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    Do We Frustrate our Clients?
    Thursday, November 26th, 2015

    ♫ Confusion’s all I see
    Frustration surrounds me
    Solution, bid farewell…♫

    Lyrics and music by Deryck Whibley, recorded by Sum 41.


    (Image: Creative Commons license, courtesy of Evil Erin)

    I had to rent a car today. The reasons are not terribly relevant except to say that I didn’t need any additional stress in my day.

    The car that I rented was a 2015 Chrysler 200. Nice car. Peppy, nice bluetooth that connected to my Blackberry without any difficulty and great satellite radio when I was not on the phone. I enjoyed the vehicle.

    All that changed when I pulled in to fill the tank before returning it. Now I have been driving for decades and have also rented many rental vehicles. I don’t think much about filling them up with gas.  What could be easier, right?

    I pulled into the filling station and got out only to find that the gas cap had a door over it that didn’t have a finger dent that allowed you to open it from the outside. OK no worries.  Went back into the car and started looking for the release button or lever…and looked and looked…everywhere.  All the other cars around me were filling up and driving away while I sat there and went thru the car with a fine-toothed comb.  Not on the dash. Not in the glove box. Not on the door. Nothing. Nada. Complete blank.  OK then …next step: take out the owners manual.  Give it a quick scan..nothing in the Table of Contents.  Check the Index…both silent on how to open the gas cap door.

    Got  out and looked at the door again. Pushed and prodded, tried to pry it open…I even said “Open Sesame.”  Nada.

    Getting back into the car, I started going thru the owners manual carefully. Being a lawyer I am accustomed to looking closely and trying to find something in a long document. Believe me I covered every page. There was a complete absence of any mention of the fundamental task of how to open the gas cap door.

    Third step: grab my Blackberry and start searching.  Turns out I am not the only person who has had difficulties in trying to figure out how to open the gas cap door on various Chrysler vehicles.  Problem is all their proposed solutions didn’t work.  And there were a lot of them.  Nice car but in this instance, bad design combined with no explanation.

    I finally head home, sans any gas and change into more comfortable clothes only to start searching on the Internet with a bigger screen and a proper keyboard.  Finally find a site that says that the gas cap is pressure sensitive and you have to press in just the right area to cause it to pop open.

    From that point onwards, driving to a filling station, popping the cap and filling the car and returning it was all straightforward except for all the unnecessary frustration caused by the whole experience. Since this is obviously a vehicle used by many car rental companies, there must be many, many others out there who have or will shortly go thru the same needless experience.

    Trying to make lemonade from these lemons, I turned to my usual technique which is to try to learn from the experience and place it in a wider context by writing about it.

    Why didn’t Chrysler think to put something in the owners manual to tell people who are unfamiliar with the car how to do a task as simple as fill it with gas?  Beats me but it must have been an oversight by someone. You can have the greatest product imaginable but if people can’t figure out how to use it, it is really an expensive paperweight or worse.

    As lawyers we can deliver a fabulous service for clients but if they don’t understand what is happening or what is expected, they could experience a great deal of frustration with the process. I once talked to a lawyer who drew a process map (or as I used to call them a flow chart…thank you Darin Thompson for pointing out that this was the term used in the Dark Ages) for his clients. This process map showed graphically what would be happening in his client’s case, what to expect when and in what order.

    I thought it was a great idea at the time. I think it is an even better idea today after my experience.

    Our services may be well understood by us but for someone not familiar with the legal system, they could find the experience to be baffling, confusing and frustrating. We can help them a lot by outlining graphical ways that explain whatever it is that will be happening to them. We can also streamline the justice system to make it more straightforward from a design perspective to simplify the process.

    What we don’t want is these people claiming that the entire legal system is failing them and that the solution is to bid farewell with lawyers and their present way of doing things.





    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, humour, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Make it Work!, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Map Your Future
    Thursday, November 5th, 2015

    ♫ Is the glass half full or half empty ?
    It’s based on your perspective quite simply
    We’re the same and we’re not, know what I’m saying, listen
    Son, I ain’t better than you, I just think different…♫

    Lyrics, music and recorded by Nujabes.

    mind map

    Image created by: Nicoguaro.

    “Think Different” was the slogan for Apple, Inc at one time.  Steve Jobs said in the “One Last Thing” documentary:

    When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

    That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

    The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

    I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

    OK so you want to poke life, you want to be able to change it, you want to make your mark and never be the same again. You want to ‘think different’.  Well, how do you, like, begin?

