2010 World Pro Bono Week — Houston Law Firms & Corporations Team Up to Provide Pro Bono to Houston Community

Guest Blogger Elizabeth Black Berry, librarian and attorney with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP brings us another Pro Bono discussion to celebrate Pro Bono Week. Elizabeth discusses the opportunities for Houston area lawyers to participate in the Houston Pro Bono Network and help bring a broader access to justice for all. Elizabeth's contact information is listed below if you are interested in learning more about these programs.

If you are not in the Houston, contact your local bar association to see what Pro Bono opportunities are available in your area.

In December, 2009, the Houston Pro Bono Network (HPBN) launched the Houston Pro Bono Joint Initiative with in-house counsel, kicking off the cooperative effort with a planning meeting featuring a presentation by the Pro Bono Institute.  The HPBN’s new Pro Bono Joint Initiative aims to coordinate pro bono activities among law firms and the in-house legal departments of corporations in the Houston area in order to more strategically serve the pro bono legal needs of the greater Houston community.

The HPBN, founded in 2007 by a group of Houston attorneys including Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP Partner Sylvia Mayer and Mayer Brown LLP Partner Charles Kelley, is an informal group of pro bono coordinators from large and small Houston law firms.

“The Houston Pro Bono Network initially brought together law firm attorneys to share best practices and discuss ideas in order to expand the pro bono base in Houston,” said Mayer.  “From this effort came the idea of working in partnership with our in-house colleagues, recognizing that we have shared challenges and shared goals, and that together we can make a greater impact on those in need in the greater Houston area.”

The new Houston Pro Bono Joint Initiative will focus on enhancing the pro bono base and offerings of Houston’s legal community through the following strategies: identifying and recruiting attorneys interested in doing pro bono work; sharing of pro bono opportunities; leveraging the collective strength of law firm and in-house attorneys; and raising the profile of the group’s pro bono efforts within the community and legal profession.  It will provide a central platform to generate broader participation and partnership among businesses, and consequently, expects to produce successful pro bono results to better serve the Houston community.

“Corporate legal departments have a tremendous interest in giving back to the local community and in setting a high standard for citizenship and professionalism by providing pro bono service to the neediest Texans,” said Peggy Montgomery, retired counsel at ExxonMobil and founding member of the Houston Pro Bono Joint Initiative Coordinating Committee.  “We are certain that this new initiative will provide a valuable and powerful mechanism to align the pro bono efforts of in-house attorneys and Houston-area law firms, resulting in broader access to justice for all.”

The inaugural members of the Houston Pro Bono Joint Initiative Coordinating Committee were: Christian Callens, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Patrick Cohoon, Cozen O’Connor; Rob Fowler, Baker Botts LLP; Ivett Hughes, Halliburton and Pro Bono Coordinator for the Association of Corporate Counsel Houston chapter; Charles Kelley, Mayer Brown LLP; Karen Lukin, Marathon Oil; Sylvia Mayer, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; Peggy Montgomery, ExxonMobil; and Laney Vazquez, BP.  Since formation of the Joint Initiative, Susan Sanchez with ExxonMobil has replaced Peggy Montgomery and Mike Rigo with BP has replaced Laney Vazquez.

Law Librarian and attorney, Elizabeth Black Berry at Weil in Houston is the administrative member of the HPBN and HPBJI.  She also takes her own Pro Bono cases and will be happy to field any questions or comments about the work of the two Houston Pro Bono groups.  She can be reached at elizabeth.berry@weil.com or (713) 546-5055.

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Celebrating National Pro Bono Week

October 24-30, 2010 is National Pro Bono Celebration Week, and Kate Bladow, blogger at Techno.la, encouraged us to contribute a post this week to help celebrate. As a result, we asked a couple of attorneys to write out a few thoughts on why they think Pro Bono work is important. We have the privilege of having David Curcio, Partner, Jackson Walker, and Tara Kelly, Counsel, King & Spalding taking time out of their day to share their Pro Bono experiences with all of us.

Pro Bono: Helping Others, Helping Yourself, Helping Your Profession

David Curcio, Partner (LinkedIn)
Jackson Walker L.L.P.

While we hope that our pro bono efforts help those receiving the services, attorneys should also know that there are benefits to the provider of pro bono services as well. In our regular practice, especially in the corporate or commercial realms, we are sometimes far removed from helping ordinary people navigate the legal system. Personal satisfaction can come from using your skills to help someone facing a crisis and from knowing that you are helping to improve the image of our chosen profession.

We take for granted our ability to understand legal procedures, terminology and processes, as well as the sophistication of our clients. Yet for someone whose only contact with the legal system is an eviction notice, a collection suit, a divorce suit or an arrest, the legal system can be daunting and overwhelming. For a minimum of effort, you can put your years of training and experience to work for an ordinary citizen and truly be a lifesaver. Sometimes, all it takes is listening to someone's problems to help them feel better about their situation and their options for dealing with a legal problem. The satisfaction of helping someone does not necessarily require taking on an entire case or transaction, it can be as simple as answering the phone lines for an evening.

Actually speaking with a lawyer who listens to and alleviates their worries helps improve the image of the legal profession in the minds of ordinary citizens. Too often their impression of lawyers arises from lawyer jokes and the ambulance chasers portrayed on television. After their experience with a real life lawyer who is there to jelp them, people's impressions of lawyers cannot help but improve. Perhaps they can begin to see us as professionals rather than just hired guns.

So, the next time a pro bono opportunity presents itself, think about what you can do to help someone in need, while helping yourself and your profession.

Changing the World of Our Pro Bono Clients

Tara Kelly, Counsel (LinkedIn)
King & Spalding LLP

For 10 years I have been working as a lawyer and for each of those years, I have had a pro bono case. Looking back, they have a common thread. Each one of them involves children.  My first pro bono case was representing a mother, a former drug addict, in a termination of parental rights case brought by her cousin who had been taking care of the child since she was a baby.  There were certainly two sides to this story. The cousin had given the little girl a stable home when she needed one.  But, even though I hadn't had my own daughter yet, I could understand and feel the heartbreak of this biological mother who had kicked a very powerful heroin addiction, made a good life for herself, and was facing the loss of her parental rights. While she did not lose her rights, there was no good end to this story, which involved a lot of bad blood between family members that could never be put right by the judicial system and an estranged relationship between a mother and daughter.

