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.

 

AALL State of the Profession 2019: Data-Driven Exploration of Current Legal Information Professionals’ Contributions

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) recently released its AALL State of the Profession 2019, “a data-driven exploration of current legal information professionals’ contributions.”  Per the AALL press release, the report “provides quantitative insights on user services, technology services, operations, budgets, and partnerships” and covers the following areas:

  • research platform expertise,
  • contract and vendor negotiation,
  • AI development and implementation,
  • metadata management,
  • legal writing and research instruction,
  • competitive intelligence,
  • customer and client relations, and
  • leadership.

The report also “features an inventory of expertise – including current skills held by law librarians and competencies for library and law school graduates.”  A State of the Profession Advisory Group created surveys for each main law library type – academic, government, and firm/corporate – and  883 responses were received. The report highlights librarians’ assessments of their areas of expertise and how they contribute to their organizations.

Below are some outtakes with law firm librarians’ answers:

TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT:

“AALL members are technology experts, and take the lead with the purchase, implementation, operation, and overall management of research databases in their organizations. Their expertise extends to overseeing knowledge management systems, websites, intranet, and other digital services.”

PERCENTAGE OF LAW LIBRARIES MANAGING EACH PLATFORM, BY LIBRARY TYPEFirm

FIRM/CORPORATE LAW LIBRARIES: SKILLS SYNOPSIS

Snapshot of where firm/corporate law librarians stand on a selection of skills.

  • Customer/Client Services – 70.5% are experts
  • Resource Evaluation – 67.3% are experts
  • Communication/Presentation Skills – 64.1% are experts
  • Competitive Intelligence – 55.0% are experts
  • Vendor Management – 54.2% are experts
  • Leadership – 52.3% are experts

Looking Ahead: Skills 2021

“Plans for professional development during the next two years focus on AI/machine learning, blockchain, and data expertise.”

The complimentary AALL State of the Profession 2019 Snapshot provides an introduction to the full report. The AALL State of the Profession 2019 is available in print and digital formats and can be purchased via AALL’s website.

Media coverage of the report:

New Report Underscores the Evolving Role of Law Librarians, by Robert Ambrogi, Above the Law, April 22, 2019

“The survey on which the report is based polled librarians who work in each of three main library types — academic, government, and firm/corporate. Not surprisingly, in all three types of libraries, librarians’ most common technology role is overseeing research platforms. But they also have responsibility for knowledge management systems, intranets, websites, and blogging platforms.”

Law libraries chart a new direction for the future, new report shows, by Amanda Robert, ABA Journal, April 16, 2019

“The inaugural AALL State of the Profession 2019 report—which captures information from academic, government, law firm and corporate law libraries—shows that 27.4% of law firms or corporations have at least one active artificial intelligence initiative. Of those, 68.4% involve the library.”

The State of the Legal Profession, 2019, by Greg Lambert, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, April 16, 2019
“…I’m thrilled that the report showcases law librarians’ adaptability. Of the 27.4 percent whose law firm/corporation had an AI/machine learning initiative, 68.4 percent involve the library. Law librarians also regularly manage or contribute to: competitive intelligence, business development, marketing, professional development, management, and strategy in firms/corporations.”

Three Takeaways from Above the Law’s David Lat on “The State of Biglaw and the Evolving Role of the Law Librarian”

David Lat, editor-at-large for Above the Law, attended this year’s AALL Annual Meeting and wrote an article offering three takeaways from Monday’s session on “The State of Biglaw and the Evolving Role of the Law Librarian.”  The session featured a panel comprised of Lee Bernstein, Library Manager at Haynes and Boone; Joseph Keslar, Director of Library Services at Blank Rome; and Steve Kovalan, Senior Analyst at ALM Intelligence. Rob Alston, Senior Director of Legal Intelligence Sales at ALM Intelligence, moderated the panel.  According to the article, “Kovalan outlined six trends that he has been seeing in Biglaw and expects to continue:

1. The emergence of areas of intense competition between firms.
2. More consolidation of law firms (aka “merger mania”).
3. Continuing increase in the sophistication — and demands — of corporate law departments.
4. Growing importance of investment in technology.
5. Growing importance of firm management (i.e., firm success will be determined in significant part by firms’ ability to execute on their strategic plans).
6. Greater collaboration across different types of vendors.”

Lat’s three quick takeaways on what this changing environment means for law librarians included ensuring that they’re “getting adequate recognition for their contributions to firm success.”   He also thought “law librarians and library departments need to be flexible, unafraid of making changes when necessary,” and that they “need to make sure they have the resources needed to do their jobs.”  Resources would include “both adequate staffing and a budget sufficient to cover subscriptions to all necessary services — which are proliferating, thanks to the explosive growth in the world of legal technology.”

On Sunday night, David participated in an event called The Tech-Savvy Law Librarian, and “interviewed Dean Sonderegger, Vice President and General Manager at Wolters Kluwer (and Above the Law columnist), about the changing role of the law librarian in Biglaw — and what librarians can do to evolve along with their duties. He outlined several ways that librarians can add value to their organizations during a period of flux for the legal industry.”

Read the entire article on Above the Law.

3 Tech-Savvy Ways Law Librarians Can Shake Up the Status Quo

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 22, Number 6 (July/August 2018), pgs. 46-48.

How law librarians can use technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness in their day-to-day responsibilities

By Ellyssa Kroski, Director of Information Technology, New York Law Institute

Today’s new technology enables librarians to stay organized, plan intriguing events, and even develop their own applications without any specialized knowledge or previous technology experience. By taking advantage of everything that web-based software and apps have to offer, tech-savvy librarians can wow colleagues while increasing their efficiency and effectiveness in their day-to-day work lives. Below are three ways that librarians can become cutting-edge and shake up the status quo. Continue reading

Our “Small” Project with a Big Impact: Littler’s Knowledge Desk, A Case Study

Innovations in Legal KM Cover
By Cynthia L. Brown, Director Research Services at Littler Mendelson P.C..

This is a chapter from ARK Group’s new book Innovations in Legal KM and has been posted with permission from ARK Group. 

Littler’s library, a division of the greater KM department, bridges information needs and answers through its one-stop-shop for all KM and library research inquiries and needs via the Knowledge Desk. The Knowledge Desk is available to all Littler attorneys and staff for any legal research, traditional library resources, KM requests or questions concerning our legal training group Littler Learning Group (LLG). Via the Knowledge Desk, attorneys are connected to subject matter experts, a vast collection of databases, print materials, practice groups, internal work product and proprietary data collections, through which our team can search efficiently to locate exact information.

We had distinct goals when creating the Knowledge Desk:

  1. Centralize the gathering of attorney’s questions;
  2. Use library, KM, and LLG more efficiently;
  3. Create time for higher level projects and innovation;
  4. Better serve our attorneys.

Our first step was to determine what types of questions were separately coming to the library, KM and LLG, and who was answering these questions. We reverse-engineered the services we were providing to our attorneys and staff. The team reviewed years of emails, and sifted through mountains of data collected in our ticket-tracking system. We discovered that questions were being sent to KM that should have been sent to the library, and high-level KM attorneys were gathering documents that could have been provided by a library assistant. We were doing the wrong work with the wrong people.  Continue reading