OK. I’ve had a couple of days to experiment with Google’s Glass technology. It’s still very early days, and I haven’t come to any firm conclusions yet, but I’m ready to give my first impressions.

First, the bad. Glass is definitely not yet ready for Prime Time. To be fair, Google has never claimed otherwise. I am pretty sure they are doing this ridiculous expensive and slow roll out, because they don’t want your average consumer to purchase a Glass thinking it should be something more than it actually is.  At $1500 only developers, or Google Fans, or die-hard geeks, will be likely to shell out the cash and each of those populations will be relatively understanding of the device’s limitations.

There is no Glass app store.  After you register your Glass with your Google account, you get access to the MyGlass site.  Most of the setup, including wifi setup and app installation, is done on this site or on an Android or iOS mobile app. There a few dozen Google sanctioned apps that can be sent to your Glass with a simple authorization from this site. The apps vary greatly in usability and utility and there really is no “killer app” as yet. In the last few days, Google has added several new apps to this list, so I’m hopeful that that trend continues and is not just Google throwing a bone to all of the suckers new Glass owners who purchased a Glass last week.

If you are a developer or a die-hard geek, then you are probably fairly comfortable with a unix command line. This is where the interesting stuff is happening with Glass. If you turn on Debugging, and plug your Glass into your computer, you suddenly have the ability to install non-Google sanctioned apps.  These can be found on a number of sites dedicated to cataloging new Glass apps.  There is some “danger” in this process. You may install something that causes problems with other apps and you may have difficulty uninstalling some apps.  In my experience a lot of available apps simply do not work at all. (I suspect that’s because Google updated the software version on Glass last week and a lot of apps have not yet been updated.) Thankfully, Google made it very simple to restore Glass to its factory settings.  I’ve already done this twice. This manual process reminds me very much of the early days of iPhone Jailbreaking.  It’s easy to forget now that Apple has more than a million apps on their app store, but for the first year if you wanted the device to run more than the few included apps allowed, you had to do a little simple hacking.

Second, the ugly. This was the most surprising thing for me. I don’t think they’re ugly at all. I kind of like the look of them. Granted, I’m not exactly a fashion plate and I normally wear glasses so they just looked like glasses with a chunky right temple piece. I didn’t get the day glow orange color, so I think my Charcoal Glass looks fairly classy (IMHO) and if I wear a ball cap, you can barely see it. I did wear it out for a walk on Saturday with my wife and she was only slightly embarrassed.  I went into a Starbucks and no one seemed to notice I had it on at all. Although, I live in Manhattan, and we tend to not look at each other much, so your mileage may vary. While I wasn’t accosted by angry anti-tech mobs, or feverish fan-boys, I found I was still quite self conscious while ordering my latte. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’m not a flashy, out-going, look-at-me type, so maybe I had a look on my face that said, “don’t you dare ask me about this stupid thing on my face!”

Finally, the good. I had a revelation on day two of playing with my Glass; my title from last week, Getting Google Glass All Wrong, was a little prophetic. I’m starting to think that everyone has Glass wrong. (Maybe someone else has said this, though I haven’t seen it, so if this is not an original thought, please feel free deride me in the comments and send me links showing how derivative I am.) Google Glass is not a wearable smartphone, or Personal Electronic Device (PED) at all.  And I don’t mean, it’s not there yet, I mean, I don’t think that’s what this will ever be, or even what it should be.  I think Glass is the world’s first Personal Internet Peripheral (PIP).

By internet peripheral, I mean, this device is a new method of interacting with the internet (obviously). But specifically, Google Glass has more in common with the computer mouse than it does with the smartphone. I don’t mean that as an insult, I think that is actually quite brilliant. While there is some storage and processing ability within Glass, the real brains of the device are in the cloud and Glass requires an internet connection to do much of anything useful. And while the camera and the display will get smaller, and the storage will get bigger, over time, I don’t see Google ever putting the brains in the device itself.  Why would they? They are an internet company and persistent connectivity will only become more common.

