Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Next Generation of Legal Research Databases: Private Law Library Survey



Take Survey  Here
 Last year I participated in the 2011 program at AALL on the new generation of research platforms from Lexis and Westlaw..

A year ago WestlawNext was the only “new generation” product that was fully deployed to subscribers. Lexis Advance was deployed  in trials and Bloomberg Law was regarded as a “wanna be” product. Lexis Advance hit the market in December. Since January, Bloomberg Law has secured contracts with two global law firms, DLA Piper and Jones Day. The competition to gain market dominance continues to intensify and the new generation of research platforms may allow one vendor to aggregate increased market share.

I will be participating in a a follow up panel discussion regarding the adoption of Lexis Advance, Westlaw Next and Bloomberg Law at the AALL annual Meeting in Boston on July 22nd.

Surveys are being distributed to AALL Members in academic, government and private firm sections. These surveys will measure the adoption of new platforms in each type of institution and will elicit feedback on each systems strengths and weaknesses.

Private Firm and Corporate Law Library Survey. Members of the private law firm and corporporate law library community  are invited to respond to the survey  here.

We are requesting that each firm or corporate law library designate on person to respond to the survey. The survey will close on June 8th.

Survey Results will be discussed at the AALL program in July and then reported here after the AALL presentation.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Will the Marketplace "Like" Bloomberg BNA's New "Social Media Law & Policy Report"?

On May 21st Bloomberg BNA will be releasing a new product which focuses on the emerging constellation of issues referred to as "social media law." The Social Media Law & Policy Report is BNA's first new "notification product" since 2009. It will cover social media issues emerging in a wide range of legal practice areas  including labor, health, advertising, intellectual property, securities and litigation.



Why Social Media?

Bloomberg BNA’s press release states: "The far-reaching implications of social media disputes and litigation across legal practice areas make it imperative that companies, law firms, and their clients have control over their social media initiatives and understand the potential ramifications as they use these powerful new tools," said Edwin Jackson, Director of Publishing for Bloomberg BNA's Legal & Business Publishing Group.’ With social media, we've seen time and time again that what you don't know can hurt you’."

What’s Different About this Product?

BNA describes the product as a hybrid between the traditional BNA electronic newsletters and the BNA practice centers. Unlike most BNA services, this product will not have a print counterpart and will not be updated on a formal daily or weekly publishing schedule. SMLPR will be a web-only product which is continuously updated. Subscribers can also set up personalized alerts and receive email delivery of all news or custom news updates as they are posted. While some of the materials will appear in other topical reports, the materials selected for inclusion in the SMLPR will all focus on some aspect of social media law.

The Evolving Newsletter Niche

One of my biggest complaints with the major legal publishers is that there are too many “copy cat” products which are only marginally distinguishable from their competitors. I am always asking publishers deliver something new, so I applaud BNA on introducing a product that is delivering new content in a redefined digital “newsletter” plus practice materials.

BNA newsletters were originally developed in a pre-internet world. BNA has a long and distinguished history producing newsletters in very traditional practice areas such as labor, tax, patents. They now have dozens of specialized topical reports. In a pre-internet world, they provided relatively quick access to content that might not otherwise be available for months. They included only documents and commentary that editors determined to be of interest to practitioners in a specialized practice area. BNA was also the first major publisher to deliver their newsletters on a completely digital web enabled platform.

Although speed of access to primary is no longer a problem, SMLPR’s value proposition appears to be the editorial selection and aggregation of the best and most relevant content from across a wide variety of legal disciplines. This focus will allow lawyers to easily monitor legal issues arising from social media. This is an efficiency and productivity play.

Current Awareness Plus Practice Resources

In a move that appears to be targeting the practice support approach of the Practical Law Company (PLC), the “Social Media” platform will move beyond “monitoring new developments and include a variety of practice materials

Sample Policies: BNA will provide access to sample social media polices from top US companies. They currently have policies from Coca Cola, IBM and Best Buy.

Compliance Checklists

Primary Sources: Federal and State Cases, Federal and State Statutes, Federal Regulatory materials including regulations, administrative and agency documents and state ethics opinions

BNA Insights Will include articles written by BNA editorial staff as well as leading practitioners.

Calendar of Events

The Skeptics Response

The skeptics may wonder if such a product is really necessary. The skeptics may remember other highly specialized products and wonder if Social Media is a trendy or ephemeral issue rather than a sustainable and growing body of law that will evolve into a distinct legal discipline introducing new legal principles and standards of its own. Newsletters can suffer both from being too broad and too specific.

