Friday, August 14, 2009

Fascinating Justification of Costs of CALR

Read the analysis of online research cost recovery by guest blogger Mark Gediman at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. He titles his post "Cost Recovery... Such a Deal." Gediman's analysis is nicely detailed. He relies on hourly billing at the full lawyer $300/hour rate at his firm for pulling a case, for instance to calculate that it saves money to download the case electronically compared to pulling it off the shelf and copying it, when you bill the client.

Gediman does have a point when he comments that his time calculation does not even take into account the costs of housing the print collection. This is probably the main reason that most firms have dropped so much print from their collections. The cost per square foot in their rent of office space simply became too large a calculation when they could replace the print volumes that took up many linear feet of shelf space with a PC on the existing desktops of the attorneys. But where I really part ways with Mr. Gediman is his comparison of online versus print research:

Case & Code research is better online.

First, let’s do this research online. Type in your search, starting broadly, and then narrow your search with focus or locate. It takes about 5 minutes to run the search and about 15-30 minutes to review the cases with your terms in context. In the interests of fairness, we’ll go with 30 minutes. Then print the cases you want and you’re done. Total time spent we’ll round up to 40 minutes to allow for printing. At our hypothetical $300/hr rate, the cost of the time spent comes to $200. Add in $40 for the search and you’ll have a total cost of $240. This analysis assumes that this is a normal search, not too esoteric, and that the search result is manageable, say about 20 cases. The analysis is essentially the same for searching codes.

Next, let’s look at the process for researching cases and codes in print. Picking up a digest or a code index, and looking for the correct subject can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. This assumes that what we are looking for is easily translatable into the canned headings they use and not horrendously cross-referenced (i.e., “See post-trial” which then says “See Judgments”). This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the research. For the sake of discussion, we’ll stick with 10 minutes. Then we spend about an hour pulling and reading the cases that were listed in under the digest heading. Then we add in the 17 minutes it takes to copy the darn things. We now have a total time spent of 1 hour and 27 minutes and a cost of $435.

The cost to research cases and codes online is only 55% the cost of doing it in print. A significant difference I would say.

-Researching can be more cost effective online

The online process is relatively simple. Run the search in one or several treatises, focus or locate the sections discussing your specific terms, review the results and print the sections you want to keep. Say, about 40 minutes of your time. Couple that with the $40 search charge gives you a total cost of $240.

It is not quite as simple to do this with print. The process and time spent are similar to the case/code research referenced above. Assuming the book is on the shelf to begin with, start with the index or table of contents, look at the several sections/chapters that you find for the most relevant and then copy what you want. Total time is 1 hour 35 minutes and cost comes out to $435.

Again about a 55% difference in cost.
He will concede that if the user knows the treatise intimately, it works better in print. Gediman includes a link to an article he wrote on this phenomenon, posted at AALLnet. When you are talking about an experienced searcher, a librarian or a skilled paralegal, these arguments undoubtedly do make a certain amount of sense. I think he overstates the ease of searching statutes in particular -- my own experience (and I think that of many others as well) is that statutory and regulatory language is so non-intuitive that it's very difficult to search. Certainly, I need to leave Boolean terms and connectors behind, which I hate to admit! But even with a natural language search, I often have to browse through results and re-do the search, which is going to mess up his neat calculations.

I also wish the essay stated that his calculations are based on expert, experienced librarian and paralegal searchers, not associates. It makes me itchy all over thinking that my students may come across this little blog post and use it to argue that they should be able to stop learning the print and rely entirely on their self-evaluated digital skills. Eeeuwww! Can you say, Trainwreck?


Betsy McKenzie said...

In comments at the 3 Geeks site, it's pointed out that you have to take into account that many firms have dumped their statutes as well, so they don't have the print set on site. So, they don't even have the option of doing print research in-house and would have to trek out to some outside library to use a print code. That would certainly add to the cost calculations. But who made the decision to dump the statutes in print in the first place? If it was the librarian, that's a bad decision and I disagree. I can understand if it was done over his or her head.

Mark Gediman said...

I understand your concern about the skill level of the researcher. The legal research training in our firm emphasizes cost and efficency, regardless of whether I conduct it or the vendor does. As a result, the associates are among the most efficent researchers in the firm. My post is not meant as advocating the eimination of print. Rather, it is acknowledging that the legal researchers should at least be familiar with CALR and efficient in its use in order to succeed in the legal environment. People so equipped will be able to save their clients money.