3/31/11

Elephant Post: What Software Do You Wish You COULD Use At Work?

[Image (CC) by xxrobot]
In last week's Elephant Post, we asked what software you hated to use at work. So, this week we modified the question a bit and asked what software would you like to use at work, but for multiple reasons (most of which probably begin with the initials IT), cannot use.

The consistent answer was "something that makes my life easier." Now, really, is that too much to ask for?? (Apparently, it is.)

Take a look at what the contributors had to offer, and if you didn't have a chance to chime in with your favorite "non-authorized" software/hardware that you'd love to use at work.


Elaine Knecht
Librarian
Smart Software

As my friend the software developer says... ... I want to use the software that does what I MEAN instead of what I tell it do do!

Jennifer Stephens
Librarian & Geek
Movie editing software, MacBook Pro, iPad

Movie editing software - wouldn't it be great to make short "how to" videos for new associates/summer associates?
MacBook Pro - lots of power, battery life, simple OS. My newer MBP also has Windows 7 installed inside of Fusion (virtualization software).
iPad - wouldn't it be great to have a lightweight tablet to carry with me, to field reference questions or show services on the fly? I could go to the attorneys' offices to say, "look at the new..." (No, I don't own an iPad. Just two MacBook Pros, an iPod, and an iPhone 4.)

Cyndy M
Law Firm Marketing Technologist
Roboform

The much ballyhooed "single Sign-on" concept was a unicorn, a myth.
With every application and website requiring a login, I need a handy way to automate the process. This tool manages my passwords, logins and form fields.  Thank you, Roboform.

Greg Lambert
Library/Records Guy
Something Google-Doc-ish

I'd love to have some type of collaborative software that works as well as Google Docs, but is securely behind the firewall of the firm. I've worked an a number of projects with external folks using Google Docs and found it to be amazing in getting everyone on the same page (literally) and usually while discussing it on a conference call, we've been able to get hours of work accomplished in a matter of minutes. If we had something behind the firewall, I could get those inside the organization to collaborate in an easy and SECURE way.

Megan Wiseman
Law Librarian
Meebo

I admit my academic side is showing in this opinion but I felt I had to answer this week's question after sharing my software woes last week.
In a nutshell: I miss having chat reference.
Currently I'd estimate that about half the emails I send back and forth and maybe a third of the calls I get regarding reference requests could easily be replaced by a quick IM.  I know of companies that use "chat" software to facilitate communication when e-mail is just plain overkill, so it is possible to roll something like this out in a corporate setting...  but I'm just not sure how well it would work in my firm.  I can see drawbacks and benefits productivity-wise as well as the problem of having one more piece of technology to fold into people's work style.  But I miss not having to say "now can you spell that?" and being able to instead just copy and paste the name/citation/address/whatnot into my Google bar right from the chat window.

Saskia Mehlhorn
F&I Librarian
Camtasia

I think it is an excellent tool to bring training sessions  to the student and faculty (and anyone else who uses our website) so they can use it when they have a need for it and not just when we are physically available.
We could use it for all types of scenarios, going from "How to use the catalog" (followed after explaining to them that we actually do have a catalog), to the usage of the different databases, on how to perform legislative research up to international case search. The possibilities are endless.

Ryan McClead
KM
Microblogging Software

"Email is where knowledge goes to die."  - Bill French
I love this quote.  It makes me laugh and it's true.  Taken together with another truism, Lawyers live in Outlook, you can begin to see the problem.  All of that work, all of the knowledge disappears along with the regular IT data purge.  I dream of persistent, searchable, conversations which can be copied, pasted, linked to and generally re-purposed indefinitely.  I dream of group project discussions continuing throughout the week, rather than only happening once a week for an hour.  I dream of real-time spontaneous collaborations.  I dream of a flattened organization where the newest, most junior member of the company can easily converse with the CEO/COO/CIO and everyone else can share in their joint discoveries.  It's a lot to put on microblogging, but I think that's a good place to start.


Next Week's Elephant Post:
Tell us your favorite PowerPoint presentation story (good or bad… but, preferably bad!)
Toby's post on not using PowerPoint in a recent presentation garnered a lot of comments and traffic this week. Therefore, we thought we'd give everyone an opportunity to talk about some of the presentations that they've seen or given and what you've learned from that experience. Did you give too much information on the slide? Did an old version of your presentation get saved to your thumb drive? Or better yet, a completely different presentation? Go ahead and give us the dirt on what went wrong… or if you nailed a presentation because of PowerPoint, let us know that as well.

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So Anyone Out There "Liking" Google's "+1"?

Google just announced its answer to Facebook's "Like" button: the "+1" button.
What will happen is that the "+1" will display on your search results as long as you are logged in to your Google account and have opted to participate in the Google +1 Experiment.
I'm not so "like"-ing it. While investigating, I found out that I had to publicize my private Google account. And that all private Google accounts would be deleted by 7/31/2011. :(
As a suspicious, neurotic female, I am loathe to publicize my location information. Call me crazy, but even frumpy old me has had my share of quasi-stalking incidents: old boyfriends looming from the past, penal residents. You get my drift.
(As a side note, as a new female lawyer, I got my share of handwritten appeals mailed to my home address from Texas prisoners begging me to represent them. I quickly learned to unlist myself. As a newbie attorney, tho, it was quite a shocker.)
But I needed to check out this whole +1 craze for my job. I'm diligent that way. So I go check out my profile to make sure everything is copasetic. That's when I realize that Google is going to make me go public.
Google states, "If you currently have a private profile but you do not wish to make your profile public, you can delete your profile. Or, you can simply do nothing. All private profiles will be deleted after July 31, 2011."
WHAT?!?
I gotta come out of my nice, cozy, private world in order to play with +1? Heck, even Facebook let's me lock down my account.
So you know what I did, right? Fake data. I'm ageless, virtual and able to not just bilocate but multilocate.
Some tips to stay quasi-private:
  1. Don't use your real name
  2. Use a generic phrase to describe your business rather than giving a business names or school names
  3. Limit who can see your e-mail, home and business addresses. I set mine to contacts and family.
  4. Don't display the year of your birthday. You can limit display to only family and contacts.
  5. Don't specify your gender.
  6. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do not display your customized URL. It shows your e-mail address.
OMG. I like Google, in a generic, gotta-have-it kind of way. And I know their mission is "do good". But just kinda have this itch in the back of my cranium that says in 100 years, Google is gonna be Hal.
You know, Hal for 2001 a Space Odyssey?
Ugh.

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3/30/11

The Ethics of Using Gmail Revived

The Lawyerist has revived the dialog on the ethics of lawyers using free email services like Gmail. It's good to see this debate continue, and I'll state up-front that the Lawyerist disagrees with my opinion on the subject. I still hold the position that a lawyer using an e-mail system that includes granting "a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence" of the e-mail content to a third party is a problem. One of the Geeks recently shared this language with ethics counsel who laughed out-loud. His response was essentially that any lawyer who uses e-mail under this arrangement is crossing the line.
I realize bars and courts are still treating e-mail like it's mail. To demonstrate this thinking I suggest you ask them the ethics question a bit differently. I like to turn these questions around and direct them at a paper process to see how they sound. In this case: Would it be OK to grant FedEx an irrevocable license to the content in all of a lawyer's documents and letters it transports? I'm guessing you will get a different answer since Rule 1.6 is pretty clear on this issue: A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent. FedEx agreeing not to show this content to other people would be irrelevant, since the act of 'revealing' has already occurred.
I'll reiterate my prior advice to lawyers (and the Bar): if you want to hold yourself out as a profession with higher duties of care - then act like one.

