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.

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.”

Good2BSocial_Score

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.

Reliving the Past with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

WaybackMachine

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is a godsend to law librarianship. My undergraduate professors would be slowly shaking their wizened heads at me for starting a piece of writing with a “universal superlative,” but, count literary composition as just another thing the internet has changed forever. As transient and mutable as the internet is, however, it does a bafflingly horrible job of preserving its own history. How the internet handles its past is actually terrifying: content disappears as if it never existed, dead links accumulate, and information is continually extinguished — overwritten in 1s and 0s in remote, humming server farms. Making a personal logical leap to questioning what this suggests about our own, personal histories is inevitable, but, rather than tread down the depressing path of existentialism, let’s jump back to how great the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is, and how it can be a feather in the cap of any law librarian. Jill Lepore, writing for the New Yorker, chronicled the origin story of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and its founder Brewster Kahle. This feature is fascinating, touching on the development of the internet, how foreign countries archive websites, the implications of U.S. Copyright Law on digital archiving, and–similar to what we law librarians sometimes have to do–how to prove the existence of deleted web sites and posts. Lepore’s article is structured around a story involving a quickly deleted post made by a Ukranian separatist leader; this leader boasted about (and included a video of) downing a Malaysian passenger airplane, resulting in the death of 298 people. Again, the post was quickly removed from the site where it was posted; but instead of it being lost forever, archived versions of the post were made and retained in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. Turns out archiving the past can be a really important thing to do. My day-to-day job does not generally entail proving the existence of evidence that implicates someone/some group of mass homicide, however, the Wayback Machine has come to the rescue for a number of research requests that have hit my inbox. Looking through my closed reference requests, here are some of the ways I have used the Wayback Machine:

  • Searching old company press releases
  • Cite-checking now dead links
  • Pulling historical editions of a government document
  • Confirming employment of individuals via old corporation sites
  • West Virginia Pattern Jury Instructions
  • Locating historical weather information

THE INTERFACE

The interface is very easy to use–merely type in the address of the site you wish to find historical versions of: WaybackMachine_Interface If the site is archived, your results will include a timeline of captures. Clicking on the different captures enables you to access various incarnations of the site–for example, if you wished to access 2009 or 2010 captures of our iBraryGuy site, you would be able to do so by clicking into the year columns below (the vertical bars signal when, in the year, the captures were made): WaybackMachine_Timeline Clicking into a year column leads to a calendar view, where you can choose the specific date of the capture: WaybackMachine_CalendarView After clicking the date, the capture will load. For example, here’s how the iBraryGuy website looked on January 16th, 2010: WaybackMachine_iBraryGuyCapture To be noted, the captures themselves are not always complete–some pictures will load and some will not have been captured. Also, dynamic sites (those coded with queries to an underlying database or host, and with forms) will often lack some functionality. For further information regarding what is and isn’t captured and why, the Wayback Machine’s FAQ is a great resource. Enjoy reliving the past!

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

GPO

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?

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?

The Implications of Bestlaw

Bestlaw2--headlogo

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:

Bestlaw1--listOfFeatures

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

Starting in October: Tell us your favorite apps – get featured!

emot-applauseiBraryGuy is excited to announce a new crowdsourced feature starting in October.  Let’s hear your APPlause!

It seems like there is an app for everything these days. Just within the realm of information alone, there are apps for staying updated on the news, conducting research, managing your time, communicating with your team, and even billing for the good work you do. These are just the tip of the technological iceberg! At iBraryGuy, we do our very best to share reviews of some of our latest and greatest app discoveries. Yet we cannot help but wonder what you are using. Continue reading

Screencasting in the Library

The Cool Tools Café program at this year’s AALL Annual Meeting showcased–like it always does–many great presentations concerning implementing technologies to improve library offerings. For those unfamiliar with the format of the Cool Tools Café, the program features a variety of demonstrations set up in different stations inside a large conference room—attendees are given free rein to wander around and scope out the various presentations on technologies. Standing out among these was the presentation conducted by CUNY Library Associate Professor & Emerging Technologies Librarian Alex Berrio Matamoros; Alex’s presentation regarded law librarians using screencasting software as a teaching tool. Continue reading

A Compilation of Secretary of State Sites: Making State of Incorporation Searches Easier

SecretaryOfState-PA

One of the great things about the U.S. is the uniqueness of each individual state. Beyond cultural, political, historical and artistic variances, this truism (fortunately or unfortunately) applies to Secretary of State corporation search interfaces. Each state’s agency handles the design and offerings of their interface their own way—some allow for free corporate status reports, free corporate documents, and free searching, while others find a way to charge for each step in the process of obtaining company information. Continue reading