    One of the ways is to start listening to new voices. TED.com is excellent in this regard (watch the presentations that are tagged ‘jaw dropping’ for example. You will not be the same again).

    Another is by reading new books and publications. TIME.com for example, lists the Best Books of 2015 (so far).

    But if you want to start doing things differently you need new thinking tools. Mind mapping software falls within that category. Rather than listing ideas linearly, mind mapping allows you to graphically organize information by starting with a central idea and branching out from there. You create the relationships between concepts and relate them back to the central idea.

    According to Wikipedia:

    [T]he use of diagrams that visually “map” information using branching and radial maps traces back centuries. These pictorial methods record knowledge and model systems, and have a long history in learning, brainstorming, memory, visual thinking, and problem solving by educators, engineers, psychologists, and others.

    And now lawyers. I know colleagues who use mind mapping software to plan examinations for discovery, to lay out the theory of their cases and to strategically outline their business plans. They are excellent for brainstorming, for organizing large amounts of information, to visualize relationships between ideas and for helping to make decisions.

    Wikipedia states that mind mapping may be helpful in assisting with memory recall and can improve learning.

    Lifehacker (also another fabulous web site for helping you to think differently) has an article listing the 5 best mind mapping applications.

    Mind Mapping may be just part of the solution if we are going to look at change and in particular, think differently. As Steve has said, we must embrace it, change it, improve it and look for tools to help make your mark upon it.

    (published concurrently on tips.slaw.ca)

    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 »
    Surveys and Law Firms
    Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

    ♫ I got something that will sure ’nuff set your stuff on fire

    Tell me something good (tell me, tell me, tell me)…♫

    Lyrics and music by Stevie Wonder, recorded by Rufus and Chaka Khan,


    Lawyers are sensitive souls. No lawyer wants to receive a complaint from a client.  However, what you don’t know can, in this case, actually hurt you.  The failure to complain by a dissatisfied client may result in the client leaving quietly but then causing maximal damage to the law firm’s reputation by talking to others about their bad experience.

    When given a rational choice between hearing from a dissatisfied client 1-1 or having that client go out and speak to many others about their negative experience with a firm or lawyer, virtually everyone would choose to speak to the client and at least try to remedy their feelings.  Yet how many lawyers and law firms seek to find those unhappy clients and find out what went wrong before they cause damage?  We all know that word of mouth endorsements are worth their weight in gold; similarly negative word of mouth experiences can sink a firm’s reputation.

    Yet few lawyers conduct client feedback surveys.  According to Joel Rose, a management consultant to law offices:

    Information obtained from client surveys may be the most important marketing activity a law firm can undertake. Most firms that initiate client surveys have found their clients to be impressed that the firm cares about their opinions. Also, as the result of surveys, law firms may detect certain misunderstandings which, if not clarified, could fester and result in dissatisfied clients.

    There are many ways to conduct a survey. It can be a Word or PDF document mailed or emailed to clients; it can be conducted using an online tool such as SurveyMonkey. It can be a telephone interview with the client by a firm member. It could be done by inviting a small select group of clients one evening to come and talk confidentially with a few of the partners.

    The approach used can be reflective of the resources of the firm, the number of clients to be surveyed, the ability of the clients to navigate an online survey, the desire to meet with people face to face and the like.  However done, it does have the ability to learn more about how the firm and its services are perceived and more importantly, how you can change to better meet your desired client’s needs.

    I once read (unfortunately I can’t find the reference) that there are three essential questions to ask your clients.  These are:

    • What did we do right?
    • What did we do wrong?
    • How can we do it better next time?

    You can nuance these how you wish but the essence is to find out what clients liked about your services, what didn’t they like and how you can improve on the client experience.

    There are many other possible questions such as “How likely is it that you would recommend our services to others?” and “How do you compare the value we provide against other law firms you may have used?” and “How did you find out about our services?”

    In terms of general design, I believe a shorter survey is better and more respecting of your client’s time.  Many writers state that providing a reward for completing the survey could be useful (but ensure that the cost doesn’t balloon out of control).

    However you do it, you are sure to get some very valuable feedback and information.  If you can manage it, inviting clients to provide feedback immediately after closing a matter allows you to also repair any possible dissatisfaction before it is too late.

    Once you get that information and feedback, the onus then shifts to you to do something with it.  Asking clients for feedback and failing to implement change is only going to create an impression that you are going thru the motions without really desiring change.

