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Thomson Reuters’ Firm Central doesn’t measure up to its small law practice management competition

Written by Lisa Solomon on January 21st, 2013 · 4 Comments

At a briefing held at its Eagan, Minnesota headquarters last week, Thomson Reuters announced (among other things) the launch of Firm Central, its new cloud-based practice management tool targeted at 1–10 lawyer firms. The company will officially launch Firm Central at LegalTech New York later this month, and the product will be available to customers in February.

Thomson Reuters is playing catch-up with Firm Central

West Publishing (which Thomson bought in 1996) began indexing American law via the Key Number system in the late nineteenth century. Studies show that West headnotes (organized in the Key Number system) provide lawyers with more value than the editorial enhancements added by LexisNexis (West’s/Westlaw’s/WestlawNext’s only real competitor). Thomson Reuters wisely leveraged the value of its indexing system when it developed the WestlawNext search algorithm. As a result of Thomson Reuters’ strategic use of its unique content, WestlawNext is the benchmark against which other legal research products&#8212premium (LexisNexis and Bloomberg Law), low-cost (Fastcase, among others) and free (Google Scholar)—are measured.

With Firm Central, Thomson Reuters is in a vastly different position. The much younger, more nimble Clio and RocketMatter launched in 2008, and MyCase launched in 2010. Even fellow behemoth LexisNexis got the jump on Thomson Reuters, taking its Firm Manager out of public beta in early 2011.

Firm Central features

At launch, Firm Central will contain three primary practice management components: (1) a matter manager that allows users to associate documents, e-mails and contacts with matters; (2) a time and billing module; and (3) calendaring functionality.

The matter manager

When a user sets up a new matter in Firm Central, the application automatically creates folders for that matter within Windows Explorer (within the Firm Central folder), Outlook and WestlawNext. To load an email or document into Firm Central, simply drag and drop it into the Firm Central matter folder.

Once a document or e-mail has been added into Firm Central, it can be viewed within the application’s document viewer. For all Firm Central users, citations within documents and e-mails accessed in the viewer are linked to the cited material in WestlawNext and, if there is negative history, flagged with the applicable KeyCite flag. Firm Central users who also subscribe to WestlawNext will be able to click the citation link to view the cited material and the KeyCite flag to view the to the full KeyCite result (Thomson Reuters has not yet decided what access will be provided to Westlaw Classic subscribers and to users who do not subscribe to either WestlawNext or Westlaw Classic). Users can also initiate WestlawNext research sessions from within Firm Central (i.e., without having to login separately to WestlawNext). Documents saved to a matter folder within WestlawNext are automatically associated with the matter in Firm Central.

Documents and e-mails cannot be modified in the Firm Central document viewer. However, the original documents and e-mails can be opened, viewed and modified in their native applications.

It is important to understand that Firm Central is a completely hosted solution that does not automatically create locally-stored versions of documents and e-mails that are saved within the user’s Firm Central folder. This presents a problem if internet connectivity is lost. However, the problem can be solved by using an automatic backup program such as Second Copy to save local copies of all Firm Central documents.

Time and billing

Firm Central’s time and billing module is fairly standard. Features include:

  • a built-in timer
  • preloaded ABA billing codes
  • hourly, flat-rate, and retainer billing options
  • billing by client, matter, activity, and firm member
  • one-click invoicing in Legal Data Exchange (LEDES) format
  • history that speeds up client-conflict checks
  • trust account management
  • payment processing
  • a desktop widget that enables time entry even when the user is offline
  • an Outlook plugin (compatible with Outlook 2007 and 2010 for Windows only) that allows users to create new time entries as appointments in the Outlook calendar and convert emails or appointments to time entries

Thomson Reuters didn’t develop Firm Central’s time and billing module. Instead, Firm Central uses a third-party application developed by eBillity. Although users can subscribe to Firm Central without subscribing to the time and billing module, in my view timekeeping and billing functions are critical to enable the user to benefit from the efficiencies that practice management systems are designed to provide.

Calendaring

Users will have the option of handling calendaring through Firm Central’s integration with Outlook or using Firm Central’s native calendar. However, the time capture methods described above in connection with the Outlook plugin will not work with the native calendar. Additionally, no other calendar integrations (such as integration with Google Calendar) are currently planned.

The Firm Central home page

Firm Central home screen
Click on image to view larger

The three-column layout of Firm Central’s home page will be familiar to WestlawNext users. At the top of the left-hand column are notifications concerning all recent Firm Central activity by firm members. Underneath the notifications is a News & Insight feed that contains brief summaries of litigation-related news.

The top of the center column displays the user’s recent Firm Central activity. Underneath the Firm Central activity is a WestlawNext search box (along with the option to change jurisdictions), and underneath that is a list of the user’s most recent WestlawNext activity.

At the top of the right-hand column is a simple user-specific task list. The task list does not include due dates (unless the due date is included in the name of the task). This means that tasks can’t be searched by due date. Underneath the task list is a link to the time and billing module, which is discussed in more detail above. The bottom of the right-hand column displays the user’s recent activity in Westlaw Form Builder, an existing Thomson Reuters document automation product to which users must subscribe separately. (Prices for Form Builder plans vary by state and practice area, and start at $69/month.)

Finally, in the top right-hand corner of the page is a search box. Users can search the content of all documents and e-mails within Firm Central using natural language or Boolean search, and search results can be filtered by type (contact, e-mail, document, etc.).