More recently, I represented a young teenager from Honduras who left the country after witnessing a gang murder and receiving death threats from the notorious gang, MS-13.  She fled the country with a coyote leading her through Mexico and then through the United States. She became lost along the way and was picked up by the US Border patrol.  I helped her apply for asylum, which required me to the learn the very interesting law around asylum based on social groups and understand how difficult it is, even if you've suffered extreme hardship, to win such a case. I also learned firsthand how hard it was to navigate the immigration system as a lawyer – let alone a teenager who is new to the country and doesn't speak English. In the long hours I waited outside the immigration court, there were lines of immigrants confused by the processes – some who asked  for my card. This client moved away before her case concluded and I found able lawyers in New York to take on her representation. I still have the large plastic diamond ring she gave me as thanks.

Now, I am working with the non-profit, Justice for Children, on a case involving a mother in a custody dispute. The father, who filed for change in custody, has been indicted for sexually assaulting the child and we are awaiting the criminal trial before moving forward on the custody matter. I have learned a few surprising things from Justice for Children working on this case. First, while many lawyers feel sympathy toward children suffering sexual and physical abuse, they often do not want to work on these cases because they are emotionally difficult.  Second, many jurors don't want to believe sexual abuse happens, especially by a parent, and winning these cases can be extremely difficult. While it is true that a case involving sexual or physical abuse of a child is not easy, it is exactly in these case where the assistance of a lawyer and often times  a court-sponsored Child Advocate – another organization I volunteer with – are crucial.  Children cannot speak for themselves and while we cherish our own and others, children in this society are abused at alarming numbers and many tragically do not get the help they need.

Working with pro bono clients is a privilege. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have a law degree and, that simply by showing up, I am giving the client something they wouldn't otherwise have – a spokesperson.  It is not emotionally easy, though.  And, I frequently find myself frustrated, either with a family-law dispute that cannot be a win-win situation for everyone; an immigration court that is overloaded with immigrants who can't represent themselves and can't afford lawyers; or by a system where abused kids fall through the cracks.  Nonetheless, while it may not be easy and we can't change the world through our representation of pro bono clients, we do change the world of our clients merely by being their advocate.  This is why I do pro bono work.

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Elephant Post: "I think you need to look up the meaning of ________. I don't think it means what you think it means."

We are having some fun with this week's Elephant Post, so you'll need to follow along with my thinking on this.

In the movie The Princess Bride, there is an exchange between Vizzini and Inigo Montoya. Vizzini keeps saying "INCONCEIVABLE!!" and
Montoya calls him on it:
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

For this week’s Elephant Post we modified this somewhat:

"I think you need to look up the meaning of ________. I don't think it means what you think it means."
Have some fun with this weeks post and provide your own spin in the comments section.

Internet Marketing Perspective:
Lisa Salazar
“I think you need to look up the meaning of Marketing. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Everyone that has watched Mad Man thinks they understand marketing.
“Its just an ad!” “Just throw a party!” “You just need to network!”

Ummh. No.

People do get Ph.D.s in marketing, you know. They study statistics, economics, research, psychology, advanced mathematics. Really fun stuff.

In fact, most of my day is spent sifting through data, looking for gold. Some days I feel like the proverbial Rumpelstiltskin spinning wheat.

To be a really good marketer you need to have the smarts to find a lead, develop a lead, then turn that lead into business then go back and find more.

People get hung up on the first part--the party-throwing, the ad making, the web design.They forget that middle piece: taking the people they meet at that event, get from that ad or capture on the web and developing a relationship. And also examining the results of the party, ad or website and seeing if you can build it better to get better results.

If marketing is done with a whit of science it can create real measurable results.
Marketing. Its not what you think it is.

Competitive Intelligence Perspective:
Emily C. Rushing
“I think you need to look up the meaning of Intelligence. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Intelligence is one of those buzzwords that gets slapped on any process or document and, as we say down in Texas, “WAH-LAH! Y’all got some intelligence!” (not really)

This is, sadly, a misuse (abuse?) of the word “intelligence”. I don’t mean human intelligence, artificial intelligence, or the intelligence of your pet Labrador. I mean intelligence as it relates to businesses and their strategies.

Let’s do some comparisons.

Intelligence is, among other things, the:
  • Development of key topics as defined by the business’ strategies
  • Collection and evaluation of information relating to these topics, and
  • Analysis and perspective on the information resulting in an actionable set of findings and influencing the businesses strategic decisions.
Real life examples of intelligence processes and deliverables include Business Intelligence, Market Intelligence and Competitive Intelligence. If you are missing any of the above pieces then what you have might not be “intelligence”.

Intelligence is not:

  • A collection of weblinks in an email
  • An article someone thought was “interesting”
  • Stuff in a database
  • Anything you put into Excel
  • Anything you print to PDF
  • A pie chart, bar graph or other infographic, however pretty
None of the above things are bad but please don’t think that because you have this that your company has a robust or sophisticated intelligence program. And please find something else to call it because “intelligence” has a specific meaning and it might not be what you think.

Alternative Fees Perspective:
Toby Brown
“I think you need to look up the meaning of Profitability. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Revenue – cost = profit. Seems like a simple formula, yet it escapes the grasp of most law firm partners. The challenge arises since just a few years ago, revenue = profit. Existing in this odd in-between space where revenue no longer equals profit, but firms really haven’t grasped the concept of profitability on a client or matter level basis is challenging.

What this means is that law firms and lawyers still exhibit ‘revenue equals profit’ behavior. So most definitely “profitability” doesn’t mean what they think it means.

And if you don’t know what profitability means, how can you possibly remain profitable?

I’m just sayin ...

Information Technology Perspective:
Scott Preston
"I think you need to look up the meaning of Intuitive. I don't think it means what you think it means."

From time to time I hear “this software is not intuitive.” This always strikes me as funny since the people most likely to say this are also the people least likely to go to training. If you have little or no experience with a piece of software, how can you expect it to be intuitive.

The concept of intuition is based on past experience. If you have little or no past experience with a computer, how will it ever be intuitive? If you never take the time to use your word processor for anything more than a virtual typewriter, why do you care about intuitive software?

Knowledge Management Perspective:
Ayelette Robinson
"I think you need to look up the meaning of Usability. I don't think it means what you think it means."

I may be pummeled by virtual tomatoes for saying this, but here goes: SharePoint is not usable. Here’s a tip for knowing whether a system is usable: if you need to click on every link you see within the four corners of your monitor before figuring out which button performs a function, you’re not dealing with a usable system. Here’s another tip: if you use a feature on a fairly regular basis (even once every few weeks), and each time you go to use it you forget where it is and need to re-click every link you see to find it, you’re not dealing with a usable system.

Usability does not mean that you can eventually use it, after painstakingly going through all possible options. It also doesn’t mean (hold your ears, Scott) that the only way to use it is by going to training. Google doesn’t need training. eBay doesn’t need training. Amazon doesn’t need training. Craigslist doesn’t need training. YouTube doesn’t need training. Need I go on? Plenty of systems out there, with plenty of sort-of-different, but also similar-enough, features, are able to be adopted by users without requiring training. Imagine if Eric Schmidt had sent out an all-user email to the world: “Exciting new tool available soon! It’ll change your world, but you won’t know how to use it unless you attend a training!” Think how ridiculous that would be. Why is it that within the enterprise we assume it’s the user’s responsibility to figure out how to use a system? That approach in the real world wouldn’t get you far, and certainly wouldn’t have put Mr. Schmidt on the map.

Usable means that when you’re using a system and think of a reasonable function you want to perform within the context of that system, you know – without training – what action to take to perform that function.

Next week's Elephant Post:

What is something you can do immediately to be more productive?
In an effort to encourage our readers to step out from the anonymity of reading 3 Geeks and contribute to next week's Elephant Post we decided to give you an easy question. We have received some really interested contributions over the last several weeks and we hope to see more over the next several.

If you have an idea for this weeks post or a suggestion for next week's question, then send Greg an e-mail to discuss.

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Share what you know, the rewards are great.

Without sharing, what is knowledge?  As parents we work hard to share our life experiences with our kids.  Why is the work environment so different?  
I have said for years that the term Knowledge Management is so misunderstood that it does more harm than good.  I strongly believe there is a place for knowledge management, but more importantly, we all need to focus on knowledge sharing.
Humans are pre-programmed to share their experiences with others.  We do it with our children, our family and our friends.  We even do it with complete strangers.  How many times has someone asked you for directions or for a suggestion for a good place to eat?  More often than not, we gladly volunteer our knowledge and wish the knowledge seeker good luck.
We are pre-programmed to share, we get enjoyment from doing it, yet we don’t seem to embrace it at work.  Why do we act so differently at work?
Is it too difficult to share knowledge at work?  We have many systems designed to help facilitate knowledge sharing at work and yet we struggle.  
Are we simply too busy trying to get our work done to worry about sharing information?  This is a silly notion, it’s like saying that we are too busy to be more productive.  Do we feel it is a competitive advantage to hoard information, thus making it more difficult for the next guy?  Some companies do not foster knowledge sharing even when studies prove that it leads to greater productivity.  
I believe there is much room for improvement in knowledge sharing tools.  If the tool requires a knowledge worker to take extra steps to make his or her knowledge available to others, the opportunity for failure increases.  We need to be keen about how we design and use systems.  We need to include knowledge sharing frameworks as part of an overarching system design and deliver frameworks that are easily portable to different applications.  E-mail is a great example of a tool that would benefit greatly from such an approach. (see Get the conversation out of email).  
We need systems that incorporate knowledge sharing as a core feature.  But most important, we need companies that understand and promote the value of sharing knowledge.
The best approach to knowledge sharing is both the use of technology and a corporate culture that fosters knowledge sharing, supports the effort and clearly communicates the value. There are plenty of examples where knowledge sharing technology was in place and yet the initiative fails.  Technology will help the adoption rate, but clearly, a cultural understanding of the benefits of sharing is key to the transformative success of knowledge sharing.

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Bloomberg Law Gets Cited By A New Jersey Court… A First for “___ BL ___”

Bloomberg Law hit a milestone this week when U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert (U.S. Dist.Ct., D. New Jersey) used the "Bloomberg Law" citation when it cited to a number of unreported cases. In the case Homa v. American Express Co. [PDF], Civil Action No.: 06-2985 (JAP)., 2010 BL 245394, [*12] (D.N.J. Oct. 18, 2010), Judge Arpert lists a number of cases cited by the Plaintiff, and left in the Bloomberg Law citations:
United States v. Stuler, Civil Action No. 08-273, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43338, 2010 BL 99422 (W.D. Pa. May 4, 2010); Bell v. Alltel Communications, Inc., Civil Action No. 08-648, 2008 WL 4646146, 2008 BL 235539 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 17, 2008); S. Freedman & Co. Inc. v. Raab, Civil No. 06-3723, 2008 WL 4534069 at *2, 2008 BL 223083 (D.N.J. Oct. 6, 2008); and Kirleis v. Dickie, McCamey & Chicolte, PC, Civil Action No. 06-1495, 2007 WL 3023950, 2007 BL 124745 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 12, 2007) Id. at 9-10.
Although the cites all either have the alternative Westlaw or Lexis cite, it does seem to be the first time that the “___ BL ___” has made the cut. The corks are being popped at Bloomberg Law to mark this occasion, and they are hoping that this is the first of many “___ BL ___” cases being cited. For attorneys, paralegals, librarians and judges all over the country, there is more of a "oh, great… one more Blue Book rule I have to learn!"

Does that mean that the 20th Edition of the Blue Book will be coming out soon?

Congratulations to Bloomberg Law. It is a big day for them, and perhaps a day that the duopoly of “___ WL ___” and “___ Lexis ___” have a new partner.

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ALM – Playing Both Sides of the Market Survey

I thought the two emails I just received were “very interesting” – not right or wrong – just “very interesting” in how the same survey was marketed to two different ALM clients. ALM just announced a new survey call ALM Legal Intelligence Billing Package, where it seems they are willing to pit lawyers against in-house counsel – at least so far as how they are marketing the product.

I looked over the emails, and other than the part that I've put below, there seems to be one single survey – just the marketing message behind the survey seems to be different. It seems that ALM understands that inside and outside counsel are just not trusting each other these days.

This first one was meant to go to law firm attorneys:

This next one was sent to in-house counsel:

Notice the difference??

Like I said, I'm not saying this is good or bad, it's just marketing the same survey to two different segments of the legal market. Does anyone feel they are being played, though??

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LexisNexis Attorney Claims Public Has No Constitutional Right To Access Courts

Seems that the issue of paying third-party vendors a fee to file documents in state courts has raised its head again – this time in Georgia. We covered this issue back in April when a claim was made against a Texas court that these types of fees were RICO violations. According to a Fulton County Daily report (paid service) and a Courthouse New Service report, a plaintiff was ‘locked out’ of the Lexis File and Serve service because the plaintiff's counsel had allegedly not paid the service's fees. The fees run from $7 to $12 per document and are paid directly to Lexis, and not the courts. Also according to the complaint, the Fulton County court apparently would only accept the electronic filing in this class-action case, and no paper documents would be accepted (supposedly getting around the $7 and $12 Lexis fees.)

