Fixing the Law School Debtors’ Prison

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Steven J. Harper, in Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs, presented some disheartening statistics concerning current law school cost and the current legal job market. Granted, the preposterous cost of law school is not new news–it has been spiraling to absurd levels for years. The tuition of private law schools has, according to University of Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos, “doubled over the past 20 years, tripled over the past 30, and quadrupled over the past 40”. But, what is shocking about Harper’s article is law schools are still raising tuition, because, essentially, there are no disincentives to do so.

The average law school obtains 69 % of their total revenues via tuition. And, to quote Harper, once a student pays their tuition, “law schools have no responsibilities for the debt their students take on”. To David Lat, in his article Law school is way too expensive. And only the federal government can fix that the federally subsidized loans are the real issue: law schools raise tuition and increase enrollment size, and the federal government responds by continuing to subsidize all the loans accrued by law students. There still isn’t a check or balance in this system—law school have the green light to pump out graduates into the marketplace with six-figure debt and likely no chance of landing a legal job in a saturated market. Harper suggests implementing methods to make law schools accountable: student loans should bear a rational relationship to law school outcomes. Lat proposes per-student or per-school caps that would at least attempt to lower the cost of law school tuition. Policy-making, on the other hand, has preferred the long game: rather than there be government intervention, the mechanism for adjustment appears to be to let the market forces sort everything out. Eventually, people won’t apply to law school because the legal market is too expensive to enter. This is occurring: the Law School Admission Council reports there has been a 4% decrease in applications for law school for Fall 2015 compared to Fall 2014.

Here are some of the eye-opening statistics Harper reported:

  • For those attending private law schools, the average student loan debt is $127,000
  • And for those attending public law schools, the average student loan debt is $88,000
  • Ten months after graduation, 60% of the graduating class of 2014 had found full-time, long-term jobs requiring them to pass the bar

With all of these macro elements at play, we still have job ads like this one, paying a robust $10 per hour to new bar admittees. Let’s see, how long would it take to pay off $88,000 in loans at $10 per hour?

New Survey States Associates Lack Advanced Research Skills

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Back from an admittedly ongoing baby detail, I was greeted by a press release in my inbox decrying the state of new attorney readiness. LexisNexis’s Legal & Professional conducted a survey entitled Hiring Partners Reveal New Attorney Readiness for Real World Practice, which found 95 percent of “hiring partners and associates believe law school graduates lack practical skills related to legal research, litigation and transactional practice”. Beyond practical skills, the survey respondents stated young associates especially lacked advanced research skills.

My immediate, knee-jerk reaction to all of this news is: great!

The role of the law firm librarian, of course, is to cover this exact gap. We conduct multiple orientations with new associates, including when they are first introduced to the firm as summer associates and when they eventually get hired. And, during these orientations, it is our explicit goal to show how legal researching is done differently in a law firm environment. But beyond orientations, we are continually answering research questions and advising new associates on the proper directions to take with their research queries. The survey defines advanced researching as “researching more complex legal issues in cases, statutes and regulations, determining strength of validity of primary law, and legislative/administrative intent”–all topics we commonly help our new attorneys research. But, beyond researching, we have to acclimate new associates to the cost structures of conducting research at a firm, cost recovery, subscription versus transactional services, and other hard cost aspects of researching. This survey defines the importance of librarianship in the law firm setting.

The survey posits possible solutions to the problem of unprepared new associates: expand the curriculum of law schools, offer certification programs, and offer workshops, among others. Again, the role of the librarian is central to successfully transition associates from law school to their first professional roles. The survey found new associates spend a mean of 43% of their time conducting legal research, and a robust mean of 12.1 hours using paid online resources. This equates to a significant cost to firms. In fact, the survey states attorneys estimate it costs $19,000 a year to train new associates. The silver lining is: educating new associates on proper researching is big business in law firms, and an area that crucially underscores the librarian’s value to a firm.

Ex-citing News – MLex joins RELX Group

LexisNexis Announces Major Acquisition

BbKeL3yr_400x400MLex, an independent media organization providing exclusive market insight, analysis and commentary on regulatory risk, has found a new home. That’s right, it is soon to be independent no more. According to a new press release, LexisNexis has agreed to acquire this indispensible darling of the regulatory practice. Continue reading

Law Firm Library Marketing: Taking Advantage of Existing Opportunities | Part 2

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Welcome to Part 2 of this series, where we will cover specific marketing opportunities that currently exist for the law firm library. Most of these examples are opportunities hiding in plain sight and already part of a law librarian’s current day-to-day responsibilities. The key is to shift our perspective to recognize and take advantage of the marketing value of these responsibilities.

