Category Archives: News

Breaking news and opinions.

The Implications of Bestlaw

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On September 24th, Joe Mornin, a Berkely Law School student, released Bestlaw to the public-at-large (see the The Lawyerist‘s and The Recorder‘s admirable coverage of this story). In a nutshell, Bestlaw is a browser extension that improves upon the Westlaw Next interface. Remarkably, Joe Mornin designed the browser extension himself, and makes this piece of software freely available to download on his website (http://www.bestlaw.io/). Bestlaw’s website states the software accomplishes the following:

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THE CURRENT VENDOR SYSTEM

Legal research procedures are driven by vendors. At a basic level, getting to be a good researcher involves memorizing two bodies of knowledge: what legal information resources exist out there, and which vendors create those resources. Dovetailing into all of this, access of resources is controlled by the vendors as well; each vendor has their own, unique, separate interface. This environment makes practical sense because legal research is a commercial enterprise. Accordingly, vendors resemble information silos: their information is their capital. Would legal research be more efficient and effective if there was an incorporation of federated searching, which would enable searching across all of the vendor interfaces simultaneously? Of course! But, the current legal research business model necessitates individual, isolated research interfaces, with individual content collections accessible only via one point of access.

This current legal research business model introduces various problems for the user. Two of the more salient problems are: what information is actually unique inside a vendor interface, and how do vendors charge the user for non-unique content. Westlaw and Lexis, for example, charge transactionally, meaning every pull of information comes with a price tag. This is acceptable when a user pulls information that is absolutely unique to these specific vendors. However, users do not always pull unique information; commonly, they incur extra transactional fees by pulling information they could get for free from somewhere else. The issue, really, is the convenience of the interface: users are already inside a vendor’s specific pay environment, and it becomes really easy and convenient to pull resources inside the pay environment, rather than jump out and search for a free (and trusted) copy of the same resource.

PULLING INFORMATION FOR FREE

Bestlaw, remarkably, incorporates the ability to jump out of the Westlaw Next environment in order to get free copies of resources. As stated above, while inside the Westlaw Next interface, a user can pull free documents from free services like CourtListener, Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, Casetext, and Google Scholar. The convenience factor of being in Westlaw Next’s environment becomes partially moot. Just to step back: Bestlaw adds a toolbar to the Westlaw Next interface, when a user is viewing a document. The toolbar enables the user to pull the exact same document they are currently viewing from one of the above mentioned free resources (so, in my understanding, a user would have already induced a find and view charge, but could circumvent the print charge).

IMPLICATIONS OF BESTLAW

Again, federated searching is the concept of inputting a single search into a single interface, and having that search performed across a multitude of databases. Think of inputting a case law terms and connectors search into an interface, and having that particular search run across Westlaw Next, Lexis Advance, Fastcase, and Bloomberg Law simultaneously. The results could be sortable by some combination of relevancy and cost, meaning the user would get highly relevant results at a lower cost. Rather than be information silos that require users to log into their specific, isolated interfaces, vendors would have to compete in a new technological environment, one where open competition would require the highest relevancy at the lowest cost. The user experience would be improved.

Bestlaw’s ability to jump out and pull from free resources while the user is in the Westlaw Next environment is a step in the direction towards federated searching; Bestlaw is forcing a mash-up of Westlaw Next and a handful of free legal information sources. The user, despite being in the Westlaw Next environment, is no longer restricted to pulling just Westlaw Next content, thus enabling the user the ability to circumvent “print” fees they would typically incur. This is a very intriguing development, and all credit has to go to Joe Mornin for getting the ball rolling.

Perla Makes a Point on PACER

filestackFew things have raised such hue and cry in our industry this year as the announcement that PACER was going to be without certain courts’ materials.  The concern expressed by law librarians and legal researchers clogged newsfeeds for weeks and made its way – all the way – into the halls of politics.  Yet while many saw an immediate challenge to the way we work, others saw an opportunity to turn an old model on its head.  Bloomberg BNA president, David Perla, in a recent article for Law Technology News, was among those not only seeing the glass as half-full but also thinking of newer, better ways to make it overflow. Continue reading

Will PACER’s records removal motivate use of software alternatives?