In one of those arguments that fits the saying of "it may be true, but do you really want to use that as your defense?" Lexis's attorney, William K. Whitner, said "The Georgia Supreme Court has repeatedly held that there is no constitutional right to access to the courts."

This was swiftly met with a response from DeKalb Superior Court Judge Robert J. Castellani asking Whitner, "Did you just say there's no right of access to the courts?"

Without skipping a beat, Whitner replied "No constitutional right… That's the what the case law says; I'm not saying it's right or wrong."

Judge Castellani gave some sage advice to Whitner when he followed up with "I hope that's not what your case rests on."

There are a lot of issues that surround the idea that courts outsource their electronic filing. One of the things that seems to pop up in these cases is the fact that the plaintiffs and defendants are paying court fees directly to third party private vendors, and then the vendors are sending those fees on to the courts (after taking their cut.) I know that this is "logistically" a good way of doing things, but it does raise issues of people being excluded from the public court system because of money owed to a private company. Seems like it would be smarter for the courts to set their electronic fees in a way that builds the cost into the court fee, and not as a separate fee, then the court would pay the vendor a fee. That way, at least logistically, citizens would be failing to pay the court, not a private party. That would make the access to courts issue something that would then throw out the issue of private companies having a role in excluding citizens from the courts.

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LexisNexis and Wolters Kluwer Merging?? Can You Say "Super Duopoly?"

According to a Reuter's article, LexisNexis parent company Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer (CCH's parent company) are rumored to be in merger talks. Although traders are claiming this is a rumor being spread by Reed Elsevier and most likely will not happen, it is a scary thought for many of us that are already squeezed by a shrinking legal publishing market. The rumors caused both Reed and WK's stock to jump in European trading by 1.3 and 2.5 percent respectively.

If there is any truth to this rumor, then we're looking at an even smaller legal publisher market, not just for the US legal market, but for the whole world. How small does the legal publishing market have to shrink before antitrust laws kick in?

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Elephant Post: Name Something Transformational That You Learned From Your Boss

Thanks Boss!!
We've usually focused on the "negative" when it comes to the Elephant Posts, but this week we wanted to give our contributors a chance to "talk-up" their boss or one of their peers that had an impact on their careers.
What is one thing that you have learned from your boss that has been transformational for you?
This question brought back memories of a job interview I had once, where there was a moment when my potential boss said something to me that he doesn't remember saying, but I never forgot. Just for fun, I thought I’d do my part this week via video… and a cat… see below to see what I mean. We got a number of responses this week recalling how someone they worked with did or said something that made an impact on them.
The Library Perspective Learning To Enjoy The Ride Holly Riccio It is hard to think of one thing learned from my bosses over the course of my career as a law firm librarian, but two things stick out in my mind - one from the beginning of my career and one more recent interaction. The first thing I learned was to be a contributor to the law library community and actively engage with my professional colleagues. This was something I took to wholeheartedly and have never looked back. In fact, before I had even completed my first year of being a professional law, I was running for and then elected to the board of LLAGNY, the Law Library Association of Greater New York. I have continued to be involved in both my local chapter (now NOCALL, the Northern California Association of Law Libraries) and the national association (AALL, the American Association of Law Libraries) and take advantage of as many speaking and writing opportunities as I can find and fit into my life outside of work. It has been one of the most rewarding things about being a law librarian over the years. It has also helped me a number of times in my job, when I have called on a friend or an acquaintance for help finding something obscure or out of my usual realm. It has also provided me with opportunities to hear about other points of view on things or see how other libraries and firms do things and bring those ideas back to my job. The second thing I learned happened more recently and, in some ways, is tangentially related to the first. I was telling a work colleague that I had always had two goals from the moment I became a professional law librarian - one was to be a Library Director at a law firm and the other was to be elected to the board of AALL. I have yet to achieve either of these goals, although I have tried to get elected to the AALL board. (I ran and lost.) I am pretty sure that I will have another opportunity to run, so that one is a work in progress. As for the other goal, the comment I got back when I shared this was unexpected and quite interesting. My colleague started talking about George Clooney’s character in the movie Up In The Air. I haven’t seen the movie, so forgive me if I am not accurate in any of this, but the gist of what he was saying was that very often the thing we most want isn’t all it is chalked up to be once we achieve it, like when Clooney’s character finally reaches the 10 million mile mark for frequent-flyer miles with American Airlines. Now, I do still think that my goal of becoming a Library Director someday is one that will not disappoint me, if and when I am able to achieve it, but I did take something very important from that conversation. What I took from it was an understanding that title isn’t everything and that a lot of what one’s job consists of is what one makes of it. I have always known this, but it really hit me in this moment. What I did as a law librarian at the beginning of my career is so vastly different than what I do today and much of that is in response to how the world of law firms - and law firm libraries - has changed. I have changed as a result and grown and stretched in the process. I have had the opportunity to work on some really wonderful projects and with amazing groups and individuals that traditionally would have been outside of my “library world.” As a result of this conversation, I have resolved that I am going to make the most of any and every opportunity that either comes my way or that I can create and make sure to enjoy the ride a bit more. I am sure that this is where ultimate professional fulfillment truly lies.
Another Library Perspective
Why Do You Want To Limit Yourself To That?

Knowledge Management Perspective Hey Good Lookin’ Ayelette Robinson The best professional advice I’ve heard: Make the people around you look good. These words that were passed along to me encompass so much. Doing your job well is not simply about taking care of your job responsibilities or being a good team player. It’s about appreciating the 360-degree view of what you do and how it affects your colleagues, and providing exemplary (though sometimes invisible) service to those around you so that they shine to their bosses and to their colleagues. For example, doing your job is drafting the document you’re supposed to draft; exemplary service is sending it to your colleague in a mobile-device-friendly format so that she can review it between meetings while out of the office all afternoon and send her thoughts to the other stakeholders before the end of the day, without having to wait until she gets home and has access to a laptop. It’s the difference between the Motel 6 and the Ritz Carlton; you get a bed and a shower either way, but the experience is completely different. For those among us who are not completely selfless, making those around you look good has many long-term benefits: you make those colleagues feel good, which probably makes them better co-workers; they appreciate your work, which builds your relationship with them and encourages them to return the favor; and they remember your work, which is bound to enhance your reputation and open up opportunities that you wouldn’t have even imagined. So whether it’s your boss, your peer, or your supervisor, making those around you look good will make you even better lookin’.