How Firm Central stacks up against the competition

Firm Central’s feature set at launch is weak compared to the features offered by its main competitors:

ClioRocketMatterMyCaseFirm Central
Client portalyescoming Q1/Q2 2013yesplanned
Document storageunlimitedunlimitedunlimited10 GB per firm + 2 GB per user (option to purchase additional storage)
Document automationincludedincludedincludedvia Form Builder, starting at $69 per month
Tasksshared, matter-level task list

link tasks to matters

assign tasks to other users
link tasks to matters

assign tasks to other users

prioritize tasks

tag tasks to assemble a Getting Things Done System
link tasks to matters

assign tasks to other users

prioritize tasks
individual task list

tasks cannot be linked to matters or assigned to other users
Document versioningyesnoyesno
E-mail integrationuser forwards incoming, and copies outgoing, e-mails from any e-mail program to Clio's matter-specific and/or global maildropsvia IMAP (details)user forwards incoming, and copies outgoing, e-mails from any e-mail program to MyCase; e-mails must then be manually associated with matters Outlook
Other integrationsOutlook contacts, calendar and tasks

Google Calendar and Google Contacts sync

Box

Dropbox

Chrometa

DirectLaw

ZenCash

Quickbooks
Dropbox

Evernote

Skype

Google Calendar

Quickbooks
Google Calendar sync (Google Contacts sync under development)

Outlook contacts and calendar

Quickbooks
CaseLogistix (e-discovery platform for search, review and document coding) (planned)

Case Notebook (case analysis software to organize, analyze, and collaborate) (planned)

Quickbooks
Searchglobal searchglobal intelligent search (autocomplete)

tagging
global search

tagging
global search

Boolean search available

search results can be filtered by type
Online bill paymentcredit card processing via PayPal,* LawPay or LawCharge coming Q1/Q2 2013 (details pending)credit card processing via PayPros, Inc., Authorize.net or PayPal Pro*credit card processing via PayPal*
Support hours8 am - 8 pm ET, M-F9 am - 8 pm ET, M-FHours not listed on website24/7/365
This chart is intended to highlight the major differences between Firm Central and its major competitors; it does not address all features of all products.

*Because PayPal does not provide an option to have client funds deposited into a trust account while transaction fees are debited from an operating account, this may create ethics issues when accepting credit card payments for unearned fees.

Pricing

Although Thomson Reuters did not announce a price for Firm Central, the company says pricing (including the cost of the optional time and billing module) will be competitive with other cloud-based practice management products, which generally cost $30&#8211$50 a month per user. To encourage Firm Central users to subscribe to WestlawNext (and vice versa), Thomson Reuters will offer package discounts. Additionally, each Thomson Reuters customer will have a single assigned sales representative for both WestlawNext and Firm Central.

UPDATE 1/28/13 11:30 a.m.: According to the newly-launched Firm Central website, Firm Central will cost $35/month per user, and the time and billing module (which I consider to be critical to any practice management system) will cost $25/month per user.

Analysis: the limited benefits provided by Firm Central’s integration with other Thomson Reuters products don’t outweigh its shortcomings

At the Eagan briefing, Thomson Reuters explained that its goal is to “evolv[e] from a content business to a true solutions organization [by] integrating [its] core legal information with software and solutions in a way that has a positive, and productive, effect on [its] customers’ workflow.” However, in my view, integrating WestlawNext into a practice management system provides limited benefits. I concede that there is some value in the KeyCite flags that Firm Central automatically applies to citations that appear in documents viewed in the application’s own document viewer (the value is particularly great for Firm Central users who don’t otherwise have access to a reliable citator because they don’t subscribe to WestlawNext, Westlaw Classic or LexisNexis). However, I don’t find it time-consuming log on to WestlawNext to retrieve and/or KeyCite a source cited in a document (even if I have to retype a citation that appears in a pdf document). Similarly, it’s not onerous to open a browser tab and log on to WestlawNext to search or to view my recent search history. Moreover, because citations are flagged and linked within the Firm Central document viewer, but documents can’t be edited within the viewer, displaying documents in the viewer actually adds a step to the user’s workflow, rather than streamlining it.

Firm Central’s integration with Form Builder will be helpful only to those lawyers who subscribe to it. The primary benefits of Form Builder over other document automation programs are: (1) Form Builder contains forms from well-known, highly respected sources and authors (such as McKinney’s New York Forms); and (2) Form Builder users get free access within WestlawNext to any authority (including statutes, codes, and relevant analytical material) cited in a Form Builder document or its commentary. As indicated in the chart above, although Clio, Rocketmatter and MyCase don’t offer integration with form books, all offer automated document assembly using the user’s own templates. The absence of that kind of document assembly tool is a significant drawback for Firm Central.

While the WestlawNext and Form Builder integrations arguably have some value to some Firm Central users, the News & Insight integration will provide little, if any, value to most users. The News & Insight feed (which cannot be hidden) is not customizable by practice area or jurisdiction. In my view, including a News & Insight feed (which is, after all, freely available online to anyone who wants to subscribe to it in an RSS reader) takes Thomson Reuters’ goal of integrating its various products too far: a practice management system should focus on management of the firm’s matters, not serve as a vehicle to distract users with information that is most likely not relevant to their practices. [UPDATE 12/22/14: it appears that the News & Insight feed is no longer freely available online.]

Like its main competitors, Firm Central offers global search. Although the ability to apply Boolean search to documents within Firm Central theoretically brings the same benefits that Boolean search brings to legal research, in practice that benefit should be negligible because: (1) a firm’s own documents are a much more limited haystack in which to search than primary law materials are; and (2) a firm’s documents that are identified by search are more likely to be familiar to the searcher than the results of a primary law search, making it easier to choose relevant documents from a broader results set. Additionally, while search results within Firm Central can be filtered by type of document, that’s not a significant competitive benefit because Clio, RocketMatter and MyCase separate search results by document type.

The two most significant drawbacks of Firm Central are its task list and e-mail integration. While the Firm Central team stressed its goal of making the product easy to use, the simple, user-specific task list is woefully inadequate for any professional. With respect to e-mail, while Thomson Reuters found that 70—80% of Firm Central’s target market uses Outlook for e-mail, for the significant minority of small firms that don’t use Outlook, Firm Central isn’t even an option.