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Earlier this month, PACER announced court documents for closed cases from the last decade in the U.S. Courts of Appeals of the Second, Seventh, Eleventh, and Federal circuits, as well as documents from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California will no longer be electronically available. More details, including the specific date ranges of what cases have been removed, are available here. Will users react to this event by increasing their use of free PACER alternatives currently available on the internet? The immediate reactions to this news have been justifiably critical of PACER’s actions: Continue reading

Vendor Trends: Interactive Data Visualizations

The Exhibit Hall at AALL showcased a clear trend towards vendors offering visualization tools to improve the process of legal researching. From a macro level, legal research has transitioned from being a chiefly print-based medium to a primarily electronic-based medium, and, encouragingly, vendors have developed tools to really exploit this shift. Continue reading

SLA Offers 2014 Contributed Papers

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Original scholarship is an often over-looked part of many annual conferences. It tends to get lost iin the chaotic shuffle between presentations, continuing education, time in the exhibit halls, and, of course, the need for social interaction with colleagues. It often seems that the heroes who work so hard on contributed papers end up having ther praises unsung. Luckily, the Special Libraries Association is belting out a tune of praise for its scholars from this year’s annual conference. Continue reading

iBraryguy Releases “60 Sites in 60 Minutes” List from SLA2014! Who made the cut?

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It was another big year for “60 Sites in 60 Minutes” at the 2014 Special Libraries Association Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO. Hosted by the Legal Division of SLA and generously sponsored by LexisNexis, the panel once again shared their top picks with a full house. From search sites to news, travel, and even a bit of irreverent fun, there was something for everyone! What sites made the cut? You can find out here. Continue reading

iBraryGuy Hits the Conference Circuit!

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  No, we are not referring to the end of the year holidays.  We are talking about library summer conference season, of course. That time of year when the business cards come out, the presentations go on, and the networking and educational opportunitiesget craaaaazy!  Hold onto your lanyards folks, because iBraryGuy is hitting the road with you. Continue reading

PacerPro Unveils DocketShare

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I have been lucky enough to give a few presentations that usually require a brief explanation of cloud computing. I am intrigued by the concept, of course, but am always terrified I am going to lose the interest of my audience as I ramble on about private clouds, software as a service, security concerns, and the like, so I have been trying to discipline myself to really keep definitions to a sentence or two, and not ramble excitedly on about technological ephemera. My typical fall-back summary of the cloud is: cloud computing basically puts the internet in-between you and your hard drive. And because the internet is connecting you to your data, you now have the option of connecting other users to your data. This concept of collaboration is one of the fundaments of the cloud-computing/network age. Continue reading

iBraryGuy & Pinhawk Team Up for the One-Two-Punch!

Pinhawk iBrarGuyOur goal at iBraryGuy is to keep you in the know when it comes to news, trends, and cutting edge technology in the library and information professions.  To that end, we are excited to announce a brand new collaboration with a partner that is just as committed to the vitality of this industry as we are.  iBraryGuy is honored and delighted to be working with the folks at Pinhawk It is a one-two-punch designed to keep you at the top of your daily game! Continue reading

The Empirical Value of Special Librarians: An Australia ROI Study

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One of the biggest difficulties with the law librarian profession—and really, this is true of any profession with a strong customer service and/or pedagogical component—is gauging the empirical value of what law librarians do. There is not a one-step, direct, easily definable correlation between a law librarian task, and how much revenue that task generates or saves. Without the aid of ROI studies, specifically measuring the monetary value of law librarians is impossible.

A collection of Australian library groups collaborated to fund a ROI study on the value of Special Librarians (available here, and the library groups’ summary is available here). Special Librarians are defined in this study as librarians working in health, law, government, business, industry, media, and other commercial or industry groups with a very specific patron-base. The study was conducted by SGS Economics and Planning, an Australian planning and economics firm. The study concluded that for every dollar invested, special librarians return $5.43. The study indicates this might even be a low estimate.

How do special librarians bring this high amount of value?—here is how the study defined the skills of the special librarian:

  • High relevancy search results obtained quickly via thorough searches through robust content sets
  • Training to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of patron searching skills
  • Current awareness results curated from high relevancy, national and international sources
  • Management of specific, subject-oriented collections

Here are some extremely interesting findings of the study:

  • 40% of potential special library users enlist the help of librarians.
  • 56% of librarian-patron interactions are electronic, 27% are face-to-face, and 11% are by phone
  • Funding for floorspace, expenditures, and staffing have all fallen within the last three years
  • Librarians are 3.3 times faster than their users when undertaking the following tasks: performing research, reviewing literature, delivering documents, and other reference tasks

The study aimed to quantify the time saved by library users, and the value of “out of pocket” expenses saved via librarian resources. The methodology was to conduct in-depth case studies among Australia’s estimated 2200 special libraries; 11% of libraries responded to the study’s survey, and another 4% of libraries responded to the study’s questions about costs and benefits.

Much credit must be given to the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), Health Libraries Inc (HLInc), ALIA Health Libraries Australia (HLA), and the Australian Law Librarians’ Association (ALLA) for collaborating on administering and funding this project. This information is a giant boon to the industry, and extremely beneficial for budgetary negotiations, salary negotiations, and internal marketing and promotion of the library. Seeing results like this really makes me excited about anticipating what the AALL ROI project will find, as previously written about on this site.