Leading with Innovation: Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute Interview with Marcia Burris

As part of their Transforming Women’s Leadership series, Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute recently interviewed Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, on her role in introducing knowledge management and collaboration platforms at her firm.

Innovation can be a loaded word in the legal industry, but broken down simply, it really means just introducing new things or methods to improve an established practice or process.

It’s a definition that Marcia Burris, Director of Research and Knowledge Management at Nexsen Pruet, knows well and has applied throughout the many phases of her career. Always centered around library services, Burris began her professional path as a legal entrepreneur and then as an internal library services manager at an Am Law 200 firm. She also supported law firms as a consultant, helping them optimize research and information services.

Burris joined Nexsen Pruet — a major regional commercial law firm with more than 180 attorneys in eight offices throughout the Carolinas — about two years ago. She immediately set out to innovate the firm’s research and library services and ultimately drive efficiencies in attorney workflow by identifying and removing barriers to information access.

In addition to expanding legal research training and resource awareness programs, Burris worked with firm leadership to revamp the firm’s approach to online costs so that attorneys could conduct research without concerns about these potential costs to their clients. To make online access more seamless for users, she also worked with vendors to remove client matter entry screens and implement a single sign-on to eliminate the need for passwords.

These changes have spurred growth in use of online tools, enabling the firm to cut print materials and save administrative time on cost recovery efforts.

On the knowledge management side, Burris said she is seeking to enhance access to internal firm knowledge and determine how the firm can do the same for clients. Internally, Burris launched a new intranet platform that integrates financial data dashboards and organizes other common information sets, paving the way for future enhancements and team collaboration sites. Externally, the firm is adding portals to facilitate client access to work products and case management information, and creating virtual deal rooms to add efficiency to those transactions. These sites help to strengthen client relationships through added practical efficiencies and partnership with clients.

Burris’s approach in creating collaboration platforms, both internal and external, is to start small with one or two targeted projects for a small group of users. This “first step” allows her to learn from each user group and incorporate that as she rolls out collaborative platforms to new user groups.

In the external client project, Burris is creating client-facing sites with basic functionality like file sharing and then enhancing the sites based on what the clients want. “It’s not just about the technology,” Burris says. “We’re trying to be strategic to have conversations with the firm’s attorneys and their clients and make sure we are providing content that is going to help them manage their legal matters.” This client-centric approach is enhanced through use of user-friendly tools over which attorneys have significant control.

This approach has worked well. When a seasoned attorney, who was piloting the tool for firm-client collaboration, built his own homepage with no formal training other than Burris opening up the tool and giving him a quick tour, she knew the platform would work well for attorneys throughout the firm.

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Building a Digital Law Library: Information Professionals a Key Component

In a recent article on Above the Law, PLLIP member Jean O’Grady outlined 12 tips for building a digital law library. Since the current pandemic forced law firms and corporations to quickly pivot to remote work, Jean posits that now is the ideal time to more fully embrace the digital law library.  She emphasizes that a key building block for a digital law library is having strategic information professionals on staff to manage the transition and to create practice area portals and finding tools so attorneys and other firm professionals can easily access resources they need.  Information professionals can also help maximize the value of the firm’s online database contracts, and can continually assess the return on investment these research tools are providing.

PLLIP Summit Law Librarian Panel–The Way Things Were, and the Way Forward: How We Coped, Managed and Succeeded in Unprecedented Times

An earlier blog post by Linda-Jean Schneider, Manager of Digital Access, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, covered the keynote address for the American Association of Law Libraries’ Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals’ annual one-day Summit.  Linda-Jean’s second post provides a summary of the law librarian panel that followed the keynote address. 

Following the rousing keynote address by Ari Kaplan, the 2020 PLLIP Summit continued with a second session focused on law firm information professionals’ responses to the recent seismic changes to the industry. The intrepid Jeremy Sullivan moderated a panel which featured knowledge repository leaders from a cross-section of firms.


