October 23, 2008
Current State of the Legal Profession
Ron Friedmann is attending the ALM / Incisive Law Firm Leaders Conference in New York this week, and is blogging several sessions. Yesterday, he posted his notes from the first session: Current State of the Legal Profession.
Those who believe the old cliché that law firms are recession-proof should read it. Twice. His notes from the session cover a number of topics near and dear to firms' management -- leverage rates, pricing, quality, compensation alignment, and more.
I found the comment interesting that while GC's uniformly complain about price, their will to change is anything but uniform:
In a lot of matters and for a lot of clients, controlling cost is paramount but there is still an elite group of matters (e.g., investigations), where litigation budgets still will not matter very much. But many firms have grown so much that they really cannot focus on this sweet spot. So some larger firms find that they have to compete on cost. But surveys show that while GC complaining is universal, their will to act, to change, to exercise control is far from universal. Many clients are not willing to act on costs if they get decent service and results. If you look at the current crisis, clients have had a flight to quality (that is, high price firms). So cost-sensitivity may not be as acute as some think or say.Thus providing high-quality services while anticipating their future needs, and being responsive and accessible are still some of the best ways to retain clients in good and bad times. If they're happy with the results, it's psychologically more difficult for someone to change providers based purely on cost differences and promises.
October 13, 2008
Your Virtual Space or Mine?
Many professionals are listed on LinkedIn, which caters to the professional crowd. However, should you also participate in MySpace or Facebook for networking, or are they just for the young crowd? The Snark answers the question, "Will You Be My Virtual Friend?" on Law.com. While the Snark's style is perhaps best described as an acquired taste, you might be surprised by some of the answers.
May 19, 2008
Litigation Support Leaders Honored in D.C.
I just returned from speaking in D.C. at the International Litigation Support Leaders Conference, organized by Litigation Support Today magazine. It was a well-organized event, especially as it was the first one offered by the magazine, attracting litigation support managers and professionals from across the country. It was a very focused conference with excellent speakers and engaged attendees, yet the highlight was easily dinner Thursday evening. Albert Buckwalter (LST's Editor) honored those litigation support leaders with the Betsy Ann Reynolds Awards for Excellence in Litigation Support in several categories. So often are litigation support professionals the unsung heroes in the legal profession, and it was nice to see some recognition for their efforts and leadership:
Beth Kellermann, Litigation E-discovery Manager for Apple, Inc., was recognized in the corporate legal department category. Florinda Baldridge, Director of Practice Support for Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, was recognized in the private law firm category. Also, Carl Kikuchi, Branch Chief for the Office of Litigation Support, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division was recognized in the government category. Congratulations to all.
But it was especially warming to see long-time friend and colleague Tom O'Connor receive top honors industry-wide for his selfless work in New Orleans, helping lawyers after the spotlight on Katrina had faded. Many may not know this, but Tom relocated to New Orleans and organized free CLE for attorneys by getting speakers and vendors alike to respond, and brought other resources and ideas.
During his speech he asked, "Who helps lawyers?" The answer is, of course, other lawyers. In his unassuming and down-to-earth manner, Tom told me afterward how even a relatively simple thing as providing free copies of software to struggling attorneys brought on tears of thanks. That's how much this assistance was needed. As Tom shared, while the the larger firms generally had more resources to rebuild, what were solos who practiced out of their home offices to do when they didn't even have a roof over their head? Some had to move away, but those who stayed needed all the help they could get to continue on. The public usually thinks of the negative aspects of the profession, and sometimes with good reason, but it's people like Tom who make me proud to be a member. Congratulations Tom, it was well deserved.
February 09, 2008
Word 2007 -- A Tale of Two Experts @ LegalTech NY
It was the best of times: While making my way through the vendor hall jungle at LegalTech NY, I had the pleasure of catching up with Donna Payne (Payne Group) and Sherry Kappel (Microsystems). I always find time to seek out these document technology savants, and this week's discussions were as helpful as ever.
My personal opinion is that Office 2007 is the clear winner from Microsoft this past year (definitively overshadowing Vista), and the massive improvements are well worth the office suite upgrade and third-party integration efforts. Sherry insightfully observed that with Word 2007's linked styles right out of the box, firms are likely going to need to pay even more attention, not less, on training and reinforcing solid style usage with their user base. As Sherry mentioned in a recent ILTA publication, if you're not automating your document practice, then how are you going to maintain your margins when your corporate clients demand a substantial rate cut? Also, she noted that the new XML format, while adding some needed document file stability, also adds a bit more complexity due to the XML intricacies.
Donna Payne and I had some techno.fun comparing and contrasting Word's built-in Document Inspector capabilities to a dedicated metadata scrubber such as Payne's Metadata Assistant. On one hand, it would seem that Word's built-in Document Inspector gets the job done. Both Donna and I have used it and found it to be effective, especially in a pinch where you're working on a simple document and just need a quick scrub before sending it off to someone. When you want to remove just about everything, it pretty much does the trick. But in comparing notes, we quickly agreed it has several fundamental weaknesses:
1) No Workflow: In other words, when using Word's Document Inspector, you have to remember to manually scrub and save the Word document before you start the e-mail process. Third-party scrubbers add the necessary workflow which allows you to scrub the file as part of the e-mail attachment process.
2) No Selective Scrubbing Within Each Category: For each of Word 2007's five scrubbing categories, it only offers you an "all or nothing" approach for the items in that particular category. There is no middle ground. So if you want to scrub only some of the document property fields, but keep a few like "Author" and "Title", you'll need to first remove all of that category's metadata, and then manually retype in the few you want to retain. And that's a bad thing, because you can lose useful or necessary metadata in the process if you're not careful.
So while we've seen very substantial improvements in Word 2007, firms and companies will still need to assess their overall practice workflow and specific scrubbing needs, and it will likely take third-party add-ins to more fully address them.
January 29, 2008
2008 Thoughts on Vista & Office 2007
Listening to the tech press, you'd think Windows Vista is on its death bed. John Dvorak is behind the "Vista Death Watch", and other trade mags are supporting efforts to "save" XP. Not that the latter is a bad thing -- Windows XP's current state is that of an excellent operating system, very stable and mature, with more moderate hardware requirements than Vista. But of course, that wasn't how XP arrived, was it? No -- lots of hardware and driver incompatibilities, and it was very unstable and regularly crashed for many until the first two service packs (SPs) showed up. XP SP1 even managed to trash a number of PCs so badly their owners had to wipe them and reinstall XP from scratch. Talk about the ultimate failure for a patch designed to increase stability and performance. Thus many IT pros are waiting to see what SP1 will do for Vista.
Will Vista end up similar to how the market received Windows ME? The comparisons would seem apt so far. With each platform generation of Windows, Microsoft has typically taken three times to get it right, and the fourth to bloat it up beyond repair. The last time around, it was Win95, Win98, Win98 SE (widely acknowledged as the best and most stable of the Win9x series), and of course the "Millennium Edition" which was so bloated and troubled that it mainly only saw installations in the consumer PC market -- and many of those were sold as pre-installations on new PCs. This time around, we started out with the clunky Windows NT, saw substantial improvements in both Windows 2000 and XP, and are still wondering how Vista will play out.
The big success story for Microsoft is that their new Office 2007 line rocks compared to their previous efforts. I've been using the Office 2007 Professional suite since June and am hooked. Better and easier comparison tools built into Word (finally!!!!), built-in metadata removal, etc. The ribbon bar simply rocks. Outlook 2007 is a joy to use and its built-in search is blazingly FAST! I added OneNote 2007 recently and it's really been improved -- lots of new features and integration with the other Office 2007 apps and IE to easily move information over to OneNote. OneNote's new indexing and search within images is utterly fantastic. Microsoft actually listened to their customers in developing Office 2007, and it shows. While organizations will need to plan their migrations and third-party integrations with the Office 2007 suite carefully, I think many will like the numerous improvements once they give it a chance.
Despite the press-mongering, from direct experience I also don't have much in the way of negative feelings for Vista so far. Is it bloated? Absolutely. Does it consume disk space faster than an interstellar black hole? You bet. Does it seem designed by a committee with no unifying theme other than the "Aero" look and feel? Affirmative. But is it unstable? Not in my experience so far, although I'll reserve judgment until after I've installed all the forthcoming SP1-related patches. I've been running Vista Ultimate (32-bit) on a new Toshiba mid-range laptop since June with a TON of new and legacy apps, and overall it's been a pretty good experience. In other words, it hasn't stopped me from getting things done. No system crashes, no "stop" errors, mostly just some apps stopping and restarting.
With the above criticisms said, Vista is not without its charms. There are a number of things I really like about Vista:
Overall, and with the exception of hard-core gamers needing XP's faster performance, I see Vista as a nice OS for home users buying new PCs -- though it's somewhat crippled without Ultimate's enhanced features. Other than the new drive encryption and other security enhancements, it's definitely a tougher sell for businesses. There's just not that much noticeable improvement or enough compelling new features to justify moving from XP yet, especially when you consider the substantial cost and effort involved in testing/migrating hundreds of legacy programs to ensure their compatibility. Not to mention Vista has significantly higher hardware requirements if you want good performance for your users.
Thus Vista's OS licensing is only the tip of the total cost iceberg. IT executives are likely considering skipping Vista altogether and deploying the next OS, "Windows 7", when it ships (right now it's slated for 2010, but we all know Microsoft usually pushes back its ship dates along the way). The trick is to manage the time gap if Microsoft doesn't change their plans for phasing out XP. Currently, mainstream support for Windows XP SP2 will end on April 14, 2009, after which it switches to "Extended Support" that will last for 5 years until April 8, 2014.
As long as businesses are able to purchase new XP Pro licenses during this gap as needed, it will seriously undercut the need to upgrade to Vista. Many industry analysts are predicting Microsoft will extend XP's mainstream support given the considerable outcry from home and business users alike. However, MS usually waits to just before the support cutoff deadline before announcing any extensions, as earlier announcements would only serve to provide more reasons to stay with XP instead of upgrading.
Office 2007, on the other hand, is a noticeably superior improvement, and the clear winner from Microsoft this past year. Since switching, I never want to go back to an earlier version. The many new features and enhancements actually work well. Microsoft's apps division finally gets it.
Bottom line, if I were a CIO looking at Microsoft upgrades, I'd invest in Office 2007 and offset it by staying put with WinXP for a bit longer, especially as SP3 is coming and should extend its life. Don't get me wrong, I actually like Vista and have had a good experience with it so far. But when it comes to quantifying it, Vista is a much tougher sell for businesses than consumers.
January 02, 2008
Are Legal Service & E-Discovery Providers Becoming a Commodity?
It's funny how personal events tend to lead me into various thoughts and discussions about the legal market. Yesterday I flipped on my digital cable box to see that effective with the new year, Comcast has taken over Insight's cable business in Illinois. Knowing that Comcast has had several years of turbulent press (e.g., regarding tracking customers' web history, firing customers who used "too much" of their broadband connection, and the latest controversy over interfering with customers' BitTorrent file transfers), I did a little Googling to reacquaint myself with the latest news and blog posts.
In doing so, I found this insightful post at the Manifest Destiny blog. The gist is that broadband ISP providers are afraid to admit to themselves that they're just selling a mere commodity -- shipping bits. And, that it's virtually impossible for them to be honest with their customers if they can't first be honest with themselves. Before I relate this to the legal market, let me quote the following to help put things into clearer perspective:
"It must be pretty awful to wake up one day and suddenly realize that you're in a commodity business. As a software developer I've at least had a taste of it - it was unsettling to realize that an army of developers in Bangalore could churn out code better than I could, dollar for dollar. I had fooled myself into believing that what I was selling was so extraordinary and great that people would be begging - begging! - for me to deign to craft some SQL and PHP on their behalf. Such a rarified gift! Such a technical artiste!Which got me to thinking, "Haven't we been experiencing this in the legal market?" Legal work is being outsourced to armies of contract reviewers both here and abroad. Some of these lawyers aren't employed directly by law firms, as e-discovery providers are quick to tout their expanding review centers and legal outsourcing companies are growing. There are more e-discovery service providers than hardly anyone can keep track of (although my friend George Socha provides great value in doing so with Tom Gelbmann). Like the constant M&As in the wired and wireless telcos, e-discovery vendors are continuously being merged, acquired, and/or creating strategic partnerships with their "coopetition".
Is "Distinguishing" Easier Spun Than Done?
At various conferences this past year, such as ILTA's and ACC's annual conferences, plus the IQPC 4th E-Discovery Conference, I've asked many e-discovery vendors -- especially the conversion and hosting providers -- what distinguishes their services from their competitors? Some were quick to mention their proprietary web-based hosting and review software, while others point to their lower-cost contract legal reviewers, high-tech review centers, high-volume capacity, and/or quick turnaround. A few also mentioned either their top Socha-Gelbman survey rankings and/or their blue chip client list. While certainly impressive factors, these last two didn't serve to distinguish what they actually do.
