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    Archive for March, 2015
    Say Hello to Watson
    Monday, March 30th, 2015

    ♫ Here’s to me, I finally passed the Bar…

    Music and Lyrics by M. Peterson, M. Puryear, B. Brock and recorded by: Michael Peterson.


    Joe Public had a problem. He was off to court in a week and he needed to learn what arguments he should advance to persuade the judge in his favour.

    He contemplated heading to a lawyer’s office but instead he signed onto the website A few minutes later he was answering questions put to him by the software. Shortly thereafter he printed up the arguments that had been produced for him by the website and whistled to himself, as he was now prepared for court, armed not only with the arguments he would be advancing but also the ones that he could expect to be advanced against him – with prepared responses.

    Sound farfetched? Science fiction? Contemplate this: In June of 2014 Robert Weber, the senior vice president and general counsel of International Business Machines Corp. went to San Jose, California to watch a demonstration of the Watson Debater, according to The American Lawyer.

    Weber watched Watson debate whether watching violent video games predisposes young males to be more aggressive. It didn’t just come up with answers to questions as an earlier version did winning on Jeopardy. Now it synthesized information to develop arguments on different sides of an issue.

    Indeed, if you go to you will find: “Watson is everywhere. Watson has been learning the language of professions and is trained by experts to work across many different industries.”.

    Backed by the IBM Watson Group, 2000 employees and $1 billion in funding, Watson is but one of a growing number of ventures seeking to change the delivery of legal services.

    IBM says: “Meet IBM Watson, a cognitive system that enables a new partnership between people and computers that enhances and scales human expertise.”

    Many people believe that lawyers cannot be replaced by machines as the type of thinking that we do is different from computer algorithms.

    Think again.

    IBM’s Watson employs a different type of programming called cognitive processing. Cognitive processing uses natural language and processes unstructured data just like we do. It reads and interprets a sentence as a person does and understands context. It understands legal terms, syntax and more. It collects the knowledge required to have literacy in a professional domain to build a body of knowledge. It curates the data, discarding out-dated information and concepts. As new information is published, it updates its knowledge. It can quickly provide responses to questions about highly complex situations in areas such as law and medicine and provide recommendations backed by evidence, and can find new insights into the problem (per

    Science fiction? According to IBM, Watson is “discovering and offering answers and finding patterns we had not known existed, faster than any person or group of people ever could… in ways that make a material difference – every day. Most important of all, Watson learns, adapts and keeps getting smarter.”

    The American Lawyers reports:

    “In talking about Watson, Weber at times sounds like a proud parent bragging about his gifted child’s potential. ‘I think Watson could pass a multistate Bar exam without a second thought,’ he says.”

    I wonder who will hold the party when Watson passes the Bar?

    (this was originally published in PracticeTalk, in the Canadian Bar Association’s BarTalk magazine)

    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | 2 Comments »
    World Backup Day
    Thursday, March 26th, 2015

    ♫ Get back, get back.
    Get back to where you once belonged…♫

    Lyrics and music by Lennon–McCartney, recorded by The Beatles.


    Tuesday March 31, 2015 is World Backup Day. I think it is important to focus on this often neglected task as it is often lost in the hustle and bustle of getting the work out. But with the recent attacks of ransomware on all types of businesses, law firms included, having a proper back up that is not infected has assumed increasing, if not vital, importance.

    Furthermore, having a proper backup is not just for your business. Consider all your digital photographs and personal would you feel if they were lost?

    So the focus of this article is to motivate you to implement backup solutions at your office and at your home.

    Why back up?

    • Protection against malware, viruses and trojans including Cryptowall and other ransomware (1 in 10 computers infected with a virus each month, according to ICSA Labs/TruSecure, 2002)
    • Protection against disasters, either man-made (pipes bursting and the like) to natural disasters such as storms, lightening and such.
    • Preservation of precious memories that once gone, are gone.

    What are the best practices when it comes to back ups?  Here is a list of some things to consider.

    1. Have a data retention plan
      1. Without a plan, you are left to haphazard backups.  The worst time to realize that you don’t have a current backup is precisely when you need it most.
    2. Plan for increasing amounts of data
      1. Your storage should be scalable since you will be generating increasing amounts of data in the future.
      2. Ensure that your current system can be scaled up to handle greater and greater amounts of data without any disruption in your office.
    3. Have a redundancy plan – backup your backup
      1. What if the same disaster hits your backup as well as your systems?
      2. Consider having both a physical backup in your office and a cloud based backup that is unaffected if your office is hit with a disaster.
    4. Have your data readily available
      1. Cloud backups are wonderful as a ‘last resort’ but they do take time to download.
      2. Consider having a local NAS or other device in the office just in case your servers fry and you need a fast locally accessible copy of your data.
    5. Data security and integrity are priorities
      1. Always consider physical security and data security.
      2. Follow best practices in data security.
    6. Consider backups and archival copies
      1. Backups are snapshots at any point in time
      2. Archives are historical records – unalterable and therefore important if you need to go back and show what happened when.

    The important thing to consider is your risk management position. Have you considered the cost of restoring your data and the potential of losing vital data and having to explain that to your clients? You may perceive the incidence of loss to be low, but the cost of recovery can be very high indeed. In fact not having a proper backup may result in a significant disruption of your business or even its failure.

