Monday, June 6, 2011

Is cost-effective legal research training for new associates a myth?

The legal equivilant of the Chupacabra - lots of rumors it exists but have you ever seen one for yourself?  From the blog Dewey B. Strategic:

1. Why Cost Effective Online Research Can Not Be Taught

Between them, Lexis and Westlaw have over 100,000 separately priced data files. Each of these 100,000 files has at least 5 different price points associated with it, including: hourly, transactional, cite checking, find and print, document printing, line printing and image printing. Some files have special charges if they generate reports or have an expandable table of contents. Then overlay this toxic brew with the pricing variations generated by “flat rate” contracts which trigger a special discount for some but not all content. This requires an associate to engage in an additional computation to account for a “firm specific” discount off of the undisclosed price points.

Do the Math: We have been expecting associates to be able to predict and control of costs of a system that involves about half a million undisclosed, possible price points.

The Madness Exposed. Handing an associate a Lexis or Westlaw password and asking them to be “cost effective,” is like handing someone a credit card and sending them into a store in which none of the merchandise is priced and then berating them when the bill comes in exceeding your budget. No consumer affairs department would allow a retailer to perpetrate this kind of thing on the public. How is it that almost every law firm in the US has put up with this for the past 3 decades?

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?)

What about getting a good result for a client? Let me cut to the chase. The truly sinister part of the obsession with “cost effective legal research” training is that it subverts and derails the real purpose of online research: getting to the legal precedents and factual data that impact advocacy for the client. Associates who take the “cost effective gospel” to heart are often paralyzed and confused. They prefer to “Google for precedents” or engage in other outlandish inefficiencies to avoid using the premium research tools altogether.

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.

Lexis and Westlaw have the power but not the will to make their very complex billing systems open and transparent. When you go to select a file they could display the cost, but they do not. When you are online conducting a research session they could run a ticker showing how much you session has cost, but they do not. They could have a limited number of price points, but they do not.

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