Very few, if any, truly offer the full soup-to-nuts range of services all by themselves (i.e., without partnering). This isn't a criticism, mind you, as it's extremely difficult to build and excel in all aspects of the EDRM model by yourself, especially in the deadline-driven high-volume and high-stakes cases. Instead, several have distinguished themselves with niche software mousetraps for litigation holds and e-mail analysis. Others have begun building litigation-readiness consulting teams to get their feet in the door. I have to say I sincerely appreciated all their candor and hospitality, and overall found it to be a very congenial group of dedicated professionals trying their best to help their clients.
But for the most part, when I speak with lawyers and e-discovery consultants (some of which are both), many feel it's difficult to see any significant differentiation from a client's perspective, at least until they've had a chance to work together on projects. It's far easier for me to speak with friends and colleagues at law firms and in-house legal departments to hear who they've had good luck with (and those who have not been so good), than in trying to determine this from the e-discovery and law firm providers themselves. In short, even their best sales and business development executives have some difficulty with this, and it's understandable.
Now don't get me wrong -- legal and e-discovery providers offer valuable and necessary services, especially in light of the wide and blindingly bright spotlight cast by the increased focus on ESI. Rather, I'm simply left wondering how many firms and providers have truly recognized the market has already shifted into a more pronounced stage of commoditization. Everyone talks about providing "value-added services" while sustaining growth and profitability. The savvier ones focus on the client value not as the lower per-unit cost (thus recognizing the commoditization and competition issues), but on the overall cost savings achieved in successfully and timely resolving the matter -- all while avoiding the costs and negative publicity of discovery sanctions.
Larger law firms have been building up their litigation support and related IT professionals, and changing focus to make them a profitable line of business rather than a cost center. Yet some are still challenged to find this magic path while being extremely cautious (and rightfully so!) in taking on the liabilities and risks associated with the more forensic aspects. In addition, corporate counsel routinely say the top large law firms generally all provide high-quality services. In my opinion, this just adds to clients' perception of commoditization and their increasing desire to receive them at reduced or fixed cost -- assuming most everything else is being perceived as nearly the same.
Where Does This Leave Us From the Client's Viewpoint?
Answer: A rapidly-changing, crowded, and confusing set of choices. All of which makes it challenging for any single provider to, well, single itself out or make a large enough splash. Of course, a top-ranked spot still helps as lawyers tend to go with whomever most others are using -- as long as their professional network confirms good results. Offering a unique niche product or service is good too, and even better when properly aligned with one's other offerings and resources. Making it onto a client's preferred provider list is still incredibly important. Getting there and staying there without cannibalizing future revenues is the challenge. To borrow Bill Engvall's tagline, "Here's your sign" of legal commoditization.
Most recently, we've seen the entré of automated document search providers. In attempting to prove their solution is significantly more accurate and perhaps less costly than manual review, they are beginning to distinguish themselves from commodity-level contract reviewers. Indeed some of us are keeping an interested eye on these developments. While still nascent, there is potential here if they can deliver on their assertions and convince legal decision-makers that it's worth a try. Only time will tell if this is sustainable or just another tech fad that didn't catch on with more conservative lawyers. And if it does prove sustainable, how long before it too becomes commoditized? Or will there be a legal market "Google" to emerge as the distinguished leader?
As recessionary concerns grow, it will be even more incumbent on corporate counsel to continue to reign in legal costs while generating positive results for their corporate client. Some types of litigation matters increase in bad economic climates. Which means, of course, that the next few years could bode well for those service providers who can distinguish themselves with their potential client base and return consistently good results at an acceptable price. I'd even say the latter is the best way to distinguish yourself in the long run. As we all know from recent cases and the press, bad news travels fast.
As these services become even more commoditized, however, there will likely be even more shakeout and consolidation among providers. Now is a good time for those looking to fill in their gaps. Corporate clients generally prefer more depth in their outside providers. Not to mention their purchasing departments likely have been minimizing the number of outside suppliers to gain better pricing advantage and to simplify (i.e., reduce) their vendor administration overhead. They will likely provide some pushback to legal departments seeking new providers. In some cases, this will extend the RFP process unless or until corporate legal puts their foot down and tells them they need someone "Now!" So while there will be growth, particularly among e-discovery providers, expect it to be rather dynamic in terms of the overall player makeup. Like Comcast above, I expect the larger players will enjoy a larger land-grab. We'll also see a number of middle and smaller players assimilated or perhaps relegated to the less complex, more localized matters, where low cost and local access for clients is very attractive. We've seen this time and time again in the scanning and coding industry.
However, there's no magic crystal ball, and only time will tell how the legal market responds. There will be some legal decision-makers who have already recognized the importance of addressing these issues early, and many who will be economically cautious, only paying as needed. Sometimes that saves money, and sometimes saving money gets very expensive on the clean-up side. That's where having a good discovery advisor-partner is worth its weight.
We'll continue to see further consolidations and partnerships among e-discovery and other technology providers. We'll see more outsourcing, even if it's only internal to that provider (think coding banks in India and China, for example), to increase their global reach and financial efficiencies. And like my cable TV, we'll be launching our browsers or RSS readers only to find that ABC provider is now part of XYZ. Stay tuned...
December 20, 2007
My InsideCounsel Column on Technology Counsel
My next column is available at InsideCounsel, which explores the emergence of the Office of Technology Counsel. I've been hearing and indeed have engaged in more and more discussions in the legal market about how most companies are still nowhere near where they need to be in their litigation readiness. While it is improving somewhat, slowly, and likely under the pressure of sanction avoidance, the lawyer/IT gap is still a major challenge, as is the capacity of their interdisciplinary teams to handle both their regular day jobs along with these increasing duties.
Add into the mix recent case developments such as the Qualcomm vs. Broadcom imbroglio, and it's easy to see where communications and overall e-discovery coordination are still breaking down between the team players. I think those companies experiencing the most pain, and more importantly, those willing to learn from it, will be exploring additional organizational changes. We've already seen this in the wake of SOX and other regulatory requirements with the establishment of compliance offices. Those seeking to understand an Office of Technology Counsel's place in the organization can refer to my mission quote from the column:
"In short, this office’s mission is to transform the organization from one of reactive fire drills and ad hoc processes into a well-oiled machine to enhance repeatability, accountability, predictability and overall risk management. When done well, this translates into enhanced defensibility."The article includes a bullet list of related duties, some caution when developing the Office's reporting structure, and help on where you can find a suitable Technology Counsel candidate.
November 01, 2007
ACC Survey Reveals Key Trends with In-House Counsel
Law.com has a great AP write-up on the 2007 ACC/Serengeti Managing Outside Counsel Survey, a collaboration between the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and Serengeti Law, released at ACC's Annual Meeting on Monday in Chicago.
From my perspective, here are some of the key take-aways:
1. In-house counsel are utilizing more systems, such as e-billing and matter management, to perform more business intelligence (BI) and metrics-based evaluations of their outside counsel's performance.
This should come as no surprise to anyone working with corporate legal technology. Better tools exist today, and law departments are able to either consolidate some of their data silos or at least push/pull data more meaningfully from various sources. More comprehensive reporting tools and dashboards enable more insightful analyses and comparisons of outside counsel performance on a number of key indexes. In addition, matter-centric systems allow better data normalization, data integrity, and integration of workflows.
In addition, in-house counsel are much more likely to use these systems to maximize discounts for early payments, also known as fast-pays. When outside counsel budgets are in the millions, or hundreds of millions, even a small discount adds up to significant dollars. In return, outside counsel benefit by having on-time and reliable positive cash flows with little or no collection effort.
2. Law firm extranets are declining as in-house counsel prefer to utilize client-centric systems.
It's difficult to do proper BI and pull your data together if it's spread among both in-house and a number of outside firms' systems. A common complaint among in-house counsel is having to log into multiple outside counsel and in-house systems to gain access to all their information. Depending upon the number of outside firms, it can be inefficient for in-house counsel to learn how to navigate different outside systems and manage multiple logins. In my opinion, internal (or alternatively, some ASP-hosted) web-based systems are on the rise for ease of access and collaboration while reducing desktop support.
3. As a result, corporate counsel are setting more rules for their relationship with outside counsel.
This goes beyond setting billing rates, as corporate counsel are including requirements for early assessments and regular updates, as well as technology expectations and data formats. In-house counsel are likely to continue increasing the number of rules in their outside counsel guidelines.
4. Corporations have heightened legal compliance concerns.
The complexity of regulatory requirements is increasing, along with high-profile investigations and trials involving executives and in-house counsel. While other costs are being managed more tightly, this is an area where in-house counsel are likely more willing to engage outside counsel and potentially increase budgets for this work. This presents outside counsel with additional client service and revenue opportunities, along with opportunities to further cement their relationship with upper-ranking corporate counsel.
5. Convergence of outside firms continues, but is not exceeding expectations.
About a quarter of corporate law departments surveyed use convergence (working with a smaller number of firms) to achieve better rates, efficiencies, and consistency of work. However, most companies reported that it only met (i.e., did not exceed) their expectations. Even though there was a drop from the previous year, the AP article also reported the median number of outside firms remained fairly steady when looking at past years' data overall. This suggests to me the following:
From my experience, none of these should have presented any real surprise. However, it's good feedback to validate where in-house counsel are headed both technologically and in managing their outside counsel. Overall, in-house counsel are becoming more information-driven, are updating their technological tools, and are taking greater interest and participation in their outside counsel relationships. For the corporations they counsel, that's good news.
October 17, 2007
My InsideCounsel "Tech Talk" Column on Matter Centricity
I'm pleased to announce I've recently begun contributing to InsideCounsel magazine for their Tech Talk electronic newsletter. My first column addresses "Matter Centricity", and describes how corporate counsel can benefit from integrating their various informational systems, such as matter management, e-billing, and document management.
Implemented effectively, there are significant workflow improvements to be realized, as well as enhanced data consistency, information access, and elimination of unnecessary "busy work". Conversely, there are a number of considerations and hurdles to overcome in implementing a truly matter-centric environment, some of which are not readily apparent. Check out the article for more information, including items for inclusion in your business plan and methods for managing costs with external consultants.
August 07, 2007
EDD -- ILM Needed to Take Out the Trash
This Law.Com article by Stanley M. Gibson, "Hit 'Delete' to Prevent EDD Disaster", tells the tale of how a company was ordered to produce millions of electronic documents and e-mails spanning over half a decade to the losing tune of a $570 million judgment. That's in addition to the costs incurred for legal fees and allocated costs of collection, restoration, conversion, review, and production of the data.
Unfortunately, hitting "Delete" is not sufficient. If nothing else, the result just became a compelling benchmark of why implementing ILM (Information Lifecycle Management) can indeed be cost justified. If a company may have to pay millions (or perhaps billions in the total tally), why not invest that money -- proactively -- into a solution that reduces financial risk and produces tangible operating benefits to its users in terms of structured data management and collaboration ease? As real-life EDD examples such as this continue to occur, an effective ILM implementation with proper policies, training, and management reinforcement could very well be the gift that keeps on giving.
April 18, 2007
Collaboration Thoughts: Google "Presently", Parallel Processing, Simplification and Savvy Execution
Google is rounding out their web office apps with a PowerPoint clone. Mike Arrington at TechCrunch blogged on the announcement yesterday at the Web 2.0 expo. As a word play on Writely, Google's collaborative word processor, Google fans are now eager awaiting "Presently".
Although it's still early, I tend to agree with Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comment that it isn't a threat to Microsoft -- yet. With Office 2007's release and obvious refinements (particularly the ribbon bar), enterprise and legal markets are already sitting up, taking notice, and planning their upgrades. However, in this Web 2.0 era of business at the speed of broadband, waiting for revisions to roundtrip through multiple people is becoming more and more burdensome and costly. Think serial processing vs. parallel processing. Core Single vs. Core Duo.
Would I trust Google's web tools with confidential or sensitive data? [Update: No. A major concern I do not see going away any time soon is how easily a third party will give up records under subpoena, or threat thereof, when there may be defenses or other protections available to the data owner. There may also be security concerns]. But there have been times when I've been collaborating with one or more CLE presenters when it would have been incredibly helpful to work on the same presentation file concurrently.
I also like Workshare's Professional Suite's "Manage Changes" feature, particularly for Word documents. It goes Track Changes a few times better as it allows you to import and manage revisions from multiple reviewers within the same document, enabling a more flexible review and revision process.
Collaborative technology can definitely help, but it's not a panacea by itself. It doesn't eliminate the need of those involved in the process to understand and identify more efficient ways of conducting business.
I recently re-read the Corporate Counsel article, "Seven Sigma: GE lawyers take a low-tech road to come up with a high-tech way to draft contracts quickly" (I believe it was the Jan. 2007 issue, no web link available). It describes how GE's law department -- using only sticky notes -- tore apart and simplified the process for drafting contracts, cutting their document length, complexity, and execution time dramatically. Then they implemented the technology to facilitate it. If they would have tried to automate their existing voluminous contract forms around the old process, I seriously doubt the gains would have been anywhere near as rewarding.
Web 2.0 has been getting a lot of hype, along with criticism for over-hype. Some of it is probably deserved, but businesses and their lawyers would do well to give it a spin. Before the ride is over, it'll likely get people thinking and moving in a new direction.
