By Steven A. Lastres, director of knowledge management services at Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, as part of Ark Group’s new book Emerging Approaches to Information Services.
In order to give clients their best advice, law firms need to ensure that their lawyers are informed about the latest news, legal developments, decisions, and deals – as well as keeping an eye on the competition. Forward-thinking firms are taking content aggregation tools used
for over a decade to the next level by providing content intelligence platforms.
Content intelligence combines business intelligence with content management. This helps law firms manage a vast amount of unstructured data and helps the lawyer make smart strategic and tactical decisions. The primary benefit of content intelligence is that it delivers personalized information to each individual or team within an organization based on their particular focus and personal preferences. Some of the user features include real-time current awareness dashboards with the ability for lawyers to search across the entire data warehouse of the firm’s premium subscription services and internet resources and providing them with the ability to create their own alerts. Additionally, by taking advantage of the technology and the expertise of information professionals embedded within practice groups, client teams, industry sectors, and market teams, firms can publish curated e-newsletters that
pinpoint the specific needs of their audience more accurately.
Actionable intelligence is also being pushed directly onto practice groups, client teams, and industry intranet pages as well as their lawyers’ mobile devices for easy access. Lawyers can now keep up on a real-time basis with the latest relevant information that affects their practice and clients, making them not only knowledgeable but proactive in servicing their clients.
The need to move beyond content aggregation
The use of content aggregation tools in law firms is nothing new. Most firms adopted these tools almost a decade ago as a way to solve information overload. In the past, lawyers were inundated with dozens of daily emails from vendors pushing their publications directly to a lawyer’s email inbox and clogging the communication channel meant primarily for clients. Content aggregation tools solved this problem – one email
a day contained all the updates, and so became widely adopted in law firms. As good as they were, content aggregation tools are no longer an effective solution for delivering current awareness. What changed? With the age of the internet came the disaggregation of the major legal publishers. A handful of legal and business publishers mushroomed into thousands of publishers from traditional media as well as social media. As a result, there has been exponential growth in the sheer volume of current awareness content that we are pushing to our end-users. Furthermore, the business downturn in the legal industry since 2008 increased lawyer’s focus on business development – reducing the time lawyers have to spend keeping up with current awareness both for the practice and business of law.
Due to the convergence of exponential growth in content sources and the breadth of what lawyers need to know to be successful as practitioners and business leaders, lawyers have shifted how they consume current awareness. It is no longer customary for a lawyer to read an electronic newsletter cover to cover. Instead, lawyers scan the headlines of current awareness content search for specific content on a real-time basis. Many traditional aggregation tools have not kept up with the changing needs of users. This has led to a demand for a smarter tool that can help lawyers effectively search and filter for the most relevant and actionable information related to the reader’s specific preferences based on their practice, clients, deals, etc.
The role of information professionals in delivering content intelligence
In law firms, there is an expectation that information professionals should understand what specific content is required for the groups they support, but also the custom individual practitioners need to be successful. It is no longer acceptable to simply push RSS or XML feeds that publishers provide to us as they update their own publications on a 24-hour cycle. In fact, our users are looking for tools that provide not only content itself, but also for ways to put that content within context, minus the noise, so they can focus on what is important to them. As stewards of the firm’s information resources, how do information professionals advance from simply providing content aggregation to providing content intelligence?
Checklist of functionality to consider in a content intelligence platform
Taxonomy and search
The backbone of any content intelligence system is the taxonomy that enables information professionals to accurately and automatically categorize content by facets such as subject, client, industry, geography, practice group, etc. Look for relevant, pre-built search taxonomies to aid in reducing irrelevant content. Overlay your firm’s custom-built taxonomy with the platform’s out-of-the-box taxonomy. Remember that
a robust taxonomy leads to more effective and efficient searching of resources and on-point content delivery. It is highly recommended that in evaluating any content intelligence platform you spend a significant amount of time testing to ensure you receive expected results.
Look to see what the underlying search engine is that the vendor is using. Is it a proprietary search engine or is it an industry leader like IBM Watson? The more robust the search engine, the better results you will be able to deliver to your end users and the easier for end users to find content on their own through the platform. Does the search engine provide you with robust filtering capabilities to narrow and sort search
The old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” applies to content systems as well as databases. It is critical to your success to evaluate the source management tool which enables information professionals to manage all of the organization’s content sources (free, premium, and firm proprietary content) so they can pick the right set of information. Be aware that some vendors may charge you to add premium content. Do not overlook the ability to connect to your firm’s automated HR system or Active Directory data so that you can programmatically assign sources to certain individuals, teams, and/or firm-wide. Does the platform provide the ability to control the relevancy of sources by pushing articles from certain sources higher up in search results or by excluding certain sources?
