Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • For years optimists have said that things will get better once Millennials become associates in law firms. According to these optimists, this younger cohort will bring new values and new ways of working to hide-bound firms. At this point in time, several classes of digital natives are now beavering away in law firms around the country, but we haven’t seen a huge wave of change. In fairness, they are still very junior and probably do not have the requisite power within their firms to insist on improvements. Further, in harsh economic times one could be forgiven for putting one’s head down and working hard rather than rocking the boat. Finally, and most importantly, their law school education was fairly traditional so they were not trained to buck the traditional ways of doing things within their firms.

    Does this mean that nothing will change? Not necessarily so. At least one law school is training its students to think differently about the practice of law.

    On April 17, Georgetown Law School will be hosting its second annual Iron Tech Lawyer Competition. It is the capstone of the practicum taught by Professor Tanina Rostain and Adjunct Professor Roger Skalbeck called “Technology, Innovation and Legal Practice Practicum – Access to Justice.” The focus of this seminar is to ground law students in the possibilities and practicalities of  law practice innovation enabled by technology. Here’s how the curriculum guide describes it:

    This practicum course exposes students to the varied uses of computer technologies in the practice of law. During our seminar meetings, students become familiar with various innovative software platforms that are being adopted in law practice to enhance access to justice, capture legal expertise, interface with clients, manage litigation and transactional processes, and increase the efficiency and quality of legal services. Topics include: legal expert systems, virtual law practice, automated document assembly, technology assisted document review, and electronic legal research. For the field placement component, students work in small teams for a legal service organization to develop a platform, application, or automated system that increases access to justice and/or improves the effectiveness of legal representation. These organizations include civil rights organizations, direct service providers, and government agencies. The course culminates in a design competition, The Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer Contest, which is judged by outside experts in the field. Along the way, students learn teamwork, an understanding of the relationship among the rules and doctrines that apply within a particular legal regime, and visual literacy skills. The goal is that, by the end of the semester, each team will have built a functional app that is adopted by the legal service organization and put into use for the organization or its clients.

    This course is not about using Microsoft Office efficiently. It’s about unleashing the power of technology to unleash the power of the law.

    Wow.

    I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when these Georgetown Law School graduates begin to practice law. They have been taught how to use technology to practice smarter for the greater good. More law schools need courses like these. And every law firm needs graduates like these.

    [Hat tip to Neota Logic for providing the expert system that was so critical for the Iron Tech Lawyer program.]

    Update from Professor Rostain on April 16: “If you want to catch a glimpse of the action, go to http://apps.law.georgetown.edu/webcasts/eventDetail.cfm?eventID=2007 or click through our home page. The link will go live shortly before 1:30 {Wednesday] afternoon.”

     

     

    2 Comments
  • At every ILTA conference the chief information officers of the 100 largest global law firms have a day-long meeting. This session provides a recap for those of us who were unable to attend the full day session.

    Speakers: Gareth Ash (CIO, Allen & Overy), Ash Banerjee (CIO, WilmerHale), Don Jaycox (CIO, DLA Piper), Andy Jurczyk (CIO, Seyfarth Shaw). Marcia Stein helped organize the G100 event.

    [These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association's 2012 Conference 2012. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I've made any editorial comments, I've shown those in brackets.]

    NOTES:

    • Jim Jones Presentation. Jim Jones (from the Hildebrandt Institute) often is asked to provide a strategic industry perspective to managing partners. He came to the G100 session to share the information he is providing to firm management. Key points: 2012 could be tougher than 2009; the outlook for the next 2 years is not great. Jones reminded the CIOs that this is not just about economic pressures. There are other factors coming into play such as commoditization, enabling technologies, new service providers, globalization. The key is to understand that our economic model is fundamentally unstable. Law firms will not be able to rely on year over year rate increases in order to meet revenue goals. Further, demand for legal services has basically been flat since the market downturn. In Jones’ view, we are firmly in a buyer’s market. Therefore, clients are in a position to make demands on law firms. This means that law firms will have to compete for business on the basis of costs, efficiency and results rather than just on reputation.
    • Implications of Jim Jones’ Presentation. (1) Law firms need to be serious about operating as a business. This means they need to focus on efficiency and effectiveness, addressing productivity issues as soon as possible. (2) Will declines in law school enrollment make it more expensive to find and hire good associates?
    • How Technology can Transform Law Firms FAcing Changing Pricing Models. (1) multiple pricing and billing systems; (2) systems for tracking profitability on a matter basis; (3) user-friendly interfaces allowing partners to perform sensitivity analysis on different pricing strategies; (4) technical support to assist partners in analyzing and setting pricing options; (5) systems enabling fims to respond quickly and efficiently to competitive proposal requests.
    • Implications for the CIO. Technology will increasingly “commoditize” many areas of legal practice, including some complex and high value ones. This means that lawyers will change. Since information is increasingly becoming freely available, clients will pay a premium only for expertize and superior judgment.
    • Gartner Discussion. Data protection and security are key. Law firms need to gather and dig deeper into the data with analytics. There is an increasing push to outsourcing in order to control costs. However, that may limit career opportunities within the IT department. It also can mean that the IT department cannot respond as nimbly if they have to manage lots of external providers. On the flip side, having resources in the cloud can provide some flexibility. Just be sure that you don’t outsource any function that comprises your agility and ability to respond.
    • Data Security. A poll of the G100 CIOs revealed that relatively few had security specialists on their staff. All understood that in addition to technical controls, the key is to increase security awareness among attorneys. Several firms recommended data security training for lawyers based on resources from the SANS Institute entitled “Securing the Human.”
    • What do CIOs want to learn more about?. At the G100 session, they crowdsourced the following topics: (1) How are CIOs measured? What KPIs are used? (2) What are the risks of benchmarking? One big issue is that the benchmarking reports may not allocate the data exactly like your firm does. For example, do network costs show up in operational costs or in IT costs? You have to understand the benchmarking reports before you rely on them for your analysis and planning. (3) How to handle PWC/Citi Reports? Handle with care! It’s very important to key educating the partnership so they understand what contributes to cost and how new projects add value.
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  • After HP’s acquisition of Autonomy, there was much speculation regarding whether or not this change would be good or bad for the legal industry. Today Neil Araujo (CEO, AutonomyProtect) did more than just assure us things were headed in the right direction. He actually had something great to show us.

    [These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association's 2012 Conference 2012. Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I've made any editorial comments, I've shown those in brackets. In addition, since this was a vendor presentation, it will contain primarily promotional material. Analysis will follow as more people take a look at these new offerings.]

    NOTES:

    • Four Pillars of Autonomy ECM. Information capture and management; information workflow; information insight (IUS); and information governance (records managements, policy, security, compliance).
    • Four Trends Driving Autonomy’s Vision. (1) UX (user experience); (2) mobility; (3) Big Data; (4) Cloud — as a delivery mechanism and a platform for law firm engagement with its clients.
    • User Experience. There are several aspects of UX that Autonomy is focused on now: (1) High performance synch. (2) High performace search — they will enable biger searches. They discovered that 95% of searches are on document or author name so they are optimizing this popular search. (3) Integrated software & hardware solutions — this shows the beneefits of partnering with HP. With this technology, users can go to a multi-function printer to do a job — not just print or scan. For example, the user could go to the printer screen to select a document from the DMS and print it. Or, scan a document and send it directly to your personal document collection without travelling via email. (4) The new Compass product is a collaboration between HP Labs and Autonomy. It will be released in IUS 8.
    • HP Compass. This tool builds on IUS to provide navigation across people, communities/collections, and individual information assets. The relationships among these elements are created automatically by IUS and analytics, without any manual metadata coding by staff. In the example we saw, the user initiated a simple full text search and then moved through the results either by scrolling through the list of responsive documents or pivoting on the name of an author or major contributor and then from there to related communities, people or documents. Autonomy calls this social search, bringing some of the best aspects of consumer web search to the law firm.
    • Mobility. Autonomy now provides mobile security, the ability to edit or annotate documents (and have those edits synch up to the DMS immediately) and the ability to capture and store information on the go via your smartphone camera. The next worksite mobile app will use HP technology to clean up this smartphone picture to create something that looks more like a high-quality scan that can be uploaded as an image in worksite. They also have the ability to OCR it.
    • Big Data. Autonomy believes that Big Data for legal primarily involves unstructured data. There are significant challenges regarding how to manage these collections from a security and compliance perspective. The traditional approach was to secure the perimeter, but this is becoming increasingly difiicult to do. Therefore, Autonomy is focused on securing individual information assets inside and outside the firewall via the private cloud.
    • Policy-Driven Information Governance. It is impossible to manage, much less govern, content if you don’t know what you’ve got, don’t know what it is and don’t know what to do with it. Autonomy offers Control Point to help with visibility, understanding content and automating key governance processes. They can go through large content stores and apply compliance policy to it in an automated fashion.
    • Cloud. HP is very focused on the Cloud. HP Autonomy is offering a private cloud, as well as a cloud for a hotsite backup for disaster recovery.
    • Collaboration Through the Cloud. Autonomy offers a private cloud to share documents directly from WorkSite with clients. This provides a secure alternative to file -sharing or file-synchronization consumer apps such as Dropbox. The tool is called LinkSite. They have created new “Binders” that allow you to provide synching. They also allow you to move a large file to the private cloud with one-click, which then generates an audit trail provided by Autonomy. Secure Send and LinkSite are the new tools that Autonomy offers to accomplish all of this. Even better, all of this sharing and collaboration operates outside email.

    During this session, I was both drafting this blog post and sending out the occasional tweet. I was interested to receive some cautiously optimistic feedback from one skeptic in England who said that based on the tweets coming from Neil Araujo’s session, it sounded like Autonomy was headed in a better direction. If Autonomy makes a success of this new direction, that can only benefit their many law firm clients.

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  • The Nearest Subway app is out! Science fiction isn’t just for futurists. It’s today’s reality.

    It used to be that people with wild imaginations wrote improbable stories for a sci-fi audience and then later, perhaps even decades later, those imaginings might become reality.  For example, Jules Verne, an astonishingly imaginative author, wrote in the mid-19th century about fantastical things that we now take for granted such as electric submarines, newscasts, tasers, skywriting and videoconferencing.  As far as videoconferencing is concerned, he may have been dreaming about it in the 19th century, but I for one did not experience a high-quality video conference until the 21st century.  In this case, his innovation took over 100 years to materialize.

    For those of us who are slow out of the gate, having decades or even a century to turn a great idea into an even better reality meant that you didn’t have to innovate or change too quickly. But those days are long gone. Take augmented reality, for example.  It’s moved from arcade video games and TV football games to smartphone apps in a very short period of time.

    Married to mobile technology, augmented reality lets us experience the world in a new, more information-rich way.  Wikipedia describes augmented reality as

    a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.

    In other words, it’s real life — but better. It means that we no longer have to experience our surroundings in just a three-dimensional way. Now current technology allows us to layer on top of our physical world information that leads to insight and learning. Kevin Bonsor gives a practical example:

    Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world — or at least the way its users see the world. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street. With augmented-reality displays, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see. These enhancements will be refreshed continually to reflect the movements of your head. Similar devices and applications already exist, particularly on smartphones like the iPhone.

    So why does this matter to knowledge management personnel? If the people you serve can take their smartphones or Google glasses and use those to obtain the information they need while on the go, will any of them ever elect to stay tethered to their office just because your knowledge resources are best viewed at a desktop? I didn’t think so. Thus, in one fell swoop, your work product has moved from critically important to nice but highly inconvenient. That’s not an optimal outcome.

    To be clear, this is not just about mobility. This is about merging our information with our physical world while we are mobile. It’s also about taking humans out of the information search process.  Without an augmented reality app, if you want information about something you see, you’ll have to enter a search query via your smartphone’s web browser. With augmented reality, however, you don’t have to go hunting for information. It simply is presented to you in context as needed.

    This is radically different from our current world of information push and pull. It’s a new world of information ubiquity.

    For those of you who are thinking about more effective ways to present data in context, augmented reality may provide some answers. In the words of Rick Singer, IBM’s Vice-President for Sports Technology:

    This is all about data. It’s about how you take data, aggregate it and make it simpler to use,” says Singer. “This is like having your best friend with you that knows everything about the [US Open] right by your side because you can take all of that data and you can make better decisions.

    If your KM planning isn’t headed in this direction, then you will be left behind.

    For the skeptics among you who think this is still pretty far-fetched technology, I have one word for you: IKEA.  That’s right, IKEA is launching an augmented reality catalog app that lets you experience their inventory with audio and video via your smartphone. If it’s available for shoppers, then it’s hard to deny that this technology has moved from science fiction to practical reality. And, given the current rate of consumerization of technology, how long do you think it will be before the knowledge workers you serve demand similar functionality?

    But don’t procrastinate. The future is here. And, before you know it, you’ll need to master the Articulated Naturality Web, which promises “to open a door to a virtual universe in which our mind is the only boundary.”

    Remember, you heard it here first.

    *********************************************

    If you would like to learn more about augmented reality, here are some resources:

    [Photo Credit: Ian Westcott]

    5 Comments
  • Robot baby quilt top In the midst of a lively, thoughtful discussion, one of my friends and colleagues asked for a moment’s silence to take note of the fact that Mary Abraham had just endorsed automation over human action. This led to gales of laughter. Why? Because over the years I’ve become reasonably well-known in legal knowledge management circles for repeatedly reminding people that technology won’t solve every problem (note the banner of this blog) and that we might get further if we spent at least as much time and attention on people and processes as we do on the technology.

    That remains my position, but with time and experience it has become slightly more nuanced. While I still don’t think that technology is the silver bullet, I also don’t believe that simply throwing more people at a problem is the best path to a solution either. Further, given the advances in technology today, it could arguably be abusive to humans NOT to adopt appropriate technology.

    Not convinced? Think about the many processes within law firms that to this day still are not automated. They haven’t been studied, standardized or streamlined to improve efficiency and efficacy.  Rather they depend on a variety of people operating consistently at their personal best to ensure good results. In fairness, these folks have probably been doing a good job for many years.  But what if someone becomes ill or disengaged? What if they retire?  Where’s the safety in this system? There’s also the problem that you’re asking human beings to do work that a properly equipped machine could do. How demoralizing is that?

    In the 1940s, Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics (see video below). The first of these laws was:

    A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    It’s helpful that he identified this way to reduce the likelihood that a robot might harm a human. However, that still leaves the human race very much at risk of harm from members of its own species.  With this in mind, consider what would change if law firm IT departments and KM departments adopted the following variant of the first law of robotics:

    An IT department or KM department may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    What would the practical implications of this be?

    • We would have to spend much more time upfront considering user interface and user experience.
    • We would have to pay closer attention to HelpDesk inquiries and customer complaints — what keeps going wrong?
    • We would have to think harder about the “unintended consequences” (or, as Bruce MacEwen writing at Adam Smith Esq states more accurately, the “unanticipated consequences“) of the innovations we introduce.
    • We would have to stop asking our colleagues and our own staff to do things that more properly should be done by machines.
    • We would have to be willing to review and revise what we’re doing to ensure the humans we serve are not harmed.

    As you think about your work and its consequences, can you honestly say that it does not harm humans? If not, what will you change?

    [Hat tip to Michael Mills of Neota Logic for reminding me of Asimov's Three Laws.]

    [Photo Credit: Chelsea Wa]

    2 Comments
  • the screamFor the average worker, it might seem like a dream come true. However, I suspect that some information technology folks consider it a nightmare. What’s the issue? The advent of the consumerization of IT; something Scott Finnie calls “CoIT.” Dion Hinchcliffe describes the elements of  CoIT in the following way:

    1) businesses taking more local control for IT, 2) workers using their own preferred computing devices and apps, and … 3) manageable processes for rapid uptake of enterprise apps, mashups, and devices matched with IT support processes that scale to match.

    While this may not seem an ideal scenario for the traditional IT department, it most likely is within the limits of what can be tolerated.  However, what happens when the business gets “carried away” and starts driving IT initiatives? Here’s Dion Hinchcliffe’s explanation:

    The overall trend towards ad hoc adoption of personal and cloud technology at work seems to be inexorable. More and more IT is moving out from under the CIOs budget, just over 30% by some estimates. Perhaps most disruptive of all, however, is the sudden appearance of extremely stiff competition for IT services. While the move to self-service IT in general has been a steady trend for a decade — and which is starting to be called CoIT — it’s the outright diversion of business budgets directly to external IT providers, whether they are the newer SaaS vendors and app developers or the more traditional IT consulting firms and VARs. In short, the business likes the selection and service it’s getting elsewhere, and routing around IT in many cases. [emphasis added]

    Suddenly, we have a situation in which the IT department no longer is in complete control and may well have trouble imposing a locked down computing environment.  Now, if you’re working in the financial or legal services industries, consider what happens when you couple the move to CoIT and external IT providers with growing incursions by hackers. According to a recent report in Bloomberg News, there’s been disturbing hacker activity directed towards law firms lately:

    Over a few months beginning in September 2010, the hackers rifled one secure computer network after the next, eventually hitting seven different law firms as well as Canada’s Finance Ministry and theTreasury Board, according to Daniel Tobok, president of Toronto-based Digital Wyzdom. His cyber security company was hired by the law firms to assist in the probe.

    [...]

    `As financial institutions in New York City and the world become stronger, a hacker can hit a law firm and it’s a much, much easier quarry,’ said Mary Galligan, head of the cyber division in the New York City office of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Galligan’s unit convened a meeting with the top 200 law firms in New York City last November to deal with the rising number of law firm intrusions. Over snacks in a large meeting room, the FBI issued a warning to the lawyers: Hackers see attorneys as a back door to the valuable data of their corporate clients.

    To be honest, I don’t envy law firm IT directors.  They are faced with the difficult task of imposing stringent security measures even as they watch their internal clients scurry out the door, exercising their right to choose their own IT tools and chasing self-service IT as a means to get out from under the control of their organization’s IT department.  While security concerns have often trumped other considerations in the past, it will be interesting to see if the newly emboldened  IT consumers will insist on using their preferred devices and self-service IT despite heightened security concerns.

    It’s a nightmare scenario, coming to an IT department near you — soon.

    [Photo Credit: Terry Freedman]

    4 Comments
  • Kindle app for iPhoneDig deeply enough and you’ll find that every knowledge management or IT professional has a story about a deployment gone bad.  If you push them hard enough, they might even confess that they were partially responsible for the unsatisfactory results.  Of course, the less than honest will blame the vendor or, more often than not, the end-user.  But, at the end of the day, shouldn’t adoption by the end-user be the whole point of your project?

    If you don’t believe me, consider the Kindle.  It wasn’t the first eReader and perhaps wasn’t technologically the best.  However, it has been a commanding presence in the world of eReaders, even in the face of competition from acknowledged technology stars such as Sony.  According to Adrian Slywotzky, Amazon beat Sony not on the strength of its technology or design but rather on the strength of its vision. Unlike Sony, Amazon envisioned and delivered a complete package.  Where Sony offered decent technology to deliver a tiny collection of books. Amazon took that technology and found a way to deliver an enormous collection of books wirelessly.  Slywotzky refers to this complete vision and package as the “behind-the-screen elements that make up a product’s backstory” and build consumer demand. In The Real Secret of Kindle’s Success, Slywotzky writes:

    Look at the Kindle, and you don’t see the wireless connection, the relationships between Amazon and the publishers, the vast online bookstore, or the personalized book recommendations. But all these backstory elements dramatically enhance the e-reader experience, making Kindle magnetic in a way the [Sony] Librie never was. The first production run of Kindles sold out within five-and-a-half hours.

    Now let’s come back to those failed deployments.  Did you have all the critical backstory elements in place? Did you have a complete vision, a comprehensive package? Did you offer something that would have a magnetic attraction for the end-user? In other words, was your deployment planned and executed from the perspective of the end-user?   Did you figure out what the end-user really wanted?  Amazon certainly did.  To its credit, Amazon realized that we weren’t really interested in buying eReaders.  Rather, we were interested in reading.  So Amazon gave us an unrivaled opportunity to read and then supported that with adequate technology.

    But here’s the kicker:  through Kindle, Amazon made it so easy for people to think about purchasing and reading eBooks that many of us have stopped buying eReaders altogether and simply read eBooks on our smartphones, tablets and computers.**  And how do we buy and read books now?  Via a free Kindle app that lets Amazon focus on its original business of selling books.  However, now it has the added advantage of lower costs since there is no need to store physical inventory.

    So in exchange for its complete vision and backstory elements, Amazon has happy customers and a booming business in eBooks.  How does your deployment compare?

    __________________________________

    ** If you have an Apple device, you should note the new App Store restrictions on purchasing books from Amazon. (Here’s a work around or do as Amazon suggests and bookmark amazon.com/kindlestore on your iPhone. For the  iPad, consider the Kindle Cloud Reader.)

    [Photo Credit: K. Todd Storch]

     

    2 Comments
  • Greta Garbo would have hated Google+.  To be honest, she probably would have hated Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace as well.  However, after spending just a short while on Google+, I can see that it would really have given her hives.

    For those of you who actually have been on vacation these last few days or away from a computer enjoying the summer weather, Google+ may not ring a bell. So here’s a quick overview of what it is and how it works:

    First via Google’s vaseline-coated soft-focus lens:

    Now, here’s a pithier review from CNETTV:

    With Google+, you have the ease of Facebook- or Twitter-style sharing with the power of Google behind it.  Google+ gives you lots of opportunities to share content and then have an extended conversation regarding that content.  You can choose to share certain content with some folks but not others via the “Circles” organization scheme and Google+ Settings.  Once you’ve found good content, you can endorse or recommend it using the +1 Button. Further, because there don’t appear to be size restrictions, you won’t have to develop that special Twitter skill of compressing your pearls of wisdom into bursts of 140 characters or less. Best of all, you have the power of Google search to find interesting people (via their Google Profiles) and interesting content. If that isn’t enough, Google gives you the ability to video chat with a number of friends (called “Hangouts“) and have a private conversation with a select group of friends (called “Huddle“).  If there are particular topics that interest you,  try the Google+ “Sparks” function to find other aficionados.  Add to all of this the ability to instantly upload photos and videos, and you may begin to find fewer reasons to go to other social media platforms.

    Now, back to Greta Garbo.  The film buffs among my readers will remember that she was notoriously reclusive.  She just wanted to be “let alone.” To someone of her disposition, Google+  would be tremendously troubling.  By providing so many useful functions in a single place, it offers a seemingly efficient means to contribute and consume content about family, friends, acquaintances and…celebrities. All in one place.  It’s powerful and it’s something with which Ms. Garbo never had to contend.