Part 1, available here, examined the value and need for marketing the law library.

  • New hire trainings/orientation – What if you had the opportunity to individually meet with your potentially highest usage patrons for 30-60 minutes before they learned and developed bad research habits? Law firm librarians who have the opportunity to conduct new hire orientations have a huge self-marketing advantage. The initial library orientation is fundamentally important to developing a new hire’s future relationship with the library. If you are lucky enough to work in a firm where a library orientation is standard for a new hire, congratulations! If not, it would be wise to consult with HR to see if you can establish orientations as a common procedure. During the orientation itself, rather than go through the nuances and heavy details of every research product you have, it is centrally important to use this opportunity to market the services of the library. The most important piece of information that can be conveyed to your new hire in this situation is how they can contact a librarian for help in the future. Giving an overview of the research products your firm has is great, as is establishing the expertise your department has with regards to these research products, but the real benefit of these sessions is to begin a relationship with another potential patron.
  • Internal presentations – More often than not, every individual department inside a law firm has regularly scheduled meetings. Practice groups, of course, have periodic meetings, but so do non-attorney groups such as paralegals and marketing. This structure is very advantageous to law firm librarians; our patron base does the legwork of organizing itself and segmenting itself into groups with specific research needs. More advantageous is that meeting organizers are typically in search of and receptive to programming;

    in my experience, offers to give short presentations on the library’s services are generally approved and encouraged. When the presentation is green-lit, the librarian is benefitted by having a captive, specialized audience for whom it’s easy to custom tailor the presentation. As for the presentations themselves I have found you can never assume your audience knows what the typical, modern law firm library does. And again, it pays to emphasize, more than anything else, how audience members can contact the library. The goal for this type of exercise is visibility, to make departments aware of the library, and to possibly expand your client base.

  • The Firm’s Intranet Page – Law firm libraries have a huge advantage in having an internal, organized patron-base; we do not serve a far-spread, scattered public or student body. A firm’s intranet home page isolates this patron-base perfectly. The intranet home page is viewed by presumably everyone in the firm, and because of its reach, it makes for an excellent distribution channel for marketing intranetmessages. More beneficially, these pages are usually in need of quick content. A message stating how many reference requests the library group has answered is an excellent way to quickly and effectively reach out; the message is quick, easily digested, hits all potential patrons, and establishes the relevancy of the department. The goal, again, is to promote awareness of the library—the A in AIDA as we covered in part 1—and posting a brief message on the firm’s intranet page is a great way of achieving this goal.
  • Event marketingEvent marketing entails promoting the law library via a themed event. At a basic level, the event is organized around entertaining activities that promote face-to-face contact with your patrons; games and demonstrations, for example, encourage patron participation, all the while promoting the law library. Notably, vendors are typically very receptive towards contributing to marketing events. You really have nothing to lose when you ask a vendor for assistance. In the past, vendors have donated prizes, led demonstrations, and sent representatives to help organize events we have hosted. Vendor receptiveness is logical: event marketing events are mutually beneficial for the library and vendors. The library contributes the legwork of organizing potential users and customers for vendors, while the vendors keep potential users and customers interested via gamification scenarios and the chance to win prizes, all under the auspice of promoting the library. Celebrating National Library Week is a great opportunity to employ event marketing; the week-long structure gives ample time to multiple vendors, and encourages daily events/more opportunities to event market. In 2016, according to ALA, National Library Week will occur April 10th-16th.
  • Host internal workshops – Vendor presentations and workshops are pretty common in law firms. Remotely, vendors consistently offer webinars to showcase new software and updates. And in-person, vendors make weekly visits to our firm to provide hands-on training. Law firm libraries do a great job of hosting vendor workshops, and connecting vendors to attorneys. There is much value to these activities: they generate interest about research offerings, improve research literacy, and even promote the library. But, we shouldn’t leave this activity just to vendors. Consider offering librarian-hosted workshops. The benefits of librarian-hosted workshops are numerous including clear promotion of the library, promotion of the individual librarian’s research expertise, and a more honest examination of resource strengths and weaknesses. The methodology of delivering the workshops can be similar to what vendors already provide: webinars or in-house presentations regarding specific areas of research (some example topics could be: public records, corporation searches, docket alerts and tracks, etc). Again, this is an activity that generates awareness about the library, as well as establishes the expertise of librarians over their research products.
  • Embedded librarians – At this point the concept of “library as a service, not a space” is likely second nature to law librarians; and embedded librarianship probably more accurately reflects your typical work environment and setting. Broadly, an embedded librarian is a library professional who still performs the duties of a librarian, but does not necessarily work inside a physical library. Rather, the embedded librarian is physically embedded among the patrons they support–in our case: the attorneys and support staff. To view the concepts of library-as-a-service and embedded librarianship specifically through the lens of marketing ourselves, we have to recognize the value the visibility our new situation affords us. Again, marketing must have the goal of generating awareness; being physically present in the environment of our patrons achieves this goal.