Can a Newsletter be too Specialized?

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound causing one of worst environmental disasters in US history. I received a promotional issue of the Alaska Oil Spill Reporter from an unknown publishing house within a week of the disaster. I joked that the tanker's infamous Captain Hazelwood was still recovering from his hangover... and yet a newsletter has been born. I had to concede that in the pre-internet world - this narrow specialization did indeed fit a need for access to documents relating to both the environmental issues and the growing litigation. In a pre-internet world, specialty newsletters were often the best source for unpublished primary source documents.

BNA also ventured into a tight niche with the Year 2000 Law Reporter, which focused on the potential liabilities which would arise from programming errors triggered by the Millennium bug. A digital Armageddon was expected to erupt at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000 paralyzing everything from traffic lights to global banking exchanges. Not a single catastrophe was reported and the newsletter quietly faded away in the early weeks of the new millennium.

I have long been a reader another inter-disciplinary product, BNA’s Electronic Commerce and Law Report. In my opinion, that product is a good model of how a newsletter can cast a wide net across the legal landscape and weave together an informative array of domestic and international cases, statutes, policies and self- regulatory organization materials. Assuming that the market is ready and the price is right, the social media product with it's new updating model and practice focus will be worth a trial for practitioners who are trying to track this emerging issues as social media law evolves.

BNA has not yet released pricing information for the Social Media Law & Policy Report.

Wondering Out Loud…

Will the Social Media Law and Policy Report have a Facebook page...And will lawyers "like" it.....

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dewey Leboeuf and The Due Diligence Imperative. Let The Job Seekers Beware...Prestige is not enough.

Tonight Above the Law is reporting that “the end is near” for Dewey & Leboeuf and staff departures are scheduled to begin on Friday. It is a story that has become all too familiar, Heller, Brobeck, Howrey, Coudert Brothers… the mysterious alchemy of missteps, hubris and  changed law firm economics. Dewey has the distinction of being the first truly “white shoe” law firm to join this solemn procession.

When Dewey’s esteemed law library Director Gitellle Seer announced her retirement last fall, the firm recruited for her replacement. The position was filled “in house." One can only assume that former candidates for the position are breathing a collective sigh of relief at their “good fortune” at missing that particular “golden ring.”

When I entered my law firm library career in New York in the early 1980’s. Dewey Ballantine was considered one of the finest “white shoe” firms along with Cravath, Swaine and Moore and Davis, Polk and Wardwell. Wikipedia cites William Safire's definition of “white shoe” as deriving from white buckskin shoes, long popular among upper-class New Englanders, especially at Ivy League colleges.

Having grown up in Queens and never having seen a grown man in white footwear that didn't bear a "Keds" label, I assumed that  this was "code" for lawyers who didn’t ride the subway where a “white shoe” wouldn’t last for “a New York minute."   Tom Wolfe coined a new phrase, “masters of the universe” in  In Bonfire of the Vanities,to describe these powerful legal and financial elites.

Who would ever question the wisdom of these men (and the rare woman) who steered these rarefied partnerships? Who would not jump at the chance to work “below deck” pulling one of the small “staff support” oars on these ships of power and prestige? I was honored to  have a seat aboard the "good ship Shea & Gould"

Since the American Lawyer started the AmLaw 100 in 1986, approximately 10% of the original 100 firms no longer exist. Sadly one of those early casualties was the late, great Shea & Gould. If the best and the brightest law firms have a “one-in-ten” odds of collapse in 25 years, I think it is time to rethink how we  assess and compare  law firms as potential employers during the recruiting process.  It is time to take responsibility for our own "due diligence."

Mismanagement 101 or New Law Firm Economics

James B Stewart’s weekend New York Times article “Dewey’s Collapse Underscores New Law Firm Realities” reveals an old and now unimaginably charming billing practice which he was privy to as an associate at one of Dewey's peers. After reviewing the billing reports a  partner prepared a one-sentence bill --- in calligraphy--- on beautiful stationery which read: ‘For professional services rendered,’ followed by the time period covered and a large number with a dollar sign. (Bold and italics added) Such was the depth of trust between lawyers and clients. It is hard to imagine a more dramatically changed environment than today’s world of AFA’s, outsourcing and “beauty contests.”