    In fairness, Google has done a pretty good job of designing the user interface. As a result, it invites you in and tempts you to do almost too many things in one place. In theory, a dedicated Google+ user would no longer need Twitter, FB, Flickr or Skype, to name a few. That user could simply live in Google+.  And, once Google+ moves out of Beta testing and into the general population, you may discover that enough of your family, friends and acquaintances are on Google+ that you don’t need to go elsewhere to interact with them.

    If Google+ provides a reasonable substitute for other social media channels, it could easily become my primary dashboard for online communications. One concern I have is that I liked the simplicity of having specific channels for particular types of communications (e.g., an RSS reader for sharing feeds, Twitter for general news, FB for personal updates, blogs for think pieces, FriendFeed for extended conversations with friendly geeks, etc.). Once everything is consolidated on a single platform, I fear that my social interactions (and this tool) may require a great deal more management on my part.

    On top of all of this, it is as if Google is seducing users into bringing all of their social interactions onto a Google platform.  It makes me feel a bit like Little Red Riding Hood facing the Big Bad Wolf.  How on earth do we avoid getting eaten? Now Google knows with even greater clarity what we know, who we know and how we behave. It’s an advertiser’s dream. To be fair, Google has tried to address some of these concerns via its terms of service.  We’re told that Google has been paying attention to the infamous missteps of the FB team when it comes to privacy. Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore the sheer power and scope of coverage of Google.  In light of that, giving them even more of my life seems to be a step that should not be taken lightly.

    Don’t get me wrong.  Google+ is definitely the sandbox to play right now — especially if you are even slightly geeky.  It’s the new toy in town and it’s fun. That said, some folks liked Google Wave and others were enthusiastic about Google Buzz. Check in with me later to see if I’ve succumbed or whether my inner Greta Garbo leads me to walk away.

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  • Legal researchA Notice to Lexis and Westlaw:  You would be well-advised to read this post since it proposes a better model for your products.  (As for the royalty checks you’ll owe me, let’s talk…)

    For a few brief months early in my legal career, I was a litigation associate.  As such, the main focus of my days was legal research. Being a diligent sort of person, I’d spend hours tracking down one case after another and yet, despite my conscientious approach, I could never entirely dispel the nagging feeling that somewhere out there was the one case that could blow my research out of the water.  Surely, I’m not the only lawyer who has confronted this.

    The cause for this anxiety was the knowledge that my search results were only as good as my search technique.  And I was honest enough with myself to know that I wasn’t nearly as expert at searching as, for example, a research librarian.  However, in those days, it really wasn’t the done thing to have a research librarian do your research for you. So I soldiered on and tried to refine my search methodology.

    With the benefit of hindsight, it seems obvious that the current approach to legal research is fundamentally flawed.  Lexis and and Westlaw have created these enormous databases of case law that cannot be completely mastered unless you have world class research skills. In fact, what they’ve created is a frustrating game of “find the needle in the haystack.”  The problem is that the people who need the cases aren’t always the best equipped at finding the cases, and the people who are expert at finding cases aren’t the best equipped to analyze and use them. Further, most law firms don’t promote lawyers on the strength of their research skills. Rather, they promote lawyers on the strength of their analytical, advising, negotiating, writing and business-winning abilities.

    It would be better if Lexis and Westlaw aligned themselves with their customers’ need to improve analytical capabilities.  Here’s the new model I propose:  instead of forcing lawyers to come up with appropriate search queries, Lexis and Westlaw should ask lawyers questions to elicit information about the case at hand.  In other words, the role of the lawyer searching for precedent would be to analyze their own case and strategy and provide that information to Lexis and Westlaw: what are the pertinent facts of the case, what jurisdiction, what procedural approaches is the lawyer considering.  Then, Lexis and Westlaw would deliver to you links to groups of cases that match your facts within your jurisdiction.  You could then review them to see how closely aligned they are to your situation.  Ideally, this approach would reveal the array of ways in which lawyers before you had handled this fact pattern in your jurisdiction and would highlight opportunities for following precedent or striving for innovation.  Better still, this should reduce (if not eliminate) the nagging worry that you’ve missed a case.