    If you suffer such a loss, you certainly want to be able to go back to where you once belonged.

    (posted concurrently on


    Posted in Change Management, Firm Governance, Fraud and theft, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    2015 Solo and Small Firm Legal Tech Guide
    Thursday, March 12th, 2015

    ♫  How can i go forward when I
     don’t know which way to turn?
     How can i go forward into something
     I’m not sure of? oh no, oh no…♫

    Lyrics, music and recorded by John Lennon.

    2014 ssf guide

    2015 ABA book Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide  has just been published.

    John Heckman, a long-standing and highly acclaimed legal technologist,  has published a review of the book.  I felt the review was a good one and here it is with his consent:

    Does It Compute? 

    John Heckman’s Take on Practice and Document Management, and Other Legal Technology

    February 23, 2015

    Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide

    This is the eighth yearly edition for the Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide by Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke. There are also very useful chapters by Jennifer Ellis on social media and in particular security, privacy and ethics considerations in using them and on the “iPad for Litigators” by Tom Mighell and Paul Unger.

    Why should you read this book? There are two reasons. Obviously if you are starting up a small firm or considering upgrades it provides invaluable advice. There is a second reason, perhaps even more important. As Jim Calloway notes in his introduction, the ABA revised its Model Rules to require that lawyers be competent with the technology tools they must use today. If you sometimes wonder whether the technology you use is actually productive for your firm or if you are losing ground to competing firms, reading this book will bring you up to speed and give you a pretty good idea of where your firm stands from a technology point of view, even if you choose not to make changes. Once, when I was working a law firm I proposed to one of the name partners that the firm adopt a particular program. He thought about it, and then said, “no, I don’t think we can do that at this time, but keep the suggestions coming because every program I don’t use represents a potential competitive advantage for competing firms.” Good advice.

    Sharon Nelson sums it up even more harshly:

    “The raw choice is that lawyers must choose between adaption and extinction. They will no doubt choose the former en masse, but reluctantly. The slower lawyers are to adapt to the digital age, the harder it may be for them to survive as events overtake them.”

    This is particularly important in the rapidly-changing area of social media and dealing with the implications of the fact that there is no privacy any more (the combination of Google, Facebook and the NSA has effectively eliminated privacy). Be sure to read Jennifer Ellis’ chapter attentively.

    As the authors note, since the book comes out at the beginning of every year many chapters remain current, other items are only a few months behind (although it seems longer than that in Internet time).

    The thing I have always appreciated about this book is that the authors actually have opinions and are not afraid to express them. Of course, it also helps that by and large I agree with them, although with the occasional caveat. In addition, they cover what is necessary for a complete office starting from scratch – hardware, operating systems, peripherals, printers, scanners, monitors, etc. If you follow their recommendations you may not make the best decision possible, but you won’t make a bad one. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    The only point I have a serious problem with this year is their recommendation of Kaspersky internet security. I switched to Kaspersky last year and when it came to upgrade to the 2015 version it was a disaster. It regularly choked on downloading Outlook messages (I am not using Exchange) and would not release the memory. As a result I had to reboot my computer two or three times a day. A call to the paid Kaspersky support (which was very good) wound up with their saying “nothing we can do about it.” So I had to switch to a different program.

    A friend of mine used to say “every year I know 10% more and fall 15% further behind.” Reviewing software is like that. The book simply cannot provide detailed reviews of software, so the authors stress the need to get trial versions of anything you are planning to use and “kick the tires” a bit.

    The book rightly pays a lot of attention to security issues, especially for mobile devices. They quote the rather amazing statistic that 12,000 laptops were stolen in U.S. airports every week in 2011 (with Chicago in the lead). At the same time, they are realistic (“we know so many lawyers will ignore our advice…”) and offer fall-back options that may at least deter casual hackers or simple thieves who grab your laptop or smartphone. They strongly recommend against using iPhones based on its woefully inadequate security provisions. They rightly insist that the main way to protect your data is to encrypt your entire hard drive. If you do any substantial traveling not to do this is like never locking your door. You should definitely change passwords periodically (they refer to a judge who has had the same password for 10 years!!) or use a password manager or program such as eWallet. I just bought eWallet based on their recommendation and so far have been very happy with it.

    I thought the section on Time & Billing applications was somewhat weak (although I certainly agree that QuickBooks is not a good choice for lawfirms). You might want to consult the “Buyer’s Guide to Legal Billing Software” published by Technolawyer for more choices (you need to subscribe to Technolawyer to get it, but subscriptions are free). I agree with their assessment of the decline of LexisNexis products, first and foremost Time Matters. They note that they have not done a single new installation in about 10 years.

    Lastly, the book contains a chapter on “favorite utilities” which can be useful. Note however some more industrial strength programs may include functionality provided by single-function utilities. Thus for example, the using Worldox document management system would eliminate the need for a separate indexer or viewer.

    The book is available from the ABA store. If you are starting an office, are at a point where you need to make a decision about where to go next, or just to want to keep up to date on what is currently available, this will be an invaluable primer.

    Thanks John for a great review!  Full disclosure: I wrote the chapter on Going Paperless.

    This is a great book for anyone looking at upgrading their current office technology and are not quite sure which way to turn.

    -cross-posted to

    -cross-posted to

    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »