Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It Takes More Than a Dumpster to Build A Digital Law Library: 12 Critical Components For Digital Law Library Transformations



Several weeks ago the New York Times published an article So Little Paper to Chase In Law Firm's New Library about the transformation of Kaye Scholer law library from print to digital. The law library community was universally outraged that the author was 1) completely surprised that law libraries were going digital and 2) overlooked the real story. Law libraries have been "going digital" for at least twenty years.

The demise of the print law library has been so obvious  and inevitable that the American Lawyer stopped asking about print resources in their 2006 annual law library survey. The real story which was not reported by the Times is the complexity of planning the print to digital library conversion.  A LOT happens before the dumpster arrives to cart off the books. The hero of the story is not the architect who designed a law office without a room designated as a “library,” but the information professional who crafted the complex plan, reengineered the workflows and aligned the licenses and resources on which the digital infrastructure rests. In Kay Scholer's case the true hero of the story was Shabeer Khan. He didn't get a mention in the Times story.  

For the past two decades law librarians and legal information professionals have been assessing products and developing in house solutions to support virtual library resources. We have been sharing best practices and advising legal publishers on how to build the next generation of products that lawyers will be willing to use.

There is no universal solution. The law firms which have the foresight to invest  in  strategic information professionals are  most likely  to have substantial digital libraries in place today. Many firms are running parallel digital and print libraries because they are supporting both  the last of the “baby boomer partners” and the “born digital” generation of lawyers. The tipping point  from print to digital for most firms will be the relocation to new offices. The phasing out the physical collection will be the last step in a long and carefully laid plan. 


Library size of a phone booth


Twenty years ago during a job interview with the Executive Committee of an AmLaw100 law firm I was asked how soon I could reduce their 12,000 square foot library to a library that was "the size of a phone booth." I would give the same answer today that I gave 20 years ago. Every law firm has a different mix of needs depending on its practice groups, the number of lawyers, the number of offices and the  number of jurisdictions where the lawyers practice. To build a digital library the most fundamental questions to be addressed are:

  • ·         Have the resources been digitized?
  • ·         Do the digital resources offer format/functionality which the lawyers are willing to use?
  • ·         Is the resource available at the price the firm is willing to pay?
Answering those questions is just the beginning. This is an analysis that needs to be applied to hundreds and possibly  more than a thousand resources. In other words, the dumpster can only be filled when a raft of issues are resolved.


 Building Blocks of a Digital Library

1. Strategic Information Professionals are the most important  pre-requisite in designing a digital library strategy. Information professionals often have an MLS and/or a JD degree plus years of working with lawyers and legal materials. They need to have sufficient experience to assess the products and the lawyer workflows and to be able to re-imagine new solutions which unify and seamlessly authenticate resources in a  digital  desktop environment.  They begin the process by comparing the catalog of print resources with digital offerings available from a wide range of publishers government agencies,major legal vendors, (LexisNexis, ThomsonReuters, Wolters Kluwer, Bloomberg), Small publishers ( Fastcase, Ravel ) regional publishers ( JonesMcClure) and  specialty publishers ( Practicing Law Institute, Law Journal Press) . 


2. Finding tools  Traditional catalogs can be transformed in to portals by adding web enabled links which will bring the lawyer directly into the full text resource. Enterprise search  also can be used to identify resources and documents. 


3. Practice portals  Information professionals can develop intranet pages and portals where links to digital practice resources such as treatises, statutes and databases can be organized and integrated with internal resources and other workflow tools. 

3. Leveraging Flat fee contracts. Many firms have unlimited contracts with Lexis and Westlaw. An information professional will determine how these contracts can be leveraged to deliver IP authenticated access to selected content  such as "treatise eLibraries," cases, and statutes. All the major publishers will work with customers to create "custom user interfaces" and “one click gadgets” such as a “find and print” tool which will retrieve and print cases identified with a citation. Bloomberg Law was developed to serve as a digital library which can be left open and accessed as needed throughout the day.