Reporting is a critical feature of any source management tool and the ability to obtain detailed metrics by content title, user, and distribution list. Having granular metrics about content title, users, and distribution equips the information professional with objective data about usage. This is invaluable when the time comes to negotiate licensing agreements that are aligned with “actual” usage and to see unambiguously what content your users find valuable.
The platform must have the ability to seamlessly integrate content in any standard format: RSS, XML, PDF, URL links, e-mails, Twitter feeds, and website scraping into one platform. Integration helps your users on any of the firm’s platform that they choose to use, including the intranet, extranet and mobile apps with focused content and important information relating to specific practices, industries, and clients. Be mindful that your use of these formats should conform to the license agreements you negotiate with your premium content vendors. There is a growing trend among marketing professionals to use content intelligence platforms to distribute internal firm newsletters within the content aggregation tool as well as ingesting external client advice memos from other firms to monitor competitors. Therefore, keep in mind that there are many
different types of content formats beyond RSS or XML formats that the platform needs to accommodate.
Curation and publishing
As lawyers continue to get buried in an avalanche of content, curated newsletters are now a critical tool for information professionals to get the attention of an information saturated audience. Curated newsletters should be created not only for specific practice areas, but also for market teams, management, and industry groups. As more informational professionals are embedded into various legal and marketing teams, they
become keenly aware of what content those groups need. That insight helps the newsletter editors to cherry-pick content of greatest relevance from all of the content sets that the group receives. A well curated newsletter is extremely valuable: it saves the lawyers from having to scroll through and navigate all the content that a typical content aggregation tool pushes to them. And anything that saves lawyers time is golden! What we now hear from our lawyers, is that “if I don’t have time to read Law360, the BNA newsletter, the Wolters Kluwer newsletter, and the other alerts that I receive each day, I just read the curated newsletter because I am guaranteed to not miss any critical content that’s relevant to my practice.” In fact, it is now commonplace for partners to regularly interact with the information professionals to tweak curated newsletters to focus on new areas of interest or potential clients. This level of collaboration previously was uncommon aside from the occasional research request.
For information professionals, this has opened up a new avenue of collaboration with firm leadership, partners, and other decision makers at the firm and has raised their profile as valued partners in supporting the business and practice of law.
Competitive intelligence and data analytics
With the influx of big data in the legal industry, it is critically important that your content intelligence platform automate the gathering of competitive information, business news, and social media using an analytics engine designed to find, analyze, display, and disseminate intelligence to help drive results within your organization. When lawyers receive daily alerts via email there is a lack of insight and context into
the portfolio of feeds that they are receiving. Data analytics can illuminate this large array of content. Cloud tags by industry, entity, persons named, and geography can help make sense of multiple news stories. Bar charts show what’s trending on a particular day for a particular client or particular feed. These tools give readers insight that cannot be replicated by traditional daily email pushes.
In terms of media content, it is important today more than ever that we include social media channels in addition to traditional media. There are a number of providers that are scraping content from social media which has become important for law firms in sending out client advice memos, press releases, and other information onto social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Social media has become another important
channel for marketing and business development initiatives.
Dashboard view of my alerts
Lawyers are not stock traders. They don’t sit in front of a Bloomberg terminal waiting with bated breath for market data and news to complete a trade. But lawyers do need to be kept abreast on a real-time basis of significant legislative, regulatory, and deal information that impacts their clients and practice. As a result, a once-a-day email push, perhaps an afternoon update is no longer sufficient. Lawyers want to know about breaking news so they can be the first to inform their client. However, by sending out real-time alerts to a lawyer’s inbox we run the risk of bombarding their inbox with a plethora of new additional emails and so we defeat the purpose of what content aggregation tools were meant to solve. Instead, by providing the user with a dashboard view of their alerts on their desktop or mobile device, they are able to easily view and consume breaking alerts on all of their current awareness alerts as well as disseminate the information to clients and internal team members,subject to copyright permission.
Confirm that your content aggregation tool has the ability to push realtime alerts within their tool onto a user’s dashboard or practice group or client team page as opposed to clogging up a lawyer’s email inbox. Arguably, while there may be times where a specific alert needs to be pushed by email, what is needed is the flexibility to offer it in both the
content aggregation tool as well as in email.
End user creation and management of custom alerts
While many partners do not fully utilize many of the technology tools deployed at law firms, millennial lawyers are a more appreciative audience. A content intelligence platform should provide the end user who wants to create his or her own custom alerts with the tools to do so. Those self-help users ought to be able to edit and delete alerts directly from the user interface. Those user created alerts may not substitute for the sophisticated alerts created by information professionals, however they do provide the end user with options for keeping themselves informed.
