ModioLegal: Hear the Future of Legal News

A couple months ago, I had a great conversation with Kevin Mitchell of ModioLegal about his product and its "reading the news" concept. He and I talked about the different methods of delivering information and current content to lawyers and we both agreed that we thought the methods of print distribution, email, or RSS feeds allow for massive amounts of information to be disseminated, but that there should be better ways of presenting complex information in a way that is more convenient to access. Kevin's idea was to produce a way of delivering the information in audio format and providing the listener with a way to consume the content during periods of time where hearing the information is easier than reading the information.
I've always been one for finding new ways of getting information out to the consumer. The converting text to audio has been something I've considered for a long time, but there are obvious issues with converting text to audio, and having it make sense.
Some of you may immediately think of a Siri-like voice reading the material to you, but that's not what Mitchell is doing with this product. As most of you have realized, mechanical voices, no matter how human sounding, just cannot present the information in a way that helps the listener easily digest and understand the nuances of the information being presented. It really takes a person with an ability to read the material in their heads first, and present it in a way that assists the listener absorb the information. For a situation like this, a law student is one of the best candidates for the job.
The idea is this:
  • License quality current awareness content that is relevant to the legal industry
  • Pay law students for their time to produce audio narrations of the content,
  • Deliver the audio content through a high-quality, proprietary platform that can be played back on multiple devices ranging from car audio systems, mobile or home devices during multi-tasking activities such as commuting or exercising
  • Give the law students exposure by having them introduce themselves to the audience and provide access to their email address and LinkedIn profile
  • Distribute the recordings quickly so that the information is still current
As someone who used law students to help create the content at the Oklahoma Supreme Court's online research tool, I thought it was a great idea to leverage the talent that is available and create a situation where the student, the listener, the content licensor and the company benefit. After listening to some of the content, I found it to be very easy to listen to, and easy to understand.
ModioLegal is just getting started, so the content is very limited. Right now the legal content is the Audio Edition of ABI Journal, which costs $9.95 a month and comes with a free 1-month trial. I think there is a bit of a "chicken and the egg" issue with a project like this where users of the product will want more content, and content providers would like for there to be more listeners before licensing more content. I imagine that is always an issue when it comes to presenting content in a novel way.
Since ModioLegal is a subscription service, I asked if there could be a way for people to demo some of the content without having to sign up for anything or be obligated in any way. Kevin got me a demo login and said that I could post it here and allow the readers of the blog some access to the site. Again, I found it to be very easy to listen and understand the content, so go check it out, perhaps on your smartphone, and see if this type of information dissemination is something you'd like to see more of on the market.
username: 3geeks
password: modiolegal

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Dan and Jane tackle Business Cards

Dan and Jane return after a very long hiatus.  Inspired by Marlene's terrific post and the impassioned discussion that it began amongst friends.

Jane: Dan!  I haven't seen you forever.  How have you been?!

Dan: I'm sorry.  Do I know you?

Jane: It's me, Jane.  We used to do 3 Geeks Point/Counter-point posts a couple of years ago?  You were the blowhard gasbag that was wrong about absolutely everything!

Dan: Oh! And you were the ignorant fool who incessantly contradicted me!  Yes, I remember now.  How have you been?

Jane: I'm well, I'm well.  Got promoted since we last talked.

Dan: Well, that makes sense, you do work in a law firm, right?

(Both laugh knowingly.)

Jane: I'm now the Chief Director of Innovative Solutions and Catering.  You know how things are, the firm is consolidating roles. I think I've got a new card in here somewhere.  Let me see...

Dan:  Oh, don't bother. I don't use business cards. I'll look you up on LinkedIn.

Jane: No, no, no. It doesn't work that way! This is a time honored tradition.  I give you a card. You give me a card. A bond is formed and we are connected.

Dan: That's stupid. Then what do you do with all of the cards you collect?

Jane: I send LinkedIn invites to each of the people I meet and then throw away the card.

Dan: I thought you were one of those eco-terrorists, hell bent on saving the planet one tree at a time.

Jane: My cards are made of sustainable bamboo pulp, thank you very much!

Dan: I bet that costs a fortune.

Jane: It's not cheap, but some things are worth paying more for.

Dan: At my suggestion, we did away with business cards entirely last year.  No one gets them.  We save about $800 per person per year.

Jane: But what does your firm lose in the process?

Dan: A lot of cards in the landfill?

Jane: No, you moron, in terms of good will and business relationships?

Dan: Uh...nothing?

Jane: Look, when I give you a card, I am symbolically giving you something of myself. I am quite literally trusting you with my personal identification. I am saying this is who I am and I want to share it with you. And then, you reciprocate. That creates a bond, a momentary relationship that cannot be ignored, whereas a LinkedIn invite actually has an ignore button.

Dan:  It does? Why would they do that?  The point of LinkedIn is to have as many contacts as possible. I am currently in second place in my group.

Jane: You are why they have an ignore button.

Dan: So if I take your stupid card and send you a LinkedIn invite, will you accept?

Jane: Are you asking because you want to cement our bond?

Dan: No, I'm just three contacts behind the guy in first place.

Jane: Then no.

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How Do You Connect?

Image [cc] Clive Darra
I started a very robust conversation with some colleagues the other day, including Dan and Jane of this site, who I am certain you will hear from soon, about a decision my team made to opt out of business cards. 

The initial conversation came up because I often get asked for cards.  I don’t carry them.  I haven’t for years.  I prefer not to carry paper around.  See, I have kids, and kids get into handbags.  Consequently, I don’t want to carry anything that is not essential, especially things that can be taken and squirreled away as “treasure”, making me spend hours searching for them to the chorus of “I don’t know where it is,” or items that can be can be used as a Chinese Stars or Mini-Frisbees.

 I tried the chic card holder, the antique card clip, stuffing cards in my wallet or pocket--none of them worked for me (the card-in-pocket idea caused a lot of laundry issues BTW).  My team and I discussed adopting QR codes on the cards and apps that scan cards, among other things, and finally came to the conclusion; why not just use our business contact info on our smart phones?

Through my discussion with colleagues, I uncovered a dizzying amount of opinions and questions.  The Artists loved their cards and expressed that when you give a card, you symbolically give something of yourself to the recipient.  The Technologists used LinkedIn (I use this as well).  The Socially-Minded voiced concern that not everyone has a business phone, much less a smart phone—there was also a side conversation here about use of private phones for business purposes,  The Environmentalists expressed dismay about the waste surrounding business cards.  The Opportunists summed it up by questioning how they would get a free lunch if they didn’t have cards to put in the fishbowl.  All valid points and food for thought, readers.

Ultimately, our team decision is an optional one.  No one is required to use their contacts as a connection mechanism, But we are raising it as a consideration.  It saves money and trees and keeps my lint screen clean.  Every little bit counts.

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In praise of failure, Part II

I read Nick Milton's Must you fail in order to learn? post on Friday with trepidation.  I have written of the importance of failure a few times (In praise of failureRyan's rules for projects) and I talk about it all the time.  I often say my philosophy is 'to fail quickly' and after reading Milton's post, I stand by that.

It's not that I strongly disagree with anything he says, I don't really.  He's right about nearly everything. Personal failure is absolutely NOT necessary in order to learn, but he tacitly concedes that knowledge itself always comes from failure; either your's or someone else's.  

As Milton says:
Learn from the failures of others, not your own failures.
Now, I could be pedantic and argue that learning from the failure of others constitutes true opinion rather than knowledge. But that's silly. There is a very good argument to be made that in everyday life, true opinion or belief is just as valuable as personal experiential knowledge.

Milton continues:
Learn, try, succeed (then learn again) is a far better approach than try, fail, learn (then try again).
Again, I generally agree, however this approach presupposes that others have failed before you in a similar task and have published or recorded their failure so that you may learn from it.  One should always begin a new task with research to determine if others have attempted what you are trying.  There is no sense reinventing the wheel if it's already been done, and there is no sense in recreating other's failures, unless you are looking to confirm their findings.

Milton closes:
Let's sever this implied link between learning and failing. Let's embrace "learning to avoid failure". Let's not punish failure if it is the result of informed risk taking, but lets not expect it either.
It's the second sentence that bothers me most.  Embrace "learning to avoid failure".  In my experience, most people already do this instinctively. They take the route they believe is least likely to fail and avoid the one with the highest potential reward. This is risk aversion causing sameness, stagnation, and a near total lack of innovation. Or, in other words, the legal industry for a long time now.  If you only build on the failure of others, then you will only go so far as they have already gone.  Worse yet, and more relevant to the legal industry, if you only attempt to replicate the success of others, you will undoubtedly fail. Situations are always unique and success is rarely replicable in different environments.

When I say my philosophy is 'to fail quickly' it doesn't mean I am actively trying to fail so that I can learn something, it means I recognize that any project looking to do more than simply maintain the status quo, will have the odds stacked against it.  People will actively try to kill it, unknown unknowns will rear their ugly heads, and sometimes I'll just screw it up. If that is going to happen, I would rather that happen as quickly as possible, so that I can learn from what went wrong, try to fix it, and go again. To that end, yes, I will try to stress my projects, push them harder than I should, break them if I can, because if I can't break them, then the partner in the corner office won't be able to either.

People who are concerned with avoiding failure, do not think this way.  They sweep inconsistencies under the proverbial rug.  They ignore new information that doesn't fit their current hypothesis.  They rarely admit when they fail, let alone learn anything from it.

Let's sever this implied link between failing and incompetence. Let's embrace the 'learning opportunities that failing can offer'.  Let's not expect failure, but let's not fear it either.

Let's do our research, plan our path, and go confidently into the unknown to learn new things.


We can "embrace 'learning to avoid failure'".

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Tech and Lawyers: Let's Start Simple

Image [cc] Rachel
As I was rolling around the Future Law conference via my Beam vehicle on Thursday, Twitter was lighting up with a series of tweets from the actual presentations (as well as about my robot form.) During his State of the Art of Legal Technology session, Professor Oliver Goodenough fielded a question that even he admitted was loaded. "What is the biggest obstacle to integrating technology in the legal field?" Everyone kind of chuckled when they heard the question because everyone saw the answer coming... "Lawyers."

Now, to be fair to the audience and to Prof. Goodenough, the answer was a bit tongue and cheek, and the good professor did discuss the number of issues and situations that contribute to a lawyer's inability to fully adapt new technologies, or to take advantage of certain advancements in technology. Not every advancement is practical for the lawyer to adopt. Not every lawyer has the ability, either personally or financially, to jump in and integrate new technologies that might streamline his or her practice. Now... that being said, let's talk about low level advancements that are really no-brainers for practically every attorney to adapt, but which most are still struggling to adopt.

MS Word

Casey Flaherty's tweet to Ron Friedmann and I nailed this one. Even if you threw out all the really cool technology advancements in the past ten years, you still have one that most lawyers adopted twenty years ago… Microsoft Word. Casey has sent ripples throughout the legal profession by simply asking lawyers to show they know their way around a few tasks in MS Word. Little tasks such as formatting a pleading or contract in MS Word are things that could save attorneys, and clients, time and money.

Adobe PDF

The legal industry is flush with PDF documents, and equally flush with people that don't know how to do anything much more than open a document in Adobe Reader. PDF documents can be edited, Bates stamping is a common task, and a number of other features that would allow attorneys to efficiently produce documents and file these documents with the court. For many, however, getting beyond scanning existing paper documents and attempting to OCR these (for the really advanced) is the big obstacle.

MS Excel

Being semi-proficient at Excel should almost be an entry-requirement for lawyers, and almost any other employee that deals with budgets or other data driven information. Sorting, filtering, creating simple Pivot Tables, and even some basic function utilities are very easy to learn, and can open opportunities to better understand information in a few simple clicks. Not knowing some of these basic functionalities is a disservice to yourself and your clients.

MS Outlook

This is actually a tool that many attorneys use as an advanced time tracking and document storage device. Which is a great thing to know, but this is the wrong tool for those functions. Gigabytes of data being stored in your profile causes slowness for you and practically everyone else on your network. Learn how Outlook functions with your DMS, your CRM, and your time entry system. It is not a Swiss Army knife.

Document Assembly

I could go on and on about the basic tools that attorneys could use to make their lives easier, cut down on risk, and save their clients money, but I'll end with something that may seem like a more advance technology tool, Document Assembly. Ron Friedmann jumped on this on twitter in response to Prof. Goodenough's answer. The fact that attorneys are handling complicated drafting of contracts and other documents without using a document assembly resource is simply risky behavior. For a profession that is so adverse to risk, not using this type of resource is counter to everything we advise our own clients. If you work with contracts and agreements... become familiar with a good document assembly tool.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I'm sure many of you are thinking of other simple or common tools that are underutilized in the legal industry. If we can't get a good understanding of these basic tools, it erodes the foundation on which we would like to develop and implement more advance tools. So where do we start? I'd suggest establishing an organizational wide strategy to develop training and development for those entering your organization. Clearly established methods of training along with measurable results that show who is understanding these basic tasks, and who needs help. It's taken us twenty years of using this technology to be this bad at it... let's set out a three to five year plan to get a little bit better at using these basic technologies.

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