    In fact the survey is an underused tool in most law firms. According to Quantisoft, there are many surveys that law firms can use to identify their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities such as:

    • Partner Evaluation Feedback Survey (Associate Attorneys evaluate Partners)
    • Associate Attorney Evaluation Feedback Survey (Partners evaluate Associate Attorneys)
    • Associate Attorney Development Survey (Associates provide feedback on their career goals and development, and workplace issues)
    • Administrative Staff Feedback Surveys (Providing feedback to Administrative Staff)
    • Opinion/Engagement/Satisfaction Surveys
    • Risk Assessment Surveys
    • IT customer satisfaction surveys
    • Other surveys designed to meet your Firm’s special needs.

    Whether you do surveys of clients or of people internal to the firm, you are sure to learn something that will sure ’nuff set your stuff on fire.

    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    We Need to Hear from You
    Thursday, October 8th, 2015

    ♫  I need to hear from You 
    Before this night is through 
    I need to hear from You 
    So I’m waiting, waiting just to hear from you…♫

    Lyrics and music by: Robert Hartman, recorded by Petra.


    This week, Garry Wise and I chatted about the possible topics that we could cover in this column (posted at slawtips.ca and on this site) over the next while.  Without being exhaustive, I pulled together the following list from our discussions. Now it is up to you. In the comments section, please indicate which topic(s) are of greatest interest to you!  We really want to hear from you and to write on the topics that you most wish to hear about.

    Here is the (incomplete) list of possible topics:

    New ways of working:

    • Virtual office examples
    • Virtual assistants
    • Virtual contract lawyers
    • Using Skype and other communication methods to reach out
    • Portals
    • Collaboration tools/applications/websites
    • Dragon Dictate and VR on the Mac
    • IBM’s Watson and AI: What are the implications?

    New Software/web tools:

    • Emerging Canadian software
    • Apps, Apps Apps!
    • Websites: Are they relevant anymore?
    • Blogs: Are they relevant anymore?
    • Vlogs: Are they the way to go?
    • Smartphones
    • Tablets
    • Sony paper
    • Microsoft’s Matter Center
    • Why use Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Other SM ?
    • Windows 10
    • OS X El Capitan
    • Do Process Software

    Capturing, Organizing and Using Information

    • Evernote and OneNote
    • Don’t Forget the Milk
    • Wunderlist
    • IFTTT recipes
    • Wikis and law firms
    • CanLII Connect
    • SurveyMonkey and lawyers/law firms
    • MindMapping: The New Way of Legal Thinking?

    Security and Privacy

    • Portals
    • Encryption
    • Cryptolocker and other ransomware
    • Ethical Hacking?
    • How do you handle a security breach?
    • Canadian Backup and Storage Services
    • Canadian Hosted and Managed Services

    Practice Management Software Reviews

    • CLIO
    • Amicus Attorney
    • MyCase
    • RocketMatter
    • PracticePanther
    • HoudiniESQ
    • LegalFiles
    • PCLaw
    • ProLaw
    • TimeSolv Legal
    • Synergy Legal Suite

    Legal Accounting Software and lawyers

    • PCLaw
    • ESILAW
    • Brief Legal Software
    • Quickbooks
    • Sage50
    • XERO
    • BillQuick
    • CosmoLex

    Stages in a Lawyer’s Life

    • Entering law school
    • Finding Articles
    • Life as an Associate
    • Life as a junior partner
    • Life as a senior partner
    • Life as a managing partner
    • Life as ‘of counsel’
    • Going out on Your own
    • Moving Firms
    • Finding an Associate
    • Office Sharing
    • Easing into Retirement
    • Moving an Office
    • Closing an Office

    Using Consultants and Service Providers

    • Bookkeepers
    • IT providers
      • In house IT
      • Managed IT services
      • Hosted services
    • Working with Security professionals
    • How to use IT Consultants to Max Advantage
    • Apple vs Mac vs Does it Matter Anymore?
    • Finding and working with an Office Administrator

    Setting up in Practice

    • Finding the right location
    • Finding the right staff
    • Working with staff
    • Balancing life and work
    • Hiring, firing and managing staff

    New Ways of Handling Legal Matters

    • ADR
    • ODR
    • Virtual courts and trials
    • Setting up a virtual practice/services
    • Taking Technology to Court/Mediations/Arbitrations
    • Taking Technology to clients

    Other Legal Software

    • Optinet Systems
    • Emergent Solutions
    • Tracument
    • Triage Data Solutions
    • Dye & Durham
    • Thomson Reuters
    • Lexis Nexis
    • Econveyance
    • Esentire
    • Worldox
    • Primafact
    • SAI Systems Auditing
    • LexBox
    • WordRake
    • SimplyFile

    Innovative ways of Practising:

    • Cognition LLP
    • Axess Law
    • ABS across the world

    New Ways of Thinking about Legal Practice

    Whatever we have missed.

