There is no reason why we should let an emergency go to waste. So, we’ve both taken on a side project while we work remotely. Marlene’s new daily ILTA blog presents a quick update on the skills we need to work on while we’re working from home. Her first post, Be Sheltering: Not Sheltered discusses a number of initiatives going on which we all can contribute. You can find out more on the ILTA blog page.

Greg began his daily podcast miniseries, In Seclusion, this week. These are short, less than 15 minutes, interviews of an eclectic group of people ranging from bar and professional association leaders, legal information professionals, vendors, consultants, lawyers, etc. Pretty much anyone who works in the legal industry and has a story to tell about their new work from home situation. The first episode is included in this podcast. Greg talked with Jim Calloway from the Oklahoma Bar Association regarding how they are helping their lawyers, courts, and community continue to work in this new environment. You can subscribe to In Seclusion on Spotify, or Apple Podcasts, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Of course, we’ll still be doing The Geek In Review Podcast as our primary, secondary, job.

Stay safe everyone!

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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

 

I am launching a podcast miniseries called In Seclusion.

The first episode dropped this morning.

This is a Marathon, Not A Sprint – Jim Calloway – Oklahoma Bar Association

#oklaHOMEa

In the inaugural episode of In Seclusion, I talk with Jim Calloway, the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program (MAP). Calloway and I go back to my early legal days with the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network. He discusses the issues facing the state bar, the courts, and the members of the bar as everyone faces the reality of working from home over an extended time period.

Jim reminds us that this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Take care of your practice’s number one asset…  yourself. The primary focus on most institutions is “life-saving” processes, and that means the legal system is going to be backed up.

Products Discussed:

Remember, we may all be In Seclusion, but we’re in this together.

Host: Greg Lambert (@glambert)
Producer: Janice Anderson
Artwork: Dean Lambert
Music: Jerry David DeCicca
Twitter: @InSeclusionPod

We try… and fail to stay off the COVID-19 topic this week, but it’s just too ingrained in our lives right now. For those of you out there doing the remote work thing, we understand and hope you are adapting to the new work mode with little interruption. We, too, are working remotely, and hope there are not too many background noises of kids, refrigerators, or pets making cameo appearances on this week’s show.
We have a great talk with Charlie Uniman, Legal Tech Startup Evangelist, and founder of Legal Tech Startup Focus. LTSF is an online community of nearly 1,000 legal startup professionals that gives its members a place to find like-minded individuals and bounce ideas off of one another. Charlie also produces the LTSF Podcast. We cover the issues of how law firms and legal startups communicate with each other. Charlie details the basic processes that law firms and legal startups need to take to build a solid relationship that is beneficial to both parties. While some of what he lays out may seem like common-sense to Charlie, it is insightful to those of us who may not have the constant relationships with startups like he does.

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Information Inspirations

PwC launched its COVID-19 Navigator this week. This online resource shows some of the flexibility that the Big 4 accounting firms may have over law firms. The COVID-19 Navigator allows business leaders to answer a survey of questions to determine how prepared they are for the COVID-19 business disruptions. PwC says that this “digital tool contains 3 sections of questions that will help you understand where your company stands as you respond to COVID-19 in the areas of: crisis management and response; workforce; operations and supply chain; finance and liquidity; tax and trade; and strategy and brand.” Can you imagine law firms using an iterative software design like this to leverage their subject matter expertise with technology to assist customers and potential customers with major issues like COVID-19? If not, it’s time to start thinking about it.

Marlene’s inspiration this week is for all of us to stay healthy and work through our transition to the remote working that many of us are not accustomed to doing. If you’re struggling or want to share your experiences, please reach out to us and we’d love to have that conversation.

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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

At the recent, excellent Law 2030, Vijay Govindarajan observed, “There is only so much Six Sigma you can do.” Despite my affinities, I concur. Low baselines can have an outsized impact on the efficacy of interventions—but then baselines stop being low.

Consider buying a car with an eye towards better gas mileage.

Which technological leap saves more gas? Improving a car’s miles per gallon (i) from 10 mpg to 20 mpg or (ii) from 20 mpg to 100 mpg?

Put another way, from the perspective of gallons saved, what is the ‘bigger improvement’ (i) +10 mpg/2x or (ii) +80 mpg/5x?

Since I’m asking the question, you already surmised the answer is counter intuitive:

One simple takeaway is that once you cut something in half, there is nothing you can do, save eliminating it entirely, that will ever again deliver the same raw level of improvement.

In the legal context, for example, we have good reason to accelerate contract review. Start with a standard review that averages 20 minutes and reduce it by 60% through basic interventions (harmonized templates, checklists, playbooks, deviation matrices, etc.). You save 12 minutes per contract. Next, throw on some razzle dazzle AI that reduces average review time by another 60%. You save less than 5 additional minutes. That’s not nothing, especially with large volumes. But it comes at a cost, including the opportunity cost of addressing other chokepoints, constraints, and rate-limiting factors. Continue Reading The Limits of Incremental Improvements

 

Using Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Natural Language Processing to hold a conversation might seem like a far off idea when it comes to the legal industry, but it is not. We sit down with Baker Hostetler’s Katherine Lowry, and Puerto Rico defense attorney Diego Alcala to get a better understanding of how chatbots work, and what value they can bring from legal practices ranging from BigLaw Bankruptcy practice to a solo attorney’s criminal law practice.

Katherine Lowry won the American Association of Law Libraries’ Innovation Tournament in 2018 with her attorney-facing chatbot. In the nearly two years since that recognition, she has created a chatbot for her Bankruptcy practice that answers thousands of potential questions and helps her attorneys find information quickly and frees up her researchers’ time for more complex questions.

Diego Alcala is working on chatbots which will assist him in his practice by answering basic questions that family members need to know about the clients he is representing. While Diego is not a programmer, he has learned the concept of chatbots through numerous platforms that allow for those with no coding skills to still create powerful chatbots to answer practical questions.

Listen in and see if the ideas shared by Lowry and Alcala spur any ideas of how automating a conversation might help you in your practice.

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Information Inspirations

There’s another bill in Congress that creates a FREE PACER! Congressman Hank Johnson, D-GA, is not stopping there. He is also requiring more transparency in the Federal Courts by requiring audio and video recordings are made available of court proceedings. While the bill creates a FREE PACER for most, there is a surcharge for power users who have $25,000 or more in quarterly usage. That means some BigLaw firms will have to pay that surcharge. Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 70 – A Chat About Chatbots and The Law With Katherine Lowry and Diego Alcala

Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash
With all of the news about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) making its way into the United States, it is time for law firms to think about what they are going to do to prepare for a possible outbreak that will affect their business operations. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans need to be dusted off and updated to manage the different scenarios that may come our with over the next few months. We asked the Association of Legal Administrators interim Executive Director, April Campbell, to discuss what law firms need to be doing to prepare.

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There are definite immediate and local actions that should be implemented such as:
  • Restrict travel to hotspots
  • 14-day work from home policies for personnel who have traveled to those areas, or were exposed to others who may have traveled to hotspots
  • Stress that sick employees stay home
  • Explain proper handwashing techniques
  • And LOTS OF HAND SANITIZER

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 69 – What Should Law Firms Do To Prepare for a Possible COVID-19 Epidemic? With the ALA’s April Campbell

The legal industry relies upon the writings and communications of lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. For the citizens and clients who are subject to these legal writings, understanding the legalese is painfully frustrating. We were asked by a fan of the show (in full disclosure, it was Greg’s sister-in-law Wendy) why lawyers can’t write in plain English. We pulled together a panel of four experts on legal communications and asked them just that. It turns out that writing in plain English is not only possible, but it is the preferred method of legal writing.
Our guests on this episode are:

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Suggested Reading List

Information Inspirations

Greg got to drop in on a Houston Young Lawyer Association meeting for First-Generation Lawyers on the topic of lawyer recruiting. The meeting was great, but the biggest impact was made by a question a minority law student was asked on why his experience as a person of color would bring value to the firm. Is that something a firm should even be asking?

Marlene geeks out over Evan Parker’s article on How to Talk Data and Influence People, Including Lawyers. This dovetailed nicely with our guests’ discussion on presenting the information in a way that tells a story and presents information in a way that is understandable by the reader. Data analytics is just another method of communicating. The trick is communicating in a way that actually makes sense and informs.

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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 68 – The Innovative Concept of Legal Writing in Plain English

We reach across the Atlantic Ocean and talk with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s Nick Pryor on his work the firm’s BCLP³ innovation objectives. Nick heads up the firm’s European, Middle East, and Asia innovation projects, and gives us some insights on the joys and hardships that come with innovation in the global legal market. Whether it is regulations, cultural challenges, competition, or setting a long-term vision, innovation is challenging. However, Nick also stresses that it is also very rewarding.

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Innovation Inspirations
If you had any doubts that privacy was dying, the work that Clearview AI is doing may put those doubts to bed. The facial recognition company has scraped billions of images and personal details from the open web over the past few years and has created a database for law enforcement which claims to have a 99% accuracy rate for matching faces to these images. In a recent The Daily Podcast from the New York Times, reporter Kashmir Hill investigates Clearview AI’s entry into the facial recognition marketplace and finds a story that is equally amazing and scary. Federal and state law enforcement are raving about the power of this product to help them solve crimes that may have gone unsolved forever. There is a dark side to this power, which Hill found out first hand when the company manipulated results on her photos and possibly intimidated police who were talking with her. Check out the podcast The End of Privacy as We Know It?
On a lighter note, Marlene’s innovation comes from another podcast that explains how new words are added to the Miriam Webster dictionary. The podcast doesn’t just stop with the explanation, they are actually attempting to place one of three words into that dictionary, and are asking for help on picking which one. Which will it be? Niblings? Preregret? Or, Pistracted? You can help pick America’s Next Top Word.
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Please take the time to rate and review us on Apple Podcast. Contact us anytime by tweeting us at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or, you can call The Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 and leave us a message. You can email us at geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com. As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

January was a busy month on my LinkedIn. Birthday and a work anniversary. The automatic notifications prompted some splendid exchanges with old friends. And I received a few questions worth answering more publicly.

Where you been?

Working. Took the new job at the beginning of 2019. It was exciting at the time. Even more exciting now. But I wanted to do something before I said something. When you spill ink decrying the lack of substance underpinning many discussions of innovation in legal service delivery, you set yourself up to be indicted on charges of hypocrisy (a misdemeanor). I’ve mostly kept my head down and gone about the business of demonstrable progress (to be continued).

When will you write/speak again?

Now.

What about?

So much to say. But I’ll start with a shibboleth that continues to burrow deeper into my brain despite the fact I’ve been repeating it for years.

Obvious ≠ Simple ≠ Easy

Everything is obvious—once you know the answer (great book, btw). But what is obvious is not always simple. And what is simple is not necessarily easy. Since it’s resolution season, I’ll use the ubiquitous ‘diet and exercise’ as my real-world example with guest appearances by old acquaintances like innovation, AFAs, and artificial intelligence to bring it home to our space.

It’s obvious but not that obvious. While a huge swath of the population acknowledges they should eat healthier and exercise more regularly, most of the thinking beyond that gets hazy despite no shortage of generally recognized motivations. Look better. Feel better. Live longer. These are admirable but amorphous goals that remain mostly aspirational save some short, intermittent efforts to ‘do something’. Relative to the popularity of the topics, the actual incidence of sustained, effective commitment to improved diet and exercise are vanishingly small (far different from nonexistent—in raw numbers, there are many success stories). People have other present, pressing priorities.

Innovation in legal services is similarly admirable and amorphous. It is an aspirational abstraction to which few raise objection. We witness innumerable, repeat vows to innovate (and countless examples of real innovation). But relative to the supposed attention to innovation, the felt impact consistently disappoints. Legal professionals have other present, pressing priorities.

Other present, pressing priorities should not be dismissed. Family, emotional health, work, etc. are legitimate consumers of personal energy and attention. Actually delivering legal services to the people and businesses who need them today rightfully has pride of place among legal professionals. The fundamental attribution error and blame-based narratives are unhelpful in telling the story of clinging to current behavioral patterns.

But it’s not merely being busy. It is also the fact that when you decide to pursue change, the question of how to change gets complicated, in short order.

It’s not so simple. At a high level, ‘eat healthy’ is quite simple—and beyond vague. Imagine tackling the question for the first time and finding, as has been observed by others, that for every diet there is an equal and opposite diet.

Exercise selection is equally taxing (running, lifting, yoga, etc.). Consider the variations (sprinting, 5Ks, marathons; cross fit, powerlifting, Olympic lifting; Ashtanga, Anusara, Bikram) and infinite, often conflicting, advice on training protocols from people locked in internecine squabbles incomprehensible to outsiders. So many people purport to have the answer. Yet the number of answers to sift through is practically infinite.

Then there is the inconvenient facts that weight loss is not the same as fat loss and being lean is not the same as being healthy. People not surviving marathons. The extreme misery of fitness competitors. Yogis hurting themselves. If you are the type of person who wants to do things well, let alone perfectly, you will quickly suffer from information overload. A swift return to the couch is not without its appeal.

Again, plenty of people have successfully improved, and are improving, various aspects of their lives through better diet and exercise habits with a focus on progress rather perfection. The point here is that when the simple notion that ‘something’ should be done gives way to actually deciding what that something is, complexity often intrudes. Complexity can be discouraging for the well-intentioned novice with other pressing, present priorities.

