When the Court Jester Becomes King

The Financial Times reported at the end of January that "Evan Williams, the chief executive and co-founder of Twitter, which has been credited with helping anti-government protesters in Iran to organise resistance, said software developers were working on 'interesting hacks' to stop any blocking by foreign governments." Is it just me or did this bother anyone else? To me, there just seems to be something intrinsically wrong with a company essentially declaring war against a country. Basically, Evan is saying he and all of Twitterdom were going to flame China. Let me say this again: Twitter is going to flame China. Think about that. Why is that any different from someone from some former Eastern Bloc country sending a trojan horse into all of the banking firms in the United States and essentially crippling our economy? We would not tolerate it. Commerce would be screaming with outrage. The Hill would be holding forth on the dastardly deeds of these horrible hackers. So why didn't any one step over to Mr. Williams' office and tell him to tone it down? Maybe they did. We will never know. But this is exactly the point that I keep making over and over again: the web is a brave, new world. In this virtual world, there are no sheriffs, no boundaries, no laws. And the people that rule are the ones that can break and make the secret code the acts as the DNA that creates the protoplasm that is the base of all the organisms in this new world. So watch these tech companies. Don't be so naive to think that their ambitions are singular. Just like Tears for Fears said not so long ago, "everybody wants to rule the world."

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Must Have iPad Accessories

I have been thinking about the new iPad. Call me crazy, but I think it looks like a huge Etch-A-Sketch. I just want to shake it to see if it will clear the screen. Add two big round button in each of the bottom corners so I can scroll over the page. Is there an app for that? Plus, aren't you guys worried about that screen? Don't you think it is going to get scratched up? And it is kind of big for when you are running down the runway to make that plane, juggling your iPad, your iPhone, your iPod and your one bag of luggage. So you are just begging for a murse. You do know what a murse is, right? It is the male equivalent of a purse. All of you Apple types should be okay with that--you are a pretty liberal group, if I am any kind of judge.
Two more points about the iPad. When are they going to let us women have a go at these things? Don't they realize how hard it is to use touch pads when you have acrylic nails? Come on you guys, let us have a seat at the testing table. So you know what's coming, right? a plug-in, retractable keyboard for the iPad. And what's this about not being Adobe-friendly (Market Place Media's Apple Adobe at war over iPad)? I get that Stevie-o may become credited with being a visionary, swaying the tech marketplace to drink the HTML5 kool-aid. But I think that is being very David Koresh-like, Mr. Jobs. Now your messing with my shows. I like my Hulu and my Netflix. Seems to me that you, Steven, are doing a bit of market manipulation through product design to move the economy you way ... just sayin'. So until I get a murse, a retractable keyboard and Adobe Flash, I won't be getting an iPad. Unless Mr. Jobs feels so inclined to give us 3 Geeks each one for testing purposes. But we are still waiting on those iPhones so I don't guess it will be coming any time soon.

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Toyota 'Diggs' Its Vehicle Recall

Last year, I took the government's money and traded in my old minivan for a nice new 2010 Toyota Prius. When all of the Toyota recall issues hit the news, I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that the recall for floormats, and then gas peddles did not include my Prius. But it didn't take long for me to start seeing things pop up on Twitter about the 'Woz' having cruise control issues (and feeling slightly proud that the Woz got clocked doing 105 in his 2010 Prius -- yes, they can go that fast.) Then the big news that a recall of the 2010 Prius was probably coming due to a braking issue. The braking issue is something that I've had first-hand experience with, but found it more of a 'feature' than a recall worthy issue. This morning I get a email from Toyota saying that Jim Lentz, President and COO of Toyota Motor Sales is going to give a live interview on Digg Dialogg:
For more than 50 years, Toyota has produced safe, reliable, quality vehicles and provided first-rate service. Because your safety and confidence in Toyota is of the utmost importance to us, we want to ensure that we are providing you with the latest recall information. To get further details, please visit toyota.com. Additionally, Jim Lentz, President and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., will be interviewed live on Digg Dialogg on Monday, February 8, at 2 p.m. PST to answer the top questions as voted on by the Digg community. Watch the interview here. Your safety is important to us, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep you informed.
It will be interesting to see how this 'Digg Dialogg' interview goes. I don't think they will be taking only softball questions, and I was impressed to see that Jim Lentz had a generic link to other Digg conversations about the Toyota recall issues, that were not cherry-picked by someone in the PR department. Toyota has taken a black eye on all the recall talk, both in the traditional media and in the social media. For a brand that is built on quality, safety and owner loyalty, Toyota should be working hard to make sure that it also understands that today's public not only gets its information from traditional media, but also 'talks' to a wider social media audience. The email I received this morning at least it makes it seems that Toyota 'Diggs' where we're coming from.

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Is Android the New Mac?

After years of listening to my friends tell me why they "looooovvveee" their Macs, and how it is "sooooo" much easier to use than a PC, and that I'm an idiot (not a Mac/PC issue apparently), I think I'm finally feeling some empathy for them. Not because I'm going to rush out after 20 years of using a PC, but because I went out traded in my old Windows Mobile 6.0 phone (BlackJack I on AT&T) and bought an Android phone (Samsung Moment on Sprint).  All of those times I had to listen to "when are they going to port that to Mac?" or "but my Mac can run that 50 times faster than your PC!" or "Geez, Greg... you're a frickin' idiot!!" (again, apparently not a Mac/PC issue), I'm saying the same thing to them about my Android versus their iPhones.

So, in the SmartPhone world, here's the breakdown of how phones compare to computers:
  • iPhone = MS Windows
  • Android = Mac
  • Blackberries = Mainframes
  • Palm OS = Linux
  • Windows Mobile = OS/2
It's like the SmartPhone version of Bizzaro World!!
Now, I'm the whiny person that's going around checking off all the reasons why an Android is so much better than an iPhone (multitasking, better camera, not locked into AT&T, more memory (and expandable), open source, yada yada).  And what do I hear back from my friends???  "Dude, we got more Apps!!" and "Greg, you're a frickin' idiot!!" (you know, now that I think about it, I need nicer friends!).
Apps!! Apps!! It's all about the apps. Which ticks me off until I remember that I have been using this same argument against my Mac friends for 20 years.  "Uh, that video editing software is really cool and all, but don't you still have to go into your PC emulator to do some 'real' work??"  Seems that the chickens have come home to roost.  
Some call this new era of SmartPhone App development as the "Splinternet." Now apps will have to be developed for multiple platforms (similar to video games) and it appears that we consumers are going to demand that businesses that develop apps now have to develop them across platforms in order to reach us on our SmartPhones.  What a nightmare this is going to be!!  
I'm only hoping that the talk Android getting Adobe Flash 10.1 later this year is true and that the iPhone (and it's larger cousin iPad) refuse to integrate Flash into their product.  Then I will feel much better as I hold up my phone to my friends while it is playing the latest episode of Family Guy on Hulu (not because I watch it, but because I know they do), and then I walk away with my hands in the air and declare victory!! Even if this scenario never comes to fruition, I still know that my Mac Android is better than their PC iPhone.  And, that apparently can keep me going for years to come (or until my contract runs out.)

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Loss Leader Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Jim Hassett’s post on Keys to New Business finally put me over the top on the whole Loss Leader thing (Jim was actually quoting a lawyer – so these were not his words). In my AFA role I have seen numerous examples of low-ball bids from law firms desperate to get the work in the door. These deals are consistently referred to in the market as Loss Leaders.

What is a Loss Leader? Originally this term applied to advertising items at a price below the actual cost (thus the loss) to ‘lead’ customers into the store and sell them other products. One example of this is the car advertised with monthly payments of $229. There’s one car on the lot that with $4000 down you can have for that payment (subject to your credit). The car you actually want (and end up purchasing) has a $500 payment. This concept was eventually renamed more appropriately as the “Bait-and-Switch.”

The Loss Leader concept then evolved to include pricing certain commodity items at a loss, with the full intent of having the customer simultaneously purchase other, high-in-profit products to offset the loss. Grocery stores do this with eggs and milk, which are placed in the back of the store, forcing customers to pass by and pick up the high margin items.

So how are law firms actually treating the Loss Leader concept? By pricing the non-commodity, high-end stuff at a loss. I would argue that M&A deals and complex, large dollar litigation cases would not technically fall into a Loss Leader category. This is akin to the car dealer selling Escalades at a loss, hoping you’ll buy … maybe some nicer wheels? Law firms using this technique are expecting the customer to be so happy they come back next year and buy another Escalade - at full price. The likelihood of this: Zero.

What law firms are actually doing is getting into price cutting wars. And they will be much better off if that see it as such and treat it accordingly. In the words of Yogi Berra, “The future ain't what it used to be.” We’re not going back to full rate deals. Smart firms will face up to that – dropping the whole Loss Leader charade.

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Avoiding Those Third-String Laterals

Sticking to our recruiting theme for this week, I thought I'd address the issue of recruiting lateral partners.  According to Vivia Chen at The American Lawyer, during the first twelve months of the Great Recession there was a movement of "2,775 partners [who]  left or joined the biggest firms in the country."  That's a 10.7% increase from the previous twelve months, and a trend that many in the industry think will not slow down for some time to come.  Gone are the days where a firm brings in a first-year associate and grooms them to become a partner at the firm.  To borrow a baseball analogy, it seems that firms are bringing on partners through free-agency rather than through the farm system.  Sometimes that works out great, but many times the firms discover that this lateral partner looked a lot better on paper than he or she did in action.

I've been discussing this with a number of people lately and one of them said that in a market that is built upon recruiting talent from other firms, you have to be careful not to recruit the "third-stringers".  By that, they mean that there are a number of lateral partners that are riding the coattails of others in their firm, getting their names on important matters, or assigned to important clients, but haven't really done anything great on an individual basis.  This sort of thing happens in almost all industries.  Where you bring someone in during an interview, they look and sound great, have an impressive resume, tell you all of the people they've worked with and all the deals they've worked out, only to bring them on board and discover that they don't quite live up to your expectations.  These third-stringers hint that they will have a number of people that will follow them to your firm and that the clients will jump ship from the previous firm and rush to bring all their legal business to your firm.  Six months after the lateral joins the firm, you look around and the only person that followed them was a secretary (whom you didn't really need.)

So how do you avoid these third-stringers?  One answer I got said that you could cut through the smoke by asking just a few questions and watch how the potential lateral partner answers those questions.  When a potential lateral starts mentioning all the General Counsels (GC) they've worked with, ask this simple question - "Have you ever had [name of GC] over to your house for dinner?"  Watch to see the expression on their face.  If they answer 'yes', then see if they begin telling you about the experience, why they had dinner, and what their current relationship status is.  If they fumble around on this question, then perhaps their relationship isn't as close as they are saying.