The market players in the legal sector and how to evaluate their tools
There are some excellent content intelligence tools in the legal market. Below, I mention those that as of the writing of this article are the serious market players in the legal sector. Remember, what makes a great tool for one law firm may make it a poor choice at another firm. It is incumbent upon every information professional to perform their due diligence review. Survey your lawyers and conduct focus groups to determine their needs before you start shopping. Create a detailed request for proposal (RFP) focusing on the content, features, and functionality you need delivered to solve the business problems you are trying to solve for your users. Since no tool is likely to check off all the boxes in your RFP, you may want to include a contract provision to engage the vendor to develop the functionality you need within a short period after signing an agreement. Pay special attention to the service-level agreement to ensure your vendor can deliver on a platform that works as close to 24/7 as possible with minimal downtime for maintenance and upgrades.
While you can use your RFP checklist to narrow down your choices to a few tools, in order to understand which tool really gets you closest to solving your firm’s content needs, you must conduct at least two pilots to kick the tires. The pilot will provide you with valuable feedback to understand what the tool does well and what you thought it could do, but it really doesn’t do. Pilots should include information professionals
and end users comprised of lawyers and marketing professionals. Good candidates to evaluate a new tool are the top complainers at your firm who constantly say they’re drowning in information. Don’t be sidetracked into looking at products that only have a great administrative tool that help the information professionals better manage content but that do not address the needs of your users. Focus first on what it is that the lawyers need because they are the core audience that will be using the tool. Next, look for a tool that has a simple and easy-to-use interface. Unnecessary complexity will prove to be a barrier to adoption. Secondarily, focus on the needs of the information professionals.
Assuming you find a tool that has all of the bells and whistles that you could possibly want, provide a list of all of the publishers and titles you would like to disseminate to your users. Confirm that the content intelligence tool vendor has executed licenses and distribution agreements with those publishers to ingest and distribute the content that you want to send to your lawyers. This is particularly important with your premium content sources. Neutral content intelligence tools that do not create and sell their own content like InfoNGen, Manzama, Ozmosys, and Vable are likely to benefit from close relationships with all legal and business publishers than content intelligence tools that also publish and sell content like Bloomberg/BNA and Lexis. Be aware that some legal
publishers like Lexis and Westlaw will require an additional agreement to allow their law firm clients to stream their content through a content intelligence tool.
Don’t underestimate the deployment time that it takes to implement a content intelligence tool. It is highly suggested you use a project manager since it is likely to take a minimum of three months to get all of your feeds and alerts onto any new system as well as syncing users from your HR or AD system. Further, you will likely need to dedicate one or more full time equivalents (FTEs) to managing and maintaining the content intelligence platform. And do not overlook the need for some lawyer training and feedback loop.
What lawyers want most out of a content intelligence tool is the ability to keep up on a real-time basis with the latest relevant information that impacts their practice and clients, making them not only knowledgeable but proactive in servicing their clients. The closer your content intelligence strategy is aligned to the business strategy of your organization, the more successful you will be in meeting the needs of your lawyers and firm. As actionable information leads to better client service, you will look like the hero for delivering content intelligence to your organization.
Below is a brief synopsis of each of the market players in the legal sector:
- BNAConvergence – the strength of BNAConvergence, now part of Bloomberg Law, is the proprietary BNA legal newsletter content and the vast collection of Bloomberg sources. BNAConvergence provides pre-built dashboards that can be filtered to ensure relevance, and also provides deeper search capability and trending analysis. A mobile version is also available for on-the-go access.
- InfoNgen – describes itself as a real-time discovery engine for business, finance, and information professionals that automatically monitors and extracts highly relevant information. While a relative newcomer in the legal sector, it provides a sophisticated user portal platform that aggregates and indexes all content and automatically tags it with InfoNgen’s robust meta-data.
- LexisNexis Newsdesk – is a relatively new product offering that came about as a result of the LexisNexis acquisition of Moreover Technologies in 2015. The combination of LexisNexis premium content that includes the Wall Street Journal and thousands of other business, legal, and news sources combined with the Moreover Technologies current awareness and media monitoring tool makes it a formidable competitor in the content intelligence space.
- Manzama – has developed a strong client base with law firm marketing departments primarily for monitoring a wider range of news and social media sources focused on business development and competitive intelligence. They also provide professionally
prepared premium intelligence reports created by their in-house industry analysts.
- Ozmosys – was one of the first content aggregation, search, alerting, and content delivery tools used by large enterprises to control information overload. Ozmosys consolidates high-value information from leading content providers and publishers and removes barriers found in typical distribution methods. Most recently, Ozmosys has developed a new platform called Open Alerts which provides a customizable end user dashboard.
- Vable – formerly known as Linex, Vable is a UK-based content intelligence tool that has made significant inroads in the US with law firm clients. Their content automation platform was completely overhauled in late 2016 and now uses IBM Watson search to power its taxonomy and search engine.
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