E-Discovery Certification For Litigation Support Folks?
In all of the recent discussion about creating a certification for Litigation Support professionals to measure their proficiency in working with electronic discovery, I've always felt a strong push against the idea, but could never really articulate what about it bothered me.
Today, in reading Chris Dale's blog post about it, it clicked for me. Here's the relevant part to this discussion, but you should go read all of it, and the post he links to that started this conversation as well.
My own contribution to the article goes more to the distinction between education and the need for a piece of paper to show that you have been educated. I see it as a costly barrier to entry in an area which needs recruits (nursing is the obvious parallel in the UK) and as something which aims at the wrong target. It is not the litigation support people whose actions or inaction cause the problems, but the lawyers.
I've seen Chris write about it being a barrier to entry and thought that, while I see his point, and it's something that will need to be addressed, it didn't quite hit me where my gut was on this, but the second part of this paragraph definitely does.
Here's the situation as I see it. There are folks who work in this industry who want to be taken seriously by the rest of the legal industry. Of course, other areas of the legal industry have certifications, so we should have one too. Let's put together an ediscovery certification to prove that we're experts in this new and exciting area.
There's just a couple of problems with that. Chris points out the first one, many times in a law firm, it's not the Lit Support folks who are advising clients on collection, or writing ediscovery requests, it's the lawyers. Yes, in a perfect world they are including the Litigation Support folks in that process, but we are far from a perfect world. The real world contains plenty of lawyers who don't actually know enough about ediscovery to even realize they should be looking for technical expertise. Having a certified ediscovery person working in Litigation Support doesn't mean anything if the lawyer above them is clueless about ediscovery and doesn't get them involved. From a clients perspective who do you want to deal with, the outside firm that has a Litigation Support person who's certified, or the firm that has an attorney who's an ediscovery expert? It's the attorney who's going to be appearing at conferences, writing your requests and responding to requests, advising you on proper collection, representing you to the court, etc. The Litigation Support folks may have some input into these things, but I know which one of the two I'd want to be an expert! Unfortunately, the push for certification seems mostly to be aimed at the Litigation Support people, which is not where it will have the most impact.
The second thing the post brought to mind, for me, is that ediscovery is not the end-all be-all of working in Litigation Support. In fact, how much of the day-to-day work is dealing with ediscovery can be very, very different from law firm to law firm, or between different corporate law departments. In some firms, a litigation paralegal might be much more involved with helping the attorney with case management, and the Lit Support folks may do the heavy technical lifting, while in other firms, it's the Litigation Support folks who are doing the work with ediscovery strategy while the paralegal works on more administrative things, and the IT department does more of the heavy lifting in terms of handling data. It's not a one-size fits all discipline. I know, speaking for myself, that while I do deal with handling ediscovery and getting it into review platforms and production sets put together to send to opposing sides, etc. that its not the only thing I need to know about to do my job well. My job also involves quite a bit of technical work with Excel, Acrobat, Powerpoint, etc. I do a fair amount of training, and internal marketing. I work with video and audio files, I put together presentations and setup presentation equipment. Being a certified ediscovery expert doesn't guarantee that I'd be any good at any of these other things, which are still very much part of my job as a Litigation Support Pro. Other people in this industry are responsible for some of the same things I am, and some are responsible for doing things like programming, that I don't do at all. It's a real mixed bag.
Do I need an understanding of ediscovery? Absolutely. I also need plenty of other things. Are there resources out there to educate myself about ediscovery? Tons! Does having a certification program offer me anything that these resources don't already? I'm not seeing it, outside of the piece of paper I can take back to my firm as "proof" that I have worked at being educated. Maybe that has some value, in some circumstances, but I don't see that it's a huge priority item for many of us. We're already swamped with work, and do our best to stay on top of things and keep informed. Many of us hold certifications that are directly related to the tools we use, and the way we work. I don't think adding yet another, very broad, certification is going to do more than add another expense at a time when we are cutting them every way we can. Personally, if given the choice, I'd rather spend my educational budget on something else, something specific that our firm can use right now, not on getting a certification that doesn't mean anything to our clients.
But, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that's exactly what our clients want to see, the piece of paper, even if it's not in the hands of the attorney who works directly with them!
I actually tend to agree. I've been thinking, for quite awhile now, that when the job market bounces back and people start to feel a bit more secure in looking around, there's going to be a mass exodus, especially from the legal industry. You can't go a week or two without reading about law firms cutting staff, cutting associates, limiting pay, and cutting all sorts of expenses, and legal is hardly the only industry getting hit with cuts like this.
