I’m finally back in my office in Houston today after taking a week to visit Austin and attend the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) annual meeting. Looking back on the last week, all I can do is take a deep breath and say… “WOW!!”

Here are just a handful of highlights:

  • AALL announced that it is removing Texas from consideration for future conference location due to the Texas Legislature, Lt. Governor, and Governor’s anti-LGBTQ stances and laws. (I got to be on local TV and in Texas newspapers.)
  • Bryan Stevenson gave perhaps the best keynote that I’ve ever seen, and inspired everyone in the audience to get proximate, change the narrative, stay hopeful, and make a conscious decision to do uncomfortable things. (AALL members can see a recording of the talk, here.)
  • AALL’s inaugural Innovations Tournament was held, and BakerHostetler’s Katherine Lowry, and University of North Texas’ Jen Wondracek, each won the $2,500.00 prize for their innovations. Georgetown’s Tom Boone and Matt Zimmerman were a close third. The fact that the top two winners were both women tech leaders speaks volumes for the Association, and is something that makes me very, very proud.
  • Speaking of AALL and technology, Bob Ambrogi had a wonderful write up of how AALL isn’t just a great conference for legal information professionals to discuss legal content and research, but that it is also a great legal technology conference. I want to quote Gabe Teninbaum (who gave a wonderful presentation at the PLLIP-Summit):
    “It’s [AALL Conference] got nearly as much legaltech as any conference branded as legaltech, but a fraction of the push toward selling products.”
    High praise, indeed!
  • John Waters…  yes, that John Waters, is going to be the 2018 AALL Conference Keynote speaker in Baltimore. I mean, it’s Baltimore. He was my immediate choice!!
  • About a million other things happened. (Please post some of your favorites in the comments, if you’d like to share.)
  • I officially became the AALL President for 2017-2018.
On Monday, at the AALL Business Meeting, I gave a talk on what my plans are for the upcoming year. The Baltimore conference theme is “From Knowledge To Action,” and I wanted to highlight some of the actions I would like to take. Now I have to get back to work!!
Here is the speech:
I am excited about the upcoming year, and proud to serve as your president. In the past 20 years, I have gone from academic, to government, to outsourced consultant, and to private law firm occupations. The constant throughout that change has been AALL, and I am honored to have the opportunity to lead an organization that has given me so much.
The Association has endured many challenges over the past decade. A global recession which decimated parts of our profession, especially in the corporate, private law, and government library sectors, and a retiring baby-boomer population which made up a large percentage of our overall membership. 
We face competition from other associations for roles which are traditional or law librarian created functions.  Now we face a legal educational market in retraction after decades of expansion. 
AALL faced these challenges and we have adapted to become a leaner association. Staffing levels are down, and we have adjusted how the Association spends money to ensure we are fiscally responsible and providing stability for the future of the Association. 
We are still losing more members than we are gaining. That is a situation we must address, and the long-term strategy of the Association must adapt to this trend. We have held off most of the losses through cuts. However, I am a big believer that you cannot cut your way to prosperity. 
The Association must look at new revenue sources, and I believe that there are many opportunities out there to find ways of increasing the numbers of new members, finding options for retiring members who want to stay engaged with the profession, inform stakeholders about the value of professional development for our members, and providing programs to attract those who do not think of themselves as law librarians or legal information professionals, either into the Association as members, or through other revenue generating offerings. 
We have so much knowledge and expertise in this Association that is of considerable value to the industry. We need to leverage that and put it into action. 
I have written many times in my blog that the law librarian, or however you refer to yourself on an individual or department basis, is one of the most valuable and most credentialed members in your work place.
We all work tirelessly for our organizations to support the overall strategic goals of our employers. Our voices should be heard, our leadership and expertise recognized, and our contribution to the success of our organizations acknowledged. 
Our professional Association should assist us in these efforts through leadership training, professional development opportunities, and promoting the overall value of law librarianship to our direct stakeholders, and others in the legal profession.
AALL is stepping up on this front to make the law librarians’ voices heard beyond our inner circles. This year we are working with a public relations firm to increase our reach and highlight the critical role we play within the legal community.  
Most importantly, we will begin to share all the content created by our members broadly with the media, both legal and non-legal.  We are confident these efforts will position us as the only national association committed to championing the essential role law librarians play in the legal profession. 
We have a wealth of knowledge within AALL, and we will put into action processes to expose that knowledge.
We are currently working to develop a knowledge management system which will capture, share and use content in support of members.  We are currently overhauling the AALL website, which will have more intuitive navigation, Boolean search, and taxonomic functionality.  We will expand the site’s Knowledge Center so information and work product can be easily shared across AALL entities. 
This will produce an evergreen process for identifying current and emerging competencies that will translate into knowledge points to apply to all or our education, publications, and programs. 
We are also expanding our education programs, and this October and holding a one-day Competitive Intelligence program in Chicago, facilitated by Zena Applebaum, a well-known expert in the field. 
The theme for is the 2018 Annual Meeting & Conference in Baltimore is, “From Knowledge to Action.” 
As I mentioned earlier, law librarians and others in the legal information profession are some of the smartest and most credentialed members of their organizations. However, this does very little when you’re not part of the decision-making team. We need to find ways of exposing the powers-that-be in our organizations to the power of people in their law libraries and knowledge resources departments. 
I want to see our members producing more White Papers, placing articles in journals and other publications that are read by those decision makers, and finding opportunities for members to engage with industry leaders. 
We need to have more interactions with our own stakeholders and others in the legal profession in ways that presses the question of why aren’t they leveraging this talent in better ways to benefit the law firms, law schools, government institutions, and other businesses which have law librarians and legal information professionals on staff.
A local Houston politician once told me, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” She is right. It is time to go beyond being smart, and credentialed, and helpful, and nice. It is time we take action and create success for ourselves, our profession, our Association, our work place, and the entire legal profession. 
It is my goal for AALL to work alongside you providing the tools and support to make that leap from knowledge to action.
As much as I have enjoyed having you all here in my home state of Texas, I’m excited to be in Baltimore next year. The AMPC committee, led by Kim Serna, is already in action, and will be reaching out to all of you to put your knowledge into action in Baltimore.
We have a lot to do between now and then. Please feel free to reach out to me with your ideas, and let me know of your own successes. I look forward to representing AALL and all of you this year. 
Thank you.

[NOTE: Please welcome guest blogger, Michael J. Robak, Associate Director/Director of Information Technologies, Leon E. Bloch Law Library, University of Missouri – Kansas City. -GL]

The movement to establish a true Technology instruction track and andragogy (meaning Susskind, Kowalski, et. al.) in the legal academy is gaining real momentum.  As readers may recall, on March 16, 2016 the ABA TECHSHOW provided an opportunity for an Academic specific event tied to TECHSHOW which 3 Geeks generously allowed me to advertise.  This first ever Dean’s Roundtable, held at IIT Chicago Kent College of Law (which was enthusiastically supported and hosted by Professor Ron Staudt,), was incredibly successful and helped set the stage for creating an Academic track at the 2017 ABA TECHSHOW.

The event was so successful that the 2016 ABA TECHSHOW Chair, Steve Best, thought a second edition of the Dean’s Roundtable would provide an even greater opportunity for dialogue if it could be held in conjunction with the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco in early August for a West coast version.  Those who attended the Roundtable, including the first Roundtable’s generous sponsor, Thomson Reuters, thought a second event would be well worth creating.


And so we are announcing the Dean’s Roundtable Part 2 to be held at UC Hastings College of Law on August 4, 2016 from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. And I am pleased to announce Thomson Reuters is again generously sponsoring the event.


If you are at a law school in the San Francisco area or if you are attending the ABA Annual Meeting or if you are interested in helping build technology teaching or the ABA TECHSHOW Academic track please consider attending the Dean’s Roundtable Part 2 on August 4, 2016. 


And we particularly extend the invitation to practitioners, we need comment and recommendations from outside the ivory tower.

This is a free event and registration can be found here.

We hope to have in attendance a number of the members of the ABA Law Practice Division, including members of the Executive Committee, to create an even stronger dialogue about the “how and what” of teaching technology, particularly from those practitioners most engaged with serving as technology evangelists.  The second part of the dialogue will focus on helping design the academic track for the 2017 ABA TECHSHOW.  2017 TECHSHOW chair, Adriana Linares, is an avowed and immensely supportive proponent of the track and is working with her Board to develop the track.  Input from the Roundtable will be very important to getting this organized.

Besides the ABA TECHSHOW Academic track, there have been two other important developments in the month of July.  The first was a discussion that occurred in early July at the SubTech 2016 Unconference, hosted by the University of Richmond Law School (and thanks to Marc Lauritsen for organizing and Roger Skalbeck (and Dean Wendy Perdue) for hosting) the event for connecting law schools that have engaged in the substantive teaching of technology. During this unconference,   John Mayer, law tech dude extraordinaire, (where would we be without John!) sua sponte created a website to serve as a connector for those wanting to teach technology.  Among other services, the website will collect syllabi from anyone who wants to contribute.  If you are on the Teknoids listserv you’ve probably seen the conversation.