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Law Librarians Take Note. Or "Captcha" This.

You know that irritatingly fuzzy words that you have to enter before you get those oh so desired NCAA tickets? You know, those "Captcha" words?
What if I told you that you are participating in an actual job--that you were, in fact, working for Google? Yup. In yet another brilliant crowdsourcing scheme, similar to their Goog-411 project (remember calling 1-800-GOOG-411 for free information? they were using your voice to teach their search engine how to perform search by voice), Google has us, the unsuspecting common man, to decipher inscrutible text in the Google Books project.
According to a New York Time's article, "Deciphering Old Texts, One Woozy, Curvy Word at a Time," Captchas was a project developed by a computer scientist Luis von Ahn and his team at Carnegie Mellon University.
The now ubitquituous reCaptchas program was created after the New York Times asked von Ahn's group to digitize their archives. Now, any of you who ever scanned a document know, it is an imperfect science. When I worked in records early in my legal career, I learned the hard way how difficult it is to OCR docs. There are always drunken looking words that hang in the inner margins, stamps that are difficult to read, old typewriter ribbons that smudged.
So von Ahn (don't you like that name? It think it rhymes with "Ah-Hah!"), converted the unreadable to a bitmap image, convert it to OCR (optical character recognition), then converted it to a Captcha (completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart (Turing being the British computer pioneer)). Then it is a simple matter for a human to look at the text and decipher.
The only catch is that there are gazillions of these words stretched across time. So von Ahn figured a way to do it. An extremely profitable way. ReCaptcha is the go-to authentication service for web sites.
Von Ahn figures that 200 million Captchas are figured out each day, at a rate of 1 Captcha decoded every 10 seconds. He started his little project in 2006. He sold the little start-up in 2009. To Google. For an undisclosed amount.
Yeah, baby.
Maybe our own smarty-pants in legal land can figure out how to Captcha our own OCRs by our unwitting staff. Hmmm. The mind boggles.
All I want to know is can I get Google to give me back pay for all of this?

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Changing the Message

[Please welcome Guest Blogger Colleen Cable from Cable&Clark, and blogger with Law Firm Bottom_Line]

Oftentimes we get stuck in a rut and just don't know how to get out. I sometimes feel this way about the current status of law librarianship and how we communicate with firm management. This is especially true these days as we try to defend our budgets and perhaps our very existence in the organization.

So what should we do? Since most of us are in the same rut, I'm always a big fan of looking outside our profession or industry for inspiration and new ideas. Recently, I came across this video (also embedded below) on Twitter and it immediately resonated. The basic message from Laura Patterson is: impact not output. While the video and the topic might be geared toward redoing a marketing budget, the general message applies perfectly to law librarians. Like many, we typically think about the 'numbers' from an output perspective. For example, how many reference requests did we have during the month of February? How many new titles were added to the catalog this month? But I wonder if this is enough? Is this meaningful to anyone? Does it show value? It hasn’t worked, so how do we change the message?
In the video, Laura recommends focusing instead on these three things:
  • Acquiring new customers
  • Customer retention
  • Customer growth
This could be a real game-changer for librarians. Instead of the number of reference requests, what if we focused on increasing the number of new attorney users to a recently purchased product? How can we grow the customer base? You could then measure the cost of the subscription on per attorney basis and watch the value increase month over month. Another opportunity: We know that only a fraction of the potential customer base uses the library, so how can we acquire new customers and retain them? How can we expand our services to existing customers? How can we increase the IMPACT of the library on the organization?
Bottom line: stop measuring the ‘stuff’ we do and start measuring the outcomes we achieve.



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3/29/11

The Compelling Presentation: Don’t Use PowerPoint

I know … everyone loves to hate PowerPoint and much has been written about why it’s such a bad thing. Yet everyone still seems to use it. My use of PowerPoint has evolved over the years and I generally follow the Best Practices out there, avoiding too much text, keeping slides simple, using compelling graphics and basically using PowerPoint to emphasize my point – not to make it for me. So recently as a challenge to myself, I made two presentations without using PowerPoint. Both of these presentations were on cutting-edge topics, brand-new presentations for me. This meant they would be challenging to present in any event.
First off – instead of submitting a slide deck for the handouts, I actually produced two case studies / articles. This did require more effort on my part, but instead of telegraphing everything I was going to say in advance to my audience, I actually provided them with a valuable take-away.
When I gave the presentations, I used flip-charts and white-boards to illustrate any points I wanted to emphasize – mostly drawing graphs (one of my economist failings I suppose). I enjoyed this aspect of the challenge, as I was able to bring the ideas to life as I described them. I was also able to move more fluidly to different aspects of the presentation in response to questions, instead of saying “I have a slide later on that shows that.”
The Results:
On both occasions I received very positive feedback. Attendees made a point of coming up to me to thank me for not using PowerPoint. One person said it made them focus on what I was saying, instead of the screen. And instead of having a crutch to lean on, I became even more involved in my presentation. So the quality of my presentation went up for the audience and I had fun getting out of a rut.
The real epiphany came after the conference. Realizing I was the only one not to use PowerPoint made me truly stand-out. It was a definite differentiator, so much that one attendee offered me a job on the spot.
So if you are trying to make your presentations stand out in a crowd, you might try one or two sans the PowerPoint crutch. You will get noticed and you might actually enjoy it.

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LexisNexis Client Analysis - My Sneak Peek Before 4/1 Launch

After seeing the initial product some two years ago, I got to walk through the new LexisNexis Client Analysis (LNCA) products with Lexis' Chris Whitmore. The product was beta tested throughout 2010 and is set to go out for general release on April 1st, and Lexis pushed out a press release on it yesterday. I wanted to go over some of the features that Whitmore showed me and add in some comments on what the product is set up to do from a Business Development perspective.

The idea behind LNCA began after Lexis purchased Redwood Analytics and decided that all that financial data was great, but could it be married up with other products like the firm's Client Relationship Management (CRM) tool [InterAction] and external client information that is housed in Lexis' product atVantage? By combining the different products business development professionals (or law firm partners if you're in a pinch) could break down that data and create self-service analysis reports, cross-selling opportunities, client profiles, and trends analysis reports. Those just happen to be the four general features of the LNCA product.

While I was talking with Chris Whitmore, he mentioned that the demand for intelligence and analytics is on the rise in the legal field within the area of business development, and that Marketing has evolved from generic tactical approach to a more analytical and intelligence approach. In other words, firms are realizing that client development, cross-selling and retention can no longer be accomplished through a shotgun approach where the idea was to scatter the firm's resources and talent over a wide batch of clients. Instead, firms need to focus like a laser on existing clients and then isolate potential clients where the firm's services fit their needs.

Many firms have been doing these types of deep-analytical reports, but they tend to be manual processes based on data that may not be relevant to the real needs of the firm in a biz dev approach. The most common of these are the famous "Top 25" or "Top 50" client projects that firms take on to see what kind of opportunities in cross-selling can be made for those clients. The typical pattern for pulling these are based on the past year or two financial data with a few clients sprinkled by some of the firm's top Partners.

