Red v. Blue: The Single Provider Dilemma

by Erik Adams

Recently, in the never ending quest to cut costs, many law firms have gone “single provider”: ending a subscription to Lexis while keeping Westlaw, or the other way around.


The pitch made by the vendors is that the cost savings will be significant, both in actual costs and intangible ones: your organization will only have to manage passwords for one service, training will be simplified, invoice processing and billing will be less work, etc. Both Westlaw and Lexis have marketing materials that promote how each service provides all the legal information a firm will need, and both can name law firms that have taken the plunge.

Greg Lambert discussed this briefly in a recent post on his 3 Geeks and a Law Blog, where he reviewed some predictions from 5 years ago. Back in 2011, Greg thought a lot of firms would drop one of the major services, but that hasn’t happened as quickly as he expected. In his recent post he wrote:

One of the biggest barriers (in my opinion) is that the vendors became very clever in bundling products and providing discounts toward some products if you kept or added additional products. The end result is that it made it much more difficult to jettison a vendor entirely because of the ripple effect that it caused on other (unrelated) products.

The trend of law firms going “single provider” may not be as big as Lambert expected, but it is definitely happening. It’s tempting to law firm management because of the cost savings associated with maintaining only one provider. But librarians that I have spoken to about the issue are generally united in thinking that it is a bad idea for the simple reason that if your firm chooses one service, you will inevitably need materials from the other. Maybe the librarian at a Westlaw firm has to track down a quote from Nimmer on Copyright, which is only available on Lexis. Or someone at a Lexis firm needs a section from Prosser and Keeton on Torts, which is available on Westlaw. In those circumstances, what is a law firm librarian to do?

Some law firms mitigate the effects of going sole provider and losing access to materials by maintaining a small print collection to fill prominent gaps. A firm may have Corbin on Contracts in their Lexis electronic library but maintain a copy of West’s Williston on Contracts in print, for example. Some firms rely on local public law libraries; where I work, we are fortunate enough to have several in our area that still have extensive print collections, and we can borrow volumes or get copies of pages with minimum fuss. Minimum fuss being a fee, if we have time, the attorney is willing to approve the expense, and the client is willing to foot the bill.

Often, a law firm librarian will turn to a local mailing list and rely on what economists like to call the “gift economy,” where goods (i.e. materials unique to Westlaw or Lexis) are “… given without an explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards” (as Wikipedia puts it.) In any gift economy, there is the problem of the “poison of the gift”: a gift “given without a return can place recipients in debt and, hence, in dependent status.”

When a librarian asks for help on a mailing list, it puts the rest of us in a dilemma. We want to share resources; AALL’s Ethical Principles clearly state, “We promote open and effective access to legal and related information.” But each time the librarian at a single provider firm dips into the well they create a debt to other law firms. The debt may be intangible, but it exists, and it eventually reflects negatively on the status of the firm constantly depending on the help.

There’s a kind of poison on the giving side as well. Anyone with a family member perpetually asking to “borrow” money will be familiar with the situation. At first you help; then it starts to feel like an imposition; then you get annoyed and stand back in disbelief when someone else jumps in to help after you refused. More than once I have thought “if you need Westlaw that often, you shouldn’t have gone Lexis only.” (And vice versa, of course.)

Aside from abstract economic ideas, our professional inclination to help could cause problems for the attorneys who employ us. Maybe the librarian looking for the “WL” version of a “US DIST LEXIS” citation is at a firm opposite us on some matter and helping the opposite firm may be considered a conflict of interest. If our bosses took the time to understand, they wouldn’t be happy with the fact that even though they are saving money with a single provider, that savings can come at the high cost of a loss of reputation.

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Ethics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Undergoing Maintenance: The Challenges (and Rewards!) of Converting a Course to an Online Format

course conversionby Ashley Ahlbrand

Online learning is an increasing trend in legal education.  Although there are schools that hopped on this wave years ago, there are many, like mine, that are still treading in the more traditional waters.  However, our administration has an eye toward the online horizon, and this summer, my colleague and I administered our first fully online, three-credit Advanced Legal Research course.  It had its highs and lows, but overall it was a very positive experience (for both us and the students).


