“A Short & Happy Guide to Advanced Legal Research” (West Academic Publishing, 2020) by Ann Walsh Long

Available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions, as well as directly from the publisher (paperback and ebook).

Ann Walsh Long has a message for lawyers:

Over the last five years, legal artificial intelligence tools such as data analytics and natural language processing have moved from science fiction to practical tools. Versions of these powerful tools are available in Fastcase, Judicata, Casetext, and sections of Lexis Advance, Westlaw Edge and Bloomberg.

Long’s book, “A Short & Happy Guide to Advanced Legal Research,” contains good ideas for balancing quality, speed and expense, along with a wealth of other insights on improving online legal research.

AI and Data Analytics

These increasingly sophisticated tools can give lawyers who know how to use them large advantages. In an age when each year’s paper volumes containing U.S. District Court opinions take up a new 13.5 feet of linear shelf space, we need all the help we can get. The threshold problem has been that it has not been simple to learn how to use these new tools — especially for lawyers more than a few years away from law school.

How can AI and sophisticated data analytics help lawyers? It could be something as simple as automatically adding the synonym “physician” to your research request concerning “doctor.” It could be as useful as quickly obtaining a sophisticated analysis of jury verdicts and settlements in the relevant jurisdiction. It could be something as powerful as generating an extensive, easy-to-use analysis of the decision pattern of the judge who is hearing your case — one that takes into account the 98% of decisions that are not published.

Long analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of these tools and explains exactly how to use them.

Balancing Quality, Speed and Cost in Advanced Legal Research

As valuable as the book’s artificial intelligence sections are, I like another feature even more: the emphasis on considering the cost and speed of various automated legal reference tools. I’ve never been comfortable with two tacit assumptions that pervade much legal research instruction:

  1. The researcher will always have access to unlimited use of the most expensive resources.
  2. Every issue deserves the same amount of time as the critical issue in a Supreme Court case.

I’ve never met Ann Long, but she won my heart when she wrote “Legal research is costly in two ways: expense and time.”

Engineers joke about clients who insist “This project must have very quick completion, minimal expense and the highest quality.” The engineer’s punch line is, “Well, between quick, cheap and good, you can only have two.”

This concept is sometimes called “the triple constraint triangle.” Things can be quick and cheap. They can be quick and good. They can be cheap and good. They can’t be quick and cheap and good. Every day, in so many fields we juggle quality, speed and cost. Legal research is no different.

Legal ethics rules require our work products meet reasonable quality standards. They have to be “good.” This means that in the real world lawyers must weigh time against expense. Can you compile a legislative history using only free tools like the U.S. House of Representatives version of the U.S. Code? Sure, but it will take longer than using proprietary legal research tools. Long understands this.

A key feature of the book is the many charts analyzing research tools, first explaining why the resource is valuable (“good”) and then explaining how each is “cheap” or “fast.” Some of the best examples are charts on pages 53-57 analyzing the good, cheap and fast options for statutory research.

Serendipitous Benefits

One of the best things about this book is the author’s habit of almost casually dropping useful ideas that may be nothing new to good law librarians but will be welcome novelties to most practicing lawyers.

For example, absent this volume, I likely would not have learned about Ken Svengalis’ “Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual,” an excellent consumer guide that I wish I’d had in hand when negotiating with the “big three” online legal research services.

Long’s recommendation of the browser extension Pocket may give me even more long-range benefits. Many lawyers will find this utility for organizing web research results quite valuable.

This volume is one of many books in West Academic’s “Short and Happy Guide” series. A copy of the table of contents is available online.

Though originally intended for academic audiences, “A Short & Happy Guide to Advanced Legal Research” is a valuable tool for lawyers, especially for nonexperts. It is the best $22 investment practicing lawyers are likely to find. Highly recommended.

About Ann Walsh Long 

Ann Walsh Long is a lawyer and former law librarian. She is the current Head of Research & Digital Collections and Assistant Professor of Law at the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law. Her work experience includes stints at some of the country’s largest law firms as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters library.

Other Views of This Book

This review originally appeared at Attorney At Work.

John Simek provided many good tips during his recent presentation at VSB Techshow (archived at Virginia State Bar CLE site, for those who did not catch live version) I was particularly pleased that he recommended Bruce Schneier as a top source of IT security advice. Schneier’s  blog is a consistent sources of valuable insights not readily available elsewhere.

Schneier’s Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World was published years ago it remains the single best IT security book I know. It’s biggest value is not specific products or services, nor techniques, but teaching people how to think about security.

I greatly enjoyed interviewing Carole Levitt as the first installment in our “Mover and Shaker” profile series. The review is available at LLRX.com. Carole’s contributions in the form of many books and innumerable CLE programs have made her a central figure in teaching lawyers how to use the Internet, and she was a great way to start off this series.

Most recent revisions: August 2, 2021. Projected publication date: September 2021.