Project Management Perspective There’s Only Two Questions You Need To Ask Toby Brown My boss was able to boil down law firm motivations to two questions.. Initially I found them a bit corny and perhaps over-simplified. However, having weighed these questions against law firm decisions over the past two years, I now hold them as gospel. He state that all firm decisions are driven by two questions. If the answer to either question is yes (or a variation of yes), a law firm will not proceed with a project, proposal or any other decision. The questions are as follows:
  1. Will this embarrass the firm?
  2. Will a partner leave the firm because of this?
Beyond the two questions, which I have found to be very useful, this thinking has fundamentally changed the way I approach ideas and proposals. Instead of over-analyzing and trying to understand all the motivations of everyone involved, I can easily weigh the prospects of a project and proceed accordingly. Simple and elegant.
Business Development / Competitive Intelligence Perspective Do… Don't Just Protect Ann Lee Gibson One of the best quotes I've ever heard was from Bill Guthner, Nossaman Managing Partner: "Do your job like you're willing to lose your job!" Meaning, do your job, don't just protect your job.
Work Environment Perspective Working With, and For Others Karen Sawatzky I had two bosses earlier in my career who made a huge difference in the way I worked. The first, Al Tupper, was a forensic engineer, and I worked as his secretary. He taught me the value of "please" and "thank you". No matter how trivial the action, he always said please and thank you. While I sometimes forget my own manners, I haven't forgotten the lesson. The second was Ian Cull. Ian hired me to start up a career resource centre. One day he said, "Hiring smart people makes you look smart." It took me a moment to realize (a) he was talking about me; and (b) he thought I was smart. He gave me the freedom to do the job as I saw fit. And it taught me what was important to me in my work environment.
Internet Marketing Perspective Sunny Side Up, Please Lisa Salazar
Smile. Smile all the time. Smile more
One of my very first bosses told me that I did a great job; she couldn't flaw me for any of my work. But I came across as too stern. I remembered being surprised by this but then realized that it was an opportunity for some real personal growth. As much as we hate to hear this, people judge us by our appearance. And it isn't just our clothes. It is our demeanor, our attitude, our--je ne sais quoi--joie de vivre. And it is something that I have to practice every day as a marketer. It has been a real lesson for me. And, speaking as a lawyer who is inclined to be extremely serious, it goes against my nature. But when I found myself moving into marketing, the ability to literally "lighten up" has become more and more important. As a project leader who often has to work across multiple departments and gain consensus on a topic that is extremely subjective (what? web site design subjective? You betcha), smiling has become an important tool in my arsenal. In fact, a Harvard Business Journal article solidified this philosophy and taught me that people would rather work with a lovable star than the incompetent jerk. So turn that frown upside-down!
Information Technology Perspective Closing the Loop - 360 Degree Customer View
Scott Preston In this context, closing the loop is a simple customerservice technique that accomplishes several things. Closing the loop gives you, the customerservice representative, an opportunity to make sure that you delivered what wasexpected. It gives you an opportunity tomake sure that no other questions or concerns have gone unanswered since youfirst took ownership of the request/task/project. It gives the customer an opportunity toverify whether he or she is indeed happy with the results and it verifies tothe customer that you understood the request, you cared about his or her needsand you saw the request through to the end. All of this is great stuff and well worth the price of admission, however,this is not the transformative part.
“The transformativepart is the idea that by closing the loop you please the customer and getcredit for the work you have done.”
Many times all the workthat goes into providing the solution goes on behind the scenes. The customer has no idea the effort taken tocomplete the task. You might havediscussed the necessary resources when the project started, but that was anestimate. When closing the loop, youhave a perfect opportunity to share the amount of effort that was given onbehalf of the customer. For even thecrankiest customers, this amount of effort is reassuring.
By closing the loop,you get confirmation from the customer that his or her needs have been met andthat you made sure it happened. Youbuild a stronger relationship and you are seen as a caring customerrepresentative that understands the business.
We are all good atgetting three quarters of the way there, but are we getting the entire 360degree experience? In IT, by the time wehave delivered the solution we were moving on to the next project. This is understandable given the number ofprojects we handle. What is notunderstandable is the lost opportunity to get credit for the work completed. This simple idea has a transformative impacton the delivery of services.

Information Technology Perspective Vision & Opportunity Mac Oparakum Over the years, I’ve come to value one very important lesson – perspective. Charles G. Koch once said “Our vision controls the way we think and, therefore, the way we act ... the vision we have of our jobs determines what we do and the opportunities we see or don't see.” During my days as a support technician, I managed computer-learning labs for several school districts. They had their own culture, technology preferences, policies and budgets. When the State Education Board sanctioned a new learning lab program, I was faced with installing a new solution and implementing the accompanying AppleTalk, EtherTalk, Ethernet or Token-Ring network. Noticing my apprehension, I remember the day when my boss reminded me the end goal was to educate students. I needed to tune the solution to help the students, teachers, and schools leverage new technology towards that goal versus focusing just on the amount of work ahead of me. She was right. As a volunteer at my local church, I lead the visual media team. I recall the day we were hosting a band touring across the United States. Near the end of rehearsal, a passing thunderstorm caused an electrical blackout. When power returned, most of our equipment lost their settings. The leaders of the event gave us “the show must go on” speech because 1000 people were heading our way. We scrambled to reconfigure equipment and the concert continued without a hitch. We made the best of the negative situation and the effort lead to an opportunity to run the control booth with professionals. Earlier this year, my CIO called a meeting to discuss the realities of the New Normal and our need to understand the impact of disruptive technologies. He asked us to read Why the New Normal Could Kill IT (hyperlink: http://bit.ly/d0tNgY) before the meeting. I was enlightened and my CIO’s insight made it clear we need to change the ways we do things. The game changed but my head was still down looking at the playing field. I now raise my head more often to confirm I’m playing the right game. When challenges cross your path, a change in perspective may transform you.
Next Week’s Elephant Post Question: We're going to have some fun with next week's Elephant Post question, so you'll need to follow along with my thinking on this. In the movie The Princess Bride, there is an exchange between Vizzini and Inigo Montoya. Vizzini keeps saying "INCONCEIVABLE!!" and Montoya calls him on it:
Vizzini: HE DIDN'T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE!! Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
We'll modify this somewhat and ask this:
"I think you need to look up the meaning of ________. I don't think it means what you think it means."
Share with us your story of someone (a vendor, a colleague, a friend… an enemy) that uses a word, phrase or concept that doesn't mean what they think it means. If you have such a story, then send me an e-mail to discuss getting it ready for the next Elephant Post.

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Process Innovation Over Legal Project Management

A recent post from Eric Elfman got me thinking about the ROI of process improvements versus project management for lawyers. Much attention is being given to legal project management (LPM) these days as the savior for attaining efficiency in a legal practice.
Eric’s point is that process improvement will bring more value to lawyers. In his words:
“Most of these (legal) processes are manual, paper intensive and cumbersome but they are effective on the margins. But why couldn’t they be better with technology?”
In one of those odd coincidences, on the heels of Eric’s post I read the updated intro to Susskind’s paperback version of his End of Lawyers? book. He suggests lawyers employ a “legal process manager” with two duties; “legal process analyst and legal project manager. He lists the ‘process’ role as primary, lining up with Eric’s suggestion.
My old rule kicked in: Hear it once – it’s interesting. Hear it twice – pay attention.
At the risk of upsetting the LPM crowd, I am going to side with Eric and push the envelope a bit. Two points:
1) Lawyers already project manage, just not with discipline and to a budget.
2) Within these ‘projects’ there are numerous repeatable processes that are highly manual.
Admittedly improved project management will bring value. But I see this as doing things the same way only better. Marginal efficiencies will be gained.
Whereas process improvement and automation will drive changes to the way things are done. By definition, process improvement means change. I will concede that at some point the ROI on process automation levels out, but there is a lot more air in this bag than the project management one.
My advice: If you’re in KM or IT, watch for process automation opportunities. One example we have already mentioned here at 3 Geeks is the KIIAC product from Kingsley Martin. This is one example of how dramatic a process change can be.
I look forward to more dialog on this subject.

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pssst… Demo ProLaw & Get A Free iPod… Just Kidding!!

If the plan was to get you to undelete an email from your “junk” folder, the marketing staff at Thomson Reuters' ProLaw found the perfect one–two email combination to get you to do just that. Here's what some of us received in our email boxes this morning:

First email subject line:
For a Limited Time, Get an iPod shuffle by Viewing a ProLaw Demo
Second email subject line:
Apologies from ProLaw, a Thomson Reuters Business
Seeing the second email not only made me want to go back and read the original email, it also got me emailing my friends to see if they had seen this ‘goof’ from ProLaw. Some had, some hadn't, but guess what we're all talking about this morning??

Now, obviously, this was just one of those SNAFU's that happen in marketing campaigns from time to time, and it wasn't ProLaw's intent to send out the first email to such a wide audience only to have to send out an apology email retracting the offer. However, the fact that it wasn't intentional doesn't keep us from poking fun at the mistake, or pointing out that there were some unintended consequences resulting from this error that caused many of us to actually go back and read the first email.

So, for anyone that is marketing a product, and you know people are probably ignoring your emails, perhaps ‘accidentally‘ offering a free iPod in one email and then retracting the offer in a second might be a way to get some eyes back on your product. I'm not saying that it is a ‘good’ way to do it… but it does seem to be effective!!

Side note 1: Everyone I talked to about this was a little disappointed that ProLaw was apparently offering us the old iPod shuffle instead of the snazzy new version. As one geek told me “that is so three months ago!”

Side note 2: Now that I've re-read the emails (posted below), I'm wondering if this was more than just marketing using the wrong email list… it seems they have upgraded the SNAFU to a privacy issue rather than just a “we used the wrong mailing list” issue. hmmm…

Second email:
Earlier today, we mistakenly sent you an email that was not intended for you. We sincerely apologize for this error and any confusion or concern that we may have caused you. We take your privacy seriously, and we are putting in new methods to prevent this error from happening in the future.

Thank you for your understanding.

The ProLaw Team, a Thomson Reuters Business
Thomson Reuters.  thomsonreuters.com

Original email:
Every firm looks to work more productively. And it can with ProLaw®, the only integrated software solution built from the ground up in a single database to automate the practice and manage the business of law. ProLaw puts all key functions in one place for everyone in the office. If you see a demo by 12/1/10, we’ll send you a FREE iPod shuffle®.
What makes ProLaw unique? Integration with Microsoft® Outlook®, Excel®, Word and Westlaw®, so you can coordinate cases and contacts, documents, email and calendar, docketing, records, accounting, time and billing, collections, and reporting.
View a demo and get a FREE iPod SHuffleOne of our specialists will call you soon to discuss how ProLaw can benefit your firm. Have the specialist schedule an online demo for you, and if you see it by 12/1/10, then we’ll send you a FREE iPod shuffle.
Discover how ProLaw's "Front Office. Back Office. One Office.®" solution can boost productivity across your firm – and improve your bottom line.
While supplies last. Limit one per firm. Actual prize may differ from product shown. Prizes will ship 4-6 weeks after live online demo. Offer expires 12/1/10. In accordance with regulations, government employees are not eligible for this special offer.

Thomson Reuters.  thomsonreuters.com

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Is Bloomberg Law “Righting The Yacht” Or “Rearranging The Deck Chairs?”

Ambrogi: Bloomberg Law is
a "luxury yacht only partially constructed"
There was a flurry of “breaking news” around the legal blogosphere yesterday surrounding the announcement by Bloomberg Law that former LexisNexis CEO, Lou Andreozzi has joined as its CEO, and former LexisNexis COO, Larry D. Thompson was also added as Bloomberg Law's chief operating officer. You have to hand it to the marketing team that Bloomberg hired on this as they were smart enough to put this information in the hands of prominent legal bloggers like Bob Ambrogi, Monica Bay, and Joe Hodnicki, along with quite a few others – including an email sent to some of us here at 3 Geeks – and the news got disseminated quickly around all the social networks with great interest. [NOTE: For legal vendors launching a new product, or making a major announcement, you might want to steal a page from this play book.] Reading most of the initial blog posts, the news was seen as a positive step for Bloomberg Law.

Despite the cleverly crafted claim that former Bloomberg Law CEO Constantin Cotzias “played a critical role in shaping Bloomberg Law’s development and the introduction of the platform to over 90 percent of the top 100 U.S. law firms”, most law firms haven't exactly been blazing a path to replace Lexis or Westlaw with Bloomberg Law. Perhaps I'm being a little nit-picky here, but getting firms to take on a ‘free trial’ of the product isn't exactly the same as getting them to actually sign on to the product once the trial is over. In fact, the last time I watched a presentation of the Bloomberg Law product, I walked away with the impression that it was being pitched as a competitor to PACER more than a competitor to either of the Wexis products.

While I'm still in “nit-picky” mode, let me also point out that there seems to be a belief that it was a big coup for Bloomberg Law to get two big-wigs away from LexisNexis, but if you look closely, Andreozzi left LexisNexis in 2005, and Thompson in 2006. So, although they were big-wigs at LexisNexis, this wasn't exactly a lateral move straight to Bloomberg Law. Despite the half-decade apart from Lexis, however, landing  the tag-team of Andreozzi and Thompson is a good “first-step” in getting Bloomberg Law on track.

