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How Legal Apps Rank: Part 1, the Big Publishers

As we have experienced, the large law publishers have certainly devoted time and resources to developing legal apps. But, the big question for us law librarians is do attorneys actually download these apps? Using statistics available via the website App Annie, we can find the categorical rankings of apps, including those designed specifically for attorneys and the practice of law. What do the trends in these statistics tell us about the adoption of large publishers’ legal apps?

App Annie is a site that offers App Store statistics. On App Annie, category rankings charts about apps are available for free to users who register with the site. On a side note, the site has more robust usage analytics that quantify how often an app is actually used (rather than downloaded), however a paid subscription is required to access this information. Lastly, App Annie is worth paying attention to as Sarah Perez of techcrunch recently reported the service recently raised $55 million from investors.

To step back and explain a little methodology: first, I examined just the Apple App store rankings. The information for Google Play, Amazon, and other stores is available on App Annie, but I had to draw the digital line somewhere, and chose to focus specifically on Apple due to its reported more than $10 billion revenue in 2014, which still outduels the lofty revenue numbers reached by Google Play this year (though this is predicted to change by 2018).

And, more detail: the Apple App store categorizes the numerous apps it has—Candy Crush Saga, for example, is in the “Games” category. Importantly, for our purposes, App Annie provides the historical Apple App store categorical rankings of apps–for example, a user can find how often Candy Crush Saga was ranked in the top 5 of the “Games” category. The categorical rankings of these apps are determined by an internal Apple algorithm, though some enterprising bloggers have tried to crack  or game the code. We can presume the store ranks apps higher that have high levels of current downloads–there appears to be an emphasis not only on downloads but on currency as well.

So, how do the statistics for the big publishers’ legal apps look?

WestlawNext

Here is the chart for the WestlawNext app, published by Thomson Reuters:

WestlawNext_better

As can be seen from this “Download Ranks” chart, WestlawNext has consistently performed well in the “Reference” category, even peaking at #9 on Saturday, August 28, 2010, which is near the initial release date of July 12, 2010. However, we can see a recent obvious downward trend, as it is typically ranking in the 100s to 300s in 2015. Also of note, downloads appear to cyclically peak in August and February/March. Here is a graph with closer Y values to emphasize those peaks:

AugustMarch_Peaks_WestlawNext

lexis advance

Here is the chart for the Lexis Advance app, published by LexisNexis:

LexisAdvance_Better

Lexis Advance is categorized under the “Business” category, so unfortunately, we cannot do a categorical head-to-head against WestlawNext. Lexis Advance’s peak ranking is at #151 on December 11, 2011, and it, too, is showing a slight downward trend. Lexis Advance also shows cyclical peaks around August and February/March.

WHAT DO THE RANKINGS MEAN

First, let’s discuss the slight downward trends for both WestlawNext and Lexis Advance. Both Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis were early adopters and developers of these apps: the App Store first opened for business on July 10, 2008, the WestlawNext app was launched July 12, 2010, and the Lexis Advance app was launched Dec. 23, 2010. Both apps ranked relatively high in their respective categories before experiencing a more recent downward trend. So, does the downward trend actually signify waning interest or some other macro variable? One variable to consider is the App Store is much more saturated with competing apps; as of July 2014, there were 1.2 million apps in the App Store, in July of 2010, a date near both the release dates of WestlawNext and Lexis Advance apps, there were 200,000 apps in the store. There could be waning interest, but there are also 6x the competitors in the marketplace now, as well.

Second, what about these cyclical bumps in interest in August and February/March? August and February/March signify the beginning of Fall and Spring semesters for Law School students. This piece of data is really telling: these legal apps are presumably being downloaded by law students; attorneys-to-be clearly have an interest in these technologies. What we can conclude from this is, in private law, librarians can assume newer and summer associates are most likely familiar with or at least cognizant of legal apps. And, academic librarians have a further incentive to remain abreast of these technologies. On the topic of law student adoption of apps, check out the graph on Black’s Law Dictionary–its quite obvious peaks occur every August, again, the beginning of the fall semester:

Blacks_PeaksAugustComing soon, we will examine the legal apps developed by other companies.

What To Do With All That Space: Librarians Without Libraries

LibraryBooks

(photo copyright 2014 National Assembly for Wales)

As we know—and have probably lived—the library industry has been transitioning toward a primarily digital existence: this has profoundly changed the responsibilities of librarians and is starting to change the purpose of the actual, physical library.

