For years I have been heaping praise on Thomson Reuters for producing one of the first marketing pieces that took a crack at quantifying the time savings delivered by one of their workflow products. The chart offers a simple comparison of several tasks and shows the time it takes to perform each task and with and without the use of the Practical Law Resources. See Illustration below.
It is probably five years since I saw that first chart and I recently began investigating whether Thomson Reuters has moved from producing a marketing piece to delivering a real tool that could actually help a customer determine or even estimate the time savings or efficiency delivered by Practical Law. I am picking on Thomson Reuters but the truth is that none of the large legal information publishers ( LexisNexis, Wolters Kluwer or Bloomberg Law) which have enhanced their research products with workflow solutions are offering any resource to measuring the ROI of their products. For purposes of this post I will focus on Lexis and Westlaw for reasons that will become apparent below.Will New Thomson Reuters New Strategy Drive Practical Law Use Down— Reducing ROI
Many librarians and knowledge professionals have gleaned some ROI intelligence from commercial tracking tools such as Research Monitor and Onelog. At the very least these resources can track adoption and utilization trends. Is the number of monthly users or sessions trending up or down? Those basic trends provide important insights– if not the full ROI. However, recently Westlaw has undertaken a new and baffling strategy which is impairing the quality of the trend data. Now that Practical Law requires a login using the OnePass password – it is almost impossible to distinguish Westlaw use from Practical Law use. In addition, TR seems to be heading toward a complete merger of Practical Law into the Westlaw platform. Let’s think about that– Westlaw is deeply associated with online cost recovery which associates fear, partners resent and clients reject…. Hummm. sounds like a formula to drive Practical Law use DOWN to me. Sounds like a formula which will prevent associates from getting access to a product that was marketed as an unlimited access workflow enhancement tool. Sounds like a strategy which will create obstacles to the efficiency that law firms were promised. Now on to the main event…we need an ROI tool.
Of Course They Can Built and ROI Tool — But Do They Want To?
Forty years ago when online research was young, Lexis and Westlaw almost immediately began providing law firms with usage reports tracking the users, the billing numbers and the costs associated with each session. Why? Because the best way to sell the product was to make it easier for law firms to shift at least some of the costs onto a client bill. Over the years both Lexis and Westlaw developed very elaborate systems PowerInvoice and Quickview which morphed from software to web-based products. Both vendors listened to customers and continued to refine these systems – we asked for mandatory client matter validation – we got it. We asked for custom billing formats – “no problem.” We asked for “user defined billing rates” — “voila!” But cost recovery systems were built on law firm needs in a seller’s market. It flourished in the go-go 80s and 90s before the great recession. But we are now in a buyers market – and law firms are struggling with fixed pricing, alternative legal service providers and competing to win clients from an ever shrinking pool of new business opportunity. What do law firms with tight budgets want from companies such as Lexis and Thomson Reuters? We want some proof that we are not wasting our money when we buy tools like Practical Law and Lexis Practice Advisor.
Where are the Quickview and Powerinvoice Equivalents Tools For ROI?
Over the past few weeks I have been asking workflow product vendors if they have a tool for measuring the value delivered by their products…. in response… “all I heard was the sound of crickets.” Not only do vendors not have an answer – their representatives seem to be completely flummoxed that I have asked the question. I am picking on Lexis and Westlaw because we all know that they know how to build systems that can track and report and provide a sophisticated analysis of each law firm’s usage history. They just need start taking workflow ROI as seriously as they took online cost recovery for forty years. If they want to continue selling millions of dollars worth of workflow enhancement tools they need to start benchmarking what efficiencies their tools deliver and then match those benchmarks to the activities of a firm’s attorneys. I am certain that Practical Law and Lexis Practice Advisor have thousands of document templates and checklists which could be benchmarked to provide some measure of productivity gains. However my sense was that Thomson Reuters has to date benchmarked fewer than 100 documents and tasks. I am not aware of LexisNexis having benchmarked the savings associated with any tasks or document templates within their Practice Advisor system.
Components of My Imaginary ROI Tool:
- Each vendor should benchmark the time savings associated with most heavily used resources in their workflow products. And then over time benchmark the additional tools in decending order of demand. Or they negotiate with firms on which resources each firm wants to be able to collect benchmark data and measure ROI.
- Track use of Lexis Advance and Practical Law by individual attorneys . ( Just as you do with Westlaw and Lexis Advance.)
- Each firm could assign an actual hourly rate or an average hourly rate to attorneys by category ( associates by class, Counsel, Partners)
- When an attorney utilizes ( opens, downloads etc.) a benchmarked resource – a calculation of the value of time saved would be entered in firm’s private activity ledger.
- At the end of each ( week, month, quarter – firm defined time period) the firm could download or receive and automatically generated report which calculates the value delivered during the reported time period.
- A cumulative annual report will be created that provides the overall annual efficiency value delivered and this metric will – be measured against the cost of the product and ultimately drive the decision to renew or cancel the product.
This will be a work in Progress
This will not be a perfect out of the gate. Like Powerinvoice and Quickview — the ROI tool will have to evolve over time. Users and vendors will identify omissions and unexpected outcomes. Enhancements and refinements will be tested and added. This should be the beginning of an ongoing dialog. But from Day One this will be better than what we have today – which is … nothing..
… and if someone else has a better idea – I can’t wait to hear it. Add your suggestion in the comments section below.