The unavailability of online bill payment via a merchant processor that can debit fees from an operating account means that Firm Central is simply not an option for yet another group of firms—those that want to accept credit card payments for unearned fees.

A client portal that enables clients to access their records or check case status at any time offers the benefit of convenience and saves costs by eliminating the need for staff to respond to client requests for information. Client portals also offer a secure way to share documents with clients (and vice versa). Because Thomson Reuters plans to add a client portal to Firm Central (although it’s unclear when that will happen), the absence of a client portal at launch isn’t a dealbreaker.

The one area in which Firm Central should have a clear advantage over the competition is the availability of live support: while Clio and RocketMatter offer live support during what can be termed “extended business hours,” Firm Central support will be available 24/7/365. On the other hand, one reason to use a practice management system is to become more efficient, which should presumably reduce the need to work outside of extended business hours.

The bottom line: although Firm Central’s pricing is competitive, the product itself isn’t.

This review is based on information Thomson Reuters provided at the Eagan briefing; a more detailed demo provided by Ben Vickers, Director of Product Marketing for Firm Central; Laura Zastrow, Firm Central’s Senior Product Developer; Brian Mismash, Director of Product Strategy for Firm Central; and Cecile Schauer, VP of Small Law Product Marketing; and additional clarification by Vickers and Zastro.

Thomson Reuters paid travel expenses for many of the journalists and bloggers who attended the Eagan briefing, including me. I am also featured in customer testimonials for WestlawNext. My previous posts about WestlawNext are here. For more on Firm Central (and the other products Thomson Reuters announced last week), visit Law Technology News (another article here), Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, jasnwilsn.com, the ABA’s GPSolo eReport and Dewey B. Strategic.

OSB Professional Liability Fund Gives Bad Advice About Working With Contract Lawyers

Written by Lisa Solomon on October 15th, 2012 · 1 Comment

In an article in In Brief entitled Contract Lawyers: Independent Contractors or Employees?, authors Lisa C. Brown and Jim W. Vogele give some excellent advice about steps a firm can take to ensure that a lawyer it hires as a freelance attorney is, in fact, an independent contractor, rather than an employee. However, a firm following Brown and Vogele’s instruction that “[t]he firm must bill for the work of the contractor as a vendor, not as an employee” may find itself in ethical hot water.

No Oregon ethics opinion directly addresses the numerous ethical issues that arise when a firm hires a freelance lawyer. However, Oregon’s Rules of Professional Conduct are similar to the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. As I’ve previously explained, in Formal Ops. 00-420 and 08-451, the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded that: (1) a law firm that engages a freelance lawyer may add a surcharge to the fee it pays to the freelance lawyer, provided the total charge represents a reasonable fee for the services provided to the client; and (2) the hiring firm is not obligated to inform the client how much the firm is paying the freelance lawyer. However, no markup is permitted if the firm decides to pass the cost of hiring a contract lawyer through to the client as a disbursement: a markup is permitted only if the freelance lawyer’s services are billed as a legal fee.

Returning to Brown and Vogele’s advice, in my experience, law firm bills generally classify billing entries as either fees or disbursements. Further, charges from vendors are reflected on the bill as disbursements, not as fees. Thus, a firm that bills for the work of a freelance lawyer as a vendor (as Brown and Vogele advise) is likely to bill for the freelance lawyer’s work in the “disbursements” portion of the bill. Under those circumstances, the firm may not mark up the freelance lawyer’s fee.

Furthermore, as Brown and Vogele note, the various state and federal agencies that audit working relationships to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee use different tests, most of which look to multiple factors. Brief analysis shows that none of the tests Brown and Vogele reference look to the manner in which a worker’s services are billed to clients. See Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide (IRS); State Agency Criteria for Independent Contractors (chart).

Thus, because: (1) a firm that bills for a freelance lawyer’s work in the same manner it bills for work performed by other vendors (i.e., as a disbursement) may not mark up the freelance lawyer’s fee; and (2) the manner in which a worker’s services are billed to clients is irrelevant to whether a freelance lawyer is properly classified as an employer or independent contractor, Oregon lawyers should not follow Brown and Vogele’s advice to bill for a freelance lawyer’s work in the same manner it bills for work performed by other vendors.

ABA Adopts Model Rules Comments Concerning Outsourcing

Written by Lisa Solomon on August 6th, 2012 · 4 Comments

As the ABA Journal reports, today, the ABA’s House of Delegates adopted Resolution 105C, which amends the comments to ABA Model Rules 1.1, 5.3 and 5.5 to clarify lawyers’ obligations when outsourcing work, whether domestically or internationally.

The resolution’s adoption caps a process that began in November 2010, when the ABA’s Commission on Ethics 20/20 issued a discussion draft of proposed changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (or, more accurately, the comments to the Model Rules) as they relate to domestic and international outsourcing. As I explained in my analysis of the discussion draft, the proposed changes didn’t introduce anything new or surprising; rather, they primarily elevate many of the points made in ABA Formal Op. 08-451 to the level of Model Rule comments.

