They protect our future by guarding our past from fires and floods. From hell and high water. And most frequently, from apes with chisels and hammers.
I attended a fantastic presentation about archive digitization at SEAALL/SWALL’s annual conference this month, themed Big D: Data, Discovery, and Dicta. Erik Beck of Colorado Law described how archivists protect digitized treasures, from moving a laptop upstairs to save research from a 2013 campus flood to dispersing digital files in different formats across multiple continents. He compared in partial jest patrons in the library to apes with hammers and chisels in an ice palace who might either “carve crystal swans… or shatter your ice table.” Beck honed in on the importance of making resources available for doing great things, while protecting unique material from injury and tampering. For our part, Ravel and Harvard Law Library are collaborating to preserve American case law by digitizing the school’s corpus of case law for free access worldwide, and storing physical backups in a salt mine in rural Utah where primates can’t get to them. Great archivists are innovating constantly to protect big data, and daydream about ideas like using cloud storage hosted in dispersed and isolated electrical grids to keep irreplaceable information safe. The contiguous United States has two major and one minor electrical “interconnections”; as Beck described them, there’s East, West, and Texas.
Patrick Flanagan of Texas A&M Law, speaking after Beck, explored the importance of trust. Should we trust archivists and their technologies? Can we trust their successors? Force majeure and acts of God do not excuse performance when you’re the steward of the rule of law itself. As a nation of evolving laws, we need to preserve our past to protect our future. In this legal past are written our shattering sins (see Korematsu v. United States, Plessy v. Ferguson), our reconciliations (see Brown v. Board of Education), and our ice swan redemptions (see e.g., 42 U.S.C. 1981).
Most of us don’t think much about the time beyond our lifespans, but archivists must plan daily for the millenia to come, and all the unimaginable threats to society. A lifetime warranty may sound great for a washing machine, but it’s of little help protecting our rule of law. Flanagan emphasized the importance of earning and placing trust, and that’s critical.
Though the topic of the presentation was protection from file degradation and natural disaster, many minds were drawn to something darker. The most perverse threat of destruction comes from intentional destruction by us, the apes themselves. At lunch after the session, some of us discussed what Aurelian’s men did to Alexandria, and what happened two millennia later at the great library in Mosul in 2015. Covering the past is one way to manipulate the future, and archivists are protecting us from malfeasants who won’t be born (or built) for thousands of years. As we accelerate toward greater connectivity, we also risk making it easier for perverse actors to seek it out globally.
Here’s to the apes guarding the palace. Working in private enterprise, we’re always looking for ways to innovate, and archivists help us remember our mission is about civilization, not just business. But just because they’ve dedicated their professional careers to the library, doesn’t mean the librarians aren’t secretly in it for the Lamborghinis. See, e.g., Erik Beck, Patrick Flanagan, Margie Maes, Beth Williams, Common Guidelines for Digitization: A Community Effort (April 14, 2016) (Unarchived remark presented out of context — sometimes you just had to be there).
At first thought, requesting a budget increase doesn’t sound like a great idea. There are risks involved, and rocking the boat can disrupt the traditional structure of managing and rewarding individuals for their ability to work within a set budget. Great managers, however, understand the bigger picture and know that increasing their budget is often a necessity to achieve great gains (that outweigh this increase!) for their firm. When is the last time you heard of a company or law firm failing despite being able to tightly manage their budget? Answer: all too often. When is the last time you heard of a company or law firm failing due to their dedication to being forward thinking and innovative? Answer: all but never.
LegalTechAudit.com recently found that lawyers at 0 out of 9 law firms could pass basic Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF tests. It’s easy to see the direct correlation between loss of efficiency and inability to properly use these basic, standard tools. The interesting nuance is, compared to everyday legal research tools, Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF are incredibly simple. All lawyers recognize that legal research is time-consuming and often frustrating and inefficient. Take a look at our top 10 sources of legal research inefficiency and see how well they resonate with you.
- Not knowing where to start
“I know there is a case out there that says exactly XYZ, go find it,” says the partner to the associate. What? How? Here goes nothing….
- Not knowing when to stop
After reading through the top 40 cases in a results list, are you done? When have you found enough to stop searching and start drafting?
- Failure to ask the right questions
Some associates are very comfortable asking partners follow-up questions…but many aren’t. Failure to ask the right questions can cause an associate to spin his or her wheels for hours before getting any traction.
