Image [cc] Kaptain Kobald

There was a very interesting article on Neota Logic’s blog yesterday that has really had me thinking ever since I read it (and re-read it a few more times.) The article, what will the lawyers do now? Dancing With Robots, The Second Machine Age, and The Hammer Song, covers the whole issue of “running with technology” versus “running against technology” in the legal space, but there was one section on legal services and the second machine age that has really made me think about where we are as an industry, where most of us are within this second machine age, and who will be the winners and who will be the losers. Let’s breakdown the six “steam engines of legal services” that Neota Logic identifies:

  1. Online legal research, the law’s first foray into big and digital data For those of us in the law library and research fields, this is our baby. We’ve been the engineer and conductor of this steam engine for the past thirty-odd years. It is one of those technologies that you would have thought by now would be such a standard in the industry that everyone practicing law would be experts. However, we all know there are still Luddites out there that fight this advancement, or simply ignore the technology as much as possible. In fact, think of the number of attorneys that proudly say things like “I don’t even know what my [insert online resource here] username and password is.” So we keep pushing to limit those that ignore the technology and work on those (usually, but not always) younger attorneys to keep them up to date on the latest changes, advancements, and innovations that help them practice law more effectively.
  2. Electronic mail and networks, the harbinger of infinite interconnectedness
    Email has been the biggest bringer of change in the way lawyers conduct business, maybe since the business of law began. No other technology has been as widely adopted as email. However, the use of email has become stagnant, and many attorneys use it the same way today as they did when they adopted it back in the 90s when they signed up for AOL or CompuServ email addresses. They use it as de facto databases and as historical archives. In a way, email has begun to eat its own tail and its usefulness has plateaued and in a way has become a barrier for new and better communications tools. In addition to email, the networked computer system has been so integrated into the daily life of law firms, that when the network is down, work comes to a standstill. Email and the network are the two big steam engines in this category. However, items like Document Management Systems, Client Relationship Management Systems, and shared network resources have also entered the day-to-day lives of  the law firm, but not nearly as widely adopted as the first two engines.
  3. Document automation, drafting contracts with software rather than pencils
    Most, if not all, firms have these resources. The idea being that no document should be created from scratch and you should use the wealth of prior documents to assist you in the creation of the next document. Whether it is add-ins for Microsoft Word like Westlaw Form Builder or standalone products like HotDocs, the process of document automation and drafting tools should be something that every transactional attorney understands and uses. As most of you may have figured out by now, that is typically not the case. Once again, a technology is there that can significantly assist the attorney, reduce risk, and decrease the amount of time and effort spent by the attorney, and decrease the cost to the client, yet the struggle continues to do things the way we’ve always done them, and fight the advancements in technology.
  4. Search, from Recommind for lawyers’ own stuff to Google for everything else
    Ah, search. Only slightly behind email when it comes to overall technology adoption by lawyers. Of course, the easiest (and most widely used) is Google. Many attorneys start (and sadly some end) their research with Google. Librarians brought in an internal version of Westlaw and Lexis with resources like westkm and Lexis Search Advantage that mimicked the legal search tools’ capabilities to identify legal citations and structured language. IT Departments brought in Enterprise Search Tools like Recommind to index everything else. All of those great tools still pale in comparison to the comfort and amount of use that Google still plays in the everyday life of the attorney. When a technology like Google is so overwhelmingly adopted, it makes it that much more difficult to get attorneys to see, and use, other technologies that actually create a better result simply because they are so comfortable with Google. In fact, most of the new search tools attempt to mimic Google’s simplicity in order to trick/convince/ease the attorney away from the massive search engine. As most of us are finding out, that’s still a difficult feat to accomplish, and as Ryan McClead mentioned in his Why You Can’t Find Anything At Work post, user expectations and the reality of Enterprise Search tools don’t exactly mesh very well.
  5. Predictive Coding (a/k/a technology-assisted review), replacing armies of junior lawyers
    This technology is maturing in the e-discovery market, but I think it is still in its infancy when it comes to its overall potential. Replacing hundreds of lawyers with technology has been the steady mantra of Predictive Coding, and as courts remove barriers to this technology, the e-discovery cash cow that has helped many law firms over the past decade, may start to dry up. I’ve been a big believer that Predictive Coding has been too narrowly focused on document review, and that there is much more opportunities for law firms to use this technology to better index internal documents, use it to enhance project management, and tweak it for projects that we normally hire data stewards to conduct. Document Review attorneys aren’t the only ones that will eventually lose their jobs to this technology.
  6. Expert systems, context-specific guidance at scale and speed
    This is where products like Neota Logic and in some regards products like KMStandards (formerly kiiac) are making inroads to the legal market. Processes that rely upon rules, precedence, and fact sets will be automated. Those that don’t believe this are destined to find themselves left out of this great change that is coming to the legal industry. This steam engine is different from the five previous advancements. Expert systems will create ways for savvy law firms to produce revenue streams that are completely unlinked to the time their attorneys spend on client work. Law firms will work with these providers to leverage the firm’s knowledge, experiences, and expertise to create products that are licensed to the client and supported by the firm and provider. The client will use these tools without the aid of the firm, and this can open up opportunities for law firms to recapture work that was shifted in-house years ago. Although there is great opportunity here, it also means that those that ignore the advancements in technology will be left behind and eventually marginalized.

When you hear reactions to these technologies in the form of “clients pay me to practice law and advise them, not to be a techy” remind the attorneys that this list of six steam engines aren’t about the future of the legal profession, they are about today’s legal profession. If they can’t handle these six advancements, then how can they be expected to handle the next big change that is coming?

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.”

Several months ago I was asked by a partner to review the privacy policies and terms of service for a number of consumer cloud storage providers and to rank them according to how well they met his requirements based on firm policies, ABA missives, and a handful of other relevant opinions about client confidentiality and the cloud.  Long story short, they all failed miserably.  None of them came close to meeting the “requirements”.  

The partner was hoping to be able to tell his fellow attorneys that the firm doesn’t approve of consumer cloud storage for client related information, however, if you are going to use a consumer solution for “personal information” we recommend provider X.  My pessimistic report made even that a difficult statement.  Still hoping to salvage something from this conversation he asked a follow-up question. 

“Do any of these services provide anything close to the level of security we have in email?”

Had I sipped my coffee a second earlier I surely would have showered my office with stale joe.

“Excuse me”, I said, “Could you ask that again?”

“Attorneys send client confidential information all the time via email, so do any of these services come close to meeting the standards for email security?”

That’s what I thought he meant.  I broke the news to him slowly, explaining it this way. “I wouldn’t put anything in consumer cloud storage that I wouldn’t leave in a file folder on the front seat of my locked car.  But, I wouldn’t put anything in an email that I wouldn’t write on the back of a postcard and hand to a stranger on the street to mail for me.  The least secure of these consumer cloud storage solutions is many, many times more secure than a standard unencrypted email.  In fact, some of them have much better security protocols than your average law firm.”

The partner was flummoxed.  “Then what’s the big deal about this cloud thing?”

I was reminded of this incident when I attended the ILTA conference a couple of weeks ago.  In the vendor hall I saw a lot of vendors pushing their cloud-based SaaS solutions and a lot of firms saying, “Sorry, we have to host all of our own data.”  Typically the vendor went on to explain the value of allowing them to host the data. The product is constantly monitored, backed up, and securely encrypted in transit and at rest.  The product and mobile apps are updated multiple times a day. They simply can’t provide such a high level of service if you insist on hosting the product behind your firewall.  

These conversations went back and forth for a long while.  I never once heard a cloud vendor acquiesce and say, “Well, OK. We’ll let you host it yourself.”   Chances are good that if you host their service, you will have a less than ideal experience.  And if you have a less than ideal experience, they will have to spend a lot of time and money to make you happy, which will eat into their profits.  They would rather not have you as a customer at all, than to have you be a less-than-completely-satisfied customer.  It seems some vendors have learned a lesson that many law firm’s have not: not all revenue is profitable. 
Taken together I think these incidents are representative of a larger paradigm shift. Traditional IT services, even the big traditional Legal software vendors, are moving to the cloud.  Attorneys will eventually figure out how to work with the cloud and still meet their ethical obligations, or they will just get used to the risks and ignore them like they have with email in the last 20 years.  The ABA will eventually make some coherent and unambiguous statements about the acceptable use of cloud services. And all of these will come together at the same time that firms begin to realize the economic benefits of not supporting an entire service infrastructure in-house.

Once that happens law firms will look back on all of the sturm und drang surrounding the Cloud, Software as a Service, and the Consumerization of IT, and they’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.  They’ll probably also wonder what all those nice people who used to run their network are doing now.

[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!

Sometimes private conversations just need to be shared. Ron Friedmann and I thought as much on some of the recent conversations we had regarding the best way to get information to people with all of the different resources now at our disposal. Of course, the first thing we asked was “how do we get everyone out of email and on to these other sources?”

So, as any blogger worth their salt would do, we figured out a way to spin this into a blog post. Ron is actually a blogger worth his weight in gold, because he suggested that we do this as a simultaneous post on his Strategic Technology Blog and my 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. That way we would expose our conversations to the different groups that follow each of us. Ron and Toby Brown did something similar a year ago on “Bet the Farm” versus “Law Factory.” We are hoping to spur some additional conversations, just as Ron and Toby did.

For reference: Greg’s Post; Ron’s Post

RON

I am struck by how many people still rely on e-mail for news, as opposed to Twitter or RSS. When Jeff Brandt features my blog post in his daily PinHawk Legal Technology e-mail, I see a noticeable traffic spike on my blog.

That got me thinking about two ideas. First, why are so many people still so reliant on e-mail? Not sure I am up for tackling that. Second, is there a tool that turns Tweets into an e-mail. Both your Tweet feed and mine focus mainly on news items. I wonder if some folks who are not interested in Twitter would subscribe to a weekly digest of Tweets from one or more Twitters.

I was looking around for a tool and see that Twitter will soon enable sending Tweets by e-mail. What I have in mind, however, would be a bit more curated, maybe using the Twitter favorite feature to tag my own and other Tweets. Then the tool would automatically mail those weekly to subscribers. I assume Twitter API would allow this but I’m not that techie.

Do you think that would appeal to anyone? Do you know if there is such a tool?

GREG

I was just thinking last week about why we are still so reliant upon email when there are so many better options out there, especially social media tools (whether Twitter, Google+, Yammer, or the 1000’s of other options.) I came to a similar conclusion of wonder if social media could somehow be embedded into the email systems and mimic email, while bringing in the best pieces of what makes social media so valuable.

My thoughts trended, however, to Twitters Direct Message option when it came to online discussions. [Tweets are public; a Twitter DM is private, to a single person.] I’d love it if I could embed a Twitter DM to a group of people, and have a structured conversation in Outlook (or gmail) and the familiarity of those interfaces, but using DMs as the conduit. I could keep the conversation short and clean, without the clutter of all the old message threads showing up in each response.

I also like the idea of a curated resource as well. People are always looking for well structured, curated information, and since we seem to be stuck in an email-centric world, this type of newsletter might be something that would appeal to those that want the benefits of a social media world, without having to actually go visit that social media world themselves.

RON

Greg, it was fun to connect with you “synchronously” after the exchange above so that we could test a Google+ Hangout. [A hangout allows real time video conferencing and text messaging among multiple people.] It’s too bad that Hangout requires video and seems inherently focused on real-time, synchronous communication. So it’s not the answer to an easy-to-use, persistent discussion area or forum.

Returning to your comments above, I have two concerns with your proposed approach. First, Twitter DM seems inherently “point to point” or “one to one”. I suspect a lot of engineering would be required to convert it to a forum or bulletin board feature. Moreover, Twitter users might be unhappy with such a change. I find an increasing number of my contacts use Twitter DM in lieu of e-mail. They probably would not want to clutter this clean, private, and uncluttered channel with discussions threads.

Second, do we want to take steps that encourage lawyers and staff to have even more reasons to stay in Outlook? I know it is the application where “lawyers live”. My hope, however, is that eventually there will be a better or different interface for working together as a group. I am not optimistic though. Even in the early 1990s, when I first evaluated discussion forums in a law firm, lawyers liked the concept but were too wed to their inboxes to use it.

We’ve now identified two unmet requirements. One is what I started with – converting Tweets (mine and those I follow) to a periodic e-mail to which non-Twitter-users could subscribe. I will leave this one to entrepreneurs in the Twitter ecosystem. The other requirement is your idea for better tools / interface for group discussion. I’m not sure I see answers. Moreover, I am not sure if the question is “do we need a new collaboration or communication tool” or “are existing tools fine, they have all the features anyone could ever want, and the question is just change management”. Your views?

GREG

Ron, I’ve thought about the limitations that happen when using the Twitter DM function and I was kind of hoping that the way it would show up in Outlook or gmail would be modified by an API or some type of intermediary program that would allow one-to-many communications (as long as you are connected to each of the Twitter accounts) and could go beyond the 140 character limit (although there is some benefit to keeping communications short.) Perhaps the Twitter DM function isn’t really the best method, but there should be some improvements in communications beyond the awful email threads that we live with now. I have heard of firms that use Outlook’s “To-Do” list, but I don’t think that it really is the answer here. Google’s gmail is kind of working around the problem by limiting the repeating thread information, but it is still not really as clean a communications tool as some of the social media tools are.

As for trying to move lawyers out of Outlook… that’s a big shift in culture for them and won’t be easy. I’ve mentioned that email is now the touchstone of the law firm. No longer do lawyers collaborate face-to-face (only when they have to), instead the collaboration is virtual, and unfortunately, via email chains. We all know of the problems associated with working as if Outlook is your common database. Even making the emails ‘better’ by shifting social media type content into email newsfeeds just reinforces the idea of Outlook being the best collaborative resource. The biggest problem is that Outlook is not a true collaborate tool, or at least not a very good one. Efforts should be made to move collaboration efforts off of Outlook, but that’s obviously easier said than done. It would make for an easier transition if we could create tools that allow the lawyers to believe they are still in Outlook, but that rewards them for inefficient and potentially risky work habits. The better approach would be to wean them off of Outlook, but that’s a project that would take years to accomplish.



“Email is Where Knowledge Goes to Die”

I first saw this phrase on someone’s email signature, but sadly I can’t find the original email so I don’t know who said it.  I Googled the phrase and found this guy.  His origin story is pretty good, so I’ll go with it.  At the end of his post he sums up the problem nicely:

“… email is a knowledge cul-de-sac – a dead end for valuable ideas – a graveyard of potential. Email is where corporate IQ kicks back and has a brewski. Email also contributes to corporate amnesia; forgetfulness that costs businesses millions – perhaps billions in repeated mistakes every year.

“Email is also wasteful; threads grow with unending off-topic discussions and CC lists expand, eroding productivity in all corners of the enterprise. Indeed, email is a problem but imagine trying to do business without it. Even with the massive heat-loss from this antiquated and weak communications model, two things are clear; (i) no one has come up with a better approach that has challenged or displaced email, and (ii) it works pretty well in spite of its shortcomings.”
A fundamental problem with email is that it has made communication so cheap and easy, that we use it habitually for all types of communications that are not really appropriate to the medium.

For example, if I need you to review the attached document by the end of business tomorrow, then an email is an appropriate method of communicating that information to you.  If however, I need you to review the attached document immediately, then I should probably track you down and make sure you got the message.  Emails get lost and get caught by spam filters.  Recipients aren’t always at their desk or looking at their computer screen.  A phone call and a shared computer screen, or visit to your office with the document in hand would be more appropriate.
Similarly, if I have made lunch reservations and I want to notify you of the time and place, then an email is perfect. I don’t expect an immediate response, it’s not mission critical information. If you don’t receive it, then you’ll probably contact me to find out when and where we’re having lunch. If, however, I send you a message saying, “Where should we go to eat?” and you respond, “I don’t know.  Where do you want to go?”, then that conversation would be better had in another forum. Real-time conversations work better on the phone, in a desktop video conference, or in an instant messaging application.
Office newsletters or reminders of the upcoming Holiday Party work well in email.  Email is very good at handling “one to many” communications as long as a response is not necessary. But email breaks down when used for “many to many” communications such as a message sent to a large group of people asking, “Does anyone know how to…?”  Invariably, someone will reply and CC: another party saying, “No. But I think so-and-so does.”  At that point there are at least two different threads passing each other on the server and not every participant has access to all information. Even if you eventually find the answer, there will be a lot of emails in a lot of inboxes. How will you find the correct answer again in six months? Will those emails still be there? And how will the next person to come across that same question benefit from your previous inquiry?  They will probably need to go through the whole exercise again. “Many to many” communications belong in social networks, or on bulletin boards, or group workspaces where that kind of information can be more easily shared with a large group and stored for future reference.  

So, how can you get people to use other methods of communication when email is not the most appropriate?  

Delay delivery of all outgoing emails by 5 minutes.  

A five minute delay is long enough to be a nuisance when email is inappropriate, but not so long as to make a difference when email is the best choice.  

Looking again at our examples above, a request to review a document by the end of tomorrow would weather a 5 minute delay easily.  As would a notification for a lunchtime meeting in a couple of hours. If the invitee couldn’t make that time, then he would be be likely to pick up the phone or send an instant message, rather than try to communicate in real time with the email delay. Finally, the office newsletters and notifications would not be affected by the delay, but a group of people trying to solve a problem would quickly move that conversation to another medium like a social network or a conference call.
I believe this simple change would drastically cut down on the volume of emails, which would in turn make the emails that do end up in the inbox more visible. More importantly, this five minute delay would also make employees more conscious of their use of email.  Before habitually firing off an email, a sender would think to themselves, can the recipient survive without this information for the next 5 minutes? Can I wait 10 minutes for a reply?  If either answer is no, then email is probably not the most appropriate way to send the message.

Of course, a simple email delay alone will not solve the “Knowledge Death” problem. Alternative communication tools, like I’ve described above, would have to be made available. Information shared using all communication tools would still have to be captured, stored, and made accessible for future use and reuse. This is a huge undertaking, but getting people to use the right tool for the job is the first step to getting a handle on the problem.

Now, how to convince the powers that be to “break” email in the name of productivity?

I don’t totally hate my Gmail anymore.
My Gmail account and I have been together for at least 4 years. Probably longer.
But I tolerated it. I thought it was slow, pedantic and not nearly as slick as my Yahoo! email account.
My Yahoo! email and I have been together for a long time–since the 90s. I keep my Yahoo! around because it is dependable, reliable and always remembers to take out the trash. And its great at keeping spam away. It takes care of the shoes, make-up, books, movies and clothes that I buy.
But then I wanted another email for more personal relationships. So I picked up a Gmail account. All my friends like Gmail. Before I knew it, five years had passed.
Functional and straight-forward, my Gmail still drove me crazy.
Until now.
After reading an SAI blog, I went to the Gmail Labs (hit the cog in the right-hand corner of your Gmail account and then drop down and hit “Labs”) and downloaded a few of its latest features:
  1. A Preview Pane: Alleluia! That in itself was worth the price of admission. Geesh. Why do they hide this stuff???
  2. Email Count Icon: This little doo-hickey slaps the number of unopened emails into the tab bar.
  3. Auto-Advance: The thing I hated most about Gmail? Every time I deleted a message it threw me back to the main in-box instead of the next message. Now, with this thing-a-ma-jig, I can set Gmail to focus on the next, or older, email. Be still my heart!
  4. Preview Inbox: This feature really set me spinning in my happy chair. It used to be that it seemed to take forEVer–ok, really, just 1-20 seconds–for my Gmail to load. But with the Preview Inbox, I immediately get to see what’s in my inbox before my box is available. It is the little things, isn’t it?
Those are just of a few of the features available and the only ones I picked.
But let me tell you: I don’t hate my Gmail anymore. In fact, I might kinda like it now. Who knows, with time, maybe I could grow to love it.
What can I say? In my life time I have learned that some eMails are just more evolved than others . . .
And maybe I did a little changing too. 😉

Tips for Delivering CI via Email

Social media advocates predict the end of email but, while it is always interesting to consider new, improved ways to disseminate intelligence, most law firms are not likely to drop email any time soon.

Scenario: A litigation partner is leaving for a lunch with a target client and needs intelligence on the company, person, opportunity, competitors and our relationships within the hour.

It’s nice to imagine that you will have time to conduct an interview to determine the appropriate intelligence topics, perform thorough, in-depth research, develop a complete and insightful analysis, AND format your findings/results into an attractive document.

Or, better yet, you’ll upload your beautiful report to a social, sharable, fully-indexed and dynamic web/portal/SharePoint- or app-based report to distribute to all appropriate members of the practice/industry group or client team. Or, you could do something else even cooler and better..

But, the reality is that it’s all you can do to run the searches, scramble for the necessary analysis and shoot off a quick email for the attorney to read in the back of the cab on her way.

That said, here are some tips to effective intelligence delivery of intelligence via good old-fashioned email.

  • Put important stuff at the top – If you are delivering a handful of answers, put those answers right at top. When laying out your information, just think of a small mobile screen and remember that they won’t get past the first few lines.
  • Keep it short – We learn in school that a paragraph can be between 3 and 5 sentences. But in business emails, you want a double line break between almost every 1-2 sentences, especially if they are longer sentences.
  • Use bullets – In fact, wherever possible, avoid sentences and stick to bullets. Attorneys in particular are very familiar with the outline format and so feel free to group by heading and subheading and keep it very brief. No more than a sentence in length.
  • Double- and triple-proof – Check for common typos, grammar, punctuation etc. The smallest mistakes can undermine your credibility and the entire intelligence product.
  • Attach reports – You can almost assume that most anything attached to the email will be, at best, briefly skimmed and, at worst, completely ignored. If you want the attorney to know something, type it into the email. You might also point out the attachment (“Please see attached…”) and direct them to the page.

I’m sure there are a ton of other good ideas and I hope our commentors will share their tips!

If you were like me, you probably got one of these emails this weekend from a number of companies that were exposed to a hack from their outsourced email campaign company, Epsilon Interactive.

Here’s one example I got from Robert Half Legal:

So far, I’ve received one from Robert Half, BestBuy, McKinsey & Co., and AbeBooks. However, according to Mashable, the list extends to many well know companies including, Kroger, TiVo, US Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Capital One, Citi, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Walgreens, LL Bean, the Home Shopping Network, and many, many more.

The idea that so many well-known and respected companies were using this single-source for their email campaigns made me wonder about the risks that are involved with this type of outsourcing and how substantial the effects of a single company’s compromised information has on the multiple companies that use the services. The outsourcing of this type of service makes perfect sense when looked upon by a single company, but at what point does the risk overwhelm the benefits when an outsourcing company becomes a single point of failure for multiple companies?

This made me wonder about the outsourcing needs for law firms. On an individual law firm basis, it may make perfect sense to outsource a number of processes. However, when we stand back and look at the risks that an outsourcing company takes on for its entire customer base (multiple law firms) then the risks to the individual firm become greater. For example, if multiple law firms were to outsource their email systems to a single cloud-based system, or outsource all e-discovery to a single provider, or keep data from their client relationship management (CRM) tool on an outsourced system, the initial risk may seem very low, and the benefits very high. However, the risk may actually be much higher than you anticipate as more firms outsource their information to a single vendor.

Now, before you start thinking that I’m totally against outsourcing certain processes, there are a number of good reasons why firms outsource processes. Outsourcing, when used in the right way, can create a much more efficient process, can be overall less expensive, and can be scaled up and down according to the needs of the firm. Even the chances of someone hacking into the information can be far less likely from a well established outsourcing company’s system when compared to the chances of a law firm’s local information being hacked. So, there are substantial benefits to outsourcing that make perfect sense when looking at your firm’s individual risk/benefit analysis.

The issues that confront an outsourcing group like an Epsilon, however, bring in risk factors that perhaps firms do not contemplate initially because they tend to think of their individual risks only, and not the risks that might happen if the firm’s data is compromised and then commingled with data from a peer firm’s compromised data. Just think of the conflicts checking that would have to occur if you had to include client representation from other firms’ because their information was compromised along with your own. It would be almost impossible to clear a conflicts check in a scenario like that.

In many cases, efficiency will breed more efficiency, and in the outsourcing world, that means that fewer and fewer companies will be the “go to” companies for law firms to use. The potential for problems with putting alll those eggs in one basket could create situations similar to what happen to the major news networks during the 2000 elections when they all relied upon the Voter News Service to project exit-polling from the Florida election and projected Al Gore as President. As with that situation, there existed a single point of failure where one company influenced (embarrassed) many reputable other companies because of a single event.

The thing to remember is that when you place your eggs in a basket with other law firms through an outsourcing company, just remember that your risks have expanded beyond what is  contained within your individual egg shells. If your eggs and your competitors eggs get dropped, you are all now responsible for the resulting mess. Once those eggs are scrambled together, you won’t be able to separate your individual eggs from all the others that were in the basket. Remember to add that scenario to your next risk analysis when outsourcing your firm’s processes and information.