Worse, the conflation of obvious and simple, tends to drive people towards magic bullet (or magic pill) thinking.

Alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are an example of a pricing innovation from our space. It is obvious enough to lament the drawbacks of the billable hour—or even declare it dead. But when accurate analysis of the shortcomings of hourly billing gives way to devising a suitable alternative, complexity rears its heads.

There are many different fee arrangements, each with their own mix of tradeoffs. The competing options lend themselves not only to different types of matters but to different preference profiles. The lawyer who wanted a simple alternative to the billable hour instead discovers a decided lack of simplicity. Nor is the associated effort without downside risk—poorly calibrated fee arrangements can go very wrong. It is no wonder that so many revert to the default. Hourly billing is immediately familiar and accessible to anyone under pressure to get moving on the matter itself.

Selecting the right AFA entails hard thinking, hard choices, and, often, hard conversations. Not impossible. These occur every day. Successful AFAs are common enough. But there are comprehensible reasons their penetration comes nowhere close to the revolution that has been consistently predicted for the last four decades.

Moreover, even the successful implementation of AFAs is not a panacea so often imagined. Change the incentives, change the world. The interplay of incentives governing legal service delivery is far more intricate than simply switching fee structures. Many complementary conversations and attendant behavioral changes remain necessary. There are no magic bullets.

It’s not that easy. Determining an optimal diet and exercise plan may not be simple, but there are still many small, simple choices that have a positive impact on health outcomes. For example, in almost every instance: don’t eat the donut.

If you are trying to eat healthier, it is obvious you shouldn’t eat the donut. It is also quite simple. Just don’t eat the donut. But it isn’t easy. Donuts are delicious.

It isn’t easy Monday morning when the donut is fresh. It’s even less so Monday afternoon when a crazy day and a lunch salad have left you peckish. It isn’t easy on Tuesday when, instead of the donut, cookies presents themselves. Or Wednesday introduces a co-worker’s birthday cake. Or Thursday brings your colleagues’ invitation to happy hour. Or Friday screams out for comfort food after a long week. Or Saturday…

Adherence is often a far greater obstacle than diet selection. Our environment of caloric abundance conspires against our best intentions. Through millennia of scarcity, we evolved to eat what is in front of us. Now, delicious, calorie-dense food is constantly in front of us—most of it expertly engineered to light up our dopamine receptors like a Vegas slot machine.

Our work environment is similarly calibrated. We are trained to do the work in front of us. And there is always work in front of us.

Take the perspective of a busy legal professional and start to stack all the seemingly simple tasks we pile on top of one another. Capture your time. Upload documents to X repository using Y naming convention. File your matter-specific emails here. Contribute to this KM initiative. Attend, and pay rapt attention in, these trainings. Read and process these organizational updates. Keep up with trends in your practice area(s). Serve on this committee….oh, and, constantly innovate while simultaneously adopting and adapting to the innovations introduced by others!

In isolation, all simple and doable. In aggregate, overwhelming while also being subordinate to the work itself.

Which is not to say we can never expect people to modify their behavior or build new habits. Rather it is to observe that sustainable change is far less straightforward than merely recognizing benefits will follow therefrom. Sustainable change at the organizational level is an order of magnitude more challenging. Sustainable behavioral change often requires a new mindset grounded in a shift in identity. It requires new skillsets in navigating complex environments and coping with constant change. It requires new systems that eliminate waste masquerading as necessity. It requires tradeoffs, prioritization, and discipline. It is feasible. It is achievable. But not obvious. Not simple. Not easy. There are no magic bullets.

An exercise in empathy. Would-be change agents can quickly become frustrated and fall back into self-righteousness. There is a natural tendency to focus on how right we are—and, correspondingly, how wrong everyone else is for not listening to us. But anyone familiar with my writing knows I am keen to reflect on how wrong I’ve been. In particular, I try to interrogate the gaps in my mental models that lead to inaccurate predictions about the pace, scale, scope, and shape of change in the legal market.

Self-reflection engendered my affinity for Obvious ≠ Simple ≠ Easy. My  operating assumption is that anything obvious, simple, and easy is already in effect. Thus, if I look at a particular problem and think to myself the solution is all of those (happens frequently on a gut level), I am the one in error (so critical to not believe everything you think). I then use the lens of O≠S≠E to work through the problem and identify the errors in my thinking—not to dismiss my initial thought, but to refine it in order to make it workable.

