Cash 4 (Lawsuit) Clunkers?

The Cheap Geek took advantage of the Cash 4 Clunkers deal this week and traded in my 17 mpg Chrysler MiniVan for a 50 mpg Prius.
The minivan was probably worth $2000.00 tops - as it really got about 14 mpg and had 176K miles on it. So in the end, I got a deal, the car dealership got a sale, and my van got removed from the road and will get to retire to the farm along side my childhood pet dog, Lucky. According to the papers this morning, the program is so popular that it is quickly running out of money, and Congress is rushing to put more money into the program to keep it going.
Now my thoughts start to wander and I begin thinking how can this idea be transferred to helping the court system reduce the number of cases it handles, thus reducing the overall strain on the system? I'm going to toss out a couple of suggestions, but I really would like everyone to put on their "thinking caps", or as I like to call it "crazy idea initiators", and help me come up with some other ideas that might help reduce the number of cases currently clogging up the courts.
Here's my thoughts:
  1. Civil Cases: If the case is older than 1 year and is still ongoing, offer the Plaintiffs a cash payment of $4500 or 50% of the demanded amount (whichever is less) to drop the case. Make the Defendant pay $2750 or 25% of demanded amount (whichever is less). That way, everyone "gets a haircut" and the courts reduce their overall burden.
  2. Criminal Cases: Same idea -- misdemeanor cases that are older than 1 year and the penalty can be handled by a "fine" - Have the defendant plead "guilty" or "no contest" with agreement by the court to expunge the record after one year if the defendant is not arrested again. Have the defendant pay 25% of the fine. On this one, there shouldn't be a need for the government to ante up any money as it would "pay" the court to get this case off of its docket.
I know... I know... you're thinking that I've hit Happy Hour a little early for a Friday morning. But, why not have some fun with this??
What are your suggestions (crazy or not) on how the Cash 4 Clunkers concept could be used to reduce the caseload on our courts??

Bookmark and Share


Capturing Knowledge: If You've Highlighted Everything, You've Learned Nothing

Reading Patrick Lambe's Green Chameleon post entitled "Memory and Infantilism" reminded me of a saying I heard in law school about identifying what is, and what is not important. Lambe discusses the total screw-up that NASA did with the Lunar tapes, and the UK police did in losing important files related to a horrific child-rape case. Although there is a lot of facts surrounding both of those examples, it really, really boils down to the fact that we believe we can basically capture and maintain everything that we think is relevant to what we may want on down the road.
In a way, we do this with our Knowledge Management approach to everything from email to client files to court documents to contact relationship data. There is a whole subset of the legal industry (e-discovery) that has sprung from the idea of "everything is there, we just need to drill deep enough into the data to find it." These practices have created a misconception that if we keep everything, the "important" information will be there when we want to find it. Tapes regarding the Moon landing will be there 40 years later... files regarding DNA evidence will be there when the Judge asks for them... that email that your former boss sent you telling you to do something will be at your fingertips when your new boss asks "why the Hell did you do it that way?"
This all reminds me of a saying that someone told me back in law school. "If you highlight the entire casebook, you've learned absolutely nothing."
In other words, you should only highlight (store and archive) those things that you think you'll have to recall later on the final exam. The same concept could be adapted to how we treat the KM life cycle of information that flows through our possession today. Regardless if it is email, client files, or court documents there needs to be a realistic approach to how we handle that information. The most obvious would be any legal obligation we have to maintain and archive the information. There are certain things we should legally and/or ethically keep for a specific period of time. But, most of the data that we handle does not fall under these requirements. In fact, I'd wager that 90% of the emails, electronic documents, or paper documents we keep, we do because we are implementing the "CYA" rule.
The problem comes down to an issue of "mass". It is very easy to file things away on backup tapes, or ship hard drives and paper documents off site for a hundred years. In some cases it is actually cheaper to keep files in off site storage for a few decades, than it is to pay the cost of having the items destroyed. The combination of "CYA" + ease of storage + idea of easy recall creates a situation where we've highlighted everything, and cannot recall the important items later. The result is like a 2nd year law student that has highlighted his entire Federal Civil Procedure book... When asked to recall specific information, we find that we either cannot recall the information (tapes got erased, DNA evidence got misplaced, etc.) or, we cannot isolate what is important versus what is irrelevant (the old back the dump truck up and give them everything we know approach.)
Knowledge Management should not be based on a "cast a wide net" approach to the information that flows in and out of our firms. In fact, most information should be ephemeral in nature; addressing only the specific need of the moment and not be thought of as a permanent addition to the knowledge of the firm. When we try to capture everything, we end up capturing nothing. In the end we end up losing the important pieces of knowledge because they are buried in a mountain of useless data filed under the topic of "CYA".

Bookmark and Share


Leverage is Good

Some recent comments disparaging leverage inspired me to pick up the gauntlet. Much like Dennis and Tom's recent podcast on "What Technology is Dead Today" I expect the title and discussion promoting leverage may bring some attention. In Patrick Lamb's post on the subject he chastises Lexis for promoting good leverage in an ad campaign. Patrick thinks this is ridiculous and "out of touch." The Lexis ad states that with good leverage "even though billings shrink - profit per partner goes up." Patrick closes by commenting "what does this ad say to clients ....?" Normally I am very much on the same page as Patrick, but will take the opposite podium on this one. First, let's bring the two statements above together, which is to say - What do lower billings say to clients? As a client I want my law firm to be pushing work to its lowest cost source. Why would I pay partner rates for associate level work? Especially in traditional hourly billing arrangements, smart leverage benefits clients. The price of the 20 hours of time the client buys goes down. This is a win-win deal. Adding alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) to the mix ups the ante on leverage. Under AFAs law firms are more financially motivated to be efficient (and effective). Numerous articles and posts on AFAs state that the real trick for lawyers using AFAs will be effectively managing to a budget. What this means is using smart leverage. The ugly side of leverage as always been the pyramid-scheme aspect of it. A firm cannot keep adding to the base of the pyramid when all entrants are expected to rise to the top. That type of leverage is dead. Look at Microsoft, IBM, etc. These companies are leveraged to the hilt. They don't have a quarter of their employees serving as owner-managers. Their employees are ... employees. Though employees own stock, they do not have input into management decisions. Besides, I don't want Bill Gates programming code for me. I can only imagine what his hourly rate would be. Firms that will succeed going forward will be those who understand that effective leverage means lower costs for clients and better profitability for the firm. At the same time they will retire the pyramid scheme that should have died a while back. Let the games begin!

Bookmark and Share


Uncreative Thinking is 'Still' Done Better By Machines

I read a lot. But, I don't usually read the same book twice (because I already know how it is going to end!) But, I do love me some SciFi and Vampires and Humor, so when I get that all rolled into one, I make an exception and read the book again. I do it for fun, not for business research or to get some type of deep philosophical experience out of the deal. However, coming in on the bus this morning, and re-reading Christopher Moore's 1995 book Bloodsucking Fiends, I read a passage that made me put the book down and really think. (You can read the passage starting at page 84 via Google Books.)
Moore's characters, a bum who is known as the Emperor of San Francisco, and a young aspiring writer named C. Thomas Flood are discussing the well-dressed business folk that are scurrying about. The Emperor calls them "Fallen Gods" because the things that have made them successful are going away and they will soon be losing out to the "chinless techno-children... and their silicon-chip reality." Then the Emperor says something that really got me thinking. "Uncreative thinking is done better by machines."
Now, skip ahead 14 years and the chinless techno-children are now seen as the new Gods. The old Gods and their ability to push paper around has been replaced by the new Gods' ability to push large amounts of data around. The new Gods' success has simply been to find a more efficient way of pushing information (a.k.a. 'paper', 'emails', 'databases', etc.) around. But, has the increase in efficiency helped make either man or machine more creative thinkers? Or, have we created a situation where we're still on an uncreative path, but making up for it in volume?
When we look at technology in the legal setting, whether it is legal research, knowledge management, or electronic discovery, we've seemed to have taken the last 14 years to increase the scale of what we do. We can now push more information around -- We can now store Terabytes of information -- We can now virtually capture every keystroke that an attorney makes. But, have we made ourselves more creative, or have we simply increased the volume of information each of us can access? Uncreative thinking is still done better by machines. What we really need to ask is whether we are using the efficiency of the uncreative machines to push these tasks off of our people and allowing them to use their creativity to come up with better and more effective solutions?
Thanks to a book about vampires, I was reminded that machines (computers, software, databases, etc.) are efficient yet still uncreative in handling information and should be designed to our human resources to be more effective and creative in accomplishing their work. So, when you're ready to upgrade that hardware or software, you really should sit down and ask yourself this: "How does this make my people more creative and effective?"

Bookmark and Share


Your Most Important Brand Ambassadors: Your Staff

Early in my working career, I used to fill in for the receptionist at lunch time. It fast became one of my very favorite duties. You see, the receptionist knows EVERYTHING. She knows who’s working the hardest, who’s taking long lunches, who’s meeting with clients, who’s ducking out early. And let’s not forget all the little “personal” calls she patches through. It was better than watching “All My Children”! During my short stint as a secretary, I knew more about my boss’s personal life than his wife did. I’m just sayin’ … Then when I worked in the expense reports team of a large firm’s account receivables department, I quickly found out who could be trusted and who couldn’t. You see, in a corporate setting, everyone sees everything. Maybe not in totality, but enough to judge the character of a person. And the staff is much smarter than most lawyers give them credit for being. Let’s not even talk about the prestige that staff may assume when working for a law firm. You may be the nicest lawyer on the planet but if your staff has imbued itself with some sort of attitude for being associated with a law firm and is throwing the law firm’s weight around, it just looks bad to outsiders. So remember, treat your staff like the brand ambassadors that they are. And if they don’t understand their importance in presenting a message of client service, make sure and make that message clear. Teach your receptionists, secretaries and paralegals to have a “client service” attitude. Conduct training classes, be a good role model, make it a part of their evaluation. When I hire anyone in our department I look for “client service” skills. I look for large good doses of humility, empathy and kindness. If these skills aren’t present, they usually don’t pass my litmus test. And as I always tell new managers: you have got to check your ego at the door. We are here to serve the lawyers and to serve the clients. Its not an easy job. But then again, that is why work is called “work”.

Bookmark and Share


Competitive Intelligence in a Web 2.0 World - Part 2: Uncovering the 'What' and 'Who' of LinkedIn

[Note: Another brilliant Guest Post from our unofficial 4th Geek, Laura Walters]

LinkedIn has become the most popular of the professionally focused social media sites, and therefore a goldmine for various competitive intelligence tidbits, sometimes disclosed inadvertently. What I particularly love about LinkedIn is the web you begin to detect between contacts and their current and previous circles of friends and colleagues.

Here’s a brief look at some of what – and who - you can uncover using LinkedIn:

Company Info Bonnie Hohhof over at the Society for Competitive Intelligence (SCIP) gives us a rundown on the company info available:

To start, first Click on the “companies” heading at the top of the LinkedIn page, and you are offered the opportunity to find companies by keyword (can also limit search by country or postal code), by company name, or by industry. You can also get there by clicking on the company name in a person’s LinkedIn record.

Once you’ve identified the company you want to look at, LinkedIn gives you a short description of the company and employee information:

· How many of their employees are on Linked in and a list of their names, titles, and locations from those individual entries. (Provides you a potential list of contacts, locations where the company has a facility, and the types of activities at a location as extrapolated from the titles.)

· A list of their new hires, LinkedIn users who have indicated in their profile that they’ve recently joined this company. List includes their current title, their previous company and title, and how long ago they were hired. (Potential source of information on companies they left, an indication of specific movement from another company, the rate at which the company is hiring new people, and the specific knowledge base of the new hires.)

· Recent promotions and changes, LinkedIn users who have recently indicated in their profile that they’ve recently changed positions at this company. List includes their current and previous titles, and when the change took place. (Where’s the growth ahead in the company, potential dissolution of a specific department and replacement of those individuals in another part of the company.)

· Popular profiles of Linkedin users who are highlighted because they may be actively in the news, referenced in blogs, participating in industry groups, and/or frequently the result of searches and other activities within the Linkedin network. (Identify the ‘movers and shakers’ of the organization.)

A section titled “related companies” also provides additional information:

  • A link to any division or subsidiary company record in LinkedIn. (company organization)
  • Common career paths for the company’s employees – companies they came from and companies they left to. (Companies working in similar areas, potential competitors.)
  • A list of companies that the company employees are most connected to. (People they know and talk to.)
  • The key statistics box gives you a variety of background information on the company.
  • The locations of the company and how many employees with LinkedIn profiles are at each location.
  • The headquarters address.
  • Type of company (public/private).
  • Company size.
  • Last years reported revenue.
  • When the company was founded.
  • The URL for the company website.
  • If available, a link to articles on the company in the popular business press.
  • Common job titles and percentage of employees in each one.
  • The top school employees attended
  • The media age of employees
  • Employee gender split in percentages

A handy box titled “Jobs” lists how many open positions in the company has posted on LinkedIn, a link to a list of those jobs, and then a link to each position’s details. A “news about” section provides titles, sources, and dates for the most recent three articles on the company, with a link to each one. And if the company is public, the page shows basic stock prices.

LinkedIn has partnered with Capital IQ to provide company data.

Legal Intel Shannon Shankstone wrote one of the first articles on the use of LinkedIn for CI in the legal industry for the Marketing the Law Firm Newsletter. She cites a great example of the potential for finding competitor firm client information using the tool:

“A quick search for a well-known law firm listed one of their attorneys as the top result. Although Mr. Lawyer made his connections private, he did not shy away from requesting recommendations. He lists over 40 recommendations, 26 of which are from clients. Some of these clients are (names have been withheld, but are available on Mr. Lawyer's profile):

• A publicly listed hotel and resort corporation;

• A large biotech company; and

• A private equity firm.

At first glance, the CI pro now knows at least 20 of Mr. Lawyer's clients (some clients had more than one person recommending Mr. Lawyer). Were a firm considering approaching Mr. Lawyer as a lateral hire, they would include this information, and an analysis of the clients, to determine if Mr. Lawyer's client base was in line with the firm's business development goals.

If, on the other hand, a firm was competing with Mr. Lawyer's firm for work from a company in the hotel industry, then Mr. Lawyer's recommendations might be leveraged to the CI pro's firm's advantage. While Mr. Lawyer may point to his recommendations as proof that he has delighted clients in this industry, the competing firm may highlight this as Mr. Lawyer having a better relationship with a competitor company.”

Also Noteworthy Way back in 2008 3 Geeks did a posting on law firm alumni groups on LinkedIn. The numbers have no doubt gone up since then, and warrant a periodic search and scan to see what’s new.

There is a blog now dedicated to LinkedIn Intelligence that shares news and updates on LinkedIn technology as well as specific uses for harvesting info.

And there are currently 67 LinkedIn Groups pertaining to Competitive Intelligence. Joining Groups is a way to connect with folks you may not have a mutual LinkedIn contact for (once you join the group and are accepted as a member, just select the appropriate Group as the link to “Add Contact to Your Network”).

Bookmark and Share


From Revenue to Profits – The Big Shift

Law firms, especially BigLaw, like to talk about leverage these days. We at 3 Geeks have previously posted on various aspects of this discussion, especially as it relates to alternative fee arrangements.
But what are we really talking about when we talk about leverage? I suggest we are actually talking about profit. But just like 'marketing' was a dirty word before firms embraced it: profit is a dirty word now. So instead we talk about "leverage" with some veiled, hoped-for result of sustaining or growing partner incomes. I suppose we do talked about Profits Per Partner (PPP). But this discussion is a ruse since it doesn't really address the issue of profitable work for a firm, but instead is some odd reference to how much money - on average - a partner at a given firm is making. Leverage aside, we are now starting to see a shift in the dialogue actually to "profit." This shift is a good thing. What this shift means for law firms is very important. For all the talk about Alternative Fees - what clients really want is efficient law firms. They call it "value" but this effectively means that firms are doing more for less. Of all the discussions about how things are changing, this point may be the most critical. By shifting the dialogue, the metrics of a partnership will become more about profit and less about revenue. Revenue is what firms have focused on for years. Being able to continually increase billing rates which drove revenue faster than costs has meant firms have enjoyed growing partner incomes. But no longer. Rates are flat while costs are still increasing. So now we start to talk about profits. Initially firms have focused on cost reductions. This approach is a short-term tactic for driving overall profitability of a firm. The next layer of analysis becomes the profitability of types of work, matters, clients and even industries (a.k.a. markets). At this level, law firm profits become a value driver. If firms are measuring and reacting to profitability at the matter level, they shift their attention to being efficient. Now we have client and law firm interests aligned! A major reason law firms have avoided measuring profit at this level is its potential for divisiveness among partners. If you know your partner’s profitability and her compensation and the two don’t match then we have a problem. But I would argue that problem already exists. Firms have had the luxury of avoiding it - but no more. I predict the shift of focus away from Revenue and towards Profit will ultimately be a healthy thing; both for firms and clients. This shift will be a major factor in addressing the concerns clients are raising and will bring healthy business practices to law firms. However in the short run, change will come at a cost.

Bookmark and Share


The Psychology of Online Privacy

After reading Acquisti and Grossklags’ brilliant paper, “What can Behavioral Economics Teach Us About Privacy?”, I started thinking about how we, as users, engage in protecting our own privacy. Basically, it all comes down to value: how much do I value my privacy? And frankly, my privacy may be more valuable than your privacy. I mean, honestly, if your credit is in the tank or you’ve declared bankruptcy, you may be begging for someone to steal your identity. So the value of privacy is relative. Furthermore, how much we value privacy at any given moment may change, based upon the situation. If that fellow on Match.com who says he’s from Nigeria is asking for my bank account number, I’m telling him “hell, no.” But if that handsome tennis player on Match.com, posing next to a Jag doesn’t ask for my phone number soon, I may send it to him anyways (not really, Mom; it’s just an example!) So value is subjective. We are also more likely to divulge information to sites that give the appearance of security. So if there is a Verisign badge on the site, along with a professional-looking design and a secured log indicated by a an “https”, we don’t mind turning over our social security number. So value is based upon appearances. And then there is what I will call the “Price is Right” effect: given a choice between Door Number 1, which has a free, all-expense paid trip to Maui, or the unknown prize behind Door Number 2, most of us will pick Door Number 1. So, in other words, I am more likely to give my data to a known entity than an unknown entity. So value is based upon experience. Lastly, in what I call the “Garage Sale” phenomenon, consider the price of protecting my privacy versus the value I place on my privacy when someone wants it. Call it the meeting of the minds amongst Ebenezer Scrooge, Jed Clampett and Donald Trump--that's scary. So value is based upon positioning. To wrap this all up, I have only one question: so just how are we going to standardize all of this?

Bookmark and Share


Competitive Intelligence in a Web 2.0 World - Part 1: Finding Company Employees on Twitter

I got the idea for this multi-part post because Melissa Sachs has taken on the project of trying to find as many people as she can that work in AmLaw law firms that have Twitter accounts (#AMLAWTweeple). It's a great work in progress, and you should go check out the list (and contribute if you know of anyone.)

Scenario: Boss comes in and says (in a voice that sounds a lot like Tommy Lee Jones in the Fugitive) - "I want to know everyone from 'X' law firm that is on Twitter, FaceBook, MySpace, Flikr, YouTube, Bloghouse, Roadhouse, Doghouse, and Outhouse." Okay, that last part probably didn't happen in this scenario, but I got all into the Tommy Lee Jones theme.

In “Part 1” we’re going to focus on finding employees within a law firm that have Twitter accounts.

There are a few 'tricks' I've learned on how to identify people on the Social Web (social media, web 2.0, etc.) that I wanted to share with you. Some are basic, and some require you to have a Law Degree and a Masters in Library Science in order to truly understand them (Hey! Let me justify my dual degree!!). The steps are also generic enough that you can probably alter the scenario to fit any type of company. Just for fun, let's start off big and for our scenario, "X" = "Skadden Arps".

Step 1: Steal what others have already compiled. (In academia I think they call this "research")

Take a leap of faith here with me and trust me when I say that some of this work has already been compiled by others. For starters, I already told you that Ms. Sachs has a list of people from AmLaw firms on Twitter, so let's start there.

Also don’t forget to search Twitter’s “Find People” option for the name of the firm. Most firms missed the boat when it came to reserving their Twitter names, but it doesn’t hurt to look. In this case, we found that there is a @SkaddenArps account (with zero tweets, but with 175 followers that might come in handy later.)

Step 2: Keyword Search Twellow for the firm’s name in the Twitter Bio

Although I’m pretty sure that Melissa has already done this step, I’m going to double-check the Twitter Profiles using Twellow by searching for the word “Skadden” in the Twitter profile, or for the a link to Skadden’s website. This does give me two new names, but when I read their profiles, I see that they are former Skadden employees (I still keep them on my list because they might prove worthwhile later.)

Step 3: Find Twitter Through LinkedIn, FaceBook and MySpace

This step is the one that has worked best for me in finding additional Twitter accounts. We all know that LinkedIn is one of the most used social networking sites by attorneys. But, what you didn’t know is that you can extract information out of LinkedIn (using a search engine like Google) to find things you may not have thought about. The search is pretty simple:

site:linkedin.com Skadden Twitter

I suggest searching this same string in Google, Bing, and Yahoo (just to be safe.) Then redo the search using FaceBook and MySpace (and any other social media site you think would be useful. In this case, the LinkedIn and FaceBook searches uncovered some additional Skadden Alumni, and the MySpace search disclosed two Skadden employees - one secretary and one legal assistant.

Step 4: Search the Twitter Accounts You Found Using TweepSearch.

TweepSearch allows you to enter the Twitter name of someone and then index the bios all of the users they are following or are following them. Once you have them indexed, you can do a keyword search (I tend to use ‘attorney OR lawyer OR “law firm”). Scan the resulting list to see if any of the bios lead you to additional members of the firm.

Step 5: [If You Can] Ask!

Getting on Twitter and sending a Tweet to the names you found asking them if there are others in their firm that are on Twitter can be an extremely easy way of finding additional people. Of course, if you’re doing this confidentially, then this step doesn’t apply.

Following these steps, I found a couple of non-attorney accounts, and about 5 or 6 alumni accounts for Skadden. All of this took about 15 minutes or so to conduct. If I were to really dive into the project and had a few hours to spend, I’m sure I could come up with a few more. At least now I have something to present back to Tommy Lee Jones (er.. my Boss, that is), and you now know a few tricks on how to find people on the Social Web. If you have any additional tips and tricks, let me know.

I’ll start working on “Part 2” where I’ll begin looking at finding people on LinkedIn.

Bookmark and Share


Legal Research Metrics & Ethics: $499 a Year Or $825 an Hour?

My boss has been prepping for an ITLA presentation on "Reducing Costs of Legal Research: Best Practices Onshore and Offshore" where she's discussing the pros and cons of online vs. print legal research. This is not a new issue, in fact, it has been discussed seriously since about 1994, and I had the privilege of being on the AALL Committee on the Future of Law Libraries in the Digital Age in 2000-2001 where we discussed this very topic. Generally, the discussion has tended to lean toward the idea that online research will trump print research due to the convenience of the format and how the upcoming generation will prefer online over print media.
Then along comes a recession and all of a sudden it becomes apparent that online research is "expensive" and for some forms of research - specifically treatise research - online research doesn't work very well. Take a poll at one of the practice group meetings you attend and ask the attorneys point blank: "When researching in treatises, do you find you are more efficient using the print version of a treatise, or the online version of a treatise?" I'd almost give you 2 to 1 odds that the print version will be the preferred method.
Speaking of treatises, I could probably write a treatise on why we've eliminated print subscriptions over the past 15 years. Issues ranging from duplication, ease of use, user preference, space concerns, and cost of updating have all been reasons used to reduce print and increase online. The implied pledge behind this move has been that once we go from print to online, the firm is committed to the online version. But, I think there are some that are suddenly realizing that the decision to go online only for some types of research tools, such as treatises, was not the best decision in the long run. On top of this, I'm also wondering if there is an ethical line that we've crossed along the way by charging the client back for the online version of the treatise when we would not charge for researching the print version.
Thus, this is where I came up with the title of this post. First of all, is it fair for an online provider to charge a standard rate of $825.00 an hour for an online treatise that you can purchase for $499.00 a year for the full print version? Secondly, is it fair for firms to pass the cost of these online charges (granted, some have deep discounts, so it could only be $100.00 an hour) on to the client when they would not pass along the same charges for using the print version?
To the first question, you could argue both sides of the issue and probably come to a draw. Yes, it is fair to charge the higher rate because you have the benefit of full-text searching, automatic links out to secondary sources, and the convenience of multiple researchers using the same product at the same time. The counter argument is that if the online version isn't easy to navigate, and you end up spending more time using the online version than you would have the print because of the inefficiencies of the online version, then the mark-up in price is not worth it.
Note: When I say inefficiency, I don't mean "training" issues. One of the biggest complaints that I hear when it comes to doing secondary research using items like treatises online, it is not an easy process. The most common complaint is that when researchers use print treatises, they tend to flip back and forth from the index to the place in the book. Although you can "click" back and forth using online, it tends not to be as easy a process, and tends to take much longer to do.
For the issue of passing along the cost to the client, that would probably be on a case-by-case basis for the researcher to decide. On the surface it would seem unfair to charge a client for the online version when you would not do so for the print. My good friend and co-blogger Toby always tells me that "ethical" issues regarding advertising "online" versus "print" can be summed up this way: "If it is ethical in print, it is probably ethical online." I think this can be reworked to fit the idea of charging clients for print research and online research. If you charge for the print, you can charge for the online. If you don't charge for the print, then you probably shouldn't charge for the online version either.

Bookmark and Share


When the Technology Isn't Being Used - Let's Add More Technology!!

It is nice of LexisNexis to give me a good example of how some IT/KM departments approach the problem of users not using the existing technology. I want to start off by giving a disclaimer that this isn't a critique of the LexisNexis product (as I haven't used it), but rather this is a general critique of trying to fix technology usage problems by adding another layer of technology.
LexisNexis' Visualfiles is the latest project in the law firm IT/KM process of capturing documents (Interwoven), contacts (InterAction) and client matter information (Elite 3E & Internal Practice Management System) from the firm's timekeepers. See if you can read between the lines on this product press release statement:
Once deployed, Visualfiles will be the default application that users will use to open any file or matter, seamlessly feeding information into Elite 3E, InterAction and Interwoven. This will provide users with a single, integrated business environment and allow them to record information efficiently and accurately for the benefit of the entire organisation.
To me, this says this: "Our people aren't using all of the expensive databases that we've bought and supported for the past "xx" years, at a cost of $x million (or in this case £x million). Let's add a new layer of technology that will seamlessly push the information into these systems."
This fits right into the issue that we discussed earlier this week in "Has 'IT' Killed 'KM'".
Many firms have found themselves heavily invested in technology that their attorneys are simply not using. In other words, the existing technology is a failure, but we've invested so much time and so much money that instead of scrapping the technology and admitting failure, we need to put the existing technology on some type of virtual "life support". All of this in order to keep the existing technology alive and somehow hope that this "life support" will bring everything back to life and justify the huge time, money and technology expense we've invested. In some industries this approach is called "throwing good money after bad."
In defense of this approach, it should be noted that what I'm calling "failure" isn't necessarily IT or KM's fault. Most users (read: attorney) of these products refused to "automate" the capturing of data in the initial phases, and didn't want to spend the upfront cost of bring in data stewards to make sure the data was "clean". Therefore, the technology is ready to perform as promised, but the way the users actually use the technology is flawed. To paraphrase one of the oldest programming sayings of "garbage in - garbage out"... in this scenario, you can say "nothing in - nothing out."
Perhaps this latest product of "automatic data collection" developed by LexisNexis will get around the users refusal to actually add their documents, contacts or client related data into these costly systems. However, if history tells us anything, never underestimate the users ability to work around the system. And, in return, never underestimate IT/KM's ability to believe that one more layer of technology will make the existing systems finally work.

Bookmark and Share


KM's View of E2.0 - Savior or Harbinger of Death?