Although the idea of using last year's financial data may be the easiest way to pinpoint who the firm is doing the most business with, LNCA is set up to do a deeper analysis of that data and identify those key clients, along with attempting to do analysis of those clients that are at-risk of leaving the firm, or trending in a way that shows significant reduction in work going to the firm. According to some of the Redwood studies, it is typical for clients to reduce their legal spend with a firm somewhere in the average of 15% every year. So, firm's are constantly looking for ways to stop this reduction in work.

LNCA uses that financial data, over an extended period of time (1 year, 2 years, 5 years) to help label clients based on their trends over those periods. Clients are profiled into one of four quadrants based upon the hours of work performed for the clients and the weighted average hours of work per year based on partner rates, the breadth of work, and key partner participation. The best clients fall in the first quadrant, and the clients with the least amount of work trickle down to quadrant four.


Once the quadrants in eight potential areas:

  • Acorns - clients that start small and grew into very large clients. (more on these later)
  • Backsliders - Started in Q1/Q2 but are now in Q3
  • Cross-Sell Legacy - Where clients with have fluctuated over the past two or three years and have worked with more than two practice groups during that time.
  • Cross-Sell New Opps - Newer clients that have worked with more than two practice groups in the past two years
  • Cross Sell Ongoing Opps - Older clients that still use the firm, but haven't used more than two practice groups at any time
  • Fallen Star - Clients that were in Q1, but have fallen below certain sub-quadrant scales
  • Growth - Current Q1 or Q2 and have increased in scale since inception (excludes those labeled as Acorns)
  • New High Activity - New clients currently in their first 12 months of activity that have more than 10 active matters, each with more than five hours.

LNCA starts with this financial information, but begins to integrate the CRM and other data that helps narrow along the lines of two important metrics that firms need to know about their clients – Relationships and Attrition. InterAction information is isolated to see who knows who and determine the relationships. Are they all with one person, or does the client have a more varied relationship throughout the partnership? The idea is that if all of the relationship is with one partner, the higher the risk is for attrition with this client. If that can be identified, then the firm could work to expand the relationships with that client beyond the core partner.

Now, I'm going to have to stop here and point out the obvious that InterAction is one of those resources that many firms have, but where the data is suspect at a minimum. For firms that have nice clean InterAction data, this may be a gold mine, but for those firms that I've talked to that have InterAction, I'm not sure how much good information can be pulled from this resource.

Self service analysis... Build your own list

The Self-Service Analysis tool is set up to allow for the filter of  the data you want pulled. Analysts can focus in on each quad, and within specific bubbles within those quadrants. The financial data also is set up to be sorted and filtered. The analysis also looks at partner billing data and gauges the relationship between the partners and the clients. Finally, external information from LexisNexis' atVantage product is matched up with the client data to give a quick indicator of if the legal work is growing or shrinking, and how much the firm is getting of that work. 

Once you have a list (and everyone knows how much Partners love lists!), you can export the lists to Interaction to begin the marketing push. The basic idea behind the self service part is for the analyst to have access to the data, and allows the analyst to set up reports in a number of ways (charts, pivot tables, etc.) This should help identify and rate clients on a number of predetermined categories and make the final results more consistent as you look at a cross section of clients. 



Cross sell analysis ... Slice and dice the data

The Cross selling analysis tool breaks down exactly how cross sold the clients really are (practice groups, partner relationships, etc.) There are multiple ways to split this data in order to determine where the strengths and weaknesses are for specific clients. 












Trend analysys ... Identify the trends

The Trend Analysis portion charts out where the clients fall over set period of time. Charts can be graphed in different ways. By comparing the work performed for the client over a number of months or years, the idea is to get an early warning on when the firm is starting to lose work for specific clients. It also works the opposite way in helping identify trends for the client that may serve as opportunities for the firm to gain work in different practice groups, or differnt offices.





Profiles piece ... Where it all comes together
Profiles attempt to sum up the lifetime value of the individual clients. Clients that are high performers, clients that are at risk, and those that fall somewhere in between. The profiles portion is set up to help the firm work toward building better relationships with the client, or even determine that the firm needs to reduce the time the spend attempting to attract new work from clients that have weak ties to the firm.

InterAction, Redwood and atVantage… Do you have to have all of them?

Obviously, not everyone has all three pieces of the LNCA pie. Whitmore explained that LNCA comes with Redwood. So, if you don't have Redwood already, then it will be a part of this product. In addition to bringing in Redwood, LNCA will bring in a limited portion of atVantage if your firm does not subscribe. The limited version is not as broad as the full version, so there will be some reduction in overall capability of LNCA, but there should be enough to point you in the right direction on legal work for those clients. If you do not have InterAction, however, then that piece will not be brought in with LNCA. There is also no plans to integrate LNCA with any other type of CRM resources.

Cost? Setup?

LNCA is a web-based product set up on the Microsoft Silverlight platform. It is a subscription based product  that is normally set up on a three-year license agreement based on number of users within the firm. There is no installation fee, so the monthly price will include the set up of the product.

I asked if this resource is also designed to help identify potential billing rates or alternative fee arrangement opportunities, and was told that LNCA isn't designed to do that, and that type of information was something that the Redwood Planner platform (separate service) was set up to do. Also, the data generated by LNCA is usually generic so that it won't expose sensitive billing or realization information on individual rates between partners.

The product goes out on April 1st. Hopefully, I've relayed enough information from my preview to let you know whether it fits the business development needs of your firm. I'm sure you'll hear from your Lexis sales rep before too long!

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3/28/11

The Next Thing: Your Own QR Code?

Step 1: This weekend I attended the Bayou City Arts Festival. After seeing a 100 or so QR Codes, I finally noticed how prevalent they were. Good marketing I thought.
Step 2: Greg invited me to attend lunch with Debra Kolah and him at the Hubcap Grill today (Mmmmm – good burgers). Debra is doing some really interesting stuff at Rice University and was sharing her ideas. One of them is that she is trying color coded QR Codes – which is very forward thinking.
Step 3: The little light bulb went off. So I asked Debra about getting my own QR Code. She said - easily done.
Step 4: So back at the office, I found the Kaywa QR-Code generator, and made my own. This code takes you to my LinkedIn profile, but could instead be configured to send a text, a phone number or an SMS (text message).
So for all you marketers out there, time to think about integrating QR Codes in to all of your collateral. I just need to figure out how to get it on my business card now.

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3/27/11

New and Emerging Legal Infrastructures Conference (NELIC)

Toby was kind enough to highlight for me a very interesting conference scheduled for April 15 at Berkeley Law School. It's called the New and Emerging Legal Infrastructures Conference (NELIC), and is hosted by a legal startup called Robot Robot & Hwang -- two of the partners are 'robots'; the third is Tim Hwang, formerly a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and currently a strategist and analyst at The Barbarian Group.
The firm's mission is "to marshall a universe of thinking from the world of technology, startup, and computational science to bear on the often staid and conservative world of legal practice." And the sessions for the conference dovetail nicely with this:
  • Quantitive Legal Prediction: "How might recent work in machine learning and natural language processing influence legal practice and strategy in a big way? To what extent can judicial and legal decision-making be reduced to statistical modeling and prediction?"
  • Legal Automation: "What is the current state of the automation of legal tasks, and how far can it scale? How much can be replaced by these applications, and what does the legal profession look like in a world of broad automation and commodification?"
  • Legal User Experience and Interface Design: "The design of easy-to-use 'human-readable' user interfaces to manage complex legal tasks holds the possibility of radically democratizing access to the legal system. What is the broad impact of abstracting from legal text? What are the best practices in the design of these interfaces?"
  • Legal Finance: "As banks and other firms continue to experiment with the finance and investment of lawsuits, what is the long-term impact on the legal marketplace? Could it open the door to securitization and larger tradable legal assets? What would be the opportunities? The risks?"
A pretty interesting line-up, and a varied set of speakers as well. I'm scheduled to speak as part of the Legal Automation session, and will try to blog about as much of the conference as I can.

