There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that in some way or another, the global financial crisis has affected law firms in the same way it has affected many other businesses – work might be a little quieter, jobs a little less secure and clients a little harder to attract or retain.
Believe it or not, there might be some good to come out of all this doom and gloom. If you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, resist the temptation to steal files off colleagues’ desks and instead use this time to develop your current awareness strategies – know you clients, their industries and the legal developments that affect them.
Relax! Keeping up to date is easy!
Investing a little time and effort in setting up strategies to remain up-to-date on client, legal and industry developments now will make you that much more valuable to your firm and clients – which is important now, when times are tough, and even more so when work does pick back up again. You will be the one with the impressive list of articles and papers to your name, a solid understanding of current industry and legal issues and strong client relationships.
There are some amazing free resources out there, many of them as good or better than the services made available by commercial providers. However, for the sake of brevity (I know, it’s not that brief an article at all!) I’m focussing on one or two specific alert services within a few commonly used paid/subscription legal research services. The other focus for this article (and the one to follow on free services) is on resources that can be used to monitor specific areas of the law or industries and not simply general “news” resources (these are of course useful, but most readers would already be familiar with them).
Read about legal developments before anyone else
Alert services provided by commercial suppliers are valuable tools for monitoring developments in specific areas of law. The ones I find most useful (because of their ability to be customised and/or the targeted ares of law they cover) are:
Lawlex’s legislative alerts – the ability to set up alerts for changes to legislation based on targeted areas of law, or specific Acts and Regulations, or a combination of both (selecting certain pieces of legislation that have already been identified as falling within a particular category) is really useful. The lists of legislation under each category are almost as exhaustive as you can get and a great way to make sure you’re keeping up to date with all of the relevant legislation, not just the one or two obvious Acts. The summaries provided by Lawlex when a piece of legislation is introduced or amended are also valuable as brief, plain-english descriptions of the effects of the amendments.
Lawlex’s regulatory newsfeeds – Rather detailed summaries of regulatory, legal, legislative and news developments in certain areas of law such as Environment, OH&S , Building & Construction and Financial Services. The Corporate Law newsfeed is one of the more valuable alert services available.
LexisNexis’ case law alerts – These are my favourite alerts for monitoring Australian cases when you are only interested in monitoring a relatively specific aspect of new cases. Once you have set up a personal profile within LNAU, simply run a case law search from the red “Cases” tab (using as many of the available search fields as you wish) and save the results as an alert. I use this one to monitor how certain judges treat particular issues, to see whenever a client or their competitors are involved in litigation and for monitoring many other issues, words/phrases and topics. Be sure to set your initial search to “last week” or some relatively short period as the alert has the effect of running that same search every morning (or whatever other time of day you set) and sending you the results list. Thus, if there is a new case in an area of interest, it gets sent to me each morning for a week. Kinda annoying (any longer than a week and it would be unbearable), but worth it for the level of personalisation afforded.
Thomson’s Alert 24 – This is another combined alert, providing details of legislative, case law, regulatory, policy and news developments for particular areas of law. I find the coverage really comprehensive and commercially focussed, which is what most of us are after. Once you’re within the “Current Awareness” > “Alert 24″ section and have had a look at the type of information covered under each of the subject areas, jump into “preferences” to set up your email alert. I find “Court Practice and Litigation” the one I get the most out of – good general updates on procedural issues. I know that the Bankruptcy and FSR alerts are both also popular with people I work with. Of course, the relevancy of the topics will be based on your prractice.
Know your clients and their industry
When it comes to monitoring clients and their industries, the free services (such as Google News and web alerts, Business Spectator and others) are some of the best services out there. Some of the subscription based alert services that I find useful include:
Dataanalysis - The Datanalysis alert service is a nightmare to navigate, but once you get through the set up process, the result can be very useful. Use this tool to receive an alert any time an announcement (or a particular type of announcement) is made by a publicly listed company (ASX only). Monitor clients, their subsidiary or parent companies, and other companies operating in the same spheres.
Merger Market – This isn’t one that I use regularly, but I have colleagues that swear by it. News about potential and definite mergers, takeovers and deals is provided and categorised based upon how reliable the source is. While they are admittedly very fast to market with validated information, it’s the “rumoured deals” that set this product apart.
These services are just the tip of the iceberg – the free resources you can use for keeping up to date with legal developments and industry news will blow you away – but I have to leave something for next time, don’t I?! If you’re interested in free tools you can use to monitor these kinds of developments, come back in a week or 2!