March 18, 2006
Enhancing Mobile Security - Feature Article
Organizations usually focus more heavily on protecting the castle by fortifying its defenses. However, mobile technology security can be a bit more challenging, in no small part due to the plethora and complexity of devices, user mobility, and increased risks outside the firewall. Sometimes it doesn't receive as much attention, or perhaps is perceived as less securable. Thus I've recently written a feature article on effective mobile security techniques, strategies, and policies, entitled "Enhancing Mobile Security". The downloadable PDF is compatible with Acrobat 5 or higher.
This was originally published as the cover feature in the February/March 2006 issue of Law Office Computing. I am greatly honored by Amanda Flatten, LOC's Editor and Publisher, for granting me permission to publish it here. Amanda, you're the best. If you're in the legal field and have any interest in improving your practice via savvy use of technology and keeping abreast of new developments, then I highly recommend a subscription to LOC.
Avoiding Mobile Computing Burnout
Whether you're a road warrior or just tote a few mobile gadgets, I think you'll find this article helpful in setting expectations and managing your stress from always being accessible. It was recently published online at eLOC, the e-magazine version of Law Office Computing. A hearty "Thank You" goes to Amanda Flatten, the Editor & Publisher extraordinaire, for graciously permitting me to post the entire published version here at LTG (especially for those of you who download the RSS feed).
Avoiding Mobile Computing Burnout
Use technology to enhance your work, not take over your life.
By Jeff Beard
It’s no secret that lawyers and legal staff have high-pressure jobs. As if we were not multitasking enough, mobile technology makes us even more accessible to client service and other demands. Untamed, it leads to information overload, multiple interruptions throughout the day and more stress.
Are your wireless gadgets just making you more wired? Do you need to go on a technology diet? Clients demand more access to you, and you want to provide good service. Mobile technology offers many tools to help you do just that. The problem is, sometimes they deliver too much of a good thing.
Consider how many devices and technologies are used to stay in touch: wireless e-mail devices; Wi-Fi laptops loaded with e-mail, office suite, time entry and various practice applications; cell phones; hands-free headsets; a lot of cables (laptop power brick, modem, Ethernet, universal serial bus, FireWire, audio, iPod charger, cell phone charger and personal digital assistant charger); home, office and cell phone voice mail accounts; professional and personal e-mail accounts; office, PC and Internet faxes; text messaging; instant messaging; replicated e-mail account on your laptop’s hard drive for offline reading; Virtual Private Networks, Citrix or other remote access software; camera phones, digital cameras and portable scanners; and a prepaid Starbucks card (for a liberal dose of Wi-Fi and caffeine).
That is a lot of technology to manage. It’s not uncommon to hear of professionals checking their e-mail in the middle of the night, while driving, during their children’s sporting events and let’s not even dwell on the restroom scenarios. While some will deny these stories, I have heard them all. The faster you respond, the faster your clients and co-workers expect you to in the future. After all, you reinforce their expectations with a five-minute turnaround from your BlackBerry or cell phone. Congratulations — you have just become a victim of your own success. All isn’t lost, however. There are a number of ways you can avoid mobile computing burnout and reduce information overload.
Set Reasonable ExpectationsJim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program, recommends setting parameters with clients during the initial interview. “Communicate that you will normally get back to them within 24 hours, not including weekends,” Calloway said. “Share that you process messages on a first-in, first-out basis. Think about how you are going to handle the client relationship and what mobile access means.” The same goes for managing your relationship with your employer or co-workers. Calloway said legal professionals often can set themselves up for failure by committing to do too much, but setting realistic goals and ground rules will help you manage your workload.
Determine Which Mobile Devices Work for YouWhen it comes to traveling, less can be more. Ask yourself what you truly need to be productive and if you really will use what you take along. If you are reasonably tech savvy and comfortable with different gadgets and access methods, it might be worthwhile to have alternative technologies at your command. If you are not a technophile, then try introducing one new gadget at a time. That way, you are increasing the odds you will be comfortable using it on your own.
This might be a gross oversimplification, but generally I find two main types of BlackBerry or Treo users: those who can’t wait to get one, and those who really, really don’t want one, ever. If you are in the former category, make sure it’s for the right reasons and not just to have a status symbol or another tech toy. If you are in the latter category, take heart and use these tips to set reasonable expectations with others regarding your accessibility. You might be able to agree on alternative communication methods or less onerous response times.
Minimize Interruptions and MultitaskingRemember, technology speeds up many tasks, including the pace at which we make mistakes. “It’s important to recognize multitasking invites errors and misunderstandings,” Calloway said. “We have all sent e-mails that we wish we had never sent.”
Brett Burney, legal practice support supervisor at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, advises professionals to avoid the diminished returns of too much multitasking and to focus on the quality of work clients deserve.
Learn and Use the Technology You HaveBurney said he sees a lot of frustration stemming from underutilization of mobile gadgets. “One great way to avoid at least some of the tech-burnout today is to educate yourself on the functions of a device, and beyond that, even to learn a few tips and tricks,” he added. For example, instead of manually scrolling through e-mails, Burney said Treo users running GoodLink software simply can press the “T” key to jump to the top of the list to read a newly arrived message. “While it might only save me several seconds, I am happier because I am immediately looking at what I want to see. I realize this means spending more time with a device, either reading the instructions or just playing with it, but it pays off in the long run because I don’t get so frustrated,” he said.
Also, be cautious about adding mobile technology to your arsenal too quickly. Give yourself a chance to absorb it at a comfortable rate. Don’t ask for it if you don’t need it. If you need it, then learn how to use it properly and use it on a regular basis. Great tools are a wasted investment if you can’t use them when you really need them. Don’t wait until you are on deadline or two hours before a flight to pick up a new mobile tool without sufficient training. That is just asking for stress. Instead, plan ahead, test it and ask questions so you will be able to use it well before you leave. For instance, remote access accounts can become disabled if not used regularly. If you have VPN access, but use Web access most of the time, you could forget your VPN personal identification number or password, or the account might need to be reset. This is best summed up as “use it or lose it,” in which case you have unanticipated remote support problems adding to your stress level. Also, it’s not fun for the Information Technology folks who must support your remote technology. In many cases, an ounce of prevention keeps disasters at bay.
If you don’t have time to teach yourself how to properly use mobile technology, find out if your organization or a technology vendor offers any training or user guides. Portable cheat sheets and instruction cards are useful and easily fit into a briefcase or laptop bag.
Recognize That Technology Isn’t PerfectBad things often happen — batteries die, power cords get left behind, hardware fails, software applications have bugs, viruses abound, entire systems become unavailable at times, and yes, we all have made mistakes while using technology. That is life in the digital age. In recognizing this, however, we can generate effective alternate plans to get things done.
For example, if your cell phone or PDA dies, have a backup list of names and telephone numbers on your laptop or on a flash drive. Planning ahead for outages and problems is one of the best mobile lawyering stress relievers. It’s only a matter of time before Murphy’s Law strikes, and while it’s never fun, knowing you still can communicate and work productively under pressure is a nice safety net.
Use the “Off” ButtonMobile devices have to be recharged — and so do you. If you stay connected all the time, you will become drained and less productive. Put all your commitments into perspective and make adjustments. For instance, turn off wireless e-mail devices and cell phones at family events, or even better, consider whether you really need to bring them to these events at all. Admittedly, most of us like to carry cell phones for personal safety and convenience. In that event, it’s OK to send calls to voice mail. For this reason, I prefer phones with external Caller ID displays for triage purposes. Check if your phone offers a shortcut to manually force an incoming call to voice mail rather than having it vibrate or ring several times. For example, I discovered that pressing the side volume down button twice on my LG cell phone does the trick.
If you are in a meeting with a client, there is nothing worse to that client than constant buzzing or ringing interruptions. This gives the client the impression that you are not giving your full attention. Indeed, some firms have added this to their etiquette training. For longtime road warriors, cutting that wireless cord can feel strange at first, but it gets easier with practice.
As professionals, we are quite fortunate to have a wide variety of mobile tools at our disposal. As tools, they serve very useful functions. The trick is to manage them before they manage you by setting realistic expectations and ground rules. There still will be times when you become overloaded or frustrated, but I hope some of these tips better prepare you to anticipate and work through them.
Stress-Busting Tech Resources
Jeff Beard is the legal services IT manager with Caterpillar Inc., a Fortune 100 company headquartered in Peoria, Ill. He is a former practicing attorney, and is a frequent national author and presenter on contemporary legal technology and practice management issues. Beard enjoys working with mobile technology, and covers many such devices and issues on his blog, LawTech Guru. This article was submitted in his individual capacity, and all views stated are his own.
December 01, 2005
Free eBook: "BlawgWorld 2006: Capital of Big Ideas"
I've been a long-time subscriber and occasional contributor to The TechnoLawyer Community. It's a unique free service for seeing what's new and interesting in the world of legal technology. TechnoLawyer is also a particularly great place to get some good ideas and feedback on various topics and technologies. I've seen it evolve from a simple listserv into an organized online community, spawning many topic-focused newsletters, an integrated blawg, and basically giving its readers more substance than noise, a rarity indeed.
Along those lines, Neil Squillante and his capable crew have been working for months on delivering even more value to their subscribers. I'm happy to say the fruits of their labor are now available in their new TechnoLawyer eBook, BlawgWorld 2006: Capital of Big Ideas. It's designed to take you on a journey through 51 of the most influential blawgs. (And yes, LawTech Guru is included -- I thought I'd get that out of the way, as I'm truly honored to be in such good company.)
I was immediately struck by the high quality of the publication in PDF format. There are some phenomenal thought pieces in it, and couldn't help myself from sinking into reading many posts from some of my favorite blawgs as well as others I had not visited in a while. With so many blawgs available today, it's all too easy to miss some great posts, even with using an RSS reader.
BusinessWeek Online's blog, Blogspotting, recently asked, "Where are the good law blogs out there?" Well, here you go.
BlawgWorld 2006 has something for everyone: Whether you're new to blawgs and are wondering where they are and which ones to read, an avid blog reader who'd like to catch up on some of the better posts you may have missed, or somewhere in between. If ever you found yourself thinking, "so many blawgs, so little time," then the BlawgWorld 2006 eBook is a great stop along the way. Each blawg's representative thought piece contains a brief author and blog bio, as well as the topics it covers. This makes it very quick and easy to skim, and you may just find the articles useful. If nothing else, they are interesting and thought-provoking -- exactly what you'd expect from good blawgs and their authors.
While the eBook is free, you do need to be a TechnoLawyer subscriber to receive it. If you're not already one, I recommend joining (it's a free sign-up). While Neil probably wouldn't want me to say this, you can always cancel at any time, so there's little lost in the effort and much to be gained. Enjoy.
October 15, 2005
AmLaw 200 vs. Fortune 500: Alternate Realities in Professional Development
Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith, Esq.) has this great post comparing The American Lawyer's release of its annual survey of mid-level associates, and Business Week's cover story on "how to recruit, train, and hold on to great people."
Bruce presents a bone-jarring juxtaposition of negative comments relating to some law firms' approach to professional development vs. that of Fortune 500 companies. As he quoted from the AmLaw survey, "sometimes it's not pretty" in terms of what occurs in large firms. Read the quotes. Having worked in both small and large firms, none of those comments are surprising to me -- keeping in mind that it's always dangerous to generalize or take comments out of context. But clearly, there is something to these concerns.
In stark contrast, savvy corporations are walking the walk and talking the talk: They are devoting substantial resources in finding and developing their greatest resource: People. For instance, read "Caterpillar Constructs a Leadership Pipeline". This is not merely lip service, it is the corporate culture as embedded and fostered by strong leadership.
One of the basic tenets of Six Sigma is "steal shamelessly all non-proprietary and non-copyrighted ideas". In other words, if you find something that has worked for someone else, why reinvent the wheel? Let's just say there is much law firms can learn from their own clients, and they don't have far to go to get it. The real question: How many want it?
September 12, 2005
NY Times: Katrina Left a Legal System in Shambles
For those wondering just what Katrina has done to our legal system in its wake, the New York Times piece, "A Legal System in Shambles" chronicles the many legal problems caused by the devastation as well as the very human impact.
Update: Championed by Ross Kodner, and joined by many legal technology experts, vendors, and more, HelpKatrinaLawyers.org is now online. Ross describes it as a "Resource of volunteers for legal technology, practice management and disaster/data recovery for any law practice affected by Katrina".
The site describes in more detail the type of help they are marshaling across the legal market:
June 24, 2005
As I attended an intracompany conference this week, I had an opportunity to speak with various people who have had radically different jobs throughout their careers. I don't believe it's any coincidence they were also some of the most dynamic and engaging people I've met, and that they had advanced well within the organization. Good business people have more than just technical competence, more than just managerial skills. They have a broader perspective gained from diverse experiences.
A few years ago, I attended an insightful keynote by Attorney Christine Edwards of Winston Strawn in Chicago. It was entitled, "Accountability at the Speed of Thought", which addressed the challenges and responsibilities that chief legal officers face today. I blogged it as she made a number of key points, which I summarized:
These points are even truer today, and indeed have risen to become imperatives. Successful organizations need diverse, well-rounded business professionals who understand the technical, business, process, and human issues. To get there, we need to continually reinvent ourselves. While our technical and management competencies are surely important, our overall business savvy, adaptability, and creativity are even more critical in the long run.
