I’ve written about Andy Hines, Futurist Professor from the University of Houston, before on this blog, but I just watched his TedXHouston video on what it is like to be a professional Futurist. The talk really caught my attention around the 6:55 portion where Andy starts delving into understanding how new ideas and change tend to be viewed by the members of your organization. He breaks them into four groups and defines how the members of each group tend to react to organizational change. For any of you who have implemented change in your organization, this will make perfect sense to you.

  1. Frogs – Understand foresight and they are good at getting things done in the organization. However, they are rare. The value of Frogs is that they can help you sell your ideas, and they can be champions for change.
  2. Lemmings – These are the people that pop out of the woodwork when a new idea comes around, and they say “Cool!” They can be an excellent support group, but they are the early adopters and not the mainstream of the organization. If you start to believe that they are the norm of the organization, then you all go off the cliff together.
  3. The Vultures – They don’t like foresight, they don’t like change, and they probably don’t like you. Best thing you can do is avoid The Vultures because you cannot change them.
  4. The Rats – This group is the vast majority of any organization. The Rats are really good at diagnosing what’s going on during the process of change. If the idea is a good one, they come running; if it is a bad idea, they are the first one off the sinking ship.

After breaking down the four groups, Hines turns the focus back on the person attempting to introduce and move the idea forward. First and foremost, “Good ideas don’t necessarily sell themselves.” You need to constantly sell people on your ideas.

Second, “You can’t be too worried about credit.” Once the organization adopts the idea, you may be pushed to the background (or completely out of the picture.) That’s okay. You’ve done your part in getting the organizational leaders to adopt your ideas. (Just remember to remind your boss that you were the generator of this idea.)

One other point that Andy Hines makes toward the end of the presentation, probably defines most of you reading this article. Hines calls them “The Futurizers.” These are the people that read articles, go to presentations, listen to their peers, and then come back to the organization and asks “Why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we thinking that way? Where are we going?”

Check out Andy Hines’ presentation below, and also check out his blog.

Image [cc] jessamyn

There is a theme that I hear from interviews of today’s struggling musicians, “I really wish we had been making music in the 90’s.” The idea behind that, although it might be like that Utopian 1950’s United States that never really existed, is that there was a time when people bought music, record companies supported bands through promotion and concert funding, and that if you were a good band that had a following, you could make a lot of money in the process. It seems that those of us in the Library, Information and Research profession think along the same lines as those musicians. There was a golden age where information was scarce, people needed our assistance in collecting that information, and we were there to support those in need of obtaining the information. Now, just like musicians, we wished there was a way to get back to those golden years, but we know that it is gone forever, and we struggle to define what it is that we can do that will still fill our desires to succeed in our professions.

The problem with both the music world and the information world is that anyone can now cut a song or directly obtain information without going through the tradition processes of a music studio or a library. The once scarce resources are now so common that there seems to be almost no barriers to obtaining these resources. A five-dollar app on my iPad can produce high-quality music, and an Internet connection can bring in amazing amounts of high-quality information. No longer are music studios or libraries the only place to go to get what you need. That has caused an enormous amount of upheaval in both of these industries, and the professionals that work in these industries, but at the same time, the consumers of these industries have more options than ever. So, how do we, at least on the library and information side of this situation, adapt?

The record industry is still trying to catch up with the paradigm shift, and they misfired on many occasions in adjusting to the shift by continually trying to find ways of getting their industry back to a model that simply didn’t exist any longer. Instead of looking at the needs of the consumer, they looked at the needs of the industry. The same might be said of the library industry. We look at ways that technology and services can be modified to give a better version of the same service instead of stepping back and creating new technologies and new services that fit the changing demands of the customers. In fact, we’ve probably spent too many years attempting to satisfy the needs of customers that will never, ever use us again because they can simply obtain what they want from a cheaper, faster resource (read: Google).

