10/29/09

"Put Me In Coach!" - But Not On Your Cut & Paste List, Please!!

I'm a big fan of "lists" - whether they are "Top 10" lists, or "Must Follow" lists or "To Do" lists... (actually, I'm not a big fan of the "To Do" list.) But, I do not like it when someone posts a "list" on their blog that is basically a cut and paste job from other's work. I ran across one such list today and it immediately made me think that someone didn't do their own work.
The list was compiled by a "Lawyer Coach" and is called "50 Lawyers and Legal Professionals You Should Follow." I'm not going to link to it, but you can do a Twitter search to find some of the tweets and re-tweets that point to it, or you can Google it!
I saw this tweeted by a couple of very reputable people I follow and so I checked it out to see who the "best of the best" were. When I got there, I saw what looked like the great list of people that Lance Goddard and Adrian Lurssen compiled, and to the blogger's credit, they were credited. However, once I started looking at the list, I noticed that there were links to people:
  1. Who don't exist
  2. Who don't write anything
  3. Who died over a year ago
It reminded me of some attorneys I've known over the years that blindly cut and paste sections from someone else's brief only to have a judge point out to them that the quote or citation from the original brief was wrong. Doing things like this show that you are sloppy in your research, and if you aren't willing to put in the effort to at least verify the people that you claim others should follow, then why would anyone want to follow (or hire) you??
So please... if you put a list on your blog that you want me to take seriously; DON'T COPY & PASTE SOMEONE ELSE'S LIST!! And, if you feel that you must copy and paste someone else's list, please do some research to make sure the information is still accurate. Otherwise, you just end up looking like you don't know what you're talking about.

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10/27/09

Live Streaming Conferences — Learn From My Mistakes!!

They say that "practice makes perfect"... so, I guess that means I need more practice.
Last Friday, the Special Libraries Association Texas Chapter (SLA-TX) hosted an all day conference at the University of Texas campus. We had a packed house, and I decided to also stream the conference in order to allow those that could not attend a chance to sit in 'virtually.' We used UStream as our free streaming provider, a new Logitech QuickCam Orbit MP Webcam, and Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder 3 to take advantage of the high quality camera functions through UStream.
Although things went pretty well, there were a few mistakes on my part that I'd like to share with you in case you decide to stream a presentation.
1 - If you have a chance to "hard wire" your Internet connection, do it!!
The night before the conference, I tested the streaming capabilities at the SLA-TX board meeting so that we could talk to board members that couldn't make the trip to Austin. We used the WiFi through the hotel, and quickly discovered that weak WiFi causes bad streaming. The slowness in the WiFi connection caused the audio to chatter, and the lag time in the video became huge (around a 10 minute lag time.) When I got to the conference room the next day, I quickly found the network plug and hard wired my Internet connection.
2 - Bring an extension cord and a long network cable!
I actually did bring an extension cord with me, but the network cable I brought was only 12 feet long. Because the network plug was in the corner of the room, this meant I had to shoot the video at an angle. It would have been much better to have shot the video from the audience perspective with a straight on shot. Next time, I'm bringing at least 50 feet of networking cable, and 50 feet of extension cord... just to be safe.
3 - If you want to show both the speaker and the presentation, darken the room!
Apparently, a well-lit room and a bright projector screen are not a good combination. I noticed in the Internet Librarian live stream, that you can see the speaker and presentation just fine if the room is darker. Next time, we're turning off some lights in the conference room!
4- Understand that the "Chat" function may be blocked by some workplace networks!
This problem I actually knew about before I started streaming on Friday (since my workplace blocks 'Chat' functions for security reasons.) Your audience will not be able to 'talk' to you, so the only way the can ask questions is to either sign in on the chat function (if they can), or you can set up a Twitter hashtag (we used #slatx09), and monitor that via the UStream widget. If all of that fails, give your audience an email address to send their questions and monitor that during the presentation.
5 - Want to record the presentation? Then read the instructions!!
I know, I know... this goes against the guy code and Toby has asked for my man card for even suggesting reading instructions but I really screwed the pooch on this one. We had a great keynote presenter in Gary Hoover who I promised I would record the presentation and send him a copy. Now I have to send an apology note to Gary that explains that, while I did press the "record" button, apparently, it was the wrong "record" button. Now, I have nothing for him but excuses. Turns out that I needed to use the record function through the UStream dashboard rather than the record function through the Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder.
I'm sure there are many, many more mistakes that I made while live streaming the SLA-TX conference last Friday, but these are all I'm admitting to at this time.
Despite the fact that I didn't record the conference, I'd still say that the live stream was an overall success. At one point in the conference (while discussing the hot topic of the SLA name change and alignment project), we had more people watching the live stream than we had at the conference. We handled questions from the remote viewers, and were able to expand our audience beyond those that could travel to Austin. That, my friends, is a win-win for everyone. I hope that some of you reading this are now inspired to live stream your conferences and seminars. If you do, please let me know so I can tune in and see if you've learned from my mistakes.

