Teaching Legal Analytics with a View from the Balcony

Recently I taught a voluntary, thirty-minute, we’ll-give-you-a-takeaway-lunch-if-you-come workshop for law students on legal analytics. What is the best way to teach these sessions? I took a different approach than I use when teaching a credit-bearing class and took a high-level view, less skills-focused approach. After all, students are attending on their own initiative during their lunch hour, so I don’t want to work them too hard! It was also meant to be an introduction for beginners. For a lesson with real-world exercises, I highly recommend Cassie Rae Walker’s RIPS post, Class Exercise: Turning Research into a Deliverable Using Analytics.

I organized the workshop around three simple “big picture” questions:

  1. What has driven the growth of legal analytics over the past decade?
  2. How are lawyers using legal analytics?
  3. What are the strengths and pitfalls of legal analytics?

Part 1: What has driven the growth of legal analytics over the past decade?

I thought students would be surprised and interested to learn that the idea of legal analytics can be traced at least as far back as an 1897 speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. that was published as The Path of Law, 10 Harv. L. Rev. 457 (1897). “The prophecies of what the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious, are what I mean by the law.” Id. at 461. He also said “the man of the future is the man of statistics. . .” Id. at 469. His vision is finally becoming a reality (though it’s interesting to consider whether the analytics of today fulfill Holmes’s vision) because of e-filing. The data creating by e-filing is the oil of legal analytics! Lawyers have been undergoing a culture shift in awakening to the value of the insights hidden among all that data. We also discussed other sources of data (like internal firm data), issues with data quality, and data cleaning.

Part 2: How are lawyers using legal analytics?

Legal analytics can be divided into two areas: the practice of law and the business of law (though that line can be blurry). Personally I find the business of law applications to be more compelling. I listed examples of how legal analytics is used in both areas and provided a couple of demonstrations. I discussed which uses have had the most adoption by attorneys using the results from Lex Machina’s 2021 Adoption of Legal Analytics survey. We looked at marketing materials for legal analytics tools and briefly discussed their messaging.

Part 3: What are the strengths and pitfalls of legal analytics?

Discussing advertising led us into an assessment of whether analytics companies deliver on their promises. I gave my opinion that analytics are excellent in evaluating potential damages in a case, forecasting the time and expense for litigating a matter, evaluating firms, attorneys, and expert witnesses, and determining how to price work and deploy firm resources (for which firms need to leverage internal data). Students were interested in how analytics could be used to make a sales pitch to a new client.

In terms of pitfalls, using legal analytics risks amplifying bias in the system, like algorithms in legal research. Analytics are backward looking, so what is their proper role in developing the law in the future? If a judge denies a motion in 99 out of 100 cases, does that mean an attorney shouldn’t file a similar motion or is unjustified if they do? I can see the benefits in using analytics in areas where we have a lot of data and we want to improve transparency and consistency, like criminal sentencing. But what about areas with limited case law? I would rather craft my own argument than have an algorithm put words in my mouth and tell me exactly what will persuade a particular judge. It seems manipulative to me, but maybe I’m old fashioned. Finally, do analytics really give attorneys who can afford them an unfair advantage? The analytics purveyors say they give you an advantage (they would argue a fair one).

We could have spent a lot more time discussing these questions, but I hope the workshop provided a foundation for students to begin thinking about how they would/should use analytics. It would be great to have a follow-up session with skills practice, but I wonder how much student interest there would be?

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Small Hack and Big Picture Approaches to Time Management 

 Most of us have been overwhelmed at times by work obligations. It’s not uncommon to feel that between meetings and emails, there isn’t enough time left in the day to complete your actual work. The pandemic’s disruption to our usual routines has also made us more aware of how we spend our time. Against this backdrop, I will discuss my takeaways from three recent time management books.  

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload by Cal Newport  

“Let’s stop pretending there are different jobs. There’s only one job and it’s emails.”

@katehelendowney (Twitter)  

This book argues that email and similar technologies such as Slack have produced what the author calls the “hyperactive hive mind workflow.” A 2018 study found that workers had only around 1.25 hours of undisturbed productive work time per day. (And that is a total of 1.25 hours, not a single 1.25-hour block.) The never-ending stream of interruptions reduces productivity and makes people miserable.  

As the author puts it, email “has a mind of its own.” Email begets more email. Everyone expects constant responsiveness. Most people cannot opt-out of the hyper-active hive mind workflow without it hurting their job performance. Geraldine Kalim wrote a nice blog post about these macro-level constraints on time management over on the PEGA-SIS Blog.   

The second part of the book discusses ways of reducing our overdependence on email. Suggestions include introducing “office hours” in business settings, creating non-personal email addresses, and using project management software like Trello. I’m thinking of trying the author’s suggestion of creating Trello boards to store up issues for weekly meetings with my direct reports.     

Another tip I find interesting is limiting email communication to brief messages of around five sentences. If your communication takes more than that, it might be better suited to another medium.  

Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Wellbeing by Rob Cross      

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”  

Henry David Thoreau

This book is divided into two sections. The first part outlines ways to reduce time spent on collaborative activities that don’t benefit you or your organization. The second part discusses how to make the best use of the time saved.        

I like how the book lays out several motivating beliefs that lead people to take on too many collaborative tasks. These include positive traits, such as a desire to help others or to feel a sense of achievement. Genuine concerns drive other motivating beliefs, such as the fear of repercussions when you say “no.” The author suggests ways of reducing the overload associated with each identified motivating belief.  

The book also describes work structures that may reduce collaboration overload. Several of these work structures are based on aligning your strengths and goals with your time demands. Others include small hacks such as scheduling your day to match your energy rhythms, blocking out time for reflection, and batching one-off requests.  

Be mindful of how your actions impact others. For example, emailing outside of business hours could cause stress to the people who get your emails. Also, remember that often problems will resolve themselves without your involvement.  

The author specializes in social network analysis. He emphasizes the importance of cultivating a network of relationships outside of work. People who have a multi-dimensional view of their lives are better equipped to handle work-related stress because they possess a more grounded sense of self. They are also often healthier, enabling them to be more attentive and reflective at work. As the book’s subtitle suggests, reducing work-related collaboration overload creates the space to improve a person’s wellbeing.  

Begin infographic titled Key Takeaways on Time Management.

The first takeaway is Individual Efforts Won't Be enough.
Work and communication expectations need to change at the organizational and societal levels. 

The second takeaway is Individual Changes Are Still Necessary.
Consider how much you are driven by motivations such as discomfort with not being "busy" enough. Think about how your work style impacts others.

The third takeaway is Processes and Priorities Both Matter.
First, make sure that your work processes are effective and efficient. Next, determine whether you are spending time on things that matter to you or your organization.

The last takeaway is don't overemphasize work. Many successful people are successful as people. One of the primary goals of time management is to make room for a full and balanced life.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman   

“The days are long, but the years are short.”  

Gretchen Rubin

This is the most philosophical of the three books reviewed. The principal theme is how precious time really is. Even if you live to be 80 years old, you have only 4000 weeks to do everything you decide to pursue.  

In many time management books, saying “no” is framed as mostly saying “no” to things you are not enthusiastic about in the first place. In contrast, this book drives home that you must make peace with saying “no” to many worthwhile endeavors.  

The author suggests adopting a “fixed volume” approach to your productivity, as well as establishing predetermined time limits for work. You can concentrate better if you know you must complete your work by a specific time. Limiting work time also creates space to do other things.  

Conclusion  

All three books are worth reading. Each will help you evaluate whether you are managing your time wisely. 

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State Legislatures Shake Up Library eBook Access

Libraries have been fighting with publishers over e-book access for years. A decade ago, publishers refused to sell e-books to libraries at all for fear of cutting into their profits. When they began to agree to sell in 2014, libraries found they faced higher costs to purchase electronic titles than other consumers and embargos that prevented library patrons from getting timely access to new works.

In response, library and other advocacy groups have fought back with petitions, boycotts, appeals to state attorneys general, and calls for legislative action. Finally, in 2021, libraries are finally gaining some leverage over publishers with the help of state legislatures.

Like other library organizations, the American Library Association (ALA) has long advocated for fair treatment of libraries related to electronic works and demanded:

  • All published works must be available for libraries to purchase and lend to library users.
  • Access to and use of eBooks must equitably balance the rights and privileges of readers, authors, and publishers.
  • Digital content must be accessible to all people, regardless of physical or reading disabilities.
  • Library patrons must be able to access digital content on the device of their choosing.
  • Reading records must remain private in the digital age.

Fight for the Future is an advocacy group which fights for a “future where technology is a force for liberation— not oppression.” In addition to battling the rise of increased financial surveillance, e-proctoring of tests, facial recognition technology, partnerships between Amazon Ring and law enforcement, it promotes the right of libraries to provide access to electronic books. The problem is described on its Who Can Get Your Book project page:

“Books hold the vast wealth of human knowledge. While public libraries work to make that knowledge accessible to everyone regardless of disability, literacy, or income level, gaps in access are widening. Many books in the most accessible formats are not available for public libraries, public schools, and indie bookstores to offer at all—or only available at prohibitive cost.”

Maryland Ch. 411

The efforts of these and other organizations have succeeded in bringing public attention to the disparate treatment of libraries. The ALA’s eBooksForAll petition directed at the discriminatory treatment of Macmillan Publishing garnered 250,000 signatures and forced it to end its practice of making public libraries wait for two months to purchase electronic books for their patrons. A 2020 Fight for the Future petition asking Amazon to end its war on libraries by selling them electronic books collected 11,000 signatures.

These advocacy efforts appear to have caught the attention of some state legislators. Maryland was the first state to take legislative action to combat the problem and enacted a law (Ch. 411) in May of 2021 which will go into effect on January 1, 2022. The law requires publishers who license electronic literary products to the public to license them to public libraries on “reasonable terms.” New York passed a similar bill (Assembly Bill 5837B) in June of 2021 which has not been sent to the governor yet (the legislature has until the end of the year to send it). Rhode Island jumped on the bandwagon with a bill of its own (H 6246), but it quickly died in committee.

Though these laws have been met with publisher criticism and threats of legal action, Amazon might have seen some writing on the wall because at the same time the bill was moving through the Maryland legislature, in a move celebrated by advocates, Amazon finally agreed to license its electronic books to public libraries.

It will be interesting to see if the New York bill is eventually enacted and whether the example of Maryland sparks interest in other states!

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Sketchnoting: Enhance Learning with Doodling

Do you fidget or doodle during meetings, presentations, or classes? If so, you may want to try sketchnoting as a method of appeasing your need to fidget while enhancing your learning. I recently attended a workshop organized by my campus’s Teaching Librarians Community (TLC). Hosted by Meggan Press and Jane Mason at the main library on campus, this workshop included a variety of sessions focused on the use of visual tools for learning enhancement and student engagement. 

I often find myself fidgeting and doodling, and sometimes don’t even realize I’m doing it, so the session on sketchnoting really appealed to me. Presented by librarians Amy Minix and Jackie Fleming, sketchnoting is a type of visual notetaking that uses a mix of text, icons, diagrams, and other images to represent ideas. One does not need to be an artist to sketchnote because the purpose of the practice is to turn ideas into visual communication that is meaningful to the person doing it. 

The underlying concept is dual coding theory which posits that pairing visual and verbal cues enhances memory coding and recall. Attempting to type a lecture verbatim does not always lead to the best recall for students. Instead, the practice of sketchnoting requires the notetaker to listen for the speaker’s key ideas, synthesize, and visualize them, rather than trying to copy every detail. Sketchnoting encourages students to slow down, put the technology down, and focus on listening and processing main ideas. Sketchnoting can also be useful for meetings, conferences, lesson planning, or your own daily journaling.

Handwritten words in purple ink: listen, synthesize, visualize; connected in circle with arrows, on white paper.
One part of my session notes, illustrating the listen – synthesize – visualize cycle.

Tips for sketchnoting include:

  • If sketchnoting a live lecture, try to organize the page before the lecture.
  • Use color, shading, frames, arrows, icons and/or other visual cues to make meaningful connections.
  • Don’t try to copy everything you hear.
  • Don’t erase anything until the presentation is over (it doesn’t need to be perfect).
  • Review the notes after the lecture and add any additional details/elements that help your understanding and recall.

Workshop participants had an opportunity to try sketchnoting while watching a short video about pumpkins. Each participant had blank paper and a few art supplies (such as Tombow dual brush pens, which I am now obsessed with). The old law school habit of wanting to jot down as much as possible came back with a vengeance, but I was able to “sketch” a few things. Most of us had more text than images in our first attempt at sketchnoting, and the group consensus was that the exercise was challenging, but in a good way. Amy and Jackie emphasized that sketchnoting is a practice that takes time to develop. For more information about visual notetaking and its application for students, they shared their libguide and recommended the Verbal to Visual Youtube channel.

Half a page of words and images about pumpkins with connecting arrows, a sun icon, a pie icon, and a small pumpkin wearing sunglasses, all drawn in gray ink on white paper.
My attempt at sketchnoting during the brief video about pumpkins. Did you know that pumpkins grown for decoration need lots of shade from their leaves to stay bright orange? Pumpkins with tan or white rinds have better flavor and are the pumpkins used for pies, soups, and other delicious fall dishes.

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Yep, It’s Another Anxiety Post

Except this time, we are focusing on patron anxiety, not our own.  Specifically, Library Anxiety.  This phenomenon was described by Constance Mellon in 1986 as the feelings expressed by undergraduate students when asked about their initial response to the library.  They used terms like “scary, overpowering, lost, helpless, confused, and fear of the unknown” when asked about their impressions.  These anxious feelings are a barrier for the patron to access and utilize the library resources they require, leading to poor academic performance and compounding poor mental health.

In the past 35 years, there has been much discussion of Library Anxiety (this article by Anna J. Shelmerdine includes an engaging and thorough review of the literature on the topic) and how to solve it.  Libraries and technology may change, but the anxiety around them persists.

Library anxiety can be especially pronounced in medical and law students.  In these environments, the mere act of asking a question can be soaked with anxiety, with a nice layer of shame on top.  Fear of phrasing a question the wrong way, of not intuitively knowing the correct procedures, or even having to seek help in the first place can be barriers to accessing the exact assistance that students require to learn to effectively practice their discipline.  This fear of humiliation in front of peer groups carries into the legal profession and can be debilitating.   

The Good News/Bad News of Library Anxiety: Studies show that overwhelmingly the highest levels of anxiety come from interactions with library staff.

How is this good news?  Well, knowing that the problem is You is a big step towards solving the problem.  The literature shows that students feel intimidated by library staff, and often don’t know where to ask the questions they have about the library and research.  This is a failure in both attitude and information delivery.

Many of us assume a certain level of research sophistication when it comes to law students.  Sure they haven’t learned the joys of Boolean searching or Shepardizing, but they know the basics, right? RIGHT?

Image is an Anakin Meme about patrons not knowing how to use the catalog

Maybe not. Decling prevalance and funding in school libraries have contributed to a decline in basic library literacy. In addition, assuming a certain level of understanding in your patron can lead to sub-par results, with the patron not asking the important follow-up questions they need to understand because you’ve made them feel like they should already know what they are asking.

The literature suggests that library staff can best combat Library Anxiety by going back to basics. Explaining procedures such as how to check out a book, how to find a book (first in the catalog and then in the library itself), and how to find an article can go a long way towards alleviating Library Anxiety. Creating a library survival guide or a very detailed LibGuide on library usage 101 can help bridge the divide between library newbies and seasoned veterans. Guest lecturing on how to use the library, actually getting into the classroom for facetime, can have huge payoffs for students.

Most impactful, library staff need to be approachable, practice patience, and check our internal biases. Develop relationships and rapport with students as frequently as possible. I close every guest lecture I give by emphasizing that librarians are a safe space for students. Come to us with your “stupid questions.” We’ve been in your shoes and we will not judge you, we only want to help. That’s the first step, the second is remaining judgment free when the students do timidly walk up to the reference desk. Even if all they ask you is where the bathroom is located.

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