Giant buildings holding vast inventories of books have given way to desktops holding computers connected to distant, remote servers; because of this, a profession centered on managing a physical collection has shifted toward managing digital resources. Despite the establishment of this new dynamic, librarianship still has a crisis of perception because it’s a profession—like teachers and schools, doctors and hospitals—tied to the image of its building: what is a librarian without a library? How has the profession evolved in the digital world, where there are no physical libraries? And, what should be done with all that library space?

EMBEDDED LIBRARIANS

Those in the actual profession have become “embedded librarians.” This is admittedly reductive to what the term has grown to mean (a more detailed definition can be had by reading The Embedded Librarian, by David Schumaker, Barbara I. Dewey’s article “The Embedded Librarian”, and Vicenç Feliú and Helen Frazer’s embedded-law-librarian-focused paper Embedded Librarians: Teaching Research as a Lawyering Skill, among other excellent works) but an embedded librarian is a library professional who still performs the duties of a librarian, but does not necessarily work inside a physical library. The librarian is physically “embedded” among their patron-base. A librarian working at a law firm, for example, works in an office right alongside the lawyers, paralegals, and staff who typically submit reference questions to them; other duties, beyond answering reference questions, include managing information resources, negotiating with vendors, conducting presentations on library research resources, etc. Though there may or may not be a physical library, the building is no longer central to the profession.

LIBRARIANS WITHOUT LIBRARIES

How are these concepts impacting law libraries, specifically? Yamri Taddese of Law Times reports on how Canadian district and county law libraries are right at the tipping point of their shift away from a physical-resource based profession and towards digital. The law libraries of Ontario are going to be up for a review for the first time in 15 years, Taddese reports; the goal of this review will be to modernize these libraries. This will usher in a modernization of librarian responsibilities as well, Taddese reports; librarian responsibilities will move toward practice management support, information management, and competitive intelligence—duties that are much more in line with those of an embedded librarian. Rather than being a steward of physical resources, the librarian becomes an expert in electronic information sources. So, after defining the terms of this new librarian, the next question becomes: since the profession has evolved in a manner that makes the library building less essential, what should be done with all that library space?

Taddese’s article states Ontario law libraries are still particularly indispensable to solo practitioners and smaller firms, due to the library’s ability to pool information resources; providing access to Westlaw and Lexis still gets patrons physically in the door. But, the article also suggests converting library space into remote lawyer offices at the courthouse—prime real estate for the practicing trial attorney.

Viewing this from the perspective of the academic law library, Sonal Desai, in an essay written for the University of Washington’s Information School, suggests converting law library space into practice incubators. A practice incubator is really designed for attorneys fresh out of law school and practicing as solos or in small firms, a middle ground, or, as Desai writes, a “a bridge to ease the transition from law school to law practice”. In this model, law school library space would be converted into attorney offices, and law librarians would be enlisted to help in an embedded role by teaching legal research, providing reference and research assistance, coordinating CLE or small/solo firm-specific workshops, determining information sources and vendors, and negotiating with vendors, among other responsibilities. Again, the building becomes re-purposed, but the librarian still remains essential.

AFTERMATH

Law librarians and libraries are trending towards a solely digital existence; this has necessarily changed the responsibilities of the librarian and the role of the library. The importance of a librarian is no longer determined by the existence of a physical library. Librarians are now embedded professionals, working right in the field, alongside their patron-base. Physical libraries are now digital collections, collections that still must be curated and managed, but now from a computer rather than physically. And, we can see this change occurring at all levels of law librarianship: Taddese’s article shows the transition happening at state-and-county law library levels, and Desai’s paper details how this could be incorporated into academic law libraries. As a law firm librarian, I can report that embedded librarianship is the new normal for my colleagues and I, and would assume this is the case for all of those in big-law, multi-remote-office firms.

Now that the reality of the profession has changed, one of the present challenges in the industry is marketing and image-related: being a librarian without a library may be normal to us librarians, but, again, this is an industry whose public perception is tied to the image of its building. Is this something librarians should get in front of, by promoting what their new responsibilities are in a library-less world? Or, is this something that will happen gradually, as more and more people become accustomed to the librarian profession not being directly linked to a physical library? Or, is this a conflation of terms, as the word “librarian” fades out in favor of Knowledge Management, Competitive Intelligence, or other titles that bisect librarian responsibilities?

Heartbleed bug makes internet users heartsick!

Two whole years!  That is how long it took experts to uncover what may be the biggest security flaw to ever affect the internet.  It’s big.  It’s bad.  It’s out there.  Worst of all is that you have probably already been a victim. Continue reading