Selected Highlights of the New Model Rules Comments Concerning Outsourcing

The House of Delegates adopted the following new comment to Model Rule 1.1 (competence):

[6] Before a lawyer retains or contracts with other lawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm to provide or assist in the provision of legal services to a client, the lawyer should ordinarily obtain informed consent from the client and must reasonably believe that the other lawyers’ services will contribute to the competent and ethical representation of the client. See also Rules 1.2 (allocation of authority), 1.4 (communication with client), 1.5(e) (fee sharing), 1.6 (confidentiality), and 5.5(a) (unauthorized practice of law). The reasonableness of the decision to retain or contract with other lawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm will depend upon the circumstances, including: the education, experience and reputation of the nonfirm lawyers; the nature of the services assigned to the nonfirm lawyers; and the legal protections, professional conduct rules, and ethical environments of the jurisdictions in which the services will be performed, particularly relating to confidential information.

wwwDisclosure and Client Consent

In its report to the House of Delegates, the Commission explained that “consent will typically be required, and will almost always be advisable” when outsourcing, although it “may not be necessary when a nonfirm lawyer is hired to perform a discrete and limited task, especially if the task does not require the disclosure of confidential information.” The requirement to obtain the client’s informed consent to outsourcing in most cases is stronger than that imposed by ABA Formal Op. 08-451, which required disclosure of the use of a freelance lawyer only if the freelance lawyer was to perform independent work for the outsourcing lawyer without the “close supervision” of the outsourcing lawyer or another lawyer associated with the outsourcing lawyer’s firm.

wwwSupervision of nonfirm lawyers and nonlawyers outside the firm

The most recent draft resolution concerning outsourcing (issued in February 2012) contained the following sentence at the end of comment [6]: “When using the services of nonfirm lawyers in providing legal services to a client, a lawyer also should also reasonably believe that such services meet the standard of competence under this Rule.” This sentence was omitted from the version submitted to, and adopted by, the House of Delegates, no doubt in response to a few comments the Commission received in response to the February 2012 draft resolution objecting to it.1

The omission of the last sentence from comment [6] is significant because the Commission previously explained that the last sentence required outsourcing lawyers to “conclude that the services that the nonlawyer [sic; should read “nonfirm lawyer”] actually performed after being retained were performed competently.” Although the new comment [3] to Rule 5.3 now explicitly requires a lawyer who uses nonlawyers outside a firm to assist the lawyer in rendering legal services to “make reasonable effort to ensure that the services are provided in a manner that is compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations” (which, of course, include the duty to provide competent representation), that comment does not impose on the outsourcing lawyer an obligation to conclude that a nonfirm lawyer’s work meets the standard of competence required under Rule 1.1.

To put this distinction into context with a real-life example, I am admitted in New York, EDNY, SDNY, the Second Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. When a New York lawyer retains me to provide legal research and/or writing services, under comment [6] to Rule 1.1 (as adopted), the lawyer does not have a continuing obligation to conclude that any services I actually perform after being retained are performed competently. This means that, if (for the sake of argument only) I ever perform services for a New York lawyer in an incompetent manner, any failure of the hiring attorney to discover that my work does not meet the standard of competence under Rule 1.1 will not constitute an ethics violation.

The result is different when an outsourcing lawyer hires a freelance lawyer who is not admitted in the same jurisdiction as the outsourcing lawyer. For example, a Utah lawyer recently retained me to conduct research for, and draft, a brief to the Utah Supreme Court. Because I am not admitted in Utah, I am considered a “nonlawyer” in that state. Under the new comment [3] to Rule 5.3, if (again, for the sake of argument only) I do not perform the work competently, any failure by the outsourcing lawyer to make reasonable efforts to ensure that I have performed in a manner consistent with the lawyer’s obligation to provide competent representation may constitute an ethics violation.

None of this should discourage lawyers from outsourcing to out-of-state freelance lawyers. Remember, adequate supervision over a non-lawyer is judged on a reasonableness standard. As the new comment [3] to Rule 5.3 explains, the extent of supervision required “depend[s] on the circumstances, including the education, experience and reputation of the nonlawyer [and] the nature of the services involved….” This means an out-of-state junior lawyer with little or no experience in the substantive practice area and no track record to speak of will require more supervision than a seasoned attorney with extensive substantive experience in the relevant practice area and an extensive track record. It also means that, while—as comment [6] to Rule 1.1 makes clear—a hiring attorney should do diligence when hiring any freelance lawyer, sufficient due diligence is particularly important when hiring an out-of-state freelance lawyer.

The Commission’s Report to the House of Delegates Supports Domestic Outsourcing

As I noted in my analysis of the discussion draft, although, in the introduction to its Draft Report, the Commission disclaimed any intent to either endorse or reject the practice of outsourcing by solos and small firms, the Draft Report went on to discuss the benefits of outsourcing. The Commission maintained that position throughout the revision process. In the report it submitted to the House of Delegates, the Commission observed:

Lawyers have found that the same technology-driven efficiencies that have led to an increase in outsourcing throughout the global economy are also making outsourcing an appealing option within the legal profession for certain work. In particular, lawyers have found that, if they exercise proper care in the selection of a provider, work can be completed with greater speed and lower costs without sacrificing quality. These efficiencies offer opportunities for solo practitioners and small and medium-sized U.S. law firms, allowing them to better compete for large matters without fear that they will lack adequate resources to perform the legal work involved. Also, by reducing the cost of legal services, outsourcing can improve access to justice by making legal services more affordable

….The Commission’s research indicates that lawyers still tend to outsource legal and law-related work domestically more often than they outsource work internationally. In fact, information reviewed by the Commission indicates that, more recently, the outsourcing industry is responding to client demand for greater availability of on-shore operations.

Conclusion

Although the additional comments to the Model Rules aren’t, in and of themselves, revolutionary, by amending the Model Rules comments to discuss lawyers’ obligations when outsourcing, side-by-side with their obligations when working with lawyers and other personnel inside a firm, the ABA has acknowledged the importance of outsourcing to the practice of law, both today and in the future. That is revolutionary.


1Not surprisingly, the Attorneys’ Liability Assurance Society objected on the ground that, in its view, the sentence effectively requires lawyers to guarantee the quality of outsourced work.

The objection of Prof. Andrew Perlman, the Ethics 20/20 Reporter, focused on the sentence’s impact on lawyers or firms that “refer” work to non-firm lawyers for a variety of reasons, including to obtain an opinion from local or specialized counsel on a matter in which the “referring” lawyer lacks expertise. The objection’s use of the word “referring” demonstrates Perlman’s fundamental misunderstanding of the term “outsourcing,” the hallmark of which is the hiring lawyer’s ability to competently supervise the work performed by the nonfirm lawyer. Where a matter requires specialized or local expertise, it would be more appropriate to enter into a co-counsel relationship (with each firm having a direct attorney/client relationship with, and ethical obligations to, the client) than an outsourcing relationship.

