AALL Annual Meeting Recaps

Thanks to the AALL Annual Meeting organizers and presenters for a productive and engaging experience in Austin.  The PLLIP Summit and the meeting sessions explored current topics and trends pertinent to private law firm librarians, and the exhibit hall featured new tools and newly-introduced product features worth checking out.  A special thanks to the PLLIP members who volunteered to write session recaps for members not in attendance.  Read on for the first set of recaps…

PLLIP Summit:  Navigating the Nexus of Knowledge and Technology

(Posted to On Firmer Ground)
Links to continuing education courses recommended by speaker Dan Katz

  •  Understanding the Human Element in Search Algorithms
  • The Law Firm Librarian’s Role in New Business Intake
  • Attorney Research Skills: Continuing the Conversation Between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians
  • The Linchpin Librarian
  • Watson in the Law Library: Using AI and Machine Learning to Build the 21st Century Library

Understanding the Human Element in Search Algorithms

Speaker: Susan Nevelow Mart, Director of the Law Library and Associate Professor, University of Colorado Law School

Review by Kara Dunn, Research Analyst, Lane Powell

There is a misconception among many legal researchers that all search algorithms function in basically the same way. This is not the case, as Susan Nevelow Mart’s recent empirical study of search algorithms shows. Susan and her research team ran identical searches in Westlaw, Lexis Advance, Ravel, Casetext, Fastcase, and Google Scholar, and compared the top ten results from each database. Her AALL session highlighted three remarkable findings:

  • Unique results. There was hardly any overlap in the cases that each database included in its top ten results. Even though the search query was the same, each database arrived at a very different conclusion about which cases were most relevant to the query.
  • Variations in relevancy. There was significant variation in the percentage of relevant cases that each database included in the top ten results. Westlaw and Lexis returned the highest percentage of relevant results, while the newer legal research databases—Fastcase, Casetext, Ravel, and Google Scholar—returned fewer relevant results.
  • Results within databases changed over time. Running the same searches in 2013 and again in 2016 produced different top ten results in all databases except for Google Scholar, indicating that search algorithms and content continued changing over time for most databases.
  • These findings illustrate an important central point—all algorithms are created by humans who make choices about how a search will work to produce relevant results. Consequently, search algorithms have their own unique biases, assumptions, and viewpoints. Just as there is a benefit to consulting more than one authoritative treatise on a topic, since different treatises offer different viewpoints and highlight different legal authority, there is also a benefit to mining multiple legal research databases, since different search algorithms offer different viewpoints and highlight different relevant results.

For more information about this study and its findings, see Mart, Susan Nevelow, The Algorithm as a Human Artifact: Implications for Legal {Re}Search (October 26, 2016). Available at SSRN.

Takeaways for librarians:
Database providers will typically give you more information about how their algorithms work if you ask—so ask!

If you have access to multiple legal research databases, use them. Running the same search across different databases will help you locate unique and relevant results.
Update your searches, as search algorithms and database content are constantly updating and evolving.

Presentation slides
Above the Law by Bob Ambrogi discussing Mart’s session and findings.

The Law Firm Librarian’s Role in New Business Intake

Speakers: Terry Psarras, Manager of Legal Information & Technology Training , Carlton Fields; Sarah K. C. Mauldin, Director of Library Services, Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP; Stephanie Nance, Director of Library & Research Services, Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinton, PA; Rachel T. Nguyen, Senior Loss Prevention Counsel, ALAS, Inc.

Reviewed by Eugene Giudice, Research Services Training Specialist, Dentons US LLP

New client intake is important to a firm because it is intended to winnow out clients that, for some reason, would be inappropriate for the firm to provide counsel to.

Possible issues include conflicts of interest due to other clients that the firm is currently working with, or the potential client is engaging in fraudulent or potentially fraudulent activity.  The library and research staff can play an important part in protecting the firm from onboarding such clients.  According to the Attorneys’ Liability Assurance Society (ALAS), claims against law firms fall into three major categories: 1) mistakes, 2) conflicts of interest, 3) serious misconduct, and 4) unworthy clients.

These unworthy clients generated over $636,000,000 in claims, and account for an average of 34% of all ALAS claims since 2011.  Unworthy clients are preventable by implementing an effective client onboarding process that will eliminate those clients that are either ethically challenged, not competent in their trade or profession, or have a very aggressive litigation history or style.  Not only should potential new clients be researched but any outside counsel that the client requires the firm to collaborate with should also be researched.

During the presentation, certain behaviors of potential clients were highlighted as areas of concern.  These areas included frequent changes of attorney or accountant, a propensity to sue previous attorneys or other professionals, poor payment history /creditworthiness.  It was stressed that new business intake work is not busy work.  It helps protect the firm and helps make the attorneys in the firm better lawyers because it helps build the skills to know and understand what makes for a good client.

Research and library teams can be of immense help in these activities not only because of the knowledge in those teams on the sources and types of data available, but their ability to help shape processes and checklists around new business intake research.  Information professionals’ skills should be used to the fullest extent possible to make intake a thoughtful and efficient process.

Note: ALM recently published an article on hiring non-attorney laterals that may also be of interest.

Attorney Research Skills: Continuing the Conversation Between Law Firm and Academic Law Librarians

Panelists: Steven Lastres, Director of Knowledge Management Services, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP;  Femi Cadmus, Edward Cornell Law Librarian, Associate Dean & Professor of Practice, Cornell Law School; Sarah E. Morris, Education Coordinator,  Greenberg Traurig; Cassie Rae DuBay, Head of Research Services, Southern Methodist University

Reviewed by Eugene Giudice, Research Services Training Specialist, Dentons US LLP

This session was not planned as a formal presentation, but as more of a roundtable discussion where law firm librarians and academic law librarians could discuss the challenges both face in preparing summer associates and law school graduates for practice.  It was interesting to note that there was a paucity of law firm librarians at this session, but I was fortunate enough to be at a table with six law school librarians who were very receptive in hearing what I had to say.

One of the key points made in the presentation was that Lexis and Westlaw should not be a starting point, but an end point.  Summer associates and new law school graduates need to understand the real depth and value that resides in a firm’s document repository.  The challenge for law school librarians is being able to communicate this without some sort of hands-on tool that can be demonstrated.  It is incumbent upon the law firm librarians to bake this concept into their orientations and early interactions with either summer associates or first year associates.

Law school librarians also noted their need to prepare students who will be going to places other than big law firms.  It was asserted by both law firm and law school librarians that students coming into law school are poorly prepared in the area of basic civics and thus, do not understand the legislative, regulatory or administrative materials and processes, and how these materials and processes are dealt with by the courts.  Part of the problem is that if a student is leaning toward a career doing transactional work, this type of knowledge may not be required professionally, but the librarians present did say that, regardless of the type of practice an attorney enters into, a fundamental understanding of the legislative, administrative and regulatory processes and materials is required to be a well-rounded attorney and an informed citizen.

The specific points I made with law school librarians at my table were as follows 1) the usefulness of the law firm memo to understanding a specific topic; 2) CLE materials are a good source for understanding a new area of law, and 3) I tried to dispel the idea that when summer associates or law school graduates get to the firms, all they want to do is use Lexis and Westlaw like they did when they were in school.  In my experience, people new to the firm environment are often afraid to use Lexis and Westlaw because of the cost.  I tell attorneys in all of my orientation sessions that Lexis and Westlaw are firm provided tools and the firm expects them to be used if it will add value to the work assignment.  This idea of value and what will add value to the client work is something that both law firm and law school librarians need to emphasize when working with law school students or people new to the law firm environment.

The Linchpin Librarian: Becoming an Indispensable and Integrated Resource in Your Organization 

Panelists: Darin K. Fox, University of Oklahoma Law Library; Mary E. Matuszak, New York County District Attorney’s Office; Kathryn Trotter, Latham & Watkins LLP

Reviewed by Kara Dunn, Research Analyst, Lane Powell

Inspired by Seth Godin’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, law librarians from academic, government, and law firm libraries discussed ways in which they successfully expanded their roles and became more integrated into their organizations as a whole. For the purposes of this PLLIP review, I focus on the advice provided by Kathryn Trotter from Latham & Watkins LLP.

Kathryn noted that a law firm library is uniquely positioned to become a linchpin department: our space facilitates interaction among attorneys, staff, and various departments; we are trained in customer service; and we have a skill set that every department needs. She provided three examples of ways in which her library has integrated with partner departments.