There seems to be a lot of discussion around Knowledge Management (KM) and where it fits within the ever popular Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) world. Seems like the discussion is coming straight out of a Dickins novel: "Knowledge Management in 2009... It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
We took a jab at KM and its IT relationship earlier this week where we noted that E2.0 may be an opportunity to break the efforts of relying too much on technology to create the information you need from your knowledge management program. There have been a couple of good (although a little "pie-in-the-sky") white papers from ILTA and KM World on how E2.0 will fundamentally change the way KM operates. Over at rickmans's posterous, Rick provocatively blogged the question of "Should Knowledge Managers look for a new job?" And, one that isn't specifically KM, but discusses the value of knowledge workers states that we are the new "blue collar workers."
So, there seems to be a line drawn in the sand that E2.0 is either the savior of KM or the Harbinger of Death for KM. And, if you look closely, it seems that push of E2.0 into the KM process seems to be coming from external (read: Vendors) rather than from internal (read: KM managers). Not that this is unusual, most change comes from external pressures rather than internal insight, but the stark differences of opinions should be viewed with this in mind.
I did like the reaction that Carl Frappaolo had to the whole KM & E2.0 discussion. In the post "NOW knowledge management is possible - Whaddya Kidding me?" Carl hits upon one of the underlying issues regarding the KM/E2.0 discussion. Do you think this is an "evolution" or a "revolution" in KM? Frappaolo takes on Andy Moore's view that E2.0 is a "revolution" in KM because the E2.0 is a "bottom-up" approach to KM. Frappaolo counters that E2.0 is an "evolution" in the KM process and that KM "is a business practice and ecosystem, that evolves over time."
It is fun to follow the arguments back and forth. My opinion (and I know that you all value my opinion) is that the KM process is "evolutionary" and can adapt to new ideas such as E2.0 brings to the table. However, those pushing how E2.0 is the savior of KM are being a little to Pollyannish about how it will "revolutionize" the KM industry by putting the power in the hands of those creating the knowledge.
On the other hand, those running KM departments are at a tipping point (or at least approaching the Fulcrum) of how E2.0 will be integrated into the current KM process. From what I've seen on the KM Management side, there isn't a lot of rallying around the E2.0 flag. Vendors need to take note of this fact.
The reality of the situation is that E2.0 is coming, and its coming fast. KM managers better be preparing for its arrival and not wait until it has become a de facto process in the firm.

Bookmark and Share


Open Source in Law Firms - Unimaginable or Brilliant?

I know, you don't expect to see "open source" and "law firms" in the same sentence unless it is discussing how a law firm is trying to find a way for its clients to claim copyright on something they built upon an open source product. But that's not what we're talking about here. I really wanted to discuss the idea of "how" a law firm could actually introduce open source products into the technology structure of a firm without the anxiety that generally comes along with such a plan.
A few days ago, an academic techie forwarded me an article on how some universities were going to replace their very expensive accounting software with an open source product called Kuali. I read the article in my typical fashion where I'm thinking "wow, what an opportunity" followed quickly by "guess this would never happen in a big law firm environment." But then I read the part of the article that discussed how these universities were collaborating on this effort and would be basically sharing the pain of the implementation of the software. Now, there's a novel concept!
I'm going to toss out any "antitrust" arguments for the moment and pitch the idea that law firm IT departments, along with the "powers-that-be" in the firm's management could team up with their counterparts in other peer firms to work as a consortium in implementing large scale open source projects. Anyone that has worked in the so-called "BigLaw" sector knows that this is an industry that chases each others tails when it comes to technology. Many of us, when pitching a new product here this quote: "What other firms are also using this product?"
The accounting project that the academic institutions are collaborating is a perfect example of bringing in open source software into the institution. This product is something that is a "behind the scenes" product - in that it is used by the administrative staff rather than by the entire institution. So, this would be a much better test project than replacing Microsoft Office Suite with one of the open source alternatives.
So, the next time you have lunch with one of your peers from another firm, float the idea of collaborating on a open source project between your firms. See if you can get a few more firms on board as well. Test something small (for God's sakes don't start off with the accounting overhaul I mentioned above!!) Perhaps something like collaborating on creating an Enterprise 2.0 project , such as the 'Unity' Enterprise 2.0 Project that Lockheed created using open source products, and figuring out a way to manage the project in a way that all of the firms collaborating learn from one another, and share the pain and triumph of deploying a new product without the huge expense of working with one of the major vendors. If you can team up with other firms, then you've already got an answer when a partner asks "what other firms are doing this."

Bookmark and Share


Social Networking: It's All About Relationships

Today, it was proved to me, once again, that social media works. About nine months ago, Greg--my co-conspirator and co-blogger in crime--started following me on Twitter. Then he met a bunch of folks online and he passed on my Twitter handle to a bunch of his friends. So I started following Greg's friends that followed me. Then one of my new Twitter friends found me on Facebook. We started interacting; we were swapping Greenie plants, acres of virtual farmland, virtual law gifts and other goofie stuff. Just dinking around. I didn't really know who she was. Then Greg and Toby recommended me for a speaking engagement at an all-day conference. Coincidentally, my new Twitter/Facebook friend was also speaking. I was excited to finally meet her. And meet we did. I found out that she worked at the same law firm I did--hard to know everyone in a firm with 3,000 employees. We arranged to have lunch later that week. A fascinating person, we continued to meet for lunch regularly and are now friends. She has been over to my house, we have swapped books and, today, I attended her going-away party. She's moving on to a new job as a law professor and legal librarian. But thanks to social media, we will stay in touch: Twitter, Facebook and now e-mail are all available to me. She and I have achieved the inner circle of friendship. Who knows where the future shall bring us?

Bookmark and Share


Has ‘IT’ Killed ‘KM’?

I’ve commented in the past about how I think that Knowledge Management (KM) has become so overwhelmed with technology products that the individuals in KM have become ‘tech support’ rather than knowledge managers. Yesterday, I read two different articles that reinforced my conception of what I think is a major flaw in the idea of “Knowledge Management” within law firms.

Michael Maoz of Gartner brought up the issue of why ‘IT lacked the prowess to perceive or advise on the unfolding crisis’ of the financial meltdown. When I was reading this, I kept replacing “IT” with “KM” (as I think what Maoz was talking about fit more of the KM model in the law firm setting.) Questions Maoz raised such as:

  • Where has all of our [KM] investment in data mining, analytics, forecasting, and measurement gotten us?
  • And how, exactly, did [KM] track, identify, perceive, illustrate, communicate, or work to prevent rotten loans and false premises about future growth and profit and shaky forecasts?

These questions show the flaw in how we are looking at KM. Knowledge Management isn’t a software or database issue! These questions seem to take on the idea that by putting your contacts in a database, storing your documents in a central repository, and slapping a search interface on all of these databases is “Knowledge Management”. We seem to think that if we have enough technology it will magically transform into some quasi-artificial intelligence.

The second article I read was one of the Penny Edwards’ articles on Social Networking for the Legal Profession. Edwards mentions that the approach we take to capturing “knowledge” is a hold over of the 1990’s IT ‘centralized’, or as she put it in her book “Industrial Technology.” Edwards states it best when she writes that our KM tools are ineffective because:

many of the large, centralised, top-down implementations in firms have focused on enforcing information and management processes. It's no wonder that many of these specialist applications are underused - with their different interfaces and rules for user interactions that require people to spend time figuring out how to use them, compiling information to be approved for inclusion, and then trying to find the information once it has made it into the system. They are not user-friendly, and they don't reflect the workings of a network where people turn to people to get what they need.

As I’ve said before, the original concept of KM was to “leverage our internal experience and expertise to help us face future challenges”. Knowledge Management was originally an idea that came forth in the library field as a way to catalog internal information in a similar way we where cataloging external information. However, because it would be nearly impossible for a librarian to catalog every piece of internal information, KM slowly moved over to the IT structure by attempting to make the creator of the information (that would be the attorney who wrote the document or made the contact) also be the “cataloger” of the information. Processes were created through the use of technology that were supposed to assist them in identifying the correct classification. In my opinion, this type of self-cataloging and attempt at creating a ultra-structured system creates a process that is:

  1. difficult to use;
  2. doesn’t fit the way that lawyers conduct their day-to-day work;
  3. gives a false sense of believing that the knowledge has been captured and can be easily recovered;
  4. leads to user frustration and “work around” methods; and
  5. results in expensive, underutilized software resources.

Lee Bryant mentions that applying 20th Century ideas of centralizing and applying the industrial model of mass production is the wrong approach for how we capture and apply knowledge in the 21st Century. Both Bryant and Edwards think that the answer to pulling KM out of the 20th Century structure is to get away from the centralization method and begin re-learning the way that lawyers conduct their business. They identify that the source of lawyers’ “ideas, knowledge, leads, business opportunities, support, trust and co-operation” are developed through their social interactions. The suggestion is that KM should stop trying to be a highly structured method of gathering knowledge (Industrial Knowledge Gathering or ‘KM 1.0’), and identify ways that social networking (Social Knowledge Gathering or ‘KM 2.0’) can be leveraged to influence the uptake of ideas and trends.

Bookmark and Share


Alternative Fees - "How To" Tech

All this talk about alternative billing and alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) might lead one to believe there are numerous tools on the market for managing these. I've previously posted on 3 Geeks about how budgets sit at the core of AFAs and on methods for building reasonable budgets. With that concept in mind, a firm needs a tool set for creating, modeling and then monitoring AFA budgets. Creating is something previously discussed. Modeling is playing with the budget; shifting tasks, adjusting leverage and generally driving numbers that will benefit clients and lead to profitable engagements for firms. Budget monitoring is the long-haul, oar-in-the-water effort of making sure efforts stay on budget and firms remain profitable. As well, these monitoring efforts will create a knowledge base that will enable more effective budget creation and modeling going forward. So what tools are out there? The short answer: not much. The Lexis owned Redwood Analytics is the the most evolved tool I found. And it's on a reasonable development path. Redwood has been around a while and with a focus on law firm financial analysis, was well-poised to meet the emerging AFA needs. So it's good to see a viable tool on the horizon. Beyond Redwood, I found vendors willing to build something. This is not encouraging. For all the push for AFAs, a lack of tools will serve as a serious impediment to adoption. A vendor building a one-off custom application is not a good option in my opinion. These leave firms in a dead-end position. The power of a commerically developed tool with ongoing development will go a long way towards driving AFA adoption and success. On a side / related note, the in-house law department vendors seem to be heading in the same direction as Redwood. I suppose with their more immediate demands for AFAs, legal departments should be driving this development. I must say I am disappointed at the lack of tools for managing AFAs. In the short-run firms will be doing a lot of AFA management manually. Not the best situation, but one we'll live with for the time being.

Bookmark and Share

© 2014, All Rights Reserved.