Most computer mice (mouses?) today use lasers to determine cursor coordinates, but they still work essentially the same as the old mice with two wheels turning at right angles to each other, to move a cursor on a screen in two dimensions. In the days of DOS, the mouse was of little use, but the Graphical User Interface quickly became the norm and computing changed forever.  In the same way that the mouse opened up new ways to interact with computers, I think Glass and its descendant technologies will create new ways to interact with the cloud.  Google Glass is an eleven dimensional mouse on the two dimensional web. It seems of little use now, but just you wait until the eleven dimensional online user interface becomes the norm. It’s definitely not what I thought it was, but I am much more impressed with Glass after two days than I expected to be.

More to come…

Last Wednesday, my wife and I were on day 3 of a 4 day Vermont cheese and maple syrup tour.  It was about noon on the hottest day of the year and we were driving down Route 35, about 30 miles from anywhere you’ve ever heard of, when I took a sharp corner and quickly swerved to avoid a piece of debris in middle of the road.  It looked like a rope or a piece of rubber, but the thud as I rolled over it made clear that my initial assessment was off. Then the tire pressure light on the dashboard lit up.

I popped the trunk, saw that there was a spare, but no jack or tire iron, then pulled out my phone and realized I had no signal.  A flat tire, 3 miles from nowhere, no jack, no tire iron, and no cell signal in the heat of the day on the hottest day of the year.  We flagged down a passing car and got a ride into Grafton where we hoped to find a cell signal.

I was grouchy, hot, frustrated, trying to remember if I had ever actually changed a tire and what the steps were, wondering if we were going to make it to the next bed and breakfast, whether we should call ahead, how much it was going to cost me to cancel, wondering how we could keep any cheese we buy from melting, I really wasn’t thinking clearly at that point.  I pulled out my phone and started up my Zipcar app.

We live in New York City, and as people with more sense than money, we don’t own a car.  Zipcar is a car sharing service that allows us to reserve local cars for use on an hourly or daily basis.  Their app allows us to make reservations, and report damage to the car, but the best feature by far is the big orange button in the upper right corner that simply says “Call Zipcar”.

I hit the button and got Debbie on the line.  I stammered incoherently, “Flat tire…Outside Grafton…No Jack…Help, please.” “I’m so sorry about that”, she said cheerfully, “let’s see what we can do?”  I gave her the details of where we were, where the car was, and where we were staying that night.  “OK, stay near the cell tower, I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
A few minutes later she called back with news that someone would pick us up in Grafton, drive us to our car and change our tire. She found a tire place near the B&B we were staying that night and called ahead to make sure they had a tire that fit.
It all happened just as she said, and when we got to the garage in Manchester, they had a new tire ready and waiting for us.  In the room at the B&B, I snapped a picture of my tire receipt, emailed it to Debbie, and within a few minutes had confirmation that my credit card on file with Zipcar had been reimbursed the cost of the tire.  It had been an adventure, but relatively painless considering the situation we were in just a few short hours before. 
This got me thinking, as many things do, about law firms.  My situation on the side of the road in middle of nowhere Vermont is not unlike the situation many clients are in before they call their attorney.  No one calls their attorney just to check in and say that everything is going well.  You call on the hottest day of the year, when your metaphorical car is in a ditch with a flat and you’re missing a jack and a tire iron.  You call when you need help, often when you are not thinking straight and when you need someone else with the knowledge, resources, and capacity to do the thinking for you. You could argue that the answer to one of my earlier posts, is that we are selling the knowledge, resources, and capacity to do your legal thinking for you.
But there is one big, glaring difference between Zipcar and the legal industry.  The person solving my problem is a customer service rep, but my relationship is with the car service, not with the rep. If I hit the big orange button and Debbie is unavailable, or busy helping someone else, then I’ll get another qualified person, with access to the exact same tools and resources that Debbie has, to ensure that I get out of my jam as quickly and painlessly as possible.  After my flat tire experience, I’m a Zipcar believer and I am truly grateful to Debbie for all she did, but should she choose to move on to Hertz, or Avis, I will probably continue to work with Zipcar. They created a loyal client in me by making every aspect of my terrible experience as easy and painless as possible, from the app with the big orange button, to arranging all of my roadside and garage service needs, to reimbursing me for my out of pocket expense with nothing more than a cell phone photo emailed to customer service.  Debbie was absolutely integral to my positive experience, but it was the tools, resources, and relationships provided by Zipcar that allowed Debbie to so efficiently solve my problem.  Why should law firms be any different?

