AALL Conference - How About a "Less is More" Approach?

[Guest Blogger - Tracy Thompson-Przylucki]

I've given a lot of thought to the issue of Annual Meeting programming almost since my first meeting in 1997. I can recall in my first few years of attendance hearing my more senior colleagues express dissatisfaction with the programming, the scheduling, the no-conflict limitations, etc. As I newb, I was still absorbing so much I couldn't imagine what they were lacking. But now (and for a few years) I find myself in the same boat. I want to be part of the solution but so far the exact formula for Annual Meeting nirvana eludes me. I still really enjoy the Annual Meeting and wouldn't miss it for the world, but I'd be thrilled to see some disruptive change, some risk-taking. Even if it failed.

I don't have any transformative suggestions, but I do have some observations. First, less is more. I'd like the Annual Meeting to be less of a mad dash and more of an opportunity to really connect with our colleagues, vendors, etc. A time to reflect, consider and absorb. Recently, especially since it's been shortened, the AM feels frenetic and fractured.

Second, AALL (or any organization) just can't be all things to all people. They have to maximize their resources to approach a Benthamesque balance; the greatest good for the greatest number. There will always be some of us who need/want more.

Third, taking these two points into account, I'd like to see LESS programming (throw eggs and hiss here), limited no-conflict times, and that lost day returned to the schedule (with no programming or exhibit hall on the last day). AALL could facilitate meetings (members sign up for the space they need) on the final day (SISs, committees, working groups, ad hoc groups, chapters, etc.) so that members would have the opportunity to get some of the real work done without conflicts.

I know that the number of programs will always be an issue. I just don't think we need 6 or 8 programs in one time slot. Maybe 4? And rethink the tracks?

Perhaps (thinking out loud)
  1. New Professionals (<5 years) 
  2. Mid-career Professionals (5-10 years) 
  3. Advanced Professionals (10-20 years) 
  4. Mentors (>20 years). 
  1. Law Library Administration and Management 
  2. Law Library Services 
  3. Technology in Law Libraries 
  4. The Future of Law Libraries and the Profession. 
Are you thinking about all the reasons these won't work? How about thinking about how they (or others) could work?

I like the approach of crowdsourcing as some part of the selection process (perhaps not definitive) that someone suggested. This puts some of the responsibility on us as a collective. Remain unengaged at your own peril!

When I've inquired about the shortened schedule I've been told that it was largely a response to PLL members' needs for less time away from their offices. If that is truly the case (could be urban legend!) front load the meeting with PLL content as much as possible to give those folks the flex they need.

Of course, AALL is a business concern. If they take big risks and fail, they risk losing us, their members and their lifeblood. So all of these comments are offered with one eye on that reality and an all too familiar understanding of the challenges membership organizations face in meeting members' expectations, especially in this economy.

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Reducing Legal Fees: The Next Big Mistake

The first big mistake made on reducing legal fees was the focus by clients on rates and hourly discounts. We have previously talked about the value of this approach. Lower rates do not directly correlate to lower fees. Admittedly hourly rates have some impact, however, lowering unit costs without talking about number of units will have a marginal impact on costs at best.
The Next Big Mistake
Now we're hearing a lot of talk about the level of associate salaries (especially first years') and partner compensation from clients and client communities. Although it is not said quite this directly, clients are wanting to see published associate salaries and PPEP (profits per equity partner) numbers go down. Clients seem to be saying "When your comp goes down, that means I'll truly be saving money."
Thinking lower first year salaries or lower PPEP numbers will mean lower fees is yet another mistake. On the surface it may sound like there is a direct connection between lower fees and lawyer compensation, however this is not the case. To illustrate this point, consider that giving business to less profitable vendors of any type does equate to savings. In fact it has an equal or better chance of resulting in the opposite.
Taking a higher level view of this trend, I can see its source. In-house counsel have had issues with billing rates and outside counsel comp for years. So when internal pressures rose to decrease legal fees, the first two things in-house counsel would address are rates and comp.
My advice to clients: If you want to impact legal fees, focus your conversations on fees. I can appreciate the frustrations with rates and comp, but you should move past those and shift your attention to the real issue - Fees. I also appreciate that fees and cost savings are a new and challenging aspect of your job. Facing these issues head-on will be the least painful and most effect approach, in the short and long run.

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Programming at AALL - A Modest Follow-Up….

[Guest Blogger Mark Gediman]

Since my post last week (A modest proposal), I've discovered that I've hit a nerve.  I've received several off-the-record responses as well as a few blogged ones, the most recent of which was from Caren Biberman this morning.  I have to say that several things have become apparent to me:
  1. I'm not as "connected" as I thought I was.
    I was unaware of the reports and decisions referenced by Caren in today's post.
  2. There are quite a few PLLers who feel disenfranchised by the current programming at the Annual Meeting
  3. I have trouble seeing how a registration rate of less than 7% of the PLL membership in the pre-meeting Summit can be pointed to as a positive.
  4. Out the 100 people register for the summit, how many are attending the meeting? This to me would be a telling statistic.
  5. Over 1000 viewings of the post, but only 6 comments.  Hmm…
So, to address each of these:
  1. Why isn't there better communication between AALL and the membership? Every posssible avenue should be used:
    AALL email list.  
    If it works for the President's Letter, it can work for these kind of hot topics.
    SIS and Chapter listservs
    My experience with blogging has shown me that only when you let the widest possible audience know do you truly have a meaningful dialog.
    SIS & Chapter Leadership
    These are the people who are more closely connected to the membership, whether geographically or through their library.  Shouldn't they be utilized more effectively?
  2. This is truly disheartening and should be a major concern for AALL.  The membership of the single largest segment of the association should be made to feel a part of the group.  The consequences of not being inclusive would result in a splintering of AALL, an eventuality no one would like to see.  I have made lasting friendships at the Annual Meeting with people from across the country and across disciplines.  
  3. I'm happy that over 100 people have registered for the Summit, but that means that about 1400 people didn't.  The question we should be asking ourselves is "What can we do to bring more people to the Annual meeting?"
  4. Relating to 3, how many of the 100+ are sticking around?
  5. This appears to be the "Third Rail" of AALL politics.  Everyone wants to change but very few are willing to speak up.
My suggestion is just one possible solution.  Tracks are not by their nature exclusive.  People will remain free to choose to attend programs that match their interests, regardless of SIS affiliation.  The purpose of tracks is to ensure that needs of each group are being met.

Perhaps the AALL Business meeting in Denver is the proper venue to bring this discussion into the open.  I think that any discussion that has the success of the Annual Meeting and, above all, the Association as its goal is inherently good for the organization.

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Marketing Isn’t Random At All. It’s a War!

Marketing is not a bunch of random acts of marketing.

After reading Kim Rice’s blog on “How Can Law Firms Help Their Lawyers With Marketing?”, I just had to chime in.

The science of marketing, which is a combination of accounting, economics, statistics, management and, now, online technology, is a complex and fascinating field to which professionals have dedicated years of study. It is the science of trends—of both people and businesses.