In review, the above examples show activities and responsibilities law librarians are typically already fulfilling. The key is to view these day-to-day responsibilities from the context of marketing, and really exploit the potential for marketing these activities possess. In short: go out and be seen!

Law Firm Library Marketing: Taking Advantage of Existing Opportunities | Part 1

Unfortunately, good researching alone does not make a law firm library. Though the importance of the library may seem obvious to us librarians, we still must value continually marketing ourselves in the law firm setting. Fortunately, if we recognize them as such, our common day-to-day responsibilities offer ample opportunities to market ourselves. In Part 2 of this series, we will dive deeper into specific examples of existing marketing opportunities, while this Part 1 takes a general perspective towards examining the importance of marketing the law firm library.

Why market?

Continual marketing efforts are essential in the modern law firm library; due to the nature of the firm environment, librarians have an on-going need to market their ability to provide cost-effective legal research. Faced with a constant influx of new associates and a continuously shifting landscape of resources, vendors, and contracts, the library staff’s need to provide training and research assistance is ever-present.

The revolving door of new associates underscores the need for librarians to make themselves known. Certain inefficient behavioral patterns are highly entrenched among new associates; left unchecked, these patterns only become harder to change. Amanda Runyon, in Marketing and Outreach in Law Libraries: A White Paper, explains the following dynamic observed in academic law libraries: “students turn to instructors rather than librarians for assistance because instructors are seen as experts in the field and they grade the assignments”. This pattern is certainly not foreign to law firm librarians: merely replace the term “instructors” with “assigning attorneys”. And,  we habitually observe the effects of this situation: new associates seeking guidance from books that have been out-of-print for years, or using researching terminology that was sunsetted before the associates were born, or simply employing strange/antiquated researching methodology because “that’s what the partner told me to do”. Through marketing the library and improving the visibility of our services, we can change this behavioral pattern.

Expounding the problem and underscoring the importance of marketing the library is the fact that poor researching leads to wasted time and money. Patrick Meyer, in Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys notes “Legal research in the law firm setting is a big deal. Research by ThomsonWest from 2007 found that on average, 45% of the new attorney’s first year of practice and 30% of years two and three will be spent conducting legal research”. Newer associates conduct a lot of expensive research, yet problematically newer associates may not be in the habit of consulting with the library.

Compounding the need for marketing is the ever-changing state of library subscriptions and contracts. Senior associates may be very well-versed in conducting cost-effective research, but their knowledge of what is in-plan and under subscription may be out-of-date. Vendors, of course, are always competing with each other; this creates new research software for the library to subscribe to, and new contracts that can easily result in vendors teeter-tottering with one another over the cost-effectiveness of their products. Long story short, some associates are inefficient researchers and the cost effectiveness of library software is continually changing: the library has a fundamental need to market itself as the solution to these situations. But, how should the library approach the action of marketing?

Simplify The Message

Brevity is king of the busy law firm environment, and this should translate into the library marketing campaign as much as possible. Kristin Cheney states in Marketing Law Libraries: Strategies and Techniques in the Digital Age that library marketing “promotions, as a general rule, should be kept short and to the point”. In my opinion, the real goal is simply to generate awareness of the library; presenting an exposition on every single service the library provides must be avoided. Potential users need to be reminded that the library exists—once a user is in more regular contact with librarians, a more nuanced telling of library services can be conducted.