So each year, try to do several things you normally wouldn't do within your comfort zone. Get involved in a different kind of project, one that will bring you into contact with others you normally wouldn't see. Get involved in a committee that you otherwise wouldn't consider. Do some volunteer work in your community. Take a trip. Consider additional education, and it doesn't have be formal. Consider things like Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie, or LaMarsh. Change jobs. Heck, it can be something as simple as teaching yourself to juggle. Above all else, I've found it increasingly important to make time to reflect upon what makes you happy, including your life goals (not just career-related), and visualize how you might get there.
Granted, some of these are more easily accomplished than others. But consider that should you fail, you'll likely fail forward -- definitely not to be confused with "failing upward". I'm sure by now you've noticed I'm a firm believer of change or die.
There are many organizations who need your talents in a wide variety of capacities, and you just might discover something about yourself you didn't know. If you're already in a great situation, the experiences and perspective gained will only make you more valuable. In other words, what's the downside?
June 16, 2005
Don't Lead, Enable!
[Bruce:] But without buy-in, where are we? Aren't we still staring at a landscape of still-born tech initiatives? Actually, there is an alternative. CIO's (and their departments) need to stop thinking of themselves as "leaders" [stay with me on this one, folks] and become "enablers:"Thanks for summing up my philosophy so eloquently. Long-time readers may recall my feature article, "Are You an "Enabler?" published here the first month I went live (Sept. 2003).[Bruce quoting Michael] "In other words, IT shouldn't be a change or transformation leader; it should be a change or transformation enabler. What's the essential difference? For the purpose of this column, leaders are those individuals most responsible and accountable for setting the right objectives and ensuring the right results. Enablers, by contrast, are those individuals most responsible and accountable for providing leaders with the tools, techniques and technologies for achieving those objectives and results. Enablers make effective leadership practical and probable."
To sum it up:
- Find or create something that acts as an enabler.If you've found a good fit, you'll likely find that you don't have to do much selling yourself. Your customer will take care of that.
Set them up to succeed and provide support when needed. Then you're working from a much stronger position of a "pull" than a "push". They will want to pull the solution from you, rather than you trying to "push" it on them. It's not easy, and it often requires some cleverness on your part to figure out how to do that. (That's why they hired you, right?)
Is this a bit radical? Probably. Will it always work? No. But don't let that stop you from trying. Fail forward.
[By the way, we're so much on the same page here that I authored the title for this post before I read the linked CIO.com article and its subheadings. Innovative minds sometimes do think alike...]
June 14, 2005
Six Sigma for Dummies
I've previously posted my thoughts about Six Sigma -- it's a problem-solving methodology for improving business and organizational performance. A number of very large companies already use it, though other organizations (such as law firms) would likely benefit as well. Through the relatively new Six Sigma Blog, I see that a new ""Dummies" book has been published, "Six Sigma for Dummies". As the Six Sigma Blog's capsule review mentions:
"One of the biggest inhibiting factors preventing wider Six Sigma implementation is the percieved [sic] complexity of the program. Most managers are simply clueless about the process, preventing them from seriously examining Six Sigma as an alternative for their company. Fortunately, Six Sigma for Dummies rectifies this by explaining in very straightforward, albeit at times simplistic, language the nature and benefits of Six Sigma. In addition, a number of small to mid-sized companies have been unable or unwilling to make the capital investment necessary to incorporate the Six Sigma process. This book will allow the novice to incorporate some basic Six Sigma attributes so that they can percieve [sic] for themselves the benefits of the program and ultimately incorporate it to a deeper degree."Having been involved in a number of Six Sigma projects, I've found it a valuable methodology. It provides a number of approaches for identifying the root cause of a problem, what's broken in a process, and methods to quantify inefficiencies and benefits from process change. The latter is often difficult to do in service professions. Thus having additional tools to quantify value propositions can help firms get past a number of financial and other objections -- and it just might provide some valuable insight into how their larger clients operate.
Over the past several years, a number of large firms have begun PMO (Project Management Office) initiatives, particularly in their IT departments. While that's a great start, there is likely additional value to be obtained by incorporating Six Sigma. As its roots are based on statistical analysis (hence the name, Six Sigma), kudos to any resource that makes it easier to adopt and understand.
June 01, 2005
TechnoLawyer @ Awards
Thanks to my fellow colleague and blawger, Jim Calloway, I've just read LawTech Guru is in the running for "Favorite Practice Management Blog", a new category for this year's TechnoLawyer "@ Awards" (paragraph #4). I'm honored to be nominated and thankful to be in such good company. It's also just nice to know others have found my contributions helpful.
I also think it's important that whoever wins, wins on their own merits. So I'm not going to ask for your vote. (Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it if you do, but I just don't feel right asking for it. Vote for the blog you like best.) A number of we blawgers are good friends, and we enjoy giving something back -- especially in trying to improve the quality and practice of law. We put a tremendous amount of effort, thought, and personal insights into our posts, and we hope it shows.
I will suggest that if you haven't yet voted, please do so if you have the time. The voting ends on Friday, June 10, 2005, at midnight eastern time. You need to be a TechnoLawyer member to vote (it's easy to join). I'll direct you to Jim's post, as he's done such a nice job of compiling the instructions and linking the ballot form.
Also, I was surprised to see that as of yesterday, no one has voted for "Favorite Practice Area Blog". There are certainly some exceptional practice-specific blogs out there, well-deserving of some recognition for their efforts. If you have a favorite or have found one useful in your practice, by all means give them something back by voting.
(As you may have noticed, that means I haven't voted yet. One more item for the tickler list!)
May 31, 2005
Blawgs & Advertising Rules
Just happened to see this today on Law.com, from the New Jersey Law Journal:
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.
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:
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.
May 05, 2005
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."
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.
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.
February 24, 2005
Low Effort, Low Risk Networking
Keith's idea: If you can't find any time for networking, then don't. Don't stress yourself out over it either. Instead, let networking time come to you. How? By meeting people during the things you're already doing. Consider your down time while waiting in line, in a waiting room, running errands, etc., and then turn that dead time into networking time.
Keith posts a particularly inspirational account of how his friend Ben found a job in a new line of work by networking while at jury duty. Well, perhaps "networking" isn't the best description for his particular approach -- basically, he got up in front of a huge crowd of potential jurors and asked who was in the line of work he wanted. His timing was impeccable, and one can't argue with the results.
Here are my take-aways from all of this:
January 03, 2005
A Hearty Welcome for Jim Calloway's Blog
Now here's a great way to start the new year in blog style: "Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog" was just launched yesterday. Jim is a Law Practice Management veteran: He's the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program, current Chair of the ABA TECHSHOW Board, frequent presenter and author, and more.
I've enjoyed the privilege of working with Jim when I served with him on the TECHSHOW Board. He's wanted to do this for some time, so I expect he'll have plenty of tips raring to go. Jim excels with his common-sense approach, and breaks down practice management and technology topics into plain language. Thus I have no doubt his blog will be another great resource for law practice tips, management ideas, and other insights. Welcome to the Blogosphere, Jim!
November 20, 2004
More on In-House EDD
Dennis is "a bit more optimistic about law firms going into the electronic discovery services business". Along those lines, I think that the right combination of legal, lit support, and IT staff could do well with examining, searching, organizing, and producing electronic evidence that has been collected by a qualified EDD source. Indeed, many firms have been doing this to some degree already. There is a particular line of evolution that has the potential to serve firms quite well if they're willing to commit to it and recognize the value of their Lit Support Manager and IT Department collaboration.
Before I get to that, however, Dennis could very well be right in that an extremely small number of law firms with the properly trained and certified EDD people on staff and the right hardware and software savvy just might pull it off -- but by far this is the exception to the rule, as it's going to require an unconventional progressive-thinking and tech savvy culture (not too common in law firms, I'm sad to say). And they will still need to consider and address all the issues we've collectively mentioned, and more. Is there first-mover advantage? Possibly. However, I think there's a more "balanced" approach worth considering.
For this, I'm going to refer to several sources that Mike Arkfeld mentioned on his Electronic Discovery and Evidence blog a little over a month ago:
75% of Top Law Firms Not Qualified to Handle EDD MattersI actually read Mike's post well after I expressed similar thoughts. I'll reiterate from my prior posts that I believe that counsel and staff need to challenge themselves to be more educated on technical matters relating to computer systems, data, and EDD issues, and they need to be closely engaged with the EDD process. Of course, this is not going to happen overnight. But in doing so, they can guide the process, offer counsel, and make sure that the expensive EDD resources are being focused in the appropriate areas.
Mike also has another key post on this topic that is definitely worth mentioning:
Role of IT in Law Firms re EDD, which links to this article: Conference Preview: Use your EDD by Andrew Haslam. Andrew explores many of the issues we've discussed, and the example of a firm who crashed their entire computer system by hosting EDD is a good caution.
Having worked closely with various Lit Support and Project Managers, I think he's on the right track in the following quote, because I've seen it happening already:
"How will all of this affect IT departments? I believe that the role of the litigation support manager will evolve from one focused on the processes of scanning, coding and hosting systems, into a higher level of strategic adviser and project management. In parallel, the IT function could start to move from being a cost centre to a business contributor."Now this is where I suspect more firms will be successful overall in extending their EDD savvy, rather than trying to become the full-blown in-house EDD provider. It allows a more gradual, less-costly ramp up. It also provides a greater opportunity to improve the quality of advice and service to their clients -- with less overall risk to both relating to EDD collection and custodianship. Another advantage is that it gives the firm time to evaluate their options and directions as they evolve with EDD. For more firms, this is probably the most doable proposition I've seen to date, because it enables firms to progress while keeping closer to doing what they know best -- their core competencies.
November 09, 2004
In-House EDD: A Controversial Topic at Best
Ron Friedmann (Strategic Legal Technology), along with Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith, Esq.), think that bringing Electronic Evidence Discovery processing in-house in law firms (as suggested by this recent Law Technology News article) is a bad idea.
I agree with Ron and Bruce's comments, which I've summarized below:
Bruce's post explains several reasons why law firms should not bring EDD in-house:
1) EDD is not a law firm's core competency (the "stick to your own knitting" Management 101 theme)
To this, Ron adds his note of caution:
"It is much easier to explain and justify a third-party disbursement than a law firm’s own time or line item charges (e.g, copying). Clients realize that the EDD space is rapidly changing and can reasonably expect a law firm to seek competitive bids. This does not mean that the lowest price wins; rather, it helps assure a reasonable price for the right services."
To these I'll add a few thoughts of my own:
1) Anything that puts a law firm member on the witness stand during the course of client representation is probably not a good thing. In the case of EDD, I believe it increases one's malpractice risk and the risk of losing cases and clients -- unreasonably so.
2) Consider the conflicts of interest inherent in offering certain ancillary services. This isn't new ground. It's been done before, and here's the best example of its impact: Recall the great "consulting" expansion of the Big Six (now Big Four) accounting firms? These firms discovered that their consulting arm created a number of conflicts.
Section 201 of Sarbanes-Oxley now expressly prohibits a large number of these ancillary services from being offered in conjunction with audit services. Even before SOX, some firms began to spin off their consulting divisions. Maintaining objectivity, especially when it comes to rendering expert services and opinions, is more valuable than most professionals realize.
3) While I know a number of very tech-savvy attorneys, I believe most law firms, and their lawyers in particular, lack the required competence in technical and forensic matters. This probably sounds harsh, and perhaps even a bit jaded, but it's my perception of current state of the legal market. There are always exceptions, and lawyers are generally becoming more tech savvy -- but overall, very few have the requisite tech knowledge in this highly specialized area.
I'll extend this point: Many law firm IT and litigation support departments, in general, are probably not properly trained in the necessary forensic techniques and issues, nor on all of the various client computer systems from which they would need to extract and collect data. Again, I'm talking about the technical proficiency issues here, not the legal ones. While a firm could go out and hire EDD professionals, consider then who will be responsible for managing them and the results. It just doesn't seem to me to be anywhere near the average law firm's core competence. This stuff is tricky, and if you don't know what you're doing, you can end up in a world of hurt in a hurry. Which brings me to my next point...
4) For a reality check, read "Prosecutors Leave an E-Trail" from October 2004 issue of Law Technology News as a good example of in-house EDD processing gone seriously wrong -- in this case, for the U.S. Attorney's Office. While they were fortunate in securing a conviction, it illustrates many of the points above. For a simplistic-yet-drastically more catastrophic result, read "Fax Error Costs EC €100m Court Case". While these are probably the more extreme examples of what can go wrong with technology, the sad fact remains that they occurred.
5) As Ron stated, clients pay for outside experts in litigation all the time. Why would they believe a law firm would have a higher or even equal level of experience and objectivity with lower overall costs when compared to an established outside expert/consultant? Also consider that if a lawyer or a client becomes dissatisfied with an expert's services, they can fire the expert and obtain another while maintaining the valued continuity of the lawyer's core services. When the lawyer or law firm becomes the expert, guess who gets fired? Donald Trump would have a field day with his slogan. The lawyer/firm gets thrown out with the bath water.