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3/25/11

The Value of Law Firm Experience Lists and Other Musings from an AGC

I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Beach, Associate General Counsel for Litigation for United Technologies Corporation (UTC) give a wonderful and informative presentation on AFAs. Bottom-line: Paul and UTC have it right when it comes to AFAs. In concert with AFAs, Paul talked a lot about value. In addition to what provides value, Paul gave a list of things firms do that they think provide value to clients, but really don’t - at least for him. Here is my abbreviated and paraphrased list:
#1 – Firms send him long “experience” lists, showing what cases they have handled and how they won them. He estimate somewhere between 50 to 95% of these cases are not worth mentioning. He views them as too much information, and information he doesn’t necessarily trust and really doesn’t value. As he said it, lawyers typically talk about every case as a win, since a resolution is a win. I read that as - don’t send him long experience lists or don’t even send him a list at all unless it’s relevant/valuable to the situation.
#2 – Don’t send him hard-copy, leather-bound books authored by firm lawyers. He described these as “too heavy, with no search function.” He mentioned one he received that already had a pocket-part inserted. He read that as “out-of-date.” Books are knowledge that is not shareable, current or mobile. Even with the leather – he was not impressed.
#3 – Billing him for providing training for his internal staff. Enough said.
#4 – Entertainment or gifts. Most legal departments are charged with enforcing Procurement’s rules, which state, “no gifts from vendors.” So why are you offering gifts to the Legal Dept.?
#5 - Writing off time. This one was his “favorite.” When a lawyer calls him and tells him that a lot of time was written-off, he assumes they are trying to impress him by voluntarily reducing waste from his bill. Instead, what he hears is that they don’t know what they’re doing. It’s an indicator of bad process and bad management.
So … in addition to truly getting AFAs, Paul also knows how to ‘cut to the chase’ on what value means.
Bravo Paul.

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3/24/11

Elephant Post: What Software Do You Use That You Wish You Didn't Have To?

We go to work… we log on to our computers… we open up our standard software… then we shake our heads at how bad that software is, or how we really wish we could use something (anything!) other than this program. So, that was our question for you this week, what do you have to use, that you really wish you didn't. We received a number of different perspectives this week, from old legacy programs to server-based software that just doesn't quite understand what we need to accomplish in our day-to-day operations.

Enjoy the contributions, and scroll down below them to see next week's Elephant Post. If you enjoy reading other perspectives, then chime in with your own (it's easy!!) In fact, next week's question is almost the opposite of this week's. "What Software Do You Wish You COULD Use At Work?"



Megan Wiseman
Law Librarian
DBText

First off: my firm's version of DBText is a leftover dinosaur from the mid-nineties.  Yes: di-no-saur.  Those who came before me merely kept it going ... honestly I have no idea what the situation was: whether they looked for alternatives/updates or not.  Perhaps there was no buy-in from others regarding change.  And, yes, technically it works.  We're only using it as a catalogue which means the pressure to make a change is relatively low.
However, as a librarian, I am in the business of making information available, and our current setup effectively hides the catalogue from anyone except myself and my library assistant - talk about a terrible practice of information control!
But this isn't merely a "boy, have I got a bad piece of software" rant.  As I have said, the program is good and does what it promised.  In the 90s I am sure this was a great idea, but then, I didn't even have internet at home until around that time.  Putting it in perspective, I would do better having a card catalogue in the library: at least my patrons could use it!  Luckily, I have the option to change as long as I can cut through all the red tape.  Currently, I am looking into open source options - something our tech person is being very supportive on, despite the scary lack of documentation and details some open source software provide.  It's amazing how many little things can get in the way of choosing Koha or Evergreen...migration work aside.  So I guess I may have answered my question after all regarding why we've never changed this piece of software.  (Kudos to tech people everywhere!)


John Hafen
Lawyer
Microsoft Outlook


Outlook is both the most crucial and most despised piece of software in my practice. I am in it all day. But it is slow, bloated and constantly freezes (even after my recent computer upgrade).
Three simple improvements would vastly improve my Outlook experience: more speed, less freeze and better search functionality.


George Carter
Lawyer
Word, Windows


WordPerfect is a  much better word processor and Ubuntu is much better than Windows.  I want Google to put key strokes as WordPerfect's Alt-F7, Shift-F7, etc and reveal codes into its Docs.  Word is not for people who want to type starting with a blank document.


David Whelan
Information Pro
Lotus Notes


Lotus Notes is my work  e-mail client and, because e-mail is a primary communication and organization tool for me, Notes 8.5 is a negative drag on my productivity.  I know it's not an e-mail program, it's a database.  But that's no reason for it to offer the promise of e-mail management only to pull the carpet out, laughing, providing fewer features than Google Mail when it was in beta.  To be fair, how software is implemented across an enterprise, which may block or break features that are available, is part of the problem.  We have not fully implemented the latest version because it requires more powerful hardware than our PCs have.  Even the Web version(s -I am offered 3 interfaces when I log in, none of which offer the same suite of functions nor work in all browsers) are substandard, although at least they remove the hardware issues.
How bad?  Threaded messages often show the wrong messages in the threads, wrong topic, wrong senders/recipients.  If you sort by the subject line of messages, messages with "re:" or "fw:" are sorted by R or F, respectively, not the real subject line.  Some columns (like sender name) do not always sort, so you can scroll down sender names and find names out of alpha order.   It's not even that Lotus Notes is worse than Microsoft Outlook/Exchange.  It's that Notes isn't even as good as free e-mail clients like Thunderbird or Google Mail.  E-mail is such a cornerstone tool that when the e-mail client negatively impacts productivity, it should be tossed.


Fiorentino
Analyst
IE6


Until recently, my company had been on IE6, the biggest piece of garbage software I have ever used.  It rendered half the webpages properly. Just horrible.


K DeLia
Marketer
Lotus Notes

Enough just saying the name - no need to elaborate! I think we can all agree Outlook is a better corporate email system. While Lotus Notes, claims more security from hackers, etc., the sluggishness and multiple crashes are trying. Further, creating content management systems and centralized repositories in databases is just passé...


Ayelette Robinson
Knowledge Management
SharePoint

I have two bones to pick with SharePoint: (1) it's not user-friendly, and (2) it purports to be user-friendly. The first reason wouldn't be so bad if it was marketed as a tool for the technology-fluent. But the first reason in combination with the second really gets my goat. I know there are good enterprise and industry reasons to use SharePoint, but the trials and tribulations we all go through to get it to do what we want just doesn't seem right.


