9/15/17

How to use Facebook in a crisis

I've been a member of Facebook since, I don't know, maybe 2009? I have always been cautious about Facebook. It was never my favorite social media tool. But, as they say, keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

I'm fairly adept at Facebook but I was slow to get on board and very selective about friendships, turning off political posts and avoiding sharing anything too personal. I tend to post a lot of cat, book, movie and, well, my slightly touchy church stuff. Yes, I go to church. Sometimes. (Fr. Adam, I'll see you in Confession).

But I have to say, when Hurricane Harvey it, I was glued to Facebook.

Some background: it is just me and my cats. When the flooding started, I was an island. I couldn't get out and no one could get in. Although I was high and dry--literally--my nerves were like very tiny, un-rubbery rubber bands. For 5 days, I was alone. Cabin fever was turned into cabin flu.

Another thing you need to know is I don't do cable. I do have a TV but it is only used to stream Roku. So no live coverage. And from what I heard, that may have been a blessing--what little I saw afterwards was non-stop coverage that was PTSD-inducing.

So the only way I could find out was going on was to follow the Mayor, the Harris County Flood Control District, the Harris County Homeland Security, the Harris County Sheriff's Office on Facebook and Jeff Lindner on Twitter.

Sidebar: If you don't know who Jeff Lindner is, follow him. The guy is now a demi-god here in Houston and is, to my knowledge, the first hero-meteorologist. This guy was so good, the public started a GoFundMe page to buy him a vacation after Harvey was over. And as the true Houstonian that he is, he donated all of it. He was calm, knowledgeable and seemed to never sleep. His hurricane and flood reporting probably saved thousands of lives.

Anyway, back to Facebook. Just by following these accounts, I watched every single press conference given by all of this government agencies on Facebook. Comparing notes with my family, who were glued to the TV, I was better informed and had more accurate knowledge, thanks to Facebook Live Streaming. I also had a front row seat to how our local government was functioning. Thanks to Harvey, I am on a first-name basis with all of my government officials--well I know them. They don't know me. Here's a great article on how to start using Facebook Live, if you aren't familiar with it.

Mayor Sylvester Turner is a maestro at media. Whoever his PR team is, they did a stellar job. The entire team, from the Mayor on down, was on point. Upbeat with a can-do attitude, these folks set the tone and it came across loud and clear.

And the funny thing was, it trickled down. I saw it play out on Facebook. If you have never watched a live feed on Facebook, this is a curious forum. You can do a couple of things on a live stream. First, you can watch the video. You can also live comment on the video. Finally, people can "react" with emojis on a video. Below is a screen shot from a Lincoln Center jazz show I'm watching now.

Jazz at Lincoln Center, live at 7:00 pm Central on November 13, 2017

This is what was interesting: during Harvey press conferences, haters and trolls were regularly schooled by other commentators and, ultimately, silenced. It was fascinating to see swarms of hearts and thumbs-ups overwhelming those few angry faces. Commentators were just not having any of that, at all. I saw #HoustonStrong come alive and move into action.

The other great thing about Facebook during Harvey was that there was actually a safety check-in site. Facebook has had this capability for a while, using it first in the Nepal  earthquake in April 2015. You can not only mark yourself as safe, but if you hadn't heard from someone, you could ping them and ask them to respond that they were safe. You could also offer or find help.

Facebook's Hurricane Harvey Safety Check Site

And Facebook Messenger was indispensable. The first person to check on me was actually in the Arctic Circle. My Facebook friend was staying with her sister at a Canadian science lab and messaged me the Friday before to see if I was OK. I was in touch with hundreds of people over the course of Harvey, speaking to family, friends, long-lost friends and new acquaintances who just wanted to make sure I was OK. The group chat allowed me to stay in touch with my immediate family all through out--every morning we had roll call to make sure we were all safe. I had a video chat with my cousin in Los Angeles to let him know I was alright.

I won't even talk about all of the groups and pages that were born during this period, dispensing advice, information, supplies and directions to the entire population of Houston. Many of these groups are still active, giving volunteer aid and support to Rockport, Baytown, Beaumont, Port Arthur and all of the other tiny towns surrounding Houston.

During that week-long period, Facebook became a lifeline for me and millions of people.

And just like any other tool, it cuts both ways.

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9/10/17

On Law Firm Marketing Bullshit

First, the obligatory nod to On Bullshit. For the academically inclined, there is subversive fun in being able to deploy “bullshit” as a term of art. The custom is “bullshit” does not constitute profanity if you dutifully cite Harry Frankfurt. To summarize Frankfurt:
The liar aims to deceive. The bullshitter aims to persuade. The liar intentionally distorts the truth. Truth is incidental to the bullshitter, who may occasionally stumble on the truth by accident.
Because my consulting includes convergence initiatives and preferred provider programs, I am top-tier consumer of law firm marketing bullshit. I am a bullshit connoisseur. I am not here simply to complain and lambast. I am also here to defend (sort of).

