9/30/10

Elephant Post: What Would You Tell a Law Student Before They Enter the 'Real World?'

"If I could talk to a class of law students, this is what I would say that would help them once they enter the 'real world' of working in a law firm."

Everyone seems to be picking on the way law schools prepare their graduates for the work force... but, what exactly would you do to help prepare graduates for the "real world?"

This week we have a variety of legal perspectives coming in from the solo/small firm, client services, business development, information technology, Internet marketing, library, and human resource angles. The common threads seem to say that there are opportunities available to new lawyers, if you just take the time to think, ask, act and build upon those opportunities.

Thanks to all our contributors this week. As with every Elephant Post, we will list next week's question at the bottom, and hope that you'll take advantage of this opportunity to contribute.


Solo / Small Firm Perspective


You'll Have Enough Debt From Law School, Don't Add To It!

If you are setting up a new private law practice, just remember that every dollar you do not spend is a dollar you do not have to earn and, in a very real sense, every dollar of overhead ultimately comes out of the take home pay of the lawyer (or partners). So be very thrifty in setting up your new law office. Go to some auctions or other sales and look at good quality used furniture, for example.


Client Services Perspective

Solve A Real Person's Problem
Ayelette Robinson

Take a clinic – When you start to practice, what will set you apart from everyone around you is your ability to provide exemplary client service. Taking a clinic will show you what it feels like to see your client’s face as they express that they need your help, and to want to be the person who can help them. Especially for those who go to big law firms, you may not meet a client for months or even years, and doing work because your boss says so is a completely different feeling from doing work because you know that you have the knowledge and ability to solve a real person’s problem. The latter is what triggers you to provide highly personalized, detail-oriented client service that sets you apart from the pack, both at a big firm where you're being compared against other associates, and as a solo or small firm practitioner where you expect to get clients by word-of-mouth.


Business Development Perspective

How You Develop Relationships Will Determine How Well You Do as a Lawyer
Toby Brown

Dear Law Student,

The next time you are sitting in class, I suggest you take a minute and look around you. Although your success in law school will come from the attention you have been giving to the professor, your success in building a law practice or career will come from paying attention to those in the seats around you.

In other words, your professor will not be sending you any work once you become a lawyer.

Those in the seats around you will be the in-house lawyers of the future who decide who gets their work. They will be the law firm partners who help you land a job as a general counsel. They will be the government attorneys who decide on project assignments.

In short, it will be your network of contacts that will be the deciding factor in how successful you are as a lawyer. Going forward good technical skills as a lawyer will not be enough. Your ability to develop and foster strong relationships will be THE determining factor in how well you do in your legal career.

Those relationships start now.

My advice: In addition to doing well on your exams, spend time getting to know your colleagues. You will be rewarded with lasting friendships and valuable professional relationships.

Now you can turn back and pay attention to the lecture.


The Human Resources Perspective

If You Want To Know How You're Doing... Then Just Ask!
Greg Lambert
[note: this is a combination of a couple of HR perspectives who wish to remain anonymous]

You have decided to make the legal profession, your profession. For those of you that have worked hard, studied hard, and, quite frankly, are lucky enough to land a job right out of law school, let me be the first to congratulate you, and give you some things to think about as you go forward.

Statistics show that 80% of you will leave your first law firm before your fifth year with the firm. I’ve found that there is a consistent theme that resonates in the exit interviews of most of these departing associates. Most believe that they were not being mentored sufficiently by the partners they worked with. At this point in the exit interview, the associate would lean in, lower their voice and tell me stories of how these partners never pulled them aside and said “hey, you’re doing a great job” or “you really need to work on ‘X’ skill because this is important in this area of the law.” Then they would lean back in their chairs, raise their voices back to a conversational level and explain how this lack of communication was one of the contributing factors in why they were leaving the firm.

When I ask if they have ever sat down with any of the partners they worked with, they would stare back at me for a few seconds, and then start rambling on about how it wasn’t their responsibility to ask the partner how they were doing… it was the partner’s responsibility. I would simply smile at the associate, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking how frustrated the associate has become and how simple it would have been for them to just go ask the partner for some feedback. I guess at some point it becomes easier to leave than it does to ask.

My advice to law students is to not become these associates. Yes, in a perfect world, the partners would sit you down and explain to you what you are doing well, what you need help with, and what areas you simply fail to comprehend. But this isn’t a perfect world, and partners tend to focus on their work more than they do managing associates. Sorry… that’s the truth and what you will most likely encounter when you start working.

Fortunately, these same partners will usually take time to answer your questions, if you only take the initiative to ask them. It may not be a formal sit down process, or a bullet-point presentation that lays out exactly what your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are in your work performance. In fact, it will probably be a few comments (maybe over lunch or late-office dinner), that points out a few things you need to work on, and a few things that you’ve done well. Take those comments, work on them, and from time to time, follow up with that partner to see if you’re improving in those areas.

If feedback is important to you, then occasionally ask the partner how he or she thinks you are doing and what you could do better. It takes at least two people to have a conversation. As you move into your career as a lawyer, remember that you have just as much power to start that conversation as the partner you’re working with does. Take advantage of that power.


Information Technology Perspective

Embrace law firm culture, it will be noticed
Scott Preston

Partners notice technologically proficient associates, especially associates who work within the provided framework of a firm. Moving from a law school to a law firm is a big change and one such change is the way you use technology. Adapting to the culture of a firm includes using technology in a way that makes it easier to find and share information.

Find the time. Take advantage of training to understand how the firm’s technology works and how you will benefit from using it correctly. Using Microsoft Word on your personal computer in college does not prepare you to work in Word within a law firm. Most law firms use document templates and macro packages to help create consistent looking documents.

Find the gold. Understanding how to find and leverage the institutional knowledge of a law firm is very important. You must know how to produce quality work product quickly.

Find the players. Law firms have many great resources available to attorneys.
Professional Development: If you have a Professional Development department, take advantage of it. Professional Development will help you understand how to stay on the Partner track.
Library Services: Librarians are very resourceful and well-versed in research. Spend time with them in order to find their strengths, their data sources and which online services are available to you.
Knowledge Management: Knowledge Managers will help you find the golden nuggets of information that are stored within a law firm and they are also helpful in streamlining workflow.
Human Resources: Something new to law students transitioning to a law firm is having a secretary. Interacting with your secretary can be challenging and most young associates probably have little experience in this area. Talk with your HR resource about interacting with secretaries.
Information Technology: Get to know your local IT resources, they will be happy to help you. Share your previous experience with IT, this will help them better understand how to bring you up to speed with the firm’s systems.
The best opportunity you have to learn this information is when you first join the firm. Take advantage of this time and become an important part of the legal team.


Internet Marketing Perspective

You're Already Marketing Yourself - So Think Before You Update Your Status!
Lisa Salazar

Would you rather live in infamy or fame?

I thought so.

So next time you or your friends are thinking about posting up those super-fun photos of you in your cute little Halloween outfit and bobbing for apples, think twice.

Those Facebook photos can live for a very long time.

And start your LinkedIn profile now. You are already writing articles, are members of professional organizations and alums.

Just think of it as the adult version of Facebook.


Library Perspective

Did you know...
Mark Gediman

Did you know...

Lexis and Westlaw aren't free for law firms?

The only enticement you get to use either service in a law firm is a free meal?

Firms frown upon charging these expensive services to nonbillable or administrative numbers?

To get an offer, you need to use these services as efficiently (read inexpensively) as possible?

The first words out of my mouth during orientation is the annual amount the firm spends on online research services.  Now that I have their attention, I then explain the pitfalls of inefficient research.  Now that I have them sweating, I proceed to show them how to efficiently use the services and to offset the firm's costs at the time.  By the time I'm done, most summer associates don't want to even log on to the service.

Are  my methods draconian?  I don't think so.  if I save one summer associate from charging $2300 to a client, I've accomplished three things: 1) Prevented the firm from losing said client, 2) prevented the partner from having an aneurysm and 3) helped that summer associate earn an offer.

Now, you might say "But Mark, isn't it counter-productive to purchase services you don't want people to use?"  It would be if i let it end there.  I follow up this spiel with a series of lunch presentations on researching specialized topics using these services efficiently as well as one-on-one coaching from the Library staff.  We offer assistance to composing the search before they log in and work with our vendor representatives on an ongoing efficient research program throughout the summer.

Now, to close:

- Lexis & Westlaw are not free
- Being an efficient researcher is the key to a successful law firm summer
- The Librarian is a summer associate's best friend

And most importantly, TaNSTAFL - There is no such thing as a free lunch (or dinner or baseball game or Broadway show or...)


Next Week's Elephant Post Question:


How do you build upon the strengths of the administrative people within your law firm – from the mail room to the C-level?


We thought of this question after we read a Hildebrandt Baker Robbins blog post called "One Word For Talent."  In that post, Mark Sirkin brings up the fact that firms tend to divide the firm into "lawyers" and "non-lawyers," with the focus primarily on the lawyers when it comes to managing talent. We thought we'd expand the idea and give you a chance to talk about opportunities that firms have regarding those "non-lawyers" (some of whom are actually lawyers, just not practicing).

If you have some ideas or suggestions and want to contribute to next week's Elephant Post, then send me an e-mail to discuss.

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9/28/10

Why it is the General Counsel's Job to Secure E-Communications, Not Just IT's

Steven B. Roosa, partner with ReedSmith, wrote an enlightening client alert yesterday explaining that in the business world that requires secure communications over the Internet, it requires the company's General Counsel to step up to that task. The alert focuses on attacks on electronic information conducted through websites that use the "Certificate of Authority Trust Model" (CA Trust Model). Once you read Roosa's explanation of the holes found in the CA Trust Model, it will make you think twice about just how secure your electronic transactions really are.

Roosa points out that there are three major flaws in the CA Trust Model:

  1. Way too many CA providers.
    Your browser trust more than 100 by default.
    There are over 600 global CA providers.
    Some are connected to governments or quasi-governments that you wouldn't want to deal with.
  2. Even legitimate CA providers have proven themselves incompetent in providing secure transactions.
    They poorly configure their digital certificates.
    They've issued digital certificates without checking if the entity requesting it is legitimate.
  3. Any of the CA providers can issue bogus, yet technically valid digital certificates to any website.
    In other words, a crafty hacker could be issued a legitimate digital certificate for a legitimate bank, even though the hacker has no relationship with the bank.
With all of these issues surrounding how secured, encrypted communications on the web, Roosa advice for General Counsels is that they work along side their IT departments to make sure that they do not leave themselves open for "phishing" or "man in the middle" types of attacks that can come from untrustworthy CA providers:
As an initial matter, it is important for General Counsel to determine which outside organizations can be trusted with the security of the organization. Although the IT department should certainly be involved as well, it is a task that is most appropriate for General Counsel because it requires legal and investigative resources to: assess the criminal and regulatory background of the CAs, analyze affiliations with state actors and quasi-governmental entities, and determine the governing law that controls the CAs' conduct. The goal is for the organization to configure its browser platform so as to trust as few CAs as possible, and to "untrust" those CAs deemed to be unnecessary or untrustworthy. Additionally, the IT department may wish to explore the use of various plug-ins and software add-ons to assist in the detection of CA irregularities and CA-based attacks. Finally, businesses can also engage a CA in dialogue regarding the CA's practices, both with respect to adherence to best practices, and also to address the issue of whether, or to what extent, the CA trusts other CAs. 
Seems like solid advice. I'm wondering how many GC's will actually follow this advice and work along side their CIO's to identify which CA providers are trustworthy and which are not remains to be seen. I'd suggest that CIO's need to send a copy of Roosa's article over to their GC's to stress the importance of working together on this one.

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The Mozilla Seabird 2D Is Cool! But, will we ever really see it??

For some reason, I missed the announcement last week of this "concept" phone from design wiz Billy May (the designer, not the recently deceased Milly Mays of OxyClean fame). If you haven't watched this video of what a phone could do, you need to. It looks simply amazing.

I'm wondering if something like this will stand on its own, or if bits and pieces of the idea could be licensed to existing phone manufacturers. Either way, I'm hoping to see these features very soon!! (and hope that the smart phone industry doesn't find a way to screw this up...)



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9/24/10

If You Have A Case Pending In New York Court... Shutdown Your Facebook Page Now!!

There have been a couple of very interesting opinions coming out of New York recently. I'll lay out the decisions below, but my reading of these decisions tells me that if you're a lawyer in New York, you should suggest to your clients that they shutdown their Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or any other social media account immediately because chances are, the other side will be able to get access to these accounts if they ask.

Opinion 843 - Accessing Public Facebook and MySpace Information for use in trial.


The first is an ethics opinion from the New York State Bar Association (PDF) that asks if a lawyer may:
"view and access the Facebook or MySpace pages of a party other than his or her client in pending litigation in order to secure information about that party for use in the lawsuit, including impeachment material, if the lawyer does not "friend" the party and instead relies on public pages posted by the party that are accessible to all members in the network."
Attorneys were still not clear whether looking and using information from a person's Facebook, MySpace or other social media pages that were public violated the ethical rules of the state. Well, fear no longer my friend, and the Committee on Professional Ethics ruled that:
"A lawyer who represents a client in a pending litigation, and who has access to the Facebook or MySpace network used by another party in litigation, may access and review the public social network pages of that party to search for potential impeachment material. As long as the lawyer does not "friend" the other party or direct a third person to do so, accessing the social network pages of the party will not violate Rule 8.4 (prohibiting deceptive or misleading conduct), Rule 4.1 (prohibiting false statements of fact or law), or Rule 5.3(b)(1) (imposing responsibility on lawyers for unethical conduct by nonlawyers acting at their direction)."
Romano vs. Steelcase - Access to private and deleted Facebook and MySpace accounts


The second decision came from Judge Jeffrey Arlen Spinner of Suffolk County Supreme Court decision of Romano v. Steelecase (PDF). In this decision, the court granted the:
"Defendant access to Plaintiff's current and historical Facebook and MySpace pages and accounts, including all deleted pages and related information"
In this case where the Plaintiff was asking for damages for personal injuries, the Defense was claiming that they had reason to believe that the Plaintiff posted pictures and information that showed she was not suffering from a loss of enjoyment of life. Not only did the Defendant want to access the private portions of the Plaintiff's account, but they also wanted access to any deleted information.
Judge Spinner agreed ordered that the:
Plaintiff shall deliver to Counsel for Defendant STEELCASE a properly executed consent and authorization as may be required by the operators of Facebook and MySpace, permitting said Defendant to gain access to Plaintiff's Facebook and MySpace records, including any records previously deleted or archived by said operators
Bottom line in New York (and possibly every place else in the United States): Expect everything you post on Facebook or MySpace to be considered public information by the courts, and don't expect that your self-imposed privacy settings will protect you if you're ever taken to court.

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9/23/10

Elephant Post: What Do You Spend A Lot of Time, Money and Effort On That Just Isn't Worth It?

Tell us something that you spent a lot of money on, support and promote, but just isn't worth all the money, time and effort?

This question popped up at one of our "Curry and a Pint Nights" and the group started calling out programs, technology, outsourced materials, and even people as examples. When I asked other groups this question, there was one specific item that was mentioned almost unanimously, and that was a law firm’s Client Relationship Management (CRM) resource.

I’ve asked the contributors to do a couple of difficult things with this week’s post:
  1. Keep it generic as possible… so, don’t name names (no matter how fun it would be to do so.)
  2. Take a negative point of view and point out the bad things without trying to sugarcoat the problems with things like “well, it’s not really the products fault that no one uses it correctly” kind of justification.  
As you’re reading these posts, please keep those two rules in your head. In other words, we may go a little overboard in how bad things are in the trenches. We have also blended a number of different comments that we received from different perspectives and put it together as “one voice”. Therefore, we’re going “anonymous” on all of the contributors this week in order to keep the conversation lively.

Feel free to jump in on the conversation and come to the defense of all the things that are being discussed below, or let us know that we didn’t point out the things that are really terrible about them!!


KM Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it?”
This one is too easy: CRM

First off, we call it CRM in the legal business, but it isn’t.  We do not use CRM tools to “manage client relationships.”  Instead, at best it’s a Enterprise Contact System (ECS).  So calling it CRM is stretching the definition a bit.

Looking at all the time and money spent on this system you would expect it to be highly valued and often used.  From my experience at a number of firms, this is not the case.
First issue: GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).  Lawyers do not care about updating their contact list any more than they need to get their jobs done.  Updating contacts increases their billings and income by … zero (in the short run).  This means only the contacts they are currently working with will be updated, and only on the information necessary for their work.  Job titles, company names and physical addresses are not typically kept current and duplicates may well exist.

Taking into account that some of this information is accurate - do lawyers spend time reviewing updates from the ECS to update their own contacts?  I refer you back to: “Updating contacts increases their billings and income by … zero.”

Taking a bigger leap of faith that enough info in our ECS is accurate, how much time do lawyers spend using this system to discover relationships for biz dev opportunities?  Once again – this is activity that “increases their billings and income by … zero”  (in the short run).

I’m not saying CRM couldn’t or shouldn’t have value for a law firm.  In fact, I believe quite the opposite since our business is all about relationships.  IMHO – law firm structures and compensation system do not reward or encourage this kind of behavior, so the money spent on CRM systems is mostly wasted.

Bottom line: CRM is a solution in search of a problem.  Until law firms recognize and define this problem, CRM will not be worth the time and money spent on it.

IT Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it?”
Once Again… CRM…

There is a reason why CRM has been labeled “largest shelfware product ever created."  Firms have licensed it for all users only to have the core marketing department and a few attorneys using it.  The lofty descriptions of knowing and understanding our people knowledge assets turns into one giant centralized rolodex.  CRM is one of those projects that IT can implement perfectly from a technical perspective, but fail miserably as an overall project.

Part of the problem with most implementations is the initial goals are set impossibly high.  There are so many things that CRM can do, people want to accomplish them all.  Sometimes you’re trying to justify the huge price tag that came with the tool.  Ultimately it’s just not possible.  When I started my first CRM implementation, we started with something like 33 success goals.  By being realistic, seeing what was enforceable through the technology and what was reasonable to expect lawyers to do, we whittled it down.
By the time we actually deployed the tool, we were down to 3 or 4 goals.  Much more manageable, much more understandable by everyone involved.

Like any enterprise system, another key to success is overcoming the fear of lack of power of senior people, educating them how the system ultimately benefits them, their practice and the firm as a whole (and usually in that order).

CRM: it’s way more culture than technology.  To be successful you have to have teamed with marketing, provide a thorough education, have proper sponsorship at the senior leadership level, have taken into account your firm’s culture and your ability to affect change.  And even then it can fail in a spectacular way.


Records Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it?”
Excessive Document Retention / Failed Document Destruction

Law firms expend a good deal of money and effort with little resulting business value on the retention of paper documents. Long past the time when, under any rational records destruction management regime, they would be destroyed or recycled, they are maintained in file cabinets and off-site storage. It is an open secret among law firm records managers that many firms with formal document retention schedules have not actually "pulled the trigger" and implemented timed destruction of most classes of ancient client documents (by way of background, under such schedules a few rare documents such as wills and trusts and active contracts have an indefinite retention period, while documents like client correspondence or bills might have a retention period of 7 or 10 years after the close of the matter).

Why is this? No corporate owner would allow this situation to continue, because the cost of holding onto documents (not just the cost of third-party providers, but also the cost of the space at the firms themselves) is quite substantial and there is no obvious benefit from storing them.

I see two primary reasons.

The first is an unfortunate diffusion of organizational responsibility for risk management. Most law firms are not strict top-down heirarchies, but rather are collections of strong-minded independent professionals. Law firm administrative structures can be correspondingly diffuse. This works well for many functions, but not so well for risk management. Where there is a "General Counsel's Office" or even a "Risk Management Partner," the firm has (appropriately) delegated responsibility and maintained accountability for risk management to a single person or role. Such firms tend to have stronger records destruction practices. As recently noted at a PLI meeting looking at Pitney Bowes, making one person responsible for risk management ensures that one person at least has a vested interest in rationally reducing risk.

The second reason goes to a core aspect of being a lawyer. Lawyers are paid to worry about the worst that could happen in a given scenario, and figure out the best way to prevent those problems. Good lawyers may even be better than bad ones at identifying potential complications and worrying about them. When this attitude is applied to a client's problems, the lawyer is fulfilling a natural and appropriate function, and the legal advice is an important factor for smart corporations to weigh in making business decisions.

And of course there are risks in destroying documents (particularly if there is no centralized "litigation hold" business process), but there are also risks in *not* destroying documents. For instance, a client's records retention policy might result in the entirely lawful destruction of documents within the client's repository, but a subpoena to the firm reveals that unfortunate non-privileged correspondence lived on, supporting client liability and distraction of suit where the client's own policies would have prevented it.

Imagine that if a firm acts, the vast majority of the time things will turn out well, but there is a quite remote chance that something highly embarrasing and bad for business will occur. The lawyer's attitude towards risk places a higher value on reducing or removing remote risks, rather than approaching risk by weighing it, together with the likelihood of occurence, against the business value obtained by acting.




Legal Marketing Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
Most of the seminars (and webinars) we hold

Before the marketers out there submit a nasty comment, hear me out.  I am a marketer and have managed hundreds of these events.  I do think they have value, but not necessarily the value they are sold on for most firms.

Many lawyers think that holding and/or participating in seminars gets them work.  The old story of how some piece of business came in the door due to a client attending a seminar is trotted out as evidence.  Right.  How much work comes in the door that way?  If you sell wills and trusts by holding seminars at senior centers, that might be true.  But even then, it takes post seminar effort to make that happen.  The vast majority of work that comes to a firm, comes in from relationship efforts, not seminars.

Seminars can be great tools for generating leads.  But they don’t close business.

Law firms tend to treat seminars as the beginning and end of the process.  I understand why.  Speaking at people (i.e. juries) is something lawyers do well and with which are comfortable.  Engaging in a dialogue about getting business is not that comfortable.  As might be expected, if given the choice, lawyers will always do another seminar over conducting follow up contacts.  On one occasion I had a lawyer ask for help in preparing yet another seminar.  I commented that the last seminar must have resulted in a good number of contacts.  The lawyer said they didn’t have time to make all those follow-up contacts.  Why?  They were too busy preparing seminars.

If seminars are part of a lead generation and follow-up process, they can have very high value.  In contrast, holding seminars so you and your firm can be viewed as experts has a different value.

My point is that expecting sales results from marketing efforts is not reasonable.  Firms should hold fewer seminars and spend more time having their lawyers engage in relationship efforts and ultimately getting business in the door.




(More) Legal Marketing Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
With no plan or strategy, PR stands for little more than Press Release

Many law firms spend a great deal of money on marketing/public relations with little or no measureable return on their investment.  They operate with no real plan and they continue to do things as they always have, even though they have no idea whether what they did in the past actually worked.  Law firm marketing has turned to webinars as a way to cut costs.  I’m sure leveraging webinars has cut costs in some ways, but how effective are webinars with respect to getting new business for law firms?  Another great tool of law firm marketing - email campaigns.  This is viewed as a great way to inform interested parties of the various events coming up, but does it work?  I receive many emails daily and have little free time to look through all the emails that come to me unsolicited.  Do you really think the General Counsel (GC) of ABC Corp is poring through his or her emails looking for that next webinar?  To be effective, law firms need to connect with the people making the legal purchasing decisions.  Frequently that will be the GC, but many times it is not.  How do law firms know who makes the decision?  They do that by meeting people at the company, by researching the company and by talking to others in the community.  What do law firms do with that information once they have it?  At best they are putting the information into a CRM system, which gets very little use.  How about that ever popular website?  It must be all things to all people, therefore it provides little value to anyone.  How are law firms targeting these decision makers with websites?  They aren’t.  For many law firms a website is little more than a virtual billboard.

You can put adverts on the sides of buses and get business - that doesn’t mean it is an effective way to get business.


Cost Recovery (Library/IT/KM/Lawyer/Client) Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
Cost recovery systems/initiatives

Talk about a process in futility! Law firms are spending enormous amounts of money in the attempt to recover expenses incurred in the service of the client. Why don’t firms just treat this as the cost of doing business and either find a way to build it into the rates charged to the client, or just accept the fact that most of these charges are going to be written off by your own attorneys, or rejected by your clients anyway??

No one likes being nickeled-and-dimed when they read the bill you send them. Just think of the time that attorneys and administrative staff spend on recovery. Now add in the time that attorneys spend on reviewing the invoices, writing off charges and sending them back to accounting for adjustment. Now add in the time that your clients spend poring over the invoices and looking for expenses that they think you are trying to get away with. Add in those expensive resources you bought that attempt to track even more expenses to bill to your client, and you’ve got yourself a real time-waster, and a system that ends up making everyone frustrated and angry.

Just absorb expenses as costs of doing business and increase your rates….again!

Library/Attorney/Researcher Perspective

“Spent a lot of money (and time) on something, but just isn’t worth it ?”
Having both Westlaw and Lexis

In the “good old days” it was a no-brainer to have both Westlaw and Lexis in your research tool chest, but the good old days are long gone! At one point, law firms could recover most (if not all) of the expenses related to having both products. Vendors and firms had the benefit of being able to pass costs along to the firm’s clients, and had no incentive to reduce duplication or control costs. Although the vendors would love to believe that this is still the case, I’m afraid they are sorely mistaken. Clients are going through invoices with a fine-toothed comb and rejecting expenses left and right.  That’s if the attorney in charge isn’t already admitting defeat and writing off the charges to avoid this fight with the client.

There are a couple of reasons that firms that have both services are giving to justify the enormous expense:
  1. We’re ‘risk-adverse’ and use both to make sure we don’t miss something.
  2. Partner ‘X’ will only use one of the services, while Partner ‘Y’ only uses the other.
As for point #1, I would ask how many times the research was conducted in both systems and checked to make sure that they ‘didn’t miss anything?’  Usual answer: Never. Most of the time, there is a way to purchase the specific information you need on an ad hoc basic, or buy the print version of that resource if available. You don’t have to buy the cow in order to drink a glass of milk.

As for point #2, my answer is grow-up!! If every partner took this approach, we’d be bankrupt as a firm. Having both research tools is a luxury that is no longer necessary for most firms. Time to determine if this is one of those traditional attitudes of a law firm that should have gone out the window when these same people were laying off attorneys and staff because the firm needed to trim down. Cutting the duplication of legal research tools will go a long way in really trimming the fat of firm’s overhead.



Wow... there was a lot to digest in this week's Elephant Post (and we had more that we didn't post this time around!!)

Agree?  Disagree? Got more to add?? Feel free to add your comments and see what others think.

This great post was due to the fact that we had a number of people contribute their answers, comments and perspectives. If you missed out on sharing your opinion this week, don't worry... we have another topic brewing for every Thursday. 

Next week's Elephant Post builds on the topic that we discussed recently on Vocational Law Schools:

"If I could have a day with a class of law students, this is what I would say that would help them once they enter the 'real world' of working in a law firm."

Everyone seems to be picking on the way law schools prepare their graduates for the work force... but, what exactly would you do to help prepare graduates for the "real world?"

Got a perspective? Send me an email with your perspective and we'll get it set up for next Thursday's Elephant post.

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9/22/10

Thanks to LinkedIn, Your Client Database May Not Be a Trade Secret

There was an interesting ruling out of the Eastern District of New York last month where a Defendant argued that data found on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media sites prevents the Plaintiff from claiming Trade Secret protection on its Client Relationship database. In Sasqua Group, Inc. v. Courtney, [PDF], Sasqua Group's owner, Christopher Tors found out that sometimes it isn't a good idea to hire family members -- at least not without making them sign a non-compete agreement first! It seems that Tors' niece, Lori Courtney, decided to split off from the family business and start her own headhunting agency and ended up taking a few of Uncle Chris' employees with her... oh, and she also took Uncle Chris' client list with her and immediately started using that list to get those clients to come over to her new agency. Of course, Uncle Chris did the family thing and took his sweet niece to court.