Valuable Free Appellate Practice Resources from the Federal Judicial Center

Written by Lisa Solomon on June 13th, 2012 · 1 Comment

The Federal Judicial Center is the research and education agency of the federal judicial system. By statute, the FJC is charged with:

  • conducting and promoting orientation and continuing education and training for federal judges, court employees, and others;
  • developing recommendations about the operation and study of the federal courts; and
  • conducting and promoting research on federal judicial procedures, court operations, and history

To further its mission, the FJC publishes studies, reports and even treatises on substantive areas of the law, and also maintains a YouTube channel. All of the written materials can be downloaded for free from the FJC’s website. While many publications (such as the 32 items about caseloads and case weights) are primarily of interest to judges and other court personnel, two items are of particular interest to appellate lawyers:

A Primer on the Jurisdiction of the U.S. Courts of Appeals
(2d ed. 2009): This 102-page manual provides an introduction to the complexity and nuance in the subject-matter jurisdiction of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The monograph examines procedural issues related to the exercise of appellate jurisdiction in appeals from final judgments and interlocutory appeals. Coverage includes civil and criminal appeals, extraordinary writs, and federal administrative agency reviews. This edition contains new sections on the future of the Courts of Appeals, judicial rulemaking, non-party appeals in criminal matters, and an updated bibliography.

Case Management Procedures in the Federal Courts of Appeals
(2d ed. 2011): This 227-page report details the varying appellate practices and procedures of the U.S. courts of appeals within the generally uniform appellate scheme imposed by the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Part I of the report highlights key variations from court to court; Part II describes in detail the case management procedures of each court.

Just about every litigator (not just appellate practitioners) should find the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence (3d ed. 2011)—which weighs in at a whopping 1034 pages—and Managing Discovery of Electronic Information: A Pocket Guide for Judges (2d ed. 2012) to be helpful. Finally, depending on the focus of your practice, you might also be interested in Major Issues in the Federal Law of Employment Discrimination (5th ed. 2012) and Section 1983 Litigation (2d ed. 2008).

Pictures in Posner’s Opinions: Pointless

Written by Lisa Solomon on May 11th, 2012 · 1 Comment

An ostrich (and a lawyer), both with their heads in the sand. Bob Marley. A man wearing full safety clothing. A lion eating a giant meat-cake.

What do these four images have in common? If you answered: “they’re all the subjects of photos that Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner has gratuitously included in opinions,” you’d be right.

Posner’s Pictures

In a November 2011 opinion, Judge Posner—using both words and pictures—harshly criticized the lawyer for one of the parties for failing to cite controlling precedent in both his opening and reply brief:


ostrich with its head in the sand

lawyer with his head in the sand

In a January 2012 opinion addressing whether prison officials may allow Rastafarians, but not members of other religions, to wear their hair in dreadlocks, Judge Posner used a photo of Bob Marley to underscore his statement that “dreadlocks can attain a formidable length and density”:


Bob Markey image in brief

Bob Marley image © David Corio

In an opinion released earlier this week, the primary issue was whether the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that the plaintiff steelworkers be compensated for the time spent changing into protective clothing. After describing the clothing in detail (“…flame-retardant pants and jacket, work gloves, metatarsal boots [work boots containing steel or other strong material to protect the toes and instep) a hard hat, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a ‘snood’ [a hood that covers the top of the head, the chin and the neck”]), Judge Posner, asserting that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” inserted into the opinion “a photograph of a man modeling the clothes”:


Posner steelworker photo

Posner’s Problem

I suggest in Pixel Persuasion: Legal Writing for the 21st Century that, under certain circumstances, including a picture in a brief can make the brief more persuasive. Similarly, when appropriately used, photographs can help make opinions more accessible, both to lawyers and to the general public.

Unfortunately, Judge Posner’s use of pictures in opinions isn’t particularly effective, because it’s gratuitous. In the November 2011 opinion, Judge Posner included the picture merely to illustrate a worn-out cliché. There was no rhetorical reason to include a photo of Bob Marley with dreadlocks flying in the January 2012 opinion because the fact that “dreadlocks can attain a formidable length and density” was not disputed. Similarly, because the appearance of the clothing whose donning and doffing were at issue in this week’s opinion wasn’t in dispute, there was no rhetorical reason to include a photo of a model wearing it, especially after describing it in detail.

As Reuters reported, in 2007, Judge Posner “cut and pasted a photo of Kwanzaa, a lion at a Texas zoo, celebrating its birthday with a cake made from 10 pounds of horsemeat topped with whipped cream and a carrot. That image was included [in] a lawsuit over the slaughtering of horses for human consumption, and was meant to underscore the fact that zoos feed their animals a considerable amount of horsemeat.” In that case, as in the three more recent ones, the picture was mere surplussage.

Using Persuasive Pictures Properly

By contrast to judge Posner’s hamhanded efforts, the lawyer for the Dallas Mavericks effectively used an image in a summary judgment opposition brief. In Hillwood Investment Properties, III, Ltd. v. Radical Mavericks Management, a 5% owner of the Dallas Mavericks claimed that the team had been mismanaged, and sought the appointment of a receiver. The Mavericks’ three-page summary judgment brief prominently featured a photo to underscore the team’s argument that the evidence demonstrates that, as a matter of law, the team had not been mismanaged:


Mavericks summary judgment brief

Postscript

Don’t make the same mistake Judge Posner keeps making: if you include a photo in a brief, make sure that it packs a real rhetorical punch, or that (like a signature sample in a fraud action) it’s crucial to the case.

