Legal Tech Thoughts From A Relative Luddite (Guest Post)

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, Virginia Supreme Court certified General District Court mediator and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Chris is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.


First of all, thanks again to my pal Martha Sperry for the great opportunity to post here at The Advocates Studio yet again (this is my fifth guest post and the fourth cross posting between the Studio and Construction Law Musings). Please check out my other posts relating to my solo startup, social media and my use of the cloud once you’re done with this article.

Also, be sure to check out Martha’s great post on the iPhone 5 and productivity at Musings. Martha also adds some great thoughts, practical advice, and a bit of humor to the Guest Post Friday lineup.

Now, on with the show. . .

You are probably wondering about the title of this post. If you’ve read through Musings, or any of my other posts relating to the use of the cloud or tech here and elsewhere, you know that the “cloud” and other computer and web-based practice tools are a big part of my solo construction practice. So, why the “luddite” comment?

Despite the fact that a wise lady once told me that “there’s always someone who knows less than you,” I am constantly surprised by those who come to me for advice on social media, blogging or even tech related stuff. I have never seen myself as a computer or tech whiz by any means. While computers have never been scary to me, I remember when a great home computer was an Apple //e and the mouse was an innovation. In short, like many of us lawyers (particularly those over 40) I’m muddling through just like you are. That said, necessity has been the mother of invention.

You are reading the thoughts of the owner and only employee of my law firm. As such, when I’m not at my desk, no one is. When I went solo over 2 years ago now (who knew time could fly so fast), I needed to simplify, lower overhead and make myself portable. I also didn’t have time to learn a lot of new stuff.

On the marketing side, I sent out announcements by actual snail mail (who knew that the post office could still help out a lawyer?), but to do this I pulled my Outlook and Gmail contacts to send to the mailing service. I was able to “take” my construction blog with me, continued with the blog and social media efforts, and started meeting with folks in real-time (partly because contractors don’t really take to “virtual” meetings).

While my marketing is a seriously blended web/on the ground mix, my practice management is as paperless and cloud based as I can make it. For me, this is where the tech rubber meets the road. When I started my new firm I grabbed a Clio account, imported my contacts and started to store .pdfs of my documents on Clio’s cloud based system. Since then, Clio (among other cloud based systems) has gotten more feature-rich and easy to use, adding online credit card processing and easy one click billing.

The reason I like the cloud for this sort of thing has little to do with my love of gadgets (though that does have something to do with it) but with the need to assure client service by having access to my files from anywhere with a safe internet connection (read, not Starbucks). I can pull up my Blackberry Playbook tablet, hook to Clio through my bridged Blackberry Curve (really, I’m not kidding, I don’t own an iPhone or an iPad) or laptop and review a document while out of the office. I also don’t like to have any more paper than I can help because of the clutter and space issues with my one office setup.

Other tools I use? A ScanSnap S1500 scanner that allows me to scan to both my docked laptop and to Clio directly, Backblaze for offsite backup and, as a second failsafe a GoFlex hard drive that constantly backs all of this stuff up all help keep my practice running. I also use Google Apps for e-mail and occasional collaboration.

In short (yes, I know it’s too late for that), I see no reason to jump into the cloud full force unless it makes your practice easier and makes it easier to keep your clients happy. The telephone (not “smartphone”) is a great tool for actually talking to clients and potential targets. E-mail, Twitter, text messages and other uses for cell phones are great, just don’t forget that all of our clients are real people and that tech for techs sake is not necessarily the best way to serve yourself or your clients.

There are a ton of great tech tools and gadgets out there, just be sure to use the ones that help and jettison those that don’t.

Thanks again to my pal Martha and I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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Tech Litigation Dance Card (Infographic)

Finding it difficult to keep track of which tech company is suing the other? You are not alone. But now there’s an infographic for that! Looking much like a modern Go game (in fact and theory), this pic will help you follow along on the path to intellectual property righteousness (this chart only covers patent suits, a small subset of the many available options), and is limited to mobile development. Fun and games! Hat tip to Technologizer.

Tech Addiction & Information Overload

I was compelled to open and read an article in my Google Reader from Lifehacker’s Adam Dachis entitled Why Technology is So Addictive and How You Can Avoid It (link here). I know, I know. To the casual observer, I probably fall squarely within the dopamine-addled masses who reach for their smartphone or iPad whenever there is a break in the level of external, non-tech stimulation. But I have grappled with this concept over the past several months. Not so much because I fear addiction, but more because I really don’t want to spend any more time on technology than I really must to reach the end I want to achieve.

O.k., English please. What I am saying is that technology, like your average hammer or pencil, is simply a tool. A means to an end. That end differs for different users (and I really don’t mean users in the druggie sense). Technology affords a compelling precision implement, a surgical scalpel, that can lessen the weight of otherwise heavy tasks. Such as staying on top of your area of expertise. Or staying in meaningful contact with people who are important to you, whether for business or personal reasons, and sharing relevant information.

Because of technology, we can now send greater quantity of higher quality communications and information to a larger audience. In turn, we (arguably) can absorb a greater quantity of higher quality and more timely information that might help us make important decisions across the spectrum of our needs. That is why the tech explosion of late has pulled along so many mainstream users – look, Auntie M, I can now get my daily updates on Cousin Lulu without having to pick up a phone, or even write an email.

I am not going to touch Mr. Dachis’ points on tech-etiquette here. I would like to assume that Studio Readers already know how to prioritize human interaction and tech interaction. But I do wish to point out Mr. Dachis’ cause for such addiction and overload issues and suggested remedy.:

One effective way of dealing with information overload is actually organizing information. This may be an obvious one, but most of us think more about organization than actually doing it. You’re going to get organized at some point, so you might as well start now (if you haven’t, that is). Email is one of the toughest things to get under control and there are more solutions out there than you could ever really try. Google’s new Priority Inbox is a great new way to focus on the important messages in your inbox. A Chrome and Firefox extension called Boomerang lets you schedule when you send and receive emails. Communicating through speed appropriate channels rather than funneling everything through email can help, too. You can even offload distractions to an iPad, or another device you have, so you can focus on specific things on specific devices. However you organize your information, just be sure to evolve your system to fit changes in the way your information flows.

Really, so much of the handling of our technology depends on implementing efficiencies so that the tech is a helpful passenger rather than the driver of the vehicle. For example, just last night, I spent about a half hour reorganizing my iPad feed readers. I have determined from the past few months that I can cut through my feeds faster if I can read them in an uncluttered, visual format on the iPad. So, I now have two text-based and two magazine-layout-based readers on my iPad, with different feeds in each app. Why? Because I can blow right through the most important feeds on the visual readers in record time. If I have additional time, I can always go to the text-based readers to hit more detail.

The future of the web is relevancy. To me, it is far more important to be relevant than it is to be fast. Along with my post this morning about Google’s new Priority Inbox that will automatically sort your email for you, the list of applications that cater to relevancy while improving delivery speed are growing. Filters like Google Reader’s “magic” setting and apps like Feedly, my6sense, Zite and Lazyfeed are making it easer to spend less time researching and more time creating. My admonition to lawyers, professionals or, really, anyone on the Web is to get to know these filtering systems and use them to avoid overload and the addiction necessary to stay on top of the overload. At first it will require spending more time getting up to speed and implementing your chosen method. But ultimately, you might even end up with enough time to start a new hobby. Like stamp collecting. Or gardening.

A Real Live Babel Fish???

Yes, science fiction may soon meet fact. Word on the Web is that Google is working on making its own speech-to-speech translation tech for future smartphones. What’s more, the Google people are suggesting this technology could be viable and live within a few years. Think about the implications for international business! I pulled this quote from the article on Gizmodo (link here), which in turned pulled it from an interview with The Times:

Franz Och, Google’s head of translation services, said:

“We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years’ time.

Clearly, for it to work smoothly, you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that’s what we’re working on.

If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there has been huge progress recently.”

If the universal translator of science fiction fame is right around the proverbial corner, could the ever-elusive time teleporter be far behind? Grab your Towel and hang on tight!

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It Really is Just a Matter of Perspective

While stumbling around on the internet looking for interesting articles to read, I happened upon these two slides in an article written by Derek Morrison called Technology Impeded Learning at Auricle – Learning Technologies In Higher Education. The slides are attributed to Martin Bean, from a recent slide show. I found them right on “point.”

Martin Bean 2009

Martin Bean 2009

Martin Bean 2009

Martin Bean 2009

Building A Better Pencil

Printing press from 1811, photographed in Muni...
Image via Wikipedia

Alerted this morning to a new book, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers and the Digital Revolution by Professor Dennis Baron. Professor Baron appears to be providing the larger context to counter the argument that technology is destroying our ability to write.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a professor, to grasp that every meaningful innovation affecting writing (and perhaps every innovation period) has been met with some degree of skepticism, scorn, disdain, fear or anxiety from some sector. Every technology adds to and subtracts from the prior experience, forcing us into a perpetual cost-benefit analysis when faced with the choice of tools to apply to the writing trade.