6) EDD service providers and consultancies have sprung up out of the woodwork, and I expect the EDD market to grow in revenue dramatically as more "core" information in cases is digital. However, like Bruce mentioned, I too expect a lot of shakeout in this market segment. Remember the ASP (Application Service Provider) craze near the end of the dot.com boom? Where are they now? A lot of consolidation and bankruptcies occurred in the interim -- and it all took place in less than five years (I'd say between 1999-2003). There are still ASPs in various markets, including legal, but it was a very turbulent ride that many did not survive.
This isn't to say that all ancillary services are a bad idea, nor should this be taken one way or the other regarding MDP (multidisciplinary practice) in general. These are all controversial issues at best. I'd suggest that one needs to look beyond the perceived gravy train to consider all ramifications, and especially those for the clients. However, I believe most law firms (and their clients) considering this specific service option would be better served in the long run by letting this one go.
However, as a seemingly-paradoxical corollary, lawyers (not just the litigators) as well as their clients need to challenge themselves to become as tech savvy as possible in this electronic era. Only more electronic information is being created, not less. There's much value to be had in the ability to know which questions to ask, how and where to find information, perceive patterns and issues, identify appropriate courses of action, and counsel clients on the associated risks and cost-benefit analyses. Now those are the lawyers and legal staff I want to know.
[As with all my posts, I should clarify that the above statements are made completely in my individual capacity as my own thoughts, and that none of this constitutes legal advice of any kind. You're free to draw your own conclusions. I'm simply applying good old fashioned common sense coupled with my experience in legal technology issues.]
October 05, 2004
Perhaps the most challenging part of any CIO or IT Director's job is managing expectations. To get the IT budget dollars, you need to justify them with a good business case -- in other words, you need to sell it. But it's all too easy for business executives to get an inflated expectation of what the technology can reasonably deliver. After all, technology is the CIO or IT Director's bag, not management's.
That's why I really enjoyed reading CIO.com's "THE NO. 1 CHALLENGE: Managing Expectations". It lists the following five ways to help bridge the expectations gap:
September 14, 2004
Four Best Practices From World-Class CIOs
CIO.com has a nice article summarizing the following four best practices that can lead to better IT performance at a lower cost. According to the Hackett Group, a research company that focuses on benchmarking, the following items differentiated the world-class IT groups from median IT organizations:
These truly make a lot of sense to me. I've seen numerous IT departments get bogged down trying to support duplicative and overlapping systems, cleaning up inconsistent data due to lack of controls (process discipline), and just having every program under the sun installed and supported. Sometimes less is more, particularly when it's strategically orchestrated.
Interestingly, Ron Friedmann just posted a similar thought, "Technology is Not Enough". He references an article which "supports the view that IT expenditures have little impact on productivity unless they are accompanied by first-rate management practices."
August 17, 2004
Why Law Firms Need to Understand (and Even Embrace) Six Sigma
Now, after having joined Caterpillar Inc. as their Legal Services IT Manager, and experiencing firsthand a fully-immersed 6 Sigma culture, I would say it's worth heavy consideration for some law firms, for several good reasons:
I've taken the Green Belt training, and am serving as such on a number of Legal IT 6 Sigma projects. A personal observation: One of the greatest challenges with this process is that it was initially developed in a manufacturing context. Thus it's much easier to sample and measure the exact dimensions of a metal part than it is to apply these principles to "soft" service areas, such as the practice of law and customer service. In this regard, sometimes one has to become quite creative, and the path to success isn't as obvious. Thus savvy judgment is required to balance the thoroughness required in arriving at an optimal set of recommendations vs. taking the additional time the process adds to get there. If you're looking for a quick fix or snap decision to leap ahead, then in my humble opinion, a full Six Sigma process isn't the right tool to use.
As Larry said, it's a major culture change for law firms. However, properly implemented, I can see where firms can obtain both internal benefits as well as cultivating deeper and more successful relationships with their larger corporate clients. And in my book, that's something that deserves more than a passing glance.
By the way, and somewhat contrary to Larry's advice, I wouldn't recommend trying to bluff one's knowledge of Six Sigma, particularly with a savvy corporate counsel who's gone through the training. Personally, I'd give outside counsel more credibility for acknowledging what they don't know, as long as they understood the underlying philosophy and weren't just trying to snow me to get my business. I do, however, recommend reading up on Six Sigma basics before broaching the subject.
August 16, 2004
2004 U.S. Corporate Counsel Litigation Trends Survey Report
Here's something that should interest both outside and corporate counsel alike: Earlier this year, Fulbright & Jaworski commissioned a survey of corporate general counsel regarding corporate litigation issues and trends. They've recently published the results as a free 20-page report in PDF format. Rather than reiterate the contents here, the ABA Journal eReport has a good write-up on it worth reading.
According to the report, it is "one of the largest surveys of corporate litigation issues ever conducted." It had 300 respondents, and identifies such things as the top five litigation areas of concern, a breakdown of litigation concerns by industry, methods of controlling costs and compensating outside counsel, and more. It also identifies trends and breaks down results by company size class and geographic region. Arbitration and mediation are also covered.
All in all, it's an interesting read, and you may be surprised to learn that the top litigation of concern to most GC's is labor and employment. I particularly found page 7 to be interesting: It charts the percentages of companies using various cost-reduction methods, and the percentage of each method rated as effective by its users. It does likewise with use of computer-based litigation tools. Regarding cost reduction methods, I found it quite interesting that some of the least-used methods (rated by percent used) were conversely rated as highly effective (around 80%), such as success-based bonuses, task-based billing, and electronic billing.
[Updated 8.19.04: Lisa Henson, Fulbright's Web Content Manager, contacted me today to thank me for posting this, and suggested a friendlier URL to their registration page, which I've incorporated above. In addition to their original link, I had initially posted a more direct download link because some of Fulbright's web pages would not load properly in my browser (due to some of their active web content), and felt others would have a similiar problem.
However, purely in the spirit of professional courtesy, something that is often lacking nowadays, upon Ms. Henson's request I've removed the direct download link. I believe I'm not legally required to do so and am removing it without relinquishing or releasing any legal rights. Nor did Ms. Henson make any such inference, I might add. We had a very friendly conversation about this and she asked me most politely. As I've also experienced firsthand, developing web sites that load equally well in all browsers is a challenging task. Thus if you should encounter any problem obtaining the report via their registration page, then I heartily suggest contacting Ms. Henson directly at (713) 651-8372. I'm sure she'll be happy to assist you.]
August 11, 2004
Legal Tech Talk
As part of his phenomenal "Five by Five" series, Matt Homann recently posed this conundrum to five savvy legal technologists (I'm honored to be one of them):
What five new technologies should all lawyers incorporate into their practices, but probably won't?Since the question is versed in the negative, I enjoyed reading the thought-provoking answers even more than participating in the submissions.
As far as I know, we each submitted them independently from one another. Thus it's interesting to see certain themes relating to RSS feeds and readers, blogging, personal productivity tools (especially regarding taming your e-mail and note-taking with Microsoft OneNote), spreadsheet use, and more -- which are particularly perceived as technologies that lawyers (taken as a whole) probably won't be utilizing in their practice. Scary, isn't it?
Although, with that said and being the optimist I am, I'm still heartened by the response to West's Mike Wilens query back at the ABA TECHSHOW 2004's keynote: "How many of you read blogs?" I would say at least half of the filled grand ballroom crowd raised their hands. Taking into account the nature of TECHSHOW attendees (i.e., legal professionals and support staff who are actively interested in and seeking out technology ideas and solutions), I'm tempted to conclude that a distinction needs to be made here: There's a new breed of evolving lawyer, and they're pushing the envelope much more than traditionalists because the legal and business climate has changed. Efficiency and competition is driving some of it, as well as clients' demands and dislike for complacency. Just read Matt's blog for a very good example of a lawyer who's not afraid to "break the rules" of law firm management and marketing by thinking outside the box.
While there are no silver bullets, I've found that even a little increase in overall tech savvy goes a long way, and you can't always wait until someone else has tested the waters for you first. While there's always some risk, I'm a firm believer in having first-mover advantage. But even if you're risk averse, I've found it's worthwhile to take the time to monitor early adopters' movements, including their successes and setbacks. That makes it somewhat easier to be at the forefront of the wave when it reaches critical mass -- simply because that knowledge can enable you to jump on the ladder a few rungs higher than the rest. Thus I'd say that one of unwritten themes in our responses to Matt's question is don't be afraid to experiment. On a personal note, I approached creating this blog purely as a "little experiment", and am still amazed by the dynamic range of benefits in doing so.
Here's the money quote you can take from this post: There are many useful and productive technologies lawyers can test without breaking the bank or wasting a lot of time. Waiting for other lawyers and firms to try them first is like watching two turtles play leap frog -- while they're absorbed in making all the methodical machinations, the hare has already zipped by them unnoticed.
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.]
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.
June 25, 2004
And So They Came, 2 by 4 and Five by Five
If you're looking to revitalize your practice and get fresh new ideas from some incredibly creative and on-the-leading-edge lawyers and other professionals, then I heartily recommend Matt Homann's Five by Five (the [non]billable hour) and Dennis Kennedy's upcoming 2 by 4 features.
Matt's innovative brainchild: "In weekly posts, I'll ask five people -- who are experts in their fields -- to give me five ideas on a given topic. Every week, the five people will come from a different (usually non-legal) discipline, but the topic will always focus upon the innovative marketing, pricing, and delivery of legal services." So far the submissions have been insightful, creative, humorous, and even a bit off the wall -- which in my opinion is exactly the frame of mind one needs for thinking outside the box. Heck, throw out the box while you're at it.
Dennis' "'The Two By Four (tm).' It's based on the old mule training proverb that you need to whack a lawyer, er, mule with a two by four just to get the mule's attention. It will be a weekly collection of four items from two well-known experts of things that most businesses already know or are already doing that it will take a whack from a two by four to get lawyers and law firms to pay attention to. Since we're talking about lawyers, maybe I should call it Four by Four."
And like Dennis, Ernie, and the rest, I too wish I thought of Matt's idea. But I know sheer genius when I see it and doff my chapeau. And by the way, Matt and Dennis -- Ooo! Ooo! Pick me! Pick me! ;^)
May 18, 2004
Plogging for Fun and Profit
You've heard about Blogs (web logs) and possibly even Wikis (collaborative blogs). Both are finding their way behind the firewalls at large companies and law firms. CIO.com just published a provocative article on Plogs (project logs), "The Virtues of Chitchat", by Michael Schrage, codirector of the MIT Media Lab's eMarkets Initiative.
Along the way, he asks:
"Why wouldn't it make sense for an IT project manager to post a blog—or "plog" (project log)—to keep her team and its constituents up-to-date on project issues and concerns? Is it inherently inappropriate for an individual to post constructive observations about a project's progress? IT organizations that can effectively use blogs as managerial tools (or communication resources) are probably development environments that take both people and their ideas seriously. [,,,] Whether management should explicitly encourage, authorize, endorse or simply allow plogs to emerge is a judgment call best left up to the culture of the company and character of the individuals."If a company wishes to utilize such a tool, he adds:
"Inevitably, companies will need to establish guidelines—legal, ethical, editorial and otherwise—about linking to plogs and who should be able to access them. Formalizing the informal is always risky. In fact, perhaps pushing for plog precepts may undermine the very openness and spontaneity that makes the idea seem so potentially powerful and appealing. But that's the nature of the organizational beast. The simple truth is, many organizations may need plogs to discover their own simple truths about how well (or how poorly) their projects are going."
May 05, 2004
D.C. District Court Rules Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Beyond FTC's Statutory Authority
The ABA and the New York State Bar just won at the federal district court level (D.C.) in their suits against the FTC regarding the application of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to the practice of law, particularly in "financial activities" which include real estate settlement, tax-planning, and tax preparation services. If the decision ultimately stands, it appears attorneys should have one less regulatory concern regarding privacy notices and related provisions.
ABA President Dennis Archer sent out a mass e-mail to ABA members describing the victory, including the link to the ABA's GLBA web page wherein you can find the D.C. district court decision in PDF format.
Judge Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia signed the order granting summary judgment:
"This is because the case is now in a posture where, for all of the reasons expressed by this Court in its August 11, 2003 Memorandum Opinion, the Court can now definitively conclude as a matter of law, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(C), that Congress did not intend for the GLBA's privacy provisions to apply to attorneys who provide legal services in the fields of real estate settlement, tax-planning and tax preparation, and that, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the FTC's interpretation that attorneys are subject to the GLBA's privacy provisions constitutes "arbitrary and capricious" agency action.[Update 5.07.04: The ABA Journal eReport has a good article discussing the ramifications and issues surrounding these developments.]
April 23, 2004
CIO Top 10 Drivers for Innovation
CIO.com once again offers great advice in "The Top 10 Drivers for Innovation" in which CIO Executive Council* members offer up their own ways of fostering an innovative culture. There are indeed some wonderful gems in here. Given my extensive technology and business management consulting experience, I can't help but comment on two of the most common issues I've seen in the legal market:
The first one listed is one which many legal organizations would be wise to heed: Delegate the firefighting. I've seen this firefighting issue time and time again, and it's challenging for management to understand: Your best people are often the "go to" gurus to whom everyone runs when there's a problem. While they are an important resource for others, the constant urgent interruptions reduce their effectiveness considerably. In the typical law firm scenario, what do you think will win for attention, the longer-term project work or the litigation crisis for the trial or deposition tomorrow? It's a no-brainer: Project work takes a back seat every time. Upper management then wonders and usually complains about why IT projects are always late, overhyped, underdelivered, and overbudget.
