Category Archives: Soapbox

Academic, County, and Law Firm Librarians: Three Sides of the Same Coin


Early on in Graduate School, I remember my Professional Adviser taking the time to sit me down and talk about the various career paths law librarians could embark on. Honestly, I was really only familiar with the law school’s library, using its vast, comfortable reading room as my command station to hammer out papers about information sources and using technologies to meet patron needs. Admittedly, I was confused and befuddled when my Adviser stated, beyond academic law librarians, there are also private law librarians and government law librarians. Prior to this, I had no idea law firms employed librarians—little did I know this was where the future me would thankfully find gainful employment. So, even as a future law firm librarian, I was certainly oblivious to the fact the law librarian profession is comprised of three large classes of professionals: academic, government, and private.

Now, from working in the industry and serving in professional organizations, it’s really intriguing to hear about the differences among these various classes of law library professionals. The patrons value different criteria, and this vastly influences the research environments: for example, private law firms emphasize cost effective legal research whereas academic and government libraries put a premium on providing educational opportunities. Members of ORSLA, the SLA Oregon Chapter, posted their experiences of working in different law librarian environments by detailing the various questions they received in a given week; all three articles are a fascinating and recommended read and make for a great exercise in examining not only the similarities, but, more importantly, the differences among our related professions:

The Perils of PACER

Anyone involved in legal research is more than familiar with PACER (the name, an acronym, stands for: Public Access to Court Electronic Records). Before we delve into the glaring weaknesses and errors of PACER, let’s just step back and give thanks that there is a way for users to access docket and documents filed in all federal district, bankruptcy, and appellate courts—it could always be worse (and judging by some state court docket site designs, it can be much, much worse). Clearly, this is a massive undertaking, and the volume of information being tracked and made electronically available is absolutely stunning. But, PACER does have its flaws, here are a few of the more conspicuous:

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Majority of AmLaw 200 Firms Do Not Have Mobile Sites


Jeff Richardson at iPhone J.D. comments on Law Firm Mobile’s recent study showing only 42.5% of AmLaw 200 firms have mobile sites–this, after the ABA’s 2013 Legal Tech survey stated 90% of attorneys use smartphones. Global 100 firms fare even worse: only 39 Global 100 firms have mobile sites. This is perplexing data–the legal industry is characterized by its competitiveness, why are so many firms choosing to willfully disadvantage themselves by not having a mobile site?

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How Are Public Libraries Changing?


Appearing March 7th in The New York Times, Katharine Q. Seelye’s article “Breaking Out of the Library Mold, in Boston and Beyond” (available here) examines how renovations of large, public libraries exemplify how the roles of public libraries and public librarians have drastically changed. Public libraries are moving far away from being dusty book repositories, and toward being airy, open social centers designed with the omnipresence of electronic devices in mind. And, as this role-shifting and repurposing has occurred, public library usage is spiking upward across the county; Boston’s central library alone saw an increase of nearly 500,000 physical visits in 2013.

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The Science of Social Media

The world is addicted to social media. It’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this, you probably use Facebook orTwitter—you might be obsessed with social media and post pictures of your to-be-devoured food and your workout schedule on a daily basis or maybe you dabble in it to keep tabs on your loved ones. No matter the level of your involvement, you are familiar with how the services work, but are you doing everything you can do to make your tweets and posts as impactful as possible? Continue reading

InsideLegal Lessons: Examining Technology Purchasing Trends by Firm-Size

Last week, business technology and market research firm InsideLegal put together a graphical chart detailing what various sized law firms spent their tech budgets on in 2013 (available here). The data is coming from ILTA/InsideLegal’s Technology Purchasing Software Survey, a wonderful, free, and highly informative resource both organizations collaborate on and release annually (the latest edition, released in August of 2013, is available here). The data, notably, is organized by the number of responding firms, and not the overarching dollar figures of money spent by the particular firms; it gives insight into how various technological purchasing trends affect different sized firms. The data illustrates many situations where new hardware or software is vigorously embraced by firms of a particular-size but not by other firms of a different size. For example, smaller-sized firms are much more likely to purchase tablet computers. Why would this be? Continue reading

What the ILTA Technology Survey Says About Mobile Legal Research

Recently released, the ILTA Technology Survey offers information professionals great insight into how lawyers are interacting with technology at their firms. The organization, made up primarily of firm IT and KM professionals, produces an annual technology survey, and, thankfully, releases it for free (the AmLaw Tech Survey and the ABA’s Legal Technology Survey Report will run you a few dollars).

Notably, among the many topics it covers, the survey focuses on attorneys’ use of tablet pcs and apps.