    Please indicate in the Comments (below) the topic(s) that are most important. Or drop me a line at slawtips1@gmail.com. We hope to hear from you!

    Posted in 30 Questions for Busy Lawyers, Adding Value, Budgeting, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, humour, I'm a Mac, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Make it Work!, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | 4 Comments »
    The Long Tail..Innovation in Legal Services
    Thursday, September 17th, 2015

    ♫ Where you lead, I will follow
    Anywhere that you tell me to
    If you need, you need me to be with you
    I will follow where you lead..♫

    Lyrics and music by Toni Stern and Carole King, recorded by Carole King.


    Lawyers, I surmise, believe with their long history and experience that they are the innovators of any changes in the legal/justice system.  However, that theory may need further examination. In fact it may have to be turned onto its head.

    There is a countervailing theory, promoted by Eric von Hippel and others, that users and consumers of services, (in our case, legal services) are actually the innovators of new services rather than suppliers of those services, or in our case, lawyers.

    For example:

    “User innovation doesn’t only extend to tangible products but also services. von Hippel found that eighty-five percent of individuals self-provided themselves with accounting and banking processes before banks offered this service.”

    Imagine. Clients finding and directing the changes that they desire in legal services and providing them to themselves.  How could this happen?

    “An extension of user innovations is the idea of lead users. These are the individuals who first feel the need for a product or service and create it for themselves. Lead user identification is an essential method used by companies to identify the newest innovations in their product areas giving them crucial insight on the needs of their users.”

    How many lawyers and law firms are focused on the idea of lead users and innovation? How many of us are focused on this innovation segment?   Indeed how many lawyers and law firms are actually focused on innovation in the delivery of legal services?

    Professor von Hipple:

    “finds it interesting that in the UK, 8% (3-4 million people) of consumers modify the product that they use.”

    In fact,

    “He stressed the fact that the number of consumers modifying products and thereby innovating outweighs the number of people doing this in companies”

    Perhaps we need to be listening to our clients …much more than we are doing right now.  The consumers of legal services may in fact be showing us the innovations that we as lawyers need to make to our delivery of legal services.

    In fact, they may just be showing us the way..

    (cross-posted to tips.slaw.ca)

    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 | 1 Comment »
    The 2015 Pacific Legal Technology Conference
    Thursday, September 10th, 2015

    2015 pltc logo

    On Friday Oct 2, 2015 in Vancouver, BC, the ninth Pacific Legal Technology Conference will take place. But it can also take place right in your office.  This year 13 sessions will be real-time webcast (the keynote will be recorded and made available for viewing after the conference due to logistical issues) allowing both in person and webinar attendees to fully participate in the conference.

    28 speakers from Toronto, New York City, Salt Lake City, Alaska and all across BC will speak on such sessions as “Blending Technology with Strong Advocacy Skills”, “Practice Management Tools: There has never been a better time”, “Securing Mobile Devices: Laptops, Tablets, Smartphones, USB keys and More”and of course the favourite “All the Gadgets, Sites and More we can Squeeze into 60+ minutes”

    One session will be a debate format: “How Tech is Changing the Practice of Law: Watson, AI, Expert Systems and More” and promises to be highly entertaining as well as deeply thoughtful on the future of the profession.  Simon Chester of Toronto will face off against Nate Russell of Vancouver in what should be a unique way to explore these emerging issues.

    The eight Tracks are focused on specific issues facing lawyers, such as the “Solo and Small Firm Track” (offering for example:  ‘No Brainer “Sweet Spot” Tech for Solos and Small Firms’), Front Office Technology: The Lawyer’s Desktop Track (offering for example: “Sharing Documents Securely with Clients, Lawyers and Others”), The Security and Threat Protection Track (offering: “What is an Appropriate Level of Protection and How to Achieve It”) and the Innovation and Advanced Track (offering: “Emerging Canadian Legal Technology”).

    Each edition of the PLTC is designed by the Advisory Board building an on-line survey of possible topics and issues and asking past attendees to tell us what they most want to hear about and see.  This results in the educational sessions being designed with the attendees needs uppermost.  This year the response was overwhelming:  Privacy and Security was clearly the #1 issue on everyone’s mind.  Accordingly our keynote will be Lincoln Mead, the IT Director of the Utah State Bar and a long-standing ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board Member, acclaimed speaker and expert on Legal IT and Security. His topic will be: Security and Privacy: Don’t be Worried, be Terrified! 