Thus I really like the use of appropriate cross-training to push the necessary knowledge downstream. The relatively small investment now frees up the project worker long-term to keep your projects on schedule and within budget. If you can't spare the training time now, how do you expect the guru to have time to handle all of the urgent interruptions? Constantly switching gears between firefighting and project work is a recipe for reduced productivity, frustration, burnout, and escalating cost variances for organizations. If you hire good people (and if you aren't, there's something seriously wrong), pay attention to their workflow suggestions and implement them the best you can -- they're often in a much better position to know what works and what doesn't.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing drivers is Tighten the Purse Strings. This one should have definite appeal to the ultra-conservative, cost-conscious legal market. "'Constraint breeds innovation,' says Clarke [Dave Clarke, VP and CTO at the American Red Cross]. 'It's very tempting, when money and resources flow freely, to stick with tried and true solutions. When money and resources are constrained, you have to find new and creative ways to solve problems.'"
Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Recent years have forced firms to do more with less. Some of the most creative solutions I've worked on or seen firsthand were practically held together by electronic bubblegum and string. Their simplicity was the tipping point -- due to the lack of all of the expensive bells and whistles, regular folks could actually use it (even the MBA in the FedEx commercial ;^). Implementation time was often less, because it was either a new use for existing technology, or a down-and-dirty setup, and in some cases, both.
However, I offer a caution with this driver: Be careful and creative where you tighten the strings. Pinching off a critical path could backfire, like pinching an artery or nerve. Many firms have already cut the fat, yet the problems remain. Why? Take a good look to see if people are hyper-busy but aren't hyper-productive. This is often an indicator that there are inefficiencies in the underlying work structure which need to be examined and addressed before cutting off resources. Look for the bottlenecks in the workload and overall process, and redesign them where necessary and appropriate.
Again, the remainder of the article is highly recommended as an insightful quick read for anyone interested in fostering an innovative culture -- which should be all of us.
[*From the article: "The CIO Executive Council is a professional organization for CIOs. Its mission is to leverage the strengths of a large coalition of CIOs for the purpose of achieving change within our organizations and shaping the framework for the future of IT. For more information about the Council, go to www.cioexecutivecouncil.com."]
April 13, 2004
Why Content Management (& KM) Fails
With respect to web site content, many organizations complain that their sites are "woefully out of date, growing out of control, and generally a complete mess. Almost unanimously, these companies have chosen to solve the problem by handing it to their IT departments." However, the business units don't want to ask for IT help for every little change, so they turn to content management. According to Veen, Jupiter Research found that “[o]f just under 100 companies … only 27 percent of companies surveyed planned to continue using their Web content management systems as they do now.”
So Veen asks: "So why do these CMS projects almost always fail?" The answer is not surprising, and it reminds me of an old Pogo comic strip: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Content management and knowledge management are people-driven systems, not technology-driven. Technology can aid us, but we can't just slap a new program on the system and expect people will change their long-ingrained work patterns.
"People ProblemsUnfortunately content and knowledge management systems are often perceived as silver bullets, and just as likely to be delegated to the IT department to implement. The problem is that however good a job the IT department does, they aren't the ones who will be primarily using, driving, and consuming it. As much as busy knowledge workers don't have the time to spend on it, unless they actively and agreeably participate early on, my opinion is that they're probably better off not even attempting it in the first place. The resulting system needs to be baked into and utilizes their normal work habits or they just won't use it. For this discussion, I'm equating content management as a subset of knowledge management.
I'm not sure I agree with Veen's solution to send a team of reporters out into the field to write about everything and submit it back to the "editorial staff" for publishing. A number of law firms I know just don't have the human resources to pull it off. Besides, have you ever tried to read very specialized knowledge after it's been digested by a reporter? Sure, it's easy to read, but you can lose a lot in the translation. Frankly, I'd rather the have the person with the knowledge pass it on directly so I know it's valid and accurate, and therefore reliable.
The real trick is trying to make that process as easy and productive for the knowledge owners to use, or they'll feel they're being penalized with additional work -- without the associated incentives and rewards. Perhaps another way would be to adapt Veen's editorial approach to the established partner-associate mentoring process. As the associate handles a research project, the partner acts as editor in providing direction and suggestions, then reviewing and approving the final work. The next step is making the publication and sharing system attractive to use, so the contributors don't need to take much time to submit previously and currently generated work in other formats. Or even make the system semi-automatic in that it actively culls regularly-entered information into the normally used systems (think document management for example). This can be triggered by specific practice areas, categories, document types, authors, etc., and then the information is sent into a temporary holding bin for a gatekeeper to approve. Obviously, not everything thrown into the system will be useful.
There's no easy answers here, but at least it's one way to approach the people problem. Delegating and automating some of the negatively perceived "contribution" tasks while maintaining the high integrity sources of knowledge can be effective. The trick is finding just the right balance for the existing culture and work habits, and then continually fine-tuning it. Otherwise, if it's off by a sufficient annoyance factor, the whole system is going tip off center one way or the other and end up in the "hardly ever used" pile. In turn this means you've just invested a lot of time and money into something that gave a minimal return at best.
All of which is why I'm heavily inclined to say that the firms who don't get this shouldn't even attempt it. A possible exception here is that firms often have riches in niches -- segments for which it makes sense to to use such a system, but with the expectation that only a limited population will derive any meaningful benefit. With the right approach, that can work.
April 07, 2004
Law Firms Embracing Strategic Planning
Here's a good article from the Boston Business Journal which illustrates how law firms are evolving and embracing strategic market planning. As one might guess, in the legal market this is a slow but steady process. I particularly liked Hale and Dorr's attempts to convey that their litigation and business practices are well-integrated. Integration is a key concept. Clients love seamless delivery of services -- it makes them feel comfortable that they're in good hands.
Along this reasoning, the article cites, "[i]n another reorganization, a strategic shift from a geography-based management structure to running each practice group as an integrated national team prompted Holland & Knight LLP to develop strategic marketing plans for each practice group last year." This is a major trend I've been seeing in larger firms who have numerous widespread locations. Think about it: In a developing global economy, large corporate clients (the bread and butter of most large firms) have global issues, so they need a global legal team to handle them. I've also seen a trend whereby in-house lawyers don't want to track hundreds of outside firms -- it just takes too much time. However, with that said, smaller firms do have corporate opportunities in niches.
Another key concept expressed, one that may not sit well with all partners, is that "firms must also dole out money disproportionately to optimize results." "Developing a specialty magazine for a specific practice group, such as Hale and Dorr's IP Business, is one example of such a choice." This can be a difficult concept for many law firms who are organized as partnerships, which can psychologically infer an equal share.
Several years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a local law firm executive director. He explained that one of the virtues of adopting a corporate organization over a partnership was the concept of "retained earnings". That is, taking some of the profits and reinvesting it in the business, as opposed to slicing up and distributing all the pieces of the pie each year. This is perhaps the real gist of the article, as law firms are slowly adopting business practices that have been prevalent in other markets for some time. Glad to see it, although I firmly believe the past several years of rough economic conditions, combined with the globalization of our economy, has definitely forced firms to adopt these practices out of sheer necessity. As it's been said before, during good times it's easier to hide a bad bottom line.
March 23, 2004
Is Your Network A Legal Minefield?
"A survey released two weeks ago by security provider Blue Coat Systems found that many employees continue to download files at work, using applications like Gnutella and Kazaa. According to Blue Coat, 38.6 percent of 300 respondents said they do their file sharing on company networks. The survey also revealed that 60 percent of respondents were unconcerned about the possibility that the Recording Industry Association of America could sue their employers.There are several useful comments posted by readers at the end of the online article, which discuss the importance of having a well-drafted policy and utilizing the right tools to establish the audit trail back to the culprits, thus making the policy enforceable.
March 08, 2004
How to Lose Your Law License for Only $40
Per the Fulton County Daily Report today: A Georgia attorney with an otherwise clean discipline record just lost his law license by aggressively billing clients for his time spent defending himself from grievances they filed against him with the State Bar of Georgia's discipline authorities.
In my opinion, this case should be on the final exam for every new law grad. For purposes of this question, present the article and ask how many mistakes the attorney made in both judgment and against existing ethical rules and laws.
Accordingly, if this incident can be used to educate lawyers by example, then at least some good has come of it (hence the reason for this post).
February 20, 2004
Dissatisfied Employees are Job Surfing at Work
"Tell off an employee before noon, and there's a good chance that he or she will be back at their desk after lunch searching for a new boss on-line," says Monster.com's founder, Jeffrey Taylor. Yesterday he spoke at a conference in Toronto of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario, as reported by GlobeTechnology.com.
Apparently the most popular time is between 2 and 3 p.m. on a rolling time zone, according to Taylor. Workopolis.com's president, Patrick Sullivan, cited 10:30 a.m. Monday mornings as the busiest time for his site. He added, "People come back to the office on Monday, after a nice weekend, and say 'I think I'll look for a job.' "
Mr. Taylor told his audience of human resources managers what I've been reading all over the Internet and in print: That employers should not assume that they have a captive work force just because the unemployment rate is hight. With the Internet, workers have easy access to opportunities and know whether they are marketable.
"You should treat [employees] like gold," he told the audience. "Employers who do not treat their employees well, he said, risk losing their best, not just 'the C-players . . . they might want to lose.' "
While virtually no one is expecting a rapid turnaround of the employment market, many experts are predicting that with the retirement of the baby boomers, there could be a serious shortage of American employees by 2010. (Of course, that's if we don't see a corresponding shift overseas due to global outsourcing.)
So in a nutshell, employers who think they have a captive audience are most likely just kidding themselves, and are focusing too much on the short term gains which will be more than lost when the human intellectual property eventually leaves for greener pastures. In my opinion, little things like appreciation (expressed both verbally and monetarily), employee enrichment programs, and fostering self-empowering environments really do go a long way -- especially in fast-paced, high-energy drain positions with long hours. Am I describing anything familiar to the legal market?
February 12, 2004
Enterprise Software Buyers Are Fighting Back
While reading CIO Today's "Software Buyers: 'We're Not Taking It Anymore'", and all through writing this, I can't help but hear the refrain from Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going To Take It" rock anthem resounding in my head.
From working in a large firm and dealing with numerous software vendors' tactics, this article likewise struck a chord with me. To sum it up, a recent survey found that enterprise software buyers are unhappy with the way vendors charge for licensing their products. But that's not the real sore spot, per the article: "They are downright furious about the cost of maintaining them -- not to mention the sometimes sneaky policies that vendors have established for compelling enhancements and upgrades."
"AMR Research queried several hundred executives and found that many feel mistreated and betrayed by their vendors. More notable, companies are not accepting the status quo -- that is, whatever the vendor dictates -- anymore. "In fact, customers are beginning to react in ways that have important implications for the entire application market," the report says."
When asked which actions they were going to take in the next 12 months, executives replied:
"38 percent were training internal personnel to provide technical support;
I've personally used many of these approaches with software companies who issued minor changes disguised as full version upgrades, issued no upgrades whatsoever during the annual maintenance period, or just plain didn't fix their chronic problems. Naturally, the larger your organization is, the more clout you generally have with vendors. In the legal market, the top 200 firms have plenty of muscle when dealing with software companies, and smaller firms sometimes find they have more influence than they first thought.
On occasion, I've patiently tried to help the vendors understand the customer's point of view. Generally, we don't want 20 new bells and whistles that "look cool". Business users want good, stable, and reliable software that meets their everyday needs. Most users don't use more than 10% of its features anyway, so why add more things they're just not going to use, which bloat it up and cause more DLL conflicts, resource and memory issues, training and support challenges, and integration problems? The problem is, vendors can't charge much, if any, for these desired stability enhancements because they should have been there in the first place -- at least from the customer's perspective.
On the flip side, what's not being said is that customers have contributed to their own problems as well. Poorly planned implementations, lack of training, and a host of other shortcomings will generate mediocre results from even the best software. So this isn't a rant against the vendors. Rather, it's an indicator that in the current economic climate, organizations are being tasked with getting more out of what they already have, and therefore don't have as much elbow room for less accommodating software or its vendors. Thus those vendors who make the extra effort to truly understand their customers' needs (hint: ask them!), develop creative pricing structures accordingly, and stand robustly behind their 'wares just might succeed where others fail. I find it interesting, no, telling, that I could very well say the same thing about attorneys who want to keep their competitive edge with their own clients.
While there is tremendous pressure to keep IT costs under control, I'll let the software industry in on a little secret: Savvy business users aren't afraid to choose the more expensive option if it will best meet their needs, has a cost-justified ROI, and perhaps most importantly, comes with superior customer service. Cheap isn't always better, even though it may look good on a budget spreadsheet. However, with that said, customers are always looking for bargains, and don't like hidden surprises. I've learned long ago that a satisfied customer may only tell a few friends about you, but a dissatisfied one will tell many more, and much more loudly as we've seen in the CIO Today article. Thus a little sweat equity with your customers goes a long way.
