On this episode of The Geek In Review, Tom O’Connor, Independent Litigation Technology Consultant, talks to us about his recent blog post, What in the Wide World of Sports is Going on at ILTA?
In addition to ILTA’s woes, Tom covers other issues regarding member associations, and how new entries into the legal vendor market are changing the vendor-customer relationship… and not for the better.

Continue Reading Podcast Episode 7 – Tom O’Connor Wonders What’s Going on at ILTA

This is the (much belated) final talk from the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This post is from Noah Waisberg, CEO of Kira Systems.  See other related posts from Michael Mills, Stuart Barr, Joshua Lenon, and myself by following the links on our names.   – Ryan

Law practice today is a land of opportunity. This is due to the combination of

  1. underserved legal consumers, and
  2. technologies and processes that make legal work more efficient, which make serving these consumers possible.

Lawyers who embrace efficiency have the opportunity to do more law for their clients. And make more money in the process.

We lawyers sell to a market that is not getting anywhere close to all the legal services it needs.  Underserved legal consumers fall into three categories:

  1. Access to Justice. People without means to pay premium prices for a lawyer needing access to legal services.
  2. Middle class legal needs. Many decently-well-off people don’t spend money on legal services that would help them. How many people use lawyers to resolve their disputes, negotiate their employment contracts or write their wills?
  3. Corporates. Most companies, even the biggest ones, do not obtain anywhere close to all the legal services they need.[1]

This spread between latent demand and supply represents opportunity to sell more. Unfortunately the current techniques for delivering and selling legals services are so expensive and inefficient that these underserved consumers can’t or won’t pay for them.

On 3Geeks, I shouldn’t need to detail ways to practice law more efficiently. There are heaps, some more impactful than others. Processes. Using the right people for specific tasks. Expert systems. Contract analysis software. Machine learning. Collaboration systems. And so much more. With some effort, law firms could do much of their work at higher quality, at significantly lower costs (i.e., 50–75%).

Doing work more efficiently opens up two types of opportunities:

Do More of Current Work. Sure it’s possible to steal work from less-efficient competitors, but another interesting possibility is to upsell clients to more work by offering better value. Here’s an example from the contract review world I know best. In a typical mid-market M&A deal, with a company getting bought for  $200 million, law firm due diligence contract review would cover 75–200 contracts. But most $200 million companies don’t have 200 contracts, they have more like 5,000–10,000. That means counsel reviews under 5% of the target’s contracts. Is this limited review because diligence doesn’t matter? Well, no: due to the inefficiency of current approaches, even that scoped-down contract review is likely to eat up 30–60% of total legal fees on the project (arguably demonstrating importance).  But a missed restrictive covenant or bad indemnity could be crushing for the buyer, whether it’s in the twentieth-most-important contract, or the thousandth.[2] Clients would mitigate more risk if they reviewed more agreements. Why don’t they? Well, as above, status quo contract review can cost thousands of dollars per document. What if lawyers pitched clients on reviewing twice the materials for 20% more money than the last review they did for them? Might that be appealing to clients? Would lawyers be able to sell clients on this? Well, selling risk is something successful rainmakers do. What if clients buy this proposition? Can a law firm profitably deliver on 2x the work for 120% of the money? Yes! It’s easy to do more efficient due diligence contract review. We have seen Kira’s customers review contracts in 20–90% less time using our contract analysis software, and they tell us they are at least as accurate as without the software; we have started seeing transactional reviews in the tens of thousands of contracts, using our tech to filter where to look. Firms also have lots of opportunity to improve their diligence efficiency through streamlining processes and staffing matters differently (e.g., using less expensive people for parts).

Do New Work. There are lots of opportunities to offer new legal “products” that clients will pay for. Create new options leveraging efficiency to offer clients services they need but currently can’t get. Offer your clients a contract management system. Help clients prophylactically determine whether their contracts have FCPA compliance language. Build them a tool that will allow them to evaluate whether their team members are employees or independent contractors. Come up with other useful ideas!

Embrace efficiency to grow the pie and DO MORE LAW! Law today is the land of opportunity, but the opportunity is only there for those who seize it.

[1]    This runs like a #dolesslaw checklist. Options include: Have lawyers go through a company’s processes to spot risk. Set up a contract management database listing important dates (term, renewal), price increase calculations, rights, and obligations. Redo contract templates to be simpler to negotiate and use modern drafting language. Ensure legacy contracts meet company standards. In house lawyers at large corporates can tell you about how they are pulling back from using outside law firms but don’t have the personnel to meet their legal needs. This is not the behavior of people who think they are getting good value from their current legal spend. This is a contract law heavy list because of what I am most familiar with. Suffice it to say there are a lot more opportunities than these for corporates to spend money on.

[2]    Clients, perhaps rightly, might be willing to take the risk of missing a change of control clause in the thousandth contract, but how about an exclusivity or MFN clause that binds affiliates?

This is the fourth talk from the the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This is from Stuart Barr, COO at HighQ.

A lot has happened in the AI world in the last year. Robots can now create art, learn how to play computer games, categorise buildings and even determine how creative a painting is. But I think we can all agree that the most exciting development in computing this year has to be the IBM food truck, which combines cognitive computing, big data and the cloud to invent delicious new food. The perfect combination for us techies 🙂

However, no one has taught a computer how to be a lawyer just yet. They’re working on it and as we discussed last year, I think it’s only a matter of time before we do eventually create machines that can learn how to be lawyers and they will replace many functions in the legal sector. In my mind there is no doubt about that. White collar jobs will be taken by machines in the same way that many blue collar jobs have been. It’s just a matter of when, not if. Arguably it’s already happening.
The famous economist John Maynard Keynes popularised the term “Technological unemployment” in the 1930s to give a name to the process of losing jobs to technical innovations. This is a problem that humans have been wrestling with for centuries, since we started using tools to help us become more efficient and there have been many examples of it in the past.
The Industrial Revolution is a great example of technical innovations having profound effects on jobs and on wider society. It was brought about by a combination of three primary innovations in textile manufacturing processes, steam power and iron founding. Together, innovation in these three sectors acted to transform what were traditionally specialised, cottage industries into highly industrialised, automated, mass production processes, displacing many highly skilled workers, such as artisan weavers and cotton spinners, in the process. Their skills had been commoditised by machines that were faster, more efficient and cheaper.
More modern examples of technological unemployment include self-checkout kiosks in grocery stores and biometric scanners at checkpoints in airports. So I think it’s clear that the incredible pace of technological advancement definitely has an effect on jobs and entire industries. 
But it’s not all bad news. Technology also creates new types of work and new jobs. All of the panelists at the ILTACON session “Legal Technology Innovation: Bolstering AND Destroying the Legal Profession” where I spoke about this subject were only there because our jobs and our companies have arisen out of technological advancements and we’re trying to apply them to the legal sector. Think about the “App economy” created by the boom in smartphones. In 2007 it didn’t exist and in 2015 it’s expected to be a $100 billion industry. Literally millions of jobs and massive wealth is created as a result of these innovations. Have workers had to adapt and learn new skills? Absolutely, but the overall amount of work in the world economy continues to grow, not shrink, as technology advances.
So in the short to medium term, I think technology will create at least as many jobs as it destroys. But skills will shift and people will need to become more technical in order to stay relevant. Some jobs will completely disappear but new ones will emerge to take their place.
In the legal sector this means many legal processes, such as contract reviews, to pick one example, are being automated and optimised. We will get to the point in the not very distant future where junior lawyers will not need to sit and wade through thousands of contracts in a due diligence process; a machine will do it for them. But new opportunities will arise for hybrid “legal engineers” who will need to understand law AND technology in order to best utilise those machines and leverage their capabilities to gain a competitive advantage for their firms.
So I can see that, in the short term, basic legal processes will be automated and then, gradually, as machines become more sophisticated, they will be capable of performing more complex legal functions and there will be a shift from being “lawyers” in the traditional sense, to being legal developers or technicians. At this point though, we will still need the most bespoke and sophisticated legal work to be carried out by humans. Indeed, the very concept of machines taking over more and more human work may actually increase the demand for lawyers to sort out the societal complexities and disputes that will inevitably arise.
But what about the long term, 30-50 years from now?
Last year I talked about the “technological singularity” which is the theory that the exponential growth we are seeing with technology will ultimately lead to artificial intelligence exceeding human intelligence.

There is a general consensus among futurists that this will happen sometime in the 21st century, probably in the next 50 years or so. At this point, the question is no longer about whether lawyers will still have a job, it’s about what will happen to society. Will it be a Star Trek-like utopia where man will leverage machines to better themselves and explore the Galaxy? Or will it be a Terminator-like dystopian nightmare? Who knows. But one thing is is for sure, technology is changing everything and it will happen in our lifetime.

This is the third talk from the the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This is from Michael Mills, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Neota Logic.

Clearing Department, woman sorting cheques and using adding machine - 1960s

I decided to come at the technology question from the human side, to speculate about what humans are still good for in a technology-saturated world of legal services.

I concede. I am obsolete. The robots are winning.

Fastcase is a better legal researcher than I am—despite a University of Chicago law degree, a federal court clerkship, and a hand in hundreds of briefs and memos.

Recommind Axcelerate is a better document reviewer than I am—despite tutelage by demi-gods of the American bar, and years of experience, some of it in unheated warehouses and abandoned salt mines.

And of course Google is a better driver than I am.

Nonetheless, for a while, I have work to do.

Kira is not a better contract analyzer than I am—my pattern-recognizing brain is more precise, more adaptable, and faster than Kira’s algorithms. And the algorithms need training, so I can have a job as an algo trainer—like a dog trainer, but without a whistle or a biscuit.

But … Kira’s algorithms are getting better and its computers are getting faster. My brain is not, alas.

So, one day . . . poof! ZMP for me—that’s Zero Marginal Product, the economists’ term for adding no value at all.

As Harvard professor Bill Bossert said many years ago—“If you’re afraid that you might be replaced by a computer, then you probably can be—and should be.”

Or, as I say to law firm partners who worry that Neota Logic expert systems will cannibalize their billable hour work—“If your business model is to do work that my software can do … you’d better get a new one.”

So what’s left for me? For us? We went to law school, we’re nice people, we’re pretty smart.

Fortunately, there are some things for us humans to do:

Geoff Colvin of Fortune Magazine just published a book with a great title “Humans are Underrated.” (In some contexts, one might argue that he has that backward.)
He writes that the right question is this:

“What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans, regardless of what computers can do?”

He then says that the foundation of all the other abilities that make people valuable as technology advances is … empathy.

Yes, empathy.

Discerning what some other person is thinking and feeling, and responding in some appropriate way.

We have evolved to do that—collaboration was essential for survival, in hunter-gatherer and then in agricultural economies.

As Colvin puts the point:

“We want to work with other people in solving problems, tell stories to people and hear stories from them, create new ideas with people. We want to follow human leaders. We want to negotiate important agreements with people, hearing every lilt or lament in their voices, noting when they cross their arms, looking into their eyes.”

We, both individually and as members of groups and organizations, keep changing goals, purposes, understandings, directions, conceptions of the problem, interests—software simply can’t keep up.

People can, groups can.

One might say, then, that what humans will continue to do, so as not to drown in the rolling wave of technology, is what we do best in groups:

  1. Idea-generation, problem-solving, strategy
  2. Persuasion, argument, storytelling
  3. Collaboration

So … if groups are essential to our economic survival in a world eaten by software, to use Marc Andreessen’s phrase, how do we know an effective group when we stumble into one?
Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen developed in 1997 a simple test, the RME—Reading the Mind in the Eyes. Participants are asked to choose a word that best describes people’s thoughts or feelings based only on photos of their eyes.

Group members’ average score on RME has proven to be an excellent predictor of group effectiveness.

More recent research supports a much simpler test—no advance testing required. Just count the number of women in the group. More women, more effective. Period.
Another reason for diversity in STEM disciplines!

MIT professor Alex Pentland invented the sociometric badge, a little tag that hangs around your neck and tracks how you work with others—the amount of face-to-face interaction, conversational time, prosodic style, physical proximity to other people, and physical activity levels.

After sociometrically measuring many groups with his little badges, Professor Pentland found that groups do their best work when the participants:

  1. Generate many ideas in short contributions to conversations. No one natters on.
  2. Constantly alternate between talking and listening, encouraging, and reacting.
  3. Take turns.

It does sound a bit like the prescription for a good kindergarten, but it works. These 3 factors are as important to group effectiveness as all others together—individual intelligence, technical skill, personalities, and so on.

Interestingly, and here we technophiles should take note, this research suggests that online, technology-mediated collaboration is far less effective than we think.

Apple agrees—their new headquarters is gigantic, in order to bring people together, physically, to do the empathy thing, to do the human thing.

Google agrees—they engineered the cafeteria (it’s a metrics-driven company) – optimum wait time in line 3–4 minutes, table spacing to encourage bumping, long tables to encourage sitting with people you don’t know.

So, even at Google, there is room for us humans.

But … and here I think we come to the rough reality of the legal services industry (and others too, which raise profound long-term questions about the civic compact)—technology is pushing the performance bar for humans ever higher, chopping off the bottom tail of the bell curve, shrinking the space in which “just OK” is OK, in which being “pretty good” is good enough. It isn’t any more.

This is the second talk from the the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This is from Joshua Lenon, Lawyer in Residence at Clio.

Technology is No Threat to Lawyers

A while back, NPR’s Planet Money show issued a nifty interactive tool indicating whether or not certain employees would be replaced by technology in the future.  If you looked up lawyers, you’d see the following result:

(Image from NPR.org)

The calculations that determined this statistic included such issues as:

• Do you need to come up with clever solutions?
• Are you required to personally help others?
• Does your job require negotiation?
• Does your job require you to squeeze into small spaces?

It turns out that lawyers rank high in each of these categories in favor of not being replaced by robots.

This result was pretty shocking, as most online discussion list the chances of a robot replaces lawyers as somewhere between “I, Robot” and “The Terminator.” Both movies have robots taking over, but one follows the Steve Jobs’ school of design.

Research the matter further, I delved into the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s (BLS) historical data on employment for providers of legal services.  Did the history of technology development result in a decrease in jobs for lawyers?

When plotted from 1997 to the latest data in 2014, both paralegal and lawyers showed substantial growth in employment over that period.  Lawyer employment grew 42% and paralegal employment great 111%! This represents an expansion of 320,000 jobs.  Even if you only look back to 2006, the last great year of legal hiring by Big Law, you still see 10% growth in lawyer jobs since then.

Why is this growth during this time period important? It’s because it happened during one of the great expansions in human productivity in the workplace.  The Bureau of Labor provides the following chart that shows the years 2000-2007 to be the second highest increase in productivity in the work place every recorded.

While the BLS did not publish productivity gains specifically for the legal service industry, other industries tracked alongside legal in the professional services category, like bookkeeping and accountants, saw productivity improvement from 2.1 to 5.0 percentage change.  That’s huge, with the only greater period being the post-WWII boom that industrialized most of North America.

If lawyers and paralegals can still grow their employment levels during huge rises in productivity, that means that technology is not replacing these employees, but instead is supplementing them.

How do we know that technology is supplementing lawyers, rather than replacing them?  Because the same BLS tracking data shows that other employees in the legal sector are being replaced.

Legal secretary employment has fallen from 277,000 jobs in 1997 to 212,000 in 2014. This is a 23% change, and not for the better. Legal Support Workers, Other is currently growing, but only after losing 30,000 jobs from their high in 2005.

Technology is not replacing lawyers, but is replacing the employees that support lawyers. This is akin to the change in the Industrial Revolution when plow horses were replaced with tractors. Farmers continued to exist, just now with tractors doing a lot of the hard labor for them. Lawyers continue to exist, but they are not using the tools of the past.

This change is creating large changes in the way law firms hire as well. In ALM’s  2015 report, “Law Firm Support Staff: How Many are Enough?”, 62% of law firms surveyed have decreased legal support staff levels.  At the same time, 47% of firms increased their spending on staff. One conclusion is that these firms are hiring more highly trained and specialist staff.

Much like the industrial revolution decreased jobs for farriers and increased jobs for tractor engine repair specialists, law firms are now looking for support specialists in legal technology. Law firms are ditching employees that no longer fit into the new economy operating around law firms.

That’s why I think lawyers will work with robots, but will not be replaced by them.

Two weeks ago I spoke on a panel at ILTA in a session entitled, Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering AND Destroying the Legal Profession.  Interestingly, the original title was Bolstering and Destroying Legal Work, which didn’t seem nearly as wimpy when we submitted it, as it did after the revised title was published.  We kept the new title.

The panel was a reunion of the Do Robot Lawyers Dream of Billable Seconds? panel I spoke with last year that included Joshua Lenon from Clio, Noah Waisberg from Kira Systems, Stuart Barr from HighQ, and Michael Mills from Neota Logic.

Rather than post the recording of the session as I did last year, I’ve asked my fellow panelists to submit their short talks in blog post format.  I’ve received a few of them and they will be published in turn over the next few weeks.

Today, I’ll start with a synopsis of my own talk:

The Napsterization of Legal Services.

The record labels used to sell plastic discs with data on them.

Today they sell nearly that same data over the internet, without the plastic discs.

On it’s face that seems like a relatively straight-forward, if not easy transition to make.  It’s the kind of transition from one media type to another that you would expect a mature business or industry to be able to navigate with minimal disruption.  But as we know, that transition was anything but straight-forward.  In fact it wreaked havoc on the recording industry for more than a decade and they are just now beginning to get back on track.

Why was this such a difficult transition?

I suspect there are many reasons that the record labels found it difficult to move from plastic discs to no plastic discs, but I think one primary reason is that in the late 90s, they were in the business of selling plastic in pretty packaging, more than they were in the business of selling the content on that plastic.  They could charge premium prices for discs and packaging and they had to to cover the manufacturing and distribution costs of discs and packaging. They were certainly aware of the internet, and probably knew that digital distribution was the future, but they had no urgency to change a model that was still largely working.

And then Napster exploded on the scene. 

Napster wasn’t a rival record label, or an upstart looking to upend the industry, in fact it wasn’t even a company originally.  Napster was a kid in his dorm room using technology that was widely available at the time to do something that kids had been doing for decades: sharing their favorite music with their friends. In my day we used cassette tapes.  Napster was the ultimate mix tape, and in a very short time, that mix tape was available all over the world.

This highlighted a clear discrepancy between what the record labels were selling (discs and packaging) and what their customers actually wanted and cared about (the music). Whenever such a discrepancy exists, technology will step into that gap.

What this has to do with legal services?

I think law firms, in particular, are in much the same position today that the record labels were in the late 90s.  We even have our own version of the ‘discs and packaging’ problem.

We sell our lawyers time – and that is true whether we’re talking about billable hours or fixed fees. We sell the time it takes our lawyers to manually perform various tasks, and produce outcomes for our clients.  When what the client actually cares about is the outcome, not the hours.

Historically, this discrepancy wasn’t a problem because the best way to deliver those outcomes was to have our lawyers manually perform the work and then bill for their time.  But today that is not necessarily true.  With machine learning algorithms, reasoning tools, and automation software, we can begin to replicate the work that our lawyers have always done manually with technology.  We can deliver a better, faster, AND cheaper solution to our clients.

Our lawyers are still compensated, and our firms are still structured, around ‘selling plastic discs and packaging’ (lawyers hours).  And yet the technology to give our clients the outcomes they want, with minimal manual labor is becoming widespread.  We are ripe for our own version of Napster.

We have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity from today until the Legal Services Napster Event takes place, when we can begin to manage the transition from one media type to another.  If we actively and intelligently manage that change, then it will be a bumpy ride, but we’ll come through it.  The alternative is to do nothing, keep selling our discs and packaging, and hope that nothing ever changes.

And thanks to the record labels, we have a good idea of how that will turn out.

For those of you that attend the ILTA conferences, you may be aware of the (in)famous band called Legal Bytes. Legal Bytes is the world’s only band made up entirely of current and former Chief Information Officers from law firms. At this year’s ILTA conference, Legal Bytes will actually be releasing a 12-song CD of original material called “Bright Lights… Big Data.” The August 17th release at ILTA, presented by Recommind, will talk about the joys and pains (mostly pains) of managing technology in the BigLaw world. Our very own 3 Geeks’ contributor, Scott Preston, is the drummer of Legal Bytes (way to go Scott!!)

Now, it may sound funny that there were enough musically talented CIOs to actually come up with a band, but it is really not as strange as it may seem. In fact, I would say that my (anecdotal) experience with techies in the law firm world has been skewed heavily toward those techies having musical and fine art skills. Last night, I watched a Ted Ed video from Anita Collins that put the CIO and Music puzzle together for me. Turns out that playing a musical instrument is like a “full-body brain workout.” It also helps build connections between the right (creative) and left (mathematical) halves of the brain. Exactly what the creative/mathematical CIO needs to be successful. Watching the video below might help you understand how your own CIO’s brain works, and why he or she acts the way they do.

Also take a look at Legal Bytes’ first song off their new album. Make sure to pick up a copy of the new album. The first release, iPad Girl, is already on YouTube.

ILTA has published many of the Audio recordings and Slide Presentations from the 2013 Conference here.  They are available for ILTA Members free of charge.  If you are not a member, I highly recommend you become one, or make friends with a member so you can get access to this wonderful resource.  I spoke on Monday afternoon in an experimental session with 3 other terrific speakers.  We each took 12 minutes and presented on a stand-alone topic in the style of a short TED talk.  I spoke third, but I’ve chopped my own presentation out of the others and embedded it here.  If you find this at all interesting, please go to the ILTA page and listen to some more.

The complete talk is about 12 minutes long. I presented without slides and with a single prop.

See also my short story, The Granny Bug, which was inspired by my research into the Internet of Things.

BONUS: This also doubles as the first ever 3 Geeks Drinking Game! Grab your favorite beverage and drink every time I say the word THINGS. Although I’ll warn you, you probably won’t make it through the first 3 minutes.

Full transcript after the jump….

I’ve cleaned up some of the wording to make it more clear in writing. I think I got my points across in person, but maybe I was just rambling.

So, I’m going to change gears quite abruptly. [adjusting microphone] And I want to talk about something that came up a little bit this morning in the Keynote.

Sometime between 2005 and 2008 the number of things on the Internet surpassed the number of people on the planet. It’s estimated that by 2020 there will be more than 50 Billion things online.  Now things, in this context, are Internet connected devices with uniquely identifiable IP addresses.

These things are the things that we use to connect to the Internet.  Mostly they’re computers, and tablets, and smartphones.  You could call them things on the Internet of People.  However, most of the things coming online recently are not on the Internet of People.  They are things that connect to other things.  They are what we call, for lack of a better name – or any imagination, things on the Internet of Things.

If you Google “Internet of Things” you are going to find an entire Jetson’s future fantasy world of automated devices that promise to make your life easier.  You’re going to find the Nest Thermostat, which is probably the most famous thing on the Internet of Things.  It’s a thermostat that learns your preferences and over time it starts to adjust itself automatically. But it also has sensors that can detect when there are people around and it knows when no one is home so it can turn itself down. And it also is connected to the network so it can communicate with your power provider and it can find out what the [power] demands are expected to be for the day, and it can adjust itself.

You will also find things like the Ambient Umbrella. This is a Wi-fi umbrella that has LED lights in it’s base that light up when it’s expected to rain. It communicates with the weather service.

You’ll find something that I think is my favorite thing online, the EggMinder from GE.  This is a little plastic egg carton that sits in your fridge and it has a Wi-Fi connection.  It syncs with an app on your phone so that anywhere in the world, at any time, you will always know exactly how many eggs you have in your fridge.

Now, all of this stuff is really cool, and a lot of fun, and exciting. But there are some outstanding issues that are preventing these things from becoming mainstream. Preventing the Internet of Things from becoming mainstream.

All of these devices are stand-alone technologies.  They all communicate very well within their own platforms and their own ecosystems, but they don’t communicate very well between each other.  The Internet of Things, at this point, is in a very similar state to where the Internet of People was prior to the development of the World Wide Web.  There are a lot of little networks that work fine on their own, but trying to get between them is difficult.  There are companies that are working on a Web of Things concept.  There are several of them [competing to provide this type of easier communication]. And I have no doubt that one of them, in the very near future, is going to step out from the pack and everyone will get on board, and we will get that Jetson’s future that we’re all hoping for.

But as I was thinking about this talk and as I was researching it.  I kept wondering one thing.  One thing was stuck in the back of my mind. And that is, “Is that all?” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I want a Wi-Fi toaster because it’s cool, but really? Is this what we’re hoping to get from this Internet of Things concept?  So I started trying to forget all of this consumer device hype.  [And I wondered] what is the Internet of Things at it’s base? 

And it got me thinking about physics.  I wish it had gotten me thinking about chemistry because then I could do a really great Catalyst metaphor [ed. the theme for this year’s ILTA conference was “IT – The Catalyst”], but instead it got me thinking about physics.  And specifically Quantum Mechanics.  And there’s a concept in Quantum Mechanics called entanglement.  The idea is you take two particles and you bring them together and their quantum fields begin to entangle.  (What ever that means.) When you spin one of these particles the other is going to spin too.  But the crazy thing is you can then separate them, and you can send one of those entangled particles across the street, or across the country, or to the other side of the universe and when you spin the one you still have, [the other] one is going to spin too.

Now, no less a visionary than Albert Einstein derided this concept.  He called it “Spooky Action at a Distance.” It has since been proven.  But spooky action at a distance is really good description of the Internet of Things, because at it’s core, it’s a sensor that senses the world around it and then communicates that to an actuator that can actually do something about it.

That’s a concept we’re all familiar with within our devices. If you’ve got your iPhone and you put it up to your ear, the proximity sensor turns off your touchscreen so you don’t accidentally hang up with your cheek. The Internet of Things does the same thing, except it allows you to spread out and separate the sensors from the actuators in much the same way that our two particles that are entangled can be separated.  Whereas the particles can be anywhere in the universe, the sensor and the actuator can be anywhere on the network.

So if you start thinking about the Internet of Things in those terms, rather than thinking about it in terms of these consumer devices like the EggMinder.  You start to realize that actually, THIS is the coolest thing on the Internet.

This is called a Twine. It’s a little box and it’s got a battery, a Wi-Fi antenna, and three sensors. It senses temperature, orientation, and vibration. So I can log into it and set rules, that when one of these sensors is triggered it sends a communication across the network.  I can set up a rule and I can leave this on my dryer, and when my dryer stops vibrating, it will text me that my laundry is done.  I can leave this in a window on a hot day, and I can have it set so that it will warn me when my house plants are getting to hot. With a little bit of ingenuity I can tie this into If This Then That, which is an online site that allows you connect various internet services together.  By doing that I can actually make my Twine tweet, or put up a Facebook post. Or I’ve got the Wi-Fi lightbulbs from Phillips, I can have my Twine turn my lights on and off.

Now, you’re going to laugh, but this device, I think, will change the world.

That sounds a little ridiculous, but I want you to think about it this way.  Sixty-Five years ago I could hold a few transistors in the palm of my hand.  Today I could hold billions.  Now, I don’t expect Internet connected sensors to shrink at the rate of Moore’s Law, but if you can imagine that maybe they could shrink at a quarter of that rate, then sixty-five years from now, I could hold more than ten thousand of these in my hand. At that point they’d all be about the size of a grain of sand.

Now, if that happens, these won’t be in boxes like this, and we won’t weld them to our devices. They’ll be everywhere.  We’ll put them in our clothing, in the carpet, on the walls, and in our furniture.  At a certain point, that changes the way we interact with the network.  In fact, the physical world can become the user interface to the network. The physical world can be something that allows spooky action at a distance. And I don’t know exactly how that will work, or what that will look like, but I can imagine, by way of analogy, how it might feel.

If I asked you today, “What computers have you used recently?” We’re all techies, you can probably list a dozen. But if I asked the average person, even they could tell me, “This is the computer I own, this is what I like about it, this is what I don’t.”  Computing is at the forefront of our minds, it’s an active technology.  Something we’re conscious of doing. We use computers as tools to accomplish certain things.

But there are other technologies that are no longer conscious, but they’re still there, and we use them all the time.  If I were to ask you, “What motors do you use?”  You’ll probably think of your car, but as you think about it more, you’ll realize, “Well, there’s the garage door opener, and the lawnmower…” and on and on and on.  You’ve got motors everywhere, but you’re not aware of them.  You’re not conscious of them.

I think that the real promise of the Internet of Things is that it holds the potential to eventually make computers and computing a background technology, so that you are not aware of it in the same way.  So that in seventy five or a hundred years from now, if I asked you “What computers do you use?”  You’ll have to think about it.  And when you come up with an answer it might be, “Well, there’s my toothbrush, and my shoes, and you know, of course the walls.”  But you might answer, “You know, I don’t think I really use computers, but I’m always on the Internet of Things.”

Thank you.

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.

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.