  • Conversion process – It took an incredible amount of time to convert our course to an online format.  We were fortunate to get to work with an instructional designer, meeting with him weekly for the Spring semester to hammer out our learning outcomes, discuss assessment strategies in an online environment, and work out the organization of the course.  After that, we still had to create all of the content.  Ours was (mostly) an asynchronous course, so the content included reading selections; assessment creation; and lecture writing, recording, and editing.
  • ABA standards – The ABA standards were an interesting adjustment for us.  Not only did we have to comply with the standard on distance education (Standard 306), but our course also satisfies the skills requirement at the law school, so we had that standard to tackle as well (Standard 304 – ours qualifies as a “simulation”).  It was this last one that gave us pause, because it requires a “classroom instructional component.”  Some of the questions we had to tackle included: What does “classroom instructional component” mean for an online course?  Are our recorded lectures enough?  Does it require synchronous activity?  In an effort to cross our t’s and dot our i’s, we added a weekly chat session to the course that gave us some regular, synchronous time with our students to discuss the week’s lessons and assignments. The sessions caused some scheduling difficulty (with students taking the course while working all across the country), and students have since mentioned that this was one of the less popular features of the course.
  • Time constraints (on both ends) – It was no surprise that time was an issue in this course.  Students occasionally stressed about the amount of work the course posed while juggling their summer jobs.  We, at the same time, stressed about preparing materials for the students or getting grades returned while juggling conference travel and other summer responsibilities.  In theory, it’s better to have all of your materials ready before the online course begins, but that simply wasn’t a reality for us. For future iterations, time on the instructor side will be less of a struggle, because we now have the foundation of “version one” to build upon.
  • Technology glitches – It seems cliche to talk about technology glitches for an online course, but it does happen. I spent a lovely 48 hours at the CALI conference wondering where all of my video lectures had disappeared to, only to have them mysteriously reappear a day after they were meant to be available (lesson learned – always have a back up plan!).
  • Cost to students –  Because our school has no other summer offerings (online or in person), our students could not meet the 4-credit-hour minimum to qualify for financial aid. This was the most unfortunate low, because we could do nothing about it. This resulted in a small, 10-person class.


  • Small size (for now) – As mentioned, we did end up with a small class, which gave us greater opportunity to get to know the students and offer meaningful feedback.  If the cost issue is overcome, we may see greater demand in the future, at which point the course may need to evolve.
  • Variety of assessment types – Online education requires significantly more assessment than its in-class counterpart, which was time-consuming on the one hand, but gave us the opportunity to be creative on the other. In addition to weekly quizzes, we included a variety of written assignments. There was an ongoing written research assignment that built over several weeks, a separate administrative law written assignment, and a choose-your-own-adventure style assignment, in which students were advising us on recommended research resources and challenges in one of three areas of law/research (foreign jurisdictions, IP, or business/corporate).  This variety kept things interesting, both for us and for the students.
  • Freedom to experiment – The new online format emboldened us to try new things and restructure the course to be more process-oriented, rather than the bibliographic/hybrid format the regular 16-week course takes.  As these students were our guinea pigs, we also experimented a bit throughout the course, reorganizing our content, redesigning our lectures, and trying out different methods of chat, first in Canvas, and later in Slack.
  • Point of need – The greatest advantage to the course, by far, was its timing.  While juggling the course with their summer jobs was a challenge, the students also seemed far more engaged, came to us with more reference questions, and shared several “victories” with us throughout the summer. One such victory was being asked to train the entire firm on how to accomplish a particular research task because no one else knew how, and the student had just learned it the previous week in our course.  This point-of-need appreciation for the course made up for the time pressure.

As “version one,” the course had its bugs, but we made it through relatively smoothly and successfully with lessons learned and several ideas to apply in version two.  The students have given us constructive feedback to incorporate in the future. And, while ALR has always been a popular course at our school, we have never received the praise that we have from our students this summer. We were concerned that the level of education would suffer in an online format, but our students’ performance on the assessments proves that wrong.  It would be interesting to do an experiment and compare the online course to an in-person course. Perhaps we could give the same post-test to both an in-person and an online class and see how each set of students perform.  Who knows?  Perhaps in version two…

Posted in Legal Research Instruction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome Back!

by Jamie Baker, Editor

The fall semester is fast approaching. It’s time for the RIPS Law Librarian Blog to welcome back returning bloggers and introduce our new bloggers for 2016-2017. We are fortunate to have five returning bloggers:

  • Erik Adams, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, Los Angeles
  • Ashley Ahlbrand, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
  • Margaret Ambrose, Cornell University
  • Christine George, Cardozo School of Law
  • Beau Steenken, University of Kentucky

We also have several new contributors to welcome:

  • Paul Gatz, The Ohio State University

Paul Gatz is a reference librarian at the Moritz Law Library. He provides research and reference assistance to faculty, students, and the public and teaches Advanced Legal Research: Litigation and ADR. Before joining the Moritz Law Library, Paul was the reference and student services librarian at the Texas Tech University Law Library. He also worked at the Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Memorial Law Library at the University of Illinois while pursuing his library science degree. Paul practiced law in Illinois as a staff attorney at the Illinois Legislative Reference Bureau for two years before entering the library profession. During that time, he drafted legislation in the subject areas of elections, state finance, and financial regulation. Paul received his B.A. from Augustana College, and he received his J.D. and M.S.L.I.S. from the University of Illinois.

  • Duane Strojny, WMU – Cooley Law School

Dean Duane Strojny joined Cooley in 1995 as Head of Information Services for the law school library. He was named Associate Dean of Library & Instructional Support in 2002. Prior to joining Cooley, Duane served as Head of Reference for Marquette University Law Library 1992-1995, Reference/Collection Management Librarian for Marquette University Law Library 1990-1992, Reference Librarian for the University of Miami Law Library 1989-1990, and Night/Weekend Supervisor at the Marquette University Law Library 1988-1989. Duane received his B.A. from Monmouth College, his J.D. from Marquette University Law School, and his M.L.S. from the University of Wisconsin.

  • Tig Wartluft, Penn State University

As instructional services librarian, Andrew J. “Tig” Wartluft leads the effort to expand the reach and content of the H. Laddie Montague Jr. Law Library’s formal and informal teaching and instructional programs, including the 1L Legal Research course. He teaches a section of that course and also provides general reference and research support to library patrons and participates in general library planning and administration. Prior to joining Penn State Law, Tig served as reference librarian at the Ann Arbor campus of WMU – Cooley Law School. He also has experience from service in a number of librarian and attorney roles in Colorado and Ohio while earning graduate degrees. Tig received his B.A. from Case Western Reserve University, his M.L.I.S. from the University of Denver, and his J.D. from the University of Akron.

Please join me in welcoming a great group of librarians who will provide us with their valuable insights throughout 2016-2017!

Posted in RIPS blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Time to Start Brainstorming for Austin, y’all!

by Beau Steenken

Crowdsourcing on the IdeaScale platform is now open for AALL members to submit program ideas for the 2017 Annual Meeting in Austin. The platform can be accessed here: AALL Annual Meeting Program Ideas.

Please note that you’ll need to create an IdeaScale account to participate (even if you used the platform last year).

Submitting ideas to IdeaScale won’t obligate you to propose an actual program (which is a separate process).  Crowdsourcing is merely intended to help the Annual Meeting Planning Committee (AMPC) determine what subjects will be designated as “must have topics.” Feel free to submit ideas even if they’re in a very initial state: a word, a run-on sentence, a list; it’s all alright, alright, alright (as the locals might say).

While you are at the site, please also vote on the ideas already present. The AMPC will use member voting to help determine the must-have program list.

Let’s make sure there’s some great, Texas-sized research/instruction/public services programming come next July!

Posted in AALL Annoucements, Annual meeting resources | Leave a comment

Passing the torch

by Susan deMaine

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. ~A.A. Milne

Dear readers,

Serving as editor of the RIPS Law Librarian Blog for the past two years has been both an honor and an opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of law librarians and our profession. I am leaving the editorship with a great appreciation for how caring, creative, and hard working law librarians are. We are dedicated to our students, our faculty, our attorneys, our public, and our colleagues, and we care very much about the future of our legal system.

I am excited about our future. Every day, we create, facilitate, and direct the flow of knowledge throughout the legal profession. Our jobs continually reach out into other areas as well, affecting business, education, health care, government, science…the list just goes on. Is it overwhelming as we try to manage everything? Sure. Is it exhilarating? Yes, that too.

