About a year ago something happened to me professionally that really set me off. I fired up my laptop and spewed all of the venom in my heart into a ranty draft blog post. Before posting it, I sent it to a few people for review. They all agreed I’d been wronged. Several encouraged me to publish immediately, a few suggested I should give it some more thought.
I was going through some personal difficulties at the time and I feared that some of my vehemence may have been misplaced anger, so I shelved the piece. I left it in the drafts bucket on the blog and there it sat until last week.
Last week, through an unlikely comedy of errors, my rant was published here under the wrong byline. If you receive 3 Geeks via feed, you may have received the unvarnished post. It was picked up by a couple of aggregator newsletters too, but by the time you clicked the link to read the article in full *poof*, no post. We had already realized our mistake and replaced my rant with the correct content.
Even though I wasn’t listed as the author of the rant, I received several inquiries from friends who had read the post before we fixed it. They recognized my style and were confused as to what happened and why had it been taken down. Some were disappointed because they thought my post would start an interesting conversation about the free exchange of ideas in legal. Some were dumbfounded because I was referencing ‘my marketing team’ when they know my new company (created several months after writing the rant) is too small to have a marketing team. And a few were astonished that I would let fly a blue streak of expletives…no, a few were astonished that I would PUBLISH a blue streak of expletives. Had I gone forward with publishing at the time, I would have substantially edited the post.
I re-read my rant on the morning it was accidentally published, and even though I’m in a much better place personally than I was last year at this time, it turns out I’m still just as upset as I was when I originally wrote it. So, with minimal editing (mostly for language), and in the hopes of starting a conversation about the free exchange of ideas, how to address plagiarism in a small community, and the abuse of pay-to-play events in legal, here is my Phantom Post.
The legal industry is tiny. It’s full of cliques and special interest groups; kind of like high school, except with inverted popularity, where the geeks and the nerds are ‘the cool kids’. And given the opportunity to be ‘cool’ the geeks tend to step up and rise above the petty jealousies of adolescence. We are an open clique. We share our ideas, theories, and models. And we are effusive with praise for each other and quick to give credit to our friends, colleagues, and fellow legal geeks. Occasionally, this tendency causes us to go a bit overboard and lay lavish praise on somewhat mediocre accomplishments, but that’s because we genuinely like each other and have legitimate pride in our tribe.
This is my experience in legal tech generally, and with 3 Geeks and a Law Blog specifically. I have met so many tremendously helpful, friendly, and thoughtful mentors and friends in this industry over the last 10 years, that I find it truly remarkable on those rare occasions that I run into a (ed.) bad person that goes against the grain and gives the industry a bad name. Don’t get me wrong, they are out there, but usually they don’t last very long. The tribe protects itself, by ostracizing those who don’t play nice.
I have never hesitated to share my ideas here on this blog or elsewhere. I’m not particularly proprietary. Nor am I one to believe I have all the answers. I often propose things in an argumentative, or provocative manner, because that gets responses. That gets people like my fellow Geeks (Toby, Greg, Casey, and friends of the blog, like Ron Friedmann and Zena Applebaum) to call (ed.) BS on my BS. I like that. I always have. It means I will either learn something new (in the case of the people I mentioned above), or I’ll learn who I shouldn’t bother listening to, in the case of a few commenters and posters that shall remain unnamed.
But a few weeks ago, I questioned my open philosophy. I had an experience where an event promoter presented my ideas as his own and had the temerity to contact me directly and point this out. Of course, he didn’t just contact me directly for that reason, he spammed everyone in his contact list. At least 6 other people in my company got the same message on LinkedIn, that he thought we’d “appreciate the reference to” our company.
However, his post didn’t actually mention our company. It contained an unattributed image from another company that happened to contain our logo. In addition, he presented my ‘3 Boxes of Innovation’ model, as a brilliant idea that he would be expanding upon in the near future. All of which would have been absolutely fine, had he, you know, mentioned that it was my concept. But he didn’t.
Upon receiving his message, I responded pointing out that his post didn’t actually mention my company, and that while I was thrilled he was talking about my ideas, I would appreciate some credit for them. I sent him a link to my original blog post and I gave him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he didn’t realize they were my ideas. When you share openly, these things happen. I get it and I’m not one to get upset. So I went to bed, confident that the situation would be rectified in the morning.
The next morning, I checked to see if he had responded. He had definitely read my message (LinkedIn tells you when they’ve done that) but he did not respond. This (ed.) upset me mightily. So I sent a much less friendly message through the feedback link on his website, suggesting that he should immediately rectify the situation. Then I notified my marketing team, that I was being plagiarized and they contacted the promoter directly to rectify the situation. No response. I felt kind of bad, because I was a little rude in my message through his website, so I sent a much nicer email to him directly, asking him politely to immediately rectify the situation. Hours later, still no response. By now, I was seething.
That evening, a good friend came to my rescue and publicly pointed out in the comments of this event promoter’s plagiaristic post that these were great ideas when Ryan McClead originally wrote them 2 years previously. Within minutes the promoter responded, apologetically. So sorry, he had no idea. He thought this was just an idea that was ‘out there’.
I happen to know exactly where he heard my ideas and I know that I was absolutely referenced by the friend who told him. The thing that really upsets me is not that he didn’t credit me, but that even the conversation with my friend was conspicuously absent from his post. There was no acknowledgement that these ideas came from anyone other than himself. After being publicly called out, he reached out to my marketing team to see if I would speak at his latest event to talk about the 3 Boxes concept. My response was “yes, as long as we didn’t have to pay-to-play”. I initially thought that, having recognized his mistake, he was trying to make amends. Besides, I wasn’t about to let him turn this into a sales opportunity. My marketing team relayed that message, and the next day he promptly withdrew his offer for me to speak. Claiming, he mistakenly thought we were sponsoring the event and when he realized we weren’t, he couldn’t actually allow me to speak.
Now, you might legitimately think, “Wait a minute McClead, you’re not all that. Some random person mentioning your ideas and attributing them to you would not automatically register with this poor guy. Why would you expect him to know who YOU are?” I get it, I’m no Toby Brown, but I’m not exactly unknown in this tiny fishbowl of an industry. Aside from posting here often (once upon a time) I am fairly well-known in legal KM and Innovation circles. I speak regularly and often at conferences, I’m an (ed. now former) executive at a well-known legal tech startup, and I was just named a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. Still, I might buy that the promoter didn’t actually know who I was when my friend mentioned my “3 Boxes” model, except for the fact that he had interviewed me on stage at his own event a few months earlier. At which time, he gave at least 5 minutes of my allotted 3 minute segment to another vendor that I can only assume paid a lot more money than I did to participate.
After that event, my company expected to be involved in working groups that would continue post event for several months. That was the way the event was presented to us as sponsors. There were at least 2 working groups that wanted to use our technology and we offered the tech, hosting, and professional services to build solutions free of charge. A few weeks later, the promoter reached out and asked us for another $10,000 if we wanted to continue working with those groups. I advised our marketing team to tell him where to stick his working groups. The next day he returned and asked if we’d consider giving him $5,000. We did not.
Which brings me back to this tiny industry and it’s cliquey brilliance. I reached out privately, several times, in different media, over the course of 24 hours, to give this person the opportunity to privately correct a simple wrong. However, it took only a few minutes after a public rebuke for the wrong to be corrected. This is not how my tribe works. We will not stand for such (ed.) a really not nice word.
I am not in a position to tell anyone how to spend their conference going or sponsoring dollars. You and your companies and firms should spend your money on the events that give you the best return on investment. As a vendor, that will always include pay-to-play events like the ones my adversary promotes. But I can say, without a doubt, that no company that I am working for, or otherwise involved with, will ever again spend a dime on events sponsored by this person. There are plenty of other events out there, my marketing dollars, my salespersons, my executives, and my thought leaders will go elsewhere thank you.