Putting aside the fact that Uncle Chris didn't have Niece Lori sign a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement, the court found that protection of this kind of information under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (USTA) may not work in the 21st century where the information can be found in a matter of minutes using resources like LinkedIn.  Niece Lori stated in her argument that:
“virtually all personnel in the capital markets industry that Sasqua serves have their contact information on Bloomberg, LinkedIn, Facebook or other publicly available databases.” According to Courtney, the people who make up the financial services industry workforce, “including the Decision-Makers and other high level executives, typically change employers frequently . . .” and so “the contact information that a search firm may assemble in a database is almost immediately obsolete.” (see pg 7)
Apparently during the trial, Niece Lori even walked the judge through the process she used to find the information. It looks like the judge at trial and on appeal were so impressed by her competitive intelligence researching skills that the opinion goes on for about four pages describing all of the tricks of the trade that are used to find information on business executives using online paid databases and social media databases (starting on page 21 and going through 25).

Judge Tomlinson explained that the 20th Century way of gathering and protecting confidential client contact information may just not fly in the 21st Century. Tomlinson wrote:
The information in Sasqua’s database concerning the needs of its clients, their preferences, hiring practices, and business strategies, as well as Sasqua’s acquaintance with key decision-makers at those firms may well have been a protectable trade secret in the early years of Sasqua’s existence when greater time, energy and resources may have been necessary to acquire the level of detailed information to build and retain the business relationships at issue here. However, for good or bad, the exponential proliferation of information made available through full-blown use of the Internet and the powerful tools it provides to access such information in 2010 is a very different story.
The end result was that Uncle Chris' database of client contact information was not protected as trade secrets and he lost his case. It seems that courts may be buying the argument that Niece Lori argued at trial that the time that people wanted their resumes and business contact information held confidential by headhunters, now those same clients want that information out there so they can get connected to others:
[i]t used to be years ago, that people were very protective about their resumes and personal information because no one ever wanted their employer to get wind that they were looking for another job. But in a post-Lehman bankruptcy world when everyone thought that the whole financial markets were going to the birds, and everyone was panicked about their jobs, the culture changed absolutely overnight to one  here people were protective of their information to one where almost everyone . . . puts it out there for the world to see because people want to be connected now. People want to know - - people want the recruiters knowing who they are and how to find your information and how to find them if they have a good opportunity. It has completely shifted. (pg 25)
It has completely shifted indeed!

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9/20/10

Web 2.0 – It’s about connecting, it’s about collaboration, it’s about time!

I remember the birth of the web.  Programmers were excited about the new opportunities.  HTML was in its infancy - it was simple to understand and easy to implement.  The idea of linking information together, making it easier to locate and share, seemed revolutionary and created a platform on which just about anyone could contribute to the web of information.  In the beginning, relatively few people understood the power of contribution.  Web developers/designers continued to push the technology to become more graphically appealing, websites started having advertisers and all the web eye candy gained more attention.  So much so,  that in the early part of this century TV started to imitate websites.  We started to see a real blending of media.  TV and websites started to compete with each other.  News crawlers (text streams you see at the bottom of the screen on many news stations), multiple data sources being updated in real time (stock prices) and teasers for the next show are just three examples of flashy content designed to keep your attention.  The ability to embed video into websites further blurred the lines between the two and TV was changed forever.  This is Web 1.0.

Missing from all of this “advancement” were easy/intuitive interfaces allowing contribution from many platforms (computers, smartphones, pda) and locations.  With an easy to use interface, adoption would quicken and more people would start to understand the power of collaboration (contributing and sharing information).  As more people started to understand the value of collaboration, the demand for easier interfaces grew.  This concept is at the heart of the Web 2.0.
“Just as Web 1.0 changed TV, Web 2.0 is changing journalism.”
We are just starting to understand the power of Web 2.0.  Creative companies are linking data points together to infer meaning that is instantly consumable.  For example, Foursquare allows you to get and share information about your location.  Need to find a café, Foursquare can help.  Progressive journalists like CNN’s Rick Sanchez @ricksanchezcnn use social media to interact with their audience in real-time.  Rick’s list is based on the concept of leveraging social media.

For some, the need for a connected world seems to be a distraction.  I frequently hear people saying they don’t have time to keep up with Twitter.  I understand the lack of time and the struggle to keep up with the times, but Twitter is a way to “keep up”.  Twitter will expose you to sources of information you would otherwise not be familiar with.  I realize this seems counter-intuitive, but it is true.  You will need to invest time to build your networks (either people or subjects) and in the beginning, it might seem like you spend more time searching than consuming.  Give it a little time and you will be rewarded.

Web 2.0 - it’s about collaboration, simplified entry points to the web, creating networks out of  interests and sharing information.  Web 2.0 - it’s about time.

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Hackers Attempt to Steal INTERPOL Chief's Facebook ID... Twice!!

In a prepared speech [PDF] to the 1st INTERPOL Information Security Conference, INTERPOL's Secretary General, Ronald K. Noble mentioned that even a powerful law enforcement officer such as himself is not immune to hackers attempting to steal his identity. Noble commented:
Just recently INTERPOL’s Information Security Incident Response Team discovered two Facebook profiles attempting to assume my identity as INTERPOL’s Secretary General. One of the impersonators was using this profile to try to obtain information on fugitives targeted during our recent Operation Infra Red. This Operation was bringing investigators from 29 member countries at the INTERPOL General Secretariat to exchange information on international fugitives and lead to more than 130 arrests in 32 countries.
Noble also picked up on Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comments of "true transparency" that we wrote about a couple of weeks ago:
I strongly believe that building bridges and confidence in relationships between police and the public and private sectors will be crucial in facing the challenges posed to us by cybercrime globally.
Let me share an idea with you before I leave the floor.
I was reading recently an interview with Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt. He was saying that the World Wide Web would have to evolve from anonymity to what he calls “true transparency” because, he said, “in a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you.”
If some kind of a verified name service for the internet is to be created –– and I believe one should be –– then we will need exactly this type of bridging between police and the public and private sectors, as well as with citizens rights groups and other NGOs to be able to do it.
I think this is something we should start discussing. And here again, INTERPOL can and will play a central role as a discussion forum for law enforcement and in building bridges with all other stakeholders.
Of course, you may read this the same way you read "I'm from the IRS and I'm here to help you." Or, you may view this as the 'White Hats' coming in to save the town. Either way you look at it, this type of bridging the police/security world and the online world is with us. It will be interesting to see how these "bridges" that are built between the police community, information security professionals and the private and public sectors are used.



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9/17/10

Superhero Lawyers: They're All Big... But They're Not All BigLaw

When I heard about the Yale Law Library's "Superheroes in Court! Lawyers, Law and Comic Books," it got me thinking about superheroes that are lawyers as their day job (obviously their night-job is fighting super villains). I was a huge collector of comics when I was a kid, so immediately I could think of two names right off the top of my head, but I knew there had to be more. So, after a little (very little) bit of research, and a few hints from some Twitter followers, I came up with a quick list of superheroes who also happen to be attorneys when they are not wearing their underwear over their pants. I also decided to expand the list to include television and movie superheroes that were lawyers, mainly because there usually is some cross-connection between comic books and big/little screen superheroes.

The superhero/lawyer concept seems to take on the thread of either "Justice for the less fortunate," or "I'm tired of all these criminals getting away with it, so I'll kick their butts at night."  Very few are BigLaw attorneys (but, there is at least one that I found that seems to fit that category). Some even work as government lawyers... usually in the tracking down of aliens or super criminal agencies.

Here's a list of eleven superhero/lawyers that I found, along with a short bio for each one.


Daredevil - The Man Without Fear - Though he has no superhuman physical attributes beyond an enhanced sense of balance, Daredevil is a master of martial arts, despite the fact that he is totally blind. In his civilian identity, Matt Murdock, he is a skilled and respected attorney with an encyclopedic knowledge of law, especially New York statutes. In the comic universe, Daredevil is usually seen as one of the darkest superheroes (especially during the Gene Colon and Frank Miller periods) and probably shouldn't have suffered the fate of having Ben Affleck play him in the movie version.


She-Hulk - Jennifer Walters (AKA She-Hulk) has been a member of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Heroes For Hire, Defenders, Fantastic Force, and S.H.I.E.L.D. A highly skilled lawyer, she has served as legal counsel to various superheroes on numerous occasions. Her cousin is Bruce Banner, better known as The Incredible Hulk.
This description from Wikipedia makes it sound like she'd be a superhero just from her lawyering skills:
As a generally idealistic lawyer, the character has a history of defending the rights of minorities, the mentally ill, civil liberties, including the right for criminals to not be unduly mistreated and get a proper defense, or individuals to not be victimised by certain less ethical corporations, but also a belief in the necessity of law and order. These priorities have sometimes made her personally conflicted, such as reversing her stance regarding the "Superhuman Registration Act"; and being disillusioned when her more famous cousin (whom she considers as a brother) was shot into space without due process, or when what she thought to be a torturer and murderer of children was cleared from all charges."

Those were the two off the top of my "Marvel Comics" memory (I wasn't a big fan of DC comics other than Teen Titans).  But, there are more. Like...



Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law - Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law features ex-superhero Harvey T. Birdman of Birdman and the Galaxy Trio as an attorney working for a law firm alongside other cartoon stars from 1960s and 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. Similarly, Harvey's clients are also primarily composed of characters taken from Hanna-Barbera cartoon series of the same era. Many of Birdman's nemeses featured in his former cartoon series also became attorneys, often representing the opposing side of a given case.
My biggest interaction with Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law is explaining to my kids that, although it is a cartoon, and there are characters they recognize from Boomerang, that it is not appropriate viewing for children.

Nathan Petrelli (Heroes TV show) - He is a New York lawyer-turned-senator with the power of self-propelled flight. Ambitious and pragmatic, Nathan has a decidedly anti-hero streak, which exacerbates his complex relationship with his brother, Peter Petrelli.  He was a lawyer working with the District Attorney's office. The District Attorney wanted to expose the Mafia connections of his father's client, Daniel Linderman. As he was driving his wife home from a party in a convertible, another vehicle attempted to run them off the road. Nathan inadvertently flew from his car, causing the car to lose control and veer off the freeway. 
I like this character's signature "O" ring that appears when he takes flight and suddenly shoots off at a 90 degree angle.  Very cool!!


Icon - With this superhero, we may actually have ourselves a BigLaw attorney with an interesting (and long) history.  In 1839, an alien starliner malfunctioned and exploded, and a jettisoned lifepod crashed in the middle of a cotton field in the American South.  Augustus Freeman IV (AKA Icon) has extensive knowledge of the Cooperative legal system as well as decades of experience in his chosen field. Icon is an equally adept corporate lawyer due to his mediator background and a century’s worth of experience in American law.
Icon is also a formidable combatant, whose fighting skills rival those of Superman. Icon is well trained in unarmed and armed combat, having fought in major conflicts ranging from the Civil War to World War II. Some opponents underestimate Icon’s abilities since he tries to peacefully settle disputes before pummeling his foes.
Icon is fluent in English and Galactic Standard, the native language of the Cooperative (which I'm assuming is the code language that Corporate Lawyers speak.)

Shadowhawk - This is a storyline straight out of the early 1990's where Paul Johnstone (AKA Shadowhawk) is a lawyer and district attorney. While his life was going so well, his half brother Hojo had taken his success in college, moved to Wall Street and developed a coke and crack addiction. Using Hojo, some gangsters tried to leverage Paul into letting their men off, but Paul refused. Soon after he ended up the target of an assault intended to serve as an example to others who got in the way of these mobsters. This incident culminated in his attackers injecting him with HIV-infected blood. 
Initially Shadowhawk was an extremely violent vigilante, but over time softened to become a not-as-violent-vigilante.  In his final act as ShadowHawk, Johnstone would rescue his mother from being attacked by Hawk's Shadow. The aftermath of the fight would leave Johnstone in a weakened state and unable to elude the pursuit of the police. He was remanded into custody and transported to a hospital where AIDS eventually took its toll and ended his life.  
Geez... glad I didn't read this storyline... it's depressing!!

Manhunter (Mark Shaw) -  Mark Shaw was a public defender, unhappy about how easily criminals manipulated the system and got off without punishment. Shaw's uncle Desmond introduced him to an ancient sect of crime fighters called the Manhunters. Shaw contacted the Grand Master, the sect's leader, through a magical lion medallion. Shortly, he assumed the Manhunter name and costume from a previous Manhunter.  Somehow Shaw is duped by the other Manhunters and they mess with the Green Lantern and eventually Shaw is discovered and spends some time in jail for his actions.
I haven't read this one, but (yawn) it doesn't seem to be the greatest of story lines out there.



Manhunter (Kate Spencer) - Kate Spencer, like Mark Shaw, is a lawyer, but instead works as a prosecutor. Outraged by the ability of supercriminals to escape justice, Spencer assembled a costume from a variety of devices left over from various heroes and villains. A Darkstar costume and Azrael's Batman gloves give Spencer enhanced strength, agility and resistance to injury while Mark Shaw's power staff allows her to fire bolts of energy. Spencer has taken on several minor league supervillains including Copperhead and the Shadow Thief. 
Kate Spencer's Manhunter is now working out of Gotham City as the new District Attorney. Her more recent adventures can be found in the new monthly comic Batman: Streets of Gotham.
I wonder is she uses the Gotham Public Library... which is run by former Bat Girl / Oracle superhero turned librarian, Barbara Gordon??  Also... what's up with that picture??


Two-Gun Kid - Matt "Hawk" Liebowicz (now apparently just Matt Hawkins) was a lawyer from Boston, Massachusetts who was inspired to fight evil as a masked crimefighter of the 19th Century American West by the stories of the fictional "Two-Gun Kid", Clay Harder. After being trained in combat by the gunfighter Ben Dancer, Liebowicz assumed the dual identities of "Matt Hawk" and the Two-Gun Kid. With his horse Cyclone, his partner "Boom Boom" Brown, and a pair of pistols, he became one of the West's most prolific heroes, often teaming up with the Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt or the Phantom Rider. In one of his first adventures he fought an alien, and in other early outings he fought criminals who could only be called supervillains. During one adventure, he was brought to the present day via time travel and joined the superhero team of The Avengers. He fought alongside them before leaving to wander America alongside his teammate Hawkeye, and eventually returned to his own time, occasionally making a cameo appearance in other Western tales or stories of time travel.
I think the name changes of this character are funny enough. So, make up your own commentary on this one.


Gazerbeam - Simon J. Paladino (AKA Gazerbeam) is a super mentioned and briefly seen in The Incredibles. His powers allow him to generate energy blasts from his eyes, provided that he concentrates on the object he wishes to target.
According to his biography on the DVD, Gazerbeam was originally a member of the superhero team The Phantasmics, but rivalry with team leader Everseer led to Gazerbeam's dismissal. When the public began suing superheroes for damages done, Gazerbeam (under the guise of Simon J. Paladino) was a pro-bono lawyer who entered politics to become a long-time advocate for superhero rights.
Gazerbeam appears alive only once in the film—as a guest during Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl's wedding—and is mostly seen in photos or mentioned by others. He was featured in a Super postage stamp collection alongside Frozone, Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible; this is seen among Mr. Incredible's selection of memorabilia. His disappearance (in his civilian identity) was reported in an article in the Metroville Tribune newspaper, which is how Bob first learned of his disappearance. His address is shown to be Traction Avenue, in the financial district of Metroville (the street where Operation Kronos is put into effect).
As events would reveal, Gazerbeam was killed on Nomanisan Island while attempting to disable an Omnidroid. The exact version was not revealed, but it was at least as late as version X4, but prior to X9, the first version later faced by Mr. Incredible. He apparently discovered the reason for his mission—i.e., Operation Kronos—and used his powers to burn the word "KRONOS" into a cavern wall on the island prior to his death.
This story line made me cry a little....

Earth-Two Robin - On Earth-Two, home of the Golden Age version of DC's superheroes, Dick Grayson continued to be Robin even as an adult, having no successors, and even after Batman's death (remember, this is Earth-Two...don't panic). His allies included the All-Star Squadron along with Batwoman and Flamebird. He eventually became a member of the Justice Society of America.
During his later years, he adopted a more Batman-like look for a time, and by the 1960s had become a lawyer and the ambassador to South Africa. Although in semi-retirement, he was called back to active duty when he rejoined the Justice Society during the period when Power Girl and Star-Spangled Kid also assisted them.
This reminds me why I didn't read DC comics as a kid.

Captain Amazing - Mystery Men Movie's Lance Hunt (AKA Captain Amazing) is a legendary superhero who has kept Champion City safe for years, and whose suit displays a number of logos of corporate sponsors. He is disliked by the Mystery Men because he constantly shows them up. 
As the billionaire lawyer Lance Hunt, his sole physical difference with Captain Amazing is a pair of glasses. Mr. Furious at one point guesses at Amazing's true identity, but is dismissed by his comrades: "He takes them off when he transforms—" "That's ridiculous, he wouldn't be able to see!"
I wonder if Kinnear kept this suit after the filming... he looks very natural in leather, metal and spandex.


I'm sure there are more like Power Man & Iron Fists' lawyer, Thunderbolt, or super villains, "Big Ben" Donovan, and  Gotham's District Attorney Two-Face, but this is where my list ends. Let me know if you have any more superhero/lawyers that I missed.

[Note: Props to Robb Farmer at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law Library for pointing out my forgetting to add in Vigilante (Adrian Chase) to the list.  I'm doubly ashamed to have missed this one because I own a number of Vigilante comics (including Teen Titans Annual #2 with his first appearance).  Robb also put on a great presentation on this topic at AALL where he dressed up as Two-Gun Kid!!]

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9/16/10

Who Wants to go to a Vocational Law School?

Law.com had a post this week with a great quote from an AGC of United Technologies. He basically called recent law school graduates “worthless.”
Ahh – this lovely quote took me back in time. Some time back in the 90’s I attended a seminar that covered this same subject. After sitting through the general session, I renamed it the "Whose Fault is it?" Seminar. The program was a collaboration of the Organized Bar, the Law Schools and the Private Bar (a.k.a. law firms). Everyone agreed that law school graduates did not graduate with the necessary practical skills needed for actually practicing law. But then everyone disagreed on who was to blame for this.
Law schools were following the proud tradition of educating students on the foundations of the law using the ever-popular Socratic method. The organized bar was then testing them to see if they actually learned these foundations and then spit them out on to the market. Law firms would then give these newly minted lawyers a half-day course on WordPerfect 5.1, the gold standard of the day, and set them to billing time. Depending on which section of the audience you represented, the blame was placed on: A) law schools for not teaching sufficient (if any) practice skills, B) the organized bar for not actually testing these people on real-world skills, or C) law firms for not properly training new lawyers. This engaging dialogue lead to … more of the same.
There have been a few changes since then. My former employer, the Utah State Bar, instituted a Mentor Program. Some law schools have added practice management courses (electives though). And law firms have professional development professionals on staff. But the bottom line, especially for Chester Paul Beach, is that the core problem remains. Only he clearly blames the law schools. IMHO the system should shoulder the blame and not any one component.
At the end of the seminar I attended I was conversing with a law school dean about how law schools might adapt and adjust to address this problem. The response: “We won’t be taking that path any time soon. We’re academic institutions, not vocational schools.”
Classic and oddly prophetic.

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3Geeks Speak: Houston Bar Litigation Section Talk

The 3Geeks gave this presentation to the Houston Bar Association's Litigation Section last week.

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Elephant Post: What's the Next Process That Will Get 'Efficiencied'?

What do you think is going to be the next legal work process that will get 'efficiencied'? 

We are "borrowing" this question from a comment that Ayelette Robinson made on a previous elephant post. We warned Ayelette that we were doing this and she stepped up this week to answer her own question.  

Meaning as we look to make thing more efficient (in the aspirations of making them effective...), are there certain things that you just know are in the cross hairs of the efficiency rifle?

We have three contributors this week that give us a perspective from the Knowledge Management, Information Technology, and Alternative Fees areas.  We're especially happy that all are guest bloggers (less work for the geeks that way...)  



Next week's Elephant Post question is listed below this week's answers, so don't forget to take a look at it and see if it is something that you want to share your answers with the rest of us.





The Knowledge Management Perspective

The Next Efficiency Frontier
Ayelette Robinson

Increasing efficiency is a hot button in the legal industry today. Article after article, blog after blog, and tweet after tweet describe how increasing efficiency is the key to maintaining profits and impressing clients with our effectiveness. But what exactly are the legal processes that we can transform and make more efficient?
Document drafting is certainly one. Anything that can be input into a database is ripe for automation. Machines can process data, analyze patterns, and highlight inconsistencies far more quickly than humans can.

The next one is… what? Analyzing case law? Negotiating with an opposing party? Arguing in front of a judge? Advising a client? Once you move past the easy topic of document automation, it’s not at all clear what the next legal process is to be ‘efficiencied.’

Legal project management plays a significant role in smoothing out the process between and around the core legal activities, and in helping to monitor activities in terms of duration and cost to inform future estimates for clients. But it doesn’t address the more fundamental question of how exactly are we going to make legal practice itself more efficient.
Traditional content, information, and knowledge management also streamline legal practice. But while these help you get to the data you need more quickly, once you get that data you likely return to a perfectly mundane pace to analyze it, negotiate it, or argue it.