Report Accompanying ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission’s New Outsourcing Resolution Suggests Supervision Standard Less Client-Protective than Existing Law

Written by Lisa Solomon on February 22nd, 2012 · 4 Comments

For the past year and a half, the ABA’s Ethics 20/20 Commission has been considering changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct as they relate to domestic and international outsourcing. Yesterday, the Commission issued its Revised Draft Resolution on the subject for comment. The Revised Draft Resolution is the fourth version of proposed changes to the ABA Model Rules (and the comments to those rules) since the Commission first took up this issue; previous drafts were issued in September 2011, May 2011 and November 2010.

As the Commission explains in its cover memo,

The only substantive change to the Commission’s outsourcing proposals appears in Comment [6] to Rule 1.1 (Competence). That Comment addresses a lawyer’s ethical duties when a portion of a client’s legal work is outsourced to a lawyer in another firm. The last sentence of the prior draft said that, “[w]hen using the services of nonfirm lawyers in providing legal services to a client, a lawyer also must reasonably believe that such services meet the standard of competence under this Rule.” The Commission heard concerns that the sentence as written might be read to impose on lawyers an unnecessary ethical obligation to ensure that the work of a lawyer in another firm was performed competently. The Commission agrees that, in many circumstances, it will be reasonable to rely on the work performed by nonfirm lawyers without independently confirming that that [sic] work was performed competently. The Commission does not believe that the prior draft should be read to impose such a duty, but the Commission nevertheless decided to soften the language by replacing the word “must” with the word “should.”

In the context of the Model Rules comments, I don’t see any practical distinction between the duty imposed on an outsourcing lawyer by merely replacing “must” with “should.” Since the Commission doesn’t intend that Comment [6] be construed to impose a duty to independently confirm that outsourced work was performed competently, it should have included that clarification in the comment itself, rather than relegating it to the cover memo.

All of this goes back to the hiring lawyer’s duty to appropriately supervise work performed by a nonfirm lawyer. As I explained in my analysis of ABA Formal Op. 08-451, under the current Model Rules, an outsourcing lawyer’s duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a nonfirm lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct (which impose a duty of competence) is no different from the responsibility of a lawyer supervising the work of another attorney who is employed by the lawyer’s firm. However, the statements in the Commission’s cover memo are inconsistent with Op. 08-451, since they can be read as imposing a lesser duty on a lawyer supervising a non-firm lawyer than on a lawyer supervising another lawyer in the same firm. To ensure competent representation, the extent of a supervising lawyer’s obligation to ensure that all supervised work has been performed competently must not depend on whether an associate or a freelance lawyer has performed that work.

This shouldn’t discourage anyone from outsourcing. Remember, adequate supervision—whether over an associate or a nonfirm lawyer—is judged on a reasonableness standard. The level of supervision required depends on factors such as the background of the supervised lawyer (a junior lawyer with no experience in the substantive practice area will require more supervision than a seasoned attorney with extensive substantive experience in the relevant practice area) and the length of the relationship between the supervising and supervised lawyers (a new relationship calls for greater supervision than an established one). Thus, to comply with ethics rules without losing the efficiency benefit of outsourcing, a solo or small firm lawyer should develop a relationship with an experienced freelance attorney.

The Commission seeks further comments in response to the Revised Draft Rsolution. Comments should be submitted by April 2, 2012 to Senior Research Paralegal Natalia Vera at natalia.vera@americanbar.org.

New Fixed-Rate WestlawNext Plan is a Good Value for Solos and Small Firms

Written by Lisa Solomon on February 15th, 2012 · 2 Comments

If you’ve read any of my other posts about WestlawNext, you may think you’ve landed on the wrong blog. While it’s true that I can be highly critical, I also believe in giving credit where credit is due. With the introduction of the Related Documents for Small Law Firms WestlawNext plan, Thomson Reuters deserves some kudos.

A Bit of Background

As I’ve previously noted, I’m a big fan of the Results Plus plan available in “classic” Westlaw. When you’re searching within a database covered by your Westlaw subscription, the Results Plus plan allows you to click on any of the documents you see listed on the right side of your search results screen without incurring an out-of-plan charge (without Results Plus, you’d get an out-of-plan warning screen). Only the “first click” is free: while you can browse through the table of contents of the analytical source you’ve linked to at no cost, if you view any other section of the source from the table of contents, it will be considered out-of-plan (you’ll get a warning screen and can then choose to cancel or continue).

Shortly after Thomson Reuters launched WestlawNext at LegalTech 2010, I began negotiating with my local Westlaw rep about upgrading to the new product. Because I’m such a fan of Results Plus, I was interested in a similar plan on WestlawNext. Unfortunately, a similar plan wasn’t available at the time, and the other plans offered were not adequate substitutes. For that reason—and because my representative ultimately quoted me a total plan price that was 68% higher than what I was then paying for my Westlaw subscription—I decided to stick with Westlaw.

I recently decided to revisit the possibility of switching to WestlawNext, for two reasons. First, my three-year Westlaw contract expired at the end of 2011. Second, a number of colleagues have recently told me that they found very little price differential between Westlaw and WestlawNext. My timing was auspicious, as Thomson Reuters recently launched a plan add-on called Related Documents.

What is Related Documents?

Related Documents is similar—but not identical—to Results Plus. On the positive side, while 300 secondary sources are included in Results Plus, more than 5,000 secondary sources (including all of the sources included in Results Plus) are included in Related Documents. On the negative side, the Related Documents display is limited to (what the WestlawNext algorithm considers to be) the three most relevant secondary source documents, along with the three most relevant briefs and three most relevant trial court documents (a category that includes pleadings, motions, memoranda & affidavits; transcripts; filings; depositions and discovery; verdicts & settlements; proposed orders, agreements and settlements; jury instructions; and expert materials). This is a negative because, in my view, briefs and trial court documents have little value as legal research resources—especially when compared to the significant value provided by secondary sources. Results Plus returns a greater number of relevant secondary sources to explore.