I also saw a series of questions posted on the Lateral Attorney Report back in November 2009. These are much more straight-to-the-point questions to back up the statements that the potential lateral partner has made.  Dan Binstock uses the phrase "narrow-pause" to define that period of time when the potential lateral is trying to conjure up an answer for which they were not prepared.  Questions like "How were your reviews?" or "Were you asked to leave your current firm?" and how they react to those questions can let you know if this is a quality lateral, or a third-stringer.

One thing you should probably keep in mind during this era of 'free-agency recruiting' is that all of those partners that you've managed to push out of your firm because they either didn't fit the personality of the firm or didn't create the book of business that he or she should have given their position, they usually wind up somewhere.  So, for all the times you thought "thank goodness we off loaded that partner", or chuckled when you read on law.com that a peer firm "raided" one of your third-string partners, someone else might be chuckling and saying the same thing about that third-string partner you just brought in to your firm.

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New Approach to Hiring Associates - The Old Law School Approach

I remember reading Thurgood Marshall's comment of sitting in his first day of law school and hearing Charles Hamilton Houston tell the class "Look at the man on your right, took at the man on your left, and at this time next year, two of you won't be here."  This was an extreme version of the Harvard Law School (HLS) model of "Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won't be here by the end of the year." Of course law schools, even Harvard Law School, no longer takes this extreme approach to teaching law school.  Now, it is a matter of doing well as an undergraduate, doing well on the LSAT, and having the funds to go to law school.  Law School administrations determined some time ago that raising the bar to get into law school creates an environment where there is no longer a need to dismiss one-third or two-thirds of your students in order to have graduates ready to enter the profession.  Not only that, but let's face it, if law schools kicked out a third of its students most of them would go out of business.
When I read Toby's post from yesterday on hiring the 'C' students, it got me to thinking about the type of first-year associates that firms hire and whether we should bring back the old HLS model for first years.  Imagine the situation where on the first day of starting a firm the associates were told by the Managing Partner that a third of you will not be here this time next year.  That would be a scary thought for most associates, perhaps preventing many from even taking a job with a firm if they knew that they might be cut after a year. It might, however, be the best thing that a law firm could do.  It could also open opportunities for graduates that would never be on a law firm's radar. Perhaps the firm refers to this first year as a 'clerkship' thus creating a way for even those that get laid off to spin this as 'experience' rather than not making the cut at a firm.
My thoughts behind implementing the HLS system in first-year associate hires would go something like this:
  1. Cut your current associate wages by at least one-third.
  2. Hire one-third more associates than you planned. (This could get you some of those 'C' students that Toby mentioned.)
  3. Assign the associates to a group of partners that will mentor and monitor them throughout the first year.
  4. Set specific goals for the first year's.  The goals should surround all facets of law firm life... traditional legal work (hours or projects worked), training (both mandatory and voluntary), research and writing skills, and pro-bono work, just to name a few.
  5. All first year attorneys would be 'staff attorneys', and would not be called 'associates', or put on 'partnership' track until after they make the cut at the end of the first year.  
  6. At the end of the first year, make a decision on who stays and who goes.
This is a harsh system, but one that would give more law school graduates a chance at not only landing a job right out of school, but would expose more potential associates to the firm, including some of those 'C' students that would have never been looked at before.  By letting the first year associates know that they are on a one-year probationary period, then they know they have to make an impression that first year or they will be finding themselves looking elsewhere.  Perhaps there would still be room for them as staff attorneys and not associates, or perhaps you just send them along their little way to seek employment elsewhere with a full year's worth of experience and training that they may not have gotten anywhere else. In the end, the firm should have a better level of second year associates through the attrition of those that just didn't match up to their competition.  

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Note to Recruiting: Hire the C Students

A chance conversation with my AFA counter-part lead to a dialogue on the suitability of lawyer personalities to a successful law practice. In part, this was out an outcome of Lisa’s post on the sales skills of lawyers. In our conversation, we decided that to be truly successful these days a lawyer needs 1) Technical skills, 2) Leadership/Business skills and 3) Relationship (a.k.a. sales) skills. Without too much thinking, it’s obvious these are typically three distinct and mutually exclusive skill-sets. Finding a lawyer who has all three of these is rare at best (think Lisa’s super-model). Then our conversation turned to law schools and the types of personalities and skills they are designed to attract and build. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from a law school dean, “We are academic institutions, not vocational schools.” Which is to say, law schools focus exclusively on technical skills. And even then, it’s more on the academic side of technical skills – and not much of hands-on, practical skills. And what’s worse, when law firms recruit from law schools, they want only the best … technicians. As we talked through this subject it became apparent this is yet another aspect of the profession that needs to change. In the past, legal technical skills were all that was needed to succeed. But now in the days of price competition and utilizing what everyone else calls a “business model,” firms need broader skill-sets from their partners. Harry S. Truman said “The ‘C’ students run the world.” The gist of that statement in our context is that C students are the ones with the relationship skills. For them school wasn’t about getting the best grade. Beyond learning, it was about enjoying the people you met. These C students are the ones that make business happen It’s their relationship skills that get and keep clients and make the business a success. Firms recruiting at law schools might want to keep this concept in mind. The Law Review students may make the best technical lawyers, but they likely won’t be the ones that will drive the success of your firm. Perhaps George W. Bush said it best. “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”

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WestlawNext - A Study in Applying Knowledge Management & Crowdsourcing

