Do Lawyers Have Their Heads In the Clouds?

cloud

Sometimes, as a heavy duty user of cloud tools and a vocal advocate of same, I take for granted that others have the same awareness of and comfort level with them as I do. Not necessarily so, it appears. Less than a year ago, Citrix published a study that revealed that most people were a bit confused about the topic. Their blog post reporting on the study posted a few somewhat humorous highlights, such as:

  • 95% of those who think they’re not using the cloud, actually are
  • 3 in 5 (59%) believe the “workplace of the future” will exist entirely in the cloud
  • 40% believe accessing work information at home in their “birthday suit” would be an advantage
  • More than 1/3 agree that the cloud allows them to share information with people they’d rather not be interacting with in person
  • After being provided with the definition of the cloud, 68% recognized its economic benefits
  • 14% have pretended to know what the cloud is during a job interview

So, how do lawyers measure up against the more general population of cloudless masses? The ABA conducts a Legal Tech survey every year, the actual results of which I admittedly don’t read because the multi-volume set is a bit pricier than I would like to fork over. So I tend to depend on the reviews and reports by those more in the legal tech know than I, such as bloggers Bob Ambrogi and Nikki Black.  I encourage you to hit the links to get more details on the results of the latest survey. But I can summarize for you that attorneys’ use of the cloud has grown significantly over the past year, with the  larger percentage of respondents assigning the greatest importance to time and billing and case management applications. Interestingly, though, the top four most used applications by lawyers are not legal-specific apps but are consumer apps – Dropbox, Google Docs, iCloud and Evernote, in that order.  As it appears, lawyers are ahead of the curve on cloud awareness and adoption. Yay, us.

But maybe you need a bit more information and guidance on the cloud and what it means to you as a lawyer. Well, I have the goods for you. Or, rather, MyCase – a cloud-based case management software company – has them, in the form of a nice slideshow. Check it out and be informed!

UpCounsel: Another Take on Online Marketplaces for Lawyers

upcounsel_logo_blue_300x75

I have posted before about web services poised to take  on the high cost and price of traditional law firm engagement by offering a virtual meeting room for lawyers and potential clients to save time, effort and money. The latest site that has come to my attention on this topic is UpCounsel. It offers an online marketplace for legal services, with the bid solicitation twist: businesses post their desired work on the site and lawyers submit bids (either fixed fee or hourly) for the work. Presumably, the lowest bid wins, although there apparently is an algorithmically driven system at work behind the scenes to match potential clients and attorneys. Its free to use for lawyers and jobs can be posted by businesses for free. Communications are handled through the site, as are payments via the client’s secured credit card data – once the client approves the invoice supplied by the attorney.

The monetization comes in the form of a 10% paid by site customers – the potential clients once they become actual clients. It appears that the average hourly rate for work on the site is about $140, with a range anywhere between $100 and $250. Not quite the $1000+ per hour per partner found at the big guys.  Interestingly enough, UpCounsel proudly displays some of those big guys on their welcome page to show where some of their participating attorneys have come from. There are about 700 attorneys with an average of 11 years of experience currently on the site; they have been screened and must have malpractice insurance in place. The target customer demographic is the small business and, with its California base, UpCounsel naturally encompasses  a lot of work for tech startups.

What’s in it for the attorneys? Access to a marketplace of potential clients, the ability to set up a virtual page and promote services, build  online reputation, secure payment easily and quickly through the online credit card bank, network and obtain referral opportunities, and access  a forms and docs library generated by site users. Apparently, UpCounsel is also trying to integrate seamlessly with other online tools well used by lawyers, such as Dropbox, Box, Google Apps and Microsoft Office.

UpCounsel offers some guarantees – one to clients dissatisfied with work who can get reimbursement of up to $5,000, as well as a payment guarantee for lawyers of up to $5,000 in services. Makes it kind of a win-win situation.

UpCounsel is currently serving California, and shows on its site that it is planning near future expansion into Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Illinois, New York and the lovely Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Admittedly, UpCounsel isn’t the first out of the gate with this eBay-like, bid-for-work model. Shpoonkle is another, earlier entrant in the field. ExpertBids offers legal along with access to other professionals with a bidding model as well. Virtual Law Direct also offers a forum for potential clients and lawyers to connect. What I like about UpCounsel is the guarantees on both sides of the relationship as well as the platform for creating a virtual law office – the combination has to be attractive to disillusioned former large firm attorneys who are looking to strike out on their own.

It is nice to see more and more of these online options popping up, creating new lines of communication between lawyers and clients. Welcome to the Brave New World.

Infographic: How Lawyers “Go Mobile”

MyCase-logo2

It’s been a while so time for a visual aid. I love this great, targeted infographic on lawyers’ use of mobile devices. This image really gets at the where, when and how. Thanks to Niki Black at MyCase for the tip off – if you aren’t familiar with MyCase, check out their website. They offer a great, cloud-based practice management application that supports agile lawyers and is as mobile friendly as they get.

Via MyCase Blog

mycasemobile2.image_1

What Do You Want For Nothing? Credenza

Great tip on a legal product over at Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites (a fantastic legal tech blog if you are unfamiliar). Credenza offers practice management software to lawyers, charging $24.95 per month for the goods (Credenza Pro).  But Credenza has just come out with a slightly simpler version for free – Credenza Basic.

Credenza’s system is great for lawyers who love Outlook – the software works within Outlook, adding features that will help you organize your calendar, tasks, emails, documents, research, phone calls, notes, billable time by client matter, file or project. It will track time as you work. The process adds “files” to Outlook, which essentially operate as tags for your tasks. Organize those tags according to any system you wish and mark time spent accordingly. Check out the list of tagging and organizing functionality within Credenza Basic:


There are differences between Basic and Pro, as there should be for $24.95 per month. The big differences are multiple users and integrated billing software – you can take that time you tracked within Credenza and create a corresponding invoice to clients. But if it is simply little old you plugging away, then the free option makes tons of sense. Head on over to the site and check out the links on each of the functions listed above – there is a lot to digest. Thanks, Credenza!

5 Out Of 7 Lawyers Choose iPads

In an interesting article over at InfoWorld, Tom Kanishige documents the massive rollout by New York firm Proskauer Rose of iPad 2s to its attorneys. Whoa. iPad 2s for attorneys on a firm-wide scale? It might be the largest enterprise roll-out of iPads to lawyers to date. Wait. What about the cloud? What about the apps? What about the lack of a keyboard?

Apparently, Proskauer, in a very forward thinking move, decided to give its lawyers the choice between either a laptop computer or an iPad 2 / desktop combination and 500 out of 700 took the latter option. As one could imagine, the decision to offer the option and attendant IT support for the rollout was no simple process. IT management had to determine the “rules of engagement” for iPad use, ultimately deciding to permit personal use of the device along with business use (who could resist showing off their shiny new tablet to family and friends?) and prohibiting use of cloud apps like DropBox (these are sensitive legal documents, after all). A lengthy internal user manual was produced and MobileIron was tasked with managing and securing the iPads remotely. Proskauer agreed to permit lawyers to expense two of my personal favorite iOS apps Goodreader and DocsToGo Premium, the latter for its ability to show tracked changes. The remaining applications will cost the lawyers themselves (nice money save for the firm there) but Proskauer has compiled a list of “recommended” business applications.

Sounds pretty cool, right? I would LOVE my company to present me with an iPad 2 (it could keep my original iPad company). But Proskauer really can’t simply sit on its laurels on this one – with all the documented changes to the iOS platform coming in the near future (and undocumented ones that are certain to follow in the not so near future), Proskauer’s IT people will have to be quite nimble. Take iCloud for example – with the prohibition against using cloud services, what will happen when iCloud becomes baked into the entire iPad OS?

I am sure they are on it. In the meantime, welcome to the Shiny, Proskauer!

Instant Legal Assistance? Just Fill In the Blanks

While the practice of law will always be a professional pursuit, the purchasing of legal services is becoming more of a consumer product, whether or not we lawyers welcome this shift. Take, for example, Legal River (link here), a website devoted to providing lay people with just enough legal assistance to get them going.  It is a web locale designed to faciliate “connection” between lawyers and business people. The free service has been around since 2009. What are they all about? Take a look at their own explanation, from their site:

Legal River brings legal information to the consumer. We at Legal River understand how confusing it can be to run a legitimate business and still not fully understand the law. Legal River was created to solve this problem.

Whether you are a small business owner, an attorney or an individual, there is a place for you on Legal River. As a small business owner or individual, you can find legal information that will save you countless hours later trying to figure out how to fix an issue. Also, you can ask any law question you might have. As an attorney, you can use Legal River to learn about laws in different geographical regions or areas of law. You can also submit guides and answer questions; these will help you win points, unlock badges and reach new clients.

Interesting, huh? On the surface, Legal River looks to be part information repository, part social network and part video game, complete with badges. Underneath, Legal River is a form of referral network, matching attorneys with business owners, although this is expressly disclaimed on their site. Their “referral” page promises to “let the right lawyer find you” as well as a response from five attorneys on legal questions within 24 hours. There are more than 300 law firms connected with the site and it appears their distinction (compared to Findlaw or lawyers.com) is their rapid turn-around on RFPs.  

But, if you aren’t so interested in getting hooked up with fee-based representation, there is a lot of information just laying around the site. The search box on the home page invites users to “find questions, answers, topics, or guides on legal matters.” “Insurance” gave me very general information on workers compensation, licensing agreements, sole proprietorships and C corporations. I was also offered an opportunity to “vote up” an article or comment on it. Or, I could peruse previously-answered questions on various topics, filtering them by recency, month or all-time popularity.

There are tabs for questions, guides, tags, badges (more on that in a minute), open questions, a guide submission form, and a place to ask questions. The badges are interesting, to say the least, ranging from good to super questions or guides submitted to various levels of generalist, researcher, professor, paralegal, law student, law clerk, senior associate, partner, name partner, and LSAT through Bar Exam.

Very, very interesting.

At the top of the page, I noticed two links: terms of service generator; and, privacy policy generator. Apparently, Legal River rolled out this feature within the past year. If you doubt Legal River’s handiwork with respect to terms of service, just take a look at their own very lengthy TOS on the site. To get your “document”, Legal River invites you to simply fill in the blanks – the appropriate document is returned online quickly. The user also ges an HTML code version and an emailed copy.  As can be seen on the header for the page, the tools are a combined effort of Legal River and General Counsel, P.C.

For what it is worth, Legal River is not alone in this endeavor. Other firms have offered similar “fill in the blank” document generation, likely in an effort to win customers with freebies. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C. host a similar Term Sheet Generator. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP launched their version about a year ago. Private investors are interested too – Legal River secured two infusions of seed funding within the first year.

What does it all mean? While it is hard for old school attorneys like me to stomach the implications of “one size fits all” when it comes to legal document crafting or any aspect of lawyering, the new school part of me recognizes that this is where all services are going – law is moving towards commoditization. Lawyers must develop sensitivity to cost concerns in response to the concerns of web-savvy consumers. While some of Legal River’s trappings make me smirk a bit (read, badges and points for intellectual output), the gist of what they are trying to do makes more and more sense as our economy moves on-line. If we are comfortable living and sharing in social networks and virtual worlds, why wouldn’t we feel comfortable shopping for legal information in similar venues?

I will be watching to see where this move leads us. Perhaps down the Legal River, hopefully with paddle firmly in hand.

Typography for Lawyers

Image of Matthew Butterick from Typography for Lawyers

Do you know your typography? What is typography? Typography is visual text, the aesthetics of the written word. Your typography affects your message. For lawyers, typography can actually be quite rigid and subject to formal rules of court. But in those grey areas in which the court hath not spake (spoken), there is Typography for Lawyers.

Attorney Matthew Butterick is a typographical nut with a legal bent. He has a background in digital font creation and ran a website development studio. He has created an online “book” using WordPress on typography for lawyers (link here). Besides being an incredibly clever use of the WordPress platform, the “book” provides some very helpful advice and information for lawyers concerned with the physical appearance of their written words.

I found his book very easy to read, interesting and informative. I hope you do too.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Legally Sound Predictions for 2010

Lawyers are nothing if not chock-a-block full of opinions and predictions! Our fine friends at JDSupra elicited some of those from their friends in order to compile a compendium of viewpoints on what 2010 may hold for the contributors personally and globally. There are some interesting points and prognostications – check out the list here. I recap my three lines below:

Martha Sperry, principal, Advantage Advocates:

My prediction for 2010 is that developers will be emphasizing mobile platforms and applications, as well as focusing on manipulating the incredible flow of content into a more efficient, personalized and relevant experience. Social engagement on the web will become more commonplace and less scary for the mainstream, for personal and professional purposes. My hope is that the discussion surrounding web presence and e-networking becomes less about the ‘why’ and more about the ‘how’ and my tip for engagement is to remain authentic and willing to further the conversation at all times.

What do you think? What will 2010 hold for you personally and professionally?

Friendfeed for Lawyers

Image representing FriendFeed as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

I have had a love affair with Friendfeed for more than six months now. Upon joining the aggregator / streaming service, I immediately used its tools to find and follow the people I had already connected with on other services. One of my services, Twitter, utilizes a follow list that is 90% lawyers. So I was pleased to find that a healthy number of these tech-aware lawyers had found Friendfeed before me, opened an account and were feeding already. I followed them all.

I quickly learned that the lawyers I follow on Friendfeed primarily send in their Twitter tweets and, maybe, a blog entry and, if they are really avant-guarde, some Google Reader items. There was no interaction between these lawyers and others on Friendfeed and their material quickly sped through the feed and was soon forgotten. So, I asked myself, why are these lawyers on Friendfeed?

The better question is: why should these lawyers be on Friendfeed? Consider this humble post a primer on Friendfeed, what it is and and the value it represents.

A good place to start is an explanation of what Friendfeed is. At its heart, Friendfeed is indeed an aggregator of one’s on-line content, a place to feed into a single stream all of the material one creates and shares on-line. The list of shareable items is exhaustive – take a look at the screenshot below and remember that Friendfeed is adding services all the time.

Friendfeed services

Needless to say, one can paint a thorough picture of one’s on-line life using Friendfeed as an aggregator.

Why aggregate? You can use Friendfeed as a personal content scrapbook, a one-stop shopping destination for all of your on-line hang-outs. You can find all of your Delicious links, your blog posts, your Stumbles, your Twitter posts in one space. You can find your Amazon likes, your Facebook and Linkedin statuses, your Google reader items and even your Pandora favorites. You can post video likes from YouTube and personal video conversations from Seesmic.

With respect to Twitter posts, a key benefit of Friendfeed that beats Twitter is the ability to easily search or filter your Twitter entries with a simple click of a button and ALL of your tweets will appear. On Twitter, you have to rely on a semi-reliable search function and tweets are only archived for a few days.

Click on your Friendfeed name and you will see your entire stream of on-line activity. And, for most services, your on-line content shows up fairly quickly in the Friendfeed stream. Finally, it bears noting that Google searches like Friendfeed almost as much as they like Twitter: Hutch Carpenter explains his own experiment with the rankings that a Friendfeed entry can obtain in Google on his blog here.

But Friendfeed is far more than just aggregation of your own content. To truly dive into the Friendfeed experience, a Friendfeeder should seek out others to follow and, hopefully, encourage them to follow back. Sound Twitter-familiar? It is and it isn’t. Friendfeed is where the real conversations and information-sharing occur, once you convince others that you are a worthy conversation partner. It takes some time and definitely some effort to connect with other Friendfeeders. The experience, however, is vastly superior to Twitter and worth the effort.

Friendfeed has Twitter beat as a conversation station by virtue of its better organization and interface. Friendfeed on the Web offers the key features that Twitter users can only obtain through third party tools and resource-costly desktop applications. You can group your users and pay attention to certain portions of the feed, filtered by those groups. You also can filter topics through saved searches. Check out this awesome post by Bwana on what saved searches are and how you can use them effectively. You can join existing or form new “rooms” (topic-based Friendfeed accounts) and invite other Friendfeed users to join you in those rooms (either public or private) for targeted conversations about any topic imaginable.

Friendfeed automatically “trees” conversations by allowing you to “like” and “comment” on entries that you view. Those readers who are on Facebook might recognize these features as part of Facebook’s latest overhaul – they were taken directly from Friendfeed’s model. It becomes far easier to enter and track a conversation and return for further discussion. It also becomes easier to forge connections when you can actually engage in a conversation that is so easily tracked.

How do you break into Friendfeed? First, complete your profile and import whatever services you are interested in sharing. Obviously, for a professional presence, some of your content may be less interesting or valuable than other content and your target reader should be kept in mind. Next, import your friends from other services. These include Facebook, Linkedin, Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail. You also can find popular users and recommended users. Search out public groups that may be of interest to you based on your professional or personal bent and subscribe to them. Then jump into the conversation.

For some more detailed tips on getting the most out of Friendfeed, I heartily recommend this article from KnowtheNetwork.

Friendfeed is at that same place in the popularity arc that Twitter occupied  a few years back – it currently is populated mostly by technology-forward types, the shining lights among tech bloggers, hard-core programmers and coders and individuals who appreciate its initially-challenging but ultimately more rewarding interface.

I am writing this post now because I recently have seen more of my Twitter friends showing up on Friendfeed and subscribing to my feed. This jump seems to have coincided with debut of the new “real-time” interface  and the loud noise the tech press made heralding the change.

Why now? Undoubtedly, those of us who spend some time on-line, particularly in the news sources, hear about the next big thing and are eager to try it, even if we don’t understand it. And that is my sense of the reason for this next wave of Friendfeed users – they want to join in, but simply are not sure what to make of Friendfeed.

A few months back, I sought feedback from my Twitter lawyer friends as to why they were on Friendfeed when they were simply feeding in tweets and not fully exploiting its value. The short answer I received from those kind enough to respond was just that – these people were not sure what it was or how it could be used to their advantage.I just listened to a very recent podcast by two tech luminaries in the legal world discussing Friendfeed. These are people well-respected by other lawyers for their opinions on tech matters. I was only slightly surprised to hear that these individuals were themselves unsure of what Friendfeed was and what it could do for them and whether it really was worth it to spend time on yet another social site. They could sense that Friendfeed had value but could not precisely quantify what that value was.

I will not lie – Friendfeed’s learning curve is a bit steeper and longer than Twitter’s learning curve. Furthermore, with fewer people in the Friendfeed stable, it takes a bit more engagement to connect to others and achieve the level of sharing that makes Friendfeed so unique. I believe that Friendfeed will gain in prominence among professionals and the general population as more people discover and utilize its features. But those intrepid attorneys braving the uncharted waters need to engage to win here. If you only have so much time to spend on-line, don’t rule out Friendfeed – you can still track your Twitter peeps on Friendfeed and even reply to their threads on Twitter via Friendfeed with a simple setting adjustment.

Friendfeed as a marketing and business generating tool? You betcha! I have gotten the same number of leads for professional work from Friendfeed as I have from Twitter. Although the work has differed (undoubtedly due to the different audiences I follow on the two sites), the numbers read the same. Bear in mind that I am currently pushing close to 1,000 Twitter followers and have only just over 300 Friendfeed followers. You do the math. The quantity and quality of responses to my questions on Friendfeed far exceed the return from my Twitter follows. The only conclusion I can reach is that the higher the quality of connection, the better the chances that your networking will yield results. And Friendfeed offers the better connection.

You still want another benefit? Far less spammers than Twitter. Although I am sure even spammers will eventually discover it and figure out a way to break in.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Are Lawyers Made or Are They Born?

I don’t think anyone can seriously challenge the assertion that there are a whole lot of lawyers around. While compiling my list of potential clients for my research, writing, editing and marketing business, I initially limited my search to the six or seven towns immediately surrounding my own city, a picturesque fishing port outside of Boston of moderate size. From an area of no more than 20 square miles, I quickly filled my Access database with a whopping 850 unique entries. It takes an awful lot of real estate closings, family law matters, civil or criminal proceedings and estates to keep 850 lawyers busy enough to keep their shingle hanging. Are these lawyers made or are they born? Nature or nurture? What makes a person desire to study and then practice law? No doubt, some cut their teeth arguing why they should be permitted another hour of television on a school night with unwavering dedication to their cause, couldn’t wait to join their high school debate clubs, chose their pre-law major on the first day of freshman year and ran headlong into law school and practice, knowing all along that they were meant for the law. Still others may have been subconsciously drawn to linguistics and Latin, philosophy and English, civics, political science or other related subjects and realized, when the time finally came to decide, that law just seemed a most natural fit. Finally, there must have been a few who arrived at their third or fourth year of college, or at some stage in a non-legal career, and either believed that the pursuit of law was the lesser of all available evils or felt they desperately needed a change in direction.

I myself was a “jack of all trades” in advance of my decision to enter law school. There were so many subjects of interest to me that I found it difficult to decide. I pursued double majors and triple minors. I had more than one option for graduate school and chose law, and I am happy to say that it was a very good choice for me. I do believe, however, that law school was my training ground. I worked hard to acquire those “tools of the trade” that any good lawyer must possess. In other words, I believe that I was “made” into a lawyer by training and experience. So, for sure, for me, lawyers are indeed “made.”

But that does not end the inquiry. A conversation with my oldest son when he was only three years old remains etched on my mind. We allowed no toy guns in our home. I made no bones about my dislike for weapons in general and guns in particular. He accepted my position without question, until his first year of pre-school. The worldly influence wrought by his peers worked its magic; my son announced in no uncertain terms that he would be a cowboy for Halloween and that his costume would include a shiny six-shooter.

I held my ground: no guns. He thought about this and a few days later, he asked again. I repeated my injunction: no guns. Guns are bad. I thought that if I kept it simple, my rule would be easily grasped and accepted. He looked at me with complete seriousness and asked me: “Do policemen carry guns? Do army men carry guns?” He continued on: “Army men are good, right? And policemen protect us.” He then hammered home his final nail:  “If they carry guns, then guns can’t be bad.” You can probably imagine the rest. His silver six-shooter remains the only gun in our home. Needless to say, I believe that attorneys also can be “born.”

Whether made or born, we lawyers come to the law from diverse backgrounds. We craft our practice to best fit our temperaments. Hopefully, whether by nature or by nurture, we can all find fulfillment in this vastly important and encompassing calling. And, with a little luck, we can help nurture others in their quest to find the true benefits of a life in the law.