October 15, 2011
Should the Occupy Wall Street Protesters Be Reading the Wall Street Journal Instead?
"Yes," according to Elie Mystal. In Occupy Wall Street Needs To Occupy A Library, he writes
The world is complicated. It takes a certain amount of work and study to even figure out what the hell is happening, much more to figure out who to blame, and it’s as likely as not that the last person who knew how to fix it just died.
Does that mean these protesters should do nothing? I don’t think so. I think it means that these protesters should learn more. Somebody needs to go down there with books, and research papers, and copies of the Economist. And instead of marching and chanting, everybody down there needs to take a day or two to sit and read.
I'm thinking some of the OWS protestors did their homework, perhaps even by going to their local library (if it hadn't been shutdown), before hiting the pavement. [JH]
October 14, 2011
Friday Fun: Is Drunk Texting OK?
Yes, but with some cautionary advice from Brook Alverez, the host of FactZone on the Onion News Network. [JH]
Declining Academic Credentials of 1Ls: Will the mad dash to fill seats in the legal academy put lower-tier law schools at risk of losing ABA accreditation?
After presenting a statistical analysis showing that enrollment rates at ABA law schools have been increasing while LSAT takers and law school applicant rates have been declining over time, Gary Rosen writes
If the sharp drop in takers in June 2011 continues for the application year, or even if the downward trend in the percentage of takers actually applying to law school continues, law schools will be forced to choose between
cutting first-year enrollment or
dipping ever deeper into the applicant pool.
If law schools take the second course, and just fill seats, the result should be falling academic credentials of entering classes. Certainly, that is what the corrected medians for the University of Illinois shows--a 4-point year-over-year drop in the LSAT median from Fall 2010 to Fall 2011. Regardless of what an LSAT score may say about applicants individually, it does say a lot about groups (The LSAT-free Illlusion). With the ABA poised to raise minimum Bar passage standards for law schools (ABA Standards and Bar Passage Rates), lower entering-class academic credentials may well put the accreditation of lower-tier law schools, especially those in California, at risk (Interpretation 301-6: Low LSATs and High "Cut Scores").
For much more see Rosin's The Demand for Law School. [JH]
HeinOnline Reorganizes US Congressional Documents Collection
From the HeinOnline blog post:
We have reformatted this collection to have more prominent browse options at the top of the collection homepage, which allows easy navigation throughout the collection. The browse options are All Titles, Rules & Precedents, Debates of Congress, Other Works Related to Congress, and CBO.
October 13, 2011
2012 Men of the Stacks Calendar
The Blog Widow loves the gallery on the calendar's website. (Hum... .) Proceeds are going to a good cause, the It Gets Better Project. See the New Yorker's The New Sexy Librarian for details. Hat tip to LISNews. [JH]
ATL's Current Photo Caption Contest Focuses on the Shed West Era in Law School Libraries
Here's the photo for ATL's latest caption contest. Entries due by 11:59 PM today.
How about "just too damn expensive to maintain in print"? Or "thank god, WEXIS doesn't charge law schools list price because they want to addict law school students to their very expensive online legal search services." [JH]
Moneyball-ing Legal Services (and Law Schools and Law Libraries)
We shouldn't be surprised that the new film, Moneyball, would lead to a discussion of the applicability of Moneyball-ing law firm hiring and retention, and the value of legal services provided to clients. Heck, seven years before the movie and within a year after the publication of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (W.W. Norton, 2003) by Michael Lewis , law profs Paul Caren (Cincinnati) and Rafael Gely (then Cincinnati, now Missouri) sparked a flury of discussion in the legal academy with their landmark article, What Law Schools Can Learn from Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics [SSRN], 82 Texas Law Review 1483 (2004). Quoting from the abstract:
In Moneyball, Michael Lewis takes an inside look at how in recent years the Oakland A's have achieved one of the best records in baseball despite having one of the lowest player payrolls. Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler have argued that the book has large and profound implications for other professions. This review essay by a tax law professor and a labor law professor explores the book's large and profound implications for law schools.
In many ways, legal education is teeming with more inefficiencies than Beane uncovered in baseball. We argue that changes in the economic conditions of higher education and the legal profession, combined with increasing demands for accountability and transparency, created the market demand for measuring organizational success which U.S. News & World Report met with its annual law school rankings. We explore the implications of Moneyball for legal education in three areas.
First, we argue that law school rankings are here to stay and that the academy should work to devise ways to more accurately measure law school success. We advocate the comprehensive collection of data that users and organizations can weigh differently in arriving at competing rankings systems.
