July 23, 2004

Legal Product Web Sites: Who's Behind the Door?

See if you can figure out which vendor runs Calendar-Software.com. (Note that I'm intentionally not providing the underlying web link -- which amounts to my Google "link vote" and it's not insignificant.) It purports to provide "information about legal calendaring and law practice management software", and includes quotes by some prominent legal technology professionals (I hope they obtained permission).

The sponsor made it somewhat difficult for the visitor to determine which particular vendor is actually behind it, and I have to say this rubbed me the wrong way. The Contact Us page asks for name, telephone number, e-mail address and law firm name, so you can "contact us" -- but the "us" isn't identified. Instead, unsuspecting people are probably just providing the vendor with a sales contact list.

What also seemed misleading to me is that the "Choosing a Vendor" page purports to provide an objective feature comparison chart between a number of well known practice management programs. Interestingly enough, one product received many more "Y's" for supported features than all the rest. Mind you, in my career, I've worked directly in implementing and supporting three of the other products listed, and I'm not currently associated with any consulting firm or software vendor. However, I felt the chart was less than completely accurate on a number of the "N's" several of the others received.

So it didn't take much effort to determine Calendar-Software is registered to Abacus Data Systems, Inc., with e-mail contacts at AbacusLaw.com. No surprise there. My intention here is not to pick on Abacus, but rather, use this as a good example of what not to do with a vendor-supported web site. In my mind, their credibility is completely shot, especially by the fact that they've purported to present an independent company, web site, and feature comparison chart, yet chose to hide behind Calendar-Software.com. Perhaps this example may appear somewhat harsh, but that's what they have generated as my perception. Definitely not a good thing. I'm tempted to ask, what are they hiding from, and who do they think they're kidding?

Note that this discussion has nothing to do whatsoever with their products or services. It's purely derived from the way in which they purported to promote part of their web presence (Abacus does have their own web site at AbacusLaw.com).

Now, for a very good example of a vendor-sponsored web site, I really like how DiscoveryResources.org has evolved. It's sponsored by Fios, Inc., no stranger to the EED (electronic evidence discovery) market. Initially, the site didn't really mention Fios, and in addition to checking the domain name registration, I had inquired who was running it. However, I now see they are disclosing its sponsorship (smart move), and it has evolved into a very good resource for EED news and developments. They offer many articles from well known professionals, and provide updates relating to EED case decisions and more. I don't know if they're allowing their competitors to post information there, but it wouldn't hurt in my opinion. If you're going to offer a seemingly neutral site as a clearinghouse for relevant data and education, then offering diverse competitor views isn't a bad idea, and it hopefully promotes more collegiality in the market if moderated appropriately.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (1)

July 18, 2004

Tips to Identify Your PC's Tasks & Processes

Welcome to Trick or Treat, a new category at LawTech Guru with useful tips, tricks, and other tidbits to make our techno.lives a little easier.

If your PC is acting strange, slow, or if you're just curious as to what's running under the hood (or taken over your PC) here are a couple of easy things you can do:

  1. Check your Windows Task List:

    In Windows, press CTRL-AT-DEL. In Windows 9x, you'll get to the Close Program dialog. In Windows NT/2000/XP, you can then click on the Task Manager button -- you'll have separate tabs for programs, processes, and computer resources (CPU and memory utilization, etc.).

    From here, you can see most items running on your PC (I say "most", because some stealthy programs are designed not to appear in these lists). IMPORTANT: End-tasking various programs and processes can sometimes help, but can also cause problems, so err on side of being extra cautious here. The main goal here is to see what's running on your PC. The problem is that it's fairly usual for programs and processes to be listed with very cryptic names and no description.

  2. De-Mystifying the Task List:

    This is where sites like TaskList.org come in. TaskList.org is a site which maintains a comprehensive list of processes running in your computer. At present it boasts 4276 tasks catalogued, which includes good things (normal system and program files) as well as various malware components. The tasks are indexed alphabetically and there's a search feature as well.

    Also check a similarly focused resource at AnswersThatWork.com. I really like the fact this latter site has extra columns for each item, for identifying the program and manufacturer. What's more, most items include a detailed explanation of what it does, along with a recommendation for keeping or disabling it. Incredibly useful when you're trying to identify and determine whether it's a good idea to disable or remove an item on your PC.

I've often found the above provides a nudge in the right direction when you need to know what's running live on your PC, and it might help you when talking with tech support on a problem.

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat
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July 15, 2004

Blogger Burnout on Wired News

If you're a blogger or considering starting your own blog, here's something to consider, courtesy of Wired News: "Bloggers Suffer Burnout". At times, I've felt it too -- that weird feeling after a few days of not posting anything, that I should be blogging, that I'm somehow "behind" in putting content out there. I've considered my options which mainly boil down into the following categories: 1) Post smaller but more frequent posts just to put something up without taking much of my time, 2) Find material in advance, and pre-post it to my blog to "get ahead" of the game, 3) cloning myself, and 4) just cutting back at times.

Speaking of which, one of the reasons why you haven't seen as many postings here lately is that I've been preoccupied with other things, such as getting settled into my new job and living space, getting my home office network set up with broadband and Wi-Fi (which if you haven't done yet, you don't know what you're missing as long as you take the time to reasonably secure it), working on other writing projects for the ABA LPM section, and naturally trying to fit in some free time to enjoy the summer with my family before I wake up one day and wonder where all my kids went.

I don't like options one and two above, because I've never been a fan of fluff or filler on a regular basis. Cloning myself just raises too many issues (which one of us gets to stay home to surf and blog, spend time with my family, and which one has to go to work. Not to mention that I'd have to deal with myself, now that's a scary thought -- rent "Multiplicity" with Michael Keaton for the whole story).

So, I'm heeding the advice of this and other articles on the subject. I've also considered how I'll be delivering the new "Trick or Treat" category. It takes some time to pull together a quality group of useful tips and documenting same. So rather than have just a single post full of many tips for the week, I'm going to try posting just a single tip or two at time, or perhaps a few more if they're short and simple. In keeping with the title, consider it a light snack that will be quick to read and easy to try. Also, I welcome good tips and tricks, and would be happy to post them here with full attribution. Or just post them as comments -- which is one of the reasons I still have open commenting here, despite the spam comment challenges. The latter is good fodder for tips too, i.e., which third-party comment spam plugin did you use, and how easy was it to set up?

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
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July 12, 2004

Refining Personal KM

Ron Friedmann has this rebuttal to my Personal KM post today. In it, he mentions, "If we concede Jeff’s point, however, I fear that we will confirm that large law firms are nothing but a collection of solo practitioners sharing some overhead. "

First off, I have a very healthy amount of respect for Ron's observations and opinions (his blog should be required reading by any firm's managing partner or committee). However, while I'm definitely leaning on the "personal" side regarding focus, I don't think my point went quite that far. Obviously there is or can be a large amount of shared organizational data (e.g., which attorneys have handled a particular type of matter, which experts were used in which cases, what's the process for prosecuting a patent, where are the prior documents for a similar type of transaction, etc.) that can be collected and leveraged at the organization level. Thus the information necessary for personal KM often comes from organizational information stores. So there needs to be a method in place for "wrangling" that organizational information.

Thanks to Ron's comments, it's made me refine the concept somewhat: My thought was that the use of such organizational information is often personalized -- while fully recognizing that being able to track and generate usable information for various management uses is also a valid need. After working in a number of large firms/companies, I'll go on the record and state that there are indeed many silos with which to contend. Thus formally recognizing their existence should be taken into account in coming up with a KM approach that might actually do a better job of meeting its participants' expectations and workflow needs/styles.

While neither approach is easy by any means, I'm thinking that a KM system designed to meet individual knowledge workers' needs/styles is more likely to bear fruit than one which requires those same people to change how they natively work best. One inherent conflict is that many current software systems require that information be entered rigidly into controlled database fields for data conformity and consistency. Conversely, the need is more fluid and dynamic. That's why I'd love to see something different in the marketplace. Also, KM's nuances are unique not only to each individual, but each organization and culture as well. That's why the same KM approach might work well in some organizations and fail miserably in others.

