May 31, 2005

Blawgs & Advertising Rules

Just happened to see this today on, from the New Jersey Law Journal:

Advertising Panel Lays Down Rules for Law Firm Ads on Web

While the article is silent on legal blogs (or blawgs if you prefer), it's good reason to take a look at your state's advertising/ethical rules. With legal blogs' continuing explosion, I expect it's only a matter of time before someone runs afoul of their respective requirements (if it hasn't already happened). Yet another item to add to one's checklist before firing up that new blawg.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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May 27, 2005

Podcasting Gains Momentum -- Is It Here To Stay?

There are likely differing opinions regarding Podcasting: Is it just a fad or a disruptive technology with a bit more staying power?

Many of the same comments were said about blogging, and it's still expanding after its humble beginnings from around '98-'99. Well over five years in Net time isn't a fad, in my opinion -- it's a breakthrough. RSS feed technology helped blogging to skyrocket. Why? Because it vastly improved the delivery mechanism. No longer did we need to visit many sites manually to get our information fix. We subscribed to content, and it came to us. RSS readers allowed us to aggregate, slice, dice, clip, search, and organize it to our desire. It allowed us to reach larger audiences, and to integrate content across site barriers.

While podcasting is definitely a bit newer, I'm seeing the same types of discussions online -- both in blogs and in mainstream publications. For instance, check out BusinessWeek Online's recent slew of articles on podcasting. Big business has already gotten into the act, but some are discovering that the copyright laws haven't yet caught up with the technology, and are understandably skittish.

The misnomer of podcasting is that you don't need an iPod or even a portable MP3 player to listen. A software-based player such as Windows Media Player, Winamp, and numerous others do the job nicely. But taking that route is a bit more manual.

However, combine all the above, and you've got something, well, revolutionary. Take the RSS feed technology and use it to improve the delivery mechanism. Use a good RSS reader like FeedDemon, which includes a tool like FeedStation to automate the process: After you subscribe to a podcast RSS feed, FeedStation can automatically download the podcasts and transfer them to your iPod -- all while you sleep. Pick up your iPod for your morning jog or drive to work, and you have a convenient way to timeshift an audio broadcast. No wonder it's being compared as Tivo for radio.

Returning to the blogging corollary, blogging made both web publishing and reading easy -- really easy. It made web publishing and content management as easy as sending an e-mail to your web site. RSS feeds made it just as easy for consumers of the information. Right now, podcasting is easy on the end users as I described above. However, creating commercial-grade podcasts still takes significantly more effort, and requires a number of production tools. Basic blogger-talk podcasts are somewhat easier to produce. I've listened to both, and while content is still king, adding commercial-grade polish is definitely appreciated and easier on the ears.

It's still too soon to say where Podcasting will end up, particularly with respect to copyright issues when music is added to the mix. However, it's definitively picked up both momentum and a fairly large following within the past 6 months alone. By name, it carries the cachet and mystique of the iPod itself, which has definitely contributed to its popularity and ease of use. It's caught the attention of big business, has hit mainstream journalism, and can be a relatively low cost method of marketing. Indeed, it has the earmarks of another media revolution, much like internet and satellite radio have caught on.

There's a convergence factor at work here: Perhaps the best podcasting user experience occurs when all of the above blogging, RSS, music, and iPod revolutions are combined. In other words, perhaps Podcasting isn't all that revolutionary once one sees what it's built upon. It's the next piece of digital media evolution utilizing the tools of what came before, and extending them with new tools, such as iPodder. But give the innovators their due credit -- it's certainly a creative approach.

With all that said, like blogging, podcasting still has uncertain terrain to traverse. Unlike the text contained in RSS feeds, podcasts are audio content in typically MP3 format. As such, the consumer basically has to listen to it to benefit from the content. I've been waiting to see if anyone develops a podcast speech-to-text application for archiving the content in searchable form.

There are definitely first-mover advantages to be gained. Some podcasts will likely do well, and again, like blogging, some will not. There's room for both broad-podcasting and niche-podcasting. As something that's new and exciting, it will likely draw in the advertising dollars. It's still in search of a business model, which is why advertising is a quick win for podcasters. I've found some Podcasts a fair waste of my time, and others entertaining and/or informative. I'm intrigued where it's headed, but I'm going to reserve judgment for awhile yet. In the meantime, I find the momentum encouraging.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
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May 23, 2005

Using eBay to Locate Stolen Goods

Who says you can't take a bite out of crime online? How about this for a cool electronic discovery, thanks to some clever thinking:

"Burgled mum finds stolen iPod on eBay"

At least she had a personally-identifiable iPod. It's getting so bad regarding iPod theft that one might consider a Kensington MicroSaver-type cable for it. ;^) Just in case anyone still thinks those cables are effective, check out this video (link courtesy of Gizmodo) which shows how to pick the lock in seconds flat with a cardboard toilet paper tube. Yep, that's what I want protecting my laptop. Right up there with the Kryptonite Evolution 2000 U-Lock, pickable with a ballpoint pen.

Where there's a will and cheap household items for the use...

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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May 19, 2005

44 Fun Things To Do With Your iPod

There's no question when it comes to portable music players: There are iPods, and then there are all others. In my humble opinion, no single line, not even the famed Sony Walkmans, have created an entire accessory economy coming even close to that still growing with iPod users. Just peruse iPodLounge's considerable listings and reviews if you need any convincing. The funny thing is that iPods aren't even the most fully featured devices, despite their good looks and nice interfaces. Like where's the built-in FM receiver? Naturally, this leads us to exploring additional ways to get what we want from them.

So you have an iPod? Even if you've tried podcasting, whether just listening or even broadcasting, you've just scratched the surface. If you really want to push the envelope, check out "50 Fun Things To Do With Your iPod" (it's only 44, actually). The list ranges from the conventional (FM transmitters) to the highly creative, such as making a RAID array from Shuffles, or using your iPod as a universal remote via a clever sound-to-IR converter.

Perhaps the best ideas were the ones that combined existing solutions in a new way: "Wake up to your mp3 collection: Using an iPod with iTrip and a normal radio alarm clock, tune the radio to the frequency the iTrip is broadcasting to, set the wake-up times on both devices for the same time, and your music will play through the alarm clock when it goes off." (I'd err on the side of having the iPod wake first, or you're likely to get a blast of static from the radio -- although that could be highly effective for the intended purpose. ;^)

Another one I liked was the Linux-based text-to-speech application mentioned, particularly if it can announce the iPod's navigation menus. Then you don't have to pull out the iPod if it's in your pocket, or watch the menu display if you're driving. But it's best left for those more tech-savvy, as it appears quite experimental. Unfortunately, most of the third-party iPod remotes currently available don't offer menu navigation features, buttons, or screens. There's definitely a product niche gap here for a more robust RF remote.

Some of the other ideas are just fun, even if they aren't practical -- a testament to the iPod's versatility and deep customer adoption.

Incidentally, I found the link to this listing from Lifehacker, a great tech lifestyle blog, right up there with Engadget and Gizmodo.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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May 16, 2005


I just got back from Interwoven's GearUp! Conference. Many people would probably yawn at the prospect of attending a three day conference on document and content management, but I've left invigorated. Talk about a mass infusion of information, news, strategy, and most importantly, change management ideas!

Hands down, two of the best presentations dealt with the issues of user adoption, which boils down to good change management. First, Peter Lamb and Pat Morris of the Torys law firm shared their challenges and triumphs in their early adoption of WorkSite 8.0. One of Peter's first comments: The technology itself played such a small role, while the change management issues were paramount -- more than anyone had anticipated. Rizwan Khan, Interwoven's Director of WorkSite Professional Services, also delivered a stellar discussion on change management for matter-centric collaboration.

The problem, in the immortal words of the Pogo comic strip character, is "We have met the enemy, and he is us." We don't like change. Think about it: It took a great deal of effort to become proficient doing what we're doing. Every time we start to get comfortable, even with an inefficient process, someone or something comes along to the reshuffle the cards.

Both sessions emphasized several key processes that absolutely must be done well for a great rollout:

  • Get upper management in the game ASAP
  • Involve all levels of staff
  • Most importantly: Analyze your business processes before plugging in new technology.
Consider the last one carefully: How can you attempt to automate a process if you haven't defined a) What it is you're currently doing, and b) How you want it to work more effectively?

DM is becoming more like KM -- it doesn't really do as well on its own anymore, and there tends to be greatly different needs depending on the specific business requirements. One size still doesn't fit all.