January 16, 2004
More Legal Tech Trends for 2004
The beginning of a new year naturally brings a number of predictions, or put more accurately, trend analysis. Ron Friedmann kicked things off with his savvy crystal ball, and Dennis Kennedy just posted his. As usual, these are excellent articles well worth the read.
To these interesting points, I'll add five of my own:
I believe a number of projects law firms will be working on this year won't be "new" per se, but in actuality are a natural extension from their prior efforts. Specifically:
Over the past five years, law firms have invested massive amounts of time and money to install and upgrade office suites, billing and accounting, e-mail, practice management (CMS, DMS, KMS, etc.), marketing, contact management, human resources, recruiting, and intranet and extranet systems, among others. The problem is that for the most part, the data is still located in silos throughout the organization. In many cases, human resources, marketing, accounting, and practice groups all have their various databases in separate applications. In terms of internal business intelligence and responding to RFP's, there are just too many hurdles in the way. In order to gain the necessary productivity, effectiveness, and timely responses to inquiries, firms are looking at ways to bridge these gaps.
2. E-mail & Attachment Management
Most businesses have a real love/hate relationship with e-mail. Spam, viruses, web bugs, malware, document retention, electronic discovery, attachment management, and content search and retrieval has become some of the largest challenges to both IT directors and lawyers alike. Then mix in the additional issues with instant messaging and instant file transfer. As Dennis Kennedy has aptly stated, spam and spam filtering has broken the trust upon which we've come to rely in communicating via e-mail.
Thus identifying and implementing effective solutions to these challenges will most likely be high on the project lists. The problem is that there is no one program, no silver bullet, that will magically address all of these issues. With that said, more documents are received electronically, and there are systems available which help automate the storage and indexing of e-mail attachments. Note the use of the word "help", as the human element is still critical. Therefore, look for firms to try to find an acceptable balance between automatic system controls (i.e., spam filtering), ease of use, and meeting both their staff's and clients' needs in filing and finding those electronic needles in ever-growing haystacks.
3. Proactive Client Partnering
There have been quite a number of recent articles explaining why law firms get fired by in-house counsel. Controlling costs, lack of responsiveness, and failure to adapt to their clients' evolving needs are among the top reasons. Firms who want to retain their clients for the long haul are learning the value of proactively meeting with them to best determine what they want and what they need. There's been a lot of buzz regarding how portals can bridge this gap. However, the smart firms will be the ones who take the time to get to know their clients' business, and work backwards to mold their services (professional, technological, etc.) to fit those needs like a glove. A portfolio approach in this regard will serve firms quite well. Lastly, they need to bake these new processes into their staff's daily routine so they are not perceived as "extra work".
4. Electronic Discovery & Litigation Support
This topic was already mentioned in other "trends" articles, and for good reason -- this is hot technology. Lawyers in firms of all sizes are being dragged into electronic discovery whether they like it or not. Nearly gone are the days of the gentleman's agreement, "I won't ask for yours if you don't ask for mine." Ever-increasing percentages of electronic documents and data never make it to paper. New cases are refining the factors used for determining scope and cost-shifting. Thus it's probably only a matter of time until lack of due diligence in electronic discovery-related matters will have consequences with many sharp teeth.
In addition, there has been an explosion of new service provider entrants in this area. Lawyers don't have time to meet with them all. So the savvy law firms are compiling a list of "preferred providers", ones they've pre-screened or have tested previously. Recalling the previously "Hot" ASP market from several years ago has taught us this lesson: Trickling down, this will result in shakeout and consolidation in the ED market over the next several years. Indeed, there is already noticeable instability in this market niche. I have observed much mobility of key people between ED vendors -- people I've spoken with at one provider only 6-12 months ago are now with a competitor. Some ED businesses are already being acquired by larger companies. Expect all of these activities to continue during 2004 and beyond as the marketplace continues to self-adjust.
5. Mobile Technology
Let's face it: The more one uses technology, the more one generally becomes dependent upon it. Thus having access to the right information at the right time at the right location is key. Remote access isn't enough anymore. Professionals need mobile access to their calendars, address/cell phone books, e-mail, document attachments, research, notes, databases (both online and internal), and much more from a growing number of locations. Thus look for firms to take more of a portfolio approach to their mobile technology systems and offerings, rather than having just one or two pat solutions. A combination of desktop-like remote access, webified program extensions, wireless (Wi-Fi, broadband cellular, Blackberries, Palms, combo devices like the Treo 600, etc.) are already being offered at firms. Therefore, look for savvy firms to approach these not as discrete technologies, but as part of a broader plan to further integrate and yet untether their attorneys.
Well, there you have it -- my take on where things are headed for 2004. While challenging, most of these are not "rocket science", but rather are just the next evolutionary steps for those willing to move forward.
January 06, 2004
Risk Management of Wireless Networks
Slashdot has an interesting thread on this one, and particularly a link to the OCC's (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, for banks) advisory on the topic. While the advisory lists a number of technical and tactical items to address, it also covers strategic concerns and lists many items that a wireless network security policy should consider.
If the idea of a bank using a wireless network concerns you regarding your financial privacy and security, then definitely check out the sub-thread on doctor's offices, which eerily could apply to lawyers.
December 07, 2003
KM: Ideas for Persuading Individuals to Share Best Practices
CIO.com has an engaging article exploring how businesses have tackled one of the thorniest KM challenges: getting their employees to actually use a Knowledge Management system.
It begins with same problem I've seen firsthand in law firms: "Even in the best of times, it's a battle to convince employees to participate in knowledge management programs. But in tough times, the tendency is for employees to horde what they know."
I've seen senior partners horde their forms in an attempt to retain their edge against other partners and upcoming tech-savvy associates. I'll even unequivocally state that in my humble opinion, there are many law firms which will fail horribly if they try to implement a formal KM program. Perhaps that's why I particularly like the linked sidebar, "What Not to Do". Number One on the list: "Don't call it knowledge management. Employees don't get it, don't care about it and would rather ignore the whole thing."
Does this mean most firms should not attempt it? An emphatic "No" is my answer. In my opinion, there are many subtle ways a firm can implement and ease KM-like activities and features into their existing culture, programs, and daily routines. There is much low-hanging fruit that is ripe for the picking. However, one of the first obstacles is the human factor. People naturally ask themselves, "What's in it for me?"
One of the article's best tips: Show Personal ROI. "Very simply, the effort of sharing knowledge has to be less than the value of participating." Further down, it offers a related idea: "Make it a no-brainer. Most people are already so stretched these days that they cannot contemplate adding another layer onto their daily routine. Therefore, you must bake knowledge collection and dissemination into people's everyday jobs."
There are a number of other creative ideas covered, and they are what I found so intriguing in this article.
November 18, 2003
Top Strategic Reasons for Pursuing Integration
CIO.com has a nice bar chart which lays out the top six reasons to pursue integration of various systems, namely to:
1. Improve information access.
It seems to me that many of these same reasons could apply equally well to the use of Knowledge Management systems. While the KM term has been roughed up a bit in various circles, perhaps a better moniker might be "Knowledge Integration".
November 04, 2003
Doug Caddell on Just-in-Time Training
Doug Caddell, CIO of Foley & Lardner, has a nice article in Law Technology News on Just In Time/Just Enough (JIT/JE) training trends and applications within law firms. This really has become the norm in successful tech-savvy firms. The lawyers simply don't have the time to spend 2-3 hours or more in formal training sessions. Thus, the on-the-spot, personalized, customized, feature-specific training model works well in this environment.
Quite simply, it is an implementation of empowering lawyers with enablers without the large non-billable time overhead. "Show me just enough to use it tomorrow or next week" is a common request these days. From learning how to use lit support software during a deposition, running a PowerPoint presentation, to even syncing up a PDA to Outlook for the first time, this is a model that just seems to work for busy professionals. In my experience it's been a relatively painless way to get at the low-hanging fruit: Bolstering and improving your legal staff's skill level with practical applications and quick return on investment.
October 21, 2003
Document Management Consolidation and Evolution
Ron Friedmann has an insightful post on his Strategic Legal Technology blog outlining some of the recent developments (i.e., consolidations) in the DMS developer community. I've been watching these with more than a little interest. The iManage/Interwoven merger sends a clear signal that portalizing your DMS with a content management system is one big enabler and business driver for firms and clients alike (think of the collaboration and KM implications alone). This is a key trend which bears watching, and in my humble opinion, participation from law firms who want to keep their edge in the market.
Ron offered several comments which struck a chord with my thoughts on the matter:
"The business dynamics of the DMS space may be changing and law firm technology managers - both operational and strategic - should keep an eye on the market."
I've recently commented on Longhorn's anticipated storage capabilities and how Microsoft's combination of NTFS, SQL Server, and XML data labeling could be an important single storage solution if it lives up to the hype.
Document management isn't going away, but how documents are managed, secured, shared, and presented is evolving at a quicker pace. Add to this the fact that Microsoft's Office 2003 suite's main feature improvement is the addition of digital rights management, and you can see how important this trend has become.
While you're at Ron's site, I highly recommend reading his immediately prior post on "Knowledge Management and Law Firm Compensation". Ron aptly describes why firms with "lock step" partner compensation are perceived to better able support significant KM initiatives over competitors with "eat what you kill" compensation. However, he uses UK firm Clifford Chance's recent partner defections to suggest that pressures may be developing against UK firms maintaining their primarily lock step systems. It will be interesting to see the impact on KM initiatives moving forward.
October 20, 2003
The Year of the Incredibly Shrinking CIO
CIO.com has this disturbing analysis of how the CIO position is being diluted and dumbed down in corporate America. In terms of corporate reporting, CIO reports "The percentage of CIOs reporting to CFOs doubled this year from last year [22% vs. 11%], according to CIO's "The State of the CIO 2003" survey. Reporting to the CFO rather than the CEO or COO is almost always a sign of diminished clout." This also sets up an inherent shortfall in vision, resulting in conflicting and counterproductive goals, as a sidebar points out: "CFOs think in terms of quarterly earnings. IT is best managed as a long-term investment."
Some CIOs are being kicked out of the boardroom level. According to the aforementioned survey, 84 percent of CIOs said their IT function is currently being budgeted as a cost center that generates expenses rather than an investment center that generates new business capabilities. The article goes on to say many CIOs are just holding on for dear life, and being in survival mode means taking less chances and doing what they're told to do, and reporting to whom they're told to report.
One former CIO heard the same story over and over during interviews: "We're looking for a new CIO because IT projects never deliver on time and they cost more than we expect and they don't deliver what we want. All our systems need to be replaced. Oh, and we're reducing the amount of money we're allocating for IT."
But all is not lost. The article provides a number of very good suggestions for CIO's to improve their chances for redemption. Be proactive, run IT like any other business unit, put fiscal controls in place, etc. However, the "social engineering" and relationship-building aspects mentioned are just as important. Get out of your office, work the relationships both horizontally across departments and vertically with the CxOs to regain credibility, and then argue against the weakening of the CIO role from a position of strength and successes.
The linked article, "The Six Best Practices: What Leading CIOs Do", summed this up very succinctly:
As I posted a few days ago, the successful CIOs will be the ones who effectively partner with management and aren't afraid to bring new ideas to the table. But even good ideas aren't enough anymore. In the current climate, firms want to see their IT solutions directly benefit the bottom line in one form or another. The good ideas ultimately have to turn into timely and cost-effective business drivers, without the bloat. As in golf, taking a good swing at the ball requires an equally good follow-through.
October 14, 2003
Internal E-mail: Take Me to Your Leader
Researchers at Hewlett Packard have "developed a way to use e-mail exchanges to build a map of the structure of an organization. The map shows the teams in which people actually work, as opposed to those they are assigned to."
In other words, they're studying the flow of e-mail to learn how their organization really works -- who speaks to whom, who holds the real power, etc.
In essence, large organizations tend to divide into informal collaborative networks, called "communities of practice." Sound familiar? Large law firms formally divide themselves into practice groups, or formal silos. However, there's often a lot of cross-talk via e-mail, except that no one really knows who's talking to whom. That's why identifying the informal "communities of practice" is otherwise so elusive. This time around, e-mail provides a nice big bread crumb trail. Just as Google's results ranking algorithms make heavy use of inbound web site linkages, it seems that HP's methods are doing something along similar conceptual lines with internal e-mail.
With all the KM buzz, wouldn't it be handy to have a visual map of your organization's leaders "in the trenches", and perhaps even more importantly, determine who are the real influencers? My thinking is that if you consider an organization's people to be its brain cells, then the mapping the e-mail communication between them is akin to mapping that brain's neural network.
As firms create more virtual and cross-functional teams, the lines blur and having good information on how the organization truly functions can provide vital feedback for their leaders. Is it functioning efficiently, or is it having seizures and blockages instead, in which case vital segments are routing work around them to accomplish their projects?
By the way, the article references other such endeavors over the past several years. While this is probably too cerebral for most organizations, as well as a potential threat to some in formal management, it could be an emerging technology worth watching.