Second, we applaud efforts begun in the past decade to quantify individual faculty contributions to law school success. We support measures that take into account both quantitative and qualitative measurements of faculty performance. We provide data that confirm the relationship of productivity and impact measures of scholarship and provide support for isolating background and performance characteristics in predicting future faculty scholarly work.
Third, we use Billy Beane as a prototype and identify the qualities that enabled him to revolutionize baseball. We shift the focus here to deans and present data measuring decanal scholarly productivity and impact. We contrast these figures with the corresponding faculty data and distinguish deans' scholarly performance both in the period prior to becoming dean and while serving as dean. We also offer some surprising predictions, based on the data, of the qualities that a future dean will need to assume the mantle of the Billy Beane of legal education.
I'm thinking Paul, a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, and Rafael, if a baseball fan, hopefully a Cubs fan during his long-term stay teaching at Chicago-Kent Law, should have been offered cameo appearances in the Moneyball movie. But I digress.
Moneyball-ing in the Private Sector. So now comes two New Normal articles from the ABAJ. In If Legal Services Value Stats Were Created, Standardized, Law Clients Could Play ‘Moneyball’, Patrick J. Lamb writes
In sports, statistical analysis is a means to an end: securing the best win-loss record and winning championships. In law, the challenge is whether statistics can be a useful means of determining value, which is, like beauty, frequently in the eye of the beholder. But the efforts to at least circle around some common understandings of value are nothing but positive developments, and defining the kinds of analyses and statistics that are pertinent to hiring and retention of lawyers will assist law firms and clients in focusing on the same indices of value.
Paul Lippe asks and answers in Can ‘Moneyball’ Principles Be Applied to the Valuation of Legal Services?
Can we apply Moneyball-style analysis to law? The answer is a qualified “yes,” informed by three considerations:
First, value of services is inherently more nuanced than value in goods, and law is toward the more nuanced end of the spectrum of services (say more nuanced than a baseball player, a real estate agent or a travel agent, but probably less than a psychotherapist).
Second, value discussions have to be specific—value in sell-side mergers and acquisitions is different from buy-side, and altogether different from counseling to avoid employment discrimination claims.
Third, discussing value is always going to be useful, even though it doesn’t lead to one absolute standard.
Unfortunately, what many Moneyball commentators fail to emphasis is that once the statistical analysis used by the Oakland A's became institutionalized in professional baseball, the initial competitive advantage the A's had was lost. The playing field was leveled. Statistical analysis has become just another tool.
Quantifying value in legal services and in hiring and retention of lawyers is problematic at best as noted by Lamb and Lippe. Will Moneyball-ing in this context also level out the playing field? Without absolute standards, can the metrics be agreed upon? Will the stats used be accurate or gamed?
Moneyball-ing in the Legal Academy. While Caron and Gely's call for more comprehensive law school data so users and organizations can create alternative methodologies to US News Law School Rankings should be applauded, that hasn't happened and that wasn't what caused the flurry of debate in the legal academy. What did was the the second and third issue presented in their article, namely Moneyball-ing the legal academy in terms of law prof and law dean contributions to law school success by narrow focusing on the relationship between productivity and scholarly impact as if the game of the legal academy is careerism of law profs and their dean.
Isn' the game about producing practice ready graduates by an institutional scorecard of the outcomes of a profession education? One ouside the legal academy can't start Moneyball-ing that because even the current self-reported and unadited data provided by the "team" is unreliable. One might say, the legal academy's credibility issues compounded by the ABA failure to police law schools as their accrediting body has lead many to conclude that law schools have been Moneyball-ing gamed data to move up in the standings of the major leagues knows as US News Law School Rankings. And just like in baseball, the more teams that do this, the more level the fudged playing field is.
Moneyball-ing in Law Libraries. Well, actually first in academic law libraries. At least our data isn't known to fudged when it comes to the size of a academic library collection but I am reminded of the objections raised about the prospects of devaluing the volume count stat at a NOLA seesion. In our New Normal of Shed West Era-Digital First-Digital Only, I think the issue, the value of that metric, has been settled. It's not important.
Law librarian contributions to the success of their employers is not measured by the size of their collections but by the services they provide and are responsible for: saving costs by way of their negotations with vendors, executing efficencies by way of implementing sensible information technologies and e-communications, providing expert services to their user populations.
Our duty is to our institutions but there is little no chance that some new metrics can be created. Providing a metric on expert services is too subjective unless opinion polls are based on scientific principles of opinion research. Just slapping together a bunch of questions for SurveyMonkey doesn't cut it.
There are metric that can be used to evaluate library websites in terms of traffic, what library website pages are visited the most, etc., as long as one carefully understands the limitations of web server logs, plus the frequency of updating library site pages, adding new ones and contact a librarian in real time by way of web links. One could also add law library (not law librarian) blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts. In addition to traffic, frequency of posting institutionally relevant messages, plus the life-span of these alternative forms of web communications could be measured, if anyone really cared to do so.
Then there is cost saving by way of law library-vendor negotiations. Thanks to NDAs we can't share that data in any way, even if specific institutional identities were replaced by alternative identifiers. Hell, I don't think we can even share database-by-usage stats by type and subtype of law library market sectors. At least we can't do that via AALL mediums because that would be "anti-competitive." [JH]
October 12, 2011
Finally a Law School Scandal That Does Not Implicate the ABA as an Accomplice
The ABAJ is reporting that Douglas Leman, a former controller who worked at New England School of Law for 17 years, has pleaded guilty to charges alleging he embezzled $173,000 from the school between September 2008 and March 2011 in part by giving students breaks on tuition. According to the DOJ press release, Leman faces up to 10 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a $356,213.42 fine. He will also be required to make full restitution in the approximate amount of $173,106. [JH]
Authors File Amended Complaint Against the HathiTrust
Publishers Weekly is reporting that the Authors Guild has filed an amended complaint in its suit against the HathiTrust libraries. The complaint seeks to add additional plaintiffs. These are authors who have been mistakenly listed in the category of orphan works and foreign author groups. There has been publicity that some of the status searches conducted by the libraries have been flawed. University of Michigan librarian John Wilkins is quoted in the PW article as saying "Once we create a more robust, transparent, and fully documented process, we will proceed with the work, because we remain as certain as ever that our proposed uses of orphan works are lawful and important to the future of scholarship and the libraries that support it.” He added “Our mistakes have not resulted in the exposure of even one page of in-copyright material being made available."
Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild is also quoted, stating “Universities are important cultural bastions, valued by all of us. In this case, university defendants are using their immunity from money damages to act as pirates, rather than custodians, of our literary heritage." I’d like to respond to that.
Libraries tend to act within the law. It's not in their interest to do otherwise. I’ve said as much in any number of posts. They make easy targets for suits such as this one. In fact, the HathiTrust libraries expected the suit by the Authors Guild or someone like them. Calling them pirates? I don’t think so. One of the concerns of librarians for commercially produced digital media, books, movies, music, is that DRM stands in the way of preserving items for future legal use. It in fact, DRM diminishes these “cultural bastions” as you call them.
The United States Copyright Office and the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program of the Library of Congress issued the The Section 108 Study Group Report in 2008. It covered various aspects of preservation in regard to what libraries could and could not do under existing laws and made recommendations as to how to change the law to balance the commercial needs of marketers to sell content and for libraries to preserve it. The proposals to change the law attempted to address those concerns and so far nothing has been enacted, leaving libraries in a preservation and access limbo. The report is here for those wishing to read it.
Calling libraries pirates doesn’t further your cause, especially if a court rules in their favor. Then, I suppose they will be legal pirates. Would that make you feel any better? While I can decry the loss of revenue to content holders through illegal downloading, I’ll bet that in 100 years the cultural bastions of the world will be better stocked by content located in an individual’s basement rather than a library. That’s because individuals may not be compelled to follow the law where a library would. I suggest that authors, publishers, distributors think about ways to allow preservationists to do what they do while maintaining the legal control over the commercial use of the content. Preservation is the other P-word. There is value in that. [MG]
Traffickers of Very Expensive Online Legal Search: How do we use and teach today's legal search services when we don't know how the search engines work?
One can go back to when the issue of CALR was first much debated in the late 1970s, to view what some might characterize as a "luddite" response to the advent of very expensive online legal search but many of those articles sounded in the Great Unknowing at the time. The authors simply were not accustomed to thinking in terms of performing legal research in the context of selecting databases, using logical operators, overriding SEs predefined ordering of logical operators, performing segment searches, etc., and teaching others how to do the same. We are repeating history with a new Great Unknowing in very expensive online legal search. Unlike in the past, this is because advances in SE programing are metadata-rich proprietary information. This is not a luddite reaction calling for a return to terms and connections but our vendors are not providing sufficiently detailed information to replace our old Venn diagram understanding of yesterday's commercial legal search engines with something that maps today's more advanced SE programming.
Take for example, WestSearch. Does any practicing law librarian or legal research instructor really know how WestSearch's algorithms actually work? A fair number of specific WestSearch anomalies have been spotted by experienced legal researchers (that would be law librarians) that have been published in the blogosphere; you'll find some if you look for posts published 12-18 months ago when law librarians were given trial WLN accounts as well as posts published when academic law librarians were preparing to start instructing students in WLN. More recently, Anon, for example, has tested TR Legal marketing claims for WestSearch at The WestSearch Straitjacket For Legal Research - Thinking Beyond The Keyword, Part I and Part II. Ron Wheeler, for example, has closely examined some issues by way of trial-and-error testing, particularly the crowdsourcing "usage pattern" facet of WestSearch at Does WestlawNext Really Change Everything?: The Implications of WestlawNext on Legal Research, 103 LLJ 359 (2011). Do note that Ron Wheeler never got a definitive answer from TR Legal's WLN developers to the question, will crowdsourcing not miss what Wheeler calls "esoteric" materials? In other words, we do not have any idea if WestSearch will produce truely comprehensive search output for the diligent legal researcher. I do not rest any easier learning from Mike Dahn in his interview with Jason Wilson on rethinc.k that after testing, the contribution of the "usage patterns" component in WestSearch was reduced in WestSearch's algorithm.
None of those law librarian reports generate the kind of confidence one would hope from a very expensive 21st century search engine like WestSearch. All one can say is that this sort of trial and error process has been prompting the question: why did I get this WLN output in this search results display? This Great Unknowing also presents another important question, namely, how does one teach WLN to students, to members of the the bench and bar? Ah yes, all this is "proprietary," so much so that our vendors' reps and their sales managers who are trying to sell these services don't really know how WestSearch works.
TR Legal is a trafficker in online legal search using algorithms we know very little about except that some metadata is baked-in and crowdsourcing, oh, my bad, "usage patterns" are factors in WestSearch's algorithms. We have no clue what every factor is and how each factor is ranked because this is "proprietary." Therein lies the real problem with 21st very expensive online legal search.
For me, the issue is much broader than "usage patterns." What exactly are all the elements of the WestSearch algorithm and what is the ranking of each? How does each factor contribute to WLN search results. We don't know? Perhaps it wouldn't be an issue if long-time Classic Westlaw users didn't experience WLN search result display shock and then clicked on a button to switch to Classic Westlaw. What happens when Classic Westlaw disappears? Why? Because trial-and-error just isn't going to cut it. Hell, it can be damn expensive in conducting WLN research in the private sector.
This is hardly a new issue.
More than two decades ago, Robert Berring, speaking of electronic databases, wrote:
The danger of the high-end products is that each step in the research process that is carried out automatically by the front end system, is a step taken away from the purview of the researcher. Each decision that is built into the system makes the human who is doing the search one level further removed from the process.
Berring’s words should serve as a reminder to librarians and teachers of legal research. We must strive to understand as much of the research process as possible, even the steps carried out by online algorithms, so that we can develop and teach effective strategies for achieving our research goals.
(Citation omitted; emphasis added.) Quoting from the last paragraph of Ron Wheeler's LLJ article.
While not a new issue, I think it has become any increasingly more important one as greater complexity is being baked into today's very expensive legal search engines.
If we look at TR Legal's Patent Application, we can see the big picture. Download it here. If I was still teaching legal research, I would make it required reading for a class on WestSearch and I would use the graphics published in it, like the one displayed right (click to enlarge), as the 21st century but substantially less instructive version of Venn diagrams.
I'm very willing to embrace new search engines but the devil is in the details and those details are represented by the "lightening bolts" is some of the patent application's diagrams. According to Symbolism Wiki, a bolt of lightning "is a symbol of loss of ignorance. It also represents the punishment of humans from the Gods." When an experienced legal researcher has an all too human WTF reaction to WLN search results, it may be punishment from the gods of programmers in their equally all to human software routines. Our ignorance of WestSearch is based on not knowing how the algorithm (technically, algorightms) work. Mike Dahn's description in his rethinc.k interview, quoted below, does nothing to increase our knowledge with needed specificity:
To dramatically improve search beyond what standard keyword based search engines can do, our WestSearch algorithms primarily rely on our editorial enhancements, things like the Key Number System, KeyCite, Headnotes, Statutes Notes of Decision, and the language correlations we have in our proprietary indices – like “see also” references. We’ve literally been building up this collection of editorial enhancements for over a hundred years, and it provides both extraordinary search results and a significant competitive advantage over what others can do in the marketplace.