With the Lexis Advance for Solos release coming in at $175 a month, I'm wondering how Bloomberg Law and its $450 a month pricing for a very similar product plans to compete in this smaller market? If WestlawNext is also pressing into the smaller market at under $450 a month, then I can't see a scenario where Bloomberg Law has a chance in the small law market. Lexis Advance is supposedly launching mid and large law firm market products in 2011, and WestlawNext is pressing hard to move existing clients over to the new product (for a modest-premium, of course), so Bloomberg Law is going to have a fight on its hands in the mid to large firm markets as well.

It looks like Andreozzi and Thompson have a challenge laid out before them of bringing in a new product into the legal market at the same time that that duopoly are also launching new products. From what I've heard from others in the market in the past 24-hours, these two love a challenge. If that's true, then they are going to feel a lot of ‘love’ in their new positions at Bloomberg Law.

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Pardon The "App" Interruption

I had a great time last Friday presenting with Barbara Fullerton from Morningstar, and Scott Riggins from Houston-based Social Mobility at the SLA Texas annual meeting held at the University of Houston. We had a great time going over some new – and some not so new – apps and mobile devices called "Pardon The 'App' Interruption."

The audience got a chance to participate by holding up cards with "Like", "Fail" or "Meh!" to show what they thought of the product we were discussing. It made for an enjoyable interaction with the audience (and caused us to run over our alloted time… no big surprise there!) I have to give some love to Google Docs for allowing the three of us to work on a presentation from three different locations (and for somehow keeping all of the formatting from becoming garbled as I went in and out of PowerPoint to G-Docs and vice-versa.)

Here's the Google Docs version… enjoy!!

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Yes, Virginia, There Still Is Privacy

I’ve been watching a disturbing trend. More and more people are laconically letting the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and FourSquare taking over their lives. I admit. I am as much a victim, perhaps even more of a victim, than you are. My excuse is that it’s my job. But what about the rest of the world? Have we become so used to the entertainment value of being connected to the internet that we have forsaken our right to privacy? Are we so driven by “ease-of-use” that we are willing to let the likes of eBay, Continental and Amazon into the privacy of our homes? Will we, as a nation, place so much value in our desire to be connected to one another that we are willing to forfeit what many perceive to be an inherent right? But first a history lesson. The right to privacy is not in the U.S. Constitution. Nor is it in the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence. Yep, its true. The right of privacy didn’t make its way into our collective conscience until Justice Brandeis issued his ground-breaking dissent in the 1928 case of Olmstead v. United States. This criminal case swirled around the admissibility of a wiretapping. In a somewhat prophetic analogy, he compares the act of wiretapping to the act of tampering with someone’s mail and says, “the evil incident to invasion of the privacy of the telephone is far greater than that involved in tampering with the mails." You’re thinking to yourself, “well, I’ve got mail. Tons of mail. An inbox full of e-mail.” Brandeis goes on to talk about the peril of not subjecting our government to the same rules of conduct that we expect of our citizens. I suggest we take Brandeis’ point one step further: we should hold our corporations to these same rules of conduct. We could be taking these companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google to task for spreading our likes and dislikes to the four corners of the winds and ads are chasing us from online store pillars to online posts. But the real problem is those darned EULAs. In our rush to gain access to our Gmail and one-click ordering on Amazon, we have clicked through those end-user agreements without even reading them. GASP—yes, I, a lawyer, don’t even read the fine print. Daily, we are forfeiting our right to privacy. Incrementally, injudiciously and surreptitiously, we are handing the biggest companies in the world our personal information. And we don’t even care. Have we become so comfortable in this Oprah-confessing world that we have no problem baring all before God and man? Have we decided that there is no shame in ripping off the fig leaves from Adam and Eve? Are we comfortable letting everyone know what we think, feel and believe? And is this such a bad thing? I don’t know. Maybe the right of privacy only exists in my imagination. But then isn’t that really the crux of it? That privacy is a concept that we created in our own minds—that nothing is truly private once a thought is created, vocalized or expressed? For I see that if we do let go of our right to privacy, the next right to be abandoned would be the right of creation. Yes, the rights of intellectual property. So with that, dear reader, is where I will leave you. I have no answers. Only my muddling mulling. And, so at least for today, I would tell Virginia, “yes, there is a right to privacy.” Photo by woodleywonderworks

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AFAs in the Fulbright Litigation Trends Report

I reviewed Fulbright's Litigation Trends Survey Report for Alternative Fee Arrangement (AFA) findings and came up with the following analysis.

It's clear from the Report that clients have a significant focus on reducing legal costs. It is also apparent that the focus on reducing costs will not be decreasing any time soon and is expanding in various markets. The result is a growing adoption of AFAs in the market.

AFA Highlights from the Report:

I - Who is using AFAs?
51% of those surveyed are using AFAs
Larger/Public companies are almost twice as likely to be using AFAs as small companies
(61% vs 37%)

II - Primary Reason for using AFAs:
78% said “Lower Costs”
18% said "Predictable/Fixed Costs"
Smaller companies are more cost sensitive – with 84% stating “Lower Costs”
The US Energy industry shows 83% choosing “Lower Costs” as the reason

III - Estimate of the percentage of your billings done via AFAs:
78% say that more than 10% of their billings are under AFAs
18% said that “50% or More” of billings are under AFAs
However, there are numerous regional and industry adoption variations.

IV - What types of AFAs are currently in use?
Fixed fee is #1 at 55%
In the US fixed fee use is a bit higher at 58%
In the UK - 74% report using contingency/conditional fees
Smaller companies appear to favor blended rates - 50%
The Energy sector prefers using fixed fees - 66%

V - Are the use of AFAs going up?
Only 1% expect a decrease in AFA use
37% expect their use to go up
45% of larger companies expect the use of AFAs to go up

Interestingly, the answers to the general, opened ended questions on the survey also touched on the AFA subject. These are were broader questions about the state of the industry. Two of the quotes from these answers sum up the sentiment.

"An intense drive to lower legal costs."

"I think alternative fees will become the norm, not the exception."

These survey results bring strong evidence that things have changed and will not be changing back. The strong consensus on cost savings and the expanding use of AFAs reflects this.

Given what I do for a living (AFAs) these findings do not surprise me. Based on what I am seeing now in the various AFA deals I handle, I expect this trend to continue into next year's survey results.

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Guns, Liquor & Facebook Status Updates - Helping Police to Find Their Man

Well, Facebook?? Do You??
If there is one thing that social media has helped amplify, it's the fact that stupid people do stupid things, and love to tell everyone about it. Case in point – Scott Harris of Staten Island, NY.