Simplicity of the message folds in with the classic marketing strategy of AIDA (though existing in some forms earlier, the acronym AIDA is attributed to C.P. Russell, “How to Write a Sales-Making Letter,” Printers’ Ink, June 2, 1921); AIDA is an acronym for the stages of marketing: awareness, interest, desire, action. As we can see, in classic marketing strategy development, the first goal is to generate awareness. And the easiest method of generating awareness is to recognize the potential marketing opportunities available among the usual day-to-day responsibilities of the job. In other words, promote library awareness. And, in my opinion, the easiest way to promote awareness is to be visible; as Woody Allen said “80 percent of success is showing up”. Luckily for us, a lot of the most obvious opportunities for marketing that occur in our day-to-day job merely require us to be visible and to talk about the great job we already doing as librarians. In Part 2, we will discuss these opportunities in detail.

iBraryGuy’s DiGilio recognized for Career Achievement

DiGilioJohnAt the recent Special Libraries Association 2015 Annual Conference, iBraryGuy’s own John DiGilio was feted for his service. John was the recipient of the 2015 Thomson Reuters Award for Career Achievement. Presented by the Legal Division of SLA, the award is designed to recognize a member who has provided significant service to the SLA Legal Division. The award is generously sponsored by Thomson Reuters Westlaw. Continue reading

On Firmer Ground returns! It’s time to talk VALUE!

CaptureOn Firmer Ground, the blog dedicated to demonstrating the value of law firm librarians is back and better than ever! Continue reading

Judicial Profiles Show Judges are Humans Too

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“Is this guy the second coming of Benjamin Cardozo, or is he a blithering idiot?”

The above quote may or may not be an actual line of dialogue spoken to me by an attorney during a recent judicial profile request. Though typically not as colorfully submitted, requests for judicial profile searches are ubiquitous. This is logical: there are 600+ federal judges swinging gavels around out there, way too many for a single attorney to become familiar with. And, each one of these individual appointments has his or her own personality quirks and idiosyncrasies (they are humans after all), variables that can easily play a role in a case’s proceedings. This creates a need for descriptive information about a judge’s judicial temperament, procedure, and–to take the above example, intelligence. And, the ideal source for this specific information has to be supplied by people attorneys can trust. Isn’t it shocking to find out this source may be…other attorneys? Continue reading

Predicting the Future with Analytics

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“3D Bar Graph Meeting”, (c) Scott Maxwell

The term “jargon” has complicated social meanings. Jargon primarily refers to specialized language used by a specific group of individuals; conversely, this means individuals outside of the in-crowd don’t know what the heck is being talked about when jargon starts to be tossed around. Secondary dictionary definitions attribute vaguely morally-loaded values on the term, as per dictionary.com: “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish”, “language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning”. These negative connotations suggest people don’t like or trust jargon, presumably because of its ability to exclude. But, we have a productive option: to find out what the jargon being used actually means. Continue reading

How Legal Apps Rank: Part 2, the Success Stories

In Part 1 of How Legal Apps Rank, available here, I examined the Apple App store category rankings of the WestlawNext and Lexis Advance apps. In this post, I will examine the legal apps we should all be paying attention to: the success stories.

In searching for as many legal apps as I could find, I stumbled across many legal app pathfinders, bibliographies, and “best of” lists, but a special thanks goes out to the two lists that especially stood out: the often-updated libguide created by University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School Reference Librarian Jenny Zook and UCLA School of Law Reference Librarian Vicki Steiner’s guide. Also, I tried to be as inclusive and search for as many apps as possible–from apps produced by the big publishers, to those put together by the start-ups and the little guys.

My methodology was to, again, plug the apps into App Annie, and examine the apps’ historical, categorical rankings. Again, I have limited myself to the Apple App store/apps designed for the iPhone or iPad.

Time for the big reveal–here are the apps that surprised and stood out:

trialpad

TrialPad, published, in name, by Saurian Communications, Inc., though really by Lit Software, is an award-winning trial presentation app. To simplify its features: while users are at trial or mediation TrialPad easily connects to TVs and enables attorneys to display documents, play videos, and more, all with a host of great annotation tools. TrialPad is for the iPad only, and costs $89.99. Here’s its “Grossing Ranks” chart:

TrialPad_Grossing_Better
First, we can see this app has hit the #1 position in the “Business” category on a number of occasions (note that the y-axis on this chart has been reduced to 1-30, showing how frequently this app ranks highly). The “Business” category in the app store is generally the domain of scanning apps, .pdf readers, invoice/timesheet creation apps, and other esoterica–TrialPad genuinely sticks out for having such a specifically defined audience. Also notable, this is the “Grossing Ranks” chart, as opposed to the “Download Ranks” chart. TrialPad, again, costs $89.99 which is higher than most apps and means less downloads are required to lead to higher grosses and therefore a higher ranking in the “Grossing Ranks” chart.

