10 Ways Data Science Can Help Law Librarians

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 5 (May/June 2021), pgs. 16-19.

By Sarah Lin, Information Architect & Digital Librarian at RStudio, PBC

As law librarians, many of us scrutinize the data we have access to with Excel and out-of-the-box visualization tools. Whether that data is from docket activity, research databases, websites, or online catalogs, what we have can generally be described as “usage data.” But what one skill set would allow us to do so much more with that data, to better understand and communicate what our users are doing and what they need? Enter, data science.

Broadly speaking, data science brings opportunities to work more quickly and easily with data. It provides better reporting formats by incorporating outside data from various sources, and can even turn text into data that can be displayed visually. Even though legal information isn’t always associated with data, science, or data science, data science skills enable law librarians to do their jobs with greater efficiency. With data science skills, we are able to show new value for our teams and organizations, so it is definitely worth the time invested.

Even in a year when time has been both condensed and stretched (when many of us picked up new hobbies, such as baking), learning to code for just one use case, such as replacing Excel as a data analysis tool, doesn’t make sense. Luckily, data science skills are useful for more than just data manipulation, and learning to code allows you to provide many more use cases than just creating better data visualizations for management. Cooking is a useful metaphor for data science: while it’s completely possible to eat take-out, frozen food, box mixes, and cereal for dinner, you can actually create healthier meals with the right tools, enhanced cooking skills, and a better understanding of ingredients. For example, pre-cut vegetables are available in grocery stores, but a chef ’s knife and some practice allow you to customize any meal you make as well as lower costs. Similarly, while you can do your job with Excel and a commercial tool such as Tableau or PowerBI, learning to do data science opens a window of opportunities to new and improved skills that do more than just create improved graphics for reports or budget projections.

The following 10 data science skills and techniques, along with descriptions of the amazing deliverables that are associated with them, are listed in a progressive skill-building sequence, and they will provide you with a fully stocked data science kitchen. Keep in mind that the examples in this article focus on the R programming language, even though data science can also be done in Python (which has similar and sometimes compatible resources for you to use). The power of data science using R or Python comes from the powerful skills and techniques they enable you to use to transform how you work with data in your day to-day job. It’s time to graduate from Excel and start cooking with gas!

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Brief Analyzer Tools in Law Firms: Evaluation, Implementation & Attorney Adoption

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 5 (May/June 2021), pgs. 22-24.

By Cara Henley Johnson, Library Manager for O’Melveny and Myers

The modern law firm library has a plethora of brief analyzing tools at the fingertips of librarians, attorneys, and staff. While the major vendors have created their own brief analyzers, they are not all the same, and some have qualities that may be better for different users within your firm. A survey of law librarians from the Private Law Librarians & Information Professionals Special Interest Section (PLLIP-SIS) was made available via their listserv for this article. There were 23 responders, about half from large firms and half from medium and smaller firms. Many of the respondents are not the managers of the brief analyzing tools within their law firm. Frequently, a knowledge management or attorney manager professional works with the attorneys to evaluate, implement, and even train on brief analyzer tools. It could be a growth area for law firm libraries to provide more assistance or manage this particular area as it is so tightly integrated into existing research tools.

Following is a short overview of four brief analyzing tools and how to help your firm appropriately learn and use the tools.

Westlaw Quick Check

Revealed at the 2019 American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Annual Meeting, Westlaw Quick Check is only available on Westlaw Edge. Law firms must subscribe to Westlaw Edge in order to get access to this brief analyzer, so the return on investment (ROI) calculation will vary from one firm to another. The majority of PLLIP-SIS responders to the brief analyzing tool survey use Quick Check and felt it was the most accurate.

If Westlaw Edge is a firm’s preferred platform, then adopting this product might be easier than with some of the other tools. Attorneys can drag and drop their briefs into the system after also having conducted research per their normal workflow. This could decrease training time, as they are familiar with the look and feel of Thomson Reuters products, including Westlaw and Practical Law. In this case, in-house training may be easy to implement, whether a firm is working remotely or in person. However, if implementing Edge and Quick Check at the same time with a new upgrade, vendor assistance may be useful. With Westlaw Edge being used in law schools, law students who may have researched within Edge, but not used Quick Check, could be trained just on this part of the platform.