Syracuse University’s professor and Dean’s Scholar for the New Librarianship, David Lankes, discusses these changes in those that use information, and how those of us that believe we provide relevant information are not on the same page. A very good article on this topic is in this month’s Information Today, Inc. where Lankes comes right out and says that where we, as a profession, are going, is not where our customers are heading. To paraphrase Lankes, our customers are dreaming of the things they want to do, while the librarians are attempting to make them give up those dreams in order to follow the guidelines and rules we set up to make our own jobs easier. If we continue to try to make our customers fit into our defined services, we are destined to fail. Instead, we need to define our services based on those dreams of our customers. Since we are not the only game in town any longer, the customers will simply leave and go to those services that fulfill their dreams.

For today’s musician as well as today’s librarian, there are amazing opportunities to serve a community in a way that makes you more valued by a smaller group of people. The same technology and shifts in the way customers access music/information that has caused us all headaches can also be leveraged in ways that expand our reach beyond our traditional customer base. For musicians, it is exposing the styles of your trade to groups of potential customers through self-promotion and understanding the different potential communities that are out there that desire to hear you, but just don’t know you exist. For the library, it is slightly different, but the idea is that you find out where your community wants to go, and for you to set up your services to help get them there and then partner with that community to help them get to the next place they want to go.

Image [cc] miss_rogue

After listening to a panel of managing partners at the College of Law Practice Management’s Futures Conference on law firm culture, my thinking on the subject of culture and accountability came into focus. Culture (such as it is) drives decision making in firms. This is the case since firms make so many decision based on consensus, especially tough decisions since they want the partnership on-board. Unfortunately, ‘consensus’ has become a crutch for avoiding tough decisions. What underlies this consensus approach is a fear that a tough decision might lead to partners leaving the firm. This may be a legitimate fear, but it drives decision-avoidance behavior.

It is my humble opinion that at the core of this culture issue is partners’ fear of accountability. Any decision that adds a level of accountability to partners is DOA in a consensus world. Even if the accountability will show a partner in a good light today, tomorrow it may not. And with accountability comes the possibility of a negative reputation impact. And reputation is a core driver of lawyer behavior.

This thinking also ties back to my post on “Partners Act Like Workers.” No worker wants additional accountability and will fight against proposals that increase it. The primary accountability of lawyers currently is attaining a level of billable hours, which is a worker motivation. Accountability as an owner involves a whole other level of responsibility and reputation risk. And we all know how lawyers feel about risk.

But isn’t owner-level accountability exactly what firms need right now? The only way to effect real change is making leaders and owners accountable.

In the past, the culture of consensus was a positive. It helped firms keep a large group of individuals going in the same general direction. Now this same culture is holding them back from making tough decisions. I suppose the bottom-line is that law firm leaders finally need to … lead.

My wife works for Lighthouse International, a terrific non-profit dedicated to empowering people who are blind and visually impaired. Last week we attended an “experience” developed in partnership with the Lighthouse. Dialog in the Dark is called an exhibition, and is produced by the company that produced the Bodies Exhibition, but calling it an exhibition or a production completely misses the mark. The experience begins with a brief video explaining how to use the cane they’ve just handed you. Then you are led into a small room with light boxes along the walls, and you’re instructed to take a seat on one of the boxes. Another video plays describing the daily experience of people who are visually impaired in New York City and the light boxes begin to dim. As the screens wink out the boxes finally switch off and you are left in the dark. The organizers have taken great care to remove all light pollution so that the rest of the exhibit is entirely pitch black, which means your eyes never adjust. For the next hour you experience something like blindness.

We sat in the dark for a minute or so; my wife squeezing my hand tightly. Then we heard a door open to our left and a man’s voice said, “Hello, I’m Pedro, what are your names?” After the preliminaries, he gave us one directive, “Don’t be a one-armed zombie. Use your cane to navigate.” With that, Pedro took us on a tour of New York City as experienced by people who are blind. We went to Central Park, to Fairway Market on the Upper West Side, and we took the Subway down to Times Square. I’ve lived in New York for nearly 20 years and I have done all of these things many, many times, but this was a different world. It was an immersive experience for the senses except for, obviously, sight — and as Pedro pointed out, there was actually no tasting on this tour. But they took great care to recreate the feel and sound of the city. In the subway set, they either pumped in the smell of stale urine, or my association with the subway is so strongly correlated to that smell that I imagined it.

My wife and I stumbled through the set, bumping into trash cans and mailboxes, benches and trees, while Pedro danced around us with ease. He would come up beside me, put a hand on my shoulder and work down to my wrist, grabbing it and placing it directly on an object in front of me, or on a wall. “Ryan, do you know what this is? What do you think that is?” It was incredible. He didn’t fumble or guess. It was clear that he knew exactly where we were at all times. He would say things like, “Oops, no you’re facing the wrong way, turn around.” How did he know? His voice would suddenly come from a new direction and he would say, “OK, we’re going this way now, follow my tapping.” And he would tap his cane on the side of the wall, or a nearby pole until we felt our way over to him. Most remarkably, he would occasionally say, “No one-armed zombies.” just as I raised my left hand to feel in front of me. At one point, I was convinced that we would come to the end of the tour, turn the lights up and find out that Pedro was fully sighted and wearing infrared goggles of some kind.

At the end of the tour, there is a Q&A session and the lights slowly come up as you are talking with your guide. Pedro sat across the table from us. No IR goggles. He was definitely visually impaired. Suddenly I felt a wave of guilt for even having a fleeting thought that it wasn’t completely above board. Since my wife began working at the Lighthouse, I have met many people who are visually impaired and I have seen hundreds more leaving the Lighthouse building as I waited outside for her to come down after work. I realized I’ve never seen any of them do the one-armed zombie as they navigated the real world.

I have now spent several days reliving Dialog in the Dark. I wanted to write this post because I feel like there are many lessons to be learned from this experience. The metaphors and analogies abound; from issues of leadership and faith, to prejudice and fear, to recognizing individual capabilities rather than focusing on inabilities, to navigating the “new normal” or planning a personal career path. I could go on. But suffice it to say, that a very good piece of advice, in nearly any endeavor is “don’t be a one-armed zombie.” Take that to mean what you will.

And if you happen to be in New York City, forget the lights of Broadway, go experience the Dark.

Above The Law received an internal memo from Foley & Lardner’s CEO, Jay Rothman dated back on August 6th that announced the Foley’s Records Department would be outsourced to Williams Lea, a business process outsourcing company. To those inside the world of law firm records departments, this may or may not be a surprise to anyone that a firm has decided to outsource the function of handling documents, especially paper documents, to a service provider like Williams Lea. Looking at the presentations (PDF) that Foley’s Information Compliance Manager, Dana C. Moore, has been giving lately, it would appear that Foley has been planning a streamlining of the Records Department for a while. In fact, it is interesting to note that Moore’s title changed back in April from Records & Information Compliance Manager to simply Information Compliance Manager. The process change was stressed in Rothman’s memo:

Our rationale for making this decision is straightforward. The Firm is migrating away from records management processes that focus on the physical file to an environment where, in most cases, the electronic version of a document is the official record. Williams Lea has significant experience designing and implementing imaging processes, and our goal for the next three years is to re-configure and re-train the operations staff to adapt to the use of imaging technologies and work flows. Williams Lea is well-suited to implement these solutions and to provide the training and support that the records management personnel will need to be successful in the future. (emphases added)

Best of luck to those on staff at Foley in landing jobs at Williams Lea.

The second tid-bit of news that came out in the letter from Jay Rothman was his mentioning that Foley is now a Lexis-Only shop, apparently dropping Westlaw as part of an overall initiative.