This meditation on law firm marketing bullshit was prompted by a fantastic new project from Michigan State Law. Dan Linna and crew have done a service for the ecosystem with their Legal Services Innovation Index (great coverage here from Bill Henderson). Dan is too humble with caveats about minimum viable product, Phase 1, Version 1.0…..This is an unalloyed good.

But the caveats are understandable. Immediately following the announcement, a favorite follow among the Twitterati had a good-natured exchange with Dan about the “Law Firms Focusing Marketing Efforts On 'Innovation' Offerings Index.” The Law Firm Index is predicated on keyword searches of law firm websites. Harkening back to the salad days of SEO, it is easy to envisage the Index initiating a game of perpetual bullshit buzzword bingo. I already had a law firm friend comment that the Index would inform his firm’s website refresh.

Yet—and I know I'm rocking some worlds here—just because it is on the internet, doesn’t mean it is true. Statements on a law firm website are not necessarily representative of the law firm's regular operations. Law firms are fecund sources of bullshit.

The volume and velocity of bullshit are especially high when large law firms position themselves as innovative. Two examples:
  • Any notoriety I may have started with my unorthodox practice of conducting site visits at law firms, especially my findings that legal professionals are terrible at using core technology. But these service delivery reviews are much broader than basic tech—process, staffing, knowledge management, project management, automation, analytics, etc.

    When I conduct site visits, I am often armed with RFI responses. I always read the firm website. I also use the Google. I therefore walk into the firm with a sense of how the firm tries to present itself to the world, especially regarding process, technology, and innovation.
    But I don’t ask about innovation at first. Instead, I have associates and paralegals walk me through how they actually perform the work for which they are billing my client. Only at the end of the exercise, if they haven’t touched on it (and they rarely touch on it), will I ask them how the firm’s widely publicized, award-winning initiatives around X affects their work for our mutual client and why it was not evident in the workflow they just demonstrated.
    As with so much else in my life, I elicit blank stares. Sometimes, they’ve read the same articles I have. But that’s about it. To the extent X is more than just talk, it exists elsewhere in the bowels of their large enterprise. There is no felt impact. And there is no expectation of future impact. As far as the labor is concerned, the firm hyping X is performance art, and I am a sucker for even asking about it.
  • In a similar vein, a GC I know was reading about all manner of innovative initiatives from the law firms he employs (AI Robot Magic!!!!!!). So he called them. He asked the firms to present to him on these initiatives with a specific emphasis on how the initiatives enhanced the work the firms did for him. The firms demurred. They admitted it was mostly PR and there were not yet any concrete benefits worth discussing. They seem surprised he asked. But the firms were less shocked than his fellow GCs, who could not imagine what would possess him to waste his time on such an exercise.
As I’ve said many times, it is not that innovation does not happen in law. Innovation is everywhere. Our problem is sustainably scaling innovation.

Large ‘innovative’ law firms are not pure PR constructs. But most insiders I talk to suggest it would be generous to put the ratio at 15% innovation to 85% PR. The PR machine often collects genuine innovative efforts occurring in disparate corners of the firm and spins them into a seemingly coherent narrative that suggests systemic adoption. PR then perpetuates the narrative for years after the subject innovations have failed to spread beyond the early adopters. If you hire the actual team that won the awards, you have a fair expectation of getting what is advertised. If you hire some other team in a large firm, awards have minimal informational value.

In the abstract, I don’t mind a little bullshit. There is potential for a virtuous cycle where clients seek firms based on purported innovation and thereby incentivize scaling innovation. But that only happens if clients demand to experience (and measure) the fruits of innovation—i.e., unless you ask. Selecting a firm merely because they have a reputation for innovation only reinforces the viability of a high sizzle-to-steak ratio.

In the particular, I often find bullshit useful. When I am reviewing RFI responses, I know I am consuming a fair amount of bullshit. But it is informative bullshit and, ultimately, bullshit I can work with.

There is substantial variation in the quality of the bullshit. Many firms clearly have no idea what they are bullshitting about. They unintentionally present as parodies on par with O'Magawd Mikoreer Izova. Other firms say all the right things. Their bullshit is on point.

Saying all the right things is never enough. But it’s a start. It's an indicator that someone at the firm gets it. It's a signal that if a client is committed to weaving continuous improvement into the fabric of a deep supplier relationship, they would, at the very least, be able to enter into a constructive dialogue with the firm.

And, while weak, the words are also a form of commitment. Even if it is mostly bullshit, a firm that tells a client they ❤ AFAs or project managers has more pressure to deliver if that client asks for AFAs or project managers. Although RFI responses are written in the present tense, I often read them as markers as to what the firm might do with sustained client engagement.

The quality of bullshit is one filter among many. It doesn't help identify the right firms so much as assist with eliminating the wrong firms. It is a step in strategic selection. Though not decisive. Bullshit should never be the final word.

I can imagine a near future where law departments narrow firms based on expertise (the threshold consideration) and then use Legal Services Innovation Index 3.0 to inform (i) which remaining firms to talk to and (ii) what to talk to those firms about. While I would welcome additional forms of measurement, this would still be an improvement on the status quo. But only if it leads to engagement on innovation and service delivery. Not if the words on the webpage are treated as dispositive.

Which, as always, brings us back to the reality that law is a buyers market. Any problems that arise are for the buyers to fix. And we have a puffery problem that needs fixing.

The tide is turning. Slowly. Law departments are keenly aware of law firm inconsistency. Many law departments are therefore increasing focus on process- and technology-enabled legal service delivery. Some are making great strides. But most still struggle to articulate what they want. Innovation, value, efficiency, cost-effectiveness....by themselves, these are vague demands. Ambiguity is an invitation to bullshit. We need to get concrete. Measure. Ask. Inspect. Discuss. Act. Repeat. Or something like that. Whatever it takes to flip the ratio. 85% real innovation to 15% PR should be our aspirational goal.

Again, I expect a little bullshit here and there. I am a regular purveyor, though still too circumspect to ascend to true bullshit artistry. Without the ballast of bullshit, my writing would be an endless parade of caveats, conditionals, and qualifications (and my posts are already too long). Modest overconfidence can enhance readability. Modest overstatement can raise the bar. But the legal market exceeds the bounds of reason. Our bullshit is a barrier to innovation.

Bullshit has become so endemic that everyone from the associates to the GCs in my examples couldn't understand why anyone would deign to question it. There is such a quantum of bullshit that we are breeding cynics who presume everything is bullshit. It ain't all bullshit. There is real innovation. But the prevalence of bullshit causes the marketplace of ideas to malfunction. Real innovation ends up buried under piles of bullshit.

Yet it's not accurate that 'everybody knows' it's all bullshit. Many have started to believe their own bullshit. We've cultivated the illusion of innovation where constant chatter about innovation in and of itself has convinced partners that their firms are innovative (I'd submit the same is true of law departments, but I don't have the study to back that up). Our bullshit has gone too far when we can no longer recognize it as bullshit.

______________________________________
D. Casey Flaherty is a legal operations consultant and the founder of Procertas. He serves on the advisory board of Nextlaw Labs. He is the author of Unless You Ask: A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, written and published in partnership with the ACC Legal Operations Section, and the Service Delivery Review Primer, written for the Buying Legal Council. Find more of his writing here. Connect with Casey on Twitter and LinkedIn. Or email casey@procertas.com.

*An excerpt from Frankfurt’s classic essay "On Bullshit" follows. The full essay is here. The subsequent book (a great read) is here.
This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor co conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.


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8/28/17

Harvey, social media and getting real

Harvey, social media and getting real
It's Day 3: I'm sitting in my island of a home waiting out #Harvey.

I'm one of the very lucky ones. I still have power, potable water and a working Netflix account.

But I'm movied out and reduced to organizing my closet.

On Day 1, I packed my evacuation bags: insurance, check; passport, check; undies, check.

On Day 2, cooked all the meat in my freezer. Made spaghetti. Did my mending, which I have been putting off for years.

On Day 3, what am I doing? What I've done from the beginning. Working my social media.

It is so ingrained in my life, I don't even think about it anymore. See a beautiful sunset? Instagram it. Going to the movies? Check in with my Facebook New Yorker Movie Club Group. Hear something funny? Text my family on Message. My cousin in New Mexico is worried about me so we Facebook Messenger a video chat.

Now mind you, I haven't posted on this blog for years. Politics, competitiveness and job security were factors in this decision. Greg and Toby have done a great job of steering this ship.

Me, I'm more behind the scenes. Always have been.

But today, with the ever looming #Harvey, much like Jimmy Stewart, I feel compelled to introduce you to my invisible side.

I've lived in Houston for longer than I care to admit. Born in New Mexico but raised in Ohio, I didn't come here until I was 14. And I hated it. With too many mini Farrah Fawcetts in my very tony high school, I and my flannel shirts definitely did not fit in.

After spending some time in London several years ago, I've come to finally appreciate the urban sprawl of Houston. Yes, it's swampy hot; yes, there are spaghetti bowls of traffic; yes, people are everywhere. But because of its very big-ness, the expansiveness makes us, well, expansive.

Today, on Day 3, I'm reading social media and crying. Crying for a city with a big heart and open doors. Crying for a city that has seen too many tears today. Crying for people who are sitting on top of counters who are grateful for their counters.

Don't tell me that social media is ruining our children. Don't tell me that social media is evil. Don't tell me social media is a waste of time.

I've seen it in action, over and over again. Sending evacuation information, cautioning about scams, connecting those who are abandoned. Every organization, big and small, is using social media to communicate with this community.

So don't talk to me about how technology is failing our culture and ending civilization.

If anything, it is exposing the true heart of our country.

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8/26/17

Was Ending Slavery a Good Business Decision?

I recently listened to the Sincerely, X podcast series co-presented by TED and Audible. The series shares true stories that the tellers feel are "too sensitive, painful or potentially damaging to share publicly" and so they share them anonymously. To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about the anonymous aspect of the series. But my focus today is the content of Episode 5: Equality Executive. In it, a corporate leadership consultant gives advice on how to create gender parity in the senior ranks of an organization. Her main thesis is that companies should treat achieving gender parity in their senior ranks the same way they would treat any good business decision, because that's what gender parity in the C-suite is -- a good business decision. For example, does a law firm just talk about getting more A-level clients, or does it put time, money, and human resources towards achieving that result because it wants to be more profitable? Usually the latter. And so, since gender parity is a good business decision, organizations need to treat it like one, giving it the mental, human, and financial attention it deserves.

Here are some excerpts from the talk:

  • "Thousands of leaders... realize that creating gender equality at every level within the organization isn't just a nice thing to do, but an absolute business imperative."
  • "Study after study shows that no matter how you torture the data, having women in the C-suite creates higher profitability, period."
  • "A recent study revealed that there are more CEOs in the S&P 1500 named John than there are women CEOs." (Ok, I just had to include this one. Apparently, if you want your child to be the CEO of a company, you should name him or her John.)
Do I believe that gender -- and I'll extend this to racial, religious, sexual orientation, etc. -- diversity in senior corporate ranks is important? Yes. Do I believe that such diversity in senior ranks is a good business decision? Yes. But I sure as heck don't believe that the reason you should build a diverse workforce is because it's a good business decision. I also don't believe you should build a diverse workforce because it's a nice thing to do, as the quotation above suggests. You should build a diverse workforce because it is the morally right thing to do.

Framing diversity as 'a good business decision' is, to quote James Cameron, "just male Hollywood [replace with organization name of choice] doing the same old thing." It's grading the value of diversity against a scale that traditional white male leaders created. By no means am I saying that business decisions should not take into account what's good for the business. But I am saying that decisions about whether human beings should be included at the table should be made because they are human beings, not because including them is a good business decision. Taken to the extreme, should we as a society have asked if ending slavery was a good business decision? Or should we have ended slavery because it is immoral to own human beings? 

Putting the efforts to create diversity in corporate senior ranks in the context of profitability is not only misguided, it opens the door for a company to discriminate by saying that in its case, diversity will not lead to profitability. I appreciate the good intention of this corporate leadership consultant, but her advice sends the wrong message to corporate.

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8/24/17

Legal News Publishers: Stop Using the Term "Non-Lawyer"

I am usually one who believes if you need to tell someone you are valuable, you probably aren't. However, I want to pile on with Heather Morse and others for legal media writers to stop using the term "non-lawyer" when describing legal professionals who work on the operations side of law firms. It's just plain lazy writing, and you can do better.

Heather's post, Husch Blackwell’s incoming CEO is a professional, not a “non-lawyer,” lays out the argument that there are lawyers in law firms, and there are professionals who are in the business of running a law firm. The old way of running these law firms usually meant that one or more of the law firm partners also ran operations. However, as firms grew, that method was challenged by a more traditional business structure of having those trained in management and business operations running the administrative structure of the firm, and letting the Partners set the strategic goals of the firm, and get back to the practice of law.

I get it. It's an easy phrase that simplifies the wall between a licensed attorney who is practicing law, and an administrative professional who is handling the day-to-day operations of the firm. However, as Heather Morse puts it, it "does a disservice to all of the firms that are being run as businesses." I'll stress again, it's also pretty lazy. Just read the title of the article that is invoking Heather and other legal industry professionals to call for a removal of this phrase. Please, read it out loud to yourself:
Husch Blackwell's Next Leader is a Newly Employed Non-Lawyer
Now take a drink of coffee to wash that taste out of your mouth.

I've checked "non-lawyer" usage with other publications, like Bloomberg Law Big Law Business, and noticed that the term is typically only used when it is describing ownership by someone who is not a licensed attorney, or when advice or counsel is coming from someone who is an expert in the field, but not a licensed attorney. It can be done.

My request for all the legal industry writers out there is for you to take the phrase "non-lawyer" and throw it away. Be a little more creative when you announce a new CEO of a law firm who happens to be a business professional with vast experience. Focus on what he or she brings to the firm, rather than if the person can or cannot practice law.

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