    What’s different about this approach? Success depends on a lawyer’s ability to understand that facts and context of the case at hand, not that lawyer’s ability to construct the perfect search query.  It would no longer be a hit-or-miss proposition depending on your skill at constructing boolean or natural word search queries. (Of course, it would also depend on Lexis and Westlaw profiling and organizing their cases differently, or adopting search technology that is more sophisticated than simple word searching.) The result is that both lawyers, on the one hand, and Lexis and Westlaw, on the other hand, start focusing on their strengths.  Lawyers build their analytical muscles and the online research companies get better at organizing and delivering comprehensive results to you.

    Now imagine a law firm in difficult economic times considering whether to drop one online research provider in favor of another. What if one provider were to offer these comprehensive (and more appropriate) search results? Would there be any contest?

    In this blog post I’ve provided information on my innovation to Lexis and Westlaw (and any other online legal research provider interested in conquering this lucrative business).   I wonder which one will be hungry enough to adopt this proposal?

    [Photo Credit: Garry Willmore.  I'd highly recommend that you click on the photo above to read Garry Willmore's commentary on this photo.  It's priceless!]

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  • Store ClosingIf there is one theme that emerges from my many conversations with lawyers, it is their weariness with the seeming inability of legal IT vendors to produce applications that work in an intuitive, simple and effective way.  In fact, lawyers often seem resigned to struggling constantly with software that forces them to adapt to it, rather than fitting seamlessly into the way lawyers work.  Although it might seem that some vendors have gotten away with murder by over-promising while under-delivering, I suspect that this is a temporary situation.

    What leads me to this conclusion? Two growing trends in society:  Instant Gratification and Sloth. If you’re not sure about this, consider Blockbuster.  There was a time when large Blockbuster stores were fixtures in New York City.  In fact, at one point there was one Blockbuster store two blocks east of our home and another two blocks west.  In other words, we didn’t have to go far to find a movie when the mood struck. However, Blockbuster didn’t always have the movie we wanted and too many people I knew spent far too much money in overdue fees.  Enter Netflix.  At first, the choice was walking two blocks to get a movie today or planning ahead by two days to get a movie from Netflix, and thereby escape the risk of transaction fees and overdue fees. Of course, once Netflix started streaming movies, it provided the enticing additional benefit of instant gratification. Suddenly I could act on a whim and see a movie without ever leaving the comfort of my home.  In one fell swoop, Netflix satisfied tendencies to both sloth and instant gratification.  ((Or as I like to think of it, convenience and customer satisfaction.)

    As more online vendors cater to the growing trends of sloth and instant gratification, consumers are learning to expect to get a lot quickly online with little effort.  Do you want to book a trip?  It just a few clicks away. What about putting food on your table?  In New York, you can order your food online and need never set foot in a grocery store. So what happens to those traveling, food-ordering consumers when they use their office software in the practice of law? They have to expend a great deal more effort to get far less satisfactory results.  At the end of the day, this means frustration for the user and increasing pressure on law firm IT departments to “fix” the applications so that they work better. This in turn leads to more dissatisfaction with vendors.

    If you work in the legal industry and are weary of daily struggles with software, consider the following:  even if your legal IT vendors seem tone deaf, current levels of unhappiness present a wonderful opportunity for new players who are willing to listen carefully to the legal industry and then provide products that deliver excellent results for little effort.  We are seeing this with respect to the various third-party vendors who are providing tools to improve SharePoint. If that isn’t sufficiently encouraging, come to New York City to look for a Blockbuster store.  There aren’t any in my neighborhood any more.  What about yours?

    [Photo Credit: Andy Callahan]

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