Here’s a draft article I’m working on for intended for publication at LLRX.com. The issues we dealt with on the ABA’s  eLawyering Task Force concerning the use of technology to better provide legal services to consumers have continuing relevance. I welcome reactions/suggestions from entrepreneurs who are still struggling today with similar issues in the fields of AI and other cutting edge technologies. I’d love to include insights/quotes from those on the current front lines:

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Businesses like Hello Divorce are increasingly gaining traction, as demonstrated in part by a recent $2 million investment from a group including Jack Newton. Many are wondering about the future of such projects. Sometimes you have to know where you’ve been to understand where you are–and where you are going.

The American Bar Association’s now-defunct e-Lawyering Task Force is dead but its long tail of influence is still evident to those familiar with the project. The purpose of the Task Force was to smooth the way for lawyer entrepreneurs to better use the Internet to provide legal services to consumers.  Several factors, including the success of Jack Newton’s book The Client-Centered Law Firm, are drawing new attention to the Task Force’s goals.

Matt Timko, our newest NewIdeasLegalTech.com contributor has lots of good ideas on time management. There is another way lawyers can improve their effectiveness:

Take care of their own fitness needs first. The book The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness, edited by Stewart Levine, addresses this important topic. The Digital Edge podcast has an interview with Levine.

Are lawyers who take care of themselves being selfish? Hardly.

Levine’s book contains a perfect metaphor: As airline stewards warn, if there is a loss of cabin pressure, passengers should first put on their own air masks. This is essential, since otherwise they won’t be able to assist other passengers. In the legal context, self-care enables lawyers to assist their clients, colleagues and family members.

Anne-Marie Rabago, former Director of the State Bar of Texas’s Law Practice Management Program, currently heading up Modern Juris, suggests that maintaining an appropriate level of physical fitness is a critical component of lawyer self-care. A few examples:

How about Jer? Overuse back injuries have kept me from running so for the past few years I’ve worked out a minimum of  seven hours a week, mostly fast walking, supplemented by a few hard exercise bike workouts to raise heart rate to training level.

Picture of Lawson in Shenandoah N.P.
Jer at SNP

Am I wasting seven hours a week I could be working? Actually, it’s the time I spend working out that makes me more productive, as well as doing fun things like hiking Fox Hollow Trail in Shenandoah National Park.

What are you doing to maintain your health and physical fitness?

 

Headshot of Matthew Timko
By Matt Timko

When I first began working primarily from home in March of 2020 due to COVID 19, I felt confident that this would be the start of the most efficient year of my life. I would have no commute, I would be able to schedule meetings (rather than have “drop-ins”), and I would have more comfort working from home and my personal workspace. Soon I realized, much to my chagrin, that my focus on a “lighter commute” missed the forest for the rees: working from home is working in a den of time thieves! Continue Reading Tech Tools for Improving Time Management

Reviewed by Jerry Lawson

 

Conrad Saam’s Own the Map: Marketing Your Law Firm’s Address (ABA 2020)  is an intriguing new book that will cause many lawyers to think about marketing in new—and better—ways. Many, especially lawyer marketing service vendors, will find Saam’s ideas controversial.

Saam’s primary thesis is that most lawyers should concentrate appealing to potential clients near the lawyer’s location. He develops this thesis convincingly but many will find his sometimes stunningly useful ideas about other aspects of lawyer marketing, like evaluating marketing efforts, even more valuable.

Mr. Saam has an impressive background in technical and practical aspects of law firm marketing. After a prominent role with Avvo he founded the marketing-for-lawyers business Mockingbird. He authors a blog on marketing topics. With Gyi Tsakalakis, he hosts the lively Lunch Hour Legal Marketing podcast.

Evaluating Your Results

Own the Map is a serious book for serious people. The first signs of this are in Chapter 1, on the subject of evaluating law firm marketing success. It is not just the first chapter, it is the longest, weighing in at 36 pages.

Many SEO vendors would rather ignore the key issue: What are you getting for your money? If you don’t keep score accurately how do you know whether you are winning or losing?

Saam’s emphasis on the bottom line is welcome in a market where many Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vendors pitch the idea that if you pay them enough money they’ll guarantee your firm will be in the first ten results, or (for even more money) will appear first for searches on a search request for a few cherry-picked phrases. This goal is fool’s gold for several reasons, including the phenomenon known as the “long tail.” This refers to the fact that more specific searches, like “attorney for child custody dispute with alcoholic husband,” “nursing home Covid-19 lawyer” or “non hodgkins lymphoma roundup tort liability” constitute the majority of searches.

Saam provides one golden tip: Don’t accept metrics generated by consultants using their favorite measuring sticks. Insist on results generated by the industry standard, Google Analytics, the most reliable and objective  tool available.

The Nitty Gritty on SEO

Chapter 2 addresses the mysteries of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). “Organic search” refers to a search engine’s list of the websites most relevant to a particular search, unaffected by web pages artificially boosted to the top of the listing by advertising. While some of this material is unavoidably technical, Saam’s writing style conveys the ideas in a way even most lawyers without technical expertise will be able to understand and apply to their Internet marketing.

Saam’s analysis of “backlinks” is particularly  valuable. Backlinks are probably the single most important factor Google uses in evaluating website quality. All a firm’s lawyers—not just the consultants you hire—need to understand the significance of backlinks in marketing.

Marketing in Your Own Back Yard

Chapter 3, “Local Search,” deals with Saam’s favorite topic: How lawyers should deal with an environment where geography is destiny.

“Pizza near me.” “Honda repair near me.” “Ethan Allen near me.” Today’s consumers, especially those using smart phones, are used to using searches like “pizza near me.” Lawyers are not insulated from this trend. Searches like “personal injury lawyer near me” are popular. A survey by Search Engine Land showed that 82 percent of smart phone users perform “near me” searches.

Further, even if consumers don’t include the phrase “near me,” increasingly sophisticated search engines like Google can detect the potential client’s location and steer them toward local lawyers. This is particularly important since studies of Google (by far the most popular search engine) show that in 2017 show physical proximity was the most important criterion for nearly half of potential clients looking for lawyers. The number can only have increased since then. You may be the best DWI defense lawyer in your state but not many clients will be willing to drive 200 miles to hire you.

Optimizing Your Online Advertising

Chapter 4 deals with one of the most difficult and important topics: How can lawyers best use online advertising to raise their profile on the Internet? There are a bewildering number of alternatives. Avvo, Google Ads, Yelp, Ad Roll and others all beckon for your advertising dollars. Saam evaluates each and explains how well they suit the legal market. Some of his advice on tactical issues is quite controversial, including:

  • By this time every Internet user knows that once you have searched for a particular topic ads related to that topic will appear when you visit unrelated websites. This practice is known as “remarketing.” It is known to be exceptionally cost-effective in some industries, since it targets consumers who have demonstrated they are interested in a topic. Is “remarketing” effective when it appears in the form of having ads for divorce lawyers follow potential clients who have searched for a divorce lawyer?
  • Bidding on search terms that undercut competing brands. Can and should lawyers take advantage of search engine quirks that can make it tempting to bid on competitors’ brands? For example, Ford can bid to have Ford F-150 advertising appear when a consumer searches for the phrase “ Chevy Silverado.” This raises some tricky issues for lawyers. In Texas the trademark “Texas Hammer of the law” could have significant marketing cloutt. Should competing lawyers purchase the phrase “Texas hammer” so that when potential clients search for it the response “Don’t get nailed” appears and directs potential clients to their own law firm’s website? This slick approach may appeal to aggressive lawyers. Saam provides convincing economic analysis that shows that it is smarter better to bid on the name of your law firm—and the names of every lawyer in your firm.

To his credit, Saam is not afraid to name names: Is Lawyers of Distinction better than Super Lawyers? Is Justia better than Martindale?

Optimizing Your Website

Chapter 5 deals with law firm websites. It explains technical issues like page loading speed, the best way to display your firm’s NAP (name, address and phone number) and mobile responsiveness (making a site look good on mobile phones and tablets as well as PCs) in a way that will make sense to lawyers who lack technical expertise. Again, Saam focuses on practical financial issues. He walks readers through the steps need to decide whether a website upgrade is likely to recoup the necessary investment.

Is Marketing on Social Media Right for You?

Chapter 6 makes the most of its six pages, concisely addressing a hotly debated issue: Does use of social media make sense for lawyers? Saam’s answer is clear: “[I]n general, social media as a direct-to-consumer marketing channel for the legal industry is ineffectual.” He goes on to describe situations where the general rule may not apply and gives practical advice for those lawyers who want to explore the social media option.

The two-page Chapter 7 closes the book with some aspirational exhortations, including: “[N]ever let the marketing tail wag your law firm dog. Put differently, it’s much easier to market an amazing product than an average one.”

Bottom Line

Weighing in at a svelte 121 pages, Own the Map has an unusually high good idea to page ratio. Siskind’s The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet was a bestseller for the ABA. It demonstrated that Internet marketing is not just possible, it is a necessity. I like to think that my book, The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers, contributed at least a little to lawyer understanding of this topic.

Own the Map is to these books as a Porsche is to a Yugo. It is by far the best current resource on this topic. Any lawyer interested in attracting more and better clients will find this book indispensable.

Own the Map is available from Amazon for $69.95 or direct from the publisher (discount for ABA members).

This review originally appeared at LLRX.com.

Kudos to the Virginia State Bar for their excellent online CLE conference, VSB Techshow 2021.

This series gets better and better every year. This year, organizers Chris Fortier, Sharon Nelson, and John Simek turned Covid 19 lemons into lemonade, taking advantage of increased popularity of online conferencing to bring in many nationally known experts who would never have flown to Richmond. A PDF copy of the program is available.

Missed the live version? You can register online to review the archived video presentations and handouts.

Up to 12 On-Demand CLE credits, including 3 Ethics, are available. This is a bargain at $50.

If you have any questions, please contact Paulette Davidson.