May times I have seen law firms treat marketing as the party-planning crowd: drafting and re-drafting invitations like they are legal documents, creating fancy brochures (online or otherwise) and dreaming up one-off seminars.

But on some occasions, I have witnessed a few firms that have created an admirable alliance between marketing professionals and law firm leadership. Together, they create a firm vision, establishing a marketing plan to achieve that vision and then executing a strategy for its achievement.

This is terribly hard to do. It requires law firm leadership that respects the science of marketing and values the benefits that good marketing can reap. It requires a legal marketing professional that knows how to explain the importance of a marketing plan, then build a team that will execute that plan on a daily basis. Sometimes it requires the strength to say “no” to attorney requests that don’t fit into the firm’s vision. And sometimes it requires a leader to stand up for these decisions.

Marketing isn’t random at all. It’s a war.

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Dykema's Mandatory Associate Training On Westlaw... A Follow-Up

A couple months ago we wrote a post about "Inefficient Westlaw Searches Causes One National Firm to Hold Mandatory Training for Associates". Well, the firm that took on this challenge was Dykema, and I think that they took on an issue that most firms need to address. Pat Orr, Dykema's Manager of Library Services, was nice enough to follow up with me on the training and give me the ability to share her comments with all of you.


It's hard to believe that 2 months have passed since our " Westlaw Legal Research Best Practices at Dykema" sessions.  As promised, here is the full story.

Our Chief Operating Officer has an executive assistant; a partner transitioning into retirement.  That partner works as a liaison between the practice groups and the COO, particularly for expense review; chalk it up to the economy.  One of the most successful partners was shocked by the cost of a Westlaw search,done by an Associate. He started an email discussion in the Litigation Group which quickly reached the exec assistant partner. Three of the most successful partners in the firm quickly joined in.  All three are avid Library users.  I'm happy to say that it wasn't long before everyone recommended "Get the Library's help."

The decision to not include the Westlaw reps was based on a couple of issues.  The partners wanted all Associates to feel free to ask any questions they wanted and not feel stupid.  They knew the Librarians would give specific examples to illustrate each research tip.  The partners also wanted us to be able to cite specific firm policies, possibly something more sensitive in nature- which we might not do with a vendor present.  We have a great relationship with our Westlaw reps. They knew the decision wasn't a criticism of their work.  In fact, they helped us write the program.

We divided the program into 2 parts. I spoke about the subscriber agreement, and how it really isn't a flat-fee contract despite what your billing attorney may tell you.  The reference librarians addressed the specific tips, and how they do a search in Westlaw.  We had more than a dozen questions, and took the time to give detailed answers.  We wanted to be sure that each question got a clear answer.

Of course, it was a big success: attendance was 100%. (Remember, this was a mandatory program. Attendance was taken- food was served!)   As I review the monthly search reports out of QuickView, I can tell that the effort paid off.  We also had feedback from both partners and Associates.  The partners want this program to be mandatory for summer associates, and for the fall associates- even if it's a repeat for them.  Associates are calling us for guidance before they start a complex project.
We use some of the material as part of orientation for lateral hires. 

My thoughts are that Dykema is a trailblazer in the area of making sure that Associates use resources efficiently. Although it may seem extreme to make all of the Associates attend mandatory training, it really shouldn't be seen as extreme at all. USING RESOURCES LIKE WESTLAW OR LEXIS IS EXPENSIVE... TURNING UNTRAINED ASSOCIATES LOOSE ON THESE RESOURCES IS IRRESPONSIBLE!!! The first training slide in the presentation lays out the fact that the firm does not have a "FLAT FEE CONTRACT" with Westlaw... and that the firm is charged for each and every search conducted. The idea of a flat fee contract is a holdover from the Associate's law school days, and it is one of the most difficult things that the law firm librarian has to break in the Associate's head.

In the presentation that Dykema presents, it lists out 17 points that help the Associates become better researchers. None of the 17 points are earth shattering ideas... but, if you've never been trained, or you've gotten sloppy in how you conduct research, it was good to be reminded of these simple ideas. It lists the "do's" and the "don't's" of research and specifically lists some things to stay away from (e.g., 50 State Survey Reports at $250.00 a pop...) But perhaps the best slide came with the idea of "Talk to the Experts!!" The slide points out that there is no additional charge for contacting the Westlaw reps or research attorneys for help... it also points out there there are experts on staff in the library that should be contacted as well. I'm glad to see that these points were taken to heart by the Associates and they are now contacting the research experts in their library before jumping into a complex project. That alone shows the benefits that Dykema is reaping from requiring all of its Associates to attend the training.

I give all of those at Dykema that are responsible for initiating, conducting and following up on this training a big round of applause for showing the rest of us the need that exists and a way to take on the challenge through educating those that need help. I hope that all firms learn from this and start working on their own training sessions to improve the way their Associates conduct research.

I love the last slide in the presentation... which dovetails nicely with the Einstein image above. Remember: it is called Research for a reason.

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A "Modest Proposal" on Programming at AALL

[Guest Blogger Mark Gediman]

Scene: A dark room, the only light coming from two guttering candles sitting on a large weathered wooden table.
Seated around this table are several hooded figures.  A black velvet bag marked with arcane symbols sits in the center of the table.  One of the figures stands and addresses the group:
"OK, here's the next submission.  Ready? Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock!"

This is how I picture the AALL program selection process.  

The recent blog post from Caren Biberman ("Some thoughts on Programming at AALL") clearly expressed the frustration that Law Firm librarians are feeling, and let's be honest, have felt for years about the program offerings at the AALL Annual Meeting.  

I believe that there are a few factors at work here:
1.  A greater percentage of the active members of AALL are from academic and government institutions.  This can skew the program selection process due to a having a different set of priorities rather than a desire to discriminate against one group.
2.  Firms are tighter with professional development dollars, limiting attendance at these meetings.  A librarian commented to me yesterday that she couldn't use the program offerings to show her firm how it would help her be an asset to the firm.  Instead, she had to use the intangibles of networking, vendor contacts and new products that might be useful to the firm.  A much more difficult case to make.
3.  As someone who has submitted several programs over the past few years, I can tell you first hand that AALL has the most difficult program submission process of the major legal associations.  This definitely has a chilling effect on submissions.
Here is my modest proposal:

I think the annual meeting programs should be organized as tracks broken out along the lines of the major SIS's (PLL, Academic, Courts & Govt) with an extra track for law librarianship, cross-disciplinary programs (i.e., "How to get published").  The National Online Meeting and the ILTA Annual Meeting are organized along these lines.  This would allow the individual groups to determine the programs that best meet the needs of their members.  It would also get away from offering programs that may be skewed toward one group but isn't readily apparent from the description. The audience that a program is geared to would be obvious from the track it is in.  For example, budgeting for firm librarians is a completely different process than it is for academic or government librarians. 

The PLL Summit this year is an attempt to address this need.  However, the time and additional cost for housing and admission are barriers for firm librarians to attend.  If the Summit were folded into the Annual meeting, it would give the firm librarians something that they could show their firms to better justify the expense.  I think implementing this could also result in increased attendance for this group.

I'm all for being inclusive.  I'm thankful to AALL for providing me with a venue to connect with colleagues from across different libraries as well as from across the country.  I think that anything that brings more people to the Annual Meeting is good for both the profession and the Association.

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Grade Inflation in Law Schools? Big Whoop...

According to the New York Times, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles is "tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years" with the goal of making "its students look more attractive in a competitive job market." Apparently, the new grade inflation for law students is becoming all the rage across the country, and if your school isn't doing it, the students get upset. I've seen a number of tweets and blog posts talking about this "phenomenon" over the past few days, and every time I see one flash by, my only thoughts are "Big-Whoopty-Freakin'-Deal!!" Last time I checked, if you raise everyone's grades, everyone's class ranking stays the same.

Hint to law students... if you have a B+ average and you're in the bottom 1/3rd of your class ranking... employers know there is grade inflation. All that grade inflation doesn't really help you, or make you look that impressive to potential employers. Everyone knows it is going on, that's why we look at class rankings and the reputation of the school your attending. So, complain to the Dean of your school all you want to raise everyones grades from a B- to a B or a C+ to a B-, it won't help.

Now instead of faking your way from a B+ to an A-... be proud of your grades. We here at 3 Geeks think that recruiters should hire the "C" students. Like Toby said back in February:
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.
So quit focusing on the red herring of inflating your grades and start working on improving your overall class ranking. If you can't improve that, then work on those skills and relationships that will make you better prepared for the transition from the academic world into the real world of the business of being a lawyer.

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The 'Fuzzy' Difference Between Case Management & Legal Project Management

I sat in yesterday on an event hosted by LexisNexis on the webinar/virtual panel entitled "The Discipline and Benefits of Project Management." The two panelist were Bruce MacEwan, Founder, Adam Smith Esq., and Tom Birsic, Partner and Litigation Practice Leader, K&L Gates, and both had a lot to say about the current state of Legal Project Management (LPM) for in-house and outside counsel. It was interesting to hear both MacEwan and Birsic discuss how LPM is basically still in its infancy and that currently there is a 'fuzzy' distinction between what lawyers consider case management, and what lawyers need to change in order to accomplish Legal Project Management. Subtle though it might seem on paper, MacEwan went on to say that the law firms that figure out that distinction and are the first to act and explain the value of LPM will be at a serious competitive advantage over their peer firms.

I'll list some of my notes that I took while listening in below, but wanted to reprint the overview of the discussion first, as I think it lays out a good overview of LPM and what the panelists were focused on discussing.  Note: It was actually a video panel - vpanel - but the video was quite disappointing because it tended to freeze and make the panelists look like they were in the middle of a painful medical procedure. Apologies to Kevin, Tom and Bruce for posting this snapshot of the vpanel... but the video was pretty bad...

Overview of Panel:

Project management is nothing more than rationally supervising the process of 

  1. deploying resources 
  2. which have associated costs 
  3. against tasks 
  4. to accomplish specified objectives. 
Viewed this way, disputed matters and transactions are simply types of projects, albeit sophisticated ones. Learn more about how project management can help make alternative billing models more predictable, transparent, and effective, including:

  • Why your firm needs to focus on continually improving project management skills
  • Developing ways to more readily provide budget updates to clients
  • Ensuring that lawyers are skilled at clarifying and communicating expectations and guiding the engagement process

  • Implementing processes to review performance at the end of an assignment, or sooner, if need (“Lessons Learned”)
  • Applying the appropriate staffing model that provides the needed skills at an acceptable value.

My Notes:

Project Managers - Should it be current lawyers or should firms bring in actual project managers?
I was surprised right off the bat when Birsic mentioned that he thinks that firms that try to convert one of its existing lawyers into a Project Manager is not as effective as bringing in a "real" Project Manager. This made me wonder if this is one of those situations where this is a 'factually correct statement', but one that if you attempted to implement would fail due to firm culture? Kind of like the fact that cars with mid-engine, front-wheel drive chassis are the most efficient... but no one mass produces this type of model because no one buys them? 

Key to LPM is to have a process for rigorous "early case assessment"
Partners that establish procedures for creating early case assessment documents are working in the right direction for implementing LPM processes. The early case assessment document should be initiated within the first 45 days of the matter, and should be viewed as a 'living document' that will change over the life of the matter. This reminded me of Jeff Carr's talk at the Texas Bar Association meeting where he said that he wouldn't even talk with outside counsel unless they presented him with an early case assessment document that explained how the firm was going to handle this matter, and what the lawyers anticipated were going to be the overall goals and objectives for this matter over time.

Electronic Billing is one of the greatest tools of case management
MacEwan mentioned that the implementation of electronic billing is one of the best tools ever for managing cases. I've also heard this statement before when the issue of LPM is discussed. Why is electronic billing so important?? Most likely for two reasons. 1) It creates another logical process that shows the tasks, and the costs that those task create. 2) It is a de facto communication between the client and firm. Clients get a chance to see costs as they are created, and perhaps the ability to question those costs.

Are there trade offs between the quality of work and cost controls when it comes to LPM?
This is a question that is asked a lot when firms think about LPM. If costs are cut, doesn't that essentially mean that quality will suffer? Birsic said that quality is not compromised when LPM strategies are used because your improving the efficiency, not reducing the quality of work performed. He did throw out the caveat of reducing quality at the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage by the client. If the client is pressing for price over quality of firm, then there might be a trade off at that point. However, Birsic specifically mentioned that LPM does not increase the overall costs for the client. If it does, then the client has either hired the wrong firm, or the wrong in-house counsel.

LPM is not stressed during the RFP stage -- unless the RFP is asking for Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs)   
Birsic mentioned that he doesn't really use LPM as a selling point for most RFPs. That changes if there is a request for AFAs, however, because the firm and client need to understand the overall process and costs of matters when deciding the fee structure on AFAs. Firms that have structured LPM processes in place are better equipped to handle AFA negotiations successfully, and to structure the metrics needed to evaluate how well the firm does in handling AFAs (did we lose money, break even, make money, make too much??) Birsic also noted that in-house counsel are very bad at these types of metrics in trying to determine how well firms have handled AFAs for them. 

LPM is here to stay... learn it, practice it, live it, or get left behind
Both MacEwan and Birsic didn't hesitate to say that LPM is not a 'favor of the month' idea. LPM is here to stay and those in-house and outside counsel that understand and require/perform LPM practices will have a significant competitive advantage over those that pretend that the status quo is "good enough". Just as with any other skill, the more you practice your LPM procedures, the better you will get at it.

Legal matters are expensive... LPM will help somewhat, but not make it cheap
MacEwan mentioned that sometimes outside counsel need to be realistic with clients when it comes to the cost of litigation or other legal issues. He mentioned that clients complain that outside counsel don't understand the pressures that they are under to cut legal costs from the corporate hierarchy. Sometimes outside counsel need to frank with their clients and remind them that legal issues are expensive.

Case Management is not Legal Practice Management... but the differences are 'fuzzy'
Birsic discussed the belief that most attorneys believe that they are conducting 'case management' on all of their matters, and that most attorneys believe that they are excellent case managers, thus do not need to do any LPM processes. MacEwan chimed in that the difference between case management and LPM is fuzzy, but that the firms that distinguish the difference, implement the processes, and act first will have a serious advantage in the marketplace.

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Survey Says -- Fastcase Ranks Higher For "Price for Value" Than Westlaw or Lexis

In the recent Law Technology News Vendor Satisfaction Survey, it seems that the users of the low-cost legal research service Fastcase give it an 87.5% "Excellent Price for Value" approval rate. Compare that with the users of Westlaw (12.7% "Excellent Price for Value") and Lexis (14.3% "Excellent Price for Value"). Granted, there were a lot more participants in the Westlaw (n=181) and Lexis (n=147) than were in the Fastcase survey (n=8), but let's face it... most attorneys feel that they can't use anything other than Wexis to do research. However, there is rumblings even in large law firms to take advantage of resources like Fastcase, Loislaw, Casemaker and Google Scholar in order to reduce the overall costs to the firm and the clients. Fastcase has worked very hard to break the attorney's belief that Westlaw and Lexis are the only resources that they have at their disposal to conduct quality legal research.

Many of the librarians I've talked to lately say that there they are being asked more and more to train associates to use and understand the benefits of resources like Fastcase and even (or rather, especially) Google Scholar. I'm thinking this isn't just a fad... it is a trend. We've mentioned before that you are stupid if you aren't using these resources in some capacity at your firm, especially if you get these free through your state bar association!! As a law librarian you really need to get on top of these products and understand how to use them, and how to train others to use them. This is one of those situations where your skills are needed by your firm in order to help push costs down.

Congrats to Fastcase for scoring an "Excellent" rating in 7 out of 10 categories.  Here's hoping that next year's survey shows them catching up to the Wexis vendors in number of responses!




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Knowledge Management & Process Ownership

Nick Milton is one of my favorite bloggers on the issue of Knowledge Management because he is able to succinctly lay out KM  procedures and processes in a way that even those who have been in KM for years can learn. I've complained about KM becoming a group that merely supports "products" and "software" more than preserving the firm's memory, expertise and knowledge. Luckily, Nick lays out some of the specifics that those who guard the memory of the organization must remember is their responsibility:

Nick states that in KM terms, some of the specific responsibilities of the process owner are as follows:
Coordinating, and agreeing with management, corporate standards for their specific process
Liaising with the leader or coordinator of any community of practice which covers the process
Announcing and rolling out new lessons, and updated process documentation
Monitoring the development of knowledge within their specific area of expertise
Monitoring the organizational performance in the application of the process
Ensuring that new lessons are collected and shared from significant pieces of work
Developing and publicising process guidance documents relating to their specific process

• Monitoring use of any relevant documentation, and acting on feedback to improve this
Ensuring that guidance documentation is made available to all users

Updating guidance documents, Best Practices and standards for the process as required
Promoting peer assists and personal connections between the projects to share tacit knowledge of the process
(NOTE: I rearranged the list a little... and modified a couple of the 'verbs' to make for an anagram of "clammed me up!')

The key take away that I find with this list is that KM is not only about making sure that the software involved in the process works... but that there is a triangle relationship in the process between the process owner (KM), the process service (software), and the user of the process (end-user). Nick nails it when he stresses that the owner of the process plays a key role in triangle relationship. "With no process owner, the processes fall out of date, and no longer become a reliable memory store. You end up with a sort of Corporate Alzheimers, where big holes develop in [the] long term memory of the company. We can't afford that to happen."

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Gross... (I Mean "Yay!") - Public Touch Screens Are Coming!!

Jason Wilson over at rethinc.k is discussing the evolving world of computer interactions and the reduction of the need for a mouse-driven device and the inevitable use of touch technology. Even the old codger Joe Hodnicki buckled to the touch screen fad when he traded in his Blackberry for a Palm Pre (apparently because he became addicted to the "bubbles" game that came with the Pre.) Whenever I take my children to Fry's electronics store, the first thing they run to is the HP Touchsmart PC so they can play a game of chess by using their fingers. Even I've been using touch screen interfaces more and more (iPad and Android phone). But let's face it... how comfortable are you to use someone else's touch screen device after seeing the oily fingerprints that blur the screen??

Now, imagine that the public terminals in your library are all touch screens.... (I'll give you a minute to stop shuddering at that thought.)

I've bought a matte screen protector for my iPad and that has cut down on the 'disgusting factor' of the touch screen fingerprints. I have to tell you though, it was extremely difficult to get it to go on straight, and to have it not pick up every little piece of dust or lint that happened to be floating in the air. I actually gave up and took it off for a week because I couldn't get it to go on without dust getting on the underside and causing nice little bubbles on the screen... no, Joe, not the game-type bubbles... that I had to take the drastic measures of washing the screen with soap in order to get the dust off, then apply it to the screen again. This time I only have a few bubbles on the screen... and I can live with that. Now, imagine having to put one of these protectors on a 23 inch widescreen monitor... (hint, if you do have to put one of these on, make sure that there are no patrons or children under the age of 18 around because you're language will be R-rated.)

The touch screen era of computers is upon us... make sure you leave room beside the computer for a bottle of Purell hand sanitizer and some pop-up Windex computer screen cleaner!!

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Leave PACER Alone... For Now

I'm probably not going to be popular with my LAW.GOV friends with this post because I'm going to play the role of Devil's Advocate and make the argument that they leave PACER alone... at least for now. My primary reason for leaving it alone is the fact that it may be one of the best government run resources available... from any branch of government. Secondly, like it or not, it is a revenue generating resource for the federal court system. I know... I know... you're saying that it is a "public resource" and US citizens shouldn't have to pay for access to information that is built upon the data submitted to the courts, by those citizens. However, there are a lot of things related to the courts that we pay for -- court fees, jury fees, court copy fees, etc -- this is just one more, and one that most people I've talked to say is the most reasonable fee that the court charges.

Perhaps in a perfect world the taxes we pay would fully support the court systems, and the need for filing fees and an .08¢ per page charge for PACER wouldn't be necessary. But the last time I checked, the courts were still underfunded and there's been no push from Congress to increase budgets or salaries. According to Steve Schultze's working paper, PACER fees are covering court expenses that are not related to direct costs of maintaining PACER.
By 2009, the list of programs supported by PACER fees was further expanded, and expenditures on the non‐PACER items increased. “In fiscal year 2009, the Judiciary plans to use $106.8 million in EPA collections and prior‐year carryforward to fund public access initiatives including the following:
  • Public Access Services and Applications $17.7 million;
  • Telecommunications $8.7 million;
  • EPA Equipment $1.3 million;
  • CM/ECF Development, Operations and Maintenance $33.4 million;
  • Courtroom Technology Allotments for Maintenance/Technology Refreshment $25.8 million;
  • Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing $9.7 million;
  • CM/ECF Allotments to Courts $7.5 million;
  • CM/ECF state feasibility study $1.4 million;
  • Violent Crime Control Act Notification $1.0 million; and
  • Jury Management System Public Web Page $0.2 million.
    (hat-tip to Joe Hodnicki at LLB)
Schultze has a good idea for providing bulk access to court data for free, but argues that there is no statutory reason for the fees that are generated from PACER be used in non-PACER projects, such as upgrading technology in the courthouses and courtrooms of federal courts. Perhaps these charges should have never have been tied to PACER fees... but that ship has sailed. If the PACER fees go away, do you think that anyone in Congress has the backbone to bring a bill up to fund these services? My guess is "no". So, what do you do with these expenses? Cut them? Drop them? Up the other fees associated with filing cases in federal courts? Create a new fee that charges attorneys that practice in federal courts to make up the difference? It is an issue that is tied to the free PACER argument, and it needs to be explained right along side of the benefits of open access to Federal Dockets.

Now if you're thinking that I'm anti-free PACER, you'd be wrong. I was part of the Oklahoma Court project that created the Oklahoma Court Information System (OCIS) that created free access to a number of Court Docket systems throughout Oklahoma (although, my piece was maintaining the OSCN database). But even the idea of creating a free access system ran into some of the same issues that have to be addressed with PACER. Legacy systems, related fee structures, and other issues created a number of stumbling blocks (logistical and political).

We all like "Free", but we also like a stable, adequately funded court system as well. I don't mind if PACER becomes a free resource as long as there is a stable means of replacing the revenue that will be lost to the courts. Perhaps the courts should have never become addicted to the revenue generated by PACER... and  perhaps they should have never have started funding non-PACER activities with that revenue... but that's where we are with PACER, and those issues have to be addressed and answered before we can make PACER a free resource.

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eReaders: not just for adults anymore ...

While I was at the movies waiting for Toy Story 3 to start (yes, it was awesome), I saw an ad for a children's eReader, the iXL, which will be released by Fisher Price this July. It was so cool I just have to tell you about it. It was in full color, read out loud to you, let you highlight words so that they can be defined and generally just acted like an augmented reality book that I had dreamed up a few months ago on this very blog. I love it when that happens. The sweetest part of all? Its only $80. Too bad its just for kids books.

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Find Your Like-Minded Folks on Twitter

Just found this neat little Twitter tool: http://www.blastfollow.com/

If you have hosted or attended an event that you enjoyed and want to instantly follow the participants, just enter the hash tag (#) created for the event and hit Get Users.

Once that list has appeared, you will be able to automatically add these people to your Twitter "Following" account by entering your user ID and password.

This a great way to keep in touch with folks after an event and continue to market to them.

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Legal Project Management: Tinkering at the Margins?

There seems to be universal acceptance that the business model of law firms is broken or needs to be broken (depending on your point of view). But not much has been said about the service model. True - Legal Project Management (LPM) is touted as an effective tool for bringing efficiency and effectiveness to law firms, but from what I have seen LPM is focused on the current model for providing services.
Two conversations following my post on Re-thinking Expenses lead to me a new line of thinking. My comment about "re-tooling and modifying the production process" for automakers was the genesis for this. Many conversations about law firms in the past have included the observation that a lawyer from 1980 could be dropped into today's firm and function fairly well. They would need to learn email and on-line legal research, but the other basic functions are the same.
Imagine an auto worker in the same scenario. Now you see my point.
Law firms also need to re-think the service model. LPM will help law firms be more efficient, doing things the same basic way. LPM can squeeze out a better margin from the existing service model, but it will not be disruptive and change the approach.
As I see it LPM is critical and necessary in the short-run. But the long-run will need to see some disruptive technologies and new service models. Doing things the same way, only better, will work for a while. But the real game-changers will come when new service models emerge.

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Rats Dress Up As Thomson Reuters CEOs... Protest TR's Moving Jobs Overseas

It seems that Thomson Reuters isn't just sending legal jobs overseas, there's a new website called "Reuters EXPOSED" that is discussing TR's move of journalist jobs overseas, and the folks at the New York Newspaper guild aren't happy about it. In addition, they point that TR's CEO, Tom Glocer, is trying to cut existing pay by 10% while he made a cool $36 million in 2008.

Here's a couple of the Union members dressed up as Glocer and divisional CEO Devin Wenig, wearing rat suits and explaining how TR took tax breaks from New York to "spruce up several of its office locations."

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Is There a Place for Vapor E-Communications?

I've seen a couple of articles on VaporStream's "Electronic Conversation Software". The idea is that you can send communications that look a lot like e-mail, but the communication is temporary, exists in the cloud, and resides in your computers RAM (temporary memory). Once the communication is over, it disappears and cannot be recovered, even through e-discovery methods. The product is pitched as a great resource for reducing e-mail server storage, reduce the cost of potential e-discovery litigation, and satisfy the two tenants of HIPPA requirements. I took a quick look at it this morning and found that it is more of an Instant Messaging (IM) replacement than an e-mail replacement, but that it looks to have some good uses.

When I first read about this in itWorldCanda, and then again in ECM Connection, the articles were structured in a way that made me think that this was something that could potentially replace e-mail. I started dreaming of a situation where all those crappy vendor emails that I get ALL DAY LONG, could vanish automatically after I read/skimmed/ignore them. However, I quickly learned that you could only send or receive communicate with others that are also on the VaporStream software. So, my visions of a magic vendor communications fell to the wayside.

So here's the reader's digest version of how the product works:

  1. Sign-up for VaporStream's service (free 60-day trial... $7.50/mth after that).
  2. Get everyone that you want to have confidential, temporary communications with to also sign up.
  3. Use VaporStream's web or app interface to send and receive communications from other VaporStream users.
  4. The messages are sent and read via SSL (secure) through VaporStream's interface, and reside in your computers temporary memory (RAM).
  5. When done, the message disappears and cannot be recovered.
VaporStream attempts to electronically recreate a "verbal conversation" using IM or e-mail structure. The only way to "save" the communication would be to take a screenshot of the message, but even that doesn't get all of the communication because the header and messages are sent separately (thus, you'd have to take two snapshots, and tie them together.) There could be a great advantage to having something like this set up between members of your department or firm, but again, it is more of a compliment to current tools like e-mail or IM, and not necessarily a replacement for either. 
I could see a product like VaporStream being used on internal communications where you want to let others know certain things, but don't necessarily want to clutter up everyone's e-mail in-box, or have the issues that surround communicating via IM (if you're even allowed to do such a thing.) Perhaps there are certain clients that would like a product like this to communicate on sensitive matters that you don't want to leave any type of communication trail... I'll let you think about the ethical "slippery slope" that something like that might bring.
VaporStream is definitely worth a look, and should be brought up as a potential secure communications resource that could be used in the right situation.

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Yes - It is Time to Re-think Expenses

In response to Mark Medice's post - Yes, it is past time for law firms to re-think expenses. There have been a lot of discussions about firm's cutting expenses. And an equal or greater number of discussions on being more efficient (even here on 3 Geeks). What is needed is a re-thinking that merges these two concepts in a thoughtful way.
Using my traditional car analogy - cutting the costs of the landscaping service around the car assembly plant and reducing travel by admin staff will certainly improve the bottom line for Ford. However, that approach does not address the real question of lowering the cost of producing the cars. This challenge requires re-tooling and modifying the production process. It also requires conversations with suppliers about the costs for their component parts of the car (think Westlaw).
Law firms (for the most part) have not dove in on these types of discussions. The way I challenge lawyers on this topic is by asking how they can lower the cost of providing a specific legal service (e.g. a patent prosecution). What would they do differently in order to delver the same or better product at 60% of the current price?
This question changes the nature of the "re-think expenses" question. It's not about the attorney-to-secretary ratio or the leverage between non-partners and partners. Instead the conversation should focus on doing things differently. This method brings a sharp focus on choice of technologies, number and type of personnel and on how the service is actually performed (think legal project management, ala Hassett, Levy and others).
At the core, law firms are experiencing a shift from a 'cost plus' business model to the 'profit margin' model referenced in Mark's post. The law firm business structure still reflects a 'cost plus' world. So I give a resounding YES to the idea of re-thinking expenses.
'Cost plus' behavior in a 'profit margin' world equals failure.

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How to Beat TV Technology

I bet a lot of you either have Comcast, DirectTV or U-Verse. Me? None of the above. All I've got is a laptop, an HDMI cable and flat-screen plasma TV. I can stream my Netflix or my Hulu account from my laptop onto my TV. Or watch a DVD. Or I can surf the web on my big screen. Or I can slideshow my favorite art while I play my iTunes during a party. Just one example how I use technology to save money.

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Consultants, Clients and Firms - Everyone Is Talking... No One Is Doing

Interesting topic going on over at the Hildebrandt blog on whether it is time to develop new ideas for measuring performance at law firms. In Lisa Smith's post "Time for New Metrics", she lays out some interesting new categories that law firms should develop to show how they are managing their business:

  • Firm Performance – what are the relevant measures of firm performance, including the profit margin idea above?
  • Expense Management – how do we measure the impact of changes in staffing models, leveraging technology in delivering services, outsourcing?
  • Practice Management – how do we compare the performance of practices who may have very different profit drivers and pricing models?
  • Partner Performance – how do we move from a billable hours and originations driven approach to measuring partner performance?
  • Client Development/Market Strength – how do measure success in strengthening client relationships?
  • Balance Sheet/Risk – can we assess the strengths and weaknesses of a firm’s financial practices?
  • Management and Leadership – can we measure the effectiveness of strategic, talent management and other initiatives? 
I've seen a lot of talk lately about how firms and clients are wanting to find ways to improve overall efficiency effectiveness of how matters are handled, and I've seen a lot of charts from consultants on methods to follow to improve efficiency and effectiveness. However, it doesn't seem that anyone is putting these ideas into motion.
It reminded me of a story that a secretary once told me when I worked at a law school. She said that the people she worked for were very good at "getting their ducks in a row." Unfortunately, they were not very good at "kicking the last duck in the ass to get them to go into the water."  When that happened, she took it upon herself to do a little kicking to get things moving. 
Once again, someone has come up with a new method of looking at measuring performance, but it doesn't look as if anyone is lining up to put this type of tool into action. If law firms don't kick themselves in the rear and get moving... then they might find their clients putting on their boots and getting ready to do a little kicking in order to get their firms into the water.

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Drive the DriveSafe.ly Way!

I am so excited! I found a way to have someone read my emails, texts and voicemails to me while I am driving :) Last Wednesday, me and @sapreston were discussing how to configure my Outlook to get it to use a voice command. All were too complicated and NOT EASY TO IMPLEMENT. So me and the two other geeks were discussing this on our way to SBOT. They didn't have a solution either. So geeky me spent my Friday evening trolling through all the free Blackberry apps available on my phone. To my delight, I found drivesafe.ly, a free app available to Blackberry, Android, iPhone and Windows Mobile users. I just have the basic plan, which reads the sender's name, time and 25 words of the message. I did run into problems if the message was formatted in a table and it read the HTML code instead. But I have been really, really happy with it. There is about a 30-second delay between delivery and reading but that's cool. You can, of course, upgrade to a paid version that will give you Caller ID, more words read, ability to change the voice and the reading speed, plus the creation of an ad-free auto-response. The price is $3.99/mo. or $13.95/yr. They also have an enterprise solution that gives SSL encryption, allows you to download through mobile browser or push through BES. Plus, multi-user discounts and HIPAA compliant versions are available. The price for this is $7.99/mo. or $79.90/yr. Like I said, I have been really pleased with drivesafe.ly.

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What Do You Call a Female Lawyer These Days? A Blonde Beautician

By now you may have heard about the 24-year old "blonde beautician from Essex" who won an appeal against one of England's largest property developers, Bellway Homes back in November, 2009. Georgina Blackwell, a woman with no legal training, faced down a English courtroom full of barristers, presenting her evidence and cross-examining the Bellway solicitor. At the initial case, Bellway won right of access to the Blackwell property to tear down a wall between the two pieces of land. Blackwell was also ordered to pay five-figures in damages, £22,000 in legal fees as well as cover her own £3,000 in legal costs. Facing bankruptcy, Blackwell's daughter stepped in. She had just turned down a position to study law at Kingston University, choosing instead to help out in her mother's salon after her mother broke her wrist. Reviewing the legal documents, Ms. Blackwell discovered that the the right of access pertained to only one wall. She reopened the case, went before the court and won the day, reversing the previous decision and earning a £75,000 judgment. Today, Ms. Blackwell is studying law at BPP Law School after the dean of the school learned about her win and offered her a scholarship. She will continue to work part-time at the salon to cover the cost of transportation between home and school but she is determined to make it. I write this blog to tell any male lawyers out there who still think that "women have no business being lawyers"--a fellow law school classmate said this to me in 1990--that we are here to stay. Do not underestimate us. We may not be able to physically best a man but we can emotionally and intellectually stand shoulder to shoulder. You wonder why the previous generation of female lawyers were called "pitbulls with lipstick" or "bi*ch on wheels"? Because they faced actual and passive discrimination when trying to get a seat at the table: Being called "little lady", being ogled in the courtroom, being physically threatened, being excluded from the good old boy network. They paved the way for women like me. This a post for all the female lawyers: Illegitimi non carborundum.

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Geeks Do Ft. Worth and It Will NEVER be the Same

Well, the 3 Geeks had a fine time this afternoon. After being up before the crack of dawn, @glambert, @gnawledge and I drove up to Ft. Worth and got there in time to hear Susskind, Jeff Carr and Rocky Dhir. Then it was our turn. I have to say I had a great time and I think Toby and Greg would agree--a great crowd. And then to be able to actually have us 3 Geeks really walk into a bar afterward was hilarious ... SIDE NOTE: Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant has some awesome margaritas and fajitas. I'm just sayin'. Here is our presentation if you'd like to take a peek.

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3 Geeks Walk Into a Texas Bar...

... Association Meeting.

The "3 Geeks" hit the road tomorrow and head up to Ft. Worth to present at the Texas Bar Association Annual Meeting.  We'll be part of "The Adaptable Lawyer" program on Thursday discussing how the business of law is in transformation. Lawyers and firms who do not adapt to this changing world risk being left in the dust. Those that embrace creativeways to practice, network, and manage business have a great opportunity to set  themselves apart.

We'll be following a number of great speakers such as Richard Susskind, Jeffrey Carr, Kevin O'Keefe, Judge Susan Criss, and more (no pressure there!!)

Our presentation, entitled "That's Great, But What Do I Do Now?", where we are hoping to share our experiences and give examples and suggestions on how to actually implement some of the ideas presented that day. If you're not able to attend the meeting in person, you can follow the twitter stream through the Texas Bar Association meeting hashtag "#sbot10". More importantly, there will be a "Tweet and Greet" from 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM. We hope to see you there -- either virtually or in person!

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Legacy Thinking - If the Catalog is Your Only Tool, Everything Looks Like a MARC Record

I had lunch yesterday with a some folks from outside the legal industry where we discussed issues of making existing knowledge more readily available to others within our companies. I was taking my own advice and discussing the issues of libraries and knowledge management with those outside of law firms to see if there are different approaches that they are taking that we may not have thought of. Unfortunately at this meeting, it turns out that we in the legal field may be further ahead on KM/Library issues than those sitting at the table with me. I was both proud of that, and a little saddened that it turned out that I would be the one doling out the information at this session.

One of the issues we addressed was the fact that the employees of the company were creating documents that would actually benefit others within the same company, but that the departments were so siloed that currently there was no logical way that employee 'X' could even find a document written by employee 'Y' because X was in Houston, Y was in Dallas, but no way to search each others documents. It's an old problem, and one that they know needs to be fixed, but they're not sure where to start. They asked their existing library for help and their answer was for the authors of the documents to send their 'important documents' to the library and the library would catalog and store them in their Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). This is where someone in the group said, "this is what we call 'Legacy Thinking'." Legacy Thinking is where you're trying to make new problems 'fit' into existing solutions, even if that solution isn't practical or effective in solving the existing problem.

Now it was at this point when the same person then told a great "geek" joke that I'm going to share with you:
Q: If God is all powerful, why did it take 6 days and one day of rest to create the heavens and earth?
A: Legacy Systems
Ha... that still cracks me up! Okay... back to my story.

Legacy Thinking doesn't mean that new problems can't be solved using existing resources. What it means is that you're trying to solve all problems using one of the resources that you know, rather than thinking bigger and perhaps determining that there are other, and perhaps better resources for solving this issue. Perhaps those resources already exist in other parts of the company, or it is time to search for an external solution by bringing in a new tool to solve the problem. In this case, the traditional library answer of "put it in the catalog" was Legacy Thinking. Perhaps you could get everyone to send their 'important' documents to be cataloged by the library, and perhaps you could train all the employees to search the library catalog for important internal documents, but, that's asking a lot of your employees to change their basic habits of how they collect and search for existing knowledge. Quite frankly, I don't know of a lot of places that do very well at this type of collection process.

When I heard this story, I immediately told them that this was a "Knowledge Management" problem and that they need to go to their KM department (which they immediately said didn't exist), or their IT department (which they said didn't seem to want to address the problem), or hire a KM consultant (which they finally nodded and said they had the money to do) to come in and see what could be done to solve this issue.
So everyone walked away with their 'next steps' in the process, and I left feeling that the library at this company missed an opportunity because they were stuck in Legacy Thinking mode. It is like the old saying of "if your only tool is a hammer, then all problems look like nails." Same with this situation, if your only solution is the catalog, then everything looks like a MARC record.  (Look it up!)

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Client Service: The New Normal Marketing Strategy

Over the weekend I had to come up with an emergency presentation on marketing. I serve on the Board of the Houston AMA Chapter and was tasked with serving as a back-up speaker. Then reading Steve Bell's post on Client Satisfaction Lessons prompted me to capture the main ideas in this post.
My presentation idea: Staying Relevant. I borrowed this idea from a presentation I gave way back in 1996 to a group of bar association leaders on the same topic, only applied to lawyers (Lesson - write a book this time).
The Staying Relevant concept is to:
1) Examine the core changes occurring in a market,
2) Understand the impacts of the changes, and
3) Figure out how to adapt and stay relevant.
The first core change to consider - a shift of power. The shape of this shift is a bit unique. In the 60's, when marketing was born, there was scarcity of marketing channels (i.e. 3 TV stations) and an abundance of customer attention. Now there is a infinite number of marketing channels (for TV think Hulu.com) and a scarcity of customer attention. So there has been a shift from marketers controlling the flow of information to customers controlling it.
The second core shift comes from the power of Web 2.0. Customers are sharing product and service opinions with each other on a very grand scale.
Results of these shifts:
1) Marketing messages pushed out the old fashioned way don't hit their targets or at best have a declining rate of return.
2) Customers prefer to get their product information from other customers since these opinions are not paid for and therefore not biased by the provider.
The Moral of this Staying Relevant Story: Happy, informed customers will bring you more customers.
So for the practice of law, the best marketing advice may be: Promptly return phone calls from your clients. As the perennial #1 complaint of clients, this simple effort could become your best marketing tactic.
Now quit reading this and return some calls.

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Hire Us Because Private Planes Make Us More Productive and Efficient!!

Someone left a copy of the Robb Report in the library over the weekend, and just flipping through it and seeing ads for Prada sunglasses, $90,000 wrist watches, and learning that I could be golfing in Bermuda in just two hours made me remember that there are people out in this world with more dollars than sense. When I flipped through the magazine, I found a great ad on page 253 for Avantair (also here on page 22-23), a private aircraft provider, that featured a plaintiff's firm of Robb & Robb, LLC out of Kansas City and with perhaps one of the most outlandish reasons for hiring a firm ever...
"Avantair allows us to be more productive and efficient as a law firm."
Now granted, this may work as a selling point for a plaintiff's firm, and this firm probably doesn't bill back this cost directly to its clients, but could you imagine a BigLaw firm putting this claim in their response to an RFP?
"To improve efficiency and productivity, we have our own fleet of private aircraft standing by so that we can be more responsive to our client's needs."
Imagine a GC choking on that response! I know of firms that won't allow their partners to accept free upgrades to first-class because they might accidentally be seen by clients that are sitting back in coach. And, firms where even business-class is discouraged for domestic flights. In BigLaw, the ads would read something like:
"Flying Southwest and Jet Blue may mean we can't get to you in an hour, but you'll love our bill at the end of the month!"
Although, the next time I present at a conference that discusses how to make law firms more efficient and productive, I'm bringing this ad as one potential method that probably no one in the room had thought to try.

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"Continuation" & "Reminder" Notices - Come On Publishers... You're Bigger Than This!!