The good news is that, when you subscribe to the Related Documents plan, you’ll also be able to access Results Plus within classic Westlaw (back in early 2010, I was told that switching from Westlaw to WestlawNext was an all-or-nothing proposition). Therefore, if you’re not satisfied with the secondary sources displayed within Related Documents, you can re-run your search in good ol’ Westlaw. (Of course, you can also modify your WestlawNext search slightly in an effort to get different secondary documents to display.)

Here’s the official product description:

WestlawNext Related Documents

Show me the Money, Jerry

The “rack rate” for Related Documents is $165/month for solos (I don’t know what the “rack rate” is for firms of 2-29 lawyers). You should use that number as a starting point and negotiate down with your rep. In your negotiations, remember that:

  • the longer the contract you’re willing to sign, the less you should be paying per month for your WestlawNext subscription
  • your rep is a salesperson who will be particularly motivated to meet sales goals at the end of each calendar quarter and at the end of the year

Finally, don’t purchase any multi-year WestlawNext plan through the online Westlaw Store, which doesn’t offer multi-year discounts.

New Freelance Lawyering Success Packages to Help You Achieve Your Goals in 2012

Written by Lisa Solomon on January 4th, 2012 · 3 Comments

Freelance Freedom recordingThe new year is a perfect time to implement new plans. Whether you want to get started as a freelance lawyer or expand your freelance law practice this year, LRWP’s new Freelance Lawyering Success Packages can help you achieve your goal.

The core of the Freelance Lawyering Success Packages is the Freelance Freedom recording. In this 2.5-hr. video, I answer these important questions:

  • What is the most powerful way to market your services as a freelance lawyer?
  • How much should you charge, and how can you make sure you get paid?
  • What ethical issues arise in the freelance lawyering relationship, and how are those resolved?
  • Should you obtain your own malpractice insurance?
  • If you want to concentrate on legal research and writing, do you need your own Lexis or Westlaw/WestlawNext subscription? How can you get the best deal from these companies? What alternatives are available?
  • How can you compete with foreign LPOs?
  • What impact will the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission’s revised initial proposal concerning changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct have on freelance attorneys and the lawyers who hire them?
  • Why is a shaky economy good news for freelance lawyers?

This recording is chock-full of information for all types of contract lawyers—whether you want to handle depositions for other lawyers, assist with discovery or trial prep, cover court appearances, or offer legal research and writing services.

Freelance Freedom Companion GuideAll of the Success Packages also include the Freelance Freedom Companion Guide. This unique e-book contains a comprehensive collection of ethics opinions from across the country that are relevant to freelance lawyers and the attorneys who hire them. As a bonus, you also get a sample services agreement (in MS Word format)—the same agreement I use in my own successful practice as a freelance lawyer.

Visit the LRWP products page for more information about the Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum Plus Freelance Lawyering Success Packages.

Freelance Freedom: How to Get Started as an Independent Contract Lawyer Coming to NYCLA on November 10

Written by Lisa Solomon on October 18th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Since I launched Legal Research & Writing Pro in 2008, the recording of my popular teleseminar, Freelance Freedom: How to Get Started as a Contract Lawyer has helped many lawyers begin successful careers as freelance attorneys. During that time, bar associations have increasingly recognized the importance of educating their members about the opportunities presented by “alternative” legal careers such as freelance lawyering.

The New York County Lawyers Association is one of those forward-thinking bar associations. On Thursday, November 10, NYCLA will be hosting my live presentation of an updated Freelance Freedom: How to Get Started as an Independent Contract Lawyer at its headquarters in downtown Manhattan.

Here’s the complete program description:

Outsourcing is the wave of the future. But it’s not just for big firms and the staffing agencies that serve those firms. Freelance attorneys are a growing cadre of solo practitioners who, enabled by technology, work on a project-by-project basis for other lawyers. More and more lawyers—from newly-admitted attorneys who are tired of sitting on the sidelines of the legal job market to experienced attorneys who want an intellectually fulfilling legal career and work/life balance—are entering this practice area.

This program will address these important questions:

  • What is the most powerful way to market your services as a contract lawyer?
  • How much should you charge, and how can you make sure you get paid? What ethical issues arise in the freelance lawyering relationship, and how are those resolved?
  • Should you obtain your own malpractice insurance?
  • If you want to concentrate on legal research and writing, do you need your own Lexis or Westlaw/WestlawNext subscription? How can you get the best deal from these companies? What alternatives are available?
  • How can you compete with foreign LPOs?
  • What impact will the ABA Ethics 20/20 Commission’s proposed changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct have on freelance attorneys and the lawyers who hire them?
  • Why is a shaky economy good news for freelance lawyers?

This 2.5-credit CLE program will be held on Thursday, November 10 from 6:25 to 8:30 p.m, following a brief networking reception that starts at 6:00. To register, click here.

Dahn’s response to WestlawNext pricing critique ignores solo and small firm concerns

Written by Lisa Solomon on October 16th, 2011 · 1 Comment

A couple of weeks ago, Jason Wilson’s rethinc.k blog featured a two-part series of posts entitled On WestlawNext, WestSearch, and Haters: A Brief Interview with Mike Dahn of Thomson Reuters. Although Wilson’s interview focused on questions concerning the WestlawNext search algorithm, Dahn made a few comments that touched on pricing, prompting me to write a responsive post addressing: (1) the cost of retrieving secondary source materials by citation on WestlawNext; and (2) the non-availability of subscripton pricing for many of those secondary sources (particularly the ones included as part of the ResultsPlus plan on Westlaw).

