“All Problems Are Communications Problems.”

This is Greg’s go to phrase when it comes to working with and leading others. Marlene actually beats Greg to the punch this week when they talk with this week’s guest, Heather Ritchie. Heather is the Chief Knowledge and Business Development Officer at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP in Toronto, and as her title suggests, she wears multiple leadership hats at her firm. In her recent ILTA KM article, “12 Ways Marketing & Business Development Can Leverage Library & Knowledge Management Teams,” Ritchie walks us through the value of collaborating between the Marketing/Business Development, Knowledge Management, and Library operations of a law firm. Knowing who brings what talent to the table is key to creating stable and successful environment which results in wins for the law firm. 

Apple Podcasts LogoApple PodcastsOvercast LogoOvercastSpotify LogoSpotify

How Is Your Business Changing the Legal Industry?

In part two of our three part series, we hear from four more providers of legal industry products on how they are changing the industry. This week we hear from:

Information Inspirations: Continue Reading Episode 27: Heather Ritchie on Marketing, BD, KM, and Library Collaboration

I have had more than a week to recover from ILTA 2013 in Las Vegas and I am slowly starting to return to normal.  But, that is the problem.  I don’t want to return to normal.  I desperately want to maintain the heady state of learning and collaboration that we establish every year for four short days in some ridiculously hot location in late August.  I’ve attended ILTA for the last three years and every year it manages to recharge my batteries and get me excited about what I’m trying to do at my firm.  That enthusiasm usually lasts for a few short weeks before I’m slowly drug back into the muddy reality of “This is what [high level partner] thinks is important, so that’s what we’re going to keep doing for the foreseeable future.”  First my shoes get stuck, and then the walls close in, and soon I’m standing nose to gypsum with just enough room to pull my head back an inch so I can gently bang my forehead repeatedly against the wall in front of me. (Yes, writing blog posts is much cheaper than therapy.)

I am not above a little hyperbole to make a point, but I know I’m not the only one who feels like this.  Something wonderful happens at that conference and it’s not strictly the learning sessions, or the vendor parties, and it’s most certainly not the food. It’s the people.

That may sound like a touchy-feely, sentimental, Up With People, BS statement, until you understand that I am not in any way, shape, or form a people person.  I have friends and I like many people. I can easily talk with anyone about any particular thing, but I don’t easily do small talk. I’m not very good at meeting new people. And I struggle with most conversations that begin “So, what do you do?”  The thing about ILTA is that I have very few of those conversations. Strangers at ILTA begin conversations with phrases like, “We’ve been trying to do this. Do you have any thoughts?” Or, if they overhear your conversation with someone else, they’ll speak up and say, “You know, we built/bought something that does that…”  The focus of most interactions and conversations at ILTA are centered around solving problems.  Conversations at ILTA end with, “I’m so-and-so, what’s your name?  And what do you do?”  Then you exchange cards and walk away.  Until you see them in the corridor the next day and introduce them to someone you just met who has a similar problem to the one they’re trying to solve.

There is an openness to this community. One that, by necessity, admits to its own vulnerability.  There is very little pretense or braggadocio. The strength of every success story I heard this year was built upon the foundation of the failures that came before.

When we return to the “real” world, those administrative and bureaucratic walls that too quickly close in around us, also make it very difficult to share our stories, or to ask for help, or even to openly admit our failures.  For four short days in the desert we have no walls and we are free to learn and collaborate with our peers without the constraints of politics or bureaucracy.  It may be that that kind of communication and collaboration can only exist for short periods of time among acquaintances and strangers.  It may be that such a thing can not possibly exist on an ongoing basis within the confines and constraints of a law firm environment. But if I truly believed that, there would be no reason to keep banging against those walls.

They’ll come down. If not this year, maybe after ILTA 2014.

Image [cc] Highways Agency

The story goes something like this:

Sitting in a Partner’s office a few months ago, a research librarian was listening to the speech the partner was preparing to give the client.  Suddenly, the librarian ran into one of those moments where her own experience suddenly became very relevant. As the partner jumped through a specific legal issue, the librarian jumped in and mentioned that this sounded very similar to a recent case she researched for another attorney a few weeks back. It wasn’t a published case, but rather a trial issue that ended up settling out of court. Within a few minutes she emailed the trial documents she had saved from the original suit, and the names of the attorneys working on that matter. By the end of the day, the attorney contacted the client with a solid answer to how they would defend the client and the matter settled within the next few days. Perhaps the partner would have found a similar case as she researched the issues, but by being in the right place at the right time, the librarian’s experience pushed everyone in the right direction.

Similar stories happen all the time in law firms, and the keys to the success revolve around the processes of getting the library researcher out of the library and in the areas of the firm where the attorneys are working. The librarian wasn’t there to conduct training or talk about the latest legal research tools. She was there to listen. She was there to observe. She was there to learn. She was there to share her knowledge and add to the overall conversation. In most situations, she does not have to contribute directly to the meeting, but by being there, soaking in the information being relayed between attorneys, she may be able to contribute in the next meeting, or in an unrelated practice group meeting.

We’ve talked before about the Embedded Librarian model and the value that this type of structure can bring to the firm. In ways, it increases the ability to contribute to the strategy of the lawyers by having someone in the room with diverse experiences. That moment of happenstance when someone shares their seemingly unrelated experience and knowledge on the topic and can bring in a fresh perspective and approach on how to solve the issues at hand.

The situation is not the easiest to create. There are barriers to entry in many cases, and a history of how things are always done around the office. There must be a motivation on the part of the librarian to overcome that history and a determination of finding ways to break though those barriers. The ability to communicate, in all its various forms (listening, observing, analyzing, interpreting, and talking), in ways that contribute and add to the conversation can only happen if you are actually a part of the conversation in the first place. Happenstance can only happen, if you happen to be there and express your stance on the issue.

Image [cc] s_falkow

While reading Businessweek’s article called Yammer, Chatter, Hot Water, there was a part of the article that really grabbed my attention. We’ve discussed getting away from using email as an internal communications tool before, but according to Yammer’s CEO and a Deloitte Digital research study, the benefits don’t just stop at an uncluttered email inbox, they go straight to the moral of the employees that use the products:

“E-mail requires an active response,” says David Sacks, chief executive officer of Yammer, a three-year-old startup in San Francisco that says it provides social-networking software to 100,000 companies. When using Yammer or its rivals, “you don’t have to wait for someone to send you something. You can find it on your own.” Sacks touts the applications as a way to foster camaraderie and loyalty, citing research by tech consultancy Deloitte Digital that showed almost no turnover among its employees who use Yammer frequently. [emphasis added] 

These types of internal social networks are becoming the equivalent of “engineers’ notebooks” where employees “discuss new ideas and then track how they become actual products, producing a stream of information the company could use to claim ownership of an invention.”

Of course, the article itself goes on to discuss the risks of these internal social networks, and how the ‘informal’ nature of these networks might cause employees to act inappropriately (as in, discussing ideas that break laws or regulations.) However, with most processes that have high returns, there involves an amount of risk as well. The good news is that there are companies, like Belkin, that are willing to take those risks in order to create an environment that encourages collaboration, idea sharing, and the serendipity moments that arise from a free flow of communications. Companies are balancing the informal communications platform by also reminding and advising their employees to not to write things that violate laws, regulations or other company policies. Belkin’s CIO, Deanna Johnston understands that the risks of encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit will eventually cause a problem, and they’ll adjust their policies as needed. Johnston sums it up nicely by saying, “You have to get on the train… It is not going away.”

Image [cc] Ben Fredericson

Quoting fictional movie character, Peter Parker, aka Spiderman (although in some revised form it is likely attributable to a real person), “with great power comes great responsibility”, one must always remember to recognize that as bloggers the words we pen carry great power, and the need to be very responsible is of paramount importance! Indeed, it is necessary to be certain to pen words based on facts and excellent research not on emotion and poorly formulated snap judgments. For in not doing so, misinformation is disseminated and potential harm and hurt may land upon individuals caught in the crossfire of an issue.

That said having circled back and more thoroughly researched the issue of the new AALL model for choosing the annual meeting programs and its potential impact on annual meeting programming in general, SIS sponsored programs and the wonderful PLL Summit that was created several years ago and is now going into hopefully its fourth year, albeit, possibly in a slightly different form, I pen my rethought musings on this very important issue facing AALL members.

To that end, I researched three questions which were of interest to me and also seemed to be of great concern to my fellow AALL members regarding the changes coming to the annual meeting and by default the fate of the PLL Summit.

Question 1:  Is it the intention of AALL to bring the currently independent type model of the PLL Summit into the fold of the larger AALL Annual meeting? 

Answer:  The short answer is not exactly and it remains to be seen exactly what form the PLL Summit will actually take in 2013 and thereafter. As AALL President Jean Wenger wrote in her email of August 17, 2012 posted to the Members Open Forum: 

“Last year, and again this year, PLL asked AALL leadership to consider integrating the summit into the Annual Meeting. Members have expressed concern about the additional cost of the summit, including the registration fee and hotel costs they incur to attend. …. The model of requesting a meeting and then putting on a full day conference (summit) cannot be sustained across the association. ….. However, there are options available, and include targeted pre-conference workshops (half day to 2 days) proposed through AMPC, developing valued content for conference programming, and proposing an intensive learning opportunity during the deep dive sessions.”

My musings: I have hope that PLL will propose the Summit program via AMPC perhaps as a targeted 1 day workshop, it will be accepted and albeit in some type of new iteration we will have our beloved PLL Summit in 2013! I completely understand the issue of the cost to attend both a summit and the full annual meeting, but wonder how a pre-conference will be less costly. Maybe the deep dive sessions would be a better option for replacing the summit although the camaraderie of an all-day program would be lost. 

Question 2:  How will the “blind review” process that is to be used by AMPC for choosing programs for the annual meeting in Seattle work? 

Answer: From Jean Wenger’s email:

“The AMPC considers a variety of factors in the selection and slotting of programs. For the Seattle meeting, the AMPC will use a blind review process focusing solely on content. Sponsorship will not be a factor. Your colleagues on the AMPC will be tracking proposals by competency and will seek a balance of high-quality proposals on the most important issues identified by members. The important first step is to develop high-quality proposals.”

My musings: In my view, it is safe to assume that a “blind review” process of selecting programs for the annual meeting may potentially mean that any given SIS has absolutely no guarantee of any of their programs being accepted by the AMPC and it is possible that if a particular SIS submits 8 programs to the “blind review” for consideration all 8 may be accepted and none of the programs proposed by other SIS’s will be chosen. This may create a greater imbalance than in the old model of choosing programs but that of course remains to be seen. On the other hand, it could potentially result in a more balanced selection of programs that have great appeal across many SIS’s. Per the AMPC your best bet is “to develop high-quality proposals”. To that I would add highly relevant!

Question 3:  Is it true that all SISs will also be limited to sponsoring only one independent education program? 

Answer: As suspected by many SIS’s this is definitely true as evidenced by Jean Wenger’s statement in the same email referenced in the answer to question one above and copied verbatim here: 

“Each SIS will have the opportunity to present one independently produced program of their choice.”

My musings: It is what it is! Each SIS will at least have the chance to present one independent program of its choosing if it wishes to do so. But this leads me to another question – will it have to meet AMPC’s approval? Maybe someone else knows the answer to that one, as I have already covered my three questions! Please enlighten us if you do.

Finally, I am glad that these conversations are occurring and expect that if not for the creation of the PLL Summit we might have continued to limp along discontented with the status quo of the annual meeting program offerings. However, it seems that the summit and other things along the way were enough to upset the apple cart and are resulting in some changes. No doubt some changes will be welcomed and others not so much, but nonetheless change is on the horizon!  In my view change is good and helps us grow!

[Ed. Note: Last week, I wrote a post about a company that banned internal email and brought in Yammer as the replacement platform for internal communications. One of my hopes was that I’d get Rob Corrao to follow up and tell us more about how his idea of streamlining communications at LAC-Group became a reality. Rob did not disappoint and has written a nice synopsis of his experience, and gives us a little teaser that there will be more details coming out soon on his own blog, Everything Information. I’d like to personally thank Rob for doing this and I look forward to hearing more. -GL]

We decided to make the bold move to eliminate internal email about June 2011.  Over the course of a year we tested 4 different products, finally settling on Yammer.  I’m happy to discuss specifics if anyone is interested, and will be posting the entire process on my blog (Everything Information – in the next month or so….over several posts.)

We set out to resolve four key issues:

  1. How do we preserve contributions after an employee has left?  Preserve our corporate knowledge?
  2. How do we protect internal material from being emailed to the wrong party? Or being forwarded by mistake outside the org (we have all had this happen to someone we know…if not ourselves…and know that hitting the “Recall” in outlook only makes the person actually read what you are trying to recall.
  3. How do we cut down on task duplication/trip/quad/etc… what happens when you need something done right away and email 4 people…and they ALL do it.
  4. How do we bring together a team spread across 7 offices and two continents?

Top 5 reasons our staff has found that internal messages on Yammer are better than email:

  1. Yammer is a completely searchable tool that outlives any individual employee (eDiscovery compliant/accessible as well) – preserving content even post departure, rather than ending up in an archived email folder sitting on a DVD on someones shelf. It is a central repository for all messages, which enables continual growth of knowledge vs starting over/mining data (which we all know rarely happens due to time and expense).
  2. Yammer helps organize a conversation to keep track of input and eliminates the need for multiple people to have to do the research/fact finding, etc. Increasing organizational productivity.  Employees are working together to get tasks completed.  While email has tried to address “conversations” it’s simply a roll-up based on subject…and we’ve all lost a message or two that happened to have the same subject.
  3. Yammer can be as easy to use as email…or easier.  And can be faster as well!
  4. Yammer can be private – not everything has to be “public” – having a discussion that should only be amongst certain individuals – using private messages you can limit to one or several people.
  5. Yammer builds a corporate repository that allows us to search to see if we have ever had a discussion on a particular topic, client, situation, employee, etc.

BONUS: Yammer enables a concept I call working publicly.  So many times we want to know what’s going on (as managers) and rather than have to stop an employees productivity to prepare an email (ugh) to update us – we are always updated.  It’s a similar effect to what TR did with their cubicles… brought the height down – working publicly increases collaboration, cooperation, organizational awareness/knowledge and most importantly productivity.

Now to how we did it (short version).  We first ran a very tight test group, making sure that the technology worked, testing the concepts put forward by Yammer’s implementation team, etc.  We decided that we would design specific groups and not allow random group creation.  One of the groups is called “Water Cooler” and has strict instructions…no business discussed here…keep it fun – bring people together…a place to blow off (of course we also have word monitoring set in the system to prevent too much creative license with words…we still have to keep it clean).

We also put out a corporate mandate that we were transitioning internal communications and assigned our Yammer champions to re-direct to Yammer.  So when people slip, and they do, and send emails, these champions will forward the email to a group on Yammer (each group can receive posts via email as well)…and then respond within Yammer.

We officially launched Yammer June 1st.  Many of those on LAC Group’s Yammer had not actually met each other…so we made photos a must.  Each person was also required to fill out their profile (completely) so that people could get to know one another (and their skills, areas of expertise, etc).  Then it was off to the races.  Within the first few days, one of our staff members in DC asked a question that would have taken them 5-6 hours to research…a staff member in NY (who had never met the person in the DC office…or even knew they existed) answered the question in 3 minutes (had done the same search the week prior).  While this happened by chance, creating/manufacturing a similar exercise during roll out would be advised, as adoption immediately soared.

When we signed up for yammer, the sales staff told us of their most successful clients where internal email was down by 40-50% – our current stats are internal email is down by 80% (and still going).  Team collaboration is up (significantly).  Teamwork where there wasn’t any…and people are getting to know their co-workers, not just across the cube…but across the country.  Duplication of effort (for us this was huge) is down to almost 0%.  Working publicly is working, it’s been a real shift in our corporate culture.
Ending (internal) email isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard either.  The key is finding a reason for each individual in the company – if there is a personal gain, there will be adoption.

Success factors:

  1. Running a solid test group – creating Yammer champions – you have to have believers for any cause.
  2. Setting up the right way – Yammer implementation model of just let people go at it and they’ll get it, isn’t the right model (IMHO).  Orchestrate success – that’s how to ensure it happens.
  3. Make it fun… and have a champion for that – we have a daily post in our Water Cooler that keeps people going.  Have a stash of gift cards and make up prizes for most collaboration, most helpful this or that.
  4. Consistently push to Yammer – make sure that the team is posting there, vs email.
  5. Have some real “wins” for people – use a carrot – sticks will only get you so far.
  6. Set up email to Yammer aliases to auto-send to yammer from email – helps with adoption…and your employees don’t need to remember the long cryptic email addresses Yammer assigns to the various groups.
  7. Send regular posts on Yammer tips and tricks to help make adoption stick.  Just because we have reduced email by 80% doesn’t mean it will stay there.  Have to help back-sliders.  We have a daily tip post that goes in our Yammer 101 group.
  8. Dispel myths about email being faster – set up SMS notifications for groups and individuals, as well using the Yammer app (iPhone, Android, BB, iPad, PC, Mac, etc.) to show speed and ease of use.
  9. Use @mentions and #tags to draw attention to people and organize topics.
  10. Find a success factor for each and every participant – it’s got to personally benefit each person, or they won’t use it.

I’m at rcorrao@lac-group.com if you have any additional questions.

Image [cc] dharder9475

I have a love/hate relationship with email. It is the first thing I open up in the morning when the alarm clock goes off, and it is one of the last things I check before going to bed. I use it religiously… but I really would rather not be so reliant upon it. Unfortunately, since about 1995, it has become the primary communications tool for business. Your co-worker that works six feet away from you would rather email you a question than lean back in his chair and ask. It has become a de facto database of information. It has become a timeline of events. It has become a system used by many of us to keep everything we can “just in case” someone questions why you did something and you can go find that email they sent you 18 months ago to prove to them that you weren’t just acting on an impulse. Put plainly… it has become a monster.

Do we really need to use email all the time? Is it the best medium for communications? Is there something better? All of these questions have been asked for years, yet it still dominates business communication. However, there are some ideas that are happening in businesses that may finally challenge the idea that email is too ingrained into our business methods to go away. The crack in email’s armor may be those companies that ban its use between employees. There was big news last year when British information technology company, Atos, banned internal email, but is that something that others (including law firms) could emulate?

I did talk with a legal recruiting company while at AALL in Boston that has done just that. I won’t cover all the facts (mostly because I’d love for someone at the company to guest post and explain why they are doing it), but here were some of the reasons that they told me.

First of all, they realized that email is simply inefficient. Once you get more than two people on a chain, it can get messy in a hurry. They were also realizing that when people left the company, even if they still had their email files on their server, most of their business knowledge and experience history was tied up in those email files, and in reality, there was no good way to isolate that. In order to counter these factors, they went with a Yammer solution for all internal communications.

Yammer solved a few issues for them. First of all, it was a nice clean interface, and by setting up “groups” based on how they worked, it allowed for members of the group to jump into the middle of a conversation and look back at what was discussed and quickly be up to speed. It also allowed for files to be housed in their central document repository, rather than creating multiple copies that go out to everyone. In addition to all that, once someone leaves the company, their public conversations are still there to be found long after they have left.

The thing that impressed me the most while talking to this group, was the fact that other members of the company jumped in to the conversation to express how much they love this type of communication (this included the younger employees as well as the more ‘experienced’ employees.) They got excited while talking about this, and they would chime in with stories of how certain members were skeptical of banning internal email, but once they jumped into the process and saw the benefits, they were quickly converted to true believers.

Email, like the telephone, will probably be around for generations to come. It is so easy, and it is so built in to most current business processes, that it won’t go away anytime soon. That doesn’t mean that other things won’t come in as alternatives. Whether it is Yammer, Instant Messaging, or something like a Facebook Groups Page, or Google Plus, there are options out there that can be real alternatives to email. I for one, look forward to testing out those alternatives and finding something else to wake up to in the morning!

Looking through the Microsoft survey on “The Future of Government Work,” [download PDF] it would seem that there is a bipolar view of what communication tools workers “prefer” to use versus what they would “like to use.” Take a look at the answers provided on questions 9 and 10 when it comes to “new” media such as Social Media, Online Collaboration tools, and even video conferencing:

Q9: How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues?

  • Videoconferencing = 3%
  • Social Media = 3%
  • Intranet page (w/shared documents) = 2%
Q10: Which collaboration tools would you like to use?
  • Videoconferencing = 29%
  • Social Media = N/A
  • Collaborative Doc Editing = 32%
  • Intranet = 12%
Granted, there is the difference in verbiage of “communicate/collaborate” but I think we are looking at two sides of the same coin here. How is it that the answers to these two question be so far apart? My guess (and that’s all it is), is that what we are looking at in question 9 is “how do you communicate/collaborate now” versus question 10’s “how would you like to communicate/collaborate if you could.” It would seem that there is a desire to use more videoconferencing, non-email electronic communications (aka chat), and collaborative document editing resources. The survey also points out that these resources are needed components of any telecommuting policies and procedures that an office may implement.
Now I should mention that the survey was conducted by Microsoft, and their MS Office 365, Cloud-Based platform solution, so the questions may be worded in such a way as to feed the answers into the “solution” they are providing. One of the glaring facts of this is that Q9 includes a social media answer, where it is completely missing from the Q10 responses. It could be that workers don’t like social media resources… but, it’s more likely from the fact that there isn’t a social media product included in the Office 365 platform (yeah, call me a cynic.) 

There are many ways you can read these survey results, but there is a theme here that we’ve all been seeing anecdotally for the past few years. Given the right tools, the location of your people shouldn’t matter in order for them to be successful. Not only that, but many workers have the desire to use these resources in order to make their work lives better… probably making their home lives better at the same time. It is no longer a requirement for companies to require their workforce be physically in a company office, sitting in a company seat, using a company PC, and working with company software. The time has come to start looking at the way we work through a different lens. 

Culture is a very important aspect of how well an organization functions.  Most experts agree, culture is more important than pay when discussing employee satisfaction, and yet, many organizations place no value on corporate culture.  They believe, because you cannot easily measure culture, it does not connect with the company’s bottom line.

Here are the top three motivators for employee satisfaction.

  1. Job security – without positive communication, employees start to feel threatened and unappreciated.  These feelings give employees the impression that they are not valued.
  2. Communication with management – without positive communication from management, business goals and company vision are not shared.   Without this shared experience, the organization will not stand a chance of meeting business goals.
  3. Respect and the ability to contribute value to the business – the feeling of being heard by management is very important to employee satisfaction.  

All of these fall under what I consider to be culture.  An effective culture is positive, values employee contributions, clearly communicates goals, listens and values ideas.  What is most amazing is that this positive culture costs the company very little, monetarily speaking, but has a huge impact on the success of a business.

“A positive culture is not something to be taken lightly.  It can take years to cultivate a positive, customer oriented, collaborative culture and yet that culture can be destroyed in very little time.”

Does culture just happen?  With rare exception, no.  Culture is planned and is part of the overall strategy for an organization.  If culture is not part of your business strategy, how can you expect to have alignment of corporate values?  It is the one-two punch of business alignment and employee dedication that creates a winning team.

In these times when employees are being asked to do more with less, we need to keep in mind the importance of culture within an organization.  If you think about the cost of turnover – how much institutional knowledge leaves with each employee and the impact that bad culture has on employee productivity – you will understand how important a positive culture is and how it contributes to the bottom line.

Image [cc] digmia

I actually wanted to name this post “Things You Shouldn’t Post On Professional Listservs,” but, when I started asking my fellow Geeks/Bradys for suggestions, some of them responded with “there are still listservs out there??” So, I changed “Listservs” to “Online Communities” and therefore expanded it to all the new forms of communication platforms that are out there, ranging from old-fashioned listservs, to Twitter, to Facebook, to Google+ and even some of those specialized professional communities that Associations create for their members.

I’ve watched over the years as smart people do dumb things in their online communities. Sometimes those things are complete accidents, but sometimes they are just laps in judgment that make for embarrassing situations. I thought I’d name a few of them here… I’m sure this is only scratching the surface of online community faux pas… so, feel free to chime in with any additional things that you shouldn’t post in your online communities.

  1. Tell everyone that you were just “unfairly fired” from your job and why your former boss is an idiot.
    I think we’ve all seen this one. These comments are usually sent out in the heat of the moment, and tend to give way too much information about themselves and their now former employer. The end result is that the sender of the message usually looks petty, and everyone that reads the message tends to understand why this person was fired. The good result of this kind of message is that at least everyone else knows that if they receive a resume from this person, it can immediately go in the trash.
  2. Accidentally reply to the entire list with a snarky remarks meant for a friend.
    For those of us that have an ability to fire off “zingers” about others, this is one of those that is a constant danger. Usually, the zinger is designed to go to the sender of the message (in most cases a friend that you can make fun of), but the darn community list is set up so that “Reply” is actually a reply to the entire community, not just the original sender. Hopefully, you are really good friends with this person, and they are easy to forgive you for being who you are. Remember, always (I mean ALWAYS) look at the address of the message to see if the recipient is the person, or the entire community!
  3. Ask to borrow something that you know is either copyrighted, or restricted by user license (but your firm is too cheap to buy.)
    This one happens a lot in the “library world” and it is one that falls under the category, “you know better, but you do it anyway.” Every time I see a message asking someone to send them a copy of an article out of a publication like LAW360, or some other copyrighted (and strictly monitored) resource, I tend to watch for the vendor to send out a message to the whole community reminding them that they cannot PDF a copy of an article to people outside their organization. If you absolutely need the article, contact the vendor and ask if you can purchase a one-off copy… email a close friend to see if they can descretely send you a copy… or pick up the phone and call them (thus leaving no e-discovery trail to come back to bite you later.) Note: the last two are still violations of your user agreement… but, we know that people do this anyway.
  4. Publicly thanking someone for loaning you something that is copyrighted or restricted by user license.
    See above, and just add in the embarrassment of the person that just broke their license agreement to do the requester a favor, and was thanked publicly for that violation.At best, you can file this under “no good deed goes unpunished.”
  5. Forward an internal memo because the “auto-fill” option chose the listserv instead of the individual you meant to email.
    This happens more than we would probably like to admit. For example, because my last name starts with “La”, the same two letters that say “law-lib” start with, it could end up that messages meant for me could be autofilled with the address to an entire listserv/online community. The rule here is that the more confidential and important the message is… the more likely it will fall under this faux pas.
  6. Share vendor negotiations outcomes.
    “Yea!! We just cut our _____ contract down to $____ a month!!” Everyone on the list wants to thank you for doing this, but the vendor you just exposed is probably not going to be happy with you, and may point to that “confidentiality” clause in the ____ contract you just signed for $_____ a month!
  7. Share new product information that you received under a Non-Disclosure Agreement
    Speaking of confidentiality… if you ever want to be placed in total darkness about new products coming to the market, just go ahead and comment about them in your online community while you are still under a NDA. Not only will that particular company ban you from any future product development trials, every other company in your industry will find out you are a blabbermouth and will blacklist you from their trials as well. Of course, for bloggers like myself, we always love it when others expose secrets, so that we can post it on our blogs and speculate on what is about to come to market!!
  8. Brag about a potential job you might get… bonus points if you mention negative things about the interview.
    “Whoo Hoo!! Looks like I’m going to get that big job at ____ & _____!! Although, I’m not sure I really want to work with _____, he’s kind of a jerk!”
    Yeah… now you don’t have to worry about working with _______.
  9. Invite a geographically diverse group to a local event.
    “Happy Hour at Moe’s in Springfield!! Everyone’s welcome!!”
    While everyone appreciates your enthusiasm (and a few will send you links to the local AA chapter), try to keep these announcements on the local communities rather than those huge lists of 5,000. The other 4,995 people will just be upset that you’re partying without them
  10. Mention the name of a new lateral Partner before the move has been publicly announced.
    “Hey, anyone know what treatises that _______ had at ______ & _______? She’s starting here next week and I want to make sure we have everything lined up for her.”
    We all understand that you are wanting to make a smooth transition for the incoming partner from her old firm, but this sort of mistake will land you on an Above the Law post, and simultaneously land you on your butt outside the front doors of your firm (quickly followed by boxes filled with your office belongings.)
Oh, there is probably so much more in the way of online community faux pas, but I’ll stop here for now. Of course there are two “Golden Rules” around online community communications that you should always follow:
  1. Be Careful!
  2. Don’t Do Something Stupid!!
You’ll find that in life, as well as online, these two rules will usually keep you out of trouble.