Promoting Data Competency in Law Firms

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 24, Number 2 (November/December 2019), pgs. 20-22.

By Josh Becker

Josh Becker is the head of legal analytics at LexisNexis and chairman of Lex  Machina. A long-time recognized though leader on leveraging technology to improve the practice of law, he is responsible for defining Lexis’ legal analytics strategy and vision. Becker previously served as Lex Machina’s CEO for seven years, leading strategy and operations. During his tenure, Lex Machina was acquired by LexisNexis. He was also part of the founding team of Dice.com (NYSE:DHX) and ran corporate development at Agile Software (sold to Oracle). He was a venture capitalist at Redpoint Ventures and then a founding general partner of New Cycle Capital.  Becker co-founded and remains chair of The Full Circle Fund, a coalition of technology and business leaders that collectively funds and supports leading social entrepreneurs. In 2015, he received The Jefferson Award for public service for his work with Full Circle Fund

When we consider just how central data and technology are to the legal profession, it becomes increasingly imperative to distinguish between data literacy and data
competency. Data literate legal professionals understand that data analysis can help them make smarter decisions, are comfortable interacting with data, and occasionally use data-based insights to create a strategic advantage in a legal or business context. Law librarians and knowledge managers, for example, need data literacy given the nature of the work they do, and there is an increasing expectation that lawyers be data literate as well.

Data Literacy Is No Longer Enough
While most of us understand that data literacy is valuable and necessary, as legal work becomes increasingly data-driven, data competency will be the standard by which all legal professionals—not just information professionals—are measured. Legal  professionals who are data competent have resolved to move beyond basic awareness and have placed data analytics at the center of their everyday activities. Data
competence implies a high level of comfort with newer technologies and real expertise in applying them to real-world problems.

Data competent professionals make frequent use of a variety of advanced tools for finding, analyzing, and manipulating data in order to be able to make the best possible tactical and strategic decisions in particular use cases. They can immediately match appropriate tools to specific legal or business problems, and they can use those tools confidently and efficiently because they use them regularly, every day.

Many librarians have already attained data competence and are actively investigating new capabilities and new tools as an integral part of their jobs. The legal profession
urgently needs their help, both in getting lawyers to grasp the importance of data competence and in providing hands-on training so lawyers can integrate data-based tools into their existing workflows.

Lawyers are trained to understand the intricacies of the law, but few have had any training in legal technology. When they are trying to size up opposing counsel, attempting to understand the litigation history of opposing parties, setting motion
strategy before a particular judge, or trying to anticipate how long it will take to litigate a particular case, they are accustomed to relying on their own experience, anecdotal information from colleagues, and, sometimes, nothing more than a hunch. That needs to change.

Law Librarians Can Lead the Charge in Data Competency
How can law librarians take the lead in promoting data competency among lawyers?

First, they can take responsibility for due diligence when it comes to adopting technology tools. Forward-thinking law librarians are already driving adoption of data analytics in
both the practice of law and business of law. To be effective in this role, they need to stay up to date on technology developments and marketplace trends. Data analytics in the legal industry is still in its infancy. Lawyers and legal executives need lots of help  distinguishing between a bewildering array of products. Law librarians are perfectly positioned to compare and evaluate these resources. They can use their research expertise to develop sample search queries that will illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of specific solutions. They can also help the profession develop more objective criteria for evaluating factors such as ease of use.

A recent presentation at the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Meeting described an example of the kind of leadership that law librarians can provide to a profession that is seriously in need of guidance. In the example discussed, a group of experienced information professionals from a variety of backgrounds and job roles collaborated on a project to provide law librarian colleagues with a deeper  understanding of litigation analytics. They investigated the ways in which products
are not comparable, established test parameters and developed sample questions, engaged in hands-on testing, published their results (with appropriate caveats), and provided honest feedback for vendors serious about improving their offerings. These are
activities that very few lawyers have the time or interest in pursuing.

In any effort to evaluate legal analytics tools, it will be crucial to address the challenges presented by one of the primary sources of data for legal analytics solutions: Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER, which is a massive dataset of federal litigation data that is growing by around two million cases per year. However, PACER has serious data gaps, its classification of cases and filtering rely heavily on its Nature of Suit
(NOS) codes, and its raw data requires extensive normalization to provide reliable results to analytics solutions users.