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10/26/09

Scared of the “C” Word? Then You Shouldn’t Be in Social Networking

Remember my blog where I compared legal marketing to dating?
I stand by my previous metaphor and I add yet more: social networking is true test of your commitment to your law firm. Yes, the big “C” word: commitment.
For social networking to truly sing, you can’t just be friends with your social networking sites. You can’t just drop by when you feel like spending time with them. Sending them make-up flowers won’t work. And big, glorious, dramatic scenes will get you nowhere.
Just like marriage, social networking is hard. You have to be present every single day with a commitment to add something of value. Your words may fall on deaf ears. The objects of your affection may spurn you or take no notice.
But it doesn’t matter whether anyone notices your efforts to demonstrate your commitment, nay, your love for your law firm. It doesn’t matter whether anyone re-tweets you. It doesn’t matter whether your blog gets picked up by some national blog-monger.
Because at the end of the day, you just have to be committed and true to who you love and to who you are.
What can I say? Nice guys do finish last. And marriages can last a lifetime.
Look around. There are lots of happy bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers and LinkedInners. They are just doing their thing, making copy, meeting folks and enjoying their days. And hardly any of them are famous.
But they all seem to be pretty darned happy.
See? Sometimes commitments do pay off.

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10/23/09

Live Streaming of SLA-TX Conference

We will stream the SLA Texas Chapter seminar live on 3 Geeks beginning at 9:00 AM Central Standard Time on Friday October 23rd. You can follow the Twitter stream through the hashtag "#slatx09". The agenda and discussion topics are listed below. Free Webcam Chat at Ustream

Agenda (Times are CST)

8:15

Registration, breakfast, and networking

9:00

Welcome by Greg Lambert, Texas Chapter President

9:15

New Web Search Technologies and Social Media Strategies Panel

10:15

Break

10:30

Creative Problem Solving Case Studies Panel

11:30

Lunch

12:30

How an Entrepreneur sees Information: The Importance of Information, including dusty tomes, in the 21st Century – keynote speaker, Gary Hoover

2:00

Break

2:15

Align in ’09 – Tom Rink, Northeastern State University, SLA Division Cabinet Chair

3:00

Break

3:15

Chapter Business & Wrap Up

4:00

Happy Hour: Join us for a glass of wine


Presentations


How an Entrepreneur sees Information:

The Importance of Information, including dusty tomes, in the 21st Century

Featuring keynote speaker – Gary Hoover, visionary, businessman and entrepreneur, travels the world speaking to Fortune 500 executives, trade associations, entrepreneurs and students about how enterprises are built and how they stand the test of time. Hoover founded BOOKSTOP, Inc. which was purchased by Barnes & Noble and Hoover's, Inc which was purchased by Dun & Bradstreet.