As I mentioned yesterday, a group of bloggers traveled to ThomsonReuters (TR) in Eagan, Minnesota earlier this week to get a first-hand look at WestlawNext (WLN) and talk with the Project Cobalt team, meet briefly with TR's CEO of Legal, Peter Warwick, and discuss the the functionality of WLN with Westlaw's Reference Attorney staff. There are a number of articles that are out from other bloggers that a range of issues from Lisa Solomon's discussion of Product & Pricing; Jason Eiseman's video interview of myself me, Tom Boone and Jason Wilson; Robert Ambrogi's discussion of West Search functionality; Betsy McKenzie's view of WLN from an academic perspective; Ken Adam's survey on CALR value in contract drafting; David Bilinsky's Top 10 list about WLN, and; Simon Chester's discussion of WLR from a Canadian perspective. I wanted to take a different approach and talk about the back-end structure of the new West Search Engine and how they have used Knowledge Management theories to create an algorithm that looks to be much better than the current Westlaw.com search results.
WestSearch - Leveraging 100+ Years of Knowledge
Westlaw has compiled millions of pieces of value-added information through editorial analysis of its research attorneys, but that information has been compartmentalized into individual databases and has had a slow transition from the traditional print uses of this information to the computer database search engines. Even when West created KeyCite as a competitor to Shepard's, it was pretty much still a stand-alone citation system that added-value to the individual cases and statutes, but not really a great enhancement to how searchers retrieved results from their searches.

Now WLN has finally seen the value of four distinct products/processes that not only help as individual value-added products, but actually determine search results rankings, pushing better results to the top based on past knowledge rather than by simple algorithms of term location or dates. Here are the four products/processes that now affect the ranking of search results:

1. West's Key Number System
2. KeyCite Citation System
3. West's Secondary Catalog
4. User Searches & Resulting Actions
The first three categories are really no brainers when it comes to leveraging related pieces of 'information' on a similar topic. Now, instead of just getting results that have a term frequency that matches the words in my search query, WLN literally runs an algorithm of over 60 queries that determine alternative words that may apply to my search, top cited resources on that topic, and resources that are deemed to be authoritative through secondary resources. I like the fact that the Project Cobalt team stuck to the term "algorithm" and shied away from "artificial intelligence" (although Peter Warwick did let the AI term slip in his talk.)
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the change in algorithm of WestSearch is number four - "User Searches & Resulting Actions." This is something that those of us interested in improving Knowledge Management resources see as the holy grail of KM. If we could create a system that leveraged the experience of everyone in our firm in a way that allows our KM tool to become "smarter" we'd jump at that chance. From what I saw, it looks as if WestSearch is making a strong run at making their search algorithm smarter through adapting results based on previous users key actions. In a way this is crowdsourcing on a very high level.
Crowdsourcing the Researchers
I'm a fan of crowdsourcing, and of knowledge management. Combining the two is like putting peanut butter and chocolate together and coming up with a two great things that work well together. WestSearch crowdsources the WLN users by monitoring key actions after the search results are returned. WestSearch takes actions like 'print', 'save', 'folder', and 'view' that a searcher performs and logs that information for future reference. If another researcher runs a similar search later, the actions from the previous users is taken into account and the results are influenced by those previous user actions to potentially rank items higher or lower in the results list. The thoughts behind leveraging previous user actions against search results is that the 'crowd' will tend to identify and use the same documents when searching specific legal issues. When pressed on this, the Cobalt team said that actions like 'print all' or 'save all' are not logged because they are looking for specificity over generality. Also, because it is a 'crowd' based view, the law student that doesn't understand the issue and picks less valuable documents will have little influence because the majority of the crowd will choose the 'best' documents over and over again, thus improving the algorithm.
What's the Future?
It will be interesting to watch as this rolls out and WLN adds more and more databases to the system. I will be really interested to see what happens when the "news" portion is integrated and how that will affect the WestSearch algorithm on 'new' or 'hot' topics that pop up from time to time. I look forward to watching this approach of leveraging existing knowledge in an advanced algorithm to see if it does get 'smarter' over time. I'll also be interested in seeing if WLN can improve its existing West km product (which will still work with WLN), and the 'foldering' features that could actually make WLN an additional in-house KM resource.

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New Product from Westlaw: Horseshoes?

I just got back from ThomsonReuters HQ in Eagan, Minnesota (or as I like to call it - The Coldest Place on Earth!!) I met up with a group of great bloggers and legal publishers like Jason Wilson, Lisa Solomon, Tom Boone, Jason Eiseman, Carolyn Elefant, David Bilinsky and many more. I'm currently compiling all my notes, asking for screen shots, and drafting my response to the WestlawNext product and should have something for you tomorrow. However, there are two things that I wanted to share with you while I'm getting that post ready:
  1. My post on January 8th (the one I pulled down because they told me it was full of factual errors) wasn't very far off the mark (and I was a little miffed that the Project Cobalt team made all of us sign a CDA and then gave "exclusive" interviews to the ABA Journal and the NY Times about the product. But, the CDA has expired and you'll now see great things from those of us that took the trip to Eagan to talk with the Cobalt team. [Note: my apologies to Bob Ambrogi for listing him earlier, he was under the same CDA, but was notified it was lifted before he posted yesterday.]
  2. This one is actually funny. When I get back to the office this morning, I see a package from ThomsonReuters that looks a little... shall I say, weird, and a little beat-up. When I look inside the package (which was supposed to be some Louisiana resource materials) I find horseshoes. Now, I've gotten a lot of SWAG from the folks at ThomsonReuters in the past (see all those calendars behind the horseshoes...) but this was probably the best! Not only were they horseshoes, but they were used horseshoes to boot!! Nails and dirt and probably horse sh... er poop all ground in the grooves. I'm assuming that this 'package' got misdirected by the USPS, because the package had obviously been opened before it arrived at my office. So, I'm thinking this was someone's idea of a joke... at least, I hope this wasn't the calling card from someone up at ThomsonReuters.... or was it???