Data-Based Tools are Not Interchangeable
To make intelligent buying decisions and perform effective research, it’s essential that consumers of analytics tools understand the tradeoffs that vendors make in addressing these issues, such as those presented by PACER, when they develop their solutions. What are their processes for tagging and coding, and to what extent are those measures tailored to idiosyncrasies of individual practice areas and specific kinds of cases? Can a solution distinguish between ANDA (Abbreviated New Drug Application) and non-ANDA cases in searches of patent litigation, or file sharing and non-file sharing cases in
copyright litigation? To what degree are individual vendors willing to invest in legal subject-matter experts, not only to help design their solutions but also to provide continual input that will “teach” machines to make better decisions and optimize algorithms? These are the kinds of questions that law librarians and other information
professionals in the industry need to be prepared to ask. And then, after they’ve received their answers, share what they’ve learned with colleagues at their organizations.

Provide Training and Engage with Vendors
Law librarians can also take more responsibility for educating employees in their own organizations. Collaborating and sharing findings with other legal information professionals is an excellent first step, but the next step involves communicating those findings to the audience that needs them the most: lawyers and firm leadership. This
may mean offering regular training sessions to which colleagues can bring their real-world legal and business challenges and learn the best way to address those challenges using tools that are already at their disposal. It may also mean organizing events for
busy lawyers. While many experienced lawyers are reluctant to take the time to attend tech-focused “boot camps” or an occasional “Tech Tuesday” presentation, holding events is a good way to grab their attention for a defined period of time and get them to listen
and engage. Law librarians can also develop training programs for summer interns, who are more likely to be open to data-driven approaches to the practice of law and who, after all, represent the future of the profession.

Law librarians can also consider engaging more regularly with vendors. Law librarians can help vendors develop more user-friendly interfaces, urge them to be more transparent about their data-handling practices, demand they provide honest assessments of the content and functionality tradeoffs they make in developing solutions, and advocate for product features that focus more narrowly and effectively on everyday use cases. They can also insist that leadership in their own organizations gives them a seat at the table alongside lawyers when vendors seek help testing their products. Legal culture is a persistent barrier to data competency. Law librarians must recognize that they have an important opportunity, as well as a responsibility, to help change that culture.

Risks and Opportunities Ahead
Data competent legal information professionals needn’t have advanced degrees in statistics or data science, nor must they have a detailed understanding of artificial intelligence, analytics, machine learning, natural language processing, and other data-parsing technologies. However, when specific questions arise during litigation, investigations, negotiations, client pitches, business development activities, or hiring talent, the use of advanced tools to answer such questions should be second nature.

As a group, lawyers still lack sufficient awareness of and hands-on experience with a bewildering assortment of technology tools that can help them answer such questions much more quickly and accurately. As tools get better and are more widely used, there is a serious risk that legal teams who are better-informed and more technologically savvy adversaries in a dispute will have the distinct advantage of having access to a broader base of factual information and deeper insights. While that presents a serious
problem for some firms and their clients, it also presents an opportunity for law librarians to provide value and, ultimately, to enable better representation for those clients.

EXTRA
Listen to the Legal Talk Network episode “AALL 2019: Legal Analytics—Products and
Best Practices,” recorded at the 2019 AALL Annual Meeting at bit.ly/ND19LegalAnalytics.

 

Law Librarians & The Future of Law Firms

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 24, Number 2 (November/December 2019), pgs. 23-25.

By Jordan Furlong

Jordan Furlong of Ottawa, Canada, is a legal market analyst, speaker, and consultant who forecasts the impact of legal industry trends on lawyers, legal organizations, and clients. He is the author of Law Is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm and writes regularly about the legal profession at law21.ca.

This past summer, I gave the keynote address to the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals (PLLIP) Special Interest Section Summit X: The Path to 2030, in Washington, DC, during the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting. The
title of the presentation was “New Horizons: How Law Librarians and Legal Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.” The following is a brief summary of those remarks.