Align in ’09

SLA National is undergoing an Alignment Project. Tom Rink the SLA Division Cabinet Chair will enlighten the Texas Chapter about the process and gather our input.

New Web Search Technologies and Social Media Strategies Panel - featuring SLA Texas Chapter Members

· Social Media Policy and Facebook Pages

o Mary Ann Huslig, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

· Triple Letter Score: Wolfram|Alpha, Bing, And Google Squared for Business Research

o Laura Young, Austin Ventures

o April Kessler, University of Texas Libraries

· Social Media Search Strategies

o Joel Thornton, Texas A&M University

Creative Problem Solving Case Studies Panel - featuring SLA Texas Chapter Members

· E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One)

o Melinda Guthrie, Tarleton State University

· Microgrants: Fostering Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston Libraries

o Robin Dasler, University of Houston

· Prioritizing Your Work Schedule

o Michael Zimmerman, Bain & Company


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10/22/09

Lexis Gets the 'Cloud'

Computing in the Cloud (f.k.a. SaaS, Hosted Applications, ASP, Thin Client computing, etc.) is all the rage these days. And it incites a high level of emotion amongst both its supporters and detractors. Those holding back against the Cloud trend point to security of information (for lawyers this is your clients’ information) as the reason not to move into the Cloud. Supporters note that 1) moving into the Cloud adds levels of collaborative functionality and service that client/server tools can’t match, and 2) the Cloud can be much more secure than self-hosted and maintained information. The problem is that both sides are right. Moving client information into unknown and ill-defined Clouds can lead to bad consequences. Meanwhile, trying to stay up on fast changing and conflicting security concerns on your own is daunting, at a minimum. And on top of that, just try to keep up with collaborative technology innovations. What is needed is a highly trusted Cloud that will host client information in a well-defined and known set of locations. Ideally this will be a provider with years of experience hosting mission critical information. You know … something like case law or numerous other sources of legal content. The challenge with that type of vendor would be their willingness to host applications from third parties. I had the opportunity recently to hear a ‘Cloud’ presentation from Lexis. My expectations were low, looking forward to an hour of Buzzword bingo. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Terry Williams, VP Managed Technology Solutions, talked at length about how Lexis has seen this coming and actually DONE something about it. They are already hosting third party applications in the e-discovery arena and are moving out beyond that realm into other legal applications. And get this – they are even exploring hosting general (non-legal specific) applications. When I asked him my $64 Dollar Cloud question (what about hosting MS Exchange?) he didn’t flinch. Although they are not quite willing to answer this question yet, they have at least asked it. The potential result would be an option for law firms to eventually move all of their software and data into a trusted Cloud. When it comes to securing your data in this scenario, Lexis will even give you the option of naming both your primary and secondary data center locations (insuring your data stays on-shore). Someone pinch me – I must be dreaming. Terry said to expect more information and announcements in the coming months. Their intention is to move fast, since nimbleness counts for so much these days.

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10/16/09

Am I A Librarian Or A Strategic Knowledge Professional?

My wife always loves it when I tell people what I do for a living. When I say I'm a "law librarian" I usually get a confused look back from the other party. Then I say "I'm a librarian that also happens to have a law degree." I usually get the same blank look, but they tend to say "ohhhh," and quickly change the topic. People have certain stereotypes of librarians, and most of those I don't fit. One universal comment I get from my non-librarian professional colleagues is this:
If you want to move up in the world (i.e., get that "Chief" position)... drop the librarian title.
This comment was taken to heart by one of my "library" organizations, SLA (originally Special Libraries Association). This week the SLA leadership announced a proposed change in the name of the organization. The new name? "Association of Strategic Knowledge Professionals" or ... wait for it... wait for it.... "ASKPro."
Needless to say, the comments have been, shall we say, interesting.
  • "Find myself asking, What is a librarian? What is an info pro? What is a strategic knowledge professional? I can answer the first 2!" - @iBraryGuy
  • "The most controversial part of my guest lecture today was when I mentioned [ASKPro]. The course coordinator didn't hear the K..." - @librariankt (now say ASKPro, but leave off the "K")
  • "Vote NO on ASKPro. SLA it's time to take back "library", not run for the hills and a silly contrived name. We are librarians!" - @dapmcc
  • "Sounds like a duck should be saying it" - @dchochrek
Reece Dano (@r33c3) did an informal survey of his office and came back with some more positive reactions:
(1) Doing an informal survey around the office about the proposed ASKPro name. Some interesting observations. (2) Mostly positive. Some people who think of us primarily as librarians don't understand the meaning of 'strategic.' (3) But those are people who don't often directly receive our research deliverables. (4) People definitely understand "knowledge professional" immediately. (5) Unexpected finding: Men almost unanimously like it -- immediately. Women have to think about for a minute, but usually like it. (6) A few women find the name slightly pretentious. (7) EVERYONE likes it much better than "Special Libraries Association." Again, this was not a scientific survey. :)
Name changes are always interesting to follow. I've always had the belief that if you think you can change all your problems by changing your name, then the name is not your problem. On that topic, my friend Jan Rivers had a great comment:
[How our organizational] leaders value what we do isn't based on what we're called, it's based on our actions. - @jriversmn
I'll discuss this next week in Austin at the SLA-Texas Chapter meeting (which I happen to be President of this year). It will be very interesting to see what the comments the membership has regarding the proposed name change.

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10/13/09

Are Above the Law and Law Shucks Layoff Alerts More Hype than Fact?

With all of the actual layoffs that are occurring in the BigLaw world, it is pretty easy for sites like Above the Law and Law Shucks to have great fodder on how scary things are for BigLaw associates and staff. Don't get me wrong, I monitor both of these sites from time to time, and find that they identify a lot of issues out there that many of the legal publications wouldn't touch. However, I spotted a story last week that made me wonder if there might be a little more "hype" than "fact." The story called "Nationwide (Stealth) Layoff Watch: Nixon Peabody" was in Above the Law last Friday - and mentioned in Law Shuck's "This Week in Lawyoffs - 10/9/09". Although I don't doubt that ATL was given information on the details surrounding layoffs, I thought I'd check something first before taking this information at face value.
Back in February, when the big round of layoffs were taking place, I took it upon myself to take a snapshot of most of the AmLaw 100 rosters via their websites. Nixon Peabody, of course, was one of these. So, I thought I'd dust off that list and compare it to today's roster of employees. What I found was pretty interesting, but didn't seem to be as dire as I've been reading in ATL or Law Shucks. I identified who was new to the roster, and who was no longer on the roster. This is not a scientific comparison, so please take into account that there could be a number of reasons for the "new" and "missing" roster members, such as name changes from marriage or divorce, and things like partners that have moved to different firms rather than being laid off. So, don't take this as a perfect list.... With that being said, here's what I found:
Associates 26 New Associates vs. 32 Not on Roster
Partners 8 New Partners vs. 15 Not on Roster
Others (Counsel, Staff Atty, Advisors, etc) 6 New Others vs. 12 Not on Roster
Paralegals 12 New Paralegals vs. 6 Not on Roster
So, there does seem to be a net loss of 19 attorneys since the February snapshot. However, there has been an increase of 6 paralegals, and I'm pretty sure I haven't been hearing anything about hiring at BigLaw firms. What I'm seeing from these raw numbers is that there is still movement within the firms (at least this single one I unscientifically surveyed), but I'd be cautious to buy too much into the hype of secret layoffs without digging a little deeper into the facts surrounding the comings and goings of these attorneys. Below are the lists I've worked from. Take a look and see if you find that the facts might be more interesting than the hype.

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10/12/09

The Fly or Buy Phenomenon

I remember in the period following 9/11, I was making a killing on eBay. I don't mean to sound crass or opportunistic. It is just the truth. I remember sitting on my couch for days, tethered to our newly bought television (not so fortuitously purchased on 9/10) and drenched in the despair and sadness of our country. And something made me look at my newly opened eBay account. I couldn't believe it. People were buying up a storm. Buying crazy stuff for insane prices. Remember that time? People were afraid to leave their houses. Afraid to go to malls. People were just afraid. Fear does funny things to people. Some people lock themselves in their house. Some people shop. Some people do both. I watched in fascination as I saw the backlash of 9/11 on eBay. It created what I will call the "fly or buy" mentality. And I am seeing this again today. People are afraid in this economy. Maybe even more afraid than they were after 9/11. Because today this "economy thing" is so much more personal. The fear is palpable: anyone can be let go for any reason at any time. People's sense of security is non-existent. So what do people do when they are afraid? They spend money--the "Fly or Buy Phenomenon" rises like a phoenix in the ashes of our country's woes. I saw it over and over again when I worked in retail. Who do you think goes shopping during the day? You would be surprised. More often than not, when I was working at antique stores and retail shops, half of my customers were unemployed. I would hear them tell me, "I shouldn't be buying anything right now. But I am going on an interview today/tomorrow/next week/sometime soon o I should be ok." It is human nature: when you are afraid and insecure you need to have something, hold something, be something to get that confidence back. So what does this have to do with legal marketing, you ask? Fear is a very strong motivator when motivating someone to purchase legal services. I learned this a long time again when I was an AG. You want to negotiate to win? Scare the crap out of opposing counsel and your client. In fact, my philosophy for all marketing efforts? Incite the seven deadly sins because underneath it all is the core feeling of fear. If I can scare someone into needing legal services then I have succeeded. Diabolical? Yes. But too often true. Human nature being what it is, scare tactics are often required to motivate individuals into doing what they need to do. And this even more true when dealing with the sale of legal services. Sure, legal marketers dress it up and make it look like a Tiffany's gift box. But inside, once you peel back the tissue paper and open the velveteen jewelry box, inside lies a poison ring. You have a legal problem? Don't want to face it? We can make it all better for you ... What's that famous Jack Nicholson line I love so much? "Truth? You can't handle the truth"

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10/9/09

Law Librarians Surveyed on "Computer Use in Your Organization"

Elaine Dockens, Library Director for Tressler LLP in Chicago, collected survey information from a small group of law firm librarians regarding their firms' policies on computer usage. The 27 law librarians that took the survey help give us some insights on what is, and what is not acceptable usage as defined by the law firm IT or computer usage committees.
Listed below are some of Elaine's results. She will have a more complete survey report later in October. That survey will include a number of comments made by the law librarians that explain some of the reasons for the policies implemented by the firm. We'll put a link to that final report when it becomes available. I look forward to seeing the full report.

Question

Yes

No

Law Firm attempted to control computer use

20

7

Law Firm had different rules for different groups

10

17

Law Firm had an Acceptable Use Policy

24

3

Law Firm blocked porno and gambling sites

14

13

Law Firm blocked specific URLs

7

20

Law Firm blocks personal email

6

21

Law Firm blocks Social Networks

8

19

Law Firm blocks Streaming Media

9

18

Personal email used for Law Firm business

5

22

Social Networks used for Law Firm business

13

14

Streaming Media used for Law Firm business

9

18

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10/7/09

Social Networking Policies - What Does Your Law Firm Have To Say?

According to the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics survey on what companies are doing with social networking compliance, there are over 50% of companies that either do not have a social networking policy for their employees to follow, or do not know if they do. After running across a couple of law firm client alerts on this very topic, I thought I’d take a quick look and build an ad hoc bibliography on what attorneys at major law firms are saying lately on this topic. [Big thanks to MyCorporateResource.com for helping track down a few of these]

What are the best practices for companies in creating and implementing policies regarding their own and their employees' use of social networking sites and Internet forums?
In light of the clear and significant increase in both the number of employees using social networking sites and the amount of time spent by employees on such sites, employers must consider whether a policy on such conduct is appropriate. The content, application, and tone of a social networking or related policy, of course, will differ depending on the employer and its preferred approach to human resources/employee relations issues. Additionally, as with any policy, an employer should only adopt a social networking or related policy if it is prepared to police and enforce the policy, and do so consistently among all employees.
Employees might make that assumption if the employer does not have any policy addressing Internet use generally or social media use in particular, or if a general Internet policy permits incidental non-business use of the employer’s Internet access. An employer can defeat the assumption without blocking access to social media sites by specifically informing employees in a policy that use of the employer’s electronic resources to access social media sites for non-business purposes is prohibited.

The Internet is an invaluable tool for companies but also can work against them. Employees use blogs and social networking sites and engage in other Internet-related activities to vent frustrations to the public detriment of employers. Employees who post information may raise copyright or trademark infringement issues and even put their employers at risk.
Entities who have not yet adopted a social media policy need to realize that many of their employees are already using social media, possibly at work, and in ways that intersect with their professional life. Some companies have tried to rein in social media use. Others have accepted the inevitability of social media in the workplace and are guiding the interactions with carefully developed policies. Some entities will go further, encouraging certain employees to become Web 2.0 representatives of the company. It should always be clear to employees when they may identify themselves as representatives of the company. When participation is at the behest of the company, the employee must understand and learn to distinguish between communications that are the employee’s own and those that are official communications from the company. The employee then must clarify that distinction in public communications.

McDermott Will & Emery (9/09) - Heard on the Tweet (CFO Magazine)
David Cifrino was cited in a September 2009 CFO Magazine story about companies that use the Twitter social networking site for communication. He urged the creation of effective policies that clearly state who has authority to speak on behalf of companies, particularly publicly held ones that are subject to Regulation FD’s requirements about disclosing material, non-public information. Mr. Cifrino suggested that, given the potential liability of disclosure problems, companies should only use Twitter if there is a compelling business reason for doing so.

Protect your organization from Fair Labor Standards Act claims and lawsuits from non-exempt employees by implementing wage and hour policies and practices that conform with federal and state wage and hour laws. Moreover, in this down economy, learn about what your organization can do to prevent non-exempt employees from working overtime.
The surging popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others creates a host of legal issues for employers. Many employers have already adopted policies governing social networking by employees on company computers, on company time. But what are the risks arising from an employee's social networking activities after hours?
[I]n addition to the invasion of privacy and Stored Communications Act claims at issue in the Pietrylo case, employers should also be aware of other potential legal concerns that could arise in the context of social media in the workplace, including state “off-duty conduct” statutes, federal anti-discrimination laws, and trade secret laws.
[E]mployers should consider crafting internal policies to define the types of off-duty conduct that will not be tolerated – provided the employer is prepared to fairly and consistently enforce such policies. By having the right policies in place, and seeking counsel prior to taking the employment action, many employers can help protect themselves against liability for taking action against an employee based on off-duty conduct. Such foresight and planning is needed in the age of Facebook and other social networking sites when employers too often become aware of conduct unbecoming of their employees.

Organizations need to get on top of this trend now, rather than waiting for circumstances to force the issue. As with all new technologies, communications via Web 2.0 systems like social networking sites will be used by your organization, will be recognized by the courts, will be subject to regulation and will be sought in discovery. The best strategy for any organization is to proactively adapt to this evolution and invest in the proverbial “ounce of prevention.”
Whether to prevent employees from engaging in inappropriate activity or to use social media as part of a wider marketing strategy, the most important thing is to make the organization's intentions and expectations clear, according to the article. Stephens said social media policies bleed into other issues as well, including personal use of practice-owned computers and intellectual property protections. Rules covering these aspects also should be updated to reference social networking. It's probably a good idea to send notices to everyone on staff explaining the rule revisions, he said. How policies are enforced likely will reflect the established practice culture.
Stephens suggests that a first step is to "assess the company's culture, because the company has to decide what its core values are," and whether it wants to encourage employees' use of social networking sites. Next, "understand that there is only a certain amount of control that a company has over its own endorsed social media applications, and especially away from the workplace," he said. Then, assuming the company has one, "convert your existing policy to cover these social networking applications," Stephens suggested. "Many companies have already addressed electronic communications, specifically e-mails, and likely have already addressed Internet use at work."
In these challenging economic times, public companies should be applauded for their creative efforts to sell products and services through the social media. In undertaking such efforts, however, companies should consider two critical areas: Is it time to update our internal corporate policies? Do our policies take into account the potential uses of social media? Is it time to retrain our employees? Our employee training already covers appropriate inbound communication, but should we implement additional employee training regarding outbound digital communications?

Debevoise & Plimpton (4/21/09) - Tweeting, blogging and social networking (TheDeal.com)
A comprehensive set of disclosure policies will need to address these issues and a host of others, including issues that will arise in connection with securities offerings and the risk that employee or third-party communications could be deemed to have been made by or on behalf of the company. In the face of these challenges, companies should consider whether the time has come to adopt or update policies regarding the use of emerging Internet-enabled communications channels as part of their investor relations strategies.
In light of the potential risks and pitfalls associated with monitoring applicant or employee blogs and social networking sites, employers should initially consider whether the benefits of information derived from these sources are worth the potential liability, advises Perkins Coie labor and employment lawyers Vickie Wallen and Brian Flock.

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10/6/09

The Evolution of AFAs: Client Side

Previously on 3 Geeks we discussed how Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) might evolve on the law firm side of things. This post explores a possible evolution for how AFAs might evolve on the client side. Whereas law firms will need to insure profitability as they embrace AFAs, clients will need to solve the value-to-price equation - so the evolution is a path to that end. 1 – Understand Costs. Right now clients are struggling to embrace AFAs. Their stated goal (generally) is managing costs. Before they can manage costs effectively, they will first need to understand them. Most clients I talk to and hear about are trying to jump to #2 on our list before they do #1. Utilizing my usual car analogy, this would be equivalent to an effort to lower the total cost of ownership per mile of a car by haggling on the sales price. Yes - a lower sales price will be helpful but it doesn’t tell you the cost per mile or how the sales price impacts the per mile cost. Haggling over hourly rates (which is where most AFA discussions end up) will not tell you what the fee per matter will be which is a better level to manage costs. Of course firms and clients have some historical billing information, but this information was not captured or structured with a ‘fee per type of matter’ approach in mind. Therefore this knowledge has limited value in establishing a baseline to understand costs on a per-matter basis. This means in-house counsel will need to start now at viewing costs on this fee-per-matter basis and shift their mindset so that they begin to understand their costs at that level. 2 – Manage Costs. Once in-house counsel understand costs at a matter level, they can then actually begin to effectively manage them. Now they will be able to compare fee-against-fee at this matter level. This will empower in-house counsel to do more effective price shopping. My prediction is that this liberation will bring on more competitive pricing by law firms as an obvious response. We will likely see more creative AFAs at this stage as well. A potential dark side of this liberation will be swinging the pendulum too far – resulting in measurable impacts on the value side of things. Like any other market, given a chance buyers will be tempted and encouraged to price shop to the lowest provider. This brings us to Stage 3 in our evolution – Focusing on Value. 3 – Manage to Value. As this market evolution matures, buyers will become more sophisticated and move to a value-to-price approach. Although it seems obvious (until you live with the consequences) selecting the low-price provider isn’t always the best option. But with pressures on controlling costs there are many incentives for buyers to go with the low-price provider. This is especially the case for in-house counsel. For the majority of these folks, the financial consequences of low-value service hit the bottom line of someone else’s budget. Settlements and judgments, for the most part, do not come off the General Counsel’s budget. Instead they come off a business unit’s numbers. So once the consequences of low value-to-price AFAs become apparent, reason will kick in and drive the fee decisions to more balanced ground. At this point, in-house counsel will be in a position to solve the value-to-price equation. AFAs for in-house counsel are quite a challenge. There has been no fee-level market for clients to use in determining price-to-value. For now hourly rates are market driven so price comparisons and costs controls are focused there. However, as many have opined, this hourly rate approach is not the best method for managing costs. As clients come to grips with matter-level fees, they can then move through an evolution to better manage costs and ultimately drive value. Although everyone talks like they can jump right to #3, I think we’ll see some market education drive people through this type of evolution before they reach value billing nirvana.