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Sales. Such a Dirty Word

As I like to say to my colleagues, making partner at a law firm is no longer the guaranteed “tenured-like” position.

In the not so distant past, if an associate was able to make partner and through the good-old-boy network find some sizeable clients, he could count on sitting back and enjoying the fruits of his labor and get by with taking the client out to lunch every once in a while.

Well, if no one has figured it out by now, those days are long gone.

Now, you gotta hustle.

And, I am sorry to say, most lawyers are not predisposed to hustling. First of all, they don’t dance (did anyone get this joke?).

Most lawyers go to law school because they—and I apologize for any stereotyping here but I can be semi-excused since I am a lawyer—are bookworms who either like to study and/or argue. It is the rare exception that was one of the popular kids in high school. If anything he or she was probably doing these kids’ homework for them.

So here these lawyers are—in the 2000s and facing a continued recession—and their partnership is telling them not only do you have to practice law, “you have to go out and drum up business.” Or else.

Well, I am sorry to say, most of these guys just don’t have it in them. It is no slight to them. It is just a personality thing. You wouldn’t want an extrovert handling your funeral or an introvert planning your wedding. And lawyers, typically the studious types who either love examining proxy disclosures or holding forth on their latest court battles, are not very skilled at up-selling their professional services.

Hey, I could be wrong. I have met a few anomalies—lawyers who are great marketers. But these lawyers are usually freaks of nature. Kinda like super-models.

But the pressure on these guys to be someone they are not can be excruciating and, dare I say, down-right cruel. How would you like to be told, I know I hired you to be a hair dresser and all you have ever trained to do is to be a hair dresser but now have to be a heart surgeon and I don’t care if you don’t know how, you still have to do it. I think every single one of us would be terrified.

My suggestion? Hire people who are skilled business developers, people who make a living every day selling professional services, to help lawyers identify and close business deals. Let them sit at the table and be a part of the conversation.

Believe me, in this market, it is going to get worse before it gets better. And since law schools are still not attracting kids with these skill sets or teaching them how to develop them, these business development skills are becoming more important than ever before.

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The One-Two Punch to BigLaw's Gut

Last week I gave a presentation to the Houston Chapter of the AMA (on a side note - legal marketers would be wise to reach outside the LMA). After the presentation a couple of marketers from the oil industry were sharing recession stories and asked how law firms were doing. The presumption was that work is down at BigLaw just as it is every where. However, as I was explaining the situation at BigLaw it occurred to me we're in a one-two punch situation. Yes - the downturn has slowed down the amount of work. But I think a bigger impact is coming from the shift in client attitude. We're seeing a strong shift to a buyers' market. And that shift is magnified for a few reasons. First, in-house clients haven't experienced power like this before. In the old days (a year ago) they would be afraid a BigLaw firm might not represent them if they pushed on price. This is no longer the case. Clients are reveling in this new found power, and in many cases taking it to the extreme. Low-ball pricing is becoming an everyday occurrence. Second - standing behind the client flexing this muscle is the Purchasing Department. They have entered the legal pricing game in full-force. And these people are paid to flex their cost-cutting muscles on a daily basis. So maybe what we really have is a one-two-two punch to the gut. The bottom-line is that on top of dealing with the recession, BigLaw is in its first heavy buyers' market situation. And this situation looks to be one that will endure for some time. Now - you might think if you're not in BigLaw you're not impacted by all this. Think again. When pressures push prices down at the top of the market, those pressures filter down through-out the market. If Mercedes starts selling their cars for $30k, Ford will be forced to move its prices down too. As I laid this theory out in a 'thinking out loud' conversation with my oil industry friends, the impact of the one-two punch really came home. I saw it in the eye of my colleagues. I was getting that "STBY" look from them.

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Blackberries Still Kick Butt

As many readers of the 3 Geeks know, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to security. And due to my materials being due last week for TECHSHOW, I’ve decided to weigh in on the iPhone versus Blackberry (BB) debate. Although iPhone gets all the buzz these days (including numerous comments on its lack of security) I still think Blackberry is the smarter choice – especially for lawyers. As I like to tell my two sons who have iPhones – “My blackberry will do any of the gee-whiz stuff your iPhones will do … only slower. And when it comes to email and calendaring (the core applications for lawyers) I’ll whip your little butts.” After my recent research on the latest and greatest on the various smart-phone platforms, the BB comes out on top for lawyers for two primary reasons. 1 – BBs focus on the core uses for lawyers. And, 2 – As a mature technology, BBs are stable and more importantly, secure. Although BB doesn’t have the sheer volume of apps iPhone has, it does have the ones that matter. A quick stroll through App World shows many useful tools, including legal-specific apps like time-keeping. On the versatility side, BBs come in every size, shape and form. You can chose from a flip phone Pearl to the new Storm 2 touch screen. iPhone comes in one form factor. I will say this for iPhone, Droid, Palm and Windows Mobile; if they figure out how to live behind the firewall and polish up their security and stability, BB will be in for a real fight So … although my boys can find the closest Starbucks much faster than I can, I’ll stay productive and secure on my BB. Perhaps the technologies reflect the relative generational perspectives. The boys want fun, blingy stuff. And I want something that’s a functional work-horse and drives the bottom line. [OMG – that made me sound old. Well … unlike my boys I can actually afford Starbucks.]