We've all probably received those "continuation notices" or "reminder notices" from vendors that look amazingly like an invoice statement. After a while you get used to seeing them, and quite frankly you just get a little numb to the practice. It isn't until you see someone else's comments after they were confused by these 'notices' that you remember what a slimy advertising stunt these notices are. Take this comment from yesterday by a public librarian who came across a notice from West:
Our little public library received what seemed at first look to our accounting clerk to be a bill from WEST entitled "reminder notice - library update - - action required" complete with what initially seemed a customer number - but closer inspection showed this was "not an invoice" & the customer number was accompanied by an "offer #" It was for Quinlan's Zoning Bulletin.
If memory serves me right from my law library days, this was originally a Callaghan publication that was at one time part of the subscription to their Zoning & Land Use set.
Our little public library never owned that publication nor had our Town in the past decade.
What's most amusing is the "reminder - new edition" part - West has recently released an updated edition of the title below... Hmm, isn't that what a "newsletter, twice monthly" does ... twice monthly?
The "reminder notice" looked so hokey, that I initially considered it was a scam company posing as the West Publishing I remember - (w/ some very wonderful Reps back then I might add) but a Thompson Reuters tm at the bottom assured me this was in fact THE West Publishing Co...
I hardlyyknew yer!
To be fair, West puts in big letters that it is "not an invoice", and there are some other publishers out there that are much worse about this type of marketing of their products. The fact that it seems that West is expanding this practice to public libraries seems to be a little strange, but not all that unexpected (one commenter wondered if vendors were going to start sending these to High School libraries next.) These types of 'confusing' (I'll stop a little bit short of 'deceptive') practices are probably going to be more the norm in the future, especially with the fact that print subscriptions are being cut in significant amounts by law firms and even at academic libraries. So, once again, be vigilant in reviewing your invoices. I'll warn my kids' elementary library to be on the lookout for any strange looking "reminder notices" from certain publishers that are looking to expand their client base.

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WestlawNext Loves the iPad

Ready or not... the folks at WestlawNext seem to think that the iPad and other touch-based, tablet-style computers are here to stay and will be making a significant impact in online usage in the next 18-24 months. Mike Dahn, WestlawNext VP of Product Development, gave a few snapshots to a group of Houston law librarians yesterday of the upcoming WLN App for the iPad, and it looked pretty good. The app is supposed to be out in the Fall of 2010 and offer a lot of the functionality (touch, scroll, flip, and rotate) that the iPad users see in other products.

Mike admitted that the iPad isn't really a great platform for "creating content" (such as writing a 20 page brief), but that it is a great platform for conducting legal research and reading the material. Some of the screenshots we saw show a dual-column format that is set up to mimic how you would read the text in a book. Unlike the web-browser version of dual-column (where you might have to scroll up and down each column because it ran off the bottom of the screen, the iPad version should format exactly to the screen and allow you to then turn the page using your finger.

It seems that more and more programs are going to be "app-based" (what we used to call software), and if we're going to get into the same issues that caused us to get off of Westlaw and Lexis' software based programs. I'd bet that some of those legacy software programs are probably still on the base PC install at some firms. (Go check your "Research Applications" tab on your Windows "Start" menu to see if they're still there!)

Time will tell if the coolness factor, and the usability factor make this a long-term situation, or if we are seeing a flash-in-the pan type products that will loose their shine the first time that the IT department tells the user that they'll have to fix the problem with the iPad themselves because the iPad is not supported by the firm. WestlawNext seems to be betting that the iPad and other tablet-based devices are here to stay. I think they may be on the right side of that bet. I wonder how long it will take Lexis and Bloomberg to also place a bet on iPad apps??

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Fastcase's "Public Library of Law" - Streamlined Legal Tool Designed for Non-Lawyers

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that “the more I know… the more I know I don’t know.” Apparently, I could use that quote on just about anything I post on this blog. Over the weekend I was catching up on some reading when I found a reference to something called the Public Library of Law (PLoL), powered by Fastcase. After a few emails back and forth between myself and Fastcase’s Ed Walters, I found out that this free resource has been out since the first quarter of 2008. I’m not sure how I’ve missed it for so long, but it just proves the first sentence above!

Ed Walters gave me a brief explanation of why Fastcase launched this service:
We launched PLoL in February 2008 as a resource for non-lawyer researchers.  We saw lots of journalists, business owners, students, and pro se litigants signing up for free trials of Fastcase, and thought there should be a simple, free resource for them that fit their needs.
The idea was to empower people to educate themselves as best they could -- not in place of a lawyer, but more likely before or in conjunction with professional legal help.
We wanted to build a library for law like WebMD was for medicine.
Nobody uses WebMD instead of going to a doctor, but it can empower people to take better care of themselves in conjunction with their doctor.
At its launch, it was the biggest free law library on the Web (a claim we need to update with the launch of the terrific material on Google Scholar).
After signing up for a free account and playing around with PLoL for a while, I found it to be pretty straight-forward, and I liked the format of both the search results, and the layout of the text of the case, especially when compared to Google Scholar. (I still don’t like how you cannot do a specific citation search on Google Scholar, but I might be ‘unique’ in using that feature to pull cases.)

The Public Library of Law hosts the cases through the Fastcase database, but the statutes, regulatory and other materials pass you through to the state or federal websites which host those individual materials. According to the site, here is a list of what you can find on PLoL:

  • Cases from the U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals [hosted on PLoL]
  • Cases from all 50 states back to 1997 [hosted on PLoL]
  • Federal statutory law and codes from all 50 states [via State or Federal websites]
  • Regulations, court rules, constitutions, and more! [via State or Federal websites]

PLoL is also a way to promote the main product in the stable and that's Fastcase. When you click on links to material that is outside of this range, you get a pop-up message pointing you to the Fastcase “pay service”.

Also, when you do a search on the database, it will bring you back a message of how many results are available on PLoL, and an additional message that lets you know that there are a lot more results available if you move up to the full Fastcase subscription.

One of the features that I saw on PLoL that I think would be very valuable is an RSS feed of new decisions for each state, federal district, or US Supreme Court. Many of us would like to know when new decisions are handed down, and putting that in my RSS reader is a giant plus in my book.

The Public Library of Law isn’t something that you’d want to hang your legal research hat on, but for a freebie product, it isn’t half-bad. Like Ed told me, PLoL isn’t really set up for lawyers or power-user legal researcher types… but rather for non-lawyers to get a streamlined view of cases and access to other primary legal resources. For someone that may not have access to research tools like Fastcase or Casemaker through their bar associations, and Google Scholar doesn't really do the trick, then having a product like PLoL out there can be a useful legal resource.
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Public Library of Law (PLoL)
RSS Feed for PLoL
Google Scholar

[Note: Jason Wilson from rethinc.k talked with me last night about 'delinkification' (the placing of links at the bottom of a blog post rather than linking directly within the post itself. I told him I would try it here and see what the overall reaction is to this format.]
Post Links to the Post Script:
Jason Wilson's rethinc.k
Nicholas Carr's Experiment in Delinkification

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