The second terrific development occurred during the AALL Annual meeting last week.  Elizabeth Farrell Clifford (who attended SubTech 2016) organized a flash meeting to discuss teaching technology.  This amazing event had about 30 people in attendance with another 15 or so expressing regret to Elizabeth they could not attend.  The meeting had each of the attendees discussing what they taught or planned to teach and clearly demonstrated law schools are recognizing the need to formally move in this direction.  The attendees unanimously supported the idea of creating an AALL Caucus focusing on teaching technology.  Elizabeth and I are moving forward on this proposal.

The half day conference Agenda is as follows:

8:30 a.m. – Registration
9:00 – 10:15 – Moderated Panel Discussion
Moderator – Dean Ellen Suni – University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Law
Panelists:
Professor Oliver Goodenough – Vermont Law School
Professor Alice Armitage – UC Hastings College of the Law
Professor Dan Linna – Michigan State University School of Law
Professor Jeff Ward – Duke Law
Assistant Dean Bobby Ahdieh – Emory University School of Law School
10:15 – 10:30 Break
10:30 – 12 noon – Discussion Forum
The panel will lead a discussion with members of the audience to move toward consensus regarding the next steps for advancing teaching technology in law school and examining how the ABA TECHSHOW can be part of these efforts going forward.

12 noon – boxed lunch and further discussion
(Generously provided by Thomson Reuters)
 

Please feel free to email me (the man behind the curtain) with comments, thoughts, ideas or any suggestions.  There will most likely be a discussion about the Academic Track and this topic generally at the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) at the January, 2017 meeting in San Francisco.


I know I write my fair share of crap that is of minimal value to anyone, but that’s why we invite Casey Flaherty to post his epic legal tone poems on 3 Geeks.  His insight and valuable contributions balance my own questionable efforts.  After today, the ABAs Law Technology Today is in desperate need of a Casey Flaherty-type ringer.

As much as I hate to call anyone out for writing nonsense – pot/kettle – this turd of a puff piece got my hackles way up.

Four Ways Law Firms Are Using Technology For Exposure and Efficiency 

Helpfully subtitled: A shortlist of ways to leverage technology in your favor.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “Ryan, why would you bother to click on that link? We know that you know all about click bait titles. What pearls of wisdom were you expecting on the other side?”

I don’t know! Call it a moment of weakness at the end of a long day.  For the second and a half it took the page to load, I thought maybe one of the ‘four ways’ would be novel or new.  Something thrilling that I had never imagined. Something to spark my imagination and lead to my next great legal technology insight.

I’ll save you the brain cells.  The ‘four ways’ that law firms are using tech for exposure and efficiency, are:

  1. Becoming a Resource on Social Networks
  2. Blogging About Important Topics 
  3. Launching Law Firm Apps
  4. Digitizing Documents and Using Online Libraries

When I finished reading, I was sad.  5 minutes later, I was angry.  As any blogger can tell you, the stage that comes after anger is Blog Post.

This rant is not about the author, his credentials, his ideas, or his writing.  Mad props and hats off to anyone who can make a living writing anything at all. And I know this was a paid post because I dropped the text into word and confirmed that if you include the title, the post comes to exactly 750 words. That’s not coincidental.  No, the author is a new hero of mine. My scorn is reserved for the ABA and the editors of Law Technology Today.

If this is what the ABA thinks constitutes a modern use of tech for ‘exposure and efficiency’, they should probably rename the site Law Technology 2003.

Here’s my Four REAL Ways firms are using tech for exposure and efficiency:

  1. They are no longer spamming their clients on social networks and instead are building useful and useable tools that clients actually want/need and will pay for
  2. They automate absolutely everything they can so that some of their lawyers can focus on the cool stuff they imagined they’d be doing when they graduated from law school, and others can build the cool stuff that automates the boring stuff.
  3. They stop being so damn proprietary about every little tech idea they have. They’re proud and loud and shout their genius from the rooftops. 
  4. They digitize their documents and use online libraries
Well, I guess that last one would have been the same.  
I stand corrected.

I recently gave a ‘client case study’ presentation at the HighQ Client Forum in NYC (recapped here). On the day, I opened my talk thusly:

I am of the opinion that I could tell you absolutely everything I have done at the firm for the last three years in excruciating detail, with charts, graphs, and full step by step explanations and you could take that back to your firm and it would be of almost no value to you. Except in so far as it may provide you with a bit of inspiration to try something similar, or a map to avoid some of the pitfalls that I have encountered.

That was the set up of my opening joke to explain why I was speaking in extremely generic terms about my ‘case study’ and also to justify why all of my screenshot examples looked like this.

In short, my firm did not share my generous opinion on sharing.

That is certainly their prerogative and they are by no means alone.  I find that most law firms feel similarly about their various technology projects. Most people who work in law firms are to some degree fearful of speaking publicly in detail about any projects they are working on. Not because they think they are somehow giving away the farm, but because they don’t want to raise the ire of the managing partner or the marketing director.

One low level techno-peon, whose firm belongs to a knowledge sharing consortium of non-competing regional firms, told me that she was told to forward any information she receives from the group to the managing partner, but that she was never to share anything with the other firms.   I’m willing to bet that most staff in the consortium have received similar instructions from their firm’s management.  In the upper echelons of law firm management, it seems to generally be believed that the use of specific technologies, in a particular way, to solve a problem or build a product, constitutes a ‘competitive advantage’ of some kind.

It does not.

We are all using the same tools to build the same kinds of products and services for the same potential clients.

If I tell you that I am using tools A, B, and C to develop a solution that does X, Y, and Z. Even if I show you detailed screenshots of my final product, or give you a demo of its various features, you cannot recreate what I’ve done.  Even if I gave you the completed product itself, along will full rights to use it as you saw fit, you couldn’t get anyone at your firm to sign off on it.  Trust me, it’s hard enough to get two lawyers at the SAME firm to agree on simple introductory wording for a product let alone actual legal interpretations; lawyers from different firms agreeing on anything is nearly unthinkable.

The competitive advantage, the ‘secret sauce’ if you will, has absolutely nothing to do with the technology or how I/we/you put it together.  The advantage is in the knowledge and intelligence that your firm’s lawyers bring to the product/service/solution and that will be different at every firm. Even if the outward appearance and general construction of the eventual product is identical. (Which it can’t possibly be.)

In addition, it is highly unlikely that your technologists or consultants have discovered a unique combination of tools and resources that no one at any other firm has ever thought of.  The one exception would be if your in-house development team built something entirely from scratch, but then I would argue that any immediate advantage you may gain is more than offset by the long term headache of software maintenance and support, and you’re actually digging an innovation hole.

Now, to be clear, I am not advocating for a mass uprising of technologists to start spilling their firms’ secrets. Nor am I suggesting that I would ever share details of what my former firm was working on against their wishes. Nor will I ever share details of anything that I work on for any company in the future without explicit permission to do so. However, I truly believe that in most cases a strict devotion to the ‘competitive advantage’ myth actually does a big disservice to the secretive firm itself. They struggle to learn through trial and error what could simply be learned by talking to others who have gone before. Although, if you don’t share, no one else is going to share with you.  Those good old kindergarten values at play.

It strikes me that this bizarre behavior is like construction contractors jealously guarding their secret use of wheelbarrows, nail guns, and wooden framing.  Those things constitute baseline technologies for building a house.  However, the fact that a crew uses those technologies has almost no bearing on the eventual quality of the house.  It’s the work of the specialized craftspeople that ultimately determines the value of the end product.

The same is true for law firms. Firms should have faith in the skill of their craftspeople (lawyers) and encourage their construction foremen (technologists) to talk to others in the industry about construction (legal technology innovation) best practices.

Otherwise, what is the message we, as an industry, are sending to our clients?

“We’d rather spend our time and money reinventing the wheelbarrow than using technology to solve your legal problems.”

I hereby relinquish any claim to copyright on that phrase. If any firm wants to adopt that as their marketing slogan, be my guest.