“The worst thing is for subordinates to labor in ignorance in order to conceal their confusion and wind up doing the wrong thing.” – Colin Powell
- Unfamiliarity with area of law
The first project on a topic is always tougher than the fifth. A lot of time goes into getting up to speed on the topic. How do we flatten the learning curve to decrease early legal research inefficiency?
- Tunnel vision
Law librarians often point out that associates sometimes narrow their searches when they should be broadening them. By excluding relevant cases at the outset, it’s next to impossible to find the right answer.
- Paradox of choice
Broad searches carry big time risks. When there are too many options to choose from, the right cases are not clear and it takes a long time to sift through the noise and locate relevant case law.
- Multiple windows
Having 20 research windows open results in hours of trying to go back, reset, and digest what has been read.
- Bad queries
A carefully crafted query is critical to getting off on the right foot. But getting to the right query isn’t as simple as piling on a dozen Boolean terms–skilled researchers know that you should search widely first to make sure you’re not excluding important cases at the outset, and then focus the search.
- “Gaming” research tools
Adjusting research behavior due to the billing practice of software providers results in a nightmarish workflow for junior attorneys. You know the deal…running an overly broad search and doing countless searches-within-a-search so you only get billed once.
- Insufficient resources
Firms that are more concerned with hitting year-old budget goals than with providing associates with great research tools are missing the opportunity that forward thinking, innovative firms are taking advantage of at this very moment. Cutting edge tools that make use of innovative technology help associates surface insights more quickly with less effort. The negative impact of legal research inefficiency outweighs the cost of the new tools.
Where should we go from here?
Check out Ravel! We were founded by lawyers that were frustrated with all of the above issues and created a product to solve these pain points. Ravel has developed an analytics tools to help make sense of legal data, and the most innovative firms are catching on quickly. Take a look.
Recently, a new employee started on a Monday morning, and by Friday afternoon she had asked for $300/month in new software. Though skeptical colleagues balked at the brazen request from a new employee, I signed the check. Compared to the salary and overhead of an additional employee we planned to hire, this cost was tiny. The tools would multiply her productivity and decrease my total outlay. After reviewing the business value proposition, it became obvious that these products would drastically increase efficiency. A difficult purchasing decision became easy.
I learned a long time ago a funny thing about ROI (Return on Investment): there can be no R if there is no I. Early adopters reap outsized rewards because the natural fear of new spending gives the competitive advantage to innovative firms willing to take a leap.
In order to look like a hero while increasing your budget, consider these three simple things:
Clearly define why a research budget increase is needed
The first step is to clearly articulate a problem and then back it up with the proposed solution.
What are the problems solved by this additional budget? And what new opportunities will open if the budget is approved? And make no mistake: missed opportunities are problems. When you’re turning away new client matters because there isn’t enough time to handle additional workload, you’re suffering a missed opportunity that subtracts from the bottom line. Once you call missed opportunities by their real name, it’s easier to get a feel for the extensive benefits of a research budget increase.
Show the ROI
With the right technologies, there’s often more return than meets the eye. First, analyze the direct return. What will happen financially if the new budget is granted? Will revenue increase? Will costs decrease? Will there be an impact in areas that ultimately lead to high costs, such as unexpected employee turnover? Whatever the case, be prepared to show that the return to the firm will exceed the cost of the investment, ideally by a significant margin.
Then, look to indirect returns. Will the technology alleviate employee fatigue and attrition? Can you advertise your status as innovators to clients to retain and generate business?
Discuss what happens if no action is taken
One option that is always on the table is “do nothing.” When I hesitated to give my new employee the tools she requested, she told me about other companies that were using the technology. If the tools were valuable, I would be immediately behind the curve if I didn’t consider them, and be facing negative return as opportunities slipped away to competitors. A “do nothing” approach is extremely risky in a competitive environment.
Hostess went out of business because it continued to manufacture unhealthy snack foods in the era of healthy eating. Kodak didn’t keep up with the internet generation and slid into chapter 11 bankruptcy as its revenue slipped year after year. Don’t wait to see what happens if your firm chooses the same passive approach.
In a competitive environment, innovative firms are attracting new clients and getting a larger share of the business from existing clients. To keep clients, firms are adopting new technologies as quickly as possible. When companies make a concerted effort to increase the quality of their services and let customers know about it, there are marketing and operational advantages.
Contact Ravel to learn how firms are using cost-recovery tools to get even more return on their research budget increases while providing their litigators with the best tools.