So, how does that cost benefit analysis play out in the current digital writing environment? How are our students, immersed in short form blogging and texting, faring in more demanding intellectual writing pursuits? Well, never fear (or fear less), as Professor Baron suggests that these students grow out of their “childish” writing styles to address their audience appropriately when the time comes to do so. Just like some children are born to be writers, while others are not, technology ultimately should not hamper or hinder their efforts to communicate.

Hat tip to Legal Writing Prof Blog.

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Disrupting Legal Practice With Technology

Very interesting post on WestBlog by Andrew McLennan-Murray summarizing a recent presentation by legal rabble rouser Richard Suskind (“The End of Lawyers“) at 2009 International Legal Technology Association conference. Susskind discussed technologies that will disrupt the legal profession.

Disrupter beam jokes aside, Susskind identified these technologies as: (1) automated document assembly; (2) “relentless” connectivity; (3) the electronic legal marketplace; (4) electronic learning; (5) on-line legal guidance and advice; (6) open-source legal resources; (7) on-line networking and sharing of experience, lessening need for traditional legal representation; (8) workflow automation and project management; (9) embedded legal knowledge allowing instantaneous / constant connection to relevant laws, codes, regulations, etc.; (10) on-line dispute resolution, minimizing need for in-person meetings.

Hit the jump above for a more thorough explanation of these technologies – how they may be applied and how they will affect legal practice. The tools themselves are developing and technology is morphing so rapidly that it certainly promises to be an interesting ride for any technology-forward law firm. Surely, adoption largely will be driven by the needs of a particular firm’s clientele or the firm’s desire to fill a specific niche that few have yet plumbed. Or, thrill-seeking firms can just forge ahead like early leaders in a marathon, hoping to pull the field along with them.

I, of course, will be watching the race on my triple-screen computer set-up, cheering the pacesetters on!

One-Stop Legal Tech Shopping

2006_12_04_RLNPost_Zivley_W
Image by vaXzine via Flickr

Ken Strutin at LLRX has collected a list of resources for librarians to assist them in assisting others with employing new technologies in the practice of law. Insert “lawyers” for “librarians” and the list becomes even more worthwhile. There are some old favorites on this list, as well as a few new resources. He breaks the list of resources into categories, such as current awareness (of tech equipment and services), Web Tech 2.0, website monitoring, citation tools, and communication management.

It is by no means exhaustive, but certainly adds a few tips so it is worth a check.

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One-Stop Legal Tech Shopping

2006_12_04_RLNPost_Zivley_W
Image by vaXzine via Flickr

Ken Strutin at LLRX has collected a list of resources for librarians to assist them in assisting others with employing new technologies in the practice of law. Insert “lawyers” for “librarians” and the list becomes even more worthwhile. There are some old favorites on this list, as well as a few new resources. He breaks the list of resources into categories, such as current awareness (of tech equipment and services), Web Tech 2.0, website monitoring, citation tools, and communication management.

It is by no means exhaustive, but certainly adds a few tips so it is worth a check.

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The Long Arm Of The Law – Anti-Texting Edition

LONDON - FEBRUARY 27:  A sign on the M25 orbit...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Makes perfect sense when you are behind the wheel – make sure that your fingers are not doing the talking. Not everyone shares this sentiment, however. It behooves lawyers to have the lowdown on the laws regarding driving while texting – to protect themselves when they are tempted and to be prepared for those clients who may have gotten their fingers burnt, so to speak.

Jalopnik offers quick and easy visual maps for determining how states are handling legislation regarding texting, which may not expressly or explicitly fall under cell phone driving laws or driver distraction laws. This is a barebones color-coded series of maps, which does not give offer links to relevant legislation. Furthermore, these maps are going to change radically as time (and laws) pass. But I was able to determine quickly from the maps that, while there is nothing yet on the books in Massachusetts, there is legislation pending. Enough to set me on the path to legislative research on the question.

The bigger point to be made here is that even though technology affords us the ability to singletask or multitask in new and exciting ways it does not grant us the license to do so at all times. We, the “drivers” of technology, need to engage it responsibly at all times. Sometimes, that means we need to “drop out of the fast lane” and, if necessary, hold off until tomorrow what should not be done today while driving on a car trip. That includes shaving, putting on makeup, and reading the paper too. Sheesh!

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