Stacey Burke
Lawyer/Marketer
Blackberry Email on Phone


Our firm does not have a Blackerry Enterprise Server therefore my emails are routed through some *place* online and dump a few at a time every 5 minutes or so.  I get them WAY too late.  The partners have mostly switched to iPhone and they get emails on their pda's before their desktops sometimes.  I simply cannot let go of the tactile Blackerry keypad so I have to keep it.  Yet each time I step away from my desk, even to travel down the hall to the main scanner, I know I am missing or experiencing an unnecessary delay on email web submissions from my sites.  It irks me.  We just upgraded to a 2010 Outlook Exchange Server.  I am told by our outsourced IT that it will impact our pda's but not what that means.  I wish I may, I wish I might that it might make my Blackerry emails more instant. I doubt it.  Rant over.


Toby Brown
AFA/KM
IE7


Based on some internal applications, I need to use IE7 daily.  Separately I run Chrome.  Watching these two browsers side-by-side was quite revealing.  IE7 is significantly slower and sometimes chokes on websites, etc.  One time I was having a problem with an internal app running in IE7, so on a whim I tried it in Chrome.  It worked fine there.
I assume upgrading to the newest version of IE would help alleviate some of this.  But then we would have compatibility problems with some of our apps.  And I recall hearing in the not-so-distant past how the next IE would no longer be slow and cumbersome.  So count me as a skeptic that upgrades are the answer.
So I suppose the real answer to the IE problem is: Chrome.


John Nann
Librarian
Word


Well, it's really a tie between IE, Outlook, and Word.  Why? Let's see: slow, clunky, slow, limiting, slow, susceptible to crashing, slow, susceptible to crashing, slow, constraining, and, let's see, yes, they're a little slow…


Kingsley Martin
Attorney & Software Developer
Security by hidden trick / Software that imports data easily, but makes it hard to extract


As a software developer, I should probably not throw stones. But, in this case, I’ll throw caution to the wind and offer a couple of bricks.
  1. Security by hidden trick. NT is known for its enhanced security. It’s frequently more of an enhanced waste of time. True security is not a matter of undisclosed tricks. For example, turning off wireless networking by default in Windows Server 2008—and without notification—simply wastes time. Selectively disabling javascript functions appears to be an example of the security maxim: “for your added protection, we haven’t told you that we disabled some javascript functions. Once you’ve discovered this nifty disabling feature, next guess which function calls we hobbled.” Fun for all the network engineers!
  2. Software that imports data easily, but makes it hard to extract. One of the most important principles of technology is that information has a longer live span than applications. Legal forms, for example,  can date back 100’s of years and will likely be handled by numerous successive applications making switching costs one of the most important considerations when choosing technology. A good example of this is Adobe PDF. Of course, you can’t place the entire blame on Adobe: who in their right mind creates an electronic document, prints it, signs it, and then scans it: without preserving the original electronic file! Companies are going to make millions OCR’ing these documents back into machine-readable form. This principle also has a cautionary lesson for law firms considering SharePoint. Each of the applications being built on the SharePoint platform will likely capture information that will be later be ported to some successor—perhaps cloud-based—app. Hopefully, this is not a case of déjà Lotus Notes all over again.


Next Week's Elephant Post:
What Software (or Hardware) Do You Wish You COULD Use At Work?
We've listed out a number of things that we hate to use this week, so we thought we'd turn the issue upside down and see what software, hardware, devices, etc. that you'd love to be able to use at work. I'm still trying to think of a really good reason to have NetFlix streamed to my work desktop, but I'm having a hard time coming up with a sustainable business reason… However, I do love using Chrome as my web browser and would love to be able to take advantage of some of the extensions that are offered on it or FireFox without my IT group coming down on me like a ton of bricks.

How about you? Got something you use at home, or have "unofficially" installed on your desktop? What makes it so useful that you think that IT should look the other way when they come to fix something on your computer?

As always, we put the form right here for you to fill out, but you can also:



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Point, Click. It's Yours!

As I was reading the NY Times this morning (in print, no less!), I came across the business section's front page article, "Swiping is the Easy Part," a story about using your mobile device like a credit card. And the ensuing struggle between banks, retailers, credit cards and mobile phone carriers who all want a piece of the pie. Some banks are getting around the whole issue by giving customers chips that they can install into their mobile device; thereby, diverting mobile operators. Oddly enough, just yesterday I Stumbl'd across Jack Dorsey's app, Square. Mind you, I'd read about Square when it first came out but I put it aside as interesting but not yet applicable to me or my business. For those unfamiliar with Square, it is a small device that hooks into your mobile phone and allows you to accept credit cards from you mobile device (it's only built for iPhones, iPads and Androids). For me, the common thread between these two items is vocalized by Jan Chipchase (perfect name, right?), the executive creative director at the design firm who studies mobile payments. "Is it possible to make a system that's too easy to use, where you reduce so much friction from the transaction process that people aren't necessarily aware of what they're spending on something?" Even Jack and his gang of ..., well, techies caution users on the reality of their product.
"Let's spin a little story here: you are an excellent person, therefore you downloaded Square. Your reader arrives, and you immediately want to show it off. You run into the kitchen, where your visiting Aunt Myrtle is busy doing her crossword puzzle." "You mesmerize her by swiping her credit card through the reader on your phone, jokingly charge her $10,000, and quickly cancel the transaction before it is authorized. Whoops! You just put a hold of $10,000 on her bank account!" "Aunt Myrtle isn't quite so docile anymore. Thankfully, you didn't actually charge that money, but nevertheless that hold remains. Now you have an angry aunt, no extra money, and you could have avoided this whole situation (and made a buck) with a simple test swipe of a single dollar."
That's kinda why I don't like Kindles, Nooks, iTunes and the like.
I am afraid of my own financial temerity (if that even makes sense).
With barely a swipe, point and click, I would buy a $500 books in a week-end, $100 worth of tunes and $10,000 worth of clothes. And that's low-balling it!
I know, I know. We always say that you can't legislate people from being stupid. And this is the same kind of thing.
But really: Is it all just too magically delicious?
Really.

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3/23/11

Hey Local Newspaper – You're Not Really Local Anymore…

I'm about to go on a rant about local newspapers that publish on the Internet, but don't give the "out-of-towner" reader any idea of where the newspaper is located. I'm going to pick on The Daily Journal, but they are by no means the first local newspaper that I've had to scour to find out where exactly they are located. So, here's a little back story.

I got a news feed alert on a story entitled "Freeholders concerned about closing library." So far, so good… I'm interested in any story that discusses how communities are looking at closing libraries to shore up shrinking budgets. When I arrive to the story, I see the name of the town, but not the state in which the town is located.


Alright… "Bridgeton" doesn't really sound familiar to me, so I start looking through the story to see if there's something in there that names the state. Nothing.
Next up… look at the banner for the website to see if it mentions a state. 


No state mentioned either in the banner, or in any of the other links at the top of the page. And with a generic name like "The Daily Journal.com - A Gannett Company" this paper could be anywhere.
So, nothing in the by-line… nothing in the banner… nothing in the top links.
How about looking at the ads? Maybe there will be an ad for a local company that will mention the state??


Hallelujah!! It's Georgia!!!
No!! It's not Georgia. Seems that the ads are set up to look at my IP address and identify that I'm coming in from a Georgia IP address. Two problems with this:
  1. I'm not in Georgia… my firm is… I'm in sunny Houston, Texas!!
  2. The fact that the newspaper has ads that adjust for "out-of-towners" lets me know that they understand that people from outside the community are going to drop in, but that they don't really care to make it clear where they've landed.
So now I'm getting a little ticked-off…
I look at the "Help" and "Terms of Service" pages… no luck.
Holy crap!! How freakin' hard does this have to be??

