It is more than 50 years since the ABA witnessed a demonstration of a prototype online legal information retrieval system using a mainframe computer searching a small collection of health law resources. Since that time, law firms have witnessed a parade of increasingly sophisticated technologies delivering full text legal and business content, including proprietary software, CD-ROMs, web-based products, eBooks, electronic newsletters, custom RSS feeds, and apps.
There is No Universal Solution. The law firms that had the foresight to invest in strategic thinking information professionals are most likely to have a substantial infrastructure for a full digital library 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 lawyers who were "born digital." The tipping point from print to digital for most firms will be the relocation to new offices. The phasing out of the physical collection will be the last step in a long and carefully laid plan.
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. There is no "plug and play" digital library solution. It takes the insights and expertise of an information professional to craft the right strategy for each organization.
To build a digital library the most fundamental questions to be addressed are:
Has the content been digitized?
Do the digital resources offer format and functionality the lawyers are willing to use?
Is the resource available at the price the firm is willing to pay?
Answering these questions is just the beginning. This is an analysis that needs to be applied to hundreds, and possibly thousands, of resources.
Building Blocks of a Digital Library Strategic Information Professionals. Information professionals are the most important prerequisite in designing a digital library strategy. They 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 reimagine new solutions that unify and seamlessly authenticate resources in a digital desktop environment.
Collection Analysis. The inventory of the firm's print resources must be compared with the digital offerings available from a wide range of publishers, including government agencies, major legal vendors, regional publishers, bar associations, and CLE publishers.
Finding Tools. Traditional catalogs can be transformed into portals by adding web-enabled links which will bring the lawyer directly into the full text resource. Enterprise search can also be used to identify resources and documents.
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.
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.
eBooks. Both large and small legal publishers offer hundreds of titles in eBook format. eBooks have the same content as print but offer additional functionality such as highlighting and linking to primary source citations.
Mobile Apps. Most of the major legal publishers have apps which provide all or some of their content to existing subscribers who wish to access content on a mobile device.
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 scope of the licenses, which will protect the firm from copyright and licensing violations.
Electronic Newsletters and Custom Alerts. One of the most tangible benefits of the digital library is the elimination of the dreaded "routing" slip, which determines the order of newsletter delivery. The lawyers at the bottom of these lists often receive newsletters weeks or even months after publication. Electronic newsletter delivery puts everyone "at the top of the routing list." A new generation of aggregation platforms offers lawyers a custom newsletter which consolidates the contents of multiple newsletters and news sources. Curated news services provide custom alerts targeted to a specific lawyer, practice group, or client. Tools for curating custom newsletters include Linex, Ozmosys, InfoNgen, Manzama, and Attensa.
Analytics. A host of new products offering custom analytics for both the business and practice of law have appeared in the market in the past two years. The savings from print resources can be redirected toward the investment in more strategic analytics platforms.
Academic and Bar Library Memberships. Information professionals identify local bar and academic libraries that can supplement the firm's digital collection with document retrieval and "just in time" interlibrary loan. One very innovative program from the New York Law Institute loans eBooks to member law firms.
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' desktops and walk them through the use of a new resource.
Continuous Resource Assessment ROI. The digital library is a work in progress and requires continuous assessment to confirm return on investment (ROI.) New products need to be trialed and compared with existing resources. Products such as OneLog, Research Monitor, Lookup Precision, or Quattrove collect usage data for determining the cost/benefit of each product and data that can be used in contract negotiations.
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 in a single click. When this is not possible, the management of individual passwords for lawyers can be a massive headache. The monitoring products mentioned above all have the ability to save passwords and facilitate access while minimizing lawyer inconvenience and administrative overhead.
Cost Savings and Reengineering Workflow. Firms often focus on the obvious real estate savings from reducing the footprint of the library. The reduction/elimination of print resources also reduces costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of print. These costs include headcount as well as loose-leaf filing, serials check in, routing, labeling, and maintenance of print.
Climbing the Value Ladder. The implementation of a digital library eliminates a host of lower value administrative activities that are required to maintain a print collection. Digital libraries liberate information professionals to focus on higher value and transformative client support, as well as business development work, such as competitive intelligence and custom analytics.
Partners Hold the Key. Even when the digital infrastructure is in place, the disposal of the books cannot be a success without partner support. Practice group leaders need to encourage lawyers to develop the skills associated with using digital resources and mandate the training necessary to migrate away from print.
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 21st century law librarian/information strategist will be to continually reassess the balance of resources, capture, and analyze 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, firm management, and business development.
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