So what is our next efficiency frontier?

I posit that it’s the wild wild west of collaboration. So long as lawyers continue to practice on their own, nothing is really going to change. Even in the multi-lawyer organization, lawyers typically spend a requisite amount of alone time in their offices, thinking, pondering, modifying those auto-generated documents. And there is only so efficient an individual can be.

Enter Legal Practice 2.0, founded by our newest generation of lawyers who grew up facebooking, tweeting, and living each step of their lives enveloped in the social web. As they begin to be the attorneys responsible for matters, the world of legal practice will change – they will depend on the company and knowledge of their peers to arrive at the best analyses, arguments, and negotiating tactics. That new cultural model, of lawyers leveraging collaboration even to support individual goals, will fundamentally change the way we practice and will make us more efficient and effective professionals.

Imagine a world (and a compensation structure) where it doesn’t dawn on you to save that document on your local desktop. You naturally save it to the collabo-sphere because you know that while you grab lunch, a peer will see the document and comment on the clause that needs updating. While you’re on the phone with a client, you can tweet the client’s new question, and know that a colleague will instantly see that question in the twitter-feed along the right side of her monitor and reply to you in real-time, while you’re still on the phone. Before negotiating with opposing counsel, you can search historical status updates of your colleagues to find out who faced the same counsel within the last year.

A culture of open communication and collaboration deeply embedded into the way we practice is not as far off as we might think. And it will truly change practice as we know it, making us impressively more efficient and effective.



The IT Perspective

Document Creation and Automation Makes Workers More Efficient
Scott Preston

The next legal process to gain efficiency will be the area of document creation.  We have had document assembly capabilities for many years, but what was lacking was an ability to test the documents against a set of golden or known good documents.  The next generation of document creation tools are smart tools that not only help you assemble the documents, but also tell you whether or not you have achieved your goals.  By analyzing and comparing your documents to a set of known good documents, these tools determine whether you have included all of the necessary clauses.  Given the ever increasing pressure on rates, tools like these are providing a way for law firms to continue to produce quality work product with greater efficiency.
 

One such tool is kiiac from kiiac llc.  This product can analyze documents in very short order, condensing what would typically take many days of attorney review time into an hour or two.  


While kiiac is not the only example of advancement in the area of document creation, it demonstrates creative thinking on how to leverage technology in order to provide tools that really improve on the document creation and document vetting process.  It will be interesting over the next year or two to see how we can use similar concepts to solve other issues plaguing law firms today.



The Alternative Fees Perpective

Structural Change is Requiring Everything to Become More Efficient
Angel Garcia-Manso

Six Sigma, Strategic project management for attorneys, matter based budgeting, alternative staffing models, business process management, compensation structure, legal project planning, profitability, cost analysis …. These are some of the topics explored over and over again by the speakers at the ILTA conference sessions this past August in Las Vegas. They represent our combined response to the new pressures that the clients are putting in our industry to provide more cost predictability and service value

I believe that we all agree at this point that we are undergoing a structural change that is challenging the legal industry to become more efficient. The recession helped accelerate what otherwise would have been a certain but slowly transition away from the hourly pricing model. As a result, we have been forced to confront a new arena and what was clear to me at ILTA is that we, as part of this industry, are putting a lot of energy on trying to figure out how to improve efficiency.

Our firms are looking at any known way used by other industries to overcome their call to become more efficient. Motorola, as an example, was able to improve its product defect rate with Six Sigma, manufacturers have exploited for decades the benefits of process management to increase efficiency and engineers and the military are expert project managers and so go the examples... It is our turn now to find what it is that will make us more efficient and as it has occurred in other industries, those who are able to innovate and find the right set of processes and tools that match the culture and environment of their firm will ripe and benefit from being ahead of the curve.

With this in mind, I cannot point to any single target to efficiency. We all are targeting at a number of areas to improve efficiency and only time will be able to tell who started walking on the right direction. These are certainly challenging but exciting times for all of us.




Next Week's Elephant Question:

Tell us something that you spent a lot of money on, support and promote, but just isn't worth all the money, time and effort?

This question popped up at one of our "Curry and a Pint Nights" and the group started calling out programs, technology, outsourced materials, and even people as examples. So, if you have an example of something that just wasn't worth the investment you put in it, send me an email to let me know you're up for the challenge.



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9/15/10

Yale Law Library Checks Out "Stress Relieving Dog" - But What If You're A Cat Person??

In what has to be the most brilliant idea to come out of a university law library since the "library coffee shop", the smart folks up at Yale Law Library are checking out a cute wire-haired terrier named Monty. I love the idea!!  But, what about those of us (especially librarians) that are cat people? Bird people? Fish people? Turtle or reptilian people??  Where's the love and diversity for those of us that don't like dogs??

I think it is a great idea to bring in animals to check out for stress relief.  Imagine a partner is having a hard time with one of the clients... come on down to the library and pet Kikki the Cat, or watch the goldfish swim around, or take Fido out for a walk (we'll even supply the plastic baggies!!)

I'm going to check with the powers-that-be around here and see if we can start a collection project to diversify stress-relieving animals in our library. I've got a request out to my sister-in-law to see if she'll let me have the adorable fluffy little chicken she's raising. Even if it doesn't relieve stress levels, at least we'll have eggs to help us to eat away the stress.

If we can't get the diverse livestock in our library to help relieve stress and increase the amount of traffic in the law library, then I'm going back to my "Girl Band" idea.

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9/14/10

Twitter Revamps Its Web Interface. Wait... People Still Use That??

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams is trying to woo people back to Twitter's Website (yes, the one that you probably only go to in order to change your password). It seems that it is an attempt to make the website do some of the cool things that the iPad app and other third party apps are already doing. Here are some of the improvements that @ev put out today:



  • New design. The site has a cleaner timeline and a rich details pane that instantly adds more impact to individual Tweets while still maintaining the simplicity of the timeline. And, experience infinite scroll -- you no longer have to click "more" to view additional Tweets.
  • Media. Now, it's easy to see embedded photos and videos directly on Twitter, thanks to partnerships with DailyBooth, DeviantART, Etsy, Flickr, Justin.TV, Kickstarter, Kiva, Photozou, Plixi, Twitgoo, TwitPic, TwitVid, USTREAM, Vimeo, yfrog, and YouTube.
  • Related content. When you click a Tweet, the details pane shows additional information related to the author or subject. Depending on the Tweet's content, you may see: @replies, other Tweets by that user, a map of where a geotagged Tweet was sent from, and more.
  • Mini profiles. Click a @username to see a mini profile without navigating from the page, which provides quick access to account information, including bio and recent Tweets.

Here's the "feel good" video that shows some of the new features. Note: No fail whales appear in this video... so does that mean they fixed that??


I'll take a look at it as it is rolled out to the general public (apparently I wasn't popular enough to get into the initial test group.) I'm just hoping that Twitter has worked on all those "Fail Whale" problems and that this doesn't just make that issue worse. Otherwise, a big night with a series of down time, simply makes for more fail whale jokes.


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