In fact, it occurs to me that something like this could be quite effective in electronic discovery cases. Imagine showing the jury a visual map illustrating how and when key e-mails were circulated throughout a company. No doubt you've heard of TimeMap for preparing timeline exhibits. How about MailMap? (In case any developers are reading this, I'll gladly accept royalty checks. ;^)
October 13, 2003
CIOs Need to Play Pivotal Innovator Role
This CIO.com article, "CIOs Poised to Play Pivotal Role in Creating an 'Innovator's Advantage'", is music to my ears and a must-read. Based upon an Accenture (f/k/a Andersen Consulting) survey and authored by Accenture partners, it sums up many of the points I've made over the past several years and is in sync with my philosophy regarding how law firms need to move ahead in an ever-increasingly competitive environment.
The first paragraph provides the current state of affairs for many organizations:
"Few would dispute that information technology (IT) is an important facilitator of innovation which, in turn, produces solid business benefits. Yet, paradoxically, the IT department is the least likely part of a business to be a primary source of innovation. That finding from a new Accenture study highlights the need for CIOs, not only to run effective IT operations, but also to be active participants in the development of the overall business strategy."
This part comes as no surprise to me whatsoever:
"It revealed that companies reporting a strong record of innovation also report that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of their recent IT investments were successful at meeting their strategic objectives. By contrast, less innovative companies reported only a 28 percent success rate for IT investments. Indeed, more innovative companies report getting more value for money from IT and are more likely to see IT as a source of competitive advantage.
In essence, no longer can IT just be considered the "infrastructure", a cost to be managed. Far too many opportunities are lost in that regime. Instead it must be cultivated. The firms that understand the concept that the synergies gained become much more valuable than the sum of its parts will ultimately be more successful on the whole.
This also ties in closely to my "enabler" construct. It is a fundamental shift in strategic and tactical thinking that requires shared commitment and responsibility by both the organization's top management and IT. CIOs need to be comfortable taking new ideas to management, who likewise need to be open-minded to encourage that level of trust so that the organization, as a whole, becomes more proactive and innovative. In other words, they need to become equal partners in their endeavors. A heading in the CIO.com article says it all: "Innovative Use of IT Raises Business Performance"
While all of this sounds great, cultivating the necessary change in culture is far from easy, especially in traditionally conservative organizations such as law firms. Some will be up to the challenge, and some will struggle only to see mediocre results.
Last, but not least, the CIO.com article provides a number of suggested approaches for IT departments. Bravo.
October 08, 2003
Practicing Safe Hex
To morph a phrase: Hey, don't put that in your computer! You don't know where it's been!
Jim Calloway, a good friend and Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program, authored "Computer Viruses to Spyware: Things You Don't Want to Pick up Online" in the October issue of Law Practice Today. This is a highly recommended read.
To Jim's savvy suggestions, I'll add my own, "Ten Steps to Online Privacy & Security".
I particularly liked these recent "Tips" articles, also on the recommended reading list:
Jim and Dennis are both serving on the TECHSHOW® Board this year, which as you can see, sums up the caliber of talent that puts this great conference together every year. (Full disclosure: I served on the TS planning board for 2002 and 2003, and am active in the ABA Law Practice Management section.)
From these gurus, perhaps the most important steps to highlight are:
1) Installing good defenses, keeping them updated and tested, and running scans frequently on your computer systems (firewall, antivirus, and pest-removers such as Spybot S&D, Ad-aware, PestPatrol, etc.). For example, test your firewall at Shields Up!
2) Patching your PC (operating system, browsers, office suite, e-mail programs, etc.).
4) Disable any automatic installation or launching features of your web browser (e.g., ActiveX) -- set them to prompt you instead.
5) Backup, Backup, Backup -- This is your first and last best defense against losing your valuable data and all the misery that accompanies it.
And the most important step:
6) Use your head: Many computer invaders get past all of these formidable defenses from the inside, using one powerful tool -- you. Jim's summary of the KRESV tests for identifying and avoiding spam on your own was very useful in this regard.
September 30, 2003
Changing Trends: Associates Not Hot on Making Partner?
Now here's an interesting Law.com article, "Associates Giving Up On Partnership". It outlines a generational shift in attitudes, and cites a NALP Foundation survey's results in which large numbers of associates are bailing on law firms before being considered for partnership.
[In my best Family Feud voice] "The Survey Says:"
"By their sixth year, only about a third of associates were still with the firms they joined from law school, according to the study, which surveyed law firms and associates in 35 cities. Of those associates who left, less than half moved to another law firm."So let's do the math per above, assuming for sake of argument it's accurate, and let's use a pool of 100 associates to keep the percentages easy (rounded to the nearest associate):
1/3 stayed, and 2/3 of new associates left their first firm within 6 years.
Less than half of those who left moved to another firm: 1/2 x 67 = 33
As a member of the third category, I can say that I completely understand this trend. After all, I did the same thing back in the mid-90's. On a personal level, it was the most difficult decision I've ever made. Sometimes, I think about practicing again (I still maintain my law license and earn far more than the minimum required CLE credits each year). But, frankly, I'm having too much fun being a legal technology consultant, author, and speaker. How many practicing lawyers can honestly say that about what they do?
It sounds to me that these associates just want to do their thing.
September 18, 2003
Are You an "Enabler"?
An exclusive LawTech Guru feature article by Jeffrey Beard
Q: What do e-mail, PDA's, and blogs all have in common, beyond the fact that they involve computer technology?
A: They're "enablers".
So what's an enabler? Imagine something that just works when you try it. Something so intuitive that the basic learning curve is low. Something that you can learn its basic operation in 20 minutes or less, just enough to get you started. It's also something of vital strategic importance to attaining your overall goals.
With e-mail, you just type in the recipients' e-mail addresses, a subject, a message, and click "Send". For PDA's, you just enter your appointments and contacts, and it works.
Admittedly, setting up a blog (a weblog site) might take more than 20 minutes, but once it's up, it just works. I will say that the new TypePad service has made setting up a new blog the easiest yet. It's preinstalled on their web server and includes easy layout design tools. New content can be posted in a few minutes, and from any PC with an Internet connection and a web browser. It's a self-publisher's dream. Case in point: A colleague at my office asked me what's the easiest way to set up a new blog. I showed him the TypePad site and feature comparison chart. That same evening, he signed up and created a decent-looking blog along with his first post.
So, is this article really about any one of these technologies? No. It's about making your practice more productive, more efficient, while reducing problems and even, gasp, enjoying it!
I'm talking about -- you guessed it -- enablers.
One could certainly raise the point: "Well, aren't all technology solutions enablers? What's so different in what you're saying?" When looking for new solutions to problems, technology is often a part of that solution. And more times than not, it becomes part of the ongoing problem as well, if not even a bigger problem than the original one it was intended to solve.
For instance, take a look at litigation support software. Trial presentation software should be easy, like PowerPoint, but many attorneys need someone else to set it up and run it for them at trial. Transcript management and document databases should be easy. But to many, they're not. How does one choose among them?
When in doubt, my opinion is to go with the one that's the most intuitive, the easiest to use, as long as it meets your defined needs. This last point is critical - a dumbed-down system may be easy to learn, but if it can't do what you need, then what good is it? Conversely, what good are all those extra bells and whistles if no one ever has time to figure them out and use them?
Now if you're already a power user, this changes the dynamics a bit. I'm referring to the median in most of this discussion, as that's where the mass base of business professionals fall in the bell curve. However, power users don't just use enablers -- they run with them.
Then I took a good look at these programs, and the people who created them. Their focus wasn't on adding every feature that everyone could possibly want. Instead, they focused on making software that was stable and actually usable without an MIS degree. It was priced affordably and bundled with fantastic customer service.
So what set these new guys apart? They created enablers.
They understood their customers' needs and built something that enabled them to get the job done without intensive training. Sure, to truly master these programs, it still takes an investment of time. But I'm a big believer of the 80/20 rule, that the first 80% is the easiest to obtain with the least effort.
Many law firms can "enable" their clients to do more via creative extranets. From the client-facing side, a well-designed extranet is an enabler. Whether it's a simple document repository, a geographical representation of pending matters, a deal room, or online training, law firms can make it easier for clients to get access to mission-critical information quickly and easily. And by offering an enabler that most other firms haven't, the law firm has an extraordinary opportunity to cement their client relationships. If a client is receiving competent services with unique benefits that are cost-effective (this is not the same thing as "cheap"), what strong motivation is there for them to leave their law firm for another?
In the economic downturn, I've seen a huge emphasis placed on marketing tactics, and not just in the legal profession. However, one has to ask exactly what it is they are marketing, and why it's better or different than their competition. All firms say they are competent and experienced. So why would I choose one reputable firm over the other? Among other factors, customer service and cost effectiveness often play a critical part here. Whatever enables you to provide them is worth investing in.
So, when making strategic and tactical decisions, try asking yourself, are you using enablers? Is your firm acting as an enabler for your clients? Or are they still waiting for you to catch up to their needs?
Creating effective enablers is no easy feat. It takes a lot of thought and creativity to make a complex technology or process drop-dead simple to use. How will you know if it's worth the effort? You'll know for certain when you see a lot of people actually using it, and talking about it with excitement. Take bloggers: This past year, blogging hit the legal market (and the rest of the world) as a force majeure. I haven't seen this level of technology adoption and excitement since the Internet exploded in the mid-90's.
What else has exploded in the past few years? What has sneaked into organizations via the back door? Odds are, such technologies are enablers. How about instant messaging and file-sharing? Aimster (n/k/a Madster), seeing the potential, combines both into one service. Let's add Wi-Fi to the list -- making Internet and network access nearly as easy as getting a cup of coffee. Digital photography and CD/DVD-burning also come to mind.
All of these technologies enabled people to gain access, communicate and share information so easily and quickly, like never before. And it didn't hurt that many of them were free or relatively low cost to consumers -- yet another mass enabler. Quite simply, an enabler is closely tied to providing self empowerment and convenience.
Law firms have been interested in Knowledge Management (KM) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). These systems have great potential for being enablers, but only if implemented correctly, including the inherent cultural issues. These complex systems must be easy and compelling to use or they won't be doing much enabling.
So, how does one become or select an enabler?
Survey or otherwise feel out your target audience in advance. Gaining their input and buy-in is a necessary step to help make sure you hit the target. A simple question often gets the ball rolling: What do you need?
I've been describing a concept, a philosophy of an overall approach. Lest you think I'm painting a rosy picture: In the real world, implementing and deploying "enablers" can be quite challenging and expensive on an organizational scale. But I am suggesting that the ROI is more than just the financial numbers, and both are important items to consider.
While "enabler" may have a negative connotation in some other contexts, it most definitely is the focus of companies and firms who want to move their organization and customers ahead, whether they consciously realize it or not.
Are you an Enabler?
September 17, 2003
All Tech and No Play Gives Jack Mental Health Problems
From the Seattle Times: "Too much technology diminishes work relationships, author says"
Tim Sanders, Yahoo's Chief Solutions Officer, relates how the increasing use of technology reduced social interaction at work, rendered him emotionally empty and contributed to other mental and relationship problems -- including depression and insomnia. He coins it the "New Economy Depression Syndrome," a state of work-related stress brought on by information overload, constant interruption by technology (think e-mail, instant messaging and cell phones) and the increasing personal isolation that technology affords us.
Let's see, I spent a considerable amount of time on the computer both today and this evening, I just checked my e-mail, I'm posting this after midnight, and am communicating electronically to many people with whom I can't directly speak when they read this.
Now I'm depressed...
Seriously, though, besides explaining why work makes some people ill, it underscores the need for molding a firm's culture, increasing team building opportunities, and simply just taking a co-worker to lunch. We've all been involved in e-mail exchanges that were less than friendly. I find it telling that in speaking with fellow attorneys about the use of electronic chat, instant messaging, or forum software within my firm, some replied they simply preferred walking down the hall to ask a colleague a question, or having a "brown bag" lunch meeting to chat about the latest issues.
Just goes to show we really are social creatures by nature, and it's a group thing. Just think, the next time an office server goes down, you'll feel better... right? ;^)
(Thanks goes to Tony Chan of Quarles & Brady LLP for sending me the Seattle Times link and a much-needed chuckle.)
September 08, 2003
Juicy Blackberry Information Leaves a Stain
It's truly amazing what one can buy for under $20 on eBay these days:
Wired News details a cautionary tale for firms with confidential information stored on their employees' and principals' mobile devices: BlackBerry Reveals Bank's Secrets.
For a mere $15.50, a Seattle computer consultant picked up a Blackberry on eBay that contained high-level e-mails, names, addresses, phone numbers and transactions relating to Morgan Stanley, their clients and executives worldwide, and even the seller's personal financial information. The seller was a former VP of M&A at Morgan Stanley.
The VP's e-mail account was closed, but much of the data still resided on the device. He simply had no idea that data could remain on a device long after he removed the battery. (Apparently this guy never heard of flash memory.)
It's 10:00, do you know where your Blackberry is? Or PDA, cell phone, laptop, tablet PC, etc., for that matter. This is the perfect "poster child" situation for why mobile security solutions and procedures are a good thing to have -- and more importantly, follow.