Thus I really like how Tom Collins summed it up in a comment to Ron's post above, and more elegantly than my humble musings:

"In my view, we definitely need to keep working on organizational KM, but it can only work if we start all KM initiatives from the individual knowledge worker (lawyer) and work outward from there. As I suggest in my blog post, it’s just a matter of the direction of the arrow pointing outward FROM the individual, rather than inward AT the individual.

The work gets done by individuals. Helping them work better as individuals, as small teams, and as large firms, we must start with the individuals. This includes re-inventing the U.S. law firm in terms of reward structures, practice areas (read: silos), and culture values."

I wouldn't suggest a chaos theory, but rather, how can we go from more rigid, rules-based organizational systems and procedures to something that is a more dynamic fit for the person trying to use it, while maintaining data integrity? That's a tall order -- very tall. It's in this regard that I like Tom's analogy of looking at the direction of the arrow. I certainly don't have the answers, but I like asking the tough questions in the hopes that someone more enlightened might just help us build the better mouse trap.

[Update: Just after I posted the above, I saw a new trackback on Ron's post to IT Manager.Net. Indeed, as you can see here, I have many of the same questions. Perhaps it's pie in the sky, but I'd still love to see such a system.]

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard   |   Permalink  |  Comments (2)

KM Thought of the Day

The more I think about how many firms have struggled with the whole KM concept, the more I think people like Dennis Kennedy and Thomas Collins are on the right track: KM is a very hard thing to institutionalize. So why not focus on Personal KM instead?

Are we trying to manage knowledge for the enterprise, or is the real goal to make each of us more productive on a personal level within that organization? We all have very different personal work styles and approaches. So is the best KM solution the one that makes us all march in the same direction? (Let's face it, lemmings are not going to be all that creative or innovative -- and I'll let you decide whether it's fair to make the inference to large firm environments.) I'll concede that for informational integrity (think litigation databases, case managers, and document management systems), data needs to have a certain level of conformity -- or the result is a chaotic mess. But does everyone use that data in the same way? Methinks not.

So is the better solution the one that embraces the fact that we're all different? What's the point of promoting diversity and then make us all row the same way?

So, for example, while lawyers in a particular practice group may need to keep up on new laws and cases, what's relevant and important to me on any given day is probably different from the rest of my group. We work differently, and therefore we organize information, matters, and even personal workspace differently, both physically and digitally. Even at the most simplistic level, I'll bet that if you randomly select three lawyers within the same practice group, you'll find that they manage their daily to do's in a different method. If there's diversity for such a basic task, then think about what happens for more complex needs. Thus while we may need to access the same information, many of us do so from different perspectives and probably with different goals in mind. What works for you might not work for me, and vice versa.

Thus I think the marketplace is screaming very loudly (in a collective silent scream, if you like the irony of it all) for a KM solution that addresses our unique individual informational and stylistic needs. As it's been said, there's riches in niches, and I think the benefits of personal productivity are such that the total is more than just the sum of its parts. Innovation and creativity don't just plod along. They leap out from the most unusual places, in fits and starts. Trying to "manage" that process isn't the answer -- embracing and empowering it is.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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July 08, 2004

Which 802.11g Router is More Secure?

Here's a query for the security savvy -- in your opinion, which Wi-Fi "g" router is better for overall security features for a home network, the Linksys WRT54G or NetGear WGR614?

The background info: The dust has begun to settle after my move, and I've got the cable guy coming in next week to install broadband. They're providing the basic cable modem for free, so it makes sense for me to get an 802.11g Wi-Fi router over the weekend, primarily to share the Internet access, but also to network an HP DeskJet, and for the odd file transfer between two PCs (a desktop and a laptop). The Wi-Fi is primarily for the laptop's mobility, a Dell Latitude D600 with a Dell TrueMobile 1400 802.11a/b/g combo card.