I am struck by David Lankes oft-quoted words, “I have long contended that a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library.” Atlas of New Librarianship, at 16. This idea thrills and inspires me. The heart of a librarian’s work is more that just curation; it is creation. We create libraries through our actions, our mindful choices, our conversations, our guidance, our teaching, our analysis of knowledge and facilitation of its flow.

Thank you all for the opportunity to serve as the editor of this blog and to learn so much, not about working in a law library, but about creating a law library with my work. The blog is in excellent hands with Jamie Baker as the new editor, and I am looking forward to seeing what she creates.

Susan deMaine

Posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An Experiential Learning Primer

by Alyson Drake

Editor’s Note: This week’s post is by incoming RIPS-SIS Vice-Chair/Chair Elect Alyson Drake. Alyson is currently the Reference and Student Services Librarian and the Coordinator of the Excellence in Legal Research Program at the Texas Tech University School of Law Library. 

Experiential educationIt’s no secret that legal education is focused primarily on producing graduates who are “practice ready.” The ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. With new attorneys reporting that they spend 35% of their time conducting legal research, it is no stretch to argue that legal education should devote more time and energy to experiential legal research education.

Our research courses have always focused on practical skills, but what else does it take to make a course experiential in nature? To qualify as experiential under Standard 303(a)(3), “a course must be primarily experiential in nature and must (i) integrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one or more of the professional skills identified in Standard 302,” one of which is legal research. The course must also “(ii) developing the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught; (iii) provide multiple opportunities for performance; and (iv) provide opportunities for self-evaluation.” In addition, experiential courses must be a simulation, a law clinic, or a field placement.

Of the three, it seems most likely that our courses would fit in the simulation category, which has its own set of requirements found in Standard 304(a). To qualify as a simulation, a course must “provide[] substantial experience not involving an actual client, that (1) is reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer advising or representing a client or engaging in other lawyering tasks in a set of facts and circumstances devised or adopted by a faculty member, and (2) includes the following:
(i) direct supervision of the student’s performance by the faculty member;
(ii) opportunities for performance, feedback, and self-evaluation; and
(iii) a classroom instructional component.”

There is some clear overlap between the two sets of formal requirements, so here is a combined, easy-to-follow set of eight requirements your course must meet to qualify as an experiential simulation course:

  1. “[B]e primarily experiential in nature.”
  2. “[P]rovide[] substantial experience not involving a client, that is . . . reasonably similar to the experience of a lawyer . . . engaging in . . . lawyering tasks.”
  3. “[I]ntegrate doctrine, theory, skills, and legal ethics, and engage students in performance of one of the professional skills identified in Standard 302”, such as legal research.
  4. “[D]evelop the concepts underlying the professional skills being taught.”
  5. “[P]rovide multiple opportunities for performance.”
  6. “[P]rovide opportunities for self-evaluation.”
  7. Include “direct supervision of the student’s performance” by and feedback from a faculty member.
  8. Include a classroom instructional component.

It seems obvious to many law librarians that many of these criteria are easily met in most legal research courses, but keeping all eight requirements in mind as you design your course will make it easier to persuade your curriculum committee that your legal research course meets them, too. Demonstrating that legal research courses can be designated as experiential is just one more way we can show our value to our institutions.

For more on how to create an experiential legal research course, please stop by the RIPS-sponsored program in Chicago:  Leave Treasure Hunts to Pirates: Using Research Plans and Logs to Create Experiential Legal Research Courses, on Sunday, July 17th from 11:30am-12:30pm in Hyatt-Regency Ballroom B, or check out my forthcoming article, “The Need for Experiential Legal Research Education,” coming out in the November issue of Law Library Journal.


Posted in Legal Education Standards, Legal Research Instruction, Teaching (general), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Save the date for the Alphabet Soup Reception


Photo by Meal Makeover Moms | Used under CC BY-ND 2.0

While in Chicago for AALL, please join us for a joint reception of the CS/OBS/RIPS/TS Special Interest Sections (a.k.a. the “Alphabet Soup Reception”) on Saturday, July 16th from 7pm – 9pm in the Hyatt-Crystal Ballroom B. Come enjoy hors d’oeurvres and drinks with old and new colleagues.

For questions regarding this reception, please contact Ashly Moye (

We extend our special thanks to Innovative Interfaces for their generous support in making this joint reception happen.

See you there!

Posted in RIPS events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment