Remote Work Proves the Firm Library Is More Than a Physical Space

By Marshall Voizard, Reference Supervisor, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP

When I started my career as a librarian approximately 15 years ago, I worried I was entering a profession in decline, but I liked the field enough to give it a shot anyway.  Between increasing online access and shrinking print resources, it’s no secret that the traditional library model had been under pressure for decades.  Old timers spoke to me of bygone times of larger staff sizes and law firm libraries that took up entire floors.  There was a feeling of fighting a rearguard action, always losing ground, just trying to slow the loss of staff and print.  An unsaid thought was, when the library finally winked out of existence, would librarians disappear too?

In a sense, the COVID-19 pandemic and our forced work-from-home experience has finally answered this question.  For most firms, print and the physical library location was out of reach for at least a year, and yet in my career I’ve never seen as many job postings for law librarians as I have in the last 12 months.  Correlation may not equal causation, but adding in a number a recent legal news articles on this trend along with many anecdotal stories from colleagues, I’m happy to say I think we can all feel confident that we stand on stable ground.

“The expectation that an attorney would have intimate knowledge of dozens or more legal research or technology products, in addition to their full time job as a practicing attorney, is simply unrealistic….we librarians are well positioned to act as product guides, trainers, and even marketers.”

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Taking on Data Analytics

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 2 (November/December 2021), pgs 46-48.

By Miram Childs, Director, Law Library of Louisiana Supreme Court; Andre Davison, Research & Information Operations Implementation Manager, Orrick LLP and Scott Vanderlin, Student Services Librarian, University of Chicago D’Angelo Law Library

Data is everywhere. Many law librarians’ job responsibilities increasingly require them to understand and handle data. What advice, recommendations, or tips do you have to help legal information professionals improve their data skills?

ANDRE: Fifteen-plus years ago, mathematician Clive Humby made headlines when he declared that “data is the new oil.” His metaphor explained that “just like oil, in its rawest form, data is almost useless. But when it is refined, it can be turned into something much more valuable.” Firm law librarians have the unique skills and tools to refine and transform data to perform analytics to support the practice and business of law. Data can seem intimidating, but I will offer recommendations that helped me become more acclimated to using and understanding data analytics. 

VOLUNTEER FOR PROJECTS

At my previous firm, our new CIO created a project to revise our budget reporting process. We were previously utilizing an Excel spreadsheet to track our annual budget. He asked me to lead a project where our goal was to transform the invoice data we were collecting into insights we could use in our budget report. In this project, I learned to utilize tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and Power BI to transform a considerable amount of data into a digestible format for our finance committee. I was able to take some courses to help familiarize myself with the products. My willingness to volunteer to lead that project helped me learn new methods and processes to transform large amounts of data into actionable insights.

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Law Librarians are Data Specialists

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 2 (November/December 2021), pgs 42-43.

By Diana Koppang, Director of Research & Competitive Intelligence, Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP

To continue to lead, librarians must build on their existing expertise by gaining data science fluency and proficiency with new data-driven tools.

In the 2021 AALL State of the Profession report, 52 percent of private law library respondents stated that they did not have an AI/Machine Learning Initiative and had no plans to start one. I may have been among those 52 percent (honestly, I can’t remember that far back). If so, then I too fell into the common habit of downplaying my technical expertise as a librarian. We must stop doing that. 

Law librarians have been among the lead users of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology in law firms since the advent of this technology in law ‑rms. Early machine learning in legal tech appeared in legal research platforms and e-discovery software. It’s only recently been expanding into the fields of process optimization, contract review clause analytics, and other knowledge management solutions. So, because librarians are often not part of those new initiatives (even though we likely should be) we think we are not promoting advanced technology within our organizations. But we have been promoting it—and at times necessarily pointing out the flaws in developing tech. 

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DIY Analytics: Beyond Excel

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 2 (November/December 2021), pgs 12-15.

By Erik Adams, Manager of Library Digital Initiatives, Sidley Austin LLP; Martin Korn, Director of Research and Knowledge Services, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP; and Casandra Laskowski, Head of Research, Data & Instruction, University of Arizona College of Law Library

Tips and tools for mastering the basics of statistics and analytics to create your own data project.

Analytics is using math and computers to mine data for insights and knowledge. Many tools are now available that make it possible to do analytics with little more than a basic knowledge of statistics, some data, a personal computer, and the right software. You don’t have to know how to calculate the standard of deviation or have an advanced degree in computer science to do your own analytics. It is not necessary to run surveys to gather data. This article discusses some basic concepts in statistics, where to find data, and which tools to use for manipulating that data. It also makes some recommendations for librarians and legal information professionals on how to get involved in data projects.

But first, what’s wrong with Microsoft Excel? Once you really get serious about analytics, you will encounter a variety of speed bumps that are handled better with other products. Excel has limits on the amount and kinds of data it can import and manipulate. Other products make dealing with large and complex data comparatively easy. Excel’s formulas and macro language are not as expressive or sophisticated as that found in R or Python, which both allow for more options. Similarly, OpenRefine, Power BI, and Tableau make it possible to automate a lot of the drudgery of data preparation and cleanup. Excel may be the de facto product people use to manage and share tabular data, but that does not mean it is the best tool for the job. ere are things that it is very good at, but there are many tasks that are better done with other tools. You could use a hammer to drive in a bolt, but a wrench will do the job better. Similarly, you can do analytics with Excel, but you will be more efficient using other programs.

This article was developed from a program at the 2021 American Association of Law Libraries Virtual Conference. The session had a companion workbook that is still available for download (visit bit.ly/ND21DIYworkbook). The workbook provides a walkthrough of different kinds of analytics, using a fictional data set.

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How Data Analytics Can Change the Way Law Firms Do Business

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 26, Number 2 (November/December 2021), pgs 16-19.

The latest issue of AALL Spectrum, published by the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), focuses on the increasing use of data analytics in the legal world, and the role information professionals play in making data accessible and beneficial.  Information professionals’ current roles involve helping people gain insight from the data available via various internal and external sources by integrating the data and presenting it in digestible and meaningful formats.  The Spectrum issue examines the use of analytics from different perspectives, including how to employ a DIY approach to analytics; how analytics can help firms innovate, and how best to implement analytics to help ensure adoption and continued use.

By Lisa Mayo, Director of Data Analytics, Ballard Spahr LLP

A recent Law.com article by Dan Clark highlighted a startling finding: “General counsel are increasingly looking for law firms that can collect and deliver data so corporations can improve their decision-making about risks and spending. But they are often frustrated when outside counsel can’t meet these expectations, according to in-house sources.” (Read the article at bit.ly/ND21law.) The article made the dire prediction that if law firms cannot offer digitized data to their clients, they “will likely lose out to their more cutting-edge competition.” Legal service providers are not alone in their need to employ data analytics. Every business, regardless of industry, requires a framework and methodology to quickly interpret data from
multiple sources in order to make sound business decisions.

At Ballard Spahr LLP, data and analytics are on the forefront of much of our modern technology offerings. Unlike many firms, our data and analytics function sits inside our Client Value and Innovation department, where we have some latitude with a research and development budget and the directive to “fail fast” if we determine a proof-of-concept did not meet our needs. Our data management mission statement says in part that we “contribute to the firm’s strategic goals by using innovative technologies, a variety of flexible and adaptive data sources, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and ongoing data literacy education to help redefine the Firm’s internal performance objectives and accountability drivers and transform how the Firm delivers legal services to its clients.” Just 48 words but loaded with meaning and purpose, both for now and in the foreseeable future.

The following are some of the ways Ballard Spahr is using data analytics to better serve its clients:

  • INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES– We are using best-in-class data and analytics tools for data preparation, security, dashboard technology, and automation. We are also leveraging big data tools for data analysis and transformation.
  • A VARIETY OF FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTIVE DATA SOURCES– Each evening, our automated processes look for new litigation, updates to federal campaign contributions, new federal, state, and local legislation, and municipality data sources. We can also modify our big data analyses to exclude or include client data based on the business need.
  • ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE/ MACHINE LEARNING (AI/ML) – Tied closely to our data literacy initiative, we are using AI/ML to translate pages of financial data into meaningful text with observations and actionable recommendations; we can also train ML models to find patterns, trends, and make predictions in any variety of datasets.
  • ONGOING DATA LITERACY EDUCATION – Global research and advisory company Gartner classifies data literacy as a “core competency” that entails being able to “read, write, and communicate data ‘in context’ including . . . the ability to describe the use case application and resulting value.” Our data literacy initiative involves training our users to understand the impact of effective-dated information versus period in time data; using filters to exclude anomalous data; and understanding the key financial drivers related to profitability. As Gartner’s recent 2021 Data Analytics Summit mentioned, “Data literacy is the ‘How’ of a data-driven organization; it is the most important skill for the twenty-first century—period!”
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