About the objectives of WestSearch in its development stage, Dahn explains:
One of our concerns was about user experience – we wanted researchers to get very noticeably better results – better enough to pay a premium for our new product. It couldn’t just be arguably better – it had to be noticeably better. Our other concern was a competitive one. We were investing a lot of money in WestlawNext, and in the search engine specifically. If employing usage data drove most of the benefits in terms of precision and recall, then our competitors could turn around quickly and do similar things. We needed to find out what mattered most and why.
Note that Dahn recognizes that upgrading very expensive online legal search is required to stay competitive. I personally don't believe a subscriber base needs to be paying for the corporate cost of staying competitive by paying a premium even if the search results were "noticeable better." That's how corporations maintain their competitiveness even in a duopoly. With TR Legal's profit margin plummeting from 33% to 25-26%, one might think the pricing gurus would consider eliminating a WLN premium since "noticably better" results might shore up its subscriber base, might even increase it.
But in this case, it is arguable to even say WestSearch results are even "arguable better" than Classic Westlaw except, perhaps, in caselaw research. Criticism from experienced legal researchers (ah, that would be us), have discussed some nasty results in federal and state statutory and regulatory research and in an apparent bias against secondary sources. We also know that West's traditional topical analysis (e.g., West Key Numbering System) now incorporated as metadata is caselaw top heavy. Perhaps that is why some WLN users find WestSearch "good" for caselaw, not so for statutory and regulatory law. Of course, we are merely speculating... . And, of course, those reports are products of trial-and-error research by law librarians.
TR Legal has had their WestSearch staff tackle some of those "anomalies" and WLN searches performed to test marketing claims. When they come up with different results that claim to contradict law librarian results, should we simply assume their claims are correct because TR Legal says so? I'm thinking it would be very interesting to see proof of those claims in ALR assignment fashion, namely the entire research log.
If we assume TR Legal's claims are true for the sake of argument (or proven to be true by law librarians replicating the research logs WestSearch staff used), what does that tell you? It tells me the WestSearch staff knows how the SE algorithms work, unlike us, their customer base, who do not have the same amount of detailed information.
Comprehending how legal search engines work must go far beyond trial and error. Law librarians are legal research specialists working in real time. Cost aside, we can perform online legal research using any SE as long as we can understand the output results based on a clear understanding of how the SE works. We can modify our online search results based on knowing how the SE actually works. The Great Unknowing is that today we don't know how 21st century SE algorithms work. Nor is TR Legal responding to this need in any substantive way. Want to sell me on the benefits of WLN, better provided more detailed information on how the algorithms produce the results I get (that is to say got when I gave it a test drive).
Law librarians and other legal information professionals are focusing on WestSearch, but WLN isn't the only 21st search engine that presents these issues. Bloomberg Law's SE "learns"? OK, how? Good luck trying to get an answer to that question. I guess we will have to wait and see if Lexis Advance learns from WLN's mistakes. Might be time to do some patent research.
Mike, buddy, no one is asking for the exact recipe of the secret sauce in WestSearch. The only people who would understand that would be search programming brainiacs employed by other very expensive online legal search vendors and they have/are probably reversing engineering WestSearch to dissect it. But just saying that X, Y and Z are part of the equation and that the "usage pattern" factor is part of that equation but was demoted in priority during testing isn't good enough. Every professional law librarian, including a former law librarian, knows that. [JH]
October 11, 2011
Happy Birthday Joe
Just happy birthday. No dates, no numbers. As co-editor and a friend, I appreciate the hard work you do to make the Blog a success. We're closing in on 2 million page hits (hitting the milestone this week?) in the almost 6 years the Blog has existed. Good work. Enjoy the day. [MG]
LSAC Working to Audit LSAT and GPA Statistics Provided By Law Schools
One the heels of my post yesterday, Senator Boxer Calls Out ABA On Jobs Data And Scholarships, comes news that the LSAC has had a change of heart and will now audit LSAT and GPA scores reported annually by law schools to the American Bar Association. One of the major points in Senator Boxer’s letter was her statement that with lawsuits filed against schools and the scandals at Villanova and the University of Illinois, there should be independent verification of stats provided by law schools.
