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Profitability and cost-containment — these two words have guided those who manage law firms and corporate legal departments for years. As clients demand that legal costs be contained, repercussions continue to be felt in corporations and law firms across the country. Lawyers and their administrators are responding by exploring new ways to contain costs while improving profitability. One result is that law librarians and law school legal research teachers have begun devising ways to teach cost containment. LAW FIRM APPROACH USE THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE RIGHT PROJECT. “As with other areas of practice, we are responding to our clients’ demands that we be cost-conscious by looking at how to provide competent legal advice, backed by quality legal research cost-efficiently,” says John Maley, a partner with Barnes & Thornburg of Indianapolis, Chicago, and Washington, DC. This includes requiring that for research the most cost-effective legal research tool or service be used. TIP: Identify the goal of your research. Do you need general or background knowledge about a topic or the current state of the law? If the former, use books, and if necessary, CD-ROM products. If the latter, get the necessary overview from books, especially legal encyclopedias and CD-ROMs, before going online. In this way, you can quickly identify what is relevant to the point of law you are researching before using an online legal research database. Also, if you are researching an area that is unfamiliar to you, locate and use a “pathfinder,” which is a guide to the sources on a particular legal topic or specific to a certain region of the country. One way to find these research guides is to go to www.FindLaw.com and search using “legal research guide” as your query. The result is a list of Internet guides to specific areas of law or to a state’s law. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE TO GET THE BEST PRICE. This client cost-consciousness has led major law firms, such as Sullivan & Worcester of Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., to take imaginative approaches to providing quality legal research more inexpensively. “In order to offer the most cost-effective research service, we asked the two major providers to compete to be our preferred provider,” says Leslie Peat, director of Library Services at Sullivan & Worcester. TIP: Don’t be shy about requesting the companies you have contracts with to review their charges and offer you better terms. Negotiating online provider contracts has become a fine art in large law firms. Smaller firms should carefully compare the content and search features of each service when comparing prices. LOOK CLOSELY AT THE NEW PLAYERS AND WHAT THEY OFFER. New entrants to the legal publishing marketplace, such as Loislaw.com and VersusLaw (www.versuslaw.com), offer basic, “no frills,” less-expensive services. Several Internet sites such as Findlaw.com and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (www.law.cornell.edu) offer free access to primary sources. Leslie Peat continues, “Now in addition to Westlaw on attorneys desks, Loislaw.com is another research option — it is best used when researchers know what they are looking for. We have sometimes found gaps in state statutes and session laws. Despite this caveat, Loislaw.com does provide a large quantity of primary source material at a relatively low cost.” TIP: The legal publishing landscape is changing daily. Read, read, and read. Learn all you can about the new services that offer ways to perform legal research faster and cheaper. Two excellent sources to know in order to help you stay current: Law Library Resources Exchange (www.llrx.com) and The Internet Lawyer (www.internetlawyer.com). FREE IS NOT NECESSARILY COST-EFFECTIVE. We are living in a dot-com world where everyone thinks information should be free. Fee-based services are usually more reliable and comprehensive. Free services may be lacking in regular updates, quality indexing, and comprehensiveness. TIP: For an example of a true comparison of a search using free Internet sources and fee-based services, see “The Internet Should Supplement and Not Substitute,” by Glenn S. Bacal at www.ali-aba.org/aliaba/intro.htm. OFFER CLIENTS A CHOICE.Law firms frequently subscribe to several research services and use them depending on clients’ preferences. Bob Hartley, a partner at Henderson, Daily, Withrow & DeVoe in Indianapolis, comments, “We use Westlaw, Lexis, or Loislaw.com depending on the circumstances.” TIP: Based on the research project, offer clients a choice between low-cost or free sources and higher-priced research services. You’re the expert here, so you can recommend one or the other, based on the information needed. Be sure to explain the costs and include an assessment of how much of your time will be required to use the service you suggest. Explain that while some sources may be free, getting the precise information may require more of your time. Your clients will appreciate this up-front appraisal of the options. LAW SCHOOLS RESPOND TEACH ‘EM YOUNG. The demand for cost-efficient legal research services is also reflected in CALR teaching at law schools across the country. “Not surprising,” says Molly Lien, director of the nationally respected Legal Research and Writing Program at Chicago-Kent College of Law. Loislaw.com, a newer entrant to the CALR world, is one of the services offered at Chicago-Kent, where students are taught not only how to perform legal research, but how to do it efficiently and with an eye on the costs. “We require second-year students to keep timesheets on their legal research assignments so that they become aware of how much they would have been charged for the time and search costs of their legal research in the real world,” says Lien. Then, she adds, they must prepare a bill to send to the client, and determine how much should be written off. Finally, for any time written off, they must draft a memo to the law firm management committee justifying the write-off. There are several obstacles to teaching law students about the real costs of legal research. According to Marilyn Walter, director of the Legal Writing Program at Brooklyn Law School, the cost-per-unit of legal research using different services had been posted in the computer labs so that students could know the actual cost of their research. Although, in her classes, she stresses the importance of understanding the costs of research in actual practice, Walter thinks “students don’t focus on the costs of doing research [while] in law school because for them it has no cost. Law students have free, unlimited access to online services.” TIP: before you begin your online research, know the price structure of the online service(s) you plan to access. For example, knowing whether the service you intend to use is priced by transaction or by the hour should be taken into consideration in developing your research path. JUST SAY NO. “It’s like drug use,” says Jan Levine, director of the Legal Research and Writing Program at Temple University School of Law. “Legal research services that offer access to their products free to law students, but whose charges to practicing attorneys are pricey, are like drug pushers who are giving [users] their first hits free.” He adds, “In the absence of true cost information, the legal research teacher has to rely on anecdotal stories to convey the issue.” One favorite is about a summer associate who racked up, in one week, a bill that was more than the firm was going to pay her for the entire summer. “Clients are not going to pay without bill itemization. They also expect firms to bear part of the cost of research and so they pressure attorneys to be cost-effective,” Levine says. TIP: study real-life examples that illustrate the impact of the hard costs associated with research services. Donna Tuke Heroy is Editor and Publisher of Alert Publications, Inc. Nina Wendt is Senior Editor at Alert Publications, Inc.

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