This will get me in trouble, but attorneys are the most expensive client service representatives ever.  That is not in any way intended to diminish their importance.  Good client service reps are absolutely necessary, but not nearly sufficient to provide a good client experience.  The greatest lawyer in the world without the right tools, resources, and relationships is still going to be a very good lawyer, but will not likely provide an optimal experience to their clients.  The tools, resources, and many of the relationships that attorneys use on behalf of their clients are provided by the firm and yet, GC’s have been known to say things like “We hire the lawyer, not the law firm.” That mindset has made the modern BigLaw firm little more than shared office space for “partners” always on the lookout for another firm that will promise them a larger cut of profits. 

To create an optimal client experience, the primary client relationship needs to be with the service provider, and the service provider in this case is the firm not the attorney. As I said in my previous article linked above, I think we are selling “access to the collective knowledge and expertise of the firm”. Otherwise, there is no benefit for the client in hiring a BigLaw attorney. They are paying a premium for the prestige of the names on the letterhead, but getting the efforts of a solo or, more likely, a couple of young associates in return.

How can we begin to change the client/firm relationship?  We’ll all have to work together.  First, Attorneys need to stop the merry-go-round of lateral defections in pursuit of a few more points, and to put some of that energy into making their current firm a more effective and pleasant place to work.  Secondly, firms need to provide tools and resources to clients that actively build relationships at the firm level and they need to develop a culture within the firm that facilitates sharing of resources and knowledge between attorneys rather than simply sharing infrastructure. Finally, clients need to demand a relationship at the firm level, and then they need to have the courage of their convictions to stick with any firm that gives them that relationship, even if “their attorney” jumps ship.  

I’m not suggesting this would be easy or even possible, but if we could strengthen the relationships between clients and firms, and change the underlying culture of our firms to share resources like any other functional service provider does, then we too could give our client’s a big orange button that says “Call Firm” to be pressed when the client is in trouble and needs someone else to do their legal thinking for them and get them back “on the road” as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Debbie was a terrific representative for Zipcar, but I wonder how my experience would have differed had I hired the customer service rep, instead of the car rental service.  

Image [cc] wikimedia

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting with Tom Baldwin and Scott Preston to discuss LPM and general law firm challenges. One subject came up that triggered a repressed memory. Tom mentioned the importance of the users’ experience  – UX or UI (user interface) depending on your perspective – when seeking adoption of new technologies. Having a proper UI expert has proven to be so important that he has contracted to have some work not only on upcoming projects, but also review a few of their existing custom developed apps.

This comment triggered the release of a repressed memory from a recent software training I ‘experienced.’ The software in question is actually very functional. It may be the most functional in its class. However, the user interface is from 1990. One might argue that functionality reigns supreme, since that is what users really need form technology. But at a point in the training all of my frustrations came in to focus. For the umpteenth time, I watched the trainer go through the same 10 or so clicks to initiate a ‘new file.’ That task should really be one click. For the first portion of the training I was excusing the UI’s ancient look and feel, but then it occurred to me bad UI is also a significant productivity issue.

Add on top of that Tom’s note that user adoption rates are strongly impacted by UX and you have a compelling reason to employ a UI expert for every software project. I implore IT professionals to always make UI / UX a priority in your development efforts, even if it’s just a SharePoint update.

With that off my chest – I will re-engage my memory suppression efforts.

Some of the best and brightest people in the legal research world will be presenting a live podcast on the “Future of Interface Design today at 3 PM Eastern Time – oh, and Jason Wilson will be there too.  (Sorry, Jason… couldn’t resist that one!)

So, take a minute and register for the podcast by going to https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/537047386, while the podcast is going on, you can follow along in the chat room http://lawlibcon.classcaster.net/chat. If, for some reason (like happy hour started at 3:00 and) you can’t make it live, you can listen to the recorded episode through the LawLibCon’s iTunes channel http://u.cali.org/2jwf.

I’ll wait while you go ahead and register…


Rich Leiter from University of Nebraska Law School is hosting this podcast and has pulled together my fellow Houstonian Jason Wilson, VP at Jones McClure Publishing, along with Loyola Law School, and blogger Tom Boone, and Fastcase’s Ed Walters – both of whom I consider friends (I hope they feel the same about me!!)

This group will cover what they see as the future of how legal research and information products will look, feel, and react to the end-user. To help prep you for the podcast, Jason and Tom have both put out blog posts this week to help get you started on the concepts they’ll discuss today.

Jason put out a post that discusses the future of interface design and breaks it down into:

  • Interactive Search
  • Brief Packaging
  • The Knowledge Network
  • Visuals
  • Adaptive Networks
Tom put out the post entitled From interface to extinction: law school librarians beyond Thunderdome (I felt it should of had a subtitle of “Two Interfaces Enter, One Interface Leaves”), where Tom takes the academic view of interface and talks about the Native App vs. Browser-based future of interface.
Ed Walters also posted his preparatory highlights on his Fastcase Blog with a post titled Discovery Without Search, where he says the interface enhancements and changes in the way we do research is still in its infancy. Ed has discussed innovation and design before. You should go watch a very interesting presentation that Ed did with the DC Law.Gov meeting on how taking a different approach, and think of things in a different way helps shape the future for the better.
If you weren’t swayed by my initial argument to go sign up for today’s podcast, I’m hoping that you have now changed your mind. So, once again:
Follow and Chat along here – http://lawlibcon.classcaster.net/chat
iTunes recording (available sometime next week) here – http://u.cali.org/2jwf
See you there!

Two things jumped out at me in yesterday’s discussion on the PLL Listserv regarding paid online services:

  1. Firms are in the midst of a major debate on Cost Recovery
  2. Librarians are worried about the subscription services of the future

For #1, I have made clear my positions on cost recovery in both a blog post here and an article on the subject in Spectrum [pdf]. These lay out what I feel is a reasonable way to recover costs that is reasonable to both the client and firm. These costs are so onerous that Firms have to be able to recover them to stay in business. Whether it get’s built into rates, fees or remains a separate line item, doesn’t make a difference. The important thing is offsetting these huge expenses as much as possible to remain profitable.

As for #2, the future User Interface (UI for short), needs to be able to:

1) Search across all of my subscription resources

Our firms purchase content from multiple vendors and it is becoming more and more challenging for our attorneys to find the materials they need. They would be able to work better if they can access the online materials in the same way they do on the shelf. On the shelf, West materials sit in the same section as Lexis and so on. We have built a UI (Full Disclosure: our UI is hosted by LexisNexis) that allows attorneys to find materials based on how they work, not who publishes them. A tab is set aside for each practice and links to online materials are grouped in ways that mirror the way their workflow. For example, under the Litigation Tab you would have items grouped by Civil Pretrial/Discovery, Civil Trials & CiviL Appeals, not by West or Matthew Bender.

This is where I think WestlawNext tripped up. I have been involved in contracts for Lexis and Westlaw for over 20 years and every one of them was content-based. Over that period, we have seen some major evolution in both of these products, not the least of which was the shift from a software- to a web-based search platform. Not once during this time have I been charged extra for the changed UI. Now, if this allowed me to search across multiple platforms I might consider it worth the premium. But I can’t see justifying the extra expense to search just the same resources that I have been able to search for years without trouble.

2) Allow me to set the per search charge to meet my unique requirements (See the Spectrum Article referenced above)

3) Make research more efficient

There has been a lot of fuss this year made over WestlawNext, CCH IntelliConnect, FastCase and now Lexis Advance. At AALL in Denver, a distinguished panel of executives from West, FastCase & Lexis discussed how they developed their respective UIs. While the conversation was interesting (despite being sidetracked at one point into a debate over treatises vs. primary resources), what I found fascinating was the fact that none of the panelists addressed how they were designing their UI to make the attorney work more efficiently. They seem to have missed an important factor in crafting their products: What is important to Law Firms is not how the service finds the answer for the attorney/researcher but what allows him/her to do so in the least amount of time at the least cost. “Googlizing” legal research is not the answer. Having to go through reams of hits actually makes the user less efficient.

I think that vendors are not seeing the direction that Law Firm legal research UIs are headed. We want to organize our content our way, using a single point of access. And we want the systems to make the user a better researcher.