Monday, June 05, 2017

Small Decisions Adding Up

As the publisher of Slaw, I get to see a lot of great commentary. I also get to see the statistics behind the website, and I don't mind sharing with you that local colleague Sarah Sutherland of CanLII has a fantastically successful post on her hands!

Her recent piece on Quantifying the Value of Legal Information had as much traffic in its first day as some Slaw posts see over the course of a month. Those are big numbers coming from a website that had 2M+ visits last year.

Sarah's calculation of revenue improvements aside, the premise behind her post is an argument I've been making for years: that small, incremental improvements inside of law firms should be the backbone of law firm administrators.

If you can steer-the-ship to a 1% improvement of efficiency, mid-to-large sized firms can see a serious impact on the firm's profits.  Simply put: Firms make better decisions by having better information in front of them. Some of that information can be external, which is why I liked the case strategy aspect of Loom Analytics; but firms that really know their business model are be able to carve up their internal data collections too.

Good internal information has always been key. Knowing about the firm's settlements in certain areas of practice; or about historical pricing of the firm's services (and its competitors); or as Sarah suggests,
 "things like getting an expert opinion, which is of course what the firm’s clients are already doing, looking at prior history and extrapolating, or conducting research in secondary sources of information and the primary law. This can increase confidence in predicting the outcomes of matters, thereby allowing the firm to make better recommendations. "
Law firms with substantial practice expertise are also in a position to align their accounting data with any of the above factors. This all, of course, is Knowledge Management or "KM".

There will always be individuals inside firms that will question the value of these efforts, but when your job is (as is most firm administrators) to create internal value beyond the artwork on the walls, it's these processes of quantifying the firm's experience that trumps other administrative priorities.

And not just for bigger firms. Small firms (think contingency fees) can profit at an even higher rate when "winning" a decision increases the engagement value.

So is having better legal information valuable? Of course it is.  Sarah Sutherland just happened to put some numbers behind this kind of thinking.

Quickscribe Annotations for May, 2017

Below are the latest Quickscribe additions for new annotations to BC legislation.
Quickscribe 2.0 is an easy and effective way to research, track and collaborate on BC legislation. If you haven't explored, there's a free trial.

Primer on Saskatchewan Legislative Research

It's nice to see law librarian super-blogger Alan Kirkpatrick contributing to VALL Review! In the most recent edition, Alan wrote a short primer on Saskatchewan legislative research, which he's reproduced in full over on his Library Canuck blog.

These seven topics are covered:
  • Court Rules
  • Provincial Point-In-Time Research
  • Legislative Assembly Website
  • Legislative materials
  • Continuing Legal Education
  • Law Society of Saskatchewan Library
  • Additional Resources
Yes, this is a great excuse to visit Alan's blog & put it on your reading list.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Libraries as Friction Points

David Whelan has an inspiring post up this week, titled, Gatekeeper to a Thousand Gates.

The focus of David's discussion isn't necessarily on Law Libraries, though it's a lesson that anyone providing information to a targeted community would do well to listen to. In a fairly detailed example of the digital book sign-out process at his local public library, David describes the delicate balance that libraries must maintain between enabling access to information vs. putting up unintended additional barriers.

In the context of providing 'free' access (or communally paid for access) to licensed content, I think David has it right. Libraries focus on creating an ecosystem that's easy to use, but often end up putting up barriers; and I would add, the publishers themselves don't always make it easy for libraries to act as gatekeepers for paid services.

There is also a bit of an optics issue here. While public libraries often give the impression that the information they deliver is "free access", and publishers certainly do see this kind of access as competition, taking away from their paid product, these types of services are hardly free.

David's concept of "friction points" alone identifies the user's time investment as a soft cost to accessibility. Libraries can try to reduce this friction, but it's hard to imagine a situation where the library service is actually easier than purchasing the product. Which leads me to this question: Has it ever been easier? Is signing up for a library card and wait-listing for a popular piece of fiction any easier than going to the bookstore?

Don't get me wrong, Libraries can reduce the friction to digital borrowing services, as David describes. We can. I suspect we can get much closer using digital tools than we ever could with paper media. But I don't think we can directly compete with publishers. To be honest, I don't think publishers are motivated to make it easier for libraries (but that's a discussion for another day).

For me, really, all library services need to do is get close. If libraries can offer a reasonable alternative, especially when the original material or service doesn't have ROI for a user or group, then close is good enough.

(Horse shoes, hand grenades & library services? ;)