    There will be a discussion track of 4 sessions that will not be webcast due to their particular format.  Here the attendees will be joining our speakers to discuss issues of interest in such sessions as: “Going Beyond the Law Society of BC’s Cloud Checklist”, “Technology and Legal Ethics: What are a lawyer’s ethical obligations in connection with technology? How best can we meet these obligations?” and “The Strategic Reinvention of the Law Firm: People, Processes, Technology and Change”.

    At the CLC conference in Calgary this August, Madam Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin made it clear that resisting change is no longer an option.  LegalFeeds in writing about her speech, stated:

    “We’re part of it, and there’s no escape,” she said, referring to the technological changes making legal information available in other ways and players such as LegalZoom that are growing rapidly.

    In her speech, McLachlin focused on the major challenges facing the legal profession while outlining what she sees as new opportunities that provide some optimism for different ways of doing business, particularly for “nimble, tech-savvy lawyers.”

    We invite you to join your colleagues across Canada and participate in Canada’s online legal technology conference.  Sponsoring organizations this year are: The Law Society of British Columbia, together with the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, The Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association and the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association.

    The Sponsor floor is sold out and details of the sponsors can be found here, including our Platinum sponsor, Dye & Durham Corporation.  For the benefit of both in person attendees as well as webinar attendees, the last 10 minutes of each session will be allocated to one of the sponsors who will show how their product or service helps address the issues raised by our speakers in their presentations.  We are hopeful that this will allow all attendees to benefit in learning about the sponsors and the educational sessions and how they tie in together.

    The conference has been approved for 6 hours of CPD credit in BC which includes ethics and practice management credit.  Further MCLE credit approvals can be found here.

    Early-bird registration rates are available until Sept 12, 2015.

    I hope to see you at the Conference and join in with your nimble, tech-savvy colleagues!

    -David J. Bilinsky, Chair, The Pacific Legal Technology Conference. (posted concurrently with slaw.ca). 

    Posted in Adding Value, Budgeting, Change Management, Firm Governance, Fraud and theft, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    The Death of the Liberal Arts Lawyer?
    Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

    ♫ To boldly go where no one has gone before…♫

    Narration to the music by Alexander Courage.

    Senior Photographer


    In Chicago for ABA TECHSHOW I heard a presentation to my fellow Practice Management Advisors from Daniel Martin Katz on the future of law and legal eduction.  Daniel’s thesis, as I understood it,  is that law schools should no longer be liberal arts oriented.  Rather they should be Polytechnic Law Schools.  The reason for this change is that the future of lawyers is to combine analytics (i.e. computer reasoning) with a lawyer to produce better outcomes. And you can’t apply something that you really don’t understand.  Lawyers need to have a solid grounding in legal technology, analytics and computer modelling to be better lawyers.

    For example:

    According to Daniel Katz, an associate professor of law at Michigan State University, computer modeling has proven “able to predict 70 to 75 percent of the cases correctly” in a given year. That compares to a 60 percent rating for legal experts who also predict outcomes.

    We all know that IBM is working on Watson, which is “a cognitive system that enables a new partnership between people and computers that enhances and scales human expertise.”

    But what you may not know is that IBM’s Watson is not alone.  Microsoft and Amazon are undertaking similar research.  Pretty soon every  Tom, Bill and Jeff will have their own in-house cognitive learning system.

    Furthering these ideas will be an exciting event held in conjunction with ABA TECHSHOW:

    There will be a Legal Technology and Innovation Meet-up at Sadden Arps being held concurrently during  TECHSHOW week.  I expect to hear mind-expanding ideas from such speakers as:

    • Jeffrey Carr, former GC at FMC Technologies (and one of the innovators in alternative billing systems for lawyers),
    • Casey Flaherty, former in-house counsel (Kia Motors America) and creator of the Legal Technology Audit who will be speaking on: A Piece in the Metrics Puzzle: How Well do we Utilize Technology to Deliver Value and Quality?
    • Ron Dolin, of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, legal technology consultant and investor  and legal technology and informatics instructor speaking on The Importance of Measuring Quality

    and many others.

    Daniel is not alone in thinking that information technology is changing the face of law.  Human enterprise and machine learning is taking the legal profession where no one has gone before.

    Posted in Adding Value, Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Technology, Tips, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    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 IBMLaw.com. 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 IBM.com 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 IBM.com).

    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 files..how 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 tips.slaw.ca)


    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 tips.slaw.ca.

    -cross-posted to tips.slaw.ca.

    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 »