Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Develop your current awareness strategies and beat the legal-market downturn

Develop your current awareness strategies and beat the legal-market downturn

Redundancies are up, billable hours are down and long boozy lunches are fewer and further between – it seems that lawyers are continuing to feel the pinch of the GFC .

So if you’re not one of the busy few working in insolvency or litigation, be smart and spend a little time each day working on your current awareness strategies. A little time invested now will pay dividends when the market turns around. Use this time wisely and be the lawyer who has developed closer client relationships (by keeping tabs on their industry), positioned yourself as a leader in your field (by researching and writing papers and articles) and has the alerts and habits in place to ensure you’re up to date when work picks up again.

For some great subscription-based services that you can use to stay up to date with legal and industry developments, feel free to check out my previous article ondeveloping your current awareness strategies to beat the legal-market downturn. If, however, the research budget has been cut and your firm won’t be signing up for any new resources for a while, fear not – this article is all about the best freeresources available for keeping up to date with legal, client and industry developments. I’ve been looking forward to writing this article and sharing some of these resources with you – in my opinion, the free resources listed below often beat their subscription-based counterparts on quality of information and timeliness. Thankfully, it turns out you don’t always get what you pay for – these free resources are worth your time and much more!
Know your clients and their industry – for free!
Google News and web alerts

If you have not used Google News alerts to monitor mentions of clients, topics and people in the press, you have been missing out on the single most useful news monitoring tool available, free or otherwise. From an inconspicuous link in the left hand column, you can set up either email alerts or an RSS feed based on any word, phrase or crazy-complex-Google-search-string you can think of. Check out myarticle on using Google for legal research for some tips and tricks on operators and connectors to really narrow down what you want to monitor.

Google News with "News Alerts" circled in red

Google News alerts are completely customisable. As well as allowing you to use all of the Google operators and connectors in your search string, you can specify what the alert is to search across – news sources, blogs, the web generally, video, groups or “comprehensive” being all of the above – and how often you wish to receive the alert – once a day, once a week or “as it happens”. Tip – don’t select “as it happens” unless you have a very specific search set up or you like having a whole tonne of email alerts clogging up your inbox. Choose your email address or RSS to set the mode of delivery. You can change and delete alerts really easily via the “manage my alerts” link. This makes it a great resource to set others up with – they can manage their alerts in the future without involving you. Easy for you and for them.

Create and manage alerts quickly and easily

It’s important to note that Google News only searches across the last 30 days worth of news. This isn’t an issue when setting up alerts (no time warping here, you can only be alerted to new news) but it is something to be aware of when running a search. You can access older news via the archives, but they’re a little hidden – jump into the Google News Advanced Search screen and you’ll see a link to the “archive” about down the page. Why it is tucked away in there I have no idea – the news archive is an amazingly powerful tool, complete with its own advanced search options.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Google News searches across the online versions of hardcopy newspapers and publications. This usually isn’t an issue when using the alerts to monitor updates in certain areas, but can be an issue if you are using the search function to find old newspaper articles. While hardcopy and online versions or articles are often the same, they are not always the same – I’ve seen headings change, articles shortened or lengthened and sometimes articles disappearing altogether between online and print versions of publications. If this is an issue for your research task, talk to you librarian or leave me a comment for info on searching across hardcopy press only.
Business Spectator

I still cannot believe this resource is free – but am sure glad it is! Business Spectatoris another free resource that puts many of its costly subscription-based counterparts to shame. It is a “24-hours-a-day business news and commentary website” written by leading Australian business commentators Alan Kohler, Stephen Bartholomeusz and Robert Gottliebsen (who are backed by an absolute powerhouse of journalists, editors and professionals).

I find that the easiest way to use Business Spectator for client and industry monitoring is to set up customised email alerts. Alerts can be personalised so that you receive news/commentary on a particular company (enter the ASX code or company name), industry sector (currently 27 to chose from) and so that you receive them at particular times of the day or week.

Use Business Spectator's email alerts for monitoring clients and industries
Read about legal developments – for free!
Fee Fie Foe Firm

Fee Fie Foe Firm is one of those “I wish I had thought of that!” ideas which has taken the legal research world by storm. Use FeeFieFoeFirm to search across thousands of law firm websites for articles, bulletins, press releases and legal experts. Because the site uses the powerful Google search technology (complete with the connectors, operators and modifiers that go with it) and includes separate sites for so many jurisdictions (Australia, UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand and South Africa) this site is your one shop stop for case notes, legislative developments and other legal and regulatory updates. An added bonus of law firm website publications is that they tend to be very client focussed, so searching for legal updates here means you’re likely to find practical, to-the-point and commercially focussed articles – and not the interesting-but-a-bit-pie-in-the-sky articles you often get in legal journals.

Part of what makes me love this resource is its inclusivity – law firms don’t have to pay to be included on this site (as is the case with similar products like Mondaq and Linex Legal) which means this is the most comprehensive law firm search out there. As long as they’re on the web, they are pretty much guaranteed to be covered. If you know of a law firm site that’s not on here (I challenge you to find one!), be sure to let the site’s creator @damienmacrae know.
LexisNexis Daily Unreported Judgments Notifier

Perhaps the only product LNAU doesn’t try to charge us for (now that Lawyers Weekly is no longer free), LexisNexis’ Daily Unreported Judgments Notifier is an email alert for all cases that come out of the Australian courts as soon as they are made available to the publisher (usually within a day), which means this is a great resource when you need to know about the latest cases as soon as they are decided. Whilst the DUJN is quite basic in content and design, what sets it above other free daily alerts, such as legal publisher CCH’s, is its simplicity, full text coverage and the fact that it doesn’t rely upon a LNAU subscription to make use of many of the links. However, I find that the CCH daily email alert is a good option if you do have a decent CCH subscription and want links to legal news and case summaries.

On this topic, I’d just like to put one of my nerd-wish-list items out there – an alert service from the AustLII advanced search screen. If I could select which AustLII case law/journals/other databases to search across and could use its boolean search strings to narrow the search significantly, this (currently fictional) alert service would be a lifesaver for legal researchers and lawyers needing judgments on particular topics as soon as they are released. Go on AustLII, do it. You know you want to.

Comlaw email service for legislative updates

The Comlaw email alert service is very basic, but if a Lawlex or Timebase subscription is not for you, then at least there is something you can use to monitor legislative changes. Type in a search term (no complex search strings here – computer says no) and select which database to monitor (I usually stick to Acts, Act Compilations and Bills). Although I haven’t used it for this purpose, it could be a great way of monitoring some of those trickier to find/follow legislative resources such as Legislative Instruments etc. Please let me know if you use it this way, I’d be interested to know how well it works


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