Consistent with our strategic plan, we asked various Firm administrative leaders to identify and implement changes to streamline the processes that they oversee, with a focus on becoming more efficient and cost effective. The resulting initiatives are aligned with our overarching objective of delivering exceptional client service and promoting innovation in our work processes and staffing models. All of these efforts are intended to position our Firm for long-term success. The decision to migrate to a single source research provider for library services (Lexis) is a recent example of one of these initiatives. (emphasis added)

For many of us in the law library world, we’ve been waiting for a BigLaw firm (Foley falls in at #45 in the AmLaw100 revenue rankings) to pull the trigger and go to a single legal research provider. Now we have someone to use as an example. Now that the seal is off that bottle, it will be interesting to see how many other BigLaw firms finally start looking seriously at dropping the two-vendor legal research model and start going as a Westlaw, Lexis, or even Bloomberg Law only shop.

Image [cc] David Armano

An article on SearchCIO-Midmarket caught my attention yesterday that discussed the problems of simply throwing in a Social Media platform on the Enterprise System, and expecting the employees to simply adapt it as they have in their personal lives. Author Karen Goulart specifically calls out Pollyannish CIO’s who seem to think that implementing social media resources for their employees is twice as successful (CIO’s at 47%) than the employees (27%) actually think it is. Goulart points out that the idea of Enterprise Social Media is a fundamental shift in the way employees work and this creates a Change Management issue. Unfortunately, CIO’s seem to be happy to create the “change” but leave out the “management” part of the process. The lack of management was summed up best by Forrester Research analyst, TJ Keitt:

You assume that your employees deeply want it because you observe some behavior in someone’s personal life and you take the leap of faith saying, ‘Well maybe this will work, maybe it won’t and we’ll go from there.’… Anyone expecting a technology in and of itself to create anything doesn’t really understand technology. People change their culture, executives set the agenda, and middle managers execute and create the incentives to change behavior.

 The tricky part of this quote is that this type of change has to create a shift in everyone’s attitude on how we communicate in the Social Media era. On top of that, the change doesn’t seem to be either a “top-down” or a “bottom-up” scenario. Instead, it is that ever allusive “middle-down-bottom-up with top buy-in” model. In other words, the CIO not only has to buy-in that this type of communication will work, but they have to trust in their middle-management to find ways to motivate and train staff in order to produce the momentum necessary for this type of behavior shift. Different employees have different motivations when it comes to changing the way they communicate, and finding that motivation is key to a successful change management process.

I also wanted to point out an assumption that Goulart made in her first paragraph of the article:

Today, one would be hard-pressed to find a business not providing a social networking platform, be it Yammer, Jive, offerings from Microsoft or IBM, or some type of homespun intranet.

There is a running joke in the law firm technology world that we are usually five years behind corporations when it comes to technology. The same joke seems to apply to most law firms when it comes to social media in the Enterprise. I’m not sure that firms will break this trend on this issue either. In fact, my prediction is that enterprise-style social media will creep into the law firm environment through one of two ways. First, small groups within the firm will just go out and find a way to do it and just do an end-run around IT and the CIO. Or, second, since Microsoft now owns Yammer, it is possible that they will work Yammer into Outlook at some point. This would create what some would consider the best of both worlds (email and social media on the same platform), and others would call the worst of both worlds (email and social media on the same platform.)

My assumption is that, one way or another, employees will start using social media tools to communicate internally and externally whether the CIO and IT want them to or not. The key to this fundamental change process isn’t about how do you create the change, but rather, how do we manage this change in a way that benefits both the employee and the firm as a whole.

Image [cc] p_a_h

After last week’s flurry of press on ABA House of Delegates votes, I saw a theme emerge. The votes were on everything from the use of technology, to non-lawyer ownership, to law school accreditation standards. The ABA is in a unique position to lead the legal profession, but watching the outcomes of the various votes, and actually looking at which issues were put forward for votes, shows the ABA doing anything but leading.

The most positive notes I saw on the votes were ones about raising the standards for lawyers using technology. The thrust of this ballot was that lawyers should actually use technology. Although this is a good sentiment, it’s about 15 years too late.

The least positive articles focused on the ABAs lack of action involving the law school crises. Somewhere in the middle, you could put the vote on non-lawyer equity ownership of firms. The actual ballot was supposed to be an affirmation of the prohibition on non-lawyer ownership. Being controversial, no vote was taken.

In past posts I have commented on the unique position of the organized bar to lead the profession in embracing change. The need for change seems universal. Everyone with an internet connection would likely agree that things have changed dramatically around the profession and that change within the profession is necessary. Of course arguments will ensue on what changes need to be made, which is a normal and healthy dialog.

However, the ABA appears to be paralyzed and able to respond to change in only the most tepid fashion.

My View: It’s time to lead. If you want your profession to survive this storm in reasonable shape, now is the time to take on the hard issues. Waiting 15 years to address today’s challenges is a recipe for failure. The Bar is loaded with smart, creative people. I suggest the ABA find a way to leverage that force and lead the profession in to this already raging storm.

Image [cc] MetaGRRRL

[Note: Here’s a guest post from someone riding the BigLaw Cruise ship of Whitestar, Titantic, and Iceberg LLP… enjoy, and we’ll all meet over at the bar when you’re through reading it. -GL]

In the rest of the world it’s August 2012, but at my firm it’s April 1912. You see, I work for the international law firm of Whitestar, Titanic, and Iceberg LLP and we’re slowly slipping beneath the waves. We were speeding along just fine, on route to record profits (or so they told us), when the captain made an announcement offering a “generous early debarkation” to the most experienced deck hands and engine room workers. They gave each of the volunteers a few weeks provisions and set them adrift on their own personal lifeboats. To make up for the loss in manpower, we all took on more responsibility and greatly improved our productivity. We felt like we had done our part to help keep the ship moving. The Captain and the Line were proud of us. They relied upon us. Without us, they couldn’t have done it. Nothing means more to them than our loyalty. And we continued on our way, feeling good about our progress.

There was no loud noise, no jarring crash, but suddenly some of the Captain’s minions began throwing valuable crew members overboard with only a life jacket and a baloney sandwich. When asked about it, the Captain said, “No, there’s nothing to worry about. We had too much weight on board and needed to slim down a bit. Our crew members are very valuable to us. We gave them all the resources they need to get back to shore. They’ll be fine. Enjoy the rest of the voyage.” Nobody bought it. The passengers and crew alike are now frightened and panicked; running around aimlessly trying to figure out exactly what’s going on.

When I hang my head over the starboard side of the ship, in the moments when the screaming passengers stop to breathe, I can just make out the sickening sucking sound as water fills the lower decks. The captain is either in denial, or stupid, or both. I sit with my back against the railing, watching the frightened passengers run up and down the deck checking for hidden lifeboats, but there are none, they were all given to those who chose early debarkation. Of course, there are rumors of nearby ships, on their way to rescue us, but I know that those ships are only interested in saving the first class passengers. It’s happened before. The rest of us will have to hope for passing fishing vessels, or hang on to some bit of flotsam and pray the current carries us into shipping lanes where, if we’re lucky, we’ll be picked up by an Outsourcing ship. They may pay us half our previous wages, but we’ll be so happy to be alive, we won’t really care.

In the meantime, it’s all kind of surreal and beautifully bizarre. The way the stars and the lights of the ship are reflected in the cold, dark water; I can hear the band playing “Auld Lang Syne” on the other side of the ship; old friends and strangers are huddled beneath blankets telling each other lies about the likelihood of rescue; and the Captain stands proudly at the helm yelling, “full speed ahead!” I light my last cigarette, toss the lighter overboard, and walk slowly toward the bar.

For those of a certain age, the phrase “I read it for the articles” will resonate. Well … I was reading Above The Law this week and stumbled on a substantive article (since I read it for the substantive articles) on law schools. It was actually a thoughtful piece on how ABA accrediting standards have locked law schools in to their current model – which everyone seems to agree is broken. The author had been to a conference on the subject and not only did everyone agree, they were offering viable alternative models that unfortunately run counter to the current accrediting model. 

One statement particularly stood out to me, “Does any school want to sign up to be the first “second tier” practitioner law school that only gets one year of tuition from would-be lawyers instead of three?” It stood out since I read something similar-sounding from the NY Times Economix blog on lawyer salaries, “Not paying the standard top-tier salary is a tacit admission that you’re no longer top-tier.”

So law firms and law schools are in what appears to be a no-win situation (a.k.a. The Kobayashi Maru). If you are the first firm or law school to embrace a new model, you lose. But if you don’t embrace a new model, you still lose. Before you jump to the comments section at the end of this post, let me further explain my thinking.

Now many people feel $160k is outrageous for first-year lawyer salaries. For argument’s sake, suppose something like $80k might be a more reasonable number. But imagine a large firm that drops its starting salary to $80k. Even if this firm provides candidates with significant bonus opportunities, an intensive professional development program and no billable hour requirements for the first three years, how many and which graduates will opt for the $80k deal? And remember, these people have $100k in law school loan debt.

Or imagine the firm that tells its partners their comp is being changed to a base salary, performance bonus, and equity reward program. Will partners with sizable books of business sit back and accept that, or are they more likely to jump to another firm and retain their current (known) incomes?

Those who know me know I am a strong voice for change. But seeing these statements brought home the challenge of being the first to change. Yes – eventually these changes will bear fruit for market participants. It’s just that being first may have extreme risk, with only moderate short-term rewards.

And we all know how lawyers love taking risks.

Image [cc] San Mateo County Library

Librarians, both as individuals, and as a profession, are constantly navigating the tidal shifts of how information is consumed in the age of the Internet. Whether it is understanding ways to disintermediate resources so that the librarian is no longer a gatekeeper to that resource, but rather a promoter of getting it in the hands of the user, or finding ways to provide services regardless of space or geographic location, our world is in constant flux. Many of us look at this as an opportunity to advance ourselves and our profession rather than see it as tsunami that is burying us. Perhaps one of the best statements that I’ve read regarding this idea of riding the tide to the next wave or being sucked under by it, came from Barbara Quint in her Searcher article called ‘Concierge’ Librarian.

Although I don’t believe that Quint was directly responding to the recent Forbes article on The Best and Worst Mater’s Degrees For Jobs (which named a Masters in Library and Information Science the worst), she definitely gave us something to use to counter this article:

First, let’s shake off the blues, the depressing fantasy that we information professionals, we librarians, have failed and have no future. We’ve got to stop asking the question, “Would you send your child to library school?” followed by a mournful negative shake of the head and a deep, noisy sigh. We’ve got to stop thinking of our future as something someone else may not allow us to have. Instead, what do we want to see happen? What do we want to do with our talents and energy and experience and principled commitment? After all, it is those qualities — talent, energy, experience, principles, and commitment — that brought the world to where it is today, to the Information Age. As long as we have those qualities in us, we can make a new future both as individuals and as a profession.

In addition to this statement, I also thought about how Quint finished her article by promoting (in an anecdotal way) the idea of there shouldn’t be less librarians in the workplace, there should be more. I thought about that and adapted the idea to law firms. Imagine if each practice group had a librarian there to manage the information (both subscription and free) and to make sure everyone knew how to find it, use it, and do so in a way that saved the firm money and made them not only efficient, but also effective. That is something I think we definitively need to promote both as individuals and as a profession.

One other thing that I saw today that I thought also drove home the idea of the new future as individuals and as a profession, was my friend Jean O’Grady’s interview on Bloomberg Law discussing this very topic. This is well worth the 8 minute investment to listen to how O’Grady discusses the importance of not standing still and not holding on to old ideas that just don’t work any longer. She makes an off the cuff mention that the Library Space may come to look more like an Apple Store where people go to learn or invest in new products or ideas and then go back to their offices better prepared to answer the challenges they face.

Seeing articles and interviews like these make me feel better about riding that wave of change that is constantly rolling in on this profession.