Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fastcase: Legal Research Enters the 4th Dimension or The Little Engine That Could ...

...Come up with some Interesting New Tools for Legal Research.

Phil Rosenthal and Ed Walters both former associates from Covington & Burling began developing what they refer to as a smarter alternative to Westlaw and Lexis in the late 1990’s. After a modest amount of angel funding and a decade of development,  Fastcase now has  more than 500,000 paid subscribers, and partnerships with 20 state bar associations (including DC Bar, Virginia State Bar, and Maryland State Bar Association, and dozens of voluntary bar associations). Their iPhone and iPad app was the 2010 AALL New Product of the Year.

Fastcase has gone beyond caselaw and now includes, news, regulations, statutes and forms. But what caught my attention, was two unique features “Forecite” and “Interactive Timelines” which appear to offer completely fresh approaches to legal research analysis. Both features provide new visual cues for assessing research results.  The cost of a subscription to Fastcase  is several orders of magnitude below  the prices charged by Lexis or Westlaw for comparable primary source material.

But don’t let the low price tag fool you. Phil and Ed have developed some remarkably sophisticated new tools for research analysis which may give them an advantage with the younger generation of lawyers who are more graphically oriented and less textually oriented than prior generations. Some larger firms have also decided it is time to reassess the long term sustainability of maintaining two expensive contracts with Lexis and Westlaw. The ongoing recalibrations in the legal marketplace have created an opening for upstarts like Fastcase and Bloomberg Law to “make their case” that they deserve a serious look.

Phil Rosenthal attributes the inspiration for the Fastcase timeline display to his study of physics and the law.  Phil started out as a rocket scientist and entered Harvard Law School because he was interested in space policy. Ed Walters jokes that his practice at Covington & Burling focused on beer and softball. But he also admits to spending some of his time globetrotting between Washington and Brussels at the dawn of the Web, counseling software companies how to stay out of legal trouble in a newly Internet-connected world.

According to Ed "In good software design, one size fits none. We’re big into customization – research history, private libraries, settings, preferences, and views of search results."

Forecite: Seeing the results your search terms don’t retrieve.

This new search feature “Forecite” now in beta, retrieves cases that are heavily cited in the search results but which do not match your keyword search criteria or which fall outside your date restrictions. They are basically running a citation analysis on the retrieved cases and identifying cases that you probably want to look at even though they don’t match your search parameters.

The Interactive Timeline: Thinking Outside the List!

For the past 30 years the dominant way to review search results has been “the list” of relevant cases. A list from a traditional legal research vendor can be sorted in a variety of ways, relevance, date, court hierarchy, but these variables must be assessed sequentially, one at a time. There is also a limit on the size of a list that can display on a screen. The Fastcase timeline can display ALL cases in one visual snapshot.  All of these results can be resorted, modified and redisplayed on the fly.

Phil articulates the goal this way. “ It is hard to know if you want to read the full text of a case. Traditional search results are only sorted in one way at a time, so it is hard to determine if you need to look at a case and too often important cases are missed. We make it easy to see four pieces of information about each search result, all at the same time. You can find that critical case right away. You can see trends."

The chart below shows the interactive timeline for court opinions on the topic of  “campaign finance.” The 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision Buckley v Valeo, 424 US 1,  which upheld campaign finance contribution limits stands out as the largest circle, i.e., the most cited case...cited 2,328 times. I performed special sort on the graph below showing the trends in campaign finance litigation by multiple jurisdictions: Supreme Court, Federal Courts and at the state level. Each circle represents a case, and the size of the circle indicates how often that case has been cited. If you hover over the circle you see the name of the case, the citation, a summary and the number of times cited.

The second timeline at the bottom allows you to readjust the time period displayed in the main chart. The results can be continually refined on the fly.

The Interactive Timeline, although plotted as a two-dimensional graph, actually shows four different pieces of information: 1) Decision date; 2) How many times the case has ever been cited; 3) How many times each case in the list has been cited by the other super-relevant cases in the search result (“cited within results”); and 4) Relevance, based on your specific keyword search. You can customize the view and switch out #4 to display the level of court that issued the opinion (U.S. Supreme Court at the top, lower state courts at the bottom.)You also get an overarching context and trend analysis for the history of campaign finance litigation.

Statutes the Next Frontier: Since Fastcase is pulling statutes from free state websites which are not universally reliable or current (even though published on the states official Websites),  I don’t see Fastcase as ready for ‘prime time” in statutory research arena.  When I asked Phil about this he responded with knowing grin and said “we’re working on it and we have some really new ideas.” This should be interesting… stay tuned.

 Fastcase Phil and Ed in a Fast Car!
A digression on the Fastcase Tesla Roadster VIP  Event

In what is surely one of the most unusual marketing tie-in’s I have seen, Fastcase hosted an event at the Tesla Motors sale room in downtown DC this week.

I don’t run in the $100K electric roadster circles and I don’t usually get a chance to zoom around downtown DC with my hair blowing in the wind. And I am not even much of a fast car person but I have to admit: this car rocks. What I learned: Testa's carbon fiber body is hard like steel and flexible like plastic. Zero gasoline.  It runs 245 miles per charge and it bolts from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. (And I had the whiplash to prove it).

So what is the Fastcase and Tesla nexus? I don't know but here is my guess:

• Both offer innovative engines (search and automotive)

• Both are entering a mature market place with game changing assumptions (low cost search and no carbon emissions engine)

Maybe we can get Phil and Ed to raffle that Tesla at their AALL booth in Philadelphia this July.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Dun & Bradstreet Releases Free Japan Disaster Business Search Tool

Japan News Alert from D&B

D&B has released a free search tool that allows individuals to identify companies that are located in the prefectures impacted by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. This information will help organizations begin to assess their exposure to financial and business continuity risk resulting from the earthquake and tsunami as well as unfolding developments at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station.

 D&B has identified roughly 150,000 businesses in the Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. Search tool allows searching by company name or D-U-N-S number. and will  provide information on which companies are in the impact zone. Click below to access the free search tool. D&B Japan Disaster Business Search Tool

Friday, March 25, 2011

ALM’s February 2011 Economic Confidence Survey: It’s Never Too Soon For Some Good News.

American Lawyer Media released its early 2011 Economic Confidence Survey and law firm leaders are significantly more confident than they were only 6 months ago.

Cost saving trends between August 2010 and February 2011:
  • The number of firms intending to move to less expensive vendors is decreasing 
  • More firms will continue to cut business development spending  
  • Layoffs have reduced but pressure to control salaries and bonuses increased.
  • Pressure to reduce summer associate program spending is easing up.

 Biggest economic challenges include: 
  • Cross-selling to existing firm clients 
  • Responding to cost pressure from clients
  •  Pressure to use Alternative Fee Arrangements

 Hiring Compared to August 2010 more firms intend to hire attorneys, but staff hiring appears to be stalled. There is no indication that there will be an increase in staff layoffs.

Profits Per Partner: Partner morale regarding profits per partner increased almost 20% from August with almost 68% of respondents expressing optimism about 2011 profits per partner.

Implications: While this is reassuring news, the lessons of the recession should not be forgotton. Since clients are continuing to be economic pressure on billing arrangments, we will need to continue exploring content licensing arrangements which improve the value proposition for both the firm and clients.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Howrey's Demise: When Being Innovative Isn’t Enough

Sunday's Washington Post offered a thought provoking post-mortem on Howrey’s demise: Why Howrey could not hold it together.

It is hard not to respect Howrey for their continuous pursuit of innovation. (They also pulled off one of those amazing “only in DC” coups by having a Pennsylvania Avenue address even though they were in a building on E St NW.)

Steven Pearlstein’s story suggests that they were either the first or one of the first law firms to pursue a litany of novel strategies:

  •  Branding themselves and creating a slogan: “In court every day”
  • Aggressively pursuing a “free agency” growth strategy - - poaching laterals at a time when it was “not done” in a “genetleman’s” profession.
  • Swapping out the traditional summer associate bacchanal and replacing it with a bootcamp (about a decade before the recession hit)
  • Opening a offsite ediscovery facility in the suburbs of DC
  • Opening an office for off-shoring ediscovery in India
  •  Abandoning lockstep pay for associates
  •  Initiating an apprenticeship model for associates
Drum roll please:
  • In a profession of PC users, Howrey remained a committed Macintosh shop through the 1990’s. According to an April 2000 Law Technology News  story Howrey lawyers even posed for a Power Macintosh ad in the mid 1990’s.*

* I confess I tried to find the Howrey PowerMac ad but came up short, but I can instead offer to delight and amaze you with a Youtube  montage of Macintosh ads from the late 1990’s. The only lawyer I recognized here was Gandhi. But anyone who was a member of their firm's “Y2K Committee” in the late nineties must see the parody mash up of Hal (from the 2001: a Space Odyssey) and the Y2k bug.

Why is Howrey Gone? Of course the economy was a factor, but Pearlstein cites other recent trends in the law firm marketplace including, the conversion of firms from true partnerships with shared personal risk to “no personal risk” LLPs and LLCs. Pearlstein suggests that the “free agency” model which was responsible for Howrey’s growth was also partially responsible for its demise. The combination of the easy bail out and  the LLP/ LLC structure of law firms creates a disincentive for partners to make a commitment to invest years in trying to resurrect a troubled law firm.

Whither Partnerships? or Wither Partnerships? Pearlstein concludes by suggesting that law firms will continue to fail unless they recommit to the traditional partnership model and stop focusing on the pursuit of “profits per partner.” I see evidence of a completely different future. I have recently had two separate conversations with former law school colleagues who are now large law firm partners. Two partners, in two different firms, in two different cities echo the same complaint. They as partners can’t find associates willing to stay with them to pull “all nighters” and work weekends. Both partners independently reported that bright young associates from the best schools refuse to put the practice of law ahead of their personal interests. Furthermore the next generation of associates appears to have no interest in making partner at all. So the bigger question may not be how many firms will continue to thrive but will any firm survive as a partnership if there are no associates grabbing for the “golden ring” of partnership?

Howrey is gone but it’s website lives on:

Howrey's New Model: A Two-Year Associate Apprenticeship (June 2009)

Howrey hits India for "low-cost option" (February 2008)

“Howrey bucks trend with merit pay plan” (July 2007)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Centralization as a Value Strategy

Maximizing the value of library staff activities can be achieved by enhancing the ability of information professionals to be put to their "highest and best use" in support of client related activities. One key strategy for liberating knowledge professionals to support client work is reducing the volume of administrative work which they must perform or oversee.

I continue to be amazed at the number of large law firms that remain largely decentralized. and which mandate a decentralized library system in which each library is accountable to the local office manager and not aligned to a firm wide information strategy for expanding access to resources at the lowest cost. Decentralization can be a consequence of incomplete merger integration, inertia or a failure to assess the true cost and inefficiencies generated by decentralization.

My recent post on "What is core?" identified library activities which are aligned with the core law firm business activities. The "non-core" activities provide some guidance on library activities which are candidates for centralization.

Core activities such as legal and business research services directly benefit clients and free information professionals to continue expanding the complexity and sophistication of the services they can provide to clients. When these specialized research activities can be billed to clients, the library staff becomes a profit center and the balance shifts in favor of value.
Conversely many of the non-core administrative activities drive up overhead, headcount and cost by remaining decentralized.

Non core activities which are good candidates for centralization are:

• Acquisitions

• Cataloging

• Serials check in

• Routing

• Bill coding and processing

• document retrieval

• Licensing and contract negotiation

• Integrated library system management and deployment

Enhancement of services and value added activities. Some high value projects would be too difficult to implement locally or if implemented locally would not deliver the value of a centralized system. Examples of these high value projects are:

• Implementation of an Integrated Library System and catalog which contains a complete inventory of the firm's resources.

• Increased access to this complete catalog and inventory increases resource sharing among offices and reduces costs of acquisitions.

• Cooperative collection development will allow offices to develop the specialized collections needed for their local practices while relying on other offices to provide access to non-core resources on an “as needed” basis.

• Implementing a catalog which is a virtual library portal with links to full text resources including all titles from an aggregated resources such as HeinOnline and Lexis and Thomson elibraries, can reduce redundancy in print collections. This type of digital library portal provides lawyers with “just in time” access rather maintaining costly “just in case” print libraries.

Centralization and workflow. Centralization can be used to enhance efficiencies. Among the benefits of centralization are:

• Standardization or workflow and the enforcement of “best practices”

• Simplification of processes

• Reducing redundancy

• Continuous training and workflow improvement

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Managing Offshore Teams: Everyone Can Win with the Right Approach

By Cynthia Sullivan

Note: Guest blogger Cindy Sullivan was previously VP of the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology Library at Fidelity Investments in Boston, Ma. Cindy has more than 25 years experience managing libraries in a global financial services organization, including remote library organizations. Cindy’s particular expertise has been focused on the strategic use of technology to deliver library and knowledge services.
CSullivan Strategic Information Management, LLC

A few years ago, I was asked to go to India to recruit and interview a library manager/researcher. This position would be located in our India office which was growing rapidly at that time. I found that networking with other offshore colleagues, was a help in getting a sense of the caliber of candidates that were joining the company. In terms of qualifying a candidate, I developed a detailed job description and identified a list of qualities that were a priority. This proved to be a worthwhile exercise once I was immersed in the many interviews.

At the end of my mission, I was successful in hiring a bright, highly motivated individual that proved to be an asset to the organization. Seeking to make the offshore staff integral to the onshore team, I found that five ingredients were key to success.

1. Open and frequent communication among the teams

2. A detailed training plan for our offshore recruit that was divided among the onshore team in terms of responsibility

3. Standardized templates for publishing final reports/research

4. A repository that allowed for sharing and collaboration

5. Joint objectives that required the onshore staff to work collaboratively on a project with our offshore recruit

Open and regular communications included a weekly staff meeting that required the onshore team to come in an hour early and the offshore team to stay an hour later. This was essential since it provided a seat at the table and identified all participants as equally important to our organization.

A detailed training plan where responsibility was divided among the onshore staff, ensured that everyone had some skin in the game

The standardized templates allowed us to function as one organization producing uniform results regardless of the location.

The repository was key so that we were sharing the results of projects and achieving re-use of the final product.

The joint objectives provided an opportunity to bond the onshore and offshore team with a common goal.

As a manager, trying to keep the organization in synch and functioning as a single team was a challenge. It required thoughtful planning and constant communication. At the end of the day it was all worthwhile. We each experienced a degree of personal growth and were richer for the experience.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mobile Apps for Law: Who knew there are over 800 legal apps?

Mobile Apps for Law is brought to us by former big firm library director Arlene Eis, founder of InfoSources Publishing,

Earlier today I was engaged in a discussion with several of my global colleagues about the hypothetical "lawyer of the future." We all agreed that portable and personalized app libraries will be a feature of this future, but none of us can discern the exact timeline or contours of this transformation. Just as I was musing over the possible threshold for this evolution to reach "critical mass," I received an e-mail invitation to subscribe to the first database directory of legal apps. The product is currently discounted to $25 per password.

Who knew there were already over 800 law related apps out there? MAL is a veritable “Wild West” of legal publishing, featuring a wide array of publishers that I have never heard of. Currently MAL covers apps for 8 types of devices including Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, iPods, Adroid/Droid,PocketPC, Palm, and Ereader. The apps are described as being a utility or a research app but I couldn’t find a way to search these separately. Since we all are concerned with information quality, the addition of hyperlinks to product reviews for some products was extremely helpful, but there need to be more! The reviews which I did read appear to focus on the technical functionality of the app and not  information quality issues, such as provenance and timeliness of updates.

Humorous, but none-too-reassuring monikers abound: BigTwit Software (I am not kidding)., PDA Wizard, Law on my Phone, Tech Innovations, to name a few. Waffle Turtle Software raised an eyebrow by appearing to conflate the NY CPL (criminal procedure law) with the NY CPLR (civil procedure law). My personal favorite is from the unlikely publisher Loose-leaf Law Publications  which offers the "NYPD Policeman’s Patrol Guide." There are some core primary sources available such as titles from the USC, the CFR and a variety of state code volumes. Costs range from almost $1,000 for a bar review course to free for the American Lawyer app.

Conspicuously absent are the major legal publishers. I located 10 Thomson apps, including Black’s Law Dictionary and WestlawNext for iPads. CCH Mobil and American Lawyer apps were included.  I couldn’t find anything from Lexis. However since there was no easy way to search by publisher – I may have missed something from one of the majors.

Searching: lots of options - keyword, Boolean, legal topic, device and jurisdiction.

App Description: Each entry provides detailed information, including: title, publisher, description, subjects, price, devices, version, size, last update date, links to reviews and finally, a link to the app store or URL where you can download the app immediately to your device.

My wish list:
  • Publisher information:  Who are these people? I would like to be able to search by publisher and also get some background on the updating policy for the app as well as the source of the content.  
  • Updating A"last updated" date appears for many but not all apps. No indication of how you would get continuous updates after you purchased the apps. Are you entitled to updates as the law in amended? Do you get updates for a year?  
  • Publisher and app rating system: I would like to see some sort of user rating system to be included like you get on hotel sites… “beds were lumpy, but a great location”.  
  • More reviews from information professionals: It is great to know about the functionality and features are but our risk management mission dictates that we have a better assessment of quality.
Wither app-land?

By analogy, if MAL was providing the roster for a music festival, what you would see is a list of  "garage bands" and wonder where the headliners are. So let’s do the math. There are over 800 apps and fewer than 20 are from major legal publishers. That is less than 2% of  legal"app market share." We know that won’t last long. The challenge ahead  for those of us who manage the acquisition of information resources for large organizations, will be to  work with publishers to develop licensing, pricing and updating schemes that allow wide deployment at a reasonable price without compromising quality.

Thanks to Arlene for providing some insight into the current configuration of  the legal app landscape.
PS: Arlene - when will you be releasing the "Mobil Apps for Law" App?