[NOTE: Please welcome guest blogger, Michael J. Robak, Associate Director/Director of Information Technologies, Leon E. Bloch Law Library, University of Missouri – Kansas City.]
This
year’s ABA Tech Show is from March 16 – 19, 2016. (http://www.techshow.com/ )   It is also the 30th anniversary
of the Tech Show.  This year, for the
first time, an academic specific event is going to be tied to the Tech
Show.  The half day conference, on the
morning of March 16, 2016 is an opportunity for law school faculty and
administration, law students and practitioners to discuss the “how and what” of
teaching technology as well as develop a framework for adding an academic track
to the 2017 program.  Law students are
particularly encouraged to attend the event and the show.  Pricing for law student admission to the 3
day event is $100. (Registration link here: http://www.techshow.com/pricing/ )
Below
is the program description – if you are planning to attend the ABA Tech show,
this will be a great way to start the event!
Teaching
Technology in the Academy:  Are we
finally at the Tipping Point?
A
Law School Roundtable discussion held in conjunction with the 2016 ABA Tech
Show
Hosted
by IIT-Chicago Kent School of Law
March
16, 2016
9:00
– 12 noon
No
charge for registration
Roundtable Description
2016
marks the 30th Anniversary of the ABA Tech show.  In 1986 the idea of “micro-computers” in law
practice, to quote Jeff Arresty, one of the show’s founders, “was at its
complete inception”.
Much
has changed in those 30 years when it comes to legal technology.  But law schools have not yet fully embraced
the importance of technology competency for law students.  Even though law schools have begun to bring
technology courses to the curriculum and to experiment with innovative concepts
like legal hackathons, much remains to be done. 
In
July, 2014 and again in April, 2015, the University of Missouri – Kansas City
hosted two conferences on Law Schools, Technology and Access to Justice.  These conferences were supported by the Ewing
Marion Kauffman Foundation and brought together academics, legal technologists
and members of the Access to Justice community. 
One of the stated goals of the conferences was to produce a specific
direction for the teaching of technology in law schools.  A set of principles, referred to informally
as the Kansas City Principles, were developed and state as follows:
Fundamental Principal
#1: 
In their role of
ensuring that the lawyers of tomorrow have the core competencies to provide
effective and efficient legal services, law schools have the responsibility to
provide all students with education and training to enable them to understand
the risks and benefits associated with current and developing technologies and
the ability to use those technologies appropriately.
Fundamental Principal
#2: 
In order for lawyers
to fulfill their professional obligations to advance the cause of justice, it
is essential that economically viable models for the delivery of legal services
be developed that allow all members of society to have access to competent
legal representation or effective self-representation regardless of income, and
law schools should assist in the development of technologically-supported legal
marketplaces that help identify available alternatives and, where legal
representation appears most appropriate, to empower those seeking the services
of a lawyer to identify and retain a competent lawyer of choice at reasonable
cost.
Fundamental Principal
#3: 
As part of their
responsibility to assist in providing access to law and justice, law schools
should use their legal knowledge and technological capabilities to make the law
more comprehensible and readily available to the public so as to empower people
to use the law and, where appropriate, lawyers, to improve the quality of their
lives, and should include in this endeavor, among other initiatives , working
with national, state, and local governments to provide the public with free
on-line access to statutes, regulations, cases and other primary law at all
levels of government.  
Fundamental Principal
#4: 
In order to encourage
community economic development and contribute to a strong global economy, law
schools should educate lawyers who can stimulate entrepreneurship and
innovation and assist in developing technology that can support economically
viable means of providing affordable legal services to small businesses, social
ventures and start-up enterprises.
Fundamental Principal
#5: 
Because technology has
the potential to reinvent the processes of law in ways that can help achieve
access to justice, law schools should encourage their students, faculty and
graduates to research, teach and implement non-traditional, technological
approaches to legal innovation that will maximize the ways in which individuals
and entities can achieve the benefits of law and legal process.
The explicit goal of this
half day event is to not only continue to drive the discussion that led to
these principles, but to develop an agenda for how to proceed, including how to
involve the ABA Law Practice Management Section and leverage the opportunity
provided by the ABA Tech Show.
In addition, there has never
been a better opportunity for practitioners to help influence law schools on
the best directions in which to proceed with technology training.  It is expected that the roundtable audience
will include not only members of the academy but also practitioners, law
students and vendor representatives, and the participation of all these
segments in the conversation will be beneficial to determining next steps.
Agenda
8:30 – registration
9:00 –
10:15 – Moderated Panel Discussion:
Meeting
Technology Competencies for the 21st Century lawyer: The Role for
Today’s Law Schools
     Moderator:            Dean
Ellen Suni – University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law
     Panelists: Professor
Ronald W. Staudt          – IIT Chicago- Kent
School of Law
                        Professor Oliver
Goodenough      – Vermont Law School
                        Professor William
Henderson       – Indiana University
Maurer School of Law
                        Dean Andrew Perlman                   –
Suffolk Law School
10:15
– 10:30 – Break
10:30 –
12 noon – Discussion Forum
The
panel will lead a discussion with members of the audience to move toward
consensus regarding the next steps for advancing the teaching of technology in
law school and examining how the ABA Tech Show can be part of these efforts
going forward.
12
noon – boxed lunch

As mentioned in my last post, law students often respond to their poor scores on a basic Word assessment by explaining to me that they need not need worry about this tech stuff because “that is what secretaries are for.” I think this is wrong for a number of reasons, a few of which I outline below:

  • Legal work still entails some drudgery
  • Drudgery is a rite of passage for young lawyers
  • Drudgery increasingly falls on young lawyers as law firms reduce support staff
  • Doing work themselves also plays into lawyers’ propensity for autonomy and urgency
  • Delegation remains of critical importance
  • But proper delegation requires proper oversight
  • Proper oversight requires some of level of tech competence in order to:
  • Delegate the right work
  • Delegate to the right people
  • Delegate the right way (i.e., appropriate instructions and expectations)

The Law Factory

Grunt work is a rite of passage for young lawyers toiling in a “law factory.” There is even a genre of legal reporting where the lede is the human-interest angle of the author-as-young-attorney laboring through some thankless task. For example, last month’s Atlantic article asking the question “Why Are So Many Law Firms Trapped in 1995?” begins:

After I graduated from law school, my first assignment at a large New York law firm was to assist in the discovery phase of a securities case. For 12 hours a day, I sat in a conference room jammed with bankers’ boxes full of documents, reviewing them one page at a time.

On what it is like to be a young lawyer, I can’t recommend enough the insightful and empathetic writings of The People’s Therapist, an associate turned psychotherapist. He writes of “a sweatshop where the billable hour is all that matters, no one tells anyone anything, and young associates are reduced to a fungible commodity.” (see also, here, here, here). For a lighter take, I suggest this parody video of a young lawyer who identifies a typo amidst an endless hell of due diligence and is celebrated as a conquering hero (until he leaves the office and tries to explain this grand feat to a normal human being). It’s funny because it’s true. It’s sad because it’s true. It’s a core reason that young lawyers are miserable (see here).

The notion that young lawyers are burdened with rote, routine, and repetitive work is not limited to young lawyers. More than 95% of hiring partners believe new attorneys lack key practical skills. The menial tasks young attorneys are consequently given has resulted in more than half of managing partners being able to envision their new hires replaced by Watson-like software in the next 5 to 10 years (much to Ryan’s chagrin). Young lawyers consigned to drudgery is so systemic that Vault rates legal employers on whether or not they give new recruits “substantive work.”

Everyone knows that young lawyers are handling labor-intensive work that can be augmented (if not completely replaced) by a machine. Except when they don’t. Except when someone like me comes along and suggests that lawyers (like staff) should therefore get better at using the basic technology tools of their trade. Then the condescension kicks in, and someone explains to me, “That’s what secretaries are for.” My agitated interlocutors include law students, who, as I explained last post, when presented empirical evidence of their technological shortcomings explain that this tech stuff is unimportant because the labor-intensive work will be handled by someone else. To that, I respond:

In theory, you will get no objection here (well, a few, that I get to below). For me, law is a team sport where staffing, process, and trust in allied professionals are mission critical. But I have a number of questions about how that theory is actually applied in the vast majority of legal settings.

Missing Delegates

Legal support staff will be heartened to learn that their jobs are secure because lawyers rely on them for all labor-intensive work. But this sentiment will be of little consolation to the thousands who have already lost their livelihood. Lawyers, apparently are using technology instead (see, e.g., herehere, hereherehere, hereherehere, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). In announcing staff layoffs, the firms release public statements like:

“Advances in technology have resulted in a need for fewer support staff and related services in law firms.”

 “Technology has changed the legal industry – the way we work today is very different than the way we worked as recently as five years ago.”

“our need for secretaries has been substantially reduced as a result of technology and the work style of our attorneys, who themselves perform a number of functions previously handled by secretaries.”

Law firms seem to want it both ways. They lay off support staff because lawyers are using technology and then dismiss the need for lawyers to get technology training because lawyers rely on support staff.

There is less support staff. The support staff that remains prioritizes the work from partners. Both of these realities (less staff, focus on partners’ work) are all the more conspicuous during the late nights, early mornings, and long work weekends in which so many lawyers take such perverse pride. Lawyers, especially young lawyers, end up doing much of the labor-intensive work themselves.

Work-Hoarding Lawyers

It has been suggested to me more than once that the post-Recession staff layoffs are evidence of greed. Greed by the partners trying to boost their profits by directing a higher percentage of work to billable resources. Greed by the individual attorneys trying to pad their timesheets. While I can not disprove this hypothesis, avarice is not essential to the explanation. We can take law firms at their word that the lawyers really have changed the way they work due to technology.

Whether or not lawyers are naturally proficient at using computers (the answer is definitely not), the computer-centric model of working is conducive to maintaining independence. The tape from a dictaphone and the handwritten notes on a printed page are intended for someone else. Digitization, however, is meant to empower the user to accomplish tasks themselves. Control is attractive to many lawyers.

In a previous post, I outlined two psychological traits where lawyers most consistently diverge from the general population. High skepticism and low resilience drive a deep statu quo bias and orient lawyers’ issue-spotting prowess towards resisting change. The other traits that separate lawyers from the general population: autonomy, sociability, and urgency.

    Autonomy: lawyers prefer to maintain control

    Sociability: lawyers prefer not to interact with others

    Urgency: lawyers want it done now

Sound familiar? Personal computers make it possible for lawyers to work independently, avoid interaction, and ensure their work gets immediate priority. There are many people, some of whom are lawyers, who would rather take ten minutes to do something themselves rather than wait two hours for someone else to get to it–even if takes that other person one minute to complete.

Combine these predilections with a lack of staff support for junior attorneys, and it is fairly easy to envision lawyers’ work habits changing over time without reference to any perverse financial incentives.

An Empirical Question

My father was an educated, curious man who also liked to imbibe when the opportunity presented itself. He took great pleasure in sitting at a bar stool and holding forth endlessly on topic after topic (yes, as this blog proves, I am very much his son). I frequently joined him. In the few years before his passing, however, I would often ruin the fun. As soon as his idle speculation entered the realm of fact (e.g., did Marco Polo introduce pasta to Italy after visiting China?), I would pull out my smartphone and let Google resolve the issue (No. That myth started as food-industry propaganda). He never much liked my adherence to the dictum that we are all entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts. His personalized factual universe was so much more congenial.

While there are normative questions to be addressed with respect to delegation (more below), these should not distract from the extant empirical reality. Law firms should have a good sense of who is doing what kind of work. They track time meticulously and have document management systems that can tell them who is spending how much time in which applications. There is no need to speculate.

Indeed, a firm that I profoundly respect not just pulled but published their document management statistics to demonstrate their commitment to data-driven change. The firm found that, consistent with the changes described above, their lawyers’ share of the keystrokes in Microsoft Word had increased from 39% to 80% between 2004 and 2014. Over that same period, the top shareholder’s share was unchanged. In 2004, the top shareholders accounted for 0% of the keystrokes in Microsoft Word, and, in 2014, the top shareholders accounted for 0% of the keystrokes in Microsoft Word. If the top shareholders had based training priorities on their own lived experience, the firm would have provided no technology training for attorneys. But these were trial lawyers interested in the evidence. They based their training priorities on the data, and their firm is better for it.

  

But Delegation Is Important

Yes, yes it is. Staffing is part of my Service Delivery Review because I believe that even technologically-enabled lawyers should take a team-based approach to large-scale projects. Delegation may run counter to the lawyer personality profile, but it is an important aspect of proper client service. That said, tech competence is important not only for lawyer-as-doer but also for lawyer-as-delegator. Here’s why.

What To Delegate

Delegation has costs, including communications overhead, the attendant dangers of miscommunication, waiting for the work to be returned, review of the returned work, and the opportunity costs of occupying the resource to whom the work is delegated. If technology is used properly, it can reduce work that would take hours down to a matter of seconds and thereby mitigate the need to delegate to a human. That is, it frequently requires less time and effort to delegate to the machine than it does to delegate to a human, as I hope I demonstrate in that video I always use:

Delegating to the machine can be a better option than delegating to a person (who is just going to use the machine). But the machine, like the person, requires proper instruction. Technology training is key to knowing what work to give to the machine and how to instruct the machine in completing the work.

To Whom To Delegate

I advocate for competence-based technology testing and training for lawyers and staff. There is rarely good reason to assume that either has natural facility with basic technology. In fact, one explanation for why some lawyers learn not to delegate is the designated person to whom they are supposed to delegate is spectacularly bad at the delegated tasks.

I’ve tested lawyers, law students, and staff. Of these, staff has the highest level of variance. Some staff (especially from the ranks of trainers and word processors) are amazing. Perfect accuracy, unparalleled speed. My LTA is a joke to them (one advantage of competence-based testing being that they can prove this quickly and test out of training they do not need). But these superheroes have foils–often, but certainly not always, from the admin ranks–who appear to have almost no clue what they are doing on the most basic functions of the most common desktop software.

I don’t need to imagine (because it is my personal story) a young lawyer determining they should just do everything themselves because their support is excruciatingly slow and error prone. Why have your work wait in a queue only to spend more time correcting the returned product than is required to do the work yourself? Staff quality is a key factor in delegation. Training staff is important.

This, of course, is another advantage of competence-based testing. Ascertaining who knows what is great for creating individualized training curricula and raising tech competence, but it is also foundational for team assembly and workflow design. Transparent, objective measurement of proficiency can give lawyers the confidence that the person to whom they are delegating is much better and faster than they are at the task being delegated.

Excel, as always, is my favorite example. I love Excel. I am convinced that Excel is “the most important computer application of all time.” As a data-driven, in-house lawyer, I spent more time in Excel — company financial and performance data — than I did in Word. But I recognize that my experience is not typical and concede that not every lawyer needs to be an Excel expert. Ubiquitous expertise is not what I asked of my outside firms. Instead, I expected them to (a) have a few, identified Excel experts on their team and (b) a workflow designed to direct spreadsheet-intensive work to those experts.  

How To Delegate

That technology is now part of a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence is well-trod ground. (see here, here, and here). Less commented upon (at least in the sources I read) is the interplay between evolving ethical duty of competence and the rules governing delegation. Specifically, Rule 5.1 covers delegation to other attorneys (e.g., from partner to associate), and Rule 5.3 covers delegation to nonlawyers (a term I dislike but that is used in the text of the rule). While “certain tasks are delegable, the lawyer remains responsible for ensuring that those tasks are performed competently, diligently, and otherwise in conformance with the lawyer’s own ethical obligations.” Since the lawyer’s own ethical obligation of competence encompasses technology, the lawyer cannot avoid that duty by delegating the task to someone else.

Granted, these paired obligations can be challenging to fulfill in highly technical areas. While the facts of the particular were egregious,that lawyers will be sanctioned for relying on vendors during the ediscovery process has some troubling implications. But, fortunately, I do not have to deal with edge cases. When it comes to technology training, I’m primarily focused on the basics, for now.

In this regard, I will forever be in the debt of a commenter who responded to one of the first stories on my testing of outside counsel’s tech competence. This commenter has become the posterchild in my discussions of delegation. Because one area of my portfolio included managing a fair amount of small-bore litigation, I would test whether associates and staff could use the automatic Bates-numbering function built into their PDF software. One commenter to the ABA Journal piece that mentioned this was horrified that I expected an exalted J.D. to know such things:

All I am saying is that there is no need to charge a client $250+/hr for me to put page numbers on a stack of documents. I will do the substantive document review, prepare the written responses to the document requests, etc. My secretary or paralegal can do the photocopying and numbering. If a firm has the resources (and I recognize that not all do), I maintain that this would be the proper way to handle such tasks.

All I am saying is that I’m grateful. If I had presented this as a hypothetical, no one would have believed me. The lawyer was so locked into the way things had always been done that the concept of a technology-based solution was outside the realm of comprehension. Commenting on an article referencing the fact that the computer can apply Bates labels in seconds, the lawyer could only envision the laborious manual process and be appalled at the idea that a lawyer might be involved it. God bless the Interwebs!

If a lawyer knows how to use the Bates-label function, the process takes seconds to complete. But even if a lawyer doesn’t know how to use the function, the lawyer still needs to have an idea that such a function exists in order to delegate properly. There is a material difference between (i) expecting your secretary or paralegal to return digital documents in a couple of minutes and (ii) accepting scanned images after several hours. Speed and costs are a concern (copies cost and paralegals bill) but so is quality. The manual process introduces hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities for error (e.g., two pages stuck together) and drastically reduces the quality of the documents (from digital document to scanned image).

I’ve seen that dynamic over and over again. The attorney not only doesn’t know how to complete the project in a few minutes, but also doesn’t know that the project can/should be completed in a few minutes. The support person also lacks the requisite training and resorts to the most manual, brute-force approach to getting the work done. How the work actually gets done is frequently far more important than whether or not it is delegatedThe most common examples come from Word (e.g., auto-numbering, cross-references, tables of contents) and PDF (e.g., generation, assembly, footers, redactions). The most spectacular examples come from Excel (e.g., filter, sort, math functions, lookup, pivot tables).

I once encountered a paralegal who was in her second week of trying to reconcile three mammoth spreadsheets. One contained customer reference numbers and customer contact information. A second contained customer reference numbers and customer purchase information, including product serial numbers. A third contained a list of serial numbers of purchased products with respect to which the client needed to contact the customers (think warranty, class actions, recalls, etc.). The paralegal was filling out customer contact information on the third list by (i) using the Find function to locate the serial numbers on second list and (ii) then using the Find function again to locate the related customer ID on the first list. She was doing this for tens of thousands of products and was on pace to take several weeks. In a few minutes, I used Vlookup function to complete the entire project for her and reduce the opportunities for human error by several orders of magnitude. Until I came along, neither she nor the attorney who had delegated the task had any idea that she was doing anything wrong.

I harbor no expectation that everyone in the chain will be fully trained in every aspect of the software. The person actually doing the work should be trained in the relevant labor-saving, quality-improving features. The person overseeing them need not know the specifics; the delegator should have a general sense of what the work requires and how long it should take. A rough idea that the software can do X is a different level of competence than knowing how to make the software do X. But it is still a level above where most lawyers and staff currently operate.

Conclusion

We don’t know what we don’t know. Yet, everything is obvious once we have the answer. The people in the preceding stories are good for a chuckle if you are familiar with the functionality they aren’t. Except it isn’t funny. These are real people doing mind numbing and unnecessary work that matters. They are smart, talented, hard working, and well meaning. They just want to do a good job. They have the tools to do a good job. But they don’t know how to use those tools. This situation is unfortunate. It is also remediable. This is a problem we can solve in the near term. Part of the solution, however, entails understanding how technological competence intersects with proper delegation.

Lawyers should know how to complete the work they do not delegate. Lawyers should properly oversee the work they do delegate. Staff should know how to properly perform the work delegated. Not everyone needs to be an expert. But almost everyone would be better served by a higher tech baseline.

++++++++++++++
Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

[Ed Note: Please welcome guest blogger, Susan Kostal. Susan is a longtime legal affairs journalist who also offers marketing advice and media coaching. Follow her on Twitter at @skostal.]

LMA Tech’s annual in-house counsel panel is always one of the biggest draws of the conference, and this year was no different. Last week’s discussion in San Francisco, moderated as always by Nat Slavin of Wicker Park Group, could be called the “one-size-fits-one” lesson. However, I’ve dubbed it the “come-to-Jesus” panel. Repent of your sins, outside counsel, and sin no more.

The panel consisted of tech-company general counsel, Michael R. Haven, Senior Corporate Counsel Legal Operations and Litigation at NetApp; Olga Mack, Head of Legal at ClearSlide ; Sharon Segev, VP of Corporate Development & General Counsel at Elo Touch Solutions; and Alexandra Sepulveda, Deputy General Counsel at Udemy.

Beyond the panelist’s tips and advice came a fair portion devoted to horror stories involving various errors by outside counsel. As Sepulveda commented, “How is it we are still having the same conversation about how to get personalized pragmatic advice?”

One running theme for these tech-savvy in-house counsel is that outside firms must use the billing and tech management software their clients use. It is the firm that should adapt and adopt, not the client.

Each in-house counsel said that excellence and understanding a client’s business will only get a firm in the door. In other words, it is expected, and not the exceptional. NetApp’s Michael Haven said the differentiators are:

  • new fee models, 
  • new technology to manage projects and 
  • proactive efforts to improve the attorney-client relationship. 

Haven drove the point home by commenting that “we want e-billing, so we can derive metrics. We would love to see them firms giving us metrics about their own business, and showing us how they are working more efficiently for us.”

Each panelist said they want hours and bills updated daily or three days at the latest. Haven likes ViewaBill, which allows him to see daily expenses. Serengeti also received high marks. “I can’t endure the expense of waiting for bill and then trying to mitigate the damage.” In other words, avoid surprises at all costs.

Haven says about 150 firms have adopted ViewaBill. “We see only our matters in real time. I can see what my firm billed me yesterday on a matter,” he said. Such software avoids nightmares that could cost a firm its slot on the outside counsel panel.

Olga Mack told of one patent matter which came in $500,000 over budget. As she went back through the bills, she discovered the law firm had increased its rates 15% Jan. 1, in the middle of the project, and never informed her. The firm lost its place on her panel almost immediately.

In addition to billing issues, there are technology habits within law firms that drive tech company GCs crazy. An enormous pet peeve is attorneys and firms that won’t use electronic signatures. Nearly all tech firms strive for paperless offices, and demanding inked hard copies is SOOO 20th century. Emails with “FYI” in a subject line are equally hated. In-house counsel want timely information they can scan immediately, with email subheadings such as “EVENT,” “IMPORTANCE,” and “ACTION” to be TAKEN.”

Tech GCs want quick-and-dirty answer in hours. They will wait longer for more complicated questions, but want to know their attorney is on it by acknowledging their email. A reply within 24 hours is ideal; three days is the outer limit. If attorneys can comply, in-house promise they won’t stage “fire drills” for information they don’t need immediately.

Mack also said she immediately judges an attorney on the quality, both the writing and content, of an attorney’s client alerts, as well as what’s on social media, such as LinkedIn and elsewhere. “I make an immediate judgment as to do I want to meet this person, and do I find this useful. I admit it is a bit like judging a book by its cover.” See her recent LinkedIn post on “The Art and Science of Being Useful to In-House Counsel.”

Additionally, more in-house counsel are now on Facebook and Twitter, not just LinkedIn.
Equally important are attorney bios, where in-house counsel typically start their research. 78% of general counsel use bios when choosing outside counsel.

Internally, in-house counsel share information about various attorneys and firms. A lot. Haven, who manages a global team of 80, says NetApp has “our own little version of FaceBook that we use internally. We collaborate on how we are dealing with outside partners, and discuss the pros and cons of certain partners.”

Regarding maintaining a strong relationship with a client, these panelists said they are amazed more firms don’t ask for 360 reviews of how the firm is doing.

In summary, here are the takeaway themes:

Selection/Competition

It has to be spot-on experience to get hired. It used to be OK to have general experience and good service, but now that’s just a gating issue.

Communication

Unless someone is on vacation, responding within 24 hours is the low bar. GCs expect outside counsel to at least communicate that you got the email even if you can’t do anything right now.

Get in Our Shoes and Stay There

If you are going to be a very effective advocate for the client, you need to understand what they do, how they make money, and what risks they face. Then your approach is more tailored to their goal.

90% of people don’t know how to use CTRL+F to find a word in a document or web page. Instead, they search the old-fashioned way, manually skimming the text.

This preponderance of ignorance is stupefying to me. But I want to be very clear that I am using the word “ignorance” in its most neutral form–i.e., lack of information or knowledge–rather than to convey any judgment or pejorative connotation. Ignorance is unavoidable. The only settled part of the debate as to who was the last person to know everything is that the person is long dead.

The curse of ignorance is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Previous posts have touched on this obstacle of metacognition, and our ignorance of our own ignorance. But there is another side of the coin: the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge is that once we know something, it is really hard to imagine not knowing it. This incapacity undermines communication and, especially, instruction because of the lack of shared information and assumptions. If I, for example, were going to put together some tips on internet research, I doubt that, absent the article cited above, I would have thought to include CTRL+F. I would have assumed that most everyone already knew it. I would have been wrong.

Indeed, I am a posterchild for both curses. I’ve told the story many times that my inflection point in using technology involved a client discovering that I printed and scanned to create PDFs. But how was I supposed to know what I didn’t know–there’s an app for that–without already knowing it? Yet, several years later, I delegated a task where one of the steps involved converting a large volume of documents into PDF. I was shocked (shocked!!!) to find that the person was spending hours printing and scanning. I assumed that because I knew how to convert a file to PDF, they knew it, too, despite the fact that I had been Exhibit A that this was not knowledge everyone possessed.

Thus, whether we know something or not, we too often assume that others know it. The tech-averse frequently fall into the trap of thinking the tech-comfortable know everything there is to know about tech. And those who know tech sometimes assume that others do, too. Both curses are reason that competence-based assessments are such excellent training tools. Figuring out what people do and do not know is superior to speculation. But assessments alone are not enough. The primary objective of identifying gaps is to tailor the training to fill them. In this regard, I have been an abject failure in speaking to law school classes.

I speak to law school classes for free. I provide them a copy of my Legal Technology Assessment (“LTA”) for free. I then provide a copy of the LTA Training Edition (which pairs the competence-based assessment with synchronous, active learning) for free. Finally, they can retake the LTA (for free). Not only do have the opportunity to address identified deficiencies in their skill but a qualifying score is also something they can add to the bottom of their resume to replace the meaningless “proficient in MS Office.” After speaking to hundreds upon hundreds of students, I’ve had exactly zero take me up on my full offer.

The class I wrote about last week is representative. Twelve students took the LTA because it was a class assignment. The results (below) were bad, as usual. I spoke to them for 40 minutes and offered the Training Edition to anyone who wanted it. Only two of the twelve emailed to ask for the Training Edition. And, if history is any guide, neither of them will return to take and pass the LTA.

In approaching these classes, my idea is that taking the LTA beforehand will puncture delusions of adequacy. We won’t get bogged down in an abstract conversation about how fluent they are with technology. 32% correct on some fairly simple Word tasks leaves little room for debate:

Pretty bad but not unexpected. As I try to communicate to them, it is not their fault. Everyone just assumes that they know things that they had no way of knowing absent training. They are not stupid, lazy, or untalented. They are smart, hard working, and full of promise. They simply lack training in one particular area that has the potential to make their lives better.

On the issue of their immediate future, I point out that their most recent predecessors are miserable human beings. In fact, the students are auditioning for the unhappiest job in America.

I then try to persuade them that technology plays a role in this dissatisfaction. Before technology takes our jobs, it can make them easier. At least, in theory. The technology has to actually be good, and we have to use it correctly. Otherwise, it is a source of frustration rather than leverage. Technology initially substitutes for labor at the most severe pain points. Machines can reduce the hours spent reviewing, proofing, conforming, collating, updating, and otherwise fiddling around the edges of the substantive legal work. Using technology well can improve both speed and accuracy, as I try to convey in the video below, and thereby alleviate a fair amount of the agony associated with being a young lawyer:

My contention is that having the right technology and learning to use it correctly will permit legal professionals to reduce the amount of their finite time and attention that is directed towards misery-inducing busywork. I’ve added to my spiel some recent confirmation of this theory from the cover story of last month’s American Lawyer. AmLaw’s annual associate satisfaction survey found that technology, including technology training, has a material effect on satisfaction:

One unsung key to retention could be technology. We found that overall satisfaction of midlevel associates, as measured on our survey, was strongly statistically correlated to their law firm’s scores on four questions involving technology. (The questions ask respondents to rate their firms’ technology generally, as well as technology training, support and use of technology in meeting client needs.) 

….In fact, eight of the top 11 firms in the national satisfaction rankings also were at the top on the technology questions. Conversely, many of the firms that occupy the bottom of the national satisfaction rankings also place low in the technology survey.

The AmLaw conclusions comport with an earlier study I cite from the National Conference of Bar Examiners that surveyed recent law graduates about the most important skills for young lawyers. Out of 30 skills, using basic office technology ranked 6th:

Seeing basic office technology ahead of legal reasoning is a bit jarring, even for me. But the incongruence is heightened by the fact that, unlike the rest of the skills listed above, using technology is not taught in most law schools (or, generally, in most colleges or high schools). 
Then again, the idea that law school is not geared towards turning out practice-ready lawyers is well-worn territory. As discussed in Mark’s previous post, a LexisNexis survey found that “95% of hiring partners and associates believe that recently graduated law students lack key practical skills.” The dissatisfaction of associates is mirrored (and, maybe partially driven) by the dissatisfaction with associates. This is not just abstract griping. Anecdotally, partners report writing off massive amounts of associate time for perceived inefficiency. These claims appear to be borne out by the Georgetown Law and Peer Monitor realization data (which I dug into here):
 

So that’s my story. You’re great. You just haven’t gotten the training you need in technology. This training will benefit you directly in the form of improved satisfaction and performance. Here it is, for free. Followed by crickets.

I’m not quite sure how to interpret my utter inability to make any progress with these students (thankfully, the people who actually pay me are considerably more engaged). Am I, yet again, suffering from the curse of knowledge? Is there some assumption that I am making about these students that is impeding communication? As I try to put myself in their shoes, I increasingly come to conclusion that there isn’t anything I can say.

In general, it is challenging to get anyone to use their precious spare time to buckle down and really learn something new, even if they are persuaded that they should. The last time I decided to tackle a new area of study, I felt compelled to pay for online courses that included tests and graded assignments. I needed real stakes and real structure to have the discipline to systematically engage with the material (all of which I could have found for free on the internet). Here, the students took the LTA as a diagnostic because it was an assignment, and, I have no doubt, that they would have trained for and passed the LTA if that were assigned. As a law student, I suspect I would have behaved much the same way (I know my scores would have been just as bad).

Stakes and structure matter. These students have had both all their life. From speaking to them, I get the sense that they believe this will continue. They believe that law school is designed to prepare them for law practice. They believe that whatever they do not know upon leaving law school, their firms will teach them. And, more than anything, they believe that they do not need to worry about this tech stuff because they will have secretaries to do it for them. More on that last point in my next post.

For me, the primary myth of the digital native is that, by virtue of their age, they already know what they need to know with respect to using technology. The corollary myth is that which they do not already know is not worth learning. But there exists a softer formulation that hits much closer to the truth. Rather than automatically knowing that which they need to know with respect to technology, we (and they) tend to believe that people who grew up with technology have the capacity to learn it and will do so when the situation requires. It’s that last part, however, where there continues to be a disconnect.

The older generations seem to think that the situation will somehow mandate the acquisition of new skills. In this, they are not totally wrong. Most people, including the older generations themselves (with their fancy new iPhones and Surface Pro 4’s), learn what they need to learn to get by with technology. Some people learn more. But most satisfy the bare threshold of survival. This results in massive underutilization of extant technology. And study after study has shown that younger generations are the same as their predecessors in this regard–i.e., learn the minimum to get by.

The younger generations, on the other hand, think that they will quite literally be required to learn it. Someone in a position of authority is going to lay out a curriculum, objectives, and a timeline. At that point, they will do what they’ve always done: work hard to meet the expectations set for them. A few will fall short. Some will excel. But most will quite effectively do what they are asked to do. I, for one, think we ought to oblige them.

At some point, I will dig deep into my data. But, on average, people (lawyers and staff) in practice outperform the kids in school on the LTA. In part, this reflects a general raising of the baseline as the skill set required for bare survival expands upon entering the professional workforce. But there is still significant interorganizational and intraorganizational variance.

The variance between organizations appears to be entirely attributable to mandatory training. Different organizations have different attitudes towards training (is it available, is it mandatory, does it include competence-based assessments) that, unsurprisingly, have an appreciable impact on how well trained their employees are. The variance within organizations stems from outside training. Frequently, I learn that the person who outpaced her colleagues on a diagnostic assessment had some previous career that demanded a more robust technology skill set. Sometimes, I meet people who, like me, had some sort of rude awakening and decided they did not like being embarrassed. Every now and then, I encounter a true tech geek (meant with love and affection) who happens to also work in law. My own data reinforces previous empirical findings that, rather than age, facility with technology is a product of “breadth of use, experience, self-efficacy and education.”

Technology training is important for everyone, including the digital natives. I just wish I could convince them of that.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.

Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

I am disappointed every time I guest lecture a law school class.

Because anecdote is often more compelling than data, I’ll start with an example from two weeks ago. An adjunct professor who teaches one of those great law school classes with cool titles like Tomorrow’s Lawyer had his students take the Word module of my Legal Tech Assessment. They performed exactly as you (well, I) would expect of an untrained group: poorly. Their anonymized scores are below:

I’ll explain the scoring in a subsequent post. But, for now, just focus on the accuracy. On average, students were able to correctly complete less than a third of the following tasks in a live Word document:

  • Accept/Turn-off changes and comments
  • Cut & Paste
  • Replace text
  • Format text (font, margin)
  • Footers
  • Insert hyperlink
  • Apply/Modify style
  • Insert/Update cross-references
  • Insert page break
  • Insert non-breaking space
  • Clean document properties
  • Create comparison document

To put it in anecdotal context (though these numbers are representative of the larger data set), around the same time the class was taking the assessment, a similarly-sized pilot group at a large law firm achieved an average accuracy of 68% while a group of lawyers and staff who had just been through LTA-specific training achieved an average accuracy of 95%. Training matters.

Training matters even for so-called digital natives like the law school students I’ve tested. Acquiring a Twitter account in utero does not engender natural facility with technological tools because most technological tools are not intuitive.

My wife thinks my sons are geniuses. One piece of evidence she submits in their favor is how well they use an iPad. I agree with her that the fact that my 1.5 year old can use an iPad is a testament to genius. But not his. For me, it is a testament to the genius of the designers at Apple who created a device so intuitive that 1.5 year old can use it. The kid touches a picture, it moves. Congratulations to him!

While we can discuss design principles that would move work software in the direction of our consumer experience, I don’t actually believe that individual apps are the best basis of comparison for complex business software. Rather than thinking of Word as an app, we should think of it as a bundle of apps. Each of the icons on the ribbon is a solution to a particular problem. The challenge is that there are so many icons (just as there are so many apps). While design principles can bridge some of the gap, there remains a tradeoff between depth and intuitiveness. Most of us therefore only become comfortable with a few functions while ignoring the rest (just as most of us use a limited number of mostly single-purpose apps):

In this, the younger generation is no different than their predecessors. Survival is the threshold they achieve with most of their technology. That their milieu demands facility with a few more social apps sooner does not change the fundamental fact that using technology properly is a collection of acquired skills, not some innate talent that Lamarckian evolution bestowed on those under the age of 30. Expecting them to automatically know how to use complicated technology because of their familiarity with basic technology is like expecting them to automatically know how to prepare a gourmet meal because they know how to cook a Hot Pocket in the microwave.

Digital native first entered the popular lexicon in 2001. In an article entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, education consultant Marc Prensky explained that “Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.” In many respects, the article looks terrible 14 years later. Prensky, for example, speaks glowingly of Digital Natives’ ability to multi-task, despite the fact that contemporary research (subsequently extended and validated) had already demonstrated the opposite. But just because it suffers from some poor assumptions and hyperbole (Prensky claims we’ve already arrived at a singularity) does not mean the thesis needs to be totally rejected.

You can reconcile (i) a belief that, on average, younger generations are more accustomed to technology (and the rapid evolution thereof) than their predecessors with (ii) the recognition that this comfort does not automatically translate into proficiency. Indeed, in his seminal article, Prensky talks about the need to train a bunch of Digital Natives on a CAD program that “contained hundreds of new buttons, options and approaches.” Prensky takes pride in efforts to gamify the training and “create a series of graded tasks into which the skills to be learned were embedded.” For Prensky, this approach translated training into the language of the Digital Native. He reports that the main impediment was the reluctance of the Digital Immigrant professors to adjust their pedagogical approach. But even Prensky realized that the Digital Natives still needed training (competence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning).

Prensky’s article was anecdotal, not empirical. It did not address the fact that most of what Digital Natives did with technology was related to consumption, not application. It also ignored the inconvenient fact that it was Digital Immigrants who had invented the technologies on which the Digital Natives relied. And it introduced a term that conflates general familiarity with specific facility. A decade later, the London School of Economics would publish a paper entitled Digital natives: where is the evidence? The paper concluded that there was no real evidence of fundamental differences between generations. What differences existed were best explained by “breadth of use, experience, self-efficacy and education.” Or as another academic paper would find:

Young people’s engagements with digital technologies are varied and often unspectacular – in stark contrast to popular portrayals of the digital native. As such, the paper highlights a misplaced technological and biological determinism that underpins current portrayals of children, young people and digital technology.

Subsequently, the Organization of Economically Developed Countries (OECD) ran an international study. Instead of asking people about their general comfort with technology, the study asked them to actually solve basic problems using technology (again, a competence-based assessment). Millennials did not fare well. In the words of The Washington Post, “U.S. millennials performed horribly.” Or, as Fortune summarized it:

We hear about the superior tech savvy of people born after 1980 so often that we tend to assume it must be true. But is it?

…. It turns out, says a new report, that Millennials in the U.S. fall short when it comes to the skills employers want most: literacy (including the ability to follow simple instructions), practical math, and — hold on to your hat — a category called “problem-solving in technology-rich environments.”

The advocacy group Change the Equation put out a related report about the High Cost of Low Technology Skills, which included the following graphics:

Digital natives are not at fault for the fact that comfort does not automatically translate into skill. The myths surrounding the digital native, however, have done them a disservice. The belief that they already know everything about technology has convinced us and them that they do not need training in technology. As discussed in the last post, the notion that they are already tech savvy introduces barriers associated with metacognition and mindset.

Metacognition is thinking about thinking. The related concept of metaignorance is ignorance about our own ignorance. We don’t know what we don’t know. Not recognizing how incompetent we are results in unfounded confidence in our own skill level. For this reason, the people most in need of training are the least likely to recognize it. Moreover, confidence begets ego. Those who have a high opinion of themselves are the least inclined to admit facts that undermine their self image.

The problems of ego are compounded by mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that cognitive traits are stable. You are either smart or you aren’t in the same way that you are either tall or you aren’t. You are born with it, or you are not. To the extent tech acumen is treated as product of age, it will be approached with a fixed mindset, which means that people will try to hide their deficiencies rather than recognize and remedy them.

Because we take a fixed mindset approach, we tend to act as if neither older professionals nor younger professionals will benefit from training. The former because they lack the capacity. The latter because they lack the need. We are wrong on both counts.

I am not trying to pick on anyone. I understand why both older and younger generations buy into the myths surrounding digital natives. But they are myths with pernicious consequences. Many of the decisions about training (or lack thereof) made at law schools and legal employers rest on an illusory foundation. It isn’t always what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s often what we know that ain’t so. 

Part 2 (originally posted separately)

90% of people don’t know how to use CTRL+F to find a word in a document or web page. Instead, they search the old-fashioned way, manually skimming the text.

This preponderance of ignorance is stupefying to me. But I want to be very clear that I am using the word “ignorance” in its most neutral form–i.e., lack of information or knowledge–rather than to convey any judgment or pejorative connotation. Ignorance is unavoidable. The only settled part of the debate as to who was the last person to know everything is that the person is long dead.

The curse of ignorance is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Previous posts have touched on this obstacle of metacognition, and our ignorance of our own ignorance. But there is another side of the coin: the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge is that once we know something, it is really hard to imagine not knowing it. This incapacity undermines communication and, especially, instruction because of the lack of shared information and assumptions. If I, for example, were going to put together some tips on internet research, I doubt that, absent the article cited above, I would have thought to include CTRL+F. I would have assumed that most everyone already knew it. I would have been wrong.

Indeed, I am a posterchild for both curses. I’ve told the story many times that my inflection point in using technology involved a client discovering that I printed and scanned to create PDFs. But how was I supposed to know what I didn’t know–there’s an app for that–without already knowing it? Yet, several years later, I delegated a task where one of the steps involved converting a large volume of documents into PDF. I was shocked (shocked!!!) to find that the person was spending hours scanning and printing. I assumed that because I knew how to convert a file to PDF, they knew it, too, despite the fact that I had been Exhibit A that this was not knowledge everyone possessed.

Thus, whether we know something or not, we too often assume that others know it. The tech-averse frequently fall into the trap of thinking the tech-comfortable know everything there is to know about tech (i.e., they can’t tell the difference between someone who knows slight more than them and someone who knows infinitely more than them). And those who know tech sometimes assume that their tech knowledge is widely shared.

Both curses are reason that competence-based assessments are such excellent training tools. Figuring out what people do and do not know is superior to speculation. But assessments alone are not enough. The primary objective of identifying gaps is to tailor the training to fill them. In this regard, I have been an abject failure in speaking to law school classes.

I speak to law school classes for free. I provide them a copy of my Legal Technology Assessment (“LTA”) for free. I then provide a copy of the LTA Training Edition (which pairs the competence-based assessment with synchronous, active learning) for free. Finally, they can retake the LTA (for free). Not only do have the opportunity to address identified deficiencies in their skill set but a qualifying score is also something they can add to the bottom of their resume to replace the meaningless “proficient in MS Office.” After speaking to hundreds upon hundreds of students, I’ve had exactly zero take me up on my full offer.

The class I wrote about last week is representative. Twelve students took the LTA because it was a class assignment. The results (below) were bad, as usual. I spoke to them for 40 minutes and offered the Training Edition to anyone who wanted it. Only two of the twelve emailed to ask for the Training Edition. And, if history is any guide, neither of them will return to take and pass the LTA.

In approaching these classes, my idea is that taking the LTA beforehand will puncture delusions of adequacy. We won’t get bogged down in an abstract conversation about how fluent they are with technology. 32% correct on some fairly simple Word tasks leaves little room for debate:

Pretty bad but not unexpected. As I try to communicate to them, it is not their fault. Everyone just assumes that they know things that they had no way of knowing absent training. They are not stupid, lazy, or untalented. They are smart, hard working, and full of promise. They simply lack training in one particular area that has the potential to make their lives better.

On the issue of their immediate future, I point out that their most recent predecessors are miserable human beings. In fact, the students are auditioning for the unhappiest job in America.

I then try to persuade them that technology plays a role in this dissatisfaction. Before technology takes our jobs, it can make them easier. At least, in theory. The technology has to actually be good, and we have to use it correctly. Otherwise, it is a source of frustration rather than leverage. Technology initially substitutes for labor at the most severe pain points. Machines can reduce the hours spent reviewing, proofing, conforming, collating, updating, and otherwise fiddling around the edges of the substantive legal work. Using technology well can improve both speed and accuracy, as I try to convey in the video below, and thereby alleviate a fair amount of the agony associated with being a young lawyer:

My contention is that having the right technology and learning to use it correctly will permit legal professionals to reduce the amount of their finite time and attention that is directed towards misery-inducing busywork. I’ve added to my spiel some recent confirmation of this theory from the cover story of last month’s American Lawyer. AmLaw’s annual associate satisfaction survey found that technology, including technology training, has a material effect on satisfaction:

One unsung key to retention could be technology. We found that overall satisfaction of midlevel associates, as measured on our survey, was strongly statistically correlated to their law firm’s scores on four questions involving technology. (The questions ask respondents to rate their firms’ technology generally, as well as technology training, support and use of technology in meeting client needs.) 

