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Extras - The Kirkland & Ellis Library Research Request Database

By Maria A. Black and William P. Scarbrough, Published on July 15, 1998

(Archived August 15, 1998)

Bill Scarbrough is Chief Information Officer at Kirkland & Ellis, a 5-office, 550-attorney, international law firm. Bill has overseen library, conflicts, legal files, docketing, microcomputer, midrange computer and network/ telecommunications services for the firm for the past three years. He has worked in the Chicago and Los Angeles offices of Kirkland & Ellis in a variety of information service capacities for over nine years. Bill managed information services at Jenner & Block in Chicago prior to assuming his current role at Kirkland & Ellis. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan with degrees in German, political science and information studies.

Maria Black has worked in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis for 10 years, the last three as Information & Technology Services Specialist. She has worked closely with Bill Scarbrough on various projects aimed at automating library data entry functions and improving information service statistical reports. She has created a number of databases using Microsoft Access in an effort to enhance analysis of information service levels and customer service satisfaction.

Kirkland & Ellis designed and implemented a library research and document request database last year in an effort to automate workflow, avoid duplicate data entry, enhance data accuracy and improve searching/reporting capabilities. The concept was to create a single database for multiple purposes:
  • Taking and assigning research and document procurement requests
  • Validating client/matter/user data against the firm’s financial management system
  • Recording time worked
  • Loading resulting time and cost records into the financial management system
  • Providing easy access to historical research precedent and billing information

At the time of writing this article, all aspects of the integrated request system are operational with the exception of the electronic assignment of research and document retrieval requests. That portion of the system is still being developed and tested.

The library research request database was designed and programmed by Maria Black, Information & Technology Services Specialist in the firm’s Chicago office, using Microsoft Access 2.0. Prior to implementing the new request database, library research staff relied on paper request forms and a Symantec Q&A time entry database.

The basic design of the research request database allows for both mobile (i.e., stand-alone) and network use (in keeping with the firm’s overall mobile computing strategy). Some library research specialists at Kirkland & Ellis work on a contract basis from their homes and make use of the request database. Local databases are created on each research staff member’s computer (Mytime.mdb) and records are appended regularly to a firm-wide, centralized database (Ourtime.mdb) on the network. This approach ensures fast system response time and avoids the record-locking problems inherent to heavy simultaneous network use of Microsoft Access.

The relational structure of Access allows for excellent data validation. The request application was designed with pull down lists and look up features to identify clients, matters or billing category codes by name. The following field values are validated against tables of data downloaded daily from the firm’s financial management system:

The user-friendly ENTRY FORM provides a good overview of the database:

ENTRY FORM Screen 1
ENTRY FORM Screen 2

Standard queries include:

Standard reports include:

Various maintenance queries and reports have been created for database administration.

Library research staff throughout the firm were trained to use the new request system, but have also been provided with paper documentation, online help features and context-sensitive error messages. Staff feedback on the integrated request system has been very positive.

Efficiency gains and cost savings have obvious since the implementation of the new system approximately a year ago. Incorrect numeric (e.g., client, matter) data entries have dropped to nearly zero. We consider the development time invested in this application to have been well worth the cost.