So the question is, in the midst of all these "cuts", what are you doing to keep your best people engaged and on board? If nothing, do you really expect they won't be looking to leave at the first sign of openings?
I was able to spend my lunch hour yesterday taking in this webinar by Kevin O'Keefe, and I have to say, it was pretty good. I thought Kevin did a good job tying social networking and blogging with traditional business networking, and also giving folks who are looking for ways to get their firms and attorney's interested in blogging some good ideas to mull over.
The big takeaway, for me, was that blogging for the firm is similar to blogging here, but also not. Here, I really am just trying to share information, and learn from other folks who either leave comments here or have their own blogs and continue the conversations there. I have developed lots of relationships with people in a variety of areas, most of whom are not potential clients of my firm, but who do have a lot to offer me in terms of ideas and tips. When I talk to an attorney about blogging, for them, it really is more strategic than that. The number of page views don't mean anything if the people reading aren't potential clients that you are connecting with, and no matter how great the content may be, it isn't going to foster those relationships that bring in business if it's not the information these folks want to know. You have to know who you want to reach, and what they want to read, in order for the blog to be useful to them.
Anyway, that was my quick highlight, you can check out the recording and grab the slides for yourself, Kevin has the links, if you're interested.
You might recall over a month ago that I wrote about non-lawyer staff and the marketing of a firm, and the importance of bringing more to the table than just doing your job, because any good employee can do your job, a great employee becomes a resource for the firm in many more ways than just doing the assigned work.
That could explain why I see much to like in this idea of coming in to a job and bringing your own identity, using the tools you choose, etc. You don't stop being you between the hours of 8-5, and you don't stop being an employee of the firm at 5. That's not the way the world works any more. Certainly there is much to be said for work/life balance, and I am a big believer in having a healthy balance between work and fun, but at the same time the best source of customers for any enterprise are the people your employees are talking to and interacting with. I know my impression of many companies has been based on what the people who work there have said about it, or experienced while working there, but it's something I don't think many companies think about, and dare I say, it's something very few law firms have stopped to consider. Oh, many will take great pains to not get a negative reputation among lawyers, but don't stop to think about all of the potential clients their support staff is also connected with. The wild world of Web 2.0 is starting to change that perspective, but slowly. It's now easy enough to see how connected many of the people who work for you are, and not just the potential damage that can be caused by disgruntled employees, but also the opportunity that having truly engaged employees brings.
Staff members who are proud of the firm they work for are, generally, more than happy to tell the people they know about it. That can't be a bad thing, can it? Unfortunately, too many places will never know, because they live in abject fear of what their employees might say if they were given the freedom to do so. That's too bad, and just might be an indictment of how they treat these non-attorney staff members. Not so much as people, with rich, full lives, relationships, and many things to offer, but as cogs in the machine, there to do your bidding for 8 hours per day and nothing more.
I know which kind of environment I enjoy working in more. I'd bet I'm not alone.
I found it somewhat interesting that both of these articles came to my attention yesterday, as they both deal with something I haven't seen many people talk about, let alone firms that actually embrace the idea. They both mention the importance of non-lawyer staff of law firms in building relationships, networking, and attracting clients to the firm.
Both postsfit in to what I've been saying for a long time about Social Networking and why you should actually encourage it. It's networking, and networking, assuming you've hired good people you can trust, is always a plus for your organization. When the good people you hired go out and represent you, they make your organization attractive to potential clients, potential hires, and the public in general. In turn, during a time when it's absolutely vital that you can show your value to your organization, what better value can you bring to the table than attracting new clients or good hires to your employer?
I'm not saying this takes the place of doing a good job. Not by a long shot, but in a tight budget tough decisions about who gets promoted, or who gets a raise, or even who gets laid off, have to be made. Whenever you can bring in a little extra value, you have to try and do it!
Let me give you an example. Last year, we were facing a tough budget decision about whether I would be able to go to the ILTA Conference. No one questioned that there would be value in me going, but how much value was another question. However, when I was asked to speak, suddenly, there was no question. Now, not only was I getting the value of attending the conference and all the networking that goes with that, but I was also publicly representing the firm as a speaker. That extra value really helped clear the way to me going, and of course, that speaking opportunity was brought about by connections I've made through online networking.