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Law Firm Project Managers - Lawyer or Non-Lawyer?

Great post from Lisa Rohrer (actually Lisa told us it was from Carla Landry) at Hildebrandt Blog on "Is It Possible To Turn Lawyers into Project Managers? Or Will They Crash & Burn??" Toby and I have had a number of conversations on this issue and I've gone back and forth on this question. Lawyer know how to practice law, but do they necessarily know how much it costs to represent a matter? One answer that we got from Matt Homann, over drinks one night, was that actually if you asked a lawyer his or her "gut" feeling on how much we should charge for a matter, their gut answer usually comes out pretty close. Unfortunately, most attorneys are afraid to trust their gut, and instead ask for report after report of the 'history' of charges the firm has charged for similar matters, only to be overwhelmed by the data and winding up more confused, and their 'gut' feeling has turned into a pit in their stomach.
Rohrer Landry goes on to ask if it is possible to MAKE a lawyer a good project manager (PM)? My thoughts on the topic depended upon whether the "lawyer/PM" is a practicing member of the group, or a true project manager. If you try to pull one lawyer out of the practice group and say "Hey, you are now the Project Manager, make us efficient and tell us how much we should charge for services. Oh... and you'll still need to keep up with your own practice at the same time." Then this would fail. Project Management is not something that you do on the side. It has to be your primary (and sole) function.
If, on the other hand, you hire someone that happens to be a lawyer to be a Project Manager, then it could give him or her the respect from the lawyers in the group he or she is trying to manage. Of course, they'll still need to perform a good job as a Project Manager.
If you decide to hire someone with an MBA and no legal experience and have them attempt to manage a law practice group there could be a perception from the group that the person might be a great project manager, but doesn't know the industry. Maybe not a fair assumption, but lawyers are usually skeptical of non-lawyers trying to tell them how to do their business.
I guess in my scenario you are left with two choices for PM --
  1. Former Practicing Lawyer who is brought on to be a full-time PM
  2. PM (non-lawyer) who has some type of experience working with lawyers, or can at least speak the 'language' to the lawyers and prove that he or she does know how lawyers work
As firms try to wrap their heads around Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) and determining the 'costs' of matters vs what to 'charge' for a matter, Project Managers are going to become some of the most valuable people in the firm. Tackling the issues of efficiency, effectiveness, return on investment, and changing some of the basic behaviors and cultures within law firms, it may take a lawyer to point out these issues to other lawyers. Kind of the old "it takes one to know one" adage.
Rohrer Landry leaves us with this question - "is it time to hire professional project managers?"
My answer is that it is definitely time to start talking about it.

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Law Shucks Does Crowdsourcing Lateral Tracker

Hats off to the folks over at Law Shucks for coming up with a brilliant, yet very simple way of tracking those lateral partner moves between big law firms.
With the Lateral Tracker, people within the big law firms who are "in the know" when attorneys jump ship from one firm to another have a chance to update the Lateral Tracker in order to let everyone know. In reward, the person submitting the information gets a chance to win an iPhone 3GS (and, probably a 2-year commitment to AT&T... so, it's a win-lose deal.) This is the sort of crowdsourcing exercise that is perfect for this type of information.
In the old days before this Lateral Tracker, we used to have to wait until a press release went out announcing that Lindsey McDonald, former Partner with Wolfram & Hart, has now joined the Denny Crane Law Firm in Boston. With tips from people within the law firms, we can now know that McDonald is leaving one firm and joining another before he actually makes his trip from Los Angeles to Boston. In an environment when "first to blog" is the new 'breaking news', this type of tracker can be a great resource in tracking movement between firms.
There are probably lots of other crowdsourcing information that could be gathered on big law firms. For example, how about setting something up to list the names and contact information for all of the Marketing Department personnel within big firms? Most firms do not list the flunkies administrative people in their directories, but sometimes you really want to know who is doing the business development, or marketing, or knowledge management, or research work in a firm but don't want to have to try to Google that information and hope that you find it.
I'm very impressed that Law Shucks has made an effort to create an ongoing crowdsourcing tool and hope that it turns out to be a great resource for all of us.

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Hot Practice Areas of the Past 10 Years?

On my way in to work this morning, I overheard someone say "all these new 'hot' areas of law that weren't even around 10 years ago.' It was an existential moment that got me wondering what they were talking about, and then to what are the 'hot' areas of law that weren't even around ten years ago. So I did what I usually do with these type of issues, and crowd-sourced it out to the Twitterverse to see if anyone came up with suggestions of what is a 'hot' area of the law today that didn't exist in January of 2000. I thought I'd start the list off by suggesting a few things off the top of my head:
  • Green Energy Practice
  • Sub-Prime & Financial Crisis Practice
  • Electronic Discovery Practice
  • Guantanamo Bay Practice
Well... no good 'off-the-top-of-my-head' discussion goes without someone pointing out that I am wrong.... Immediately some smarty-pants Dallas lawyer and E-Discovery expert (who happens to know a lot more about this than I do) points out that E-Discovery was a 20th Century invention, and even points out that Texas ruled on ESI way back in 1999. Although, we eventually agreed that E-Discovery became "hot" in the last 10 years. My favorite comment was that although E-Discovery became 'hot' in the last 10 years, here's wishing that it wouldn't exist in 10 more years!
My co-blogger Lisa came up with a crazy thought that 'virtual law' needs to be created and become a 'hot' practice area, but that 'virtually' no one is listening to her... 'literally'.
I thought that maybe "Gay Marriage" issues will become a 'hot' area, especially when it comes divorce time. And, it was suggested that 'e-commerce' law has also become a 'hot' legal practice area in the past 10 years (although it was also a 20th century invention along with e-discovery.)
What have I missed? Any other 'hot' legal practice areas that have sprung up in the past decade? (Yes, you have now become my 'crowd-sourcing' experiment!)

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BigLaw's Problem: Downturn Wasn't 'Down' Enough

When many of us took the 2009 calendar off the wall and hung up the new 2010 calendar, we said "Thank God that awful year is behind us!" I've been hearing that the 'downturn in the economy' will start to improve in the first or second quarter of 2010. Like most of us, I'm ready for things to turn around and start moving back into a positive direction. Although the law firm library model has probably been changed forever due to the '08-'09 recession, I'm worried that many in the industry (mainly in large firms) are simply ready to get back to business as usual. As I read "Urgency for Change" from the Hildebrandt blog, my fears seemed to be verified that the 'down' economy didn't go down enough to produce the necessary sense of urgency needed to motivate leaders to change their overall behavior.
Given that law firm declines in profits per partner are merely tepid, rather than dramatic, creating this sense of urgency may be the biggest challenge to law firm leaders – and the longer they wait, the harder this becomes. (In fact, in a recent conference we attended, when presented with data on industry profitability in 2009, one law firm manager remarked, “You see? I think this proves how resilient our business model is.”)
Oh great... Are we slashing budgets, cutting or flat-lining salaries, laying off people, and addressing worker productivity on the admin side of the house just so the partnership side of the house can get back to 10%+ growth in Profits Per Partner? In a time when General Counsels are standing up before conference crowds and saying "Trust levels are so low between firms and clients that if a firm is suggesting it, it must be bad for the client", now is not the time to tout the 2007 business model.
Number six on my list of ten projections for 2010 was that large law firms would be forever changed. I still believe this, and suspect that even those that worry more about when the April edition of American Lawyer comes out with a new lists of rankings over how they can build or rebuild trust between themselves and the client will feel that change. For those that hold onto the idea that the fact that their firm rode out the recession proves that they have a resilient business model ("as is", "status quo"), will not be happy when the AmLaw 100 list for 2011 comes out and they watch as firms who have adopted new billing methods, mended fences with old clients, and listened to and addressed the needs of new clients, begin to pass them on that all important ranking list.

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With Google Translate - The World Is My Oyster

One of the best stories I have from my old mainframe programmer/analyst days in college was working with my friend Ming Fan, who was a foreign student working as a Grad Assistant in the same department. One day he leaned over and shouted the following joke over the loud rumble of the big blue mainframe boxes:
Q: Hey, what do you call a person that speaks two languages? A: Bilingual
Q: What do you call a person that only speaks one?
A: An American!
I had to look at him and hang my head... guilty as charged. Although, I'm pretty good at barking out "Dos Cervezas, por favor!!" or when I was stationed in South Korea, I became pretty good at saying "Maekju hana juseyo". So, I'm fluent in beer, but that's about all. In my professional life, this has meant that all those articles that pop up in my RSS feed that are in French have been skipped (unless 'biere' appears in the title.)
Enter my old American friend "Google" to save the day. With Google Translate, combined with the Google Toolbar, I can have webpages translated on the fly, and will results that don't make you giggle -- well, usually don't make you giggle anyway. Here is an example of an outstanding bilingual blog, Heavy Mental, that discusses technology and social issues in both English and French (but not always in both.)
(click image to enlarge)
I've now used the Google Translate resource a few times and have been very impressed with the results. You do get the occasional translation that makes you giggle -- (such as one of my favs: "thank you @clarinette02 for drawing our atten-tion is over" -- but, nothing that compared to the early days of translating text I used to get with tools like AltaVista's (now Yahoo's) Babel Fish. Now, I get webpages translate right on the spot, with the formatting of the page still intact, and with translations that are understandable, even by my limited American vocabulary!
Google Translate has a variety of different tools that you can use to add to your website and have it translate your site using widgets, and other resources that allow you to cut and paste, or upload documents and have them translated. My favorite so far has been the toolbar auto translate option. The only drawback so far is that I typically use Google Chrome as my web browser, and for some reason the Google Toolbar STILL DOESN'T WORK IN CHROME!! (Sorry about that... I'm still having issues of Google releasing browser add-ons that don't work in its own browser.) If you want to use Google Translate in Chrome, you can add the extension to the browser.
So fire up your Internet Explorer or FireFox browser with the Google Toolbar and expand your reading to include all those wonderful blogs that don't cater to those of us that only speak one language.

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Law School Online. Why Not?