The Legal Landscape
The gradual but unstoppable transformation of the commercial legal marketplace—including new client buying patterns, rapid technological advances, and a host of new providers emboldened by regulatory liberalization—is creating a state of “climate  change” in the market. This poses an immense challenge to law firms, which developed
and flourished in last century’s more sedate competitive climate and whose business model will now have to adapt in response to this change.

Among the most important consequences of this legal climate change is a growing bifurcation of legal work into two broad categories:

  • “commodity” work (routine, repeatable, straightforward, traditionally
    given to associates), and
  • “complex” work (intricate, challenging, high-stakes, traditionally kept by
    partners).

These two types of work have always existed in law firms, of course. But one of the profitability secrets of law firms is that they perform commodity work the same way they perform complex work: sequentially, laboriously, by-the-lawyer-hour. This is the key feature of the law firm leverage model: bill associates’ on-the-job learning efforts on basic tasks and reap the resulting profits.

Now, however, this law firm profitability secret is becoming a handicap. Commodity work is migrating from law firms and moving to more efficient and cost-appropriate platforms, including managed legal services companies and low-cost/offshore centers. These providers are winning this work because they have designed systems and trained
people to carry out these tasks faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than law firms can.

Law firms could keep this work if they were to adjust their workflow, pricing, and profitability approaches; that is, if they would perform commodity work efficiently and systematically, as it should be done. But law firms just aren’t set up to do that, structurally or culturally, and few are even trying. Continue reading

AALL Annual Meeting 2019 Recap: Summit X: The Path to 2030

Kristen Perez and Janet McKinney received grants from the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section to attend the PLLIP Summit occurring on Saturday, July 13, before the AALL Annual Meeting. Below are their conference recaps.


By Kristen Perez, Research Specialist at Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough in Charlotte, NC

Jordan Furlong of Law 21 started off the day by delivering the keynote address, “How Law Librarians and Legal Information Professionals Can Redefine Law Firms in the 21st Century.”  Mr. Furlong took us on a tour of the climate change that has occurred in the legal industry in recent years and provided a map to the future and our changing roles.

Mr. Furlong outlined the factors at play in the legal industry that can provide opportunities for legal information professionals as we navigate these changes:

  • Law firms have traditionally operated under the billable hour model, letting young associates ‘train on the job’ at the expense of clients.  This business model is being called into question by big law firm clients, many of whom have negotiated alternative fee arrangements.   Clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for research expenses and the training of new lawyers.
  • Legal work is becoming divided into commodity-level versus complex tasks.  Alternative legal service providers have begun to assume work previously done by junior-level associates, leaving firms to handle tasks that involve more expertise.
  • The technology of legal work has evolved, as artificial intelligence and analytics providers have emerged.
  • Overall, client expectations are changing and are forcing law firms to adapt.  Alternative legal service providers are creating competition for law firms.  Clients demand value and want law firms to ‘know’ them and their industries, and to anticipate their needs.

This invites opportunity for we, as legal information professionals, to redefine our roles.  Our profession has not only embraced and promoted the use of technology in legal research, but has also kept pace with the various incarnations of legal research platforms.  We are neither unfamiliar with, nor adverse to, change.  As a service department, we are also accustomed to working with other departments within our organizations to achieve institutional goals. Continue reading

Mapping a Path to 2030: Private Law Librarians to Meet for 10th Annual Summit

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) will hold their tenth annual Summit in conjunction with the 2019 AALL Annual Meeting in July.  Per the Summit website, the annual event began as a two-year project for private law librarians “to explore ways to embrace change, demonstrate value, and learn about leading-edge trends.”  Due to the success of the first two years, the Summit continues to be held, giving firm and corporate law librarians a forum for discussing trends and pressures affecting their firms and legal departments, and an opportunity to develop best practices and models to thrive within their current environments.  One of the Summit’s professed goals is to allow legal information professionals to “cast the debate” for how they “should operate and meet new challenges” and how to chart a path forward.

Summit X: The Path to 2030 will offer attendees a chance to reflect on what has changed (and what remains constant) in the provision of legal research and information services and to participate in designing a path forward. Jordan Furlong, keynote speaker at the 2012 Summit, is returning to deliver the keynote, focusing on how the growing power and sophistication of legal intelligence can dovetail with and help accelerate the transformation of law firms’ client services and business models. Jordan’s keynote will describe the key roles law librarians, knowledge managers, and data analysts will play “as law firms become manufacturers, refineries, and exporters of actionable legal intelligence.”

Following the keynote, a set of panel discussions will allow legal information professionals to engage with and learn from customers and stakeholders. The first panel, Law Firm Leadership: Managing the Change, will focus on how law firms have responded to changes in the legal industry over the last decade. Panelists will also reflect on the keynote speaker’s vision of how the delivery of legal services may change in the years ahead. Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, will lead a conversation with Sonia Menon, Chief Operating Officer at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP; Mark Langdon, Executive Director at Ballard Spahr LLP; and Howard Janis, Chief Financial Officer at Nexsen Pruet.

The second panel, Our Customers: The Evolving Use of Information Professionals, “will discuss how broader legal industry trends play out in day-to-day interactions between information professionals and customers, and will share ideas on how we [information professionals] can help them push boundaries and position themselves successfully with their clients and in the legal marketplace in the coming decade.”  The participants in this panel are: Toby Brown, Chief Practice Management Officer, Perkins Coie; Peter Alfano, Senior Associate at Squire Patton Boggs; and Julie Bozzell, Public Law and Policy Practice Manager at Akin Gump. Scott Bailey, Director of Research Services at Eversheds Sutherland, will moderate.

An afternoon interactive session focused on Design Thinking methodology will help attendees develop skills to use in the workplace when creating services and products or when solving day-to-day problems. “Attendees will work individually and together to try and identify some of the biggest challenges faced in law libraries today and then, as a group, will attempt to begin solving those challenges.”  The law librarians and information professionals will then do what they do best–share their knowledge and will report to the group on proposed solutions and ideas to chart a path forward.

Summit X: The Path to 2030 is scheduled for Saturday, July 13, 2019, in Washington, DC.  See the PLLIP Summit website for more information.

AALL Annual Meeting Session Recap: Powered by AI, Built in the Law Library

By Kristen M. Hallows, Bricker & Eckler LLP

Fastcase CEO Ed Walters has had enough with the magic and the unicorns and the hype surrounding artificial intelligence, or AI.  He urged attendees at the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) session, “Powered by AI, Built in the Law Library,” to think of AI like pivot tables in Excel:  they’re just tools.  They’re not magic, but they can be to those who don’t understand them.

He began by sharing a few hilarious examples of the limitations of AI.  Is it a Shar-Pei, or is it soft serve?  AI doesn’t know!  It can’t differentiate between the two.  And, whatever you do, don’t expect appealing names for paint colors from AI.  Stoner Blue might seem appropriate for your teenager’s room, but can you imagine taking home a color sample by the name of Bank Butt?  How about a light brown named Turdly?

So, AI is good at some things and not good at others.  When it works, we stop calling it AI.  You may not identify it as such, but AI is “baked into” some very common tools law firms and libraries probably use every day, such as spellcheck and Google Translate.

Ed refers to the first wave of AI, where we are currently, as “read only” AI.  What’s coming is the second wave, which he calls “read/write” AI.  It’s a much cooler phase in which we get to go from consumer AI to maker AI.  Maker AI presents a new suite of tools that information professionals can use to provide more customized and actionable information to attorneys and firm administrators.  Whereas traditional legal research services offer the same data to all users, maker AI lets information professionals create their own datasets and extract results unique to them.  These results can provide insights to help structure alternative fee arrangements or to help inform litigation strategy or settlement decisions.

Take the Fastcase AI Sandbox.  The AI Sandbox was designed to empower people.  It’s a set of secure servers with datasets and metadata from Fastcase, coupled with an extensive suite of AI tools.  Law firms or law schools can combine the Fastcase data with in-house data.  Once you have your desired dataset, you can query it and get results out.  For example, you can load a set of judicial opinions and get personality insights out–a judge’s preferences or tendencies.  Using Docket Alarm’s new tool, you can create your own analytics on a subset of documents, such as mandamus petitions in Texas.  Upload your own data and crunch it!  And you can build your own apps with Neota Logic, rules-driven software with built-in decision tree logic.

Legal information professionals can drive this new read/write AI.  Law librarians can build things with AI now, not just create reports, and some librarians are already doing it.  Continue reading