4. EBooks. LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters offer hundreds of titles in eBook format. Fastcase offers advance sheet eBooks. eBooks have the same content as print but offer additional functionality such as highlighting and linking to primary source citations.


5. Mobile Apps. Most of the major legal publishers have apps which provide all or some of their content to existing subscribers who use mobile devices. 


6. Licensing. licensing is one of the most complex and important risk management components of a digital library strategy. Legal information professionals will map the workflow and determine the size of the licenses which will protect the firm from copyright and licensing violations. Newsletter licensing is so complex that a full explanation of the issues would warrant a separate post.

7. Electronic newsletters and custom alerts. One of the most tangible benefits of the digital library is the elimination of the "routing" slip which enabled newsletters to meander through organizations.  The lawyers at the bottom of the list often received newsletters  weeks or even months after publication. Electronic newsletter delivery puts everyone "at the top of the routing list.” New tools enable information professionals to offer consolidated news from various sources in a single custom newsletter. Curated news services provide individually selected custom alerts targeted to a specific lawyer, practice group or clients.Tools for curating custom newsletters include Linex, Ozmosys, InfoNgen, Manzama and Attensa. 


8. Academic and Bar Library Memberships. Information professionals work with local bar and academic libraries to provide backup resources or to acquire resources via interlibrary loan. They also provide access to databases or retrieval of digital documents. One very innovative program from the New York Law Institute loans eBooks to member law firms. 


9. Training. Converting lawyers from print to digital requires training. Webinars offered by the firm's information professionals or vendors can smooth the transition. Concierge style "in office" training or roving trainers equipped with iPads can be leveraged to facilitate the digital library transition. Microsoft Lync  allows information professionals to virtually visit lawyers desktop and walk them through the use of a new resource.


10. Continuous Resource Assessment ROI. Digital products continue to evolve. New products need to be trialed and compared with existing resources. An information professional can implement a resources management product such as Onelog, Research Monitor, Lookup Precision or Quattrove which can help a firm collect usage data for determining the cost/benefit of each product. This data can also be used in future contract negotiations.


11. Password management.  IP authentication is the ideal access solution because it eliminates individual passwords and allows anyone in the organization to automatically access a resource. This is not always possible and the management of individual passwords for lawyers can be a massive headache. The monitoring products mentioned above all have the ability to save passwords. When such a resource is not available,  the information professional will develop a digital vault where all of the lawyers passwords can be stored and retrieved as needed.


12 Cost savings and re-engineering workflow. Firms often focus on the real estate savings from eliminating the space of the library.  The reduction/elimination of print resources also reduces  costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of print. These  costs include loose-leaf filing, serials check in, routing, labeling and maintenance of print. Staff can be retrained and reassigned to assist with password management and portal maintenance and  usage analytics.


 Climbing the value ladder. The implementation of a digital library eliminates a host of necessary but lower value administrative activities. This transition increases the time and attention which information professionals have available  to focus on higher value and transformative client support and business development work.


The digital library is a journey not a destination. Products and practice needs will continue to evolve. A new generation of analytics and “big data” products has begun to emerge and these will no doubt displace some existing resources. The role of the law librarian/information strategist will be to continually reassess the balance of resources,  capture and analyse the ROI of digital products and work with the practice groups to assure that they have the right mix of desktop resources to optimize client support.

A webinar on this topic:

The Law Library Association of Greater New York will be sponsoring a webinar program “Kaye Scholer Library: New Model for Going Digital?”  on December 17th. Information is available at this link 


REMINDER: Voting for the ABA Blawg 100 still open at this link. Dewey B Strategic is nominated in the “Legal Research and Writing” category.

1 comment:

  1. Training? What about a training class that really addresses how to read from the screen or otherwise productively interact with on-screen programs. Anybody know any seminar, book, or article that addresses this issue? I'm talking about teaching computer reading skills similar to what might be taught in terms of reading a book. For example, when using a book, one should use a zig-zag pattern with one's finger when looking for something by scanning down a column on a printed page. Or something that says having two computer screens really does help.

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