An Alternative title to this post might be “Vendor Sourcing: The Digital Edition.” Like the print issues outlined in my post of February 17th, “Vendor Sourcing: Thinking the Unthinkable…”, this post will examine how Lexis and Westlaw pricing strategies have shifted substantial administrative burdens onto their law firm customers which not only drive up administrative costs but have a perversely negative impact on the practice of law.
It’s that time of year again. All across the country academic and firm librarians are flocking to “bridge the gap” programs where they engage in their annual “hand wringing ritual” while trying to develop the right formula for preparing associates to perform cost effective online research in the “real world.” Since most law firms have a unique menu of “included” content, unique pricing plans and unique billing policies for the identical content – academic librarians are faced with the impossible challenge of training students for a universe in which there is likely 100% inconsistency in the pricing and billing policies across the firms where they will be summer associates.
Cost Effective Legal Research Training has become the “Bleak House” of every lawyer training program. It is unsustainably complex, groaning under the weight of its unending convolutions and permutations. A “doom loop” of confusion, errors and omissions.
The inspiration for this post occurred while reading the discussion on brain function and “information overload” in Nicholas Carr’s bestseller “The Shallows.” The proverbial “light bulb” suddenly lit up in my brain.
I submit for your consideration and debate, the possible truth of the following axioms:
1. Cost effective research training is a hopeless exercise. Think Prometheus – no matter how much you try to develop a set of cost effective rules, there are simply too many price points, too many exceptions to any rule, and too much transience in pricing. New complications will grow back tomorrow. There is no “still point” in this turning world.
2. Cost effective legal research training is counter-productive. Since there are an infinite number of invisible variables and undisclosed price variations, a lawyer attempting to conduct “cost effective” research is distracted from focusing on substantive legal research.
3. Subscribing to the myth of cost effective research training keeps the focus off the true culprits and keeps us from demanding a real solutions.There is probably no other disbursement that confounds and perplexes law firm partners or causes more embarrassment when posted on a client bill than online research charges. Partners blame librarians for providing insufficient research training, librarians blame associates for not absorbing cost effective research parameters, and associates blame their law schools for failing to prepare them to practice in the real world. Let’s all pivot in unison at point at the true culprits: Lexis and Westlaw.
1. Why Cost Effective Online Research Can Not Be Taught
2. Why cost effective research training is counter-productive.
The obsession with being “cost effective” distracts the associate from focusing on the real goal — finding the right answer. Here comes the brain theory. Effective legal research requires deep focus and concentration yet… “the myth of cost effective research” requires an associate to engage half of their attention on a collateral and competing analysis of factors which have nothing to do with the substance of the law. (Am I in hourly or transactional mode? Is this content included or excluded? Should I print or read online? Should I execute a new search or will that cost too much? Have I selected the cheapest file? Is it cheaper to print by the line or print a page or print a document or should I email the results to myself?)
3. Subscribing to the myth of cost effective research training keeps the focus off the true culprits and keeps us from demanding real solutions.
The bottom line: If Lexis and Westlaw really cared about cost effective legal research they would have developed simplified and transparent billing systems.
I have participated in countless librarian panels and advisory groups sponsored by both Lexis and Westlaw over the past 25 years and we have delivered a consistent demand for simplified and transparent billing systems. Instead of responding to this demand, Lexis and Westlaw have stood back and let us expend countless hours on hopeless training initiatives which were doomed from the start.
Killing the Golden Goose.
When Lexis and Westlaw deliver simplified and rational billing systems we could actually develop cost effective legal research methods and classes that could prepare associates to perform cost effective research while remaining focused on the real goal: delivering the best result to their client.