….In fact, eight of the top 11 firms in the national satisfaction rankings also were at the top on the technology questions. Conversely, many of the firms that occupy the bottom of the national satisfaction rankings also place low in the technology survey.

The AmLaw conclusions comport with an earlier study I cite from the National Conference of Bar Examiners that surveyed recent law graduates about the most important skills for young lawyersOut of 30 skills, using basic office technology ranked 6th:

Seeing basic office technology ahead of legal reasoning is a bit jarring, even for me. But the incongruence is heightened by the fact that, unlike the rest of the skills listed above, using technology is not taught in most law schools (or, generally, in most colleges or high schools). 
Then again, the idea that law school is not geared towards turning out practice-ready lawyers is well-worn territory. As discussed in Mark’s previous post, a LexisNexis survey found that “95% of hiring partners and associates believe that recently graduated law students lack key practical skills.” The dissatisfaction of associates is mirrored (and, maybe partially driven) by the dissatisfaction with associates. This is not just abstract griping. Anecdotally, partners report writing off massive amounts of associate time for perceived inefficiency. These claims appear to be borne out by the Georgetown Law and Peer Monitor realization data (which I dug into here):
 

So that’s my story. You’re great. You just haven’t gotten the training you need in technology. This training will benefit you directly in the form of improved satisfaction and performance. Here it is, for free. Followed by crickets.

I’m not quite sure how to interpret my utter inability to make any progress with these students (thankfully, the people who actually pay me are considerably more engaged). Am I, yet again, suffering from the curse of knowledge? Is there some assumption that I am making about these students that is impeding communication? As I try to put myself in their shoes, I increasingly come to conclusion that there isn’t anything I can say.

In general, it is challenging to get anyone to use their precious spare time to buckle down and really learn something new, even if they are persuaded that they should. The last time I decided to tackle a new area of study, I felt compelled to pay for online courses that included tests and graded assignments. I needed real stakes and real structure to have the discipline to systematically engage with the material (all of which I could have found for free on the internet). Here, the students took the LTA as a diagnostic because it was an assignment, and, I have no doubt, that they would have trained for and passed the LTA if that were also assigned. As a law student, I suspect I would have behaved much the same way (I know my scores would have been just as bad).

Stakes and structure matter. These students have had both all their life. From speaking to them, I get the sense that they believe this will continue. They believe that law school is designed to prepare them for law practice. They believe that whatever they do not know upon leaving law school, their firms will teach them. And, more than anything, they believe that they do not need to worry about this tech stuff because they will have secretaries to do it for them. More on that last point in my next post.

For me, the primary myth of the digital native is that, by virtue of their age, they already know what they need to know with respect to using technology. The corollary myth is that which they do not already know is not worth learning. But there exists a softer formulation that hits much closer to the truth. Rather than automatically knowing that which they need to know with respect to technology, we (and they) tend to believe that people who grew up with technology have the capacity to learn it and will do so when the situation requires.

The older generations seem to think that the situation will somehow mandate the acquisition of new skills. In this, they are not totally wrong. Most people, including the older generations themselves (with their fancy new iPhones and Surface Pro 4’s), learn what they need to learn to get by with technology. Some people learn more. But most satisfy the bare threshold of survival. This results in massive underutilization of extant technology. And study after study has shown that younger generations are the same as their predecessors in this regard–i.e., learn the minimum to get by.

The younger generations, on the other hand, think that they will quite literally be required to learn it. Someone in a position of authority is going to lay out a curriculum, objectives, and a timeline. At that point, they will do what they’ve always done: work hard to meet the expectations set for them. A few will fall short. Some will excel. But most will quite effectively do what they are asked to do. I, for one, think we ought to oblige them.

At some point, I will dig deep into my data. But, on average, people (lawyers and staff) in practice outperform the kids in school on the LTA. In part, this reflects a general raising of the baseline as the skill set required for bare survival expands upon entering the professional workforce. But there is still significant interorganizational and intraorganizational variance.

The variance between organizations appears to be entirely attributable to mandatory training. Different organizations have different attitudes towards training (is it available, is it mandatory, does it include competence-based assessments) that, unsurprisingly, have an appreciable impact on how well trained their employees are.

The variance within organizations stems from outside training. Frequently, I learn that the person who well outpaced her colleagues on a diagnostic assessment had some previous career that demanded a more robust technology skill set. Sometimes, I meet people who, like me, had some sort of rude awakening and decided they did not like being embarrassed. Every now and then, I encounter a true tech geek (meant with love and affection) who happens to also work in law.

My own data reinforces previous empirical empirical findings that, rather than age, facility with technology is a product of “breadth of use, experience, self-efficacy and education.” Technology training is important for everyone, including the digital natives. I just wish I could convince them of that.

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Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.

Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

Lawyers who entered the profession when the standard means of production were a dictaphone and a dedicated secretary will, without any sense of irony, EMAIL me to tell me that technology has no impact on the way they practice law. One of the most underappreciated characteristics of technology is how quickly it can be assimilated into the ‘natural’ order of our lives.

A decade ago, iPhones. Google Maps, Dropbox, Kindle, YouTube, Instagram, Skype, Twitter, and Facebook didn’t exist or were new and unfamiliar. A decade ago, a lawyer would actually attempt (but fail) to successfully argue that missing a court deadline because he did not regularly check his email constituted “excusable neglect.” Now, our greatest legal curmudgeon—the lawyer who literally wrote the (stellar) Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law—is a (phenomenal) blogger. Less pleasingly, email goofs land lawyers on the front page of The New York Times. Lawyer Excel errors put clients on the hook for millions. Courts take lawyers to task for not using Google (see here and here). And clients openly wonder whether law firms are the weak link in their cybersecurity efforts.

Being able to operate the iPhone is one thing. Overseeing the logistics, technical challenges, and security nightmare of providing iPhones to dozens or hundreds or thousands of legal professionals is quite another. As is extracting potential legal evidence from the iPhone in a forensically defensible manner. Evolving technology and increasing scale combine to make specialization more and more important. Despite what my state of residence may think, nontraditional stakeholders are only growing in importance in the delivery of legal services.

We’re a week from ILTACON. I’m looking forward to what is consistently the best large conference I attend each year. ILTACON is an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones, most of whom are not lawyers. While many lawyers attend, ILTACON seems to bring together the most diverse group of allied legal professionals. This gathering has me ruminating about how the practice of law has changed and how lawyers increasingly rely on the contribution other professionals, specialists, and experts.

We live in interesting times. Readers of this blog are surely familiar with the California ethics opinion on ediscovery and the Second Circuit appellate ruling on document review. But I’m not sure I’ve read anyone (which is not to suggest I’ve read everyone) who has pointed out what a strange pair they make.

On June 30, 2015, the State Bar of California finalized a formal opinion holding that insufficient understanding of electronic discovery can violate the rules of professional conduct. Interestingly, California is not among the 14 states that has followed the ABA in adding “technology” to the ethical rules on competence. The lack of verbiage did not, however, stop the Standing Committee from finding a direct nexus between technology and a lawyer’s ethical duty of competence: “Legal rules and procedures, when placed alongside ever-changing technology, produce professional challenges that attorneys must meet to remain competent.”

Even with respect to ediscovery itself, the implications of the opinion were broadened by the observation that “Not every litigated case involves e-discovery. Yet, in today’s technological world, almost every litigation matter potentially does.” The lawyer has three options when taking on a litigation that may involve e-discovery (i.e., all litigation): (1) consult with an expert, (2) acquire sufficient learning and skill, or (3) decline representation. On cue, a California court cited the Standing Committee in an August 7 order that generated what seems to be a regularly occurring headline: Blockbuster Sanctions Order Spotlights the Importance of eDiscovery Competence.

Where the Standing Committee determined that understanding data storage and digital search is now fundamental to the practice of law and the California District Court reinforced the necessity of the lawyer supervising the search and review process, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that actually reviewing the collecting electronic evidence and deciding whether it was relevant to a pending litigation is no longer necessarily the practice of law. The Second Circuit revived a case by a document reviewer claiming that his work did not require legal judgment (bearing on employment classification and issues like overtime pay). The court held, “an individual who, in the course of reviewing discovery documents, undertakes tasks that could otherwise be performed entirely by a machine cannot be said to engage in the practice of law.”

Lawyers, it seems, have an ethical obligation to understand the machines that are replacing them. Less apocalyptically, to practice law in the modern world, lawyers have to behave as if they belong to the modern world. More realistically, lawyers should recognize that practicing law increasingly involves more than just knowing ‘the law’ and that allied professionals with varying specialties can add significant value to client representation. Even in the sanctions opinion, the lawyers’ prescribed role was to supervise, not conduct, the search and collection process. Proper supervision requires that lawyers themselves get more training. But the call to supervision also recognizes that lawyers are not the only ones responsible for delivering competent legal services.

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Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).