It has been said that those who can’t do teach and those who can’t teach criticize.  I have always aspired to be a literary critic and Mitchell Kowalski has finally given me that opportunity in Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century. To my great adolescent joy, there is much to criticize in this book; from the title before the colon, which I feel promises something very different than the book delivers (though the title after the colon is spot on); to the multi-faceted and yet, somehow still stubbornly two dimensional characters; to the long monologue of new-wave legal philosophy punctuated by descriptions of lunch utensil management. However, these criticisms tell you infinitely more about my literary snobbery than they do about the value of this remarkable little book. Kowalski may not have delivered unto the legal world a literary masterpiece, but he has given us something much more valuable and useful, a destination. 

The book presents Bowen, Fong, & Chandri (BFC), a new kind of law firm, through the eyes of three people with three very different perspectives: Maria, General Counsel of a large corporation evaluating outside counsel; Mark, a new lateral attorney going through the BFC onboarding process; and Kim, a new member of the BFC independent Board of Directors attending her first meeting. The only character in all three parts of the book is Sylvester Bowen, CEO of BFC. Bowen is Kowalski’s version of Howard Roark, an idealist fighting against tradition and conformity. Unlike Roark, Bowen is remarkably successful in his quest and has managed to build a firm that any of us who struggle with the conservative and backward-looking nature of law firms would jump at the chance to work for. BFC is what Google would be if they practiced law. In fact, BFC is actually the main character in the book. Bowen is merely there to give the firm a face and a voice.

Primarily through Bowen’s philosophizing, we learn all about BFC’s unique approach to practicing law.  They don’t hire students or junior attorneys. They don’t have Partners. They don’t bill by the hour. They use Project Management extensively. They evaluate and compensate attorneys based on how they contribute to Knowledge Management. They run their own LPO out of India. Most employees work from an open and modern satellite office in a converted warehouse outside of the city center, while their smaller office downtown consists of conference rooms and temporary hoteling spaces. They use SaaS solutions exclusively. They provide only temporary and emergency technology, otherwise attorneys are given an allowance to purchase their own. They have no IT staff. Each of these points, and many more, are explained and justified throughout the book in a style that is emphatic, but never quite crosses the line into preachy.

I suspect that anyone who has been paying attention to the trials and tribulations of the legal services business over the last few years, on this blog and elsewhere, will find very few unfamiliar ideas in this book. But Kowalski has managed to do something that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  He has put all of the pieces together in a way that creates a convincing and compelling picture of what a law firm could be.

There’s a joke about a tourist in Ireland asking directions from a local farmer.  The farmer’s response is “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.” I’m afraid that Avoiding Extinction will do little to help existing BigLaw firms avoid extinction. The amount of change required to morph a typical BigLaw firm into BFC is probably beyond the capacity of any BigLaw firm to actually change. But Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century provides a possible destination for any firms willing to undertake the difficult journey, or more likely, for any new firm rising from the ashes of those that fail along the way.

The International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference is happening right now in Las Vegas. I’ve been keeping up on Twitter and reading Monica Bay’s posts on  Legal Technology News. Not quite the same as being there, but a close second! I’m sure much of the Geek readership is attending and enjoying this amazing event.

I was especially intrigued by Monica’s summary of the key note address by Scott Klosoky of Future Point of View, where he asked the question: Are you a dead leader walking or one with your high beams on?

Two quotes really caught my eye:

Leaders get stuck in what they have invested in, and cannot move forward

See 10 years ahead. Think about what services you will be offering, how they will be delivered, how you will find new clients, and what new businesses you will be handling

I was struck by how directly this applies to law firm libraries.

What have we invested in that prevents us from moving forward and how we are “seeing” 10 years ahead:

  • Print?
  • We aren’t completely in control of what print we maintain, but we are in control of planning and presenting a vision of what the print collection will look like in the future. How are we planning to stop investing in print and utilizing emerging technologies to shape the collection of the future? How have we communicated that to firm leadership? 
  • Space?
    • Does our space or lack thereof, continue to define us? Do we need “space” in today’s law firm to be effective at our work or does it hinder us? If we look into the future, does space impact the services we provide? Maybe one day we are completely mobile with a tablet in one hand and our Google Glass on, working in attorney offices, client meetings, offering assistance as a roving service provider. How might we plan that kind of transition?
  • Non-core activities?
    • Jean O’Grady has done a tremendous job over the past few years focusing on the non-core activities that we must be willing to give up or out/in-source to others in order to focus on core activities. I’ve also heard Steve Lastres say many times that he tries not to do anything that isn’t “client-facing”. Both of these leaders are attempting to see 10 years ahead and planning their services accordingly. How can we take on and provide new services if we still have everything else on our plates?

    I’m watching a version of this “dead leaders walking” concept play out right here in Kansas City. Google Fiber announced last year that our fair city would be the first in the country to receive their services and I’m getting it very soon. I’m going to be saving $60/month plus getting many extras like a Google Nexus tablet that will function as our new TV remote!

    What has my current provider done to keep my business? Absolutely nothing. Have they contacted me personally to offer an explanation of their value or thank me for my business? Have they voluntarily offered to lower my costs or add services? Not a peep. Do they not see the wave about to crash into them? Were they “seeing ahead” enough to anticipate this and implement strategies to mitigate the mass exodus? Apparently not. I have no idea what, if anything, the two incumbent providers are planning, but it’s too late now.

    This is the latest call to action that we must heed and I hope we continue this conversation as information professionals and also within our organizations.

    Colleen Cable is a Library Consultant for Profit Recovery Partners bringing the “consultant angle” to Three Geeks.

    A couple weeks ago, Michael Robak guest blogged about his experience on Why ReInvent Law Was Not Just a ‘Preaching to the Choir’ Conference. There was, and still is, a lot of discussion on this Silicon Valley conference, both with the presentation model, and the content. Now you can see for yourself what all the buzz is about. The ReInvent Law Channel now has many of the six and twelve minute videos available for you to watch for free. Here are a couple of my favorites on the concepts of visualizing law (Joe Kelly), and who owns the law (Ed Walters.)

    [Ed. Note: I had a great email conversation with my friend, Michael Robak, Associate Director of the Law Library and Director of Technologies at UMKC School of Law and all-around geek like me, about the Reinvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 conference. Long story short, I bluntly mentioned to Michael that the twitter feed was so full of the usual buzz words, and the usual suspects preaching to the usual choir that’s been going on for the last four to five years. Michael’s response was very thoughtful when he, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “Greg, you are stupid.” Well, if I had tried to rewrite his response, that’s all I would have remembered, so I asked him to guest post and elaborate on what he found valuable. So, thank you Michael for taking me up on the offer. -GL]

    I attended the March 8, 2013 Reinvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 conference held at the Computer History Museum.  Once the conference started, I realized that my good friend, and premier Geek, Greg Lambert, was absent.  After the event, I could not resist sending Greg a note asking why he missed, what I thought, was one of the best events I’ve attended about the changes in the legal profession and  needed changes in both the profession and legal education.
    Greg immediately responded, because I swear he is the model for some of William Gibson’s cyber protagonists, that he had followed the conference twitter feed and thought it seemed one of those events where it was kind of just preaching to the choir, and then the choir folks get all excited, and then….nothing would come of it…  And, to this, I responded that Greg…was wrong…. this was not one of those events.  What follows is a cleaned up version of that response: (in which I leave out references to certain past and future events which may, or may not, involve… good scotch, gin, wine, or other such things)…
    Sorry you missed ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013.  You raise good points about this appearing to be an event where the faithful speak to each other, shout hallelujah, and then…nothing happens.
    But I really must disagree.  Dan Katz  and Renee Newman Knake, along with Dean Joan Howarth of Michigan State University College of Law are, in my humble opinion, leading some game changing stuff. Have you had a chance to talk to Dan and Renee?   Dan and I share an Illinois connection, the late Larry Ribstein, whose work in the area has been incredibly influential to Dan and others.  I have been an ardent follower of Dan’s blog, Computational Legal Studies, and admire his works generally.   When I came to the University of Missouri – Kansas City from Illinois, I wanted, on some level, to create a niche like Dan had, but with a slightly different emphasis, from a 21st century librarian’s perspective. At last year’s ABA Tech show I connected with Dan and we had a great talk about how only a handful of law schools get this stuff.  And, as I told Dan, I am fortunate because my Dean, Ellen Suni, is one of that handful (and Bill Henderson will affirm!).  Plus, she understands my pitch about librarians as COO’s of Information for the Law School Enterprise.  And this is good stuff actually, very much “blue ocean” material.
    I think what made this event different is that it brought clarity for a way forward for both legal education and for law. In my view, there is still confusion about how we discuss the “technology of law” and what it means exactly.. especially when you throw in legal research and associated tools.  And, it becomes even more confusing, when you throw in the whole discussion of Rule 5.4 as an inhibitor to the delivery of access to justice. 
    This event had wholly new kinds of conversations about educating and practicing.  You are right on some level, there were people there who were reinforcing each other’s views,  but Aric Press was there and not someone I think of as necessarily part of that group. He tweeted about the vibe in the room and only 5 people wearing ties……I was one of the five and so had to seek him out and ask if that made me to cool, or counter cool, or …  I will say he was kind in his response…
    Having said that, and speaking as a Law Librarian who sees a much bigger and important role for Law Librarians in both legal education and law practice,  this conference was huge.  Richard Susskind was our AALL keynote last year and that was awesome.  He outlined things we librarians can and should be doing to be not just relevant to the places we work but to actually take the lead in the changes happening in the legal ecosystem.  This conference completely underscored that and, to me, made it even clearer that we law librarians have a mega opportunity, to be at the center.

    I think Marc Lauritsen and Oliver Goodenough’s book (Educating the Digital Lawyer, and free from LexisNexis) is a start, as is Susskind, but I have a different view on how law schools can move forward. Ken Hirsh is close with his course on teaching technology, but what I will have in place at UMKC in Spring 2014 is much more in line with Jerome Frank’s expression of experiential learning in “Why not a clinical lawyer school?” in his seminal article by that name.  But mine is “Why not have legal information professionals teach how to use technology in practice?”  (not quite as pithy, but I’m working on it…)

    All I’m saying here dude is, I think there is a real opportunity for us (law librarians) to be at the forefront on shaping real change to both legal education and law practice. The twitter feed was ok but there was a palpable energy in the room relative to the potential opportunities, and not just folks coming together to sing amazing grace.  But my real take away here is that the “technology of law” is law librarian space.  It follows completely Thomson “re-branding” Westlaw to be Legal Solutions.  As Joe Hodnicki has declared (and, yes Joe, you owe me a drink in Seattle), it is all about Legal Research Plus.. and the plus is the “technology of law”.

    Thanks for your update and congrats on the new job! We do need to meet at ABA Tech and talk, there are changes a coming and I think AALL and SLA folks really don’t understand. Actually it was Kingsley Martin’s talk that made it most clear why things haven’t happened with technology yet because of the need for machines to catch up. He had a great talk.

    Look forward to seeing you in Chicago!!

    Post script to the original email:
    Have you heard about LegalForce (formerly Trademarkia) and their store front operation in Palo Alto? I had a chance to visit on Saturday, March 9, 2013 and  man, oh man, it is amazing.  A bookstore, a DIY law place, a place you can compare tablets (since, according to Calvin, the “legal concierge” who gave me a tour, LegalForce believes legal content will be delivered on these platforms, so why not try and compare).  All they need is a coffee bar.
    Aric Press has written a terrific review of the event.
    Bill Henderson, whose talk at Reinvent Law was amazing, has a terrific post.

    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] San Diego Shooter

    I was very happy to see that my RSS feed picked up an new post from Dr. Bonnie Cheuk this week. After nearly a year off from her blog, she came back with a very interesting perspective of “What is the future of information professionals?” where she opens up with some very open ended questions:

    • What do information professionals do?
    • What do others think we do?
    • What should we be doing now?
    • What is our future?
    • How should we define it?
    Nothing like coming back with a bang!
    Dr. Cheuk challenges the notion that technology is solely behind the major shifts in how the information profession has changed in the past 15 years. 

    Personally, I think the major shift is not about technology, it is how we redefine information from “static, objective” information that we can manage as objects to “communicative” information whereby information is a “process of becoming” (the process to inform, to understand, to share common struggles, to look for facts, to look for multiple perspectives etc).

    The “static” information is now turned into a “communicative” process where even the author of the information can be influenced by the user of the information. This type of fluidity of how information moves back and forth is something that information professionals need to understand in order to position themselves and “create value for your companies or stakeholders.”

    She goes on to discuss how the changes shouldn’t be viewed from our own perspectives, but rather from the perspectives of those who engage with the information we provide. She suggests a number of ideas gathered from the problems that business executives, middle management, knowledge workers, entrepreneurs  educators and parents face.

    Dr. Cheuk lists a number of opportunities that Information Professionals have in being strategic partners, providing practical solutions, being a trusted adviser, advocating for change, and preparing others for the future. Along side the opportunities also come the challenges of acquiring the right skills and demonstrating exactly how we are up to the challenge of influencing change. She believes that the Information Professional has a role to play… if we are willing to accept the challenge.

    Lexis put out this video from the AALL Boston conference (with many familiar faces you may recognize.) In a post on their “This is real law” site, they talk about the perceptions of law librarians (think Forbes “worst Master’s Degree for Jobs), and the new roles that law librarians are taking on. Many of the same ideas we hammer away at here on 3 Geeks, such as, Librarians without Libraries, Librarians as Technology Drivers, Librarians as Researchers, Not Searchers, and many more.

    Take a look at the video and listen, not only to the clever snippets of quotes from these law librarians, but also notice the theme of moving away from traditional library services, whether that is “brick and mortar” libraries, or “I’ll pull that book/case for you” librarians. There is a lot of potential out there for proactive law librarians that are willing to take on the risk of breaking tradition and moving into areas that make us more valuable to those that we serve.

    Also: I know a lot of these folks (like Estes, Trotta and Sellers), but there are a few that I am not familiar with… I know, I know… I should know them all!! So, if you recognize these commenters, could you put their names and a bit of their quote in the comments so everyone can put a name and face to the quotes? Thanks!! – Greg

    NOTE: Micheal Saint-Onge from Lexis was able to get me a list of names for the librarians in the video. Thanks Mike!!

    Librarians in the video:
    Jean-Paul Vivian
    Nassau County Supreme Court Law Library
    Principal Law Librarian
    Mark W. Podvia
    Dickinson School of Law Library of the Pennsylvania State
    Assistant Law Librarian and Archivist
    Andrew J. Tig Wartluft, Esq.
    Thomas M. Cooley Law
    Reference Librarian
    Mark E. Estes
    Bernard E. Witkin Alameda
    County Law Library
    Law Library Director
    Christine Sellers
    Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough,
    Research Specialist
    Daniel B. Cordova
    Colorado Supreme Court Library
    Supreme Court Law Librarian
    Emily R. Florio
    Fish & Richardson P.C.
    Manager of Libraries
    Kyle K. Courtney, Esq.
    Harvard Law School Library
    Faculty Research and Scholarship
    Yesenia  P. Santiago
    MetLife and Pace
    University School
    of Law Library
    Law Librarian
    Thomas Sneed
    Emory University School of Law
    Associate law librarian for research and electronic services
    Dawn Smith
    Loyola Law School
    – Los Angeles
    Acquisitions/Serials Librarian
    Joan Taulbee
    Hodgson Russ LLP
    Manager of Library and Information Services
    Victoria K. Trotta
    Arizona State University Ross-Blakley Law Library
    Associate Dean for Information Technology and the Ross-Blakley
    Law Library

    Image [cc] edans

    Once again, Futurist Andy Hines has widened my horizons and exposed me to ideas and professions that I never knew existed. Today’s expanded horizon covers the profession of “Coolhunters.”

    Now according to Wikipedia:

    Coolhunting is a term coined in the early 1990s referring to a new breed of marketing professionals, called coolhunters. It is their job to make observations and predictions in changes of new or existing cultural trends. The word derives from the aesthetic of “cool”.

    Since this has been around for nearly twenty years, I guess I only have myself to blame for not know about it before now.

    One of the things that stood out in Andy’s post today was the defining of his own profession as a Futurist, and how that plays off of other professions:

    I think we could agree on what a professional futurist is or does, and then note our relationships to say, strategic planners or technology assessors, perhaps competitive intelligence professionals and even coolhunters.

    I didn’t realize that my Competitive Intelligence friends were in such ‘cool’ company, but it makes sense when you back up and think about it. Futurists, strategic planners, assessors of technology, coolhunters, and competitive intelligence professionals all seem to have a duty to spot trends, look for weak signals, and advice on how those potential shifts could affect those we are advising. It is very interesting to think about that from the 30,000 feet, and how the different areas that each profession covers. One of the commenters to the article even went as far as to graph out a quadrant displaying Long/Short Term and Public/Corporate areas of the Futurist profession and assigned a Coolhunter subgroup in the short-term boxes. I wonder where the CI professionals fall in that quadrant?

    I’m not sure that I could get approval for my law firm to hire someone with the title of “Coolhunter”, but that doesn’t mean that CI professionals couldn’t benefit from understanding more about what they do. To get some ideas on how Andy Hines, as a Futurist, compares his profession to Coolhunting, check out his interview with iCoolhunt.

    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] 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.