While Wi-Fi performance is important, I'm much more concerned about the security. I've got it pretty well covered on the PC level (software firewall, AV, anti-spyware scanners, checking on Windows sharing, etc.), but it hasn't been fun trying to get reliable security specs on the routers. It would've been better to run a dedicated firewall server on a separate device, but due to a lot of time constraints, I'm just not going to have any time to tinker with it for the forseeable future.

So far, both the Linksys WRT54G and NetGear WGR614 wireless "g" routers look pretty good to me, but I could use a more experienced eye. It appears that both feature NAT, SPI firewall, MAC address filtering, SSID broadcast disable, WEP and WPA encryption, and more. Although one Linksys WRT54G product page mentions NAT, another one omitted it -- any WRT54G owners who can confirm NAT is included? Also, can anyone confirm whether either one can limit the number of connections independently from MAC or IP address filtering (since MAC and IP addresses can be spoofed)? Their tech support people weren't terribly helpful or certain on this one. For instance, it would be good to limit connections to only 2 PCs, as well as by MAC and IP addresses.

Given that time is growing short, I'm hoping someone can confirm these security specs and/or make an experienced recommendation between them (or offer a better selection if warranted) for best overall "g" security. I won't be running any 802.11b devices, so this is a pure "g" environment. I'm looking to stick with proven, quality name brands for support, warranty, and firmware upgrade issues. Have I missed anything?

Many thanks in advance for all comments and/or e-mail replies.


Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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The EDDix 50: Another Great Resource for Legal Blogs

If there's one thing you've probably noticed about blogs and bloggers: we like useful lists with links. Thus you'll probably want to add the EDDix 50 to your collection.

This is a great resource, because the blawgs listed (and the blawgers behind them) are among the best resources for insightful, creative, savvy, and cutting edge information and discussions relating to the legal market. With all due respect to legal publishers, if you've ever watched "Men in Black", I consider blawgs to be the "Hot Sheets" of the legal world. To adapt Tommy Lee Jones' line: "Best damn legal practice commentary on the planet. But hey, go ahead, read the New York Times if you want. They get lucky sometimes." Per EDDix, "...the bLAWgs listed below -- the EDDix 50 -- are different."

The "value add" is EDDix 50's additional editorial features. Besides offering a savvy capsule review for each, it clearly indicates whether each blawg features an RSS feed, is listed on the Daily Whirl site (see below), and/or features an e-mail newsletter subscription. In addition, the EDDix 50 editors have coded select blawgs with a blue- or red-bordered box. It's marked blue if the "bLAWg being reviewed covers EDD topics", and red to signify that "regardless of focus, [EDDix] thinks this bLAWg or blog is MUST READING". Nice job.

You've also got to love an EDD site that doesn't take itself too seriously: "The EDDix 50 is dynamic because the world's dynamic and, quite frankly, we're fickle." Amen. If you haven't come across EDDix (Electronic Data Discovery Information eXchange) yet, that's because they're still in their site's beta launch. EDDix's niche is attempting to provide independent research, analysis and reporting on the EDD marketplace, and their mission is to make sense of EDD so you can make the right decisions.

Thus I'm truly honored to be included on the EDDix 50, and it's long been my goal to make this techie stuff more understandable and useful for others, as well as pointing out savvy ways to bake it into the practice and improving how we ultimately serve our clients. It also doesn't hurt to poke light fun at ourselves in the process. (I sometimes share with a wink that I'm a "recovering attorney" -- and it's a 47 step process.) Per EDDix: "We like people who make sense out of nonsense. In legal tech, JB's our man." Thanks. It's also important to point out that there are many other great blogs (legal and otherwise) available online, so these are not the end-all. They are, however, a good starting point to find information of interest and then finding others via their blogrolls and other links.

Other good legal tech lists and links that I HIGHLY recommend:

  • Dennis Kennedy's "The Strongest Links" column on the ABA LPM's Law Practice TODAY e-zine.