The National Law Journal reported the change and quoted Council President Dan Bernstine as saying:
We are working to determine whether we can set up procedures through which we would be able to confirm school-reported LSAT scores and [undergraduate GPAs] in a reliable and responsible way…. Unfortunately, this is going to take some time.
Any auditing procedures put in place will not affect the statistics that the law schools report to the ABA in October 2011. It does not appear that any auditing would be retrospective.
The move appears partially defensive for law schools as lawsuits for violating consumer protection laws mount, and partially to keep law schools honest. Some schools seem to suspect that their peers fudge numbers beyond the two noted in the recent press stories. Despite any sanctions that flow from the misrepresentation of statistics, both Villanova and Illinois were self-reported. We don’t know how many schools are out there doing the same thing. It should be interesting to see if there are any major changes in an individual school’s stats once auditing standards are in place.
If, perhaps, NALP and the ABA settle their differences over reporting of career services statistics, see NALP on ABA Job Reporting: Not So Fast There Buddy, NALP can take on the independent oversight role in that area. I think the ABA could be in a better position to regulate law schools if they could offload much of the standard statistical reporting to other organizations. It could take some of the heat off the Association when law schools start playing fast and loose with numbers. [MG]
Do you have an elevator pitch?
As some of you reading LLB might know, a few weeks ago I moved from New York to Honolulu to take a new position on the faculty at the Richardson School of Law - where I am the Library Director (NB: A posting to the ALL SIS list serv indicating that I took a position on the faculty at Richardson provoked a lot of inqueries as to what I would be teaching. Apparently, there are those among us who forget that many - not enough though - Law Library Directors are faculty members. But that is another post.)
In any case, with new jobs come new responsibilities and opportunities - every directorship is unique. In my new position, I wear a much more public face than I wore at my last school. This will be my first full week at Richardson. I will be having lunch with three 9th circuit judges today and attending a "mahalo" reception for donors Friday night. Plenty of networking opportunities. I began thinking about what I can say to these people that will capture their imagination and remember the library at Richardson. And hopefully build an audience that will fund a new building!
Unless I sit next to someone chances are I will not have much time to make that positive impression and tell them about all the great things the Librarians are doing for the staff and local bar.
Enter the elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is a collection of short phrases that lets the listener know who you are, what you can do, and, more importantly, what they can do for you and why! Just as I was pondering my approach to this situation, I saw this great post on iLibrarian about elevator pitches for librarians. The posting is really about personal marketing for librarians, but this particular entry in the series focuses on the elevator pitch. The iLibrarian gives some excellent links to tools and articles that will help you focus on creating that peppy, positive spin.
For example, both the Harvard Business School Elevator Pitch app and the 15-second Elevator Pitch Wizard provide an interactive system to sharpen your remarks and force you to focus on the important points you want to make. I will admit, at first I was unimpressed and thought it was corny, but when your results get spit back at you, you realize it is time to get busy. You could, of course, do this in a quiet room with a pen and pad of paper, but like most things, its more convenient to do it using interactive tools. Besides, who can read their own handwriting anymore? My fingers barely recall how to hold a pen!
Along with these interactive tools, iLibrarian links to a number of business articles that help the reader understand how to create the perfect elevator pitch, and a video on how to perfect your delivery.
So now you might be wondering about my own elevator pitch. Well, if you read some of the literature you will know that the pitch will change depending on your audience. I do not have just one! But, if you want to hear any of them, well, you will just need to catch me in the elevator! (VS)
ALA Launches E-Content Blog: Taking a criticial look at the ongoing discussion about electronic content
ALA has launched E-Content, a blog to provide "information on e-books, e-readers, e-journals, databases, digital libraries, digital repositories, and other e-content issues. The blog complements the new section on e-content that appears in the weekly e-newsletter American Libraries Direct (free subscription) and focuses on similar issues." See the press release.
In the launch post, E-Content: Informing the Transformation of Libraries, the blog's editor, Christopher Harris, writes
Things are a bit murky right now, but as we continue to work with ALA, publishers, and each other, the outlook will hopefully begin to clear. In times of uncertainty, however, it is easy to focus on the unknown or on the known negatives, but things are moving forward. The American Library Association is forming a new Working Group on Digital Content and Libraries and has opened up new channels of communication with the Association of American Publishers as well as individual publishers. This blog will take a critical look at all aspects of the ongoing discussion around electronic content.
ALA knows that working with publishers does not mean being members of some sort of mythical "partnership" with vendors. Unlike AALL, ALA also knows that the best way to discuss these matters is by critical assessments open for all to read by way of web communications instead of by way of walled gardens. [JH]
Regulating the Unseen Search Engine Algorithm
Reg Chua ponders how public policy can address questions about fair play when a web search company embeds algorithms and personalization into its core product. In Regulating The Algorithm?:
How can you regulate what you can’t see [i.e. the algorithm]?
How can authorities ensure a fair playing field in a digital age if they can’t be sure what the field looks like? Or if the field looks different to every player?
Thomson Reuters is perched high atop a mountain of information. It’s what they do — information in the form of “actionable data” for lawyers, accountants, and financial professionals, but also information in the form of news. You could call them information traffickers.
That fundamental act of packaging and imparting information is what Reg Chua is concerned with. Since being hired as data editor for Thomson Reuters, Chua has set his sights on what Reuters’ journalists on the media side of the fence could learn from the more productizable business side — namely that people have a willingness, and appetite, for new forms of expressing and delivering information. As data editor, Chua wants Reuters to think bigger than simply using databases in reporting, or building expressive visualizations to partner with stories. What if the data itself, decoupled from the trappings of news-writing, were the story?
In the context of decoupling the data of news stories from the story and from the database to repackage and re-purpose news, Chua must deal with free web search engine algorithms like those used by Google. His post is particularly concerned with the crowdsourcing component in such algorithms because that is designed to produce personalized search results.
Chua wonders whether public policy should regulate the Unseen Algorithm in free web searching. I'm wondering whether public policy should regulate the Unseen Algorithm in very expensive online legal search. Just because both are proprietary information, does not mean regulators and users of free Web SEs and commercial legal SEs must be left in the dark. [JH]
October 10, 2011
Senator Boxer Calls Out ABA On Jobs Data And Scholarships
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter to the American Bar Association last Thursday asking the organization take steps to protect law student consumers. She is “disappointed” to learn that the ABA is not requiring law schools to report the percentage of graduates working in the legal profession or the percentage of graduates working in part-time legal jobs, at least in the upcoming reporting year. This may be seen as piling on, what with Senator Charles Grassley getting a lot of the publicity over the summer for his aggressive inquiries to the ABA on largely the same issues. See, for example, LLB’s past coverage: Senator Asks ABA Questions About Scholarships and Debt; ABA Responds To Senator Grassley; Grassley to ABA: I'm Not Going Away That Easily; A Bit More on Senator Grassley And The ABA; and The ABA's Latest Response To Senator Grassley.
This, however, is not the first time Senator Boxer has questioned the ABA on its oversight of law schools. See the LLB post Who Ultimately is Master of the Domain? ABA Responds to Senator Boxer's Request for Information About What the ABA Is Doing to Improve Its Oversight of Reported Law School Placement Data. The ABA responded to Senator Boxer’s inquiry at that time by expressing great concern that prospective students have the right information to make a decision on selecting and attending law school. The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar detailed its efforts in an April 27, 2011 memorandum. It explained how the ABA is using its various committee structures to examine the issue, by collecting information from all the parties affected, and taking and reviewing comments. It included this statement:
The [Questionnaire] Committee is currently in the process of finalizing the means for obtaining the data and plans to report to the Council of the Section in June for purposes of obtaining Council approval of these initiatives and new questions. The plan is that the revised collection and reporting processes will be in place for the next data collection cycle of the ABA Annual Questionnaire, which begins in August of 2011.
Well, August has come and gone. The ABA is requiring law schools to answer new questions about the employment status of graduates in the most recent survey, though the more specific information such as “whether the graduate’s job is part-time or full-time; whether the job requires bar passage; whether a J.D. is preferred for the job; whether the job is in another profession; and whether the job is a nonprofessional one” will not be collected until February 2012 according to a July 27, 2011 ABA press release. But as the ABA noted at that time, it is not waiting until August 2012 to start collecting that information. See the LLB post ABA Revises Law School Placement Data Reporting Requirements for links to documents.
Senator Boxer may have waited to examine the responses the ABA made to Senator Grassley’s letters in the interim. Her latest letter shows that she is not happy with the ABA’s sense of the problem or its speed in addressing it:
In a year when a number of lawsuits alleging consumer protection law violations have been filed against ABA law schools, when major newspapers have devoted thousands of words to problems with law school reporting practices, and when two United States Senators have encouraged significant changes to your policies, it is surprising that the ABA is resorting to half measures instead of tackling a major problem head on.