  • Amy Eaton, Director of Library & Research Services at 1100-attorney Perkins Coie, based in Seattle with 16 staff among 4 offices;
  • Tina Dumas, KM & Library Manager at 140-attorney Nossaman LLP, resident in northern California with 3 staff members;
  • Andre Davison, Research Technology Manager at 600+ attorney Blank Rome, staff of 4 FTE plus some part-time contractors.

Jeremy occasionally weighed in with responses too, based on his role as Manager of Competitive Intelligence & Analytics at mega-firm DLA Piper.  In addition to the panel member comments, there were audience polls and chat questions eliciting responses and observations throughout the session.

The six questions tackled by the panel covered a range of territory–how  quickly staff members pivoted to remote working, along with an examination of firm policies for WFH; identifying changes in attorney request/response tools prior to and after the conversion to remote work; the difficulties and challenges of migrating from print to electronic formats, which segued into identifying specific tasks no longer deployed; and the impact of the stressful changes on staff.

Each of the panel members recounted that their staffing was already pivoting to working remotely, if not already there, and that the majority of their research and administrative operations had been primarily online. With the addition of some equipment and accessibility for Technical Services staff, the firms were all fully WFH in a few days, all by mid-March of this year. As for firm policies changing in response to the situation, there were definitely adjustments for non-exempt staff, but a predominance of attorneys and professional staff were permitted to work remotely pre-pandemic. The audience poll confirmed that about 32% of attendees reported they had ‘situational’ formal firm policies allowing remote work; 21% said they did have permission through the firm edicts; 24% including Amy said “No, but changes were in progress;” 18% said only attorneys had permission to work remotely in their policy.

The panel next highlighted their existing pre-pandemic operation systems, and how those had changed with the lockdown. Andre reviewed his firm’s prior deployment of the Quest request-tracking system; a OneNote notebook with a taxonomy consistently updated as a team knowledge repository; and Research Monitor to manage passwords and resources, which were all still being utilzed.  There seemed to be no change for attorneys according to Amy, but staff has been able to focus on back-end administration and projects, which has been a boon. Tina declared that backlog projects and operations reorganization are still on her wish list. She does not have a separate tech services team to focus on those tasks, as her staff primarily performs reference. However, they have been able to implement some digital initiatives and create new content for the firm’s intranet since the ‘lockdown.’ Tina identified specific challenges with access to IP-authenticated resources, but this was also a chance to connect with the attorneys and demonstrate staff capability to provide personalized service.

Next, to respond to attorney requests for both research and content, the panelists dived into a discussion of how to transition from their usual protocols, “specifically when migrating from print to electronic content”?   Amy posited that their digital initiative was already in place, but this pandemic pushed the project in a fast-forward fashion. This reflects the “fundamental shift that has been happening” all along. She also stated: “Print puts staff at risk,” as someone needs to have contact with the format, whereas digital is ‘safer.’ Amy also referred to the ‘unbundling of agreements’ as essential for the full transition. Amy says this transition to electronic is in fact a great equalizer. She expressed surprise at the very few requests for print since working remotely, and how attorneys and staff are rapidly familiarizing themselves with digital formats, leaving their print comfort zones far behind.

Andre echoed that this would definitely be the year to address this commitment to the transition from print to electronic, and look at the available e-book platforms, which have greatly improved in the past few years. His firm has been renegotiating with all of the major research platforms. Their current policy is “If the content is already owned online, no print will be purchased.” (A standard that should be welcome everywhere!) Blank Rome has a committee to approve any print expenditure that might be proposed.

Tina has seen the need for everyone to work remotely as a tipping point with management, and an undeniable opportunity to accelerate to full transition. The audience poll reflected similar situations among the firms represented by attendees. In response to “What impact has the pandemic had on your plans to migrate from print collections?”, the results were: 53% are ramping up electronic content; 41% had already transitioned to a high degree; 6% are maintaining prior systems; and 0% have even purchased print recently.