Imagine you’re on a cross-country road trip, and instead of navigating with a map, navigational choices include only the following options:
- An alphabetical list of cities near your route;
- A list of cities near your route, sorted by population; and
- Either of the lists above, plus basic filtering options (distance, city size, etc.)
You’d probably cancel your trip with that kind of navigational system. Though each of these pieces of information are extremely important, in isolation their utility is limited. This is exactly the problem with legal research today. To improve the legal research process, we’re big fans of using data visualization. Data visualization allows you to: (1) better understand the legal landscape, (2) mitigate the risk of missing a diamond in the haystack, and (3) improve your personal efficiency.
Understand the entire legal landscape
When looking at a visual map of related cases, much like when using an interstate roadmap, one can easily identify the important cases (destination cities), how they connect to each other via citation (highways), and major outliers (off-route tourist traps).
When you are new to an area of law – or even if you’re researching a familiar area of law, but it is in an unfamiliar jurisdiction – it is critical for you to get your bearings straight before doing anything else. Data visualization allows you to understand how each case written on a particular topic relates to all other cases on that topic; most importantly data visualization allows you to immediately identify important cases (whether they be precedent setting seminal cases or outliers).
Mitigate the risk of missing a needle in the haystack
How likely do you think it is that you are missing a diamond in the haystack with today’s legal research tools? All you have to ask yourself is how often you read past case #20 on the search result list. In our experience talking with associates, associates duly recognize that in an ideal world they would have an understanding of the full body of cases on a particular topic but that with the realistic anchor on their time they are in far from an ideal world. This is where next generation data visualization comes in. Data visualization replaces arbitrary stopping points and helps attorneys verify that they’ve conducted an exhaustive search of the relevant case law. Instead of scrolling through the list of 100 cases, you see an interrelated map of all of these cases. At a cursory glance you can make sure you aren’t missing any relevant, recent, or otherwise important cases.
Increase your personal efficiency
It is extremely tedious and time consuming to navigate a list of 100 cases on any given topic. Data visualization reduces wasted hours by quickly pointing you to relevant law and putting you in a position to intelligently go about your research.
Whether you’re navigating a research trail or a real trail, there are few better ways to get a lay of the land than by using a map. That’s why at Ravel, we’ve mapped the law. Lawyers need a map now more than ever to navigate relevant case law. Try Ravel today.
Getting to be a law firm associate is no joke. To have beaten the industry odds and get a job as an associate you have to have excelled at law school (preceded by excellence at the undergraduate level) and made it through the bar exam. One of the biggest challenges for law firm management today is to make sure they are maximizing the productivity of these individuals and placing them in a position to continue excelling. A key to succeeding on the job is on-the-job training; in fact this might be one of the most unique aspects of being a law firm associate, as opposed to having a job in another industry. Looking across law firms of various sizes, there are three common threads that emerge which lead to maximum associate success.
Evolve Your Training Protocol
The historical practice of “sit with Sarah and see how she does it” is failing associates all over the country. It’s decentralized and isn’t systematic. One of the things we hear most when we talk with associates is their hope and need for better training. In other industries, superior results have been produced by equipping junior employees with tools that allow them to see “the bigger picture.” Giving junior employees a better vantage point into how what they are doing fits into the broader demands of the job is a great way to ramp up associates and get them through the difficult transition of moving from law school to law firm. It’s time we throw associates into the deep end with a life jacket.
It’s critical to develop a culture where it’s okay to ask questions. Often the first step to developing this type of culture is for junior employees to have confidence that the question they are asking “is not a stupid question.” We have found when talking with associates that when they are able to get past the questions they may feel are stupid, they are more open in talking to senior staff and ultimately accelerating the learning curve and performance trajectory. In the absence of questions and coaching, the environment becomes stressful for all employees and the ultimate loser in this situation is the firm.
Technology in the hands of a well-trained employee makes a good associate great, and a great associate a superstar. There are many great technologies that firms can adopt, and by developing a culture where attorneys are aware of these tools and can have a voice in adopting these tools, firms will see a substantial gain in associate productivity.
Advancing your firm’s training, culture and tools requires active effort–it won’t happen on its own. In a competitive environment, the incentives to innovate are strong, and more firms are catching on. Set your litigation team up withRavel trial access to see how the right tools can help your litigation associates become more productive.
Every hour that isn’t billed is painful. Not only does it result in a loss of pure profit, but it also keeps associates further from their annual billing targets. It’s a lose-lose, for partners and associates. There are 3 key ways we see that litigation associates can decrease non-billables.