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10/2/09

Do You Call Them "Clever People" or "Loose Cannons"?

My good friend Emily directed me to a fascinating Forbes.com article called "The Odd Clever People Every Organization Needs." As I was reading it, I was thinking that the type of person the authors were describing either fit me or were describing Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory." As I was reading this from my laptop while seated on my designated corner of my couch, I thought it was absurd that I was even making this connection. Then my second thought was "oh no... I hope my 'clever' outshines my 'odd' to those that I work with."
In the article the authors have an excellent definition of the clever people we need in our organizations:
Clever people are highly talented individuals who have the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that an organization makes available to them.
I like this definition!! I'm going to put it on a shirt (maybe a series of 3 shirts with 9 words on each, with a superhero logo on the front and the saying on the back, then wear them over a three day period of time.)
However, apparently clever people like this are also difficult to work with. Really?? Here are some qualities they point to as being difficult:
--They know their worth (their skills are not easily replicated). --They ask difficult questions. --They are organizationally savvy. --They are not impressed by corporate hierarchy. --They expect instant access to decision makers. --They are well connected outside of their organizations. --Their passion is for what they do, not for who they work for. --Even if you lead them well, they won't thank you.
Well, "thank you very much" for pointing out these flaws. And, did you notice that I said "thank you"? I think that disproves some of these points right off the bat.
I've actually seen organizations treat 'clever' people two distinct ways. In most situations, they are identified as 'loose cannons' and need to be monitored carefully so as they do not destroy something important. Many times this type of reaction is caused by a manager that doesn't want someone they supervise to "outshine" them. This type of approach usually ends with the clever person leaving to take an opportunity elsewhere. Not to worry, though... the manager will remain to drive away the next clever person that comes along.
The second approach, and the one that the Forbes article suggests, is to be the "benevolent guardian." Giving them just enough freedom to allow them to be creative, with the structure needed to keep them on task. I've had to do this with some of the brilliant Techies with whom I've worked. Tell them what the goals are, allow them to come up with their own ideas on how to achieve those goals, then monitor them from time to time to make sure they keep on task. Clever people can become distracted by something 'cool' that can take them off on a tangent. If you do not monitor them as they are progressing on your task, you could end up with something truly fascinating, and completely worthless to the task you assigned them.
The tenor of the Forbes article sounds like they are discussing young workers. However, 'clever' people can be any age. I've worked with people in their 70's that are creative 'outside the box' type thinkers who have the same issues as 20 year-old creative 'outside the box' thinkers. Hopefully, as these creative thinkers get more experience, they can self-regulate their need to follow those tangents and stay on task.
Clever people also do not have to be geeks, although they do seem to filter toward the geeky side of things. In fact, you can probably look at a roster of people in your different Practice Groups, or Administrative departments and quickly identify those 'clever' people in the bunch. They are generally the ones you go to when you have to have something now, and don't have time to go through the normal channels in order to get it. They may not be the best people to manage, but they sure are nice to have around when all you other ideas don't seem to be working.

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