Informal Notes On Our July 25th Meeting In Philadelphia

We owe special thanks to the generous hosts of our July 25th  meeting, Linda-Jeane Schneider and Bonnie Shalala, of Drinker Biddle. Jamie Keller and Kelly Reynolds prepared the following informal notes. I have added observations or clarifications in brackets.  This meeting handout provides reasons for two forms of Caucus organization.  Marie S. Newman has also just posted her summary of the meeting at the Out of the Jungle blog. [MG]

Statement of Purpose and Initial Priorities

Michael Ginsborg provided the background for the development of the Consumer Advocacy Caucus.  The initial statement of purpose submitted for caucus formation was inspired by Raymond Taylor’s 1969 article in the ABA Journal entitled “Law Book Consumers Need Protection.” Taylor’s article brought awareness of the unfair business practices of legal information vendors (LIVs) including the violation of laws and FTC’s intentions.  The ABA, but not AALL, attorneys submitted a position statement on the practices of the LIVs [expressing support for proposed FTC Guidelines], but AALL did not provide input or state a position on the matter. The ABA’s position led to the adoption of FTC Guidelines for the Law Book Publishing Industry. The Guidelines improved disclosure to consumers, and so did books like Ken Svengalis’ Legal Information Buyer’s Guide & Reference Manual, which provides librarians and other legal consumers the information needed to compare products and services. [In the 1980s and 1990s, CRIV informed AALL members when specific legal publishers violated the FTC Guidelines and sharply increased supplementation costs. CRIV influenced the 1993 reversal by Matthew Bender of its escalating supplementation costs. CRIV’s example also set a precedent for our undertaking.]

The initial statement of purpose sought to increase disclosure and forge coalitions in order to advocate for appropriate legal remedies.  Currently, when purchasing materials, we depend on Svengalis’ Guide and the vendors themselves for information regarding their services, especially electronic resources.  There needs to be more information comparing LIVs, looking at cost transparency, analyzing price escalation, and developing consumer-based comparison criteria.  In short, there is a need for more education, including a sequel to Raymond Taylor’s article in the ABA Journal.  The ABA Journal is preferable to a librarian publication because so many legal information consumers are lawyers who do not have librarians on staff.  We can also increase education through workshops at annual meetings, such as a program to review the quality of LIV editorial practices.  In addition, we should form collaborative communities between bar associations, attorneys, library associations, and consumer advocacy groups.  The caucus would also conduct fact-finding concerning the nature and extent of practices that undermine competition in order to craft legal remedies, remedies that would not violate the law.  The idea is to make enough noise that the LIVs cannot ignore. [Joe Stephens expressed the idea in a September 1996 article for Spectrum, “The End of West(ern) Civilization.”]

This statement of purpose was rejected by AALL on two grounds.  First, the administrative objection was that the caucus could not form a committee to comment or commit on any policy while presenting themselves as part of AALL.  Only the AALL leadership has the authority to speak or lobby on behalf of AALL.  The second objection was based on legal concerns over the perceived violations of antitrust laws.

Discussion of Options for Organizing

The two options for the Caucus are (1) try to obtain AALL status or (2) form an independent organization.   Submitting a revised statement of purpose was considered more effective than creating an independent organization.  Additionally, AALL’s reputation, size, and influence would give the Caucus credibility and could help back the policy we wish to create.  We reviewed the handout Michael Ginsborg created and distributed.  There was also discussion on how the Consumer Advocacy Caucus would work with CRIV and the Vender Liaison.  The caucus could help AALL develop consumer advocacy policy, as CRIV is prohibited from policy-making.  Some members also mentioned that by staying within AALL, the Caucus would attract more members who might not wish to join a non-AALL organization. Mark Estes thought that fear of vendor reprisal was overstated. Mark also said that AALL approval of our Caucus application would be a “slam dunk.”

It was unanimously decided to submit another statement of purpose to AALL for Caucus formation, with formation of an independent organization only as a last resort.  Michael provided the text of the new statement of purpose. The Caucus will submit it to the AALL Executive Board in August.  [It was submitted on August 3rd.] Michael’s understanding from (then) AALL President Joyce Janto was that there were no administrative or legal objections to the new draft.

Price Index Issues

Ken Svengalis discussed the issues with the AALL Price Index for Legal Publications (Price Index). The Price Index 2d covers titles with the base year of 1998 [and ends with coverage for 2004.] Thomson West data was provided by members from 2000 to 2004. Thomson West [did not provide the Price Index Committee requested price data between 2005 and 2008]. The company provided the Price Index Committee price information in 2009, but limited the information to new set costs, not discounted supplementation costs that the Committee needed. [The Committee reports that “other legal publishers that other publishers have also supplied new set pricing between the years 2005 and 2008.”]

Ken recommends data collection by members so that all products are compared across LIVs for historical (year) sales for discounted supplementation costs. He also called for volunteers to assist with his price gathering for his book.

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