In Leverage We Trust

Law firms have long term debts but not necessarily long term assets. Dewey offered unusually lucrative long term contracts to attract lateral partners. They floated bonds. They had lines of credit. Their greatest assets were the lawyers with a book of business and as soon as those started walking out the door the model was doomed to collapse. Law Firm consultant Bruce MacEwen is quoted in the Times story as describing Dewey’s situation as “Mismanagement 101.”

Should Law Firms Have Obligation to Make Financial Disclosures to Staff and Non Partner Attorneys?

Law firms have widely varying cultures and standards regarding the amount of financial information they provide to employees. I have heard of law firms that have completely open internal web applications that allow anyone to view financial data, but most firms strictly limit detailed financial reports to partners and high level staff executives. Many firms offer staff  a PowerPoint presentation including key trends and metrics. To tell the truth, reports about Dewey are suggesting that even partners had less than full disclosure of the financial picture… add to this the stunning inquiry by the Manhattan DA into the activities of the former Chairman Steven Davis.

Law firms have no affirmative obligation to their employees regarding the financial stability or future prospects of the firm. Most employees ride the tides of optimism or anxiety from  one annual “state of the firm” memo to the next. In between, they “read the tea leaves.” They form a personal holographic construct of firm financial health composed of such things as bonus pools, office openings or closures, partner arrivals or departures, stealth layoffs and the size of the allowance for a summer associate lunch. In short, we are a pretty trusting lot.

Even if you are a diligent reader of competitive intelligence on law firms,you can't always trust was you read. In an unprecedented action the American Lawyer revised downward the 2010 and 2011 Dewey and Leboeuf financials.

Resources for Due Diligence on Law Firms

The American Lawyer can be credited with opening the door to law firm transparency but the problems at Dewey were still well hidden. In light of this it seems prudent that potential law firm employees should make a habit of conducting their own “due diligence” investigation of prospective law firm employers using as many benchmarks as possible. Here are a selected list of resources for conducting your own “due diligence.”

American Lawyer American lawyer rankings and not just the AmLaw 100 should be investigated. The Mid level associate satisfaction survey, the technology survey, the law librarian’s survey and the pro bono survey provide additional views of firm finances, culture and priorities. If you have access to the ALM Intelligence database, you can perform trend analysis and benchmark firms against peers.

Vault Surveys  Vault surveys law firm associates and staff across the country and compiles data and insightful insiders’commentaries. They also produce rankings.

OK so no one has a crystal ball. Dewey and Leboeuf is listed as the 9th Best Law Firm to work for in 2012. Hard as it may be to believe – this seems to disclose that associates were rather sheltered from the storm clouds forming in the boardroom.

Vault’s Verdict: Dewey & LeBoeuf associates are generally happy with their lot. They are perhaps unique in BigLaw in that they have few complaints about the hours and the work-life balance—outside, that is, of what they expected of BigLaw in general—and most report a positive and pleasant firm culture, with excellent associate/partner relations and training.

Dun and Bradstreet provides self reported financials on private companies including law firms. They  provide one especially interesting metric... how quickly they pay their bills.

News and Blogs
Free Google news is good. Specialized sources of law firm news are better, Law 360, American Lawyer regional news sources, ABA news, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters Legal News are great sources. Above the Law blog – the ultimate source for the serious, the silly and the salacious.

League Tables
Thomson Reuters Financial, Bloomberg and Mergermarket all report league tables which measure and compare a wide spectrum of deal activities by firms.  Dewey & Leboeuf website bragged that their rankings had risen in 2011. However there are many league tables each year and a clear picture requires a mulit-year analysis of all the categories to determine whether a firm had dropped in some league tables. You can generate a  combined trend analysis of their deals over several years.

Litigation Analysis. Bloomberg, West’s Legal Monitor and Lexis Courtlink all have the capability to generate historical and current reports analyzing a firms’ litigation history which provide insights into who they are representing and what issues and jurisdictions they are active in.

Post-script

Vault included this quote from a Dewey associate: "If you told me I could keep this job forever, I'd definitely take it." Sadly this wish will not come true. This is a tough road for everyone who will have to recalibrate their lives in unforeseeable ways. It is sad to watch institutions die. Law firms -- even dead one's have legacies that do not die when the doors are shut and the creditors sent packing.

Let us reach out to our professional colleagues and offer whatever encouragement and opportunities we can in the days and months ahead.