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Practical Competitive Intelligence: Taking on CI in the Virtual World

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 3 (January/February 2021), pgs. 44-45.

By Kevin Miles, Manager of Library Services at Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP

Your reference librarian recently transferred to a competitive intelligence (CI) professional role. How does he or she get and keep a seat at the firm’s virtual (remote) business development table during this pandemic? Even though we are not currently working together in an office, collecting, analyzing, and acting on information from CI efforts is more important than ever. The financial markets are increasingly volatile, more attorneys and support staff are changing firms, and some practice groups are underutilized. A physical table has size limitations, but a virtual table is infinitely large. In other words, there is room for more seats and voices at the virtual business development table.

Changes and Challenges

As we all know, the pandemic has challenged how we conduct business. For many law firms, employees work well from home. Yet working from home sets new expectations, such as 24/7 availability. What are the boundaries between home and work during the pandemic? Having a working knowledge of communication via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WebEx, or similar tools is now critical for sharing ideas. But because we also know that law librarians are very adaptable, such challenges can be readily met and overcome.

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Novel Responses: Helping Law Firms Answer Clients’ COVID-19 Questions

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 1 (September/October 2020), pgs. 12-15.

By Cynthia Brown, Sr. Director of Research Services at Littler Mendelson and Allison Reeve Davis, Library Manager at Littler Mendelson

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought Littler Mendelson, a management-side labor and employment law firm, an unprecedented number of advice and counseling requests from clients. This work typically requires a client to speak directly with a shareholder who is an experienced attorney in a narrow area of law, and it does not initially sound like an opportunity for the library or a research team to assist. Indeed, client questions into novel areas of law rarely require heavy research, but rather rely on the experience and knowledge of the attorney. Littler’s first coronavirus question came in late December and was handled directly by a workplace safety attorney. In the early days of the pandemic, the library was not contacted with questions other than the occasional request to direct an attorney to the firm’s newly created Coronavirus Task Force.

By late February, however, the volume of direct client inquiries was beginning to overwhelm the shareholders. Library leadership was invited by the Chief Knowledge Officer to a strategic planning meeting to address the increased volume and urgent nature of these requests. Following this meeting, the needs of the Task Force attorneys were quickly matched with the unique skills of the firm’s librarians and legal information professionals. Littler’s Knowledge Desk and Knowledge Management Department were offered as key partners to meeting pressing client needs.

As client inquiries and concerns increased daily, the majority of their questions raised novel issues. A decentralized response process can sometimes lead to incongruous answers and to the frequent “reinvention of the wheel.” Providing consistency in the advice and counsel provided was paramount. The original Task Force grew exponentially as new areas of employment law were implicated in the situation, and transitioning from workplace safety issues to leaves of absence and compliance issues and matching the client’s need with the most focused subject-matter expert (SME) was critical.

Getting the Library Involved

With these issues in mind during the early stages of the strategic planning, library leadership offered to match the skills inherent in the research department with the needs of the Task Force. There was an immediate need to track incoming questions, assign the appropriate SME, and balance workloads among the Task Force members. In reviewing questions the Task Force received, it became clear that existing firm work product could assist in answering many of the repeated client requests. As documents were both identified and created, the information was categorized, curated, and stored for future use and easy accessibility. The Task Force needed better communication tools to share lessons learned with the firm, and there was both a need and opportunity to issue-spot and identify trends to enable the firm to provide proactive advice to clients. Finally, as the virus continued to spread, local, state, federal, and international laws were changing literally by the hour. The Littler Knowledge Desk and knowledge management (KM) department set up detailed monitoring of news and legal updates to keep the firm and clients informed. Each of these issues presented unique challenges and risks, but information professionals are well versed in averting such risks. We collect questions, answers, build repositories, and, with frequently needed information, create novel databases or tools for reuse. Applying these skills to provide much needed service to the Task Force proved invaluable.

Littler’s Knowledge Desk collaborated with KM attorneys and the KM Innovations team to build an internal SharePoint page of COVID-19-related resources structured with Littler’s taxonomy. These foundational resources provided a cataloging system that would be ready for the next wave of arriving materials supporting client counsel, as the pandemic and its employment law implications continued to evolve.

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