In response to the question of whether there are tasks from which you have pivoted after discovering they were being done routinely, without questioning or evaluation, the panelists named the routing of newsletters, papers, or print of any kind, as well as massive orders of numerous deskbooks—e.g., individual copies of the IRC for the tax group, both of which strategies result in tremendous savings. Amy identified the opportunity for staff members to attend Practice Group meetings, to be invited to provide more print-to-digital training, and to command increased flexibility with vendor agreements.

A question about the impact of the stress and demands of the situation elicited recommendations to encourage staff to take advantage of “Emergency Care Time,” or ‘mental health days.’ Andre discussed flexible work schedules, with a firm-wide wellness program. Tina shared that trivia contests, using Skype and random check-ins, were beneficial. She uses Skype to ask about favorite library jokes or most useful freezer items, and initiated a firm trivia contest. Perkins Coie has granted an additional 30 hours off to assist with personal issues. The Research Staff created a Spotify list of staff-recommended music — *LIBRARY will get you there. (Your humble reporter’s staff has enjoyed a variety of team activities–sharing favorite food, books, movies, dream vacations, etc.)

The final question to both the panel and the audience was “When do you think we will get to the ‘New Normal?’ ” The results were enlightening: 5% said the end of 2020; 21% said things will stay in flux; a combination of 74% said either mid-2021 or year-end 2021. Of the panelists, Amy selected the end of 2021 (seeing increased reliance on training videos, increased digital, reduction in real estate, limitations on travel, and a chance to radically ‘de-clutter’ offices and streamline the various collections). Andre agreed with Jeremy that everything is “in flux,” and that this is an opportunity for knowledge repositories to pivot, focus on professional development, and re-purpose the Vision and Mission Statement for the Research Department. Tina concurred, specifying that even with the vaccine, people on the front lines should get the vaccine before lawyers or our staff, and that everyone will be forced to increase our collective digital ‘savvy’ in order to move forward in the practice of law. The recurring theme was: Reduced office space, more WFH!

Overall, this session was a thoughtful, insightful examination of how firms are coping, managing, and thriving in response to the issues, changes, and challenges currently faced by legal information professionals. The bottom line, as always, is to be able to adapt to ongoing situations, and to be flexible in our efforts to provide a high level of content curation and research services to our respective users.

Throughout our 2020 PLLIP Summit law librarian panel session, The Way Things Were, and the Way Forward: How We Coped, Managed and Succeeded in Unprecedented Times, we received a variety of questions from attendees which we were not able to address due to time constraints. A good number of inquiries centered around the transition from print to electronic materials, and whether the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated that process. In my subsequent discussions with our panelists, consensus seemed to be that there were opportunities to be seized upon in this area – whether from revitalizing stalled digital initiatives, marketing the ubiquity of electronic sources and training reluctant attorneys on their use, or bringing vendors to the table to revamp their sales approach to the print/electronic mix. Additional, related questions had to do with staffing concerns – if you move away from print, doesn’t that make your technical services and paraprofessional staff vulnerable? Here too, the panelists were optimistic. Electronic materials still need to be cataloged. Staff can be cross-trained to focus on higher level work or spend their freed up time addressing dormant projects. Perhaps with HR’s help in tweaking job descriptions, and as long as staff are interested in these new opportunities, there’s no reason to think that those jobs need to go away.
Q&A summary submitted by panel moderator Jeremy Sullivan, Manager of Competitive Intelligence & Analytics, DLA Piper

Law Librarians Helping Law Firms Meet COVID-19 Research And Practice Challenges

In a recent article on Above the Law, PLLIP member Jean O’Grady described how law firm librarians are supporting their firms during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLLIP members Patricia Barbone (Director of Library Services at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed) and Cynthia Brown (Director Research Services at Littler) discuss how their teams are helping their firms respond to client requests and track developments in news, legislation, and more.

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.

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.