With all of this said, here is the “Download Ranks” chart:

TrialPad_Downloads

On this chart, I have extended the y-axis values to 1-100; we can see TrialPad is not consistently in the top 30 like it is in the Grossing Ranks, but it still is a very high-performing app, and one that law librarians and information professionals need to have on the radar (as an aside, it appears this app has been on our radar as, beyond the times I saw it in app patherfinders and guides, I also recall this app being demo’ed at the 2014 AALL Annual Meeting Cool Tools Cafe by Debbie Ginsberg, Educational Technology Librarian from the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law Library).

Turns out TrialPad isn’t the only Saurian Communications, Inc./Lit Software, app to have on the radar–the other?:

transcriptpad

TranscriptPad provides attorneys with a bevy of annotation and review tools for use with legal transcripts. TranscriptPad, too, is only for the iPad and costs $89.99. Below, I have pulled TranscriptPad’s “Grossing Ranks” chart:

TranscriptPad_Grossing

Though slightly outperformed by its brethren TrialPad, TranscriptPad still exhibits stellar results. I reduced the y-axis to 1-30 in the above “Grossing Ranks” chart, which shows how often TranscriptPad is located near the top of the “Business” category. TranscriptPad even hit the #1 ranking on  July 17, 2014. TranscriptPad’s “Grossing Ranks” positions are aided by the fact this app also costs $89.99, meaning the grossing rank can be accentuated with less downloads. To that end, here is the download chart with the y-axis extended to 1-250:

TranscriptPad_Downloads

All in all Lit Software must be commended for producing two of the most successful legal apps on the market, even more impressive that this coming from a start-up and not one of the big legal publishers.

ijuror

Our next success story app is also another victory for the little guys, or in this case, guy. iJuror is published by the prolific Scott Falbo, who has 86 other app credits to his name. iJuror helps in the process of jury selection, enabling attorneys to quickly appoint characteristics and notes to potential jurors, as well as compile reports they can easily share with colleagues, among other features. Below is the “Grossing Ranks” chart for iJuror:

iJuror_Gross

This app is ranked in the “Business” category (same as TrialPad and TranscriptPad), and is available for the iPad only. The y-axis is reduced to 1-250 in the above, which shows a consistent placement around the #100 rank. This particular app does cost $24.99, which is more than what usually dots the “Business” category in the app store, and means less downloads equal a higher bump in the “Grossing Ranks” chart. This is an older app, introduced in 2010, and still able to remain relevant, as per the above chart.

Practical Law The Journal – Litigation

Now, to deviate, the next two apps display the importance of current awareness materials. The first is the Thomson Reuters published  Practical Law The Journal – Litigation app, which offers a convenient way for subscribers to read this publication on-the-go. Below is the “Download Ranks” chart:

PLJ-Litigation_Downloads

The above, with the y-axis filtered to 1-250, shows the app’s “Professional & Trade” category rankings; the app hit #1 on January 30, 2014. And, similarly, let’s look at another current awareness app:

ABA Journal magazine

ABA Journal Magazine is the mobile extension of the American Bar Journal’s magazine, ABA Journal. The app is simple, designed to enable on-the-go attorneys the ability to read the contents of the print magazine (subscription required). Below is the all-time “Download Ranks” chart for the iPhone delivery of this app; the y-axis set to 1-50, and this is the “Professional & Trade” category:

ABAJournal_DownloadsABA Journal Magazine has broached the top ten in “Professional & Trade” a few times, even hitting #1 early in its deployment, on Feb. 13th, 2014.

Both Practical Law The Journal – Litigation and ABA Journal Magazine exemplify that iPads (in particular) do an excellent job of displaying the content of serials. Not only are they visually appealing in app form, more than just the current issue is accessible, and navigation is not restricted to leafing through pages. The lesson: current awareness materials translate to tablets really well.

In summation, those are the legal app success stories–thanks for reading!