    Each issue, the column provides a crème de la crème list of web links on a particular topic. While there's no separate link to his columns, they appear to be archived under the e-zine's "Technology Articles" category -- which is another great resource for legal tech info and tips. I recall reading that Tom Mighell (of Inter Alia, another EDDix 50 blawg) will also be contributing to the column, so it's in great hands.

  • Ernie the Attorney's list of legal feeds.

    If you're new to reading RSS feeds, read his post first. Otherwise, all you really need is his list of blawgs in the standard OPML format, which you can easily import into your favorite news aggregator/RSS reader.

Finding other blawgs:

On the subject of EDD, another good web resource is DiscoveryResources, which provides "up-to-date information, resources and news available about electronic discovery." There are a ton of free articles written by savvy experts on a variety of EDD, case law, and legal technology issues and developments.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Electronic Discovery
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July 07, 2004

iPods & Flash Drives Are Probably Worse Risks Than Camera Phones

...At least in my opinion. Many camera phones on the street still take fuzzy low-res photos (although that's a-changing too, with more megapixels coming all the time). This isn't saying that they can't be used to compromise sensitive information, record movies, violate privacies, etc. Of course they can.

However, while the mainstream is busy banning camera phones like it's the latest fashion craze, innocent-looking camera-less devices (and their owners) can easily be making off with a LOT more information. Compact, high capacity, and high speed USB and Firewire devices connect nearly instantly, without security measures or additional drivers, and can receive or transmit a lot of information in a very short time. Consider iPods, portable hard drives, tiny flash drives, flash card readers, and more. Why steal a desktop or laptop PC when you can make a copy of its potentially more valuable data in a fashion that's quick and nearly undetectable? On the flip side, they could be used as entry points for distributing malware into various networks.

The allure of these tiny, light, ultraportable, hot-swapping, plug 'n' play marvels (which Windows instantly mounts) is incredible. After all those years of suffering through torturous legacy hardware incompatibilities, popping off PC cases, and incurring the lifetime scars from sharp innards, we've finally arrived into hot swap Nirvana.

Apparently, Gartner thinks so too, as the The Register reports these devices are the latest security risks. Don't get me wrong, as I'd rather part with a thousand blurry (and thus mostly useless) camera phones before giving up my High-speed USB drives. They're that convenient and they just plain work (like doing a full Ghost dump of my laptop's drive in 12 minutes under full compression, and restoring it in under 5). Quite a long while ago, I read an online news article about folks walking into computer stores with hard drive music players and using them to download and pirate Mac software right off the sales floor PC's (it was probably on Wired News or The Register). Back then I wondered how long it'd be until these devices would be banned in commercial places.

So once again, the mainstream feels good in banning cell phones all over the place to feel secure. In my mind, why capture bad video when you can get perfect copies of the source? Doh! It's not like these things haven't been around longer than camera phones. Just something to think about if you routinely leave your PC unattended and unwatched during meetings, lunch, etc. Even if you tie it down with a Kensington cable, make sure you lock it via Ctrl-Alt-Del. With new tiny flash drives being endowed with 32-bit processors and server capabilities, I truly feel it's only a matter of time until someone comes up with an even slicker way to suck your secrets while you're standing in the express check-out lane during lunch.

Of course, all of this discussion begs the question of why chance getting caught in the physical act at the scene of the crime? What the news story really should have mentioned is that even USB (Ultra Speed Burglary) and laptop lifting is passé today when you think of the chic-ness and thrill of doing it wirelessly through all of the many grossly insecure consumer-configured Wi-Fi networks and personal firewall-less notebooks. Somehow it gives new meaning in a Wi-Fied McDonalds when they ask if you want it "to go".

[P.S. It's good to be back posting again after over a week's self-imposed abstinence, which is highly unusual for me. Between the new job, the near-endless unpacking, holiday, and being an active Dad and husband, something had to give. Like life, the summers in the Midwest are too short to miss -- especially when it comes to grilling beer brats and enjoying good company on a perfect summer's eve. Rest assured the tips and tricks are still in the works.]

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Privacy & Security
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