I was reading a Fast Company article, Universities Inc. by Anya Kamenetz, and wondered when is the online law school coming? Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE and the man with the golden touch, will be acquiring--for a mere $2M-- a 12% piece of the Chancellor University System LLC, a part of the nearly bankrupt business college Myers University, in Cleveland, Ohio. His ambition? To create a reputable online MBA program. I have always wondered why education needs to be maintained in bricks and mortar business model. My other sister, a teacher,and I were just talking about this very issue just last night. Well, you know where I am going with this. Why not law schools? I mean, think about it. The only "benefit" I got from being in a classroom environment ensconced in the ivy walls of my esteemed alma mater was being terrified of being called upon for recitation. And if the school implemented do 3D streaming, it could still happen anyway. Tell me if I am wrong, but the only benefit I see are the additional "amenities": glee club, football, fraternities. Oh, wait. This is "law school". It could be a matter of prestige and reputation. But if some big cheese like Jack Welch were to legitimize it, it could spring up a whole new kind of law students. Like we need more lawyers, huh?

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Web 2.1 - The Unsolicited Interloper

I've seen a lot of comments on "what is next for Web 2.0" in the past few months, but most of those jump ahead to the "Web 3.0" stage of Cyberdyne's Skynet artificial intelligence stage. I wanted to bring the discussion back to a less scary (well, at least not "end of the world" scary) topic of the next stage in Web 2.0, which I'll call, "Web 2.1 - The Unsolicited Interloper."
Web 2.0's Controlled Discussion
The 2.0 stage moved us from a one-way online discussion into a method of two-way or multi-way discussion. Blogs allow us to comment; newspapers allow people to submit comments on just about any story they publish; and social media tools allow us to chat and connect with peers in a real-time environment. One of the things with the 2.0 world is that whoever writes, or manages the content usually has some type of control over the discussion that follows within the four walls of that content-even if the only recourse is to delete the discussion, or moderate the comments before allowing others to see them. The key to 2.0 is that you can have four walls around your content. However, the 2.1 stage could tear down those walls and allow interlopers in, and you'll have very little control over what they have to say.
Two Web 2.1 tools - Google's Sidewiki and DotSpots' "Distributed Objects of Thought"
Two of the leading contenders to usher in my version of Web 2.1 are Google Sidewiki (see video demo) and DotSpots (see video demo). Both of these are browser extensions that allow anyone to place unmoderated comments on any webpage and allows anyone with the same browser extensions to view those comments and add their own comments as well. Sidewiki does as its name suggests and puts comments into a sidebar, while DotSpot places the comment 'dot' right in the text of the blog. Now, neither of these actually does anything to the blog post itself... it is simply a feature of the browser extension that allows the modification on the side (sidewiki), or within the text of the browser page (DotSpot). If you haven't added the extension to your browser, then you wouldn't see the comments at all.
Free-flowing commentary versus Free-Flowing SPAM
The idea behind the Web 2.1 tools is noble. Using the wisdom of crowds, information can become free-flowing, and more informative by allowing those reading it to also add information. The DotSpot video is a prime example of what the developers of the product wish to do. Now an article can have comments pointing to additional information and the 'crowd' can begin interacting with each other and add additional content (maps, videos, etc.) making (or rather morphing) the original information into something dynamic. No longer is the 'crowd' limited by the restraints of the website's comments section. It is this freedom that is worrisome for most of us that develop original content on the web.
In the Web 2.0 world, I can delete comments that appear on my blog. In this new 2.1 world, I cannot. Instead, according to what I've read in the FAQ's for the two resources, I'd have to request that content be removed because it is SPAM or abusive in some manner. This is the part that I think most of us would find most troubling. It is one thing for another blogger to rip my posts to shreds on his or her own blog, but to essentially add any comments you want and have it show up through the extensions on my blog seems to be something that I'd rather not have to deal with. Yes, I know that it isn't "really" on my blog... it is on Google's Sidewiki or DotSpots databases (somewhere in the cloud), but if you have these extensions installed on your browser, it can sure look like it is.
The Benefit of the Unregulated Crowd
Maybe the inconvenience of the occasional spammer is outweighed by Web 2.1’s dynamic platform. We’ve grown accustomed to being the moderators of the conversations over our writings. Losing some of that control is not a comfortable thought for me. But, maybe it is not a bad thing to loosen some of that control. Most things I’ve read on the topic of crowds say that the ‘unregulated crowd’ creates a better result over one that is. Perhaps I should just take the good with the bad when it comes to the unsolicited interlopers that the Web 2.1 world brings.

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Do We Need 3D?

Three Geeks and a Law Blog: Do We Need 3D? Sitting here reflecting on the week in news, I am pondering the oncoming new technology: 3D TV. I must ask: do we really need this? Like I want to see "Judge Judy" in 3D. Or any of the variations of "CSI" or "Law and Order"--aren't they grizzly enough? What's next? 3D videos of our law conferences? I don't think anything could enliven some of those CLEs. Sorry, speaking for myself, I would rather have the opportunity to PhotoShop my photos rather than present myself in all of my 3Ded glory (note: I just made the first, documented use of 3D as a verb). I mean, really? Do we need 3D TV? Probably as much as those $300 Prada shoes that I have been keening over. I'm guessing a certain portion of our population is much more excited about the possibilities of 3D. May I interject the phrase "football fanatics"? I daresay one thing that has yet to be considered is the impact that 3D will have on sports and the ref calls? It is going to get brutal. I can see this train wreck coming and I don't even watch sports. Then, of course, you know what's following on the heels of all of this ... 3D internet. Just what we need: YouTubers 3Ding their every move. Oh, God, save me now.

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