Dahn has “responded” to the first issue raised in my post in a follow-up post at rethinc.k:

To understand actual pricing differences, it’s necessary to examine the totality of transactions rather than individual transactions, and the cost of out-of-contract charges will be especially important . . . . Lisa says that it’s much more expensive to retrieve an ALR article in WestlawNext than in Westlaw Classic, but it depends how you retrieve it. When we look at our server logs, it is extremely rare for researchers to type in a citation to retrieve an ALR—much more likely that they’ll search for one. If ALR is outside of your subscription plan and you’re paying retail, the cost of an ALR citation retrieval for something specific, like an ALR on sex-plus discrimination claims, will be almost twice in WestlawNext what it costs in Westlaw Classic—however, the more common scenario of searching for an ALR on sex-plus discrimination would cost a firm three times more in Westlaw Classic than it would in WestlawNext.

With that example, am I claiming that WestlawNext is three times less expensive than Westlaw Classic? No, of course not. It’s not very useful to look at individual transactions in isolation. I could easily list a dozen research scenarios where the retail pricing is dramatically less in WestlawNext and another dozen where the retail pricing is dramatically more. For customers who care about retail pricing differences at all (only matters when going outside your subscription plan or when using our retail pricing structure as a basis for determining costs for client charges—in other words, not relevant to most Westlaw users most of the time), I’d encourage them to look at the totality of hourly and/or transactional charges within and across research sessions.

We’ve recently had the managing partner of an Am Law 200 firm tell us that, since subscribing to WestlawNext, they’re now turning research projects around in one tenth the time. Undoubtedly, if you were to take selected pieces of that firm’s WestlawNext research sessions and compare them with selected pieces of their prior research sessions in Westlaw Classic, you could find instances where the retail charges were higher in WestlawNext, but it’s the totality of the transactions that matter more. We now have 52% of Am Law 100 firms subscribing to WestlawNext, and the way they have tended to analyze these issues prior to subscribing is by running a trial with a subset of attorneys and then asking two questions: (1) are our out-of-contract costs up or down significantly when comparing this group’s usage to previous projects or control groups? And (2) are the in-contract price allocations for client cost recovery up or down significantly when comparing this group’s usage to previous projects or control groups using historical discount rates?

The first question is the more important one. . . .using a trial group of attorneys and looking at the totality of costs and charges over many research sessions is the right way to approach this, as opposed to homing in on specific transaction cost differences and then guessing how it will play out.

Dahn’s response falls short in a number of respects.

First, Dahn simply ignored the fact that the content that is part of the ResultsPlus Westlaw plan subscription is simply unavailable in a comparable plan on WestlawNext.

Second, I did not say that it’s more expensive to “retrieve an ALR article in WestlawNext than in Westlaw Classic.” This makes it sound like my criticism applies only to a specific type of secondary source. In fact, I noted that it costs 75% more to retrieve any “Premium State and Speciality” secondary source document, and 91% more to retrieve any “Premium National” secondary source document, by citation on WestlawNext than on Westlaw.

Third, Dahn’s response actually contradicts the position he espoused in the original rethinc.k interviews. There, Dahn said:

Since WestlawNext aggregates multiple content sets under a single low search price, researchers should be more likely to browse content beyond cases and statutes—which is exactly what we see in our usage logs. In WestlawNext, secondary source usage as a percentage of total usage is up 50% over the ratios we see in Westlaw Classic. We think that’s a very good thing for researchers.

As a librarian, I always encouraged both students and associates to leverage secondary sources in their research—the right secondary source can literally save hours of time, and that time savings is a cost savings to clients. When I first came to West, I tried to promote the use of secondary sources within Westlaw, and our first project to accomplish that in a big way was ResultsPlus. With it, we saw a significant boost in secondary source usage, but WestlawNext takes it to a whole new level, making sure that relevant secondary sources are not just suggested on the side, but made an integral part of the main search result.

Now, however, Dahn contends that “[w]hen we look at our server logs, it is extremely rare for researchers to type in a citation to retrieve an ALR—much more likely that they’ll search for one.” Notice that Dahn did not say that it’s rare for a researcher to retrieve a secondary source by linking to it from the WestlawNext search results. Indeed, we can assume that it’s common to retrieve a secondary source by linking to it from the WestlawNext search results because secondary source usage is much higher in WestlawNext than in Westlaw.

If a secondary source is not within a user’s subscription plan, when the user retrieves a section from that source by linking to it from a WestlawNext search result, the user is charged a per-document fee, which (as noted above) is significantly higher for many of the secondary sources that are most valuable to practitioners. As I noted in my last post, while it makes sense for Thomson Reuters to achieve its goal of recouping its R&D costs to develop WestSearch (the WestlawNext search algorithm) by increasing the cost of subscription plans, it makes no sense to increase the cost of retrieving a document by citation.

Solos and small firm lawyers are 70% of all lawyers in the US (as of 2000)Dahn’s response to that point shows where Thomson Reuters’ real sympathies lie. He says: “For customers who care about retail pricing differences at all (only matters when going outside your subscription plan. . . .—in other words, not relevant to most Westlaw users most of the time).” He also references the fact that 52% of Am Law 100 firms now subscribe to WestlawNext. Of course, it makes sense that large firms&#8212the only customers who really matter to Thomson Reuters—would generally have broad subscription plans that include many secondary sources. But for solos and small firms—in other words, the vast majority of lawyers in this country*—who (I strongly suspect) generally have much more limited subscription plans, retail pricing does matter. ResultsPlus (in which the first click on any materials outside a user’s subscription plan that display to the right of the regular search results is “free”) helped even the playing field for Westlaw subscribers, but it’s not available in WestlawNext. WestlawNext’s pricing structure for document retrieval by citation is as regressive a burden on those firms as Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan is on the poor.

*As of 2000 (the most recent year for which the ABA has published statistics), 70% of private practitioners were either in solo practice or employed in firms of 10 attorneys or fewer.