Category Archives: Soapbox

Big Law, Social Media, and the Library

ATL_Good2BSocial

Big law’s relationship with social media is changing. Above the Law and Good2BSocial have collaborated, once again, on a review of how effectively big law firms use social media. They found AmLaw Top 50 firms have “substantially improved social media performance across the board.”

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Leading to this overall jump, the firms that were the best at incorporating social media in Above the Law and Good2BSocial’s 2013 study didn’t necessarily get that much better; rather, the average score increased because the firms that fared poorly in 2013 made large jumps in 2014. The previously poor performing firms are catching up.

The macro takeaway of this information is: big law takes social media seriously. But, how is big law social media effectively deployed? And, to take a grander view, law is a service-based industry, yet the preponderance of business/corporate social media success stories focus on goods-based businesses. How does being a service-based industry affect the methods of social media deployment?

It’s easy to assume your individual method of consuming and producing social media is more universal than it really is—at least, in a moment where I can admit my own solipsism, that was my perspective. I am not an active consumer of social media produced by big law—and really, when I even notice corporate social media it’s coming from goods-based rather than service-based companies. Outlets that report top corporate social media success stories bare this distinction out, as do sites oriented towards improving corporate social media presences. So, who is consuming social media created by big law?

One answer: big law social media gets followed by news media. Lindsay Griffiths on Zen & The Art of Legal Networking  reported how Nixon Peabody’s Twitter feed’s followers include a heavy percentage of media; journalists are always trying to find stories to break, and big firms generate stories. Twitter is really the perfect vehicle for news story dissemination: a close, or even friendly, relationship does not have to exist between content creator and consumer, and topical news blurbs are perfect, succinct-yet-noteworthy content for Twitter distribution. Twitter serves as social media newswire, providing a constant stream of potential stories to media.

LinkedIn and blogs are the other big winners for big law social media, according to Rhonda Hurwitz of HMR Marketing Solutions. Hurwitz reports on a 2013 study by Greentarget entitled In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey that found “blogs and linkedin as the two most influential platforms for lawyers to use in order to build influence and business relationships”. Unlike the institutional-level orientation of Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs really broadcast the expertise and skills of individuals who comprise a firm. The audience is not the news media, but typically other lawyers and potential business partners; accordingly, this audience has different goals in consuming social media. Hurwitz reports lawyer-authored blogs are trusted by other lawyers, and LinkedIn is tops in professional usage and credibility. Rather than search for content for a news story, the audience of lawyer LinkedIn and blog media is seeking expertise and credibility from particular, individual content creators that they may collaborate in the future with.

Facebook does not really work for law firms because it is not really business-driven. According to Michael Denmead of kscopemarketing, Facebook has “been slow to get traction [at law firms]. It seems to be the general interest posts that people want to see – for example, we do a Charity Run at Christmas and posted some photos. We got a lot of likes and comments on that!”. Social events trump business in Facebook, and accordingly, Facebook is the more social of social media.

Just like law, law librarianship is a service-based industry. The “libraries-as-a-service” philosophical perspective has really emphasized individual librarians and their skills over the idea of a library space. Therefore, it stands to reason librarians can learn and incorporate big law social media methodologies into their own social media deployments. By correlation, libraries should be distinguished by the expertise of their librarians. Just as lawyers can broadcast granular examinations of very specific areas of law, librarians can broadcast granular examinations of very specific areas of research. The emphases should be to blog and then cross-market using other social media. Institutional-level social media is more striated for law librarianship; for private libraries, I struggle to see the efficacy of producing news-oriented exploits via twitter–more internalized broadcasting avenues would be better, as, by default, all potential patrons are already internal. As for governmental and academic law libraries, digitally publicizing newsworthy items is more logical as the patron-bases are broader, and can include even the public. However, the difficult question to answer is: what is news? Luckily, one of the real beauties of social media is implementation costs are practically nil, so tweet away and study what content gets likes and replies.

What’s in a Name: Does the GPO’s Name Change Impact Librarianship?

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As of Wednesday, December 17th, the GPO is now the Government Publishing Office, a name change undertaken due to “the increasingly prominent role that GPO plays in providing access to Government information in digital formats”. Why did the GPO change their name and does this name change impact the library profession, which, similarly, has managed the transition from print to digital?

The key phrase from the GPO’s press release is “digital formats”: the standard format of information has changed, and so have the responsibilities of the GPO. This governmental agency now manages works born digitally, information disseminated electronically, and older works becoming digitized. As Davita Vance-Cooks, the Director of the Government Publishing Office states: “The name Government Publishing Office better reflects the services that GPO currently provides and will provide in the future.”

Upon the agency’s formation, in 1861, the dissemination of information required physical printing, the Printing of the GPO’s name referring to an actual printing press. Reading portions of 44 U.S. Code Chapter 3 – Government Printing Office, reveals various references to bookbinding, printing machinery, printing supplies, and other physical objects required, again, to physically print and distribute governmental information. Nowadays, the printing press has given way to the computer; the Printing in Government Printing Office did not properly reflect the agency’s workflow. And because digital publishing has largely trumped physical printing, the Government Printing Office name became a misnomer: the rebrand shows the GPO wanted to be seen as an agency that publishes, not an agency that prints.

From a perceptional standpoint, the librarian profession is linked to the physical library building. In reality, libraries are going digital, the physical spaces are becoming downsized and/or re-purposed, and librarians are managing these changes by developing skills suited for a new, digital world. The public opinion issue is when those outside the field assume a consequence of disappearing library buildings is disappearing librarians.

Though the economic crash of 2008 and subsequent downsizing certainly took their toll in the library (and every) industry, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook  United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 7% increase in library positions for the period from 2012 to 2022 (though it must be noted average growth is 11%).  We are looking at future predicted to have librarians, but perhaps not the physical libraries from where the profession takes its name.

The GPO’s response to a physical-to-digital transition was to rebrand itself with a name change—given its similar digital transition, is this something librarianship should explore? Does the profession need some type of macro re-branding? The issue has been explored before: recall the Special Libraries Association’s unsuccessful 2009 proposal to change its name to Strategic Knowledge Professionals (ASKPro). Why did that initiative fail, and what will be the ultimate consequences of the GPO name change? Are there other options to explore, like rebranding the actual concept of “the library” by promoting the concept of digital spaces? Again, our profession has responded well to a constantly changing digital world, but the question is how proactive do we have to be in letting the rest of the world know about it?

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

Thursday’s Musing: Troubleshooting Software and Troubleshooting Attorneys

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(photo (c) 2009 Kordite, available here)

 

In the last few years, have you found yourself answering more software troubleshooting-oriented questions? “How do I restrict my search results in this interface?” “Why does this program make my system crash?” “Why doesn’t this software do this?” “Where can I find this specific information using this software?” “What software should I use?” Clearly, due to technological innovations and big law’s ever-shifting strategic plans, the law firm librarian profession has recently been in a very volatile state. One of the changes I’ve observed, now that the sands have shifted this particular way, is a strong prevalence of people sending me reference questions that entail troubleshooting library information sources—getting various library interfaces and software to play nice or perform some discrete action. Continue reading

Thursday’s Musing: The Value of Perception, the Librarian and the Library Space

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(photo (c) 2009 Dorli Photography, available here)

 

As collections are becoming more electronic, the value of the library space is becoming increasingly questioned. A trend among articles written by non-librarians is to link the edifice with the profession: the librarian works in a library, technology is making libraries obsolete, therefore librarians will also become obsolete (librarians are a dead end job according to this article from Yahoo Education, and librarians are a dying breed according to this article from Digital Book World). Even articles that attempt to exclaim the value of librarianship focus heavily on the library spaces, rather than the professionals in those spaces. For example, this recent CNN article kindly relates how libraries are thriving, but focuses almost completely on the edifices themselves: the architecture of the Seattle Public Library, 27 fascinating buildings, the library as a community space, and a photographer’s book of photos of public libraries are all given substantial ink (pixels?). Again, the perception is the edifice and profession are one and the same, so what actually occurs when the physical space is downsized/eliminated? Continue reading

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

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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. Continue reading

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

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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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