The American Association of Law Librarians (AALL or double a double l as it is commonly referred to) conference started last Thursday in Baltimore. This is the annual gathering of knowledge management and information services types—still often referred to librarians in some firms– for law firms, universities, and some companies.
According to a recent ALM survey, librarians in today’s world do all sorts of things that are nothing like what you traditionally may think they do. Things such as legal research, business research, training, knowledge management, data analytics, project management, and process improvement. The depth of knowledge and skills of today’s law librarian is rather staggering when you think about it. Maybe that’s why so many smart people are here.
One of the more interesting things about the conference is the demographics: it’s much younger than some but more female than any other tech show I’ve been. It’s refreshing to see a show focused on tech with so many women present. And just to demonstrate the stable nature of the group and the historical strength of law librarians, this is the 111th Law Librarian conference. By my calculation, this means the group started meeting 1906. Wow.
One of the things I like to do at conferences is to walk the exhibit floor. I think you get a real indication about what’s going on in the legal marketplace by the nature and type of exhibitors. After all, they wouldn’t spend the time and money to come if they didn’t their products would have an impact.
What’s the buzz?
Data, data, and more data. Based on the number of exhibitors and products in the data analytics space at the conference, it looks like the idea of using actual data to make decisions in the legal profession as opposed to wild ass guess and intuition is finally catching on. And the players are also delivering more and more sophisticated products in the legal research arena.
Best I can tell, several heavyweights and some upstarts are gearing up for an all-out war in the litigation analytics and AI assisted legal research space. Coming on the heels of Thompson Reuters/Westlaw Edge announcement last week which I previously discussed, LexisNexis was left scrambling and immediately and unexpectedly made their own product announcement in the space. While there is some speculation that LexisNexis really didn’t offer anything new, the fact that it needed to offer some response is telling: the competition in the space is real and in earnest.
Both launches also follow on the heels of the announcement earlier this year by the “young, scrappy and hungry” FastCase which acquired DocketAlarm to strengthen their own foothold in the market. And last fall, LexisNexis purchase Lex Machina to enhance their analytics platform. Still, other players like Justly offers more niche products. Justly provides in-depth looks at internal firm data and sophisticated timelines based on actual litigation data.
All these the products let you do a deep dive into litigation analytics, a field that until recently was flown almost entirely by a lawyer’s seat of the pants. Westlaw trumpets the depth and historical gathering of their data which admittedly is vast. FastCase is gambling that firms will gravitate to their system which allows you to customize what analytics you are looking for and use machine learning to try to get there. Fastcase also hopes that it’s ability to let input their own data and then compare it to a generalized dataset will offer an attractive option. LexisNexis points to its Lexis Analytics product which they say combines a number of analytic tools from companies it has acquired.
On the legal research, you have FastCase, Casemaker and Westlaw and both with more and more sophisticated tools that will allow you to get better results with machine learning to get over many of the practical language problems that vex AI assisted legal research. And again, other niche players have entered the market like Casetext whose product will look for and find precedents that you may have missed in your brief.
Methinks they dost protest too much.
So where is this headed? Hard to say although it’s interesting that all of the players say they really don’t compete with each. Methinks they dost protest too much. They are all here with booths, parties, and materials. They are all looking over their shoulders at the other guy. They are all quick to tell you what the other guys’ product won’t do.
Frankly, Thompson Reuters may have the edge right now not because it’s product is necessarily better (I don’t know one way or the other yet) but because the Westlaw product is already pretty ubiquitous. Lawyers are notorious for not wanting to try new things. Why? Because as Catherine MacDonagh succinctly put it her presentation: we don’t like risk. Trying new products from someone you don’t have a track record with is risky from so many fronts: clients (also lawyers) may raise their eyebrows, partners may balk, the product from the new vendor may not work as well as promised leading to finger pointing and recriminations. But upgrading to a new product from a mostly historical and generally reliable source –even if it may not do all the things another perhaps better product would do –is easier and less risky. Has worked for Microsoft for years.
But a rising tide raises all ships.
But a rising tide raises all ships. As lawyers get familiar with the value AI assisted research, and litigation analytics brings, it will become mainstream. That opens the door down the road for the less well-known players; you are now selling something law firms are familiar with and see the value of which gets your foot in the door.
