Friday, February 12, 2016

The "No's" Have It : AALL Members Embrace Tradition and Reject Transformative Rebranding

Image result for no
The American Association of Law Libraries Board (and myself by proxy) received a harsh rebuke from the AALL membership when the rebranding vote results were announced today.   I wasn't surprised that  the name  "Association for Legal Information" was rejected. I was stunned that it was  voted down by a  huge majority. I expected a close vote. Boy was I wrong.

According to an announcement by AALL 59.1% of the members cast ballots. 81.9 %  (1998 members) voted against the new name. 19.89 % (498 members) voted in favor of the  new name.

I wasn't actually all that crazy about the "Association for legal information,"  but it was infinitely better than sticking with AALL, and I didn't have a better name to suggest. As far as I can tell neither did anyone else. Many people suggested that they might have voted for the change if the word "professional" were added to the end. The Association for Legal Information grew on me and I think the change would have had a revitalizing impact on the association. What went wrong?
  • Was it a failure in the process of "socializing" the proposed change?
  • Should there have been a town hall devoted to live discussions of the name change at the annual meeting?
  • Was it the absence of the word "professional" in the name?
  • Was it the prospect of "outsiders" non-librarians becoming members?
  • Will there be another vote on another name or will it take another 100 years to get to a reassessment of the name?
It is a curious outcome considering the overwhelming evidence that the number of law libraries and consequently the number of law librarians will continue to shrink. Reminds me a bit of the Shakers Sect that died out because absolute adherence to their core beliefs destined them for absolute extinction.

Will A Great Migration Follow? Frankly, I know that many private firm colleagues  did not vote because they regard AALL as irrelevant to their careers. Other former librarians who have transformed themselves into digital pioneers have  already  chosen membership in  ILTA  over AALL. The vote could accelerate an exodus that had already begun.

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Name Change
When I was Chair of the Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section in 2014 I proposed changing the name of the SIS. Instead of going directly to a vote, we floated a series of "trial balloons." We conducted several straw polls in advance of the final vote to get a sense of what kind of change the members were open to. The goal of the Board was to at the very least eliminate the absurdity of having the SIS named for a place- the library.  It became clear that members could stomach  adding a reference to information professionals but they were unwilling to eliminate all reference to libraries or librarians. My successor Cheryl Neimeier continued the process and successfully initiated the vote in which the members agreed to change the name to "Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals." It didn't go far enough for me, but at least the members were willing to acknowledge  and  welcome colleagues who were no longer working as librarians or working in libraries, but who had moved into  non traditional rolls in areas such as  competitive intelligence or knowledge management.
I Have an MLS But I am Not a Librarian
I haven't been employed in a traditional librarian role for at least 20 years. I respect that many of my AALL colleagues do work in libraries and may well work in traditional libraries for the next 20 years. On the private law firm side of AALL many law firms have already eliminated their print libraries and many more will go digital in the next 5 years. I am baffled at the unwillingness of my AALL colleagues to enlarge the association tent to embrace the needs of colleagues who are out on the forefront of change... members who have moved into "non librarian" roles outside a library environment but who continue to play a vital role in enhancing access to knowledge.

A colleague who specialized in technical services once commented to me that "catalogers" were the only "real" librarians and reference librarians were imposters - they were a much later addition to the profession and didn't qualify as true librarians. If that is true that the first discipline of librarianship was cataloging -- imagine how research librarians would feel if they had to join "The American Catalogers Association"  An uncomfortable fit at best. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Are Librarians Wearing a Glass Ceiling? The American Association of Law Libraries Members Final Chance to Vote For the Future

Today members of The American Association of Law Libraries will have their final chance to vote on the proposal to change the organization's name to the Association for Legal Information. The name change has triggered an emotional debate on both sides of the issue.

C-level positions in Law Firms by Gender
There has been one "elephant in the room" that has been largely ignored in the professional discussion boards, so I will raise it now. AALL is an organization composed of 75% women. Should we not even consider the possibility that maintaining a professional identity  which is aligned with an historically female profession, may limit professional opportunity and have a negative impact on members incomes?

While I value my professional training as a librarian, I believe that ongoing association with a historically female profession will limit professional opportunities available to the next generation of information professionals. It is well

documented in scholarly literature that "feminized" professions are consciously or unconsciously  associated with subservience-- not with power and leadership.   AALL has never acknowledged how this demographic fact may be influence the opportunities and career trajectories available to its members. The ABA which represents lawyers (an historically male profession)  encourages lively and open discussion of the impact of gender in the legal profession. It is no secret that female attorneys are under-represented in partnership ranks of Amlaw 200 firms. Why should we think that  as law librarians we would be immune from similar obstacles to for upward mobility?  Why don't we take this opportunity to remove one of the obstacles by voting to change the name of the association?

Upward mobility for female administrators in law firms is largely unexamined. The data is not easy to find. Leadership Directories produces a "Yellow Book" of Law  Firm Leadership   and database that includes C-level staffing data which I analyzed to produce the charts in this post.*
  • C-level Leadership in Law firms is predominantly male (64% ) to (36%) female.
  • The positions most likely to be included in the C-Suite are historically and  predominantly male (Operations, IT, Finance).
  • Chief Knowledge/Library/Research Officers represent fewer that 1% of C level positions in law firms  ( And many of these C-level positions are held by non-librarians.)
C-level positions in Law firms by Gender

When I entered the law librarian community in New York in the 1980's there was a cynical rubric which stated that an MLS degree was the only degree that you could combine with a JD which would make your salary go down. There I was with a JD and an MLS shaking my head in disbelief. Please don't let this be true - 30 years later I believe that it is.

I was present at the creation of a  digital legal research revolution. Law Librarians were often the only online research experts to unlock the mysteries residing in the dedicated Lexis and WL terminals. We were the ONLY people practicing the magic of competitive intelligence and curated news using the complex and primitive "dial-up" systems such as Dialog and Orbit where hidden universes of scientific, medical, business and trade data were buried. We could write our own ticket - we held the keys to the information kingdom- our futures were assured.... or not....

Progress to the C-level Since the mid 1980s

In the early 1980's law firms did not have IT or Marketing staff... and yet in 30 years these professionals were hired and  soon leapfrogged over information professionals into the C- Suite. Knowledge is certainly no less important than technology or marketing. In fact it could be argued that knowledge is more essential and core to the practice of law than either of these other disciplines.
Clevel positions began to appear in law firms in the 1990s.

The chart above compares 5 positions ( executive director/administrator, IT, HR, Finance and Libraries/KM)  that existed in the 1980's ( before firms started designating C-level staff) . It illustrates that of the 5 positions the librarians/knowledge managers have the lowest representation in the C-Suite (2% of C-Suite positions), followed by Human Resources Professionals ( at 7%.) Is it a coincidence that the two groups with the lowest representation in the C-Suite are predominantly female? By contrast the 3 positions which are predominantly male have the highest proportion of C-Suite positions (91% of the C-level positions in this analysis).

Fast forward to this decade - law firms are hurtling full throttle toward alternative staffing models and embrace of augmented intelligence tools. Time is short, if information professionals can contribute to this future (and I believe that law firms will be better off if we do) we must pivot quickly and find our footing 21st century roles ...  We need a professional organization focused on the digital future, not the bound to the hardcopy past.

Professional Identity: Does it Open Doors or Close Doors?
Taking a purely pragmatic position -I urge members to vote in favor of changing the name of AALL to the Association for Legal Information. It is a name which will open up  new opportunities to its members. The  bottom line is that there is shrinking need  in law firms for traditional librarians performing traditional library management work.  In a twitter world - time is short, attention spans are shorter. Opt for a message of the future.

* I downloaded the data in April 2015.

Related blogposts:

Monday, February 8, 2016

Kira and Robbie the Robot: Another Frustrated Attorney Founds a Startup to Streamline "Mind Numbing" Legal Work

I have seem a LOT of product tie-ins in my day, but Kira is the first legal technology product I have ever come across to develop a child's "board book" as a marketing tool. Not only did Noah Waisberg found a tech startup but he authored a kids book on AI:"Robbie the Robot Learns to Read."

It is a slick way to give a prospective client a tutorial on machine learning during  storytime with their kids. I confess it provided an explanation even I could understand:

“(Robbie) built vast language models
Including word patterns, order, position
He worked day and night
being literate was his mission
Robbie learned , after studying heaps
that you can know a  word from the company it keeps.”

Machine Learning and AI

Artificial Intelligence comes in two flavors. Either you figure out all the rules in advance and program the computer to follow the rules or your program the computer with algorithms which can discern the based rules when given a limited amount of data. Kira is a machine learning system..

"Up All Night" -- Another Frustrated Lawyer Start Up

 I recently spoke with Noel Waisberg the co-founder of Kira. I asked Waisberg how he had come to develop Kira technology. Like many 21st-century legal entrepreneurs, Waisberg spent time in the "big law" trenches performing "due diligence" work the old-fashioned way. He was an M&A lawyer at Weil Gotschal. He spent  years performing and supervising contract review  as part of standard  Merger & Acquisition due diligence. Like many of his peer innovators he came to believe “there had to be a better way.” Due diligence contract review was time consuming and could represent 80% of the bill for an M&A transaction.  More importantly, he believed that the combination of stress, high stakes, tight deadlines and boring and repetitive work was a formula for human error. He also observed that due diligence involves a lot of repetitive common tasks which made it perfect for machine learning.

The company was founded in January 2011 when Waisberg began collaborating with co-founder Alex Hudek  a PhD technologist. The product was originally called the Diligence Engine because
they were focused on large scale due diligence projects.They began examining the due diligence process which often involves the review of thousands of document -- including many poor quality scanned documents. They started with the assumption that machine learning was the approach best suited to dealing with massive volumes of unfamiliar content. It took them six months to develop the first version of their software. At that point the software could find "governing law" but it couldn’t identify ” change of control” clauses.

 Waisberg spent a year reading documents and identifying clauses.  He read every contract he could get his hands on, no matter how badly it was drafted, no matter how specialized its focus. His goal was for the system to understand both the content and the context of each clause. He believes he may have been the only person to ever read many of these contracts. He read everything from grain supply contracts to aluminum distribution contracts. But after a year, the system was still not learning! In mid-2013 they had a “lightbulb” moment. The quality of the review jumped from mediocre to reasonably accurate. Today Waisberg  reports that law firm subscribers confirm that Kira offers equal or better accuracy than the work done by experienced reviewers. They boast that the system can learn to analyze a large document set after reviewing about 10 sample documents.

 How it works
Kira searches and analyzes text in contracts. It can  review and extract relevant provisions from contracts in any format. The software can handle nonstandard forms and provisions and generates summaries of each document. The product includes a workflow platform and allows lawyers to assign responsibility and track progress in the review of documents.

Kira Workflow

ROI Data
One of the things I’ve always asked vendors to provide is some metric which describes the time savings or efficiencies delivered by the product. Although Kira is new to the market they have already created marketing materials which quantify the efficiencies delivered through use of the product.

Kira's ROI 

From Diligence Engine to Kira

The big change is that Kira's executives began recognizing that the diligence engine could also assist other kinds of document review. The company began to add features at the request of customers. They soon realized that they needed to rebrand product because the name was restricting their appeal in the marketplace. When he decided to rebrand Noah (who we know  does not shy reading large volumes of data) began reading dictionaries in search of the perfect name. He  read an Iriquois dictionary, a Sumarian dictionary and finally found the new conmpany name in a  Sanskrit dictionary. ”  Kira" means “ray of light.”

Expanding Suite of Offerings.

Today Kira is used  for contract obligation management, contract obligation, contracting management, cost recovery, compliance, knowledge management and other use cases where visibility into contract provisions is critical.

Several Amlaw 100 firms are already using their product and they are in late stage discussions with several more.And obviously Waisberg and Hoduk are hoping that more law firms “see the light.”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Thomson Reuters Rebrands as "The Answer Company," Leveraging Watson, Unveils E-Discovery Point, Practice Point and PermID

Last Wednesday, Thomson Reuters hosted an Innovation Summit in New York City for legal journalists and bloggers in advance of the Legal Tech Conference.
Before the presentation began I noticed  that TR has adopted a new corporate slogan: “Thomson Reuters the answer company.”  A bit of a pivot from their 2013 Innovation Summit where they seemed to be rebranding as a “solutions” company – de-emphasizing their legacy as a content provider and focusing on their development of cloud based practice management products. Perhaps they have found an elegant balance in “the answer company.” I assume this is driven by  emergence of  big data and augmented intelligence as important factors which will impact how lawyers find answers in the future.

Attendees were given an overview of two products, eDiscoveryPoint and Practice Point which will be debuting at Legal Tech in New York this week. They also provided some intriguing insights into the company’s recent alliance with IBM Watson and their PermID project.

Susan Taylor Martin, President, Legal opened the morning by framing TR's technology initiatives in the context of the today’s legal market challenges (the buyers market, maximizing efficiency, the rise of alternative service providers.) Thomson Reuters was positioned as an ally having “the intelligence, the technology and the human expertise that customers need to find trusted answers.”
Drawing a parallel to the challenges facing law firms, Taylor Martin described how TR has shifted to a more client focused development strategy. They continue to drive innovation internally but are also open to collaboration with other external organizations (IBM and Stanford Codex), as well as customers to shape what they will deliver in the future. 

TR Watson Will Debut in Global Financial Regulation
Ever since TR announced their collaboration with IBM Watson last October, the legal community has been impatient to learn how this alliance will manifest in a legal product. We still don’t know but TR did promise that they will be the first company for built a legal product using Watson technology. The alliance will combine IBM’s cognitive computing with TR’s deep domain expertise. A panel of executives from TR and Watson revealed that there will be a beta product available by the end of 2016. Their first collaboration will focus on taming the complexities of global financial regulation.

Practice Point for Transactional Lawyers
Practice Point appears to be a variation on the Practical Law workflow tool. It appears to have much of the same content but it is organized around tasks rather than practice groups. For example an M&A lawyer could browse a list of  M&A activities while moving through various phases of a merger. It includes one on Practical Law’s “wow” features – the creation of “what’s market” tables which can compare deals by a variety of criteria such as company, industry, and deal type.  My jaw dropped when I saw that Practice Point contains a “ rulebook” feature which I have been pleading for TR  to build. Practice Point includes a “bookshelf” of all the key rule compilations needed by a transactional lawyer.  Each book can be read in a browse-able book-like experience. Not clear at all why this would be included in Practice Point but not in Practical Law. Practice Point is also offered in an “in house” version which includes “in house” transactions such as planning a new product.

EDiscovery Point
Eric Laughlin introduced eDiscovery point which will be launched at Legal Tech. Laughlin promoted the product as  offering ease-of-use, increased speed of accuracy and pricing that makes sense. Since TR is a latecomer to the ediscovery market, TR executives knew that the product couldn't simply be different, it had to be better.  Currently most  ediscovery product involve complex  pricing where charges are triggered by a wide variety of factors. TRs new product will offer one price based on a single factor -- the volume of data in review.

Key features which were highlighted include
  • Flat $40 per gigabyte price
  • Eliminate slow loading times
  •  Lawyers can use WestlawNext search syntax  which they learned in law school
  • Eliminates complex training manual to learn search techniques
  •  Eliminate loading bottlenecks by breaking data loads down into smaller files which can be loaded simultaneously.
  • Searches execute 10 times faster than the competition.
  • Browser based searching 
eDiscovery Point

Perm ID is a unique identifier to 3.5 million organization and 240 thousand equity instrument and 1.17 equity quotes from the TR core entity data set. This will eliminate the confusion which arises from name changes, corporate family tree relationships, and different companies with similar names. In the future PermID will be expanded to support people, fixed income instruments and quotes and other business data. A PermID entity search API is available in the Creative Commons.  Companies can use the PermID data to match entities in unstructured data sets. I immediately think of the challenges law firms face in conflicts checking. Perhaps the permID can be used to clean up  conflicts data. But I can’t help but wonder why TR isn’t taking this data to build a commercial "conflicts checking" product for law firms. Try a company search here.

 “The Difficulty lays not so much in developing new ideas as escaping old ideas.”- JM Keynes

TR Legal President Taylor Martin opened the meeting with this quote from economist John Maynard Keynes. The fact that  Taylor Martin and Charlotte Rushton, SVP, Global Legal Markets  were presiding  over the meeting was itself a testament to how far Thomson Reuters had come in escaping some old ideas. This meeting stood in the stark contrast to my first meeting with West Publishing Company executives circa 1983 in St. Paul Minnesota. The leadership of West Publishing Company was a middle-aged gaggle of men who enjoyed recreational hunting and ice fishing. By the mid 1990's West's President, Dwight Opperman knew that the company could not evolve and compete in the 21st century without a dramatic overhaul and infusion of new blood and new investments. 

This year will mark the 20th Anniversary of  Thomson Reuters  acquisition of West Publishing Company.  During the Summit TR executives laid out a vision of change through collaboration and innovation. It is hard to imagine what law firms will look like in 20 years but I assume that those which survive will have mastered the escape from old ideas. Will Thomson Reuters actually evolve into a full fledged legal service provider in the future? After all they are "the answer company" and what lawyers (and librarians do) if not provide answers?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Free Legal Information is Not "Risk Free" for Attorneys or the Public : The Glassmeyer "State Legal Information Census" Examined

Earlier this month Sara Glassmeyer, Librarian, Lawyer and Information Provocateur published an important new study outlining the substantial shortcomings of “free” digital,  legal information in the United States. Glassmeyer has spent the past year as a Fellow at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and has produced what I believe is the first comprehensive census on the quality of primary legal resources published by states on the web.  “The State Legal Information Census: an analysis of primary state legal information” is a “must read” for every information professional,whether they are engaged in research, training, curation, cataloging, procurement or knowledge strategy.

The next time you are asked why you are paying for commercial research products “since everything a lawyer needs is on the web” -- just whip out the Glassmeyer report.  I have long suspected the difficulties and unevenness of free digital resources on the web but I had never seen a systematic analysis of the problem.  Glassmeyer’s report fills the gap and moves the ball from impression to proof.  State legal publishing is a vast and uneven landscape offering the public content which is impaired by yawning gaps in reliability, currency and completeness. Glassmeyer scored each state based on 14 access criteria. No state got a perfect score. Most states have serious deficiencies.
S. Glassmeyer State Census Ratings

Glassmeyer describes an ” information desert” which exacerbates the access to justice crisis in the United States. More and more people are seeking to address their legal issues without the assistance of a  lawyer and relying on these public resources.  While the goal of the report may have been to highlight the variety of obstacles  which the general public faces in accessing the materials promulgated by their governments ---it also  underscores the significant risks which lawyers  assume when they rely on free government websites for primary source materials.
The report focuses on state primary legal resources including codified statutes, administrative, regulations and case law which are made available by each state. Glassmeyer has outlined a chilling litany of obstacles, irregularities, oversights and shortcomings which hamper the usability of state legal information.
The Report’s Recommendations Include:

  •  States should create law portals to provide one-stop access to all state legal information.
  •   States should publish information openly and reduce barriers to reuse such as copyright claims in state created content.
  •  Official publications should move from print to digital to promote greater access.
  • All copyright claims as well as restrictive use terms should be removed from webpages containing state primary source material. Disclaimers should warn about the limitations and usefulness of legal information provided.
  • States should consider outsourcing web-based content to commercial publishers in order to improve comprehensiveness and usability.
  • States should provide basic disclaimers about the use and usefulness of all legal information collections advising of the need to validate that the material is current (i.e. hasn’t been repealed superseded overruled or withdrawn etc.)

What Does “Access” Mean?  Glassmeyer’s report deconstructs the notion of “access” and investigates the variety of issues which create impediments to quote “meaningful access.”  All of these concepts described are familiar to information professionals --these are the warp and woof of collection analysis.
Barriers to access include:

·         Cataloging since the law is full of  "terms of art," full text searching of a free database does not necessarily create access for a nonprofessional. No state provides an index to its case law.

·         Citation citation systems help practitioner determine the validity of case law and courts require that pleadings and filings include official citations. There are no free public citators and the public is required to purchase official versions of cases in order to comply with court filing rules.·         Ironically most online versions of cases statutes and regulations are not considered official for purposes of citation. In some states it is not even possible to determine what is the official version.

·         Citators No state provides a citator for validating its law.

·         Container The format in which the digital content is published has an impact on its usability. States publish materials in PDF, HTML as well as mixed formats. The entire repository of caselaw, statutes or regulations may not be in the same format.

·         Content archives. The majority of states post incomplete collections of codes, regulations and case law. Most collections start in the mid-1990s. The validity of these codes and regulations cannot be determined without the assistance of a professional librarian.

·         Control. States attempt to control the use of law by posting copyright claims and usage restrictions. Eight states actually post restrictions on the use of case law – – indefensible in a common law system where precedents matter.
·         Conveyance-- how the state makes the information available. In most states, the print version of a case, statute or regulation remains the “official “version.  Most states do not allow bulk access to their legal information and most prohibit web scraping.

·         Copyright although it is a general rule that states cannot copyright their official publications, several states do post copyright notices claiming copyright in their cases, statutes and regulations. 

·         Corporate control since many states rely on commercial publishers to publish their state law, this increases the cost of access to state materials. In addition, commercial publishers wrap the public domain law with editorial enhancements making it difficult for the public to understand what they can use and what is restricted.

·         Correctness. For a resource to have value it must be trustworthy and yet some states place disclaimers on their websites suggesting that the information cannot be trusted. The problem of revised court opinions is particularly troublesome. Courts post slip opinions which they don't remove or flag when there is a subsequent change.

·         Cost. Most state law is free on the Internet but there are some significant exceptions where states charge for access.

·         Currency. The law changes constantly but some states fail to update their materials quickly and fail to post a clear indication of  when the material was last updated.

·         Search. Legal materials are not searchable on some state websites. Most states only provide a basic search function. Advanced search features would enhance both precision and retrieval.

A Public-Private  Solution? Although many states have adopted the Uniform Electronic Legal Information Act (UEELMA) this did not result in “barrier free” access to information. The report suggests that  commercial publishers are simultaneously  part of the problem and part of the solution. At this point in the 21st Century the major commercial publishers with editorial teams (Lexis, Westlaw, BloombergBNA and WoltersKluwer) offer the best hope for producing legal resources with editorial quality, cite checking  tools, complete  archives and  current content. This may change as new technologies and legal startups evolve. Ravel and Fastcase are creating lower cost alternative approaches to legal research but neither is in a position to "clean up" the wide variety of state statutes, regulations and caselaw issues outlined in the Glassmeyer report.

 It seems unlikely that states have the will and the wherewithal to fix the problems outlined in the Glassmayer report any time soon. Commercial publishers have the technology and expertise but not the incentive to make all of the primary content  (which they acquire from the states)  available to the public in a user friendly platform. As primary law gets commoditized and legal publishers shift their focus from content to process,  will they consider  public-private partnerships designed to create reliable open access to primary law across the United States?

In the meantime – let the lawyers and public beware: Free legal content is not risk free.