’s how Cunningham puts it:
This expert contribution should not be too loudly broadcast. If it is, it could appear as a disruption to SOP and be rejected. But if given a chance, it can serve a disciplined approach to creating strategic support for the growth and development of the practice group. A librarian’s relationship with a practice group can grow naturally this way over time.
One of my peers saw this approach as being similar to creating a quasi-Practice Support Lawyer (PSL), only in this case, a Practice Support Researcher (PSR.) The way it is expressed in the article, you might define it as a Discrete Practice Support Researcher (DPSR.) There was a mention of how “IT enterprise makes for the best use of reference librarians” in this topic of DPSR’s, but I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure where the author was going on this. I ran this by some of my peers and they gave me some good feedback that I wanted to share with you.
A common mistake made when discussing embedding seems to be that the embedding researcher will quietly wait until called upon for assistance. While this model does allow the researcher to be proactive (the proverbial fly on the wall), it also restricts their effectiveness. As an embed with [a practice group], I ask questions on the conference calls and use my experience to provide guidance to help the group achieve its goals. There has to be a give and take.
In terms of leveraging librarians (with rare exception – present company of course excluded) Librarians would need to be trained and coached to feel comfortable outside of their libraries. It is akin to training associates to be rainmakers and bring in clients. How much of the literature out there discusses whether or not associates should be trained in BD or leave it to those who are naturally interested/capable. Introverts vs Extroverts. In my experience the theory of the embedded Librarian is great, in practice, it intimidates….
I have believed for a longtime that law librarians should be leveraged as PSLs. US firms have had little interest in adding PSL headcount, but I believe that law librarians have the requisite skills (at least the ones I know) and interests to perform much of the work of a PSL and most firms already have the headcount. This would require Library Services to rethink their position
Next up on the list was what Nina Cunningham refers to as “so-called technical services activities.” These are the areas where library staff are having to spend time actually managing the firm’s print and digital materials, and how this tends to define the library’s role in the firm:
These activities are administrative in nature and surround the purchase of new print materials, online cataloguing, routing of print or digital materials, and the lending, finding and shelving of books. These activities are relevant to managing physical assets but are too often identified as the only library activity. This undervalues research staff and overvalues book management. In an era of downsizing and cost containment, law firms should be biased in favor of contributions to client value.
How Cunningham argues libraries should handle this so-called technical services role is something that I think she oversimplifies. Her answer (in my interpretation) is that the IT Department can assist and streamline the entire process of managing the collection through a series of list building and records consolidation. I’m thinking that the response from many “so-called” technical services librarians would be that we’ve been doing list building and records consolidation well before there was even such a thing as a so-called IT Department. However, to Cunningham’s credit, she does have a point that the management of the collection is perceived to be a low value to the firm. Of course, the “low value” is relative… try telling a Practice Group Leader that their core materials for researching their practice area are being cut or reallocated through list building or records consolidation and see how low value the service is then.
The pièce de résistance of Cunningham’s article surrounds the idea that vendor contract negotiations are not a value of the law library, and should therefore be turned over to the better negotiators found in the IT Department. Her concept is that the librarians define the content needed from the vendors, but the negotiations should then go to the experts. This leads me to my favorite quote in the article:
…it is a gift to librarians to limit their involvement in contract negotiations.
This part got many of my peers talking, and disagreeing with Cunningham’s assumptions on placing negotiations in the hands of IT. Here are a couple of responses I received from peers.
Library Contracts should be negotiated by Librarians. These services are not like purchasing a software or SAAS package. The service needs to meet the content needs of the attys in a way that they are comfortable with. Librarians also have a deeper understanding of the quirks of the vendors, which as publishers have a different pricing model than software companies do. I have been involved with IT contracts and they have different set of serviced level requirements than the Library contracts. Also, knowing these contracts allows the librarian to contribute significantly to cost recovery efforts firm wide.
Contract negotiations should be done by whomever is best at it and understand the opportunity cost of the exercise with the particular vendor. All admin groups work with vendors and negotiate contracts, – Accounting and Office Services with companies like Xerox and whomever sells your paper and pens, HR with employees, Benefit providers, Marketing with Multinational media outfits, SWAG companies, printers, ad agencies, IT with software and hardware vendors, telecom companies and of course Library with licensed content. There are many more negotiations in between it is a part of management to do take on this role and it may be that while you are a terrific manager of an admin group, you can’t negotiate contracts so you hand that piece off to someone else in your group who can be fierce but fair. To hand it all over to IT, in my mind makes no sense…as non users of the content, they can never understand the negotiation.
I hear what [the Librarian above] is saying about understanding the contracts and how law librarians have a unique understanding of research needs (and I agree), just like IT has unique understanding of IT needs. Procurement is a disciplined approach to buying – not a skill set commonly found in IT or LS. The idea is to involve IT and Library Services to the extent necessary to get the right product, but let procurement do the heavy lifting on negotiating the contracts.
No time to read all of this. Busy negotiating contracts on behalf of the Library. Lazy b*stards. Why don’t they negotiate their own contracts?
Okay, the last comment was one of my friends having fun with the rest of us.
My own thoughts on vendor negotiations, and what I’m hoping where Cunningham is intending to go with this argument, is that there is some value in negotiating with the vendors in a unified way. Especially in this time where a vendor like Thomson Reuters is selling products to IT, Accounting, Marketing, Library, Records, Conflicts, etc., there is opportunity to leverage that relationship and end up with a better overall deal for the firm by pointing out the large amount of money the firm spends, as a whole, with the vendor. However, I think it is an oversimplification of the process to simply have the different groups define their content needs and then turn the reigns over to the IT Department to negotiate.
The best thing about Nina Cunningham’s article is that it got me discussing this with my peers, librarians and others within the law firm structure. Although I don’t agree with some of the pieces of her argument, there are a few points that are well taken, and hopefully others within the profession will pick up the discussion from here and come back with additional comments and suggestions for how to handle leveraging (and defining) the assets of the Law Library.
|Image [cc] jronaldlee|
Tracy Thompson-Pryzlucki sent the following letter to AALL members this morning to explain why she is supporting the changes in AALL Bylaws (PDF) that expand the definition of Active AALL members. I asked Tracy if I could repost her letter on 3 Geeks as a continuation of the conversation started last week with an open letter against the amendment. Although, I am a backer of the amendment, I do appreciate the membership’s ability to express their opinions and have an open discussion of both sides of the issue. I agree with Tracy in that the way our members work is changing, and AALL needs to be ahead of this change in order to make sure we do not lose members simply because we feared that two vendors might find a way to take over the association. I do understand that fear, but I don’t think that we can let a worst-case scenario cause us to become a more exclusive organization in a time where we need to become more inclusive. Of course, Tracy says it much more eloquently than I.
Voting starts today. AALL members should receive an email from the organization with instructions to vote. Regardless of if you vote yes or no, I encourage you to read the amendments, look at both sides and vote what you think is best for the association. – GL
I am so grateful to these members who are engaged enough in their association to get this conversation going! A bylaws change should get our attention and get us thinking about outcomes and consequences, intended or otherwise.
I have been giving a lot of thought to the bylaws change (as a member who may or may not be currently excluded from participation in the highest ranks of AALL) and in the end I am in favor of the amendment, and for reasons that I hope are not dismissed as self-serving. I should note however, that I am now and have always identified as an ‘active’ member. And even if the bylaws change is not approved I plan to continue to self-identify as an active member until I am officially notified that I am denied that status. The current bylaws language is subject to interpretation, and if pressed I suppose the case is easy for me to make, as I do physically “work in a library.” However, if NELLCO were to relocate to office space outside of the Albany Law Library, would I then be relegated to Associate Membership status? I don’t think that achieves any perceived goal.
Here are my reasons for supporting the bylaws change:
1) While I do understand the concern that big money vendors could ‘stack the deck,’ the likelihood of that happening, in light of (1) the nominations process and (2) the membership’s voting power, seems obscure.
2) The Members of AALL ARE AALL. If we find this does in fact lead us in the wrong direction, we can change it.
3) Vendors are now fully active in the association in every aspect except Board service, and many have volunteered their time and talents for years. AALL should be able to leverage that expertise and reward that commitment with Board service when it’s warranted.
4) Membership categories are self-selecting, and are not being actively policed by AALL. And who is the arbiter? There are too many what-ifs and no one to adjudicate and enforce.
5) I don’t think a handful of well-resourced people with ulterior motives, even if they were to collude, can overcome the morality of the individuals within the membership.
If the membership of AALL really thinks this proposed change poses a threat to the Association’s integrity, my suggestions would be either:
- try to describe the very narrow category of people you are trying to exclude and recommend a clause that would cover that instance or
- consider recommending the revival of an ethics committee within AALL as a more comprehensive solution to the kinds of concerns you are raising.
I look forward to this continued discussion.
Tracy L. Thompson-Przylucki, Executive Director
New England Law Library Consortium (NELLCO)
Albany Law School
Schaffer Law Library
The partner was hoping to be able to tell his fellow attorneys that the firm doesn’t approve of consumer cloud storage for client related information, however, if you are going to use a consumer solution for “personal information” we recommend provider X. My pessimistic report made even that a difficult statement. Still hoping to salvage something from this conversation he asked a follow-up question.
“Do any of these services provide anything close to the level of security we have in email?”
Had I sipped my coffee a second earlier I surely would have showered my office with stale joe.
“Excuse me”, I said, “Could you ask that again?”
“Attorneys send client confidential information all the time via email, so do any of these services come close to meeting the standards for email security?”
That’s what I thought he meant. I broke the news to him slowly, explaining it this way. “I wouldn’t put anything in consumer cloud storage that I wouldn’t leave in a file folder on the front seat of my locked car. But, I wouldn’t put anything in an email that I wouldn’t write on the back of a postcard and hand to a stranger on the street to mail for me. The least secure of these consumer cloud storage solutions is many, many times more secure than a standard unencrypted email. In fact, some of them have much better security protocols than your average law firm.”
The partner was flummoxed. “Then what’s the big deal about this cloud thing?”
I was reminded of this incident when I attended the ILTA conference a couple of weeks ago. In the vendor hall I saw a lot of vendors pushing their cloud-based SaaS solutions and a lot of firms saying, “Sorry, we have to host all of our own data.” Typically the vendor went on to explain the value of allowing them to host the data. The product is constantly monitored, backed up, and securely encrypted in transit and at rest. The product and mobile apps are updated multiple times a day. They simply can’t provide such a high level of service if you insist on hosting the product behind your firewall.
Once that happens law firms will look back on all of the sturm und drang surrounding the Cloud, Software as a Service, and the Consumerization of IT, and they’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. They’ll probably also wonder what all those nice people who used to run their network are doing now.
|Image [cc] Bobby Cromick|
[Note: I received this guest post last week, but the writer asked to remain anonymous. Quite frankly, this wasn’t the first time I heard someone voice this opinion, so let us know if you think they are on-point with this post, or if you think Bloomberg Law isn’t just a different flavor of Kool-Aid.]
It seems there is a lot of wonder, awe and excitement over the activities of Bloomberg Law as of late. Their pricing structure, the acquisition of BNA and the quest to ‘replace one of the big two’; all sending the library community into a frenzy. But, I ask why?
First, pricing. So an information vendor comes to you and offers “steep discounting” in exchange for a long term commitment. OK, I can get behind that. However, what is happening is not a fair exchange nor is it anything new or revolutionary. Take a look at the pricing practices of the major online vendors. Is Bloomberg really doing anything different? No.
Next, a number of fellow Library Professionals seemed downright giddy when the BNA purchase was announce. Why? Haven’t most of us cancelled a majority of our BNA publications? What does the purchase of BNA by another publishing behemoth do to improve a product already fading from the interest of our attorneys.
Finally, who really thinks that a year, two years from now any law firm will have to have TWO major online vendors? And, conceivably, that Bloomberg Law will edge out one of the “Heavies” for the long-sought-after 2nd place. Really? Firms can’t afford to dish out triple-digits a month per attorney just to make sure there are two major online vendors available with redundant content.
The associates I work with tell me they just want to be made aware of the resources available and what a client will pay for OR the firm will write off. They don’t care if there are two, three, four sources for primary law. They just want to make sure they can find their print outs from Google Scholar on the network printer.
|Image [cc] Slippery Tiger|
I have found that librarians at law firms walk a tightrope strung over the thorny issues of cost, risk and user demands. We have a reputation of being “gatekeepers” or impeding advances in legal research by holding on to old media at the expense of new media. Although it may be true that there are a few Luddites clinging to the idea of a traditional brick & mortar library, those Luddites are few and far between. Most librarians are actually ready and willing to adopt new ideas, media, technology, user experiences, and procedures, but they are also responsible for advising the risk involved in the adoption to the overall firm in which they work. There are times in which the risk outweighs the cool factor in moving forward.
One of the common themes I’m hearing from vendors these days is that “we need to get our products in front of the attorneys because the librarians are too challenging to work with.” It is a logical thought on their end because librarians are challenging. We look past the “whiz-bang” interface and start asking the questions of “how much does it cost?” or “who can access it?” or “does it work with our current infrastructure?” or “what happens if someone gets into something we didn’t put in our contract?” or “if we bill clients for the use of this product, can you work with us to make sure we follow ABA guidelines?” In other words, we ask challenging questions and won’t move forward until those questions are answered.
There is a reason that law firms hire librarians to manage their external legal research content. We mitigate risk – both ethical and fiscal for the firm. We report up to the powers-that-be in a firm and present the pros and cons of new products, give our recommendations, then implement the decisions that are made. Sometimes the potential rewards are worth the risk, sometimes they are not. Like it or not, librarians do not make the final decision, however we do relay that decision to the vendors (so to them, it seems that we are the problem.) There are librarians out there that never want to bring in new products or technology, but they are rare – and getting rarer.
When vendors successfully do an end-run around the library and get a Partner to sign off on a contract for their product, the librarian spends the next year attempting to undo the damage. Pull any law librarian to the side in at a conference and have them tell you the horror stories of what happened when a Practice Group bought a product (usually somewhere in the vicinity of $25K) only to find out that the firm already had a similar product (sometimes the same exact product), or that the product actually didn’t solve that problem the Practice Group thought it would. The story usually ends with how much time the librarian spent on getting the contract reworked into an existing deal (reducing the overall cost, but retaining the product) or finding some way to get out of the contract after tracking down the contract signed by the group.
Many librarians would love to adopt the newest version of a legal research product and be on the bleeding edge of technology. However, our biggest duty to the firm is to make sure that we first look at the risks associated with taking on the latest and greatest products. Skipping the library (either by a vendor, or someone on the inside of the firm) may get a product into the firm, however, it rarely comes without introducing some unforeseen risk to the firm. The librarian is then asked to fix the problem, and usually a note goes out reminding members of the firm that all contracts have to be negotiated through the proper channels, and that “X” vendor must from this point go through the proper channels. For the vendor, the short-term victory turns into a long-term damage to their reputation within the firm. Even worse, now they have to go, hat in hand, to the very librarian they excluded, and work to make amends.