To be successful, it needs to be baked into our regular workflow and processes. Over the past few years, Document Management has evolved and morphed into a much larger concept: Enterprise Content Management, or ECM. Content isn't just limited to word processing files. People, not organizations, create all kinds of spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, web pages, graphics, video, and more. No one likes having to do even more work to save their work, such as filling out profiles and classifying documents. Thus the allure of matter-centric systems -- being able to drag and drop the desired files into virtual folders that auto-profile them for us, organize them for us visually, add subscription capabilities (so we only see selected matters, not thousands of them), and make it easier to find them later.

The end goal is to make it more usable -- make it easier and more intuitive for the end users to get their content both into and out of the system. Seamless integration makes it easier as well, especially when it's done right. All of which contributes to higher user adoption and buy-in, which ultimately reflects itself in a higher ROI and organizational effectiveness.

But to get there, it definitely entails change, and that change needs to be managed thoughtfully and carefully, rather than merely being imposed on pre-existing processes, workflows, and mental models.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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May 05, 2005

Failing Forward

Gerry Riskin's insightful post is a perfect companion to my online discussion with Ron Friedmann this week: Gerry, a co-founder of Edge International, recently discussed why firms need to stop worrying about perfectionism and develop strategy such that they "fail forward". As he quoted from The Warrior Class Blog, "The idea is to “fail forward” in such a way that, even when what you try doesn’t work, it puts you in a better position after your move than before it."

Gerry adds:

Food for thought: It is quite natural for the best lawyers in the blue chip firms to be perfectionists, at least in so far as the practice of law is concerned. However, when it comes to formulating strategy, I believe that the perfectionist mindset must be suspended in favor of taking action. Many good firms are paralyzed by perfectionism and out-maneuvered by those who are willing to try things and learn from their efforts. It was Edison who was asked for a comment after trying over 2000 times to make a light bulb and still failing – he responded by saying he was the only person who know 2000 ways not to make a light bulb. Of course the firm must guard against embarrassing itself or offending clients but, at the same time, the willingness to fail is essential for learning how to become premiere business developers. Even amazing lawyers in amazing firms must fail on occasion, but when they do, they “fail forward”.
One of my favorite inspirational quotes is: "Reach for the moon, for even if you miss, you'll still land among the stars."

But I greatly prefer to flip it around: If you reach for the stars and only succeed in landing on the moon, you're still in a better position from where you started. The essence of failing forward.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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May 03, 2005

The Right Answer to Ron's Wrong Question?

Ron Friedmann, a sharp guy and colleague, "recently asked a lawyer whether his firm was pursuing a relatively new idea and his response was, 'how many other large law firms are doing that?' Ron's reply was "why is that a relevant question?"

Ron ultimately revealed the question was whether that firm had considered a blog, and the interesting issue is how firms think about change and new ideas. "Large law firm technology managers who suggest new initiatives frequently face the question 'how many other firms are doing that.' Most businesses evaluate a proposal based on benefits, costs, feasibility, and risk." He asked to hear from someone who has a better explanation.

Ron, I agree with you, and perhaps I can add another perspective. As an observation, many legal organizations are conservative, risk-adverse environments. Lawyers are trained from Torts 101 to recognize, assess, manage, and avoid liability. So, if one is risk adverse, rather than follow Nike's motto, he/she will naturally ask, "well, before we do it, let's see if anyone else has tried it and observe what happened to them -- we don't know what will happen if we try it first." "Let's let someone else be on the cutting edge and see what happens -- we have other things on our plate to attend to."

Yes, benchmarking is a useful tool, but it quickly becomes a hindrance as a knee-jerk reaction to replace critical, original entrepreneurial thinking. The problem with looking left and right all the time is that one becomes accustomed to not looking forward on their own. As Ron, Dennis Kennedy, myself, and other blawgers have mentioned, there is a vast amount of untapped first mover advantages for law firms. A few have recently begun to realize this, but the rest are still very slow to follow -- well, at least until several other firms have tested the waters for them. The irony is that while more and more attorneys "get" what savvy technology application can do for them (perfect example: BlackBerries and wireless networking), they're much more cautious about it in client-facing situations.

While that's understandable to some degree, Ron is right that good business decisions are based on other factors than what the Joneses have tried. With legal services becoming more of a commodity every day, the Joneses are going to have a more difficult time to distinguish themselves if they continue to let their competition go first.

Instead, firms would likely fare better by defining their overall business and marketing strategy, and then find ways that other firms haven't tried to execute their plan. Instead of asking "why", I've always liked the semi-irreverent approach of asking "why not", and then get creative in finding ways to work through any objections, mitigate risks, and justify the decision. Now that's something that legal management understands and appreciates.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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