  1. Embedded librarians: They have a full-time business development researcher. While this researcher is dedicated to supporting one particular team, the embedded librarian remains physically located in the library in order to take advantage of opportunities to consult and collaborate with librarian colleagues.
  2. Partnering on a common project: They have specialized research groups that support particular practice groups, such as M&A and IP litigation. The group consists of members of the library, business development, and knowledge management departments. Group members share a distribution list that attorneys use to submit requests. Group members then meet and collaborate on projects.
  3. Advisory groups: When the library at one of their offices underwent a major renovation, the library assembled an advisory group with representatives from various departments and sought input on all aspects of library operations—from training programs, to the physical space, to preferred methods of communication.

Kathryn highlighted two main takeaways applicable to all librarians and information professionals, regardless of what type of setting you work in. First, collaboration with other departments produces higher quality results. Second, we must solicit input from other departments, since it is nearly impossible to be good at your job if you don’t know what your library users really need.

Watson in the Law Library:  Using AI and Machine Learning to Build the 21st Century Library

Speakers: Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase; Brian Kuhn, Co-Founder and Leader of IBM Watson Legal, IBM Corporation

Reviewed by Mary Ann Wacker, Research Services Manager, Kirkland & Ellis LLP

I attended the program called Watson in the Law Library: Using AI and Machine Learning to Build the 21st Century Library. This program was presented by Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, and Brian Kuhn, the Co-Founder and Leader of IBM Watson Legal.  This was a very inspiring and interesting program. The main takeaway for me was the AI applications out there now are just tools, and librarians do not have to be simply consumers–we can be makers and creators of the future!

Other interesting observations:

The preferred term is “augmented intelligence” rather than artificial intelligence.
AI is in its infancy, and the tools out there now are read-only. Progress will be made when this changes to read/write.  This will allow users to be more creative and better able to use the data for other purposes.

Watson can take unstructured text, interpret it, and create content. 88% of all data is unstructured. Watson can see patterns and context.  It understands (looks for language and context), reasons (forms a hypothesis and makes arguments) and learns (accumulates data and insight and improves over time).
Watson is not one thing – it is language, speech, vision, data insights, and coming soon – decisions.
One step possible for attorneys is to create “cartridges” – a person who is an expert in a particular discipline might “train” a cartridge for distribution in the marketplace. (Jean O’Grady asked “Who would do that?”)

A Watson “Cognitive Solution” available now has to do with analytics and e-billing. It streamlines descriptions of billable time. There is also cognitive knowledge management – Watson can read everything the firm’s attorneys have drafted and make recommendations tailored to the unique legal patterns facing each company’s business.

Another ability of Watson is to offer insights into someone’s personality characteristics, needs, and values from written text. This can perhaps offer helpful information on a particular judge or a jury pool. It could also have business development applications. Watson can also “read” the news and offer insights from news and blogs regarding trends and information. It may draw inferences from non-obvious information.

Questions Raised:
How can we get buy-in from the legal community when every AI-related article predicts the demise of attorneys? How can the coming AI revolution be meaningfully evaluated by legal professionals?

Looking Ahead:
Ed Walters closed the program by asking us “What could you build?” and “How can you lead?” and challenged us to be creative.

Recommended Courses

The courses below were recommended by Professor Dan Katz, one of the speakers at the PLLIP Summit.  Most are free, but may charge if you want to get certification.  Some began at the end of July, so check them out now if you’re interested

From EDX

  • Introduction to Project Management

From Coursera:

  • Project Management
  • Project Management: The Basics for Success
  • Initiating and Planning Projects
  • Budgeting and Scheduling Projects
  • Managing Project Risks and Changes
  • Data Science
  • Data-driven Decision Making
  • Computational Thinking and Big Data
  • Data Visualization with Advanced Excel
  • Process Mining: Data Science in Action
  • Design Thinking/Innovation
  • Leadership Through Design Innovation
  • Design Thinking for Innovation
  • Six Sigma and Process Improvement
  • Data Analytics for Lean Six Sigma
  • Process Improvement
  • Six Sigma Principles
  • Six Sigma Tools for Define and Measure
  • Six Sigma Tools for Analyze
  • Six Sigma Tools for Improve and Control

Additionally, these courses are available for PLI subscribers (or can be purchased):

  • Project Management for Lawyers 2017
  • Artificial Intelligence – Transforming the Legal Services Landscape
  • TechLaw Institute 2017: The Digital Evolution
  • Big Data for Lawyers: How to Use Data Visualization in Your Practice
  • Legal Process Improvement