April 4, 2011
AALL Names 2011 Product of the Year: What a Difference a Year Makes
In 2010, AALL awarded its New Product of the Year Award to legal publisher Fastcase for the company’s free legal research application for the iPhone. [Fastcase Press Release] To the best of my always faulty memory I believe it was the first award in some time given to a relatively new and certainly innovative vendor in the legal publishing industry, one that now has the market presence to push our very expensive professional legal services vendors. WestlawNext followed Fastcase for the iPhone and iPad as the 2010 AALL New Product of the Year. Could it have been that the least expensive New Product Award Winner followed the most expensive, both in subscription cost and the cost to bringing the product to market?
Times certainly have changed. WestlawNext has been named AALL's 2011 New Product Award. From TR Legal's March 31, 2011 press release:
“Being named New Product of the Year by AALL is especially meaningful to my team and to me,” said Mike Dahn, chief marketing and product development officer, Westlaw U.S.
But apparently this is not "meaningful" enough for TR Legal to be a Gold-Silver-Bronze sponsor of AALL's annual meeting in Philly this year while being a Gold Sponsor for the ABA Tech Show. Like the WLN marketing fiasco, perhaps that wasn't Mike Dahn's call. As stated below I think the award is premature but that doesn't mean the product development team won't deserve AALL's award someday.
Also from the press release:
Anne Ellis, senior director of Librarian Relations for Thomson Reuters, believes that as technology continues to improve legal information services, the role of the library professional will become even more critical to the sharing, leveraging and management of information to optimally benefit both legal organizations and their clients. “Law librarians are the very heart of legal research and have been key in bringing legal research and technology together, especially now in the digital age,” she said.
Really? I'm thinking it is getting pretty damn clear that while "law librarians are the very heart of legal research," TR Legal's marketing strategy and tactics indicate law library professionals really don't matter much in the grand scheme of things in the Land of 10,000 Invoices. In thinking so, I'm not referring to TR Legal's 2009 asinine boner marketing stunt:
"Are you on a first name basis with the librarian?
If so, chances are, you're spending too much time at the library. What you need is fast, reliable research you can access right in your office. And all it takes is West®."
And Anne's official mea maxima culpa response published here.
I'm thinking of TR Legal's boilerplated "push back" responses to complaints from CRIV and other law librarians about TR Legal's institutionalized arrogance because the Company thinks it knows better than we do when it comes to collection development matters. Citations to all past LLB posts covering the Company's ham-fisted blows to the law library community's collective solar plexus omitted because there are just so damn many of them but the latest one, at least at the time I drafted this post of April 2, 2011, can be read at "Powered by Service:" Not TR Legal's Library Relations Model.
I'm also thinking of TR Legal's decisions about annual meeting sponsorship "investments." But I most certainly am not implying AALL awards should be given based on sponsorship contributions. We already have enough questions relating to our association's dependence on vendor ad revenue. Perhaps we should be rejecting ad revenue from vendors who execute anti-competitive business practices and demonstrate the sort of corporate arrogance that tries to take decision-making out of the hands of institutional buyers even if that means AALL membership dues would have to increase (after some cost-saving measures are executed by our association). See Professional Ethics Trumps AALL Acceptance of Vendor Cash Until the Status Quo is Changed. Perhaps the first test for any future product of the year award should be the vendor's business practices generally and specifically as it relates to the product. If that was the case, WestlawNext wouldn't have even been in the running.
A Premature Award. Personally, I'm thinking more than a few practicing law librarians would disagree with this "honor" being bestowed on WestlawNext by our professional association. First, it is really a roll-out of a legal search service still in "beta" as far as most law librarians who have or are using it and trying to teach it to their law school students and user populations which nonetheless requires a premium being paid to use it. Second WestSearch is problematic at best at least for folks expecting to perform comprehensive research of primary electronic legal resources using WLN. See also, Jason Wilson's recent post about AALL's award. ("I am curious to know who the contestants were. Also, someone get Professor Wheeler on the phone for a reactionary quote, stat.")
Better candidates for this year's AALL Best Product Award include Fasecase's integrated citation analysis in search results and Bloomberg Law. Of course, Lexis Advance for Solos, which is built on an entirely new platform with fixed rate charges, and even Classic Westlaw's fixed rate offerings for small firms may be more deserving of this award this year. Oh, my bad, perhaps AALL doesn't care about the solo-small firm market sector because so few law librarians are employed there. Perhaps the award should have gone to something conceptual like Time's Person of the Year award does occasionally. If that was the case, my vote would go to Fixed Rate Pricing for Online Legal Search.
Now if AALL also had an award for Worst Product of the Year, TR Legal could have had a 2-fer year: WestlawNext and Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure -- Law, Commentary and Forms' sham pocket part. Of course that would mean that AALL would have to make an offical public comment about editorial quality.
New Generation of Legal Research Databases: Eighteen Months Later. Well, some of the "merits" of this year's new product award winner will be discussed in Philly 2011 during the "The New Generation of Legal Research Databases: Eighteen Months Later" session. I doubt the education and professioal develoment session will waste any time questioning our association's AALL's award (yewn) but it certainly will raise issues about WLN. Perhaps the session should start with a show of hands: (1) who is paying for WLN? (2) who rejected paying for WLN? (3) who was offered WLN free?; and (4) who rejected free WLN?
The session is co-coordinated by Caren Biberman, Director of Library & Information Services, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, and the panel will be moderated by Vicki Szymczak, Library Director, Assistant Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School (ah, both LLB contributors). Speakers include BigLaw librarian, Jean P. O'Grady, DLA Piper (and blogger at one of my newest favorite blogs, Dewey B Strategic: Risk, value, strategy, libraries, knowledge and the legal profession), Denise A. Pagh, Kronick, Moskivitz, Tiederman & Girand and Lisa A. Spar, Hostra University Law School Library.
The target audience is "all librarians" according to program description -- and considering it will have law firm and academic law librarians participating in a discussion of significant issues in the same room, it is an appropriate characterization. However, considering the session's scheduled time slot is the last one scheduled on the last day of official meeting, 3:15 PM to 4:15 PM on Tuesday, July 26th, I'm thinking the target audience is really "all librarians who haven't already packed up and headed to the airport." [JH]
Ironic indeed Vicki. As is the fact that AALL's award comes just a couple of weeks ahead of the ABA Tech Show where TR Legal is a gold sponsor of that event when TR Legal isn't a sponsor of our annual meeting this year.
Posted by: Joe Hodnicki | Apr 11, 2011 4:35:04 AM
And, it was quite ironic that as TR accepts this award from our professional association, the printing goes gaga at law schools across the country. WLN turns on the printing feature - finally - on 4/1 and creates chaos on the WL printers, brining the system down and having people wait hours for a printout! THIS is the best we can do for new product development? Absurd. How about looking at some of the great digitization projects librarians are undertaking at schools everywhere?
Posted by: vicki | Apr 9, 2011 9:02:46 AM