New Jersey!!
Finally… finally… finally, I see an image near the bottom of the original page that tells me I've landed in New Jersey (by this time I'm saying "New Jersey" like the Fred Armisen impersonation of New York Governor, David Patterson.)

From start to finish, it probably took me three or four minutes to track down where this newspaper is covering. Granted, not a lot of time, but completely unnecessary. 
This was my drawn out way of asking that local newspapers that publish out the Internet to realize that you're now a global operation. Please make it easier on those of us that aren't locals by making it obvious where you're located. It will result in at least one less frustrated librarian in the world.


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Private Law Libraries Summit II: Change as Action, Change as Opportunity (7/23 - Philly)

Go ahead and block off July 23rd, and schedule your plane, train or automobile trip over to Philadelphia for a day long meeting focused on the issues that confront private law firm libraries, librarians and administrators. Anyone that went to the first PLL-SIS (Private Law Library - Special Interest Section) Summit in Denver last year can tell you that this is where the magic happens, and where not only the law firm librarians need to show up, but they also need to bring along those non-librarians (library partners, IT and KM directors, CIO's, COO's, etc.) and share in the wealth of conversations that go on during the sessions.

To sweeten the pot a little bit, the lunch time “entertainment” happens to be a couple of co-bloggers here on 3 Geeks. Toby Brown, Scott Preston, and I will talk about some of the PLL-SIS webinars we've presented (still time to sign up for Scott's webinar), as well as anything else that happens to pop into our geeky little minds at the time. Other speakers include Esther Dyson, Jim Jones, David Curle and Sabrina Pacifici. If that's not enough for you, show up on Friday night (7/22) for a reception hosted by BNA (that's probably where my best work will occur!!)

Here's the press release along with all the links you'll need to register. Hope to see you there! Don't forget to invite someone else to go with you!!


PLL-SIS Summit II:  Change as Action, Change as Opportunity

Registration is now open for the Private Law Libraries Change as Action Summit held in conjunction with the 2011 AALL Annual Meeting on July 23, 2011, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.  Join us for a jam-packed day, filled with thought-provoking speakers and vibrant discussions on PLL-focused programming!

We are tremendously excited to announce that Esther Dyson, legendary technology visionary, will be our Keynote Speaker, sponsored by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. We’ll also be hearing from Jim Jones of Hildebrandt, David Curle of Outsell, Inc., Sabrina Pacifici of BeSpacific, the Three Geeks, and many more dynamic and intriguing speakers.

In addition, break-out sessions, based on the current PLL Law Firm Management webinar series, will allow attendees to engage in open dialogue on their favorite webinar topics, from law firm financials to knowledge management and client marketing.

In the afternoon, we will offer concurrent programs in three areas: administration, research/reference and technology/technical services on practical topics such as metrics, project management, legal publishing trends, and social media.  

The $145 registration fee includes all programs plus a Friday night BNA Welcome Party, a breakfast sponsored by Priory Solutions, lunch sponsored by LexisNexis and an afternoon break sponsored by Law360.  Registration is required by June 17th.  Sign up now to take part in this exciting event!

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3/22/11

“Bet the Farm” Versus “Law Factory”: Which One Works?


Ron Friedmann of Strategic Legal Technology blog and I consider in this joint post the impact of "Law Factories" on the future of large law firms.

Introduction - by Ron Friedmann and Toby Brown 

Law firms face an uncertain future, with competitive markets, intense price pressures and a drive to change. So they are beginning to ask fundamental questions about the nature of their business. These include what shape should a firm be and how will a firm approach this new market? Will firms be "Law Factories" that provide services to numerous segments of the market? Or will they be niche players that protect their brands in high-end markets and maybe even spin off sub-brands for servicing mid-level and low-end markets?

Ron and I started discussing this question in follow-up to an ILTA session last August where Ron was a co-panelist. The panel suggested that in the future, law firms would need to choose one of two strategies: bet the farm or law factory. This oversimplifies but helps air important issues. The panel struggled to answer whether the two models can co-exist in one firm. If you think the question is academic, consider the recent news about Howrey’s demise. Managing partner Bob Ruyak attributed the fall of the firm, in part, to more efficient e-discovery vendors and document review. Even if apocryphal, this illustrates the impact law factories can have on law firms.

So we decided to take up this question and compare the two approaches in a back-to-back blog post. Both views are shared on both of our blogs. We hope this "debate" spurs dialog in the market over many aspects of how firms are structured and sell themselves to their clients. We welcome comments, input and even offer up guest posting opportunities for those who want to take on this subject with us.

For Reference: Ron's post; Toby's Post


SUITING UP FOR THE LAW FACTORY by Toby Brown


The Banking Analogy “Commodity” is a dirty word at most law firms. It implies a ‘less-than’ level of expertise and is not the sort of brand any thoughtful lawyer would want for their firm.

But should they?

The opposite of ‘commodity’ in this context is “Bet the Farm” work - high-end, high-value niche services; the kind clients gladly pay full hourly rates for. In even the recent past, a lot of firms have been able to get away with pricing all of their services at bet the farm rates, since they held the market power and could designate a greater portion of their services as high-end, high rate work. But that’s not the case anymore, as evidence in the market by expanding buyers’ market power, and the rise of discounts and AFAs. I have argued elsewhere that lawyers, via their monopoly position, were able to artificially hold off the commoditization of their services. The bottom-line: most firms services are no longer in the high-end niche portion of the market. Pretending to be there, doesn’t make it so.

So where does that leave law firms? I see they have two options. First – stay very focused on the high-end, high margin niche segment of the market and then develop lower brands as noted in Ron’s post. Or firms admit they can’t play exclusively in that space and embrace the commodity concept a.k.a. as a Law Factory play. I believe the latter approach makes sense for most law firms, merely based on the fact that there is room for only a very few firms in that high-end segment. But … will embracing commodity services tarnish a firm’s brand, excluding it from high-end opportunities?

Banks present a feasible model for law firms to consider. They serve a very broad piece of the market, yet maintain a high-value brand. They sell basic banking services to the mass market and sell specialized services to high net-worth individuals and companies.

A Law Firm Scenario: The Three Tiers of the Patent Litigation Market. From a Case Study I am preparing, I will paint a picture of a new patent litigation market. I suggest this is a relatively accurate picture, but know some variations and modifications of the exact numbers should be in order. In any event, this concept demonstrates the Law Factory approach from an economic / market perspective.
Tier 1 – High stakes matters. This is the classic “Bet the Farm’ work. I would put it at 15-20% of the market, and declining.
Tier 2 – Mid-level stakes. These matters will have valid legal claims involving enough money they require a reasonable legal response, but not at the level of Tier 1. This segment of the market has seen increasing price sensitivity. Two to three years ago the work may have commanded fees near Tier 1 level. Put this segment at 50-60% of the market and growing.
Tier 3 – Nuisance matters. This tier covers questionably valid legal claims and thus low financial exposure. This segment has high price sensitivity and clients benefit from quick, low cost resolutions. Put this segment at 20-25% of the market, relatively stable but with occasional spikes.

Given this market dynamic and utilizing the banking industry concept above, how might a law firm approach this market?

What this segmentation tells us is that the mass of market spending is occurring in Tier 2. And since prices are dropping that this work is begging for some innovations to moderate the costs. So although Tier 1 may have had good margins, it’s a shrinking market with a large pool of competitors. Unless your firm is willing to invest significant dollars in securing this market segment, which will cut into those margins, you will be wasting your time. This doesn’t mean you will ignore this segment, but only that you approach it smartly. Tier 2, in contrast, presents much greater opportunity for market growth and reasonable, sustainable margins. To do well in this segment, a firm will need to “commoditize” some of its work.

In contrast, Tier 3, may well fall off the radar of larger firms. To be profitable here requires serious changes in the personnel and compensation structure of a firm.

The hard questions for law firms are - Can they actually make these changes and then maintain their brand across market segments?

I would suggest a relatively simple and easy to accomplish approach would be to target Tier 2 work and watch for Tier 1 opportunities within your client base. A given client can have work in all three tiers. So, by holding the client relationship strong via Tier 2 service, you create the opportunity for getting Tier 1 work from them without having to overspend on market protection. The internal challenges will come with making practice management adjustments in order to be profitable in Tier 2. I suspect a number of firms have slipped into this approach by accident. However without making changes, their margins in Tier 2 are disappearing and they will struggle to maintain quality service. Absent a proactive approach here, Tier 2 work will move away from a firm to more innovative firms, leading to a dissolution of a firm's Tier 1 opportunities.

As an aside, let’s assume for a moment a firm adjusts internally to serve all three segments of this market. Should they then go after smaller businesses or other “low end” clients? This is not a brand risk. JP Morgan Chase servicing low-end markets will not hurt its brand, but may in fact enhance it as it demonstrates depth and strength.

Although you do reach a point when banks will not service a segment. But it’s not a brand issue that stops them. Instead it’s the “cost of customer acquisition and maintenance” that stops them. When no other organizational structures are available and it becomes impossible to make money on a customer segment, the banks leave the segment. Currently this is shown in the growth of “payday loan” check cashing services, an alternative provider serving this segment.

This shows that concerns about brand reputation issues can be addressed when law firms chose to embrace commodity type services.

So the elephant left in the room is: Can law firms restructure in this way? I would argue that structures for servicing Tier 1 and 2 markets are definitely possible. However, I question how many law firms will have the institutional will to implement them. Suggesting that certain partners’ comp should be adjusted to reflect their real contribution to the bottom line will be a difficult conversation. This means the less radical the adjustment, the more likely it is feasible. I would argue that shifting to a Tier 2 provider fits this approach. Process innovation combined with Legal Project Management (LPM) should suffice for this.

In contrast, firms that chose the “Bet the Farm” approach will need to dramatically increase their investment in expertise, marketing and client relationships. This approach seems much more challenging for a firm, since their willingness and ability to make large investments in their firm is quite limited.


Toby's Conclusions 

The Law Factory is not only possible, it may be the only viable option for a large number of firms. Absent this type of approach, firms will see a shrinking market and declining margins. In a market that is driving the commoditization of services, failure to embrace that change will result in many failed firms.



LAW FACTORY LESSONS FROM HILTON HOTELS by Ron Friedmann



The Business Analogy: Hilton Hotels As a frequent traveler who typically stays at Hilton brand hotels, it strikes me that hotels offer a useful analogy for thinking about law factory versus bet-the-farm firms.
Hilton offers multiple sub-brands to appeal to different buying segments. Conrad and Waldorf Astoria cater to the luxury crowd. At the other end of the spectrum, Hampton Inn appeals to the budget-minded. Multiple brands in the middle offer different feature-price trade-offs: Hilton Hotels, Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Doubletree.

Each brand operates in a discrete location; indeed location is an attribute that separates brands. Individual Hilton brands also tend to have similar architecture and design. Because location, architecture, and amenities differ significantly, brands have different cost structures. A Hampton Inn in a distant suburb without room service, doorman, or concierge costs less to operate than a downtown Hilton Hotel offering these plus other amenities.

All Hilton brands presumably benefit from centralized, shared services such as branding, marketing, purchasing, and the all-important loyalty program, which Hilton has just started promoting heavily. Though not precisely a shared service, I assume Hilton shares hospitality know-how across sub-brands. (Do they have a formal KM system!?!)

From the consumer perspective, I suspect most frequent travelers understand the difference among Hilton brands and choose the sub-brand based on trip-specific travel needs and budget.


Lessons from Hilton The Practice Area Analogy 

What can law firms learn from Hilton? One analogy is to consider practice areas (e.g., M&A and T&E) as sub-brands. Consider two practices seldom seen at top law firms: immigration or labor / employment. If bet-the-farm firms such as Cravath, Davis Polk, or Slaughter & May were Hilton or Marriott, they might also have these and other "law factory" practices. Like Hilton, they could house the lower-end practices in separate offices with cheaper real estate.

Simply paying less rent, however, does not make a non-premium practice profitable. The entire support structure for lower margin practices must change: less lawyer support (e.g., fewer secretaries), more fixed or alternative fees, and higher leverage.

Hilton and its competitors clearly know how to operate properties at different price-value points. It is not at all obvious that law firms do. I can't think of many (any?) that run practices with dramatically different volumes, margins, and support requirements.

Why are there no obvious examples? Perhaps clients would not buy multiple services from "law firm chains". That seems a weak hypothesis to me. The better explanation is that law firms lack the management talent and capital. Regulatory constraints may also play a role.

Absent these constraints, we might see the emergence of law firm holding companies that can take advantage of shared services and be the equivalent of Hilton. Watch the UK, where outside ownership will be allowed soon, and Australia, where it is already allowed.


Matter Tasks as an Analogy Another analogy is to view unbundled (disaggregated) tasks within a single practice as akin to sub-brands. For example, in M&A, the core merger agreement is like the Conrad or Waldorf but many lesser agreements are more like Hampton Inns.

The market seems to be moving in just this direction today. The proliferation of service providers - for example, boutique law firms, high-volume staffing companies, high-end staffing companies (e.g., Axiom), and legal process outsourcers (LPO) - suggest the market is already disaggregating tasks.

A key question is one law firm can unbundle sub-tasks. We do have some examples. In the UK, Berwin Leighton Paisner has its Managed Legal Services and Lawyers on Demand and Herbert Smith its Northern Ireland document review center. In the US, WilmerHale and Orrick have low cost centers (Dayton, OH and Wheeling, WV respectively) where staff attorneys support law practice.

In my recent Integreon blog post US Legal Market Trends Favor Law Firms Working with LPO I suggested, based in part on a recent Citi / Hildebrandt report, that large law firms can benefit by partnering with LPOs to support high-volume legal work. Of course, working for an LPO I might be biased. That said, large law firms have little experience running high volume legal support operations with industrial discipline. Of course firms can "industrialize" – the examples cited are instructive – but as a practical matter, mindset, management, and capital constraints make it difficult.


Ron's Conclusions 

My current conclusion is that law firms will struggle to manage both bet-the-farm and law factory. Law firms today develop deep but rather narrow capability. Beyond management, capital, and regulations constraints, I would add lack of courage and imagination. A more neutral way of phrasing this is by reference to The Innovator’s Dilemma (Clayton M. Christensen), which explains why successful organizations rarely change their business model and why upstarts often eventually eat their lunch. We may yet see a bet-the-farm law firm operate an industrial-strength law factory but I suspect it will not be at an AmLaw 100 firm.

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Truth, Justice, and the USA.GOV URL Shortener

Don’t tell me you didn’t see this one coming a mile away. When the Cruise Missiles started landing in Libya, it was almost a given that one of the most popular URL Shorteners would take a direct hit. For those of you that didn’t already know this, the “.ly” is the Libyan domain name, and the “bit.ly” URL shortener (which has no connection with the Libyan government, other than paying for the domain name), is scrambling to avoid any more strikes from the US Government.

Starting today, if you use the “bit.ly” shortener to shorten a “USA.GOV” link, you’ll notice that it no longer shortens it to “bit.ly/shorturl”. Instead, you get the “1.usa.gov/shorturl”.

So, I guess it’s “yay!” for patriotism” but “boo!” for short URLs. Right off the bat, anyone can see that the URL shortener is now three characters longer!! Couldn’t they have at least set it up as “us.gov/shorturl”?? I mean, really??

Now that the boys and girls of “Bit.ly” have opened the gates to changing USA.GOV links away from the taint of the Libyan domain name, I’m sure the state governments will be lining up to do their patriotic duty and ask that any links to their state websites also be changed to something different (and probably longer, as well.)

See the Talking Points Memo article for additional details on the 1.USA.gov launch.

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Really Want Those LinkedIn Connections To Work? Connect With Your Librarian!

Tell me if you've heard this (true) story before… A Partner calls up the Marketing team and says that he is going to be attending a conference this weekend and wants to get some background information on a small group of General Counsels (GC's) that will be attending. Immediately, Marketing calls the library and asks to have a basic competitive intelligence report drafted up on those ten GC's — using one of those magical database that we must have.

In the not-so-distant past, we would have gone to the basics of looking up the person's profile on "magical databases/print resources" like  Martindale-Hubbell or Chambers, and then researched their company websites for profiles, and then conducted a news/information search (sometimes referred to as "I Googled Them".) However, one of the best resources that we have at our disposal today is the information that the GC's put out themselves on LinkedIn.

The LinkedIn research works really well if the person you're looking for is "within your network" (no further than 3 connections away.) If the person is more than 3 connections away, then you usually don't get to see the full profile, or take advantage of some of the searching features that are available for those within your network. So, the key is to work your connections in such a way that expands your network to include as many GC's as possible. The best way to do this? Get your firm's Partners connect with you on LinkedIn. Make it clear to each and every partner that doing so is in their best interest and makes it easier for you to track down information on the potential clients.

Also, don't forget to connect with your Marketing team. If they rely upon you for competitive intelligence research and analysis, then they too would benefit by connecting with you on LinkedIn and sharing their network with you. Hopefully, your Marketing team is already connected with all the firm's Partners (if not, then suggest that they start doing so!) Adding a few more connections expands your CI capabilities exponentially, and that can make you the hero when it comes to getting relevant information back to the Partner so he can better prepare to talk with the GC and bring in some more business to the firm.

Back to the story I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Out of the ten GC's, nine of them had LinkedIn profiles. Out of those nine, eight of them were in my network. The end result was that I was able to pull relevant information on these GC's and get it into the hands of a partner in just a few minutes. Now I have to go out and start tracking down those other Partners at the firm so that I don't miss out on that ninth GC the next time around.

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3/21/11

The Art of Shorter Writing

Andy Selsberg’s op-ed in The New York Times this weekend got me thinking about the difficulty of professional writing in the age of Twitter. As someone that was taught the standards of a five-paragraph essay, or a 500-word report paper, the modern style of professional writing simply doesn’t fit this mold any longer. Many will blame Twitter for the reduction in the length of communications, but as I think about it, this has been an evolving process for a number of years… most likely starting with the boom in e-mail communications starting in the mid-1990’s.

I think back over the years to the memos I’ve written for bosses, judges, professors, deans, associates, and partners and I’ve recognized that my writing style has gone from lengthy paragraphs (five-paragraph essay), to bullet-point sentence fragments, to what it is today; a short, concise sentence or two that explains the situation and either leaves an open-ended question to be answered, or points to another document that gives a further explanation. Sounds almost exactly like what I do with my Twitter messages.

Let’s face it, writing isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do for many of us. Most of us have been able to establish a formula for writing (again, usually based upon a variation of the five-paragraph essay), and can “fake” our way through it by following that formula. Unfortunately, many of the people that are reading what we have to write don’t have the time or the interest to read your introduction, explanation of ideas, and conclusion, so they tend to skim through and pick out the highlights of what you’ve written. So, like it or not, your writing is already getting scaled back by the reader, and hopefully they haven’t missed the real highlights that were shrouded in those 15-20 sentences.

Selsberg nails the modern writing style when he hints that we’re not talking about dumbing down the way we write, but rather shortening the way we write by “learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently.” He makes his students write these short, concise, succinct and eloquent assignments explaining YouTube videos, writing a review on Amazon, or an eBay ad on the clothes they are currently wearing. In the professional world, we have similar items that we write on explaining a newspaper story, a recent court decision, or synopsis of a competitive intelligence report. Just like with the classroom assignments, the short message is meant to give the reader enough information to either lead them on to something else, or to move them away from the topic because there is no need to go any further.

I just noticed that my explanation of modern short writing style has resulted in a basic five-paragraph (520-word) essay. It is still the main formula I use for blog writing, but I’ll shorten it up when I link to it on Twitter, or when I send out an email to my friends and colleagues pointing them to the post. Of course, now I’m wondering how much of this you’ve skimmed over just now trying to pick out the highlights?

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The Value of Non-Lawyers in Client Fee Conversations


When lawyers talk about Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) they usually want to know: 1) Which one works?, and 2) What is the number? When I get this "silver bullet" question, I always reply with the same answer. There is no silver bullet AFA - the real secret of AFAs is talking to the client. This conversation needs to be a give-and-take dialog, where firm lawyers actually do most of the listening.
As you might guess, lawyers don't like to hear this answer. They want something simple and straight forward. Peeling back the layers, the main reason they want a simple answer is because they don't like to talk to clients about fees. This type of conversation is outside their comfort zone, in part, since it makes them feel they are in an adversarial position with the client. The reality is that these conversations put them in full alignment with the client's best interest. Failing to talk about fees is a recipe for conflict and problems with your client.
This is where the non-lawyer, fee expert can have their highest value. Including them in the conversation with the client can erase the fears of talking about fees. First off, a non-lawyer is in a position to freely discuss fees and fee concerns with the client. Not being the client's advocate allows a more open and straight-forward discussion about fees. Questions focused on fee concerns and fee pressures the client has are easy to surface. Just as importantly, a non-lawyer brings a second set of ears to the discussion. It's been my experience that in these conversations I hear different aspects of client answers to fee questions, and many times catch nuances of their concerns that lawyers miss or don't see the importance of.
The lessons here are two-fold. First, there is high value in having these fee conversations with clients. Since many of these clients are lawyers by training and experience, they have not been engaging in these dialogs. As such, they greatly appreciate the concern and conversation. Second, bringing someone to the table without an interest in the legal issues and with an ability to discuss this subject, makes these open conversations possible.
Any firm or lawyer wanting to prosper in this emerging, competitive environment would do well to include non-lawyers in fee conversations with their clients. Even separate from alternative fee situations, this proactive approach will impress the clients and give your firm new insights into clients’ buying decisions.

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