Play chess, not checkers
While speaking to litigation associates about how they avoid having their research time written off by partners, I consistently hear the same two strategies that leave me bewildered.
Strategy 1, in the words of one associate, goes like this:
When starting my legal research, I run a very broad query, then do several searches-within-a-search to avoid billing my client for running multiple queries.
Strategy 2 is just as convoluted:
I do X activity in one product, and then move over to another product to do Y activity. They both support each activity, but since they have different pricing structures, I feel like I’m saving my client money.
For a profession where time is incredibly valuable, these strategies are egregiously wasteful. The time spent developing and executing these strategies undoubtedly costs more to associates – in the form of being further from their annual billing target – and to partners, because this work will likely be written off instead of passed through to the client.
Interpret data through a dynamic prism instead of in a static list
When was the last time you went to page 7 of a Google search? How about page 2? Most people don’t look beyond the top 10 search results; those 10 results typically give you want. Legal research however, is a different animal. The first ten cases are the tipping point of research; depending on your search terms, critical cases can be buried 50th, 60th, or even 70th in your list.
Legal research tools that offer “data visualization”, i.e., which create a visual display of case results to communicate context, help attorneys get a better grasp of how the law they are researching maps. It’s much easier to digest the entire landscape of the law in this type of format and critical cases that likely would have otherwise been neglected are surfaced and added to the argument.
Prevent tabs from taking over your life
This “after lunch problem” plagues litigation associates at every firm:
After coming back from lunch, I have trouble remembering where I left off in my legal research. As a result, I spend a lot of time retracing my steps to figure out how the 15 open browser windows containing case law fit into my research process. Have I read them all? Are they relevant? What was my next step?
This is nightmarish for every associate. The time spent untangling their research process is not subsidized by the client (a loss for the firm) and keeps them at working late into the night (a loss for them). This problem can be particularly addressed by intuitive, next generation technologies that allow litigation associates to scan multiple relevant cases at the same time by consolidating reading, into one screen.
It’s no mystery that inefficient tools cause inefficient work. Next-generation tools like Ravel address these problems head on and make it easy to find the case law you’re looking for. Make life better as an associate. Make operational efficiency better as a law firm.
Start looking here: http://www.ravellaw.com/learn.
Whether you’re an associate treading water in BigLaw or you’ve hung your own shingle as a solo, odds are you’ll find yourself facing a difficult legal research question and hunting for case law to support your brief, memo, or client pitch. Here area few tips to keep you on your best game!
- Take a lesson from a toddler. NPR recently reported that preschoolers outsmarted adults in a study designed to test individuals’ abilities to problem solve. “Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children . . . . Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working.” In other words, don’t think too narrowly. If you normally use terms and connectors, try a natural language search. Try terms you haven’t included and toss ones that are not yielding results.
- Don’t ignore persuasive authority. Expand your search to jurisdictions that will carry weight in yours. For example, if your issue relates to California state law and mandatory authority is thin, check out whether a sister court—perhaps Arizona—has tackled that difficult legal research question. Make sure you explain why that authority is persuasive. Do California and Arizona have identically or similarly worded statutes relevant to your issue? Have California courts approvingly cited Arizona cases for this issue?
- See what judges are saying. When you find a case with a useful passage, dig deeper by reading how other judges have interpreted that passage. You may find a better opinion, or learn how others have poked holes in the analysis. That leads me to…
- Know your foe. It can be tempting, especially when you’re in a rush, to collect only cases that support your position on an issue. Ignoring the thorny cases, however, would be a mistake. Even if your mission is to collect only stellar cases, you should at least save a list of not-so-great cases for later review.
- Read the Partner/Opposing Counsel’s Mind. Remember those terrible cases? Read them, analyze them, and come up with the best cases to rebut these opinions. You’ll be in a position to inform your partner or client on the strength of your case, or you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes time to write your opposition.
No matter how much experience you have with legal research, checking off these simple tips will help ensure you conduct efficient, comprehensive legal research and construct strong arguments. We have developed several pieces of content that can help you discover how to navigate through any straightforward or difficult legal research question in Ravel!
A 2015 article published by professors at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law argues that teaching Ravel Law to law students helps make them “practice-ready”.
The authors believe that legal skills professors should incorporate Ravel in their curriculum because teaching Ravel to students advances a host of pedagogical goals, including:
- Metacognitive skills acquisition
- Information literacy
- Ethical use of technology
- And teaching with a variety of learning styles.
You are not just using a new product, you are entering the “world of Ravel”… and you need to check all your preconceptions about legal research at the door.