While we’re at it, Senator, let’s not forget that the ABA fell out of compliance with Department of Education regulations for accrediting organizations in the last review. The ABA viewed that as embarrassing but no big deal as much of non-compliance was due to technical changes in the Department’s rules. That can easily be fixed. Committees are working on it even now. Read all of the ABA’s answers to Senators Boxer and Grassley and recognizable themes emerge: We’re the ABA, we’re pre-eminent in regulating law schools, we historically have considered judgment in this area, and any changes we implement must be methodically thought out. One of the underlying assumptions is that the ABA is the only logical game in town when it comes to accrediting law schools. Senator Boxer, however, raises the unthinkable to that perspective:
The Section of Legal Education failed to address the overwhelming need for independent oversight and auditing of statistics reported by law schools. In September, the University of Illinois was found to have been inaccurately reporting law school admissions statistics, the second such school to have done so in recent months. In addition, many lawsuits have been filed alleging that law schools are violating various state consumer protection laws and false advertising laws.
These developments are very troubling, and without independent verification of the information reported by law schools, the opportunity to file inaccurate reports will remain.
I can only imagine the reaction to that one. Citing the number of lawsuits for violating consumer protection laws suggests that the statement of the graduate employment statistics the ABA requires is not in compliance with current legal standards. We’ll see about that when the courts answer the question. Calling for independent oversight in reviewing law school statistics is another matter. That suggests that the ABA is unwilling or unable to create standards where law schools are kept honest in their reporting. What was it that President Reagan said, trust but verify? Perhaps imposing mild sanctions after the fact is not enough in this situation. I don’t know. Let’s ask a committee.
Jobs and debt aren’t the only issues Senator Boxer raises. There is the question of disclosing how law schools use grading curves to limit the amount of scholarship money they offer students by setting a minimum GPA for maintaining those scholarships after the initial grant:
While the opportunity to earn a very expensive law degree at a fraction of the cost can be an attractive option for many students, the [New York] Times exposed a major problem with scholarship transparency. Many law schools fail disclose how the school's grading curve and scholarship conditions can combine to prevent the student from understanding the scholarship's real value.
It was reported that at one school, 57 percent of first-year students in one class year received a merit scholarship, but only one-third of the students in that entire class could receive a GPA high enough to maintain their scholarships. Students should have more information about the risks of accepting merit scholarships so that they can make fully-informed decisions about their future.
I expect the ABA to say something to the effect that all the comparative information is contained in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide To ABA-Approved Law Schools. There are, after all, specific notes on each school’s financial aid program.
The ABA is not used to this treatment or these kinds of questions. The responses the Association gave to Senator Grassley show what pains it made to avoid giving specific answers to very pointed questions. I suspect the Association wants to maintain its control of law school oversight while appearing to treat these inquiries as more input to its committee process for formulating policy.
I’ll say this for Senator Boxer’s questions on scholarship money: I don’t believe having schools disclose the details of their policies on maintaining scholarship money would actually change anything in practice. The disclosure would, however, give prospective students a better idea of what will happen if they don’t make the grade cut. It’s hard to argue the unfairness of such a policy when there is clear notice as to what that policy is. No one has to go to law school to figure that one out. I look forward to the ABA’s dance in responding to Senator Boxer. Any other Senators want to ask any questions? [MG]
A Brief History of Digital Data
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October 9, 2011
Round-Up of Law Practitioner Blogs
Drug Recall Attorneys Blog
Examines drug recall cases, news, and related matters in Chicago, Illinois. Published by Pintas & Mullins Law Firm.
Marietta Accident Attorney Blog
Discusses personal injury law updates, news and cases in Georgia. Published by The Cooper Firm.
Massachusetts Nursing Home Attorney Blog
Covers nursing home abuse and neglect cases, updates and legislation in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Published by David J. Hoey, PC
Boston DUI Lawyers Blog
Analyzes criminal news, DUI cases, judicial opinions and legislation in Boston. Published by Lefteris K. Travayiakis, P.C.
Miami Injury Lawyer Blawg
Discusses injury news, judicial opinions and legislation in Miami. Published by Mark A. Kaire.
Chicago Executive Lawyer Blog
Discusses employment cases, news and opinions in Chicago. Published by The Prinz Law Firm.
Truck Accident Attorney Blog
Examines truck accident cases and catastrophic personal injury news nationally. Published by Greenberg & Stone.