The results for the question “to the best of your knowledge, which non-native tablet/iPad apps are most used at your firm for business purposes (choose up to five apps)” are as follow, with a brief/not-all-encompassing description from me on what these apps do:

1. Citrix Receiver – enables access to Citrix environments from mobile devices

2. LinkedIn – social media platform for business professionals

3. Dropbox – cloud-computing storage service

4. Adobe Acrobat – .pdf viewer and editor

5. Skype – remote video and voice or instant messaging platform

6. FaceBook – social media platform

7. Documents to Go – enables users to view Microsoft Office and Adobe files in the iOS environment.

8. Evernote – enables users to take electronic notes

9. GoodReader – annotate and read .pdfs

10. Mimecast – enables access of Mimecast email environment

Interesting results:

14. TrialPad – presentation tool tailored to attorneys

15. Westlaw Next – legal research system

27. iTimeKeep – time tracking utility

39. iJuror – jury selection app

Westlaw Next’s inclusion is notable, in that it signifies tablets are being used for legal research, but its location on the list shows the strong popularity of the more well-known productivity-oriented apps (dropbox, evernote, documents to go, etc.). The answer to the overarching question how much traction is there for tablets and mobile devices to be used for legal research is still a little nebulous. Will user behavior change to where tablets and mobile devices are commonly used to conduct legal research? It’s hard to say. Is there a legal research platform that could really exploit the unique characteristics of tablets or mobile devices, to the point where the mobile-version would offer something valuable that would distinguish it from the desktop version?

Also notable is that attorneys themselves are typically not the respondents to the survey questions–rather, it’s the membership of ILTA who are queried. And, it is important to point out, once again, that those queried were to only chose 5 apps, and not every app they have observed/encountered their attorneys using.

Do All Apps Go To Heaven?

In re-researching case management apps for an upcoming presentation, I again stumbled across RLTC: Evidence. Its web-site, accessible here, lists all the wonderful features of this particular case management app: many file formats are supported, users can add annotations to existing files, the app can project onto a tv or monitor via Apple’s SVGA cord, etc. I was interested in what appeared to be a very useful app, but in trying to conduct further research, I was met with peculiarities and roadblocks:

  • The app didn’t appear on the Apple app store
  • The home web-site had broken links for the app’s help file and Apple app store
  • The reviews about the app seemed to stop in 2011

Interestingly, there isn’t a database of deceased apps, an app doesn’t receive an obituary–there is no real definite way to determine if an app is no longer with us. And, moreover, the grander question of “why did this app fail?” is never answered. Was this app too expensive? Did one of its competitors do a better job (Exhibit A, TrialPad and Client File come to mind) of filling this particular niche? What was the reception of this app from the legal community?

Even out of the chaos of the internet arises a peculiar rule: heaven isn’t the ultimate destination for deceased apps, it’s more the stasis of a digital purgatory.

News & Reactions: The Future of Google Books Post-Fair Use

On Thursday, November 14th, Google Inc. won a major court battle regarding its Google Books project. The federal district court in New York City ruled the Google Book project falls under the protection of fair use. Google, through collaborations with research libraries across the country, has digitized over twenty million books, making large portions of the books electronically and freely accessible.

  • U.S.D.C. Southern District of New York Judge Denny Chin’s decision is available from this case here.
  • The American Library Association lauds the decision here.
  • And the reaction of the Authors Guild can be found here.
  • Cheryl Beise of Wolters Kluwer’s Intellectual Property Law Daily (November 14, 2013) examines the four fair use factors of the decision here.

Included among those twenty million digitized titles, of course, are books with legal subjects: rare and ancient legal treatises, aged legislative materials, and superseded volumes are all available. Obscure titles covering differing technical subjects can be found as well, making, for example, a full-text search for an expert’s publications possible. Clearly, this will benefit law librarians, though accessibility of older, obscure legal materials have been available via commercial vendors for quite some time, and in a more organized manner.

LLMC-Digital (Law Library Microform Consortium) began its conversion from fiche-based materials to digital back in 2003. They now offer, in a categorically-organized fashion, a wealth of ancient federal and state-level legislative, executive and judicial materials. HeinOnline, too, begin its digitization efforts in the late 1990s, when the internet was in its infancy; HeinOnline now boasts libraries of various categorical content sets including a wealth of federal legislative materials as well as a robust collection of law journals.

The greatest difference between Google Books and similar commercial vendors concerns organization of content. Google Books’ content set, again, contains 20 million books, the organization of this material is clearly a problem. The commercial vendors are dealing with content sets that are smaller, more manageable, and contain like materials; they are able to organize through various classification systems; by state, by type (executive, legislative, judicial), by category, by date, etc. The user can search among smaller, categorically-defined content sets; the user can explore content via categorical browsing. Google Books has available categories on its landing page, but given the massive scope of its content set, the subjects have to remain very general; Google Books is essentially only navigable by full-text searching, which introduces a host of user-query-construction problems. Google’s approach to index and not catalog the internet proved to be correct, but Google Book’s sea of print materials may need a more commercial-vendor-honed organizational approach. Now that the legality of Google Books has been upheld, hopefully instituting clearer methods of organizing their vast content set will become prioritized.

iBraryGuy Talks about Activist Librarians!

From On Firmer Ground:

Recently while speaking at the Ark Group’s Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library & Information Service Centers conference in New York, I said something that seemed to really resonate with the audience. I was talking about methods for driving resource utilization and optimization, when I shared my opinion that there is little room in the law firm information industry for passive librarians. What we need to survive and thrive as a profession, I postulated, are true activist librarians. Judging by the discussion after my presentation and the tweets I saw online, my point hit home. Continue reading