Data-Driven Decision-Making: Getting Started with Reference Tracking Systems & Data Analytics

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 23, Number 1 (September/October 2018), pgs. 20-23.

By Amy Atchison, Associate Law Librarian for Public Services at the University of California Irvine School of Law Library, and June H. Liebert, Firmwide Director of Library & Research Services at Sidley Austin LLP

We both started as research librarians at the University of California Los Angeles Law Library more than 20 years ago. Back then, we tracked reference desk requests each day with tick marks on a sheet of paper. We refer to this now as “data gathering for dummies.” While this simple method recorded the number of requests in a given time period, it provided almost zero value (how often do tick marks ever get aggregated?), and we lost the most useful information, such as the questions and the answers.

Faculty submitted requests almost exclusively via email or phone back then, which is still true today. Our biggest innovation at the time was to print each unassigned faculty request and tape it to an old file cabinet with the idea that a visual of our growing workload would encourage us to take more requests. The unintended effect was group avoidance of the file cabinet and a de facto game of chicken with the faculty requests.

Time passed and things got better. Although we now work at two very different  institutions—a law school and a law firm—both of our libraries must run efficiently and cost-effectively while still exceeding our users’ expectations. One way we accomplish this is by tracking research requests in an online system that provides us with the data we need to better understand our users, staff, and organizations. Continue reading

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

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.

Law Librarians: Keeping The Industry Honest

Reposted with permission from Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites

By Robert Ambrogi

I’ve just returned from a much-too-brief visit to the annual conference of the American Association of Law Libraries in Baltimore. Although the conference started Saturday, family obligations kept me away until Monday. Then yesterday, flight cancellations along the east coast had me scrambling for a route home, forcing me to leave much earlier than I’d planned to catch the Amtrak to Boston.

Pretty much all I managed to do, therefore, was explore the exhibit hall and speak with vendors there.  From my vantage point, that’s a good thing. As I wrote after last year’s conference, AALL’s annual convention has evolved into one of the leading conferences for legal technology.

The reason for this is partly due to the evolving role of the law librarian. Back in 2014, I wrote about the changing role of law librarians, concluding, “To my mind, there has never been a more exciting or important time to be a legal information professional.” Four years later, that is even more true. As I said in last year’s post, law librarians wear an increasing number of hats these days, and a major one is legal technologist.

Hand in hand with the changing role of law librarians is the fact that information science itself is being radically transformed by technology. The buzzwords permeating this conference were the same you’ll hear at any legal technology conference — artificial intelligence, analytics, blockchain. But this is buzz with real substance behind it. Advances in technology are driving advances in legal research and even redefining the meaning and scope of what we’ve traditionally considered legal research to be.

In this regard, it says something about the state of innovation in law that prominent among those showing off leading-edge technologies at AALL were two of the industry’s most-established companies — Thomson Reuters with its AI-powered Westlaw Edge and LexisNexis with its new Lexis Analytics suite.

I was able to catch up with both companies at AALL and also see more of two new LexisNexis products, Context, which rolls out in September and will help lawyers understand what language judges find most persuasive, and Lexis Search Advantage | Transactional Powered by Intelligize, which is now available and allows firms to mine rich information out of internal document collections. (See this post for more.)

I also got the chance to see a demo of another new product I recently wrote about, the Analytics Workbench from Fastcase and its recently acquired docket-tracking company Docket Alarm. The idea of the Workbench is to allow legal professionals to build their own bespoke litigation analytics across any court, practice area or litigation event.

Visually, the analytics you create in Workbench look like Docket Alarm’s existing analytics product, PTAB Predictive Analytics. The difference is that these same analytics can be applied to virtually any court or type of docket activity. (Docket Alarm includes all federal dockets but is limited in its coverage of state dockets.) Michael Sander, Docket Alarm’s founder and CEO, said the goal is to make it easy for attorneys to create custom analytics, without requiring sophisticated tech expertise.

Wandering the exhibit hall, I was able to get updates from several companies I’m familiar with and make introductions with several I had not seen before. There will be more to come on this blog about some of those companies.

But something I heard over and over again from the vendors at AALL mirrors what I said above about the changing role of law librarians. Law librarians get it, the vendors said. They understand the importance of technology in advancing the legal profession, and they are more likely than other legal professionals to understand the mechanics of technology, to be able to get under the hood and size up whether a product is what it claims to be.

We see this at law firms, where law librarians are often the gatekeepers for new technology, helping to vet and evaluate products before their firms plunk down precious dollars. We see this at law schools, where law librarians are often at the forefront of pushing for teaching and program initiatives in technology innovation and competence. We see this in court systems and government agencies, where law librarians are often helping to lead the charge for expanding access to justice. Continue reading

Tune In to The Geek in Review (and Geek Out with 2 Legal Information Professionals)

Earlier this week, we highlighted Saskia Mehlhorn, who will be presenting at three AALL sessions.  Today, we’re highlighting two other very active private law librarians and information professionals who will be taking part in this year’s AALL Annual Meeting—Marlene Gebauer, Director of Knowledge Solutions at Greenberg Traurig LLP, and Greg Lambert, Chief Knowledge Services Officer at Jackson Walker, and outgoing AALL president.

Greg started the popular and long-running 3 Geeks and a Law Blog about ten years ago with Toby Brown and Lisa Sophia Salazar, and he and Marlene Gebauer recently launched an accompanying podcast, The Geek in Review. Their first episode featured competitive intelligence guru Zena Applebaum, who offered insights on life as a “non” (as in non-lawyer, or even non-librarian) at a law firm.

Next, Greg and Marlene delved into Casetext’s development and vision with Casetext founder Pablo Arredondo. They also discussed the market for legal information startups generally, the next wave of legal tech, and the role librarians play in vetting new offerings.  Cas Laskowski of Duke Law School, and of the Firebrand Lib blog, was interviewed for their third airing.  The interview with Cas was a follow-up to her April blog post about impact-conscious design models.

Most recently, Marlene hosted former lawyer and knowledge management professional Ayelette Robinson, who now has a career in acting and production.  Marlene and Ayelette discussed how acting, voice-over and/or improv training can benefit professionals generally, and the importance of being yourself in your professional interactions.

You can listen to the podcast on Anchor, anchor.fm/geekinreview, or on iTunes, itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-geek-in-review.

Episode 1:  Living the “Non” Life in Law Firms

Episode 2:  Being a Legal Information Startup

Episode 3:  Let’s Discuss Impact-Conscious Design

Episode 4:  Understanding How to Place the Focus on Others

You can also follow Greg and Marlene on Twitter:
Greg Lambert (@glambert) and Marlene Gebauer (@gebauerm)

At the conference, Greg will participate in a TED-style format session, “TEDAALL: Library Leaders Share Their Ethics Stories and Challenges.”  Library leaders will give short TED-style presentations discussing important ethical issues in library research, technology, human resources, data management, and other services.

Marlene will be participating in The Tech-Savvy Law Librarian, an event hosted by Above the Law and the Evolve the Law community that is taking place Sunday evening at SPARK Baltimore. David Lat, founder and managing editor of Above the Law, and Dean Sonderegger, Vice President and General Manager for Legal Markets and Innovation at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., will discuss “How Can Law Librarians Drive the Future of Law Practice.”  Their conversation will be followed by two-minute elevator pitches from legal tech innovators, followed by four minutes of Q&A from David and Marlene. Innovators pitching will include CasetextCourtroom Insight, and SimplyAgree.