Seems that this 31 year-old man decided that shooting a .38 caliber pistol out the second floor window of his father's house at 4:30 AM – after a few shots of liquor – would be a great idea.  (Yes, ladies, he's 31 and lives with his dad and apparently is available…) One of his neighbors heard the shot and dialed 911 and alerted the police that they heard a shot (the news report doesn't verify this, but I'm assuming the shot was prefaced by Harris' repeated yelling of "YOU TALKIN' TO ME??")

In the good old days (read: pre-Facebook), the police would have canvased the neighborhood, looked for shell casings, interviewed some neighbors, and may or may not have found out that Harris was their drunken shooter. However, social media (combined with a severe case of the dumba**) has made investigations easier. Harris took the time to update his Facebook status about the "good idea" he had about shooting toward the swampland out his Dad's window (just how is this guy still on the market??) The police found the Facebook update, tracked down Harris and he confessed to being the drunken–facebook–status–updating–shooter.

Long story short… Guns, Liquor and Facebook don't seem to mix very well — especially if you're an idiot.

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Elephant Post: Consultant - "Your Job Should Be Outsourced… Prove Me Wrong!"

Consultants say that your job should be outsourced because of __________. Are they wrong?

The downturn in the economy has amplified the calls from management of "justifying your worth" to the firm. Many of us fear the "efficiency experts" (think "The Bobs" in the movie Office Space) coming in and suggesting that the work we do could be consolidated, downsized, outsourced, flat out eliminated. So we thought that for this week's Elephant Post, we'd see what you'd say about justifying your worth.

We have perspectives from the Information Resources Center, the IT Help Desk, and Information Technology on the justifications they mention when the consultants come calling.

Once again, don't forget to take a peek at next week's Elephant Post question (it asks about your boss!!) at the bottom of this post, and send me your thoughts to share with everyone.

Information Resource Perspective

It's Not About "Cheap Service" – It's About Great Service That Watches the Bottom Line
Carol Bannen

The Information Resource Center staff here is made up of information specialists that not only get requests from anywhere in the firm for information but we are also proactively participating in practice group meetings to offer help and information relevant to the projects they are working on and didn't even think to ask about.

I am not sure that outsourced library/research services would be able to offer the same proactive service that we are able to do by attending these meetings and interacting with the attorneys face to face.  In the Great Recession we have not only maintained our staffing levels but also greatly increased our billable hours.  I believe this is a direct result of our IRC Liaison program and the marketing of our services.  We offer services that go directly to the firm's bottom line.  I don't see any outsourcing company doing that.

HelpDesk Perspective

It’s all about value

So, I’m the HelpDesk person that refuses to be outsourced. Not me. It’s not entirely about *money*, it’s about *value*.

In short, if I can deliver what my customers want for a comparable (or even slightly higher) dollar cost than my competitors, I’ll remain. What do my customers want in their support guy?

  1. The right answer. Provide the answer they need. Take the time to understand the business and the process so that you understand the need, not just the expressed desire du jour that comes over the phone or email.
  2. The right answer, at the right time. The first time is always the right time. If not the first time, a mutually agreed upon interval that hopefully demonstrates my knowledge of what the right answer should look like (see prior point).
  3. The right answer, at the right time, delivered by the right person. What good is it being in-house if I don’t leverage my knowledge about the personalities and conditions from an insider perspective? Being the right person means a genuine interest in others that they can recognize and appreciate.
  4. Do the decision makers know what a swell person I am? This isn’t just a schmooze maneuver. I need to make sure that important people know that I’m contributing to the bottom line by keeping things moving. I can’t expect anyone else to be clairvoyant about my contribution any more than I can be about the resolution to their problems.
Though simple, these are what I use as touchstones: Am I known to be a great person, delivering the helpful information in a timeframe that’s actionable? If those points are done well, then I’m a confident employee. If someone else does these better than I do at a similar cost to my employer, I’d better be taking lessons very quickly.

IT Perspective

Consultants say that IT jobs should be outsourced because of cost, efficiency, expertise and/or customer service.  Are they wrong?

There is no categorical right or wrong answer to this statement. In the Information Technology (IT) community, outsourcing has a home and it doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon. Can the outsourcing express roll through the district and evict residents? Yes. I contend, however, outsourcing need not be the obnoxious neighborhood pest. It can be the friendly neighbor that mutually benefits the subdivision.

My organization redirects the Helpdesk hotline to an outsourcing service during the night shift. This fulfills a gap in one of our customer service objectives by providing human operators to answer Helpdesk calls. Before this change, our low call volumes scarcely merited the need for a night shift operator and calls to the Helpdesk would roll to voice mail.  Outsourcing provided the means of fulfilling one of our customer service objectives at a reasonable cost.

At my organization’s smaller satellite offices, we are unable to justify an IT position. Establishing a relationship with local outsourcing services extends our coverage to these offices in an efficient manner.  The time and material arrangement provides positive ROI and offsets the cost when the situation calls for staff to travel to the satellite offices.

These outsourced services examples are arguably long-term fundamental IT responsibilities. Does this mean I can someday be outsourced? Yes. However, I think the more an IT position provides value to core business needs, the less likely that position will be outsourced. I favor this adage, “If you are not an asset, you are a liability.” 

My organization is highly dependent on IT for email, document management and financial services. Will these core business needs be outsourced? Probably not. In contrast, we have less expertise and more elasticity with audio and web conferencing technologies. These services are outsourced. 

I think the recession brightens the spotlight on business values. The call for moral and ethical standards is clear in Ben Horowitz’s blog . While the blog focused on Hewlett-Packard’s dismissal of former CEO, Mark Hurd, the message of “… people working together to deliver value …” is true for all ranks of an organization. Outsourcing, after all, is still about human resources. The more a person increases his or her value, the more valuable the person, position and department become to the organization.

How’s your value proposition?

Next Week's Elephant Post:

We've usually focused on the "negative" when it comes to the Elephant Posts, but next week we want to give you a chance to "talk-up" your boss or perhaps some peer that has been influential in your career. 
What is one thing that you have learned from your boss that has been transformational for you?
This question brought back memories of a job interview I had once (I didn't get the job), but there was a moment when my potential boss said something to me that he doesn't remember, but I never forgot. I'll explain more next week in my contribution.

We encourage our readers to step out from the anonymity of reading 3 Geeks and contribute to next week's Elephant Post. If you have a story about how your boss, or someone you worked for did something that transformed the way you thought about your profession, then send me an e-mail to discuss.

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