Outsourcing. There also seems to be a lot of products on the exhibit floor that look to facilitate outsourcing for many things law firms do. (Which when you think about it, is a bit ironic. Law departments are outsourcing legal work much less. But law firms, hounded by price pressures, appear to be outsourcing more).
One outsourcing product I thought was pretty impressive was eDiscovery Assistant Rather than being a source for actually doing the ediscovery cataloging and review, eDiscovery Assistant actual supplies the tools to help lawyer find and understand the law, provides forms and advice on process and other tools to navigate through the thicket.
One outsourcing product I thought was pretty impressive was eDiscovery Assistant
I have heard so many lawyers say they cant get their heads around ediscovery issues and jargon, clearly don’t know the law and what to do and, frankly, are scared to death of it. Firms struggle with this as well, often assigning a group of lawyers to teach the rest of the firm and provide forms and checklists. Of course, that rarely works since most of these people are lawyers who have to bill 2000 plus hours per year. Who has time for creating and doing ediscovery non-billable projects? And even if they did have the time, by the time they finished the project months if not years later, the law would have all changed. So what happens? Most firms have a few lawyers expert in the field whom everyone else relies on. But these lawyers don’t have the time to babysit their partners either. And of course, they don’t know the case very well either.
eDiscovery Assistant offers to fill that gap. Interesting concept particular for mid-size and smaller law firms. I do wonder about conflict issues though since eDiscovery Assistant does provide what it considers legal and strategic advice on occasion. I did ask its founder, Kelly T about it but she did not seem to think that would be a problem.
Another interesting outsourcing exhibitor was LibSource which basically offers research on demand, reducing the need for such work done in-house. The follows the lead of LawClerk and some others who are offering outsource capabilities for various functions. Another similar service was which mainly collects filings in cases and proceedings you might be interested in, and alerts you to them, reducing staff and even lawyer time to perform that function. Finally, PacerPro provides a service that digs out materials from the Pacer system and puts them in a more user-friendly format.
There’s a definite emphasis on providing tools for law firms to outsource more and more work.
The new product with the most potential?
A really cool product with a lot of upside potential is that offered by Dispute Resolution Data. This product attempts to collect the data from arbitration and mediations and then provides analytics in a way similar to that done by Fastcase, Westlaw and others with litigation. It does this by contracting with mediation and arbitration providers to collect data. It then maintains the data anonymously so that no confidences are revealed. Similar to litigation analytics, this data can be used to provide information about arbitrators, their experience, how they find and the like. And information about lawyers in arbitration as well.
All we have right now to rely on for relevant information about a mediator is what our partners or other lawyers may know about the mediator and arbitrator and his or her reputation. Data would be better.
Why am I excited about this product? 70-80% of all cases settle at mediation. The abilities and experience of the mediator are always an issue. All we have right now to rely on for relevant information about a mediator is what our partners or other lawyers may know about the mediator and arbitrator and his or her reputation. Data would be better.
And if Dispute Resolution Data could somehow start collecting and maintaining data on settlement numbers in mediations, we could then have analytics to give us much better settlement values. Hope they are working on it.
Finally, as far as arbitrations go, there is an assumption outside lawyers often make and trumpet that arbitration can be worse than litigation in terms of expense and problem outcomes. However, the data for this is all anecdotal and maybe is used to justify not insisting on arbitration when that right is available. Let’s find out using real data.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Law Librarians’ keynote speaker was none other than John Waters. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. I think you might be a bit surprised that librarians, (yes, those people some sadly still picture as reserved, conservative, humorless and a downright dowdy group of folks who hang out in the dusty libraries) would invite such a funny, profane and edgy person to give the keynote. He managed to fling humorous and prickly barbs at just about every group and everyone including himself.
And they are pissed off with the state of the profession and determined to drive change.
That set the tone for the conference. My conclusion: librarians are not the conservative, dowdy group of yesterday. They are, as Waters put it “pissed off” and often take up for people no one else does. And they are pissed off with the state of the profession and determined to drive change.
These are smart, funny, innovative and open people. And unlike many tech conferences, most people have left their egos at the door. Bravo Librarians and AALL.
Alexandra Kirr via Unsplash