A supposed antidote to natural stupidity. I’ll conclude with artificial intelligence as a final example.

At a certain level of abstraction, the proposition that AI should be applied to the delivery of legal services is obvious enough. AI automates knowledge work. Law is knowledge work. Therefore AI should have an impact on law.

Fair enough. But also fairly facile. To identify actual actionable overlaps, you need to know a decent amount about both law and AI. Most people focused on the day-to-day delivery of legal services do not possess such knowledge—nor should we expect them to. Thus, anyone who has observed (as I surely did once or twice in my wayward youth) that the application of AI to legal work is obvious is making a uselessly broad statement, has no idea what they are talking about, or is omitting a key qualifier: “obvious to people like me.”

Moreover, the constant refrain that the introduction of AI to legal service delivery is obvious has the effect of making it seem simple to the uninitiated. You just buy some AI, turn it on, and reap the rewards of the resulting magic. But anyone who has actually been involved procuring an AI solution can attest to the rigor required to identify a tool fit to purpose given the diversity and variety of options (see here). Simple it is not.

But even if you identify the right tool, it won’t be easy. You need clean data. You need to test and train. You need workflows and quality controls. You need to design, build, and iterate a well-structured process that maximizes the upside and minimizes the risks of the particular tool selected and ensure it is calibrated to context of the specific job to be done. Ultimately, you want to make this feel effortless and intuitive to various stakeholders. But the effort required to make work seem effortless can be extraordinary. It is not easy.

It’s been done. It’s been done well. Repeatedly. We have decades of successes. We have many more successes in front of us. But those successes have been, and will be, hard earned. What can be said of AI, can also be said of AFAs, knowledge management, workflow automation, contract lifecycle management, and all the other ‘basics’ of modern law practice. Even project management—which I may need to address soonish given how much territory in my brain that topic now occupies.

The hard thing about hard things. We do hard things well all the time. We, however, have a natural inclination to then present them as more accessible than they are. Wanting innovation to spread is an act of generosity. Indeed, many innovations exist because some well-meaning soul was initially convinced it was obvious, simple, and easy, then learned it was none of those but persisted anyway.

My aim is not to discourage all happy talk. I do, however, think we need to become better storytellers. We are drawn to tell innovation stories along the lines of this is great, quick, and easy as a way to make the journey attractive to potential fellow travelers. The countervailing impulse to share our struggles, however, tends too far towards this is inhumanely difficult (and therefore praiseworthy) to a degree that runs counter to our collective interest in promoting better behaviors. The sweet spot of this is hard but doable and worthwhile does not always land but is effective when it does.

We (well, me) need to get better at constructive realism not only in the stories we tell but in how we react to the stories others tell themselves. I have been guilty of offering unqualified encouragement to someone who wrongly thought the path before them was obvious, simple, easy. I liked their destination and did not want to be a buzzkill. I have likewise been guilty of accurately pointing out the flaws in lovely plans for the same reason—I wanted to help them avoid pitfalls. But I’ve introduced real talk in a way that dampened the innovation impulse rather than redirected it.

Not all failures are failures of imagination. Not all failures are failures of willpower. We fail for many reasons. Fit. Timing. Design. Planning. Execution. Change management….We succeed for the same reasons. That’s the hard thing about hard things. There are few easy answers. Nor many obvious or simple ones. But there are answers. Obvious Simple Easy. Yet:

Complicated Hard Impossible

 

If there’s one thing that many of us need these days, it is a cybersecurity expert on retainer. Luckily, law professor Steve Black, visiting professor at the University of Houston fills that need. Prof. Black talks with us on a number of issues including what motivates hackers and cybercriminals (spoiler: it’s money), the dark web, how law firms and business approach information stored in the cloud, and what process automation means for data security.
Law firms might be a weak link in the eyes of cybercriminals when it comes to acquiring information. Professor Black discusses the different tactics cybercriminals use, the vulnerabilities found in law firms, and the actions that we need to take with our equipment, our network, our people, and our data. We guarantee that his discussion would be the highlight of any party.

Information Inspirations
While some still think of Millennials as the new kids in the workforce, that isn’t really true. In a recent white paper from Thomson Reuters titled, “Becoming the firm where millennials want to work,” the authors discuss the needs of a generation which is now the largest percentage in the workforce. Greg ponders the idea of there actually being two subsets within the generation of those in the workforce through the Great Recession and those who entered after the downturn. There is almost a decade of lawyers who have never actually experienced what it’s like to work during a recession.

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 66 – Professor Steve Black on Cybersecurity in the Legal Market