Of course, I've also been heard to say that clients don't hire a law firm because their tech guy is so good, even in Litigation Support. I do still believe that in general. If a lawyer is a jerk, me being a nice guy and great at what I do isn't going to help push a client to hire us. Still, if a decision is being made between two otherwise equal attorneys, if the Lit Support person that you know you'll also have to work with to some degree is someone you have interacted with already, that can help push it in the right direction for you. Sometimes, it really is just the smallest little "extras" you bring to the table that make all the difference.
What do you think? Should firms embrace the idea that even non-lawyer staff represent them and should be encouraged to engage online? Or is that still too scary for most?
Later this afternoon I'm going to be doing a presentation/demonstration of Social Networking Tools for a firm committee. I'm using this post to demonstrate how you can write in one place, and then use the power of RSS feeds and the tech/social media tools that exist to have that post appear in many different places.
So, if all goes well, by the time I show this to the committee, this should have already posted to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and a handful of other places, all without me having to engage with any of those sites, and those of you who follow me or are connected to me will have had the opportunity to see it, read it, and maybe even respond to me, without ever having come to my blog to do so.
That's how you leverage technology to improve your social networking contacts when you're crunched for time!
I know I said that I loved the entire post I pointed you to earlier from Stop Blocking, but there's one line that really resonates outside of this particular issue.
Who died and put CIOs in charge of worker productivity anyway? I’m not sure when supervisors and HR abdicated this responsibility to IT, but IT is simply not qualified to address employee productivity.
It immediately reminded me of something that I hear often from the Manager Tools guys, that there are so few people in management who really understand and work at being a good manager. This task of addressing productivity fell to IT because no one else has any idea of how to address productivity. Actually taking the time to set the expectations to the people who work for you, figuring out how to measure their performance and holding them accountable for meeting the goals you set out for them is quite a bit of work. I know, as a new manager I'm still struggling with figuring out how to do it! So, it's awfully tempting as management to start blocking things that would cause distraction, as if you could block every potential distraction!
"Then how do you know if your associates are working?"
I lean in, like I'm going to let them in on my secret formula.
"By managing them."
As I look down the list of reasons not to block social media, I'm struck by how many of them fit this very point. If you are effectively managing the people who work for you, they understand the consequences of failing to meet expectations and not being productive, they understand the appropriate ways to interact online, and what sorts of things are frowned upon by the organization. They know better than to disclose confidential information, and they know with certainty what will happen if they do. They understand that being careless with malware will hurt their productivity because they'll be without their PC while it's getting cleaned.
As I look back on 20 plus years of working myself, and all of the conversations I have had with others, there's something that really runs true here. There really aren't very many good managers. I find that many, not all, managers are in management just because they were the last one standing when others moved on (ed.- he says fully self-aware).
Most people are thrust into management because they've been good at a job, and a manager left, so they got the promotion. Not because they showed managerial skills, and they probably weren't given any managerial training either, they just happened to be good at one thing, so they got the spot. Is it any wonder then, that they surrender responsibilities to the IT Department? They don't know any other way to deal with the risks of something like social networking. They don't dare rock the boat by trying to be innovative, because being innovative requires confidence, and people who have never been groomed to be managers, yet find themselves in that position, lack the confidence to do things differently!
Seems to me that, instead of constantly worrying about what your people might do, with any tool, organizations might be better off training their managers to be effective, and innovative. That innovation will trickle down and take care of many of these issues. Right now, we're not seeing a lot of turnover in many industries, and it may be harder to spot bad management, but I guarantee you, when the economy shows signs of turning around, and people start to feel more confident in their job prospects, you'll see scores of unhappy, and very talented, people moving elsewhere. Finding quality and innovative management might keep a few of them around.
Last week, I mentioned the seeming contradiction of law firms wanting to appear innovative, while also not spending any money on new technology, and how that might seem like a contradiction that was going to create problems when it comes to strategic planning for firms. Today, I want to talk about another one, one of the current buzz-worthy trends of the eDiscovery industry. Early Case Assessment. (ECA)
In theory, ECA seems like a brilliant idea. Get into a case early, figure out what documents you're going to need, and how you're going to locate them, and use search terms, custodian filters, concept search tools, etc. to limit the amount of data a Litigation Support provider is going to have to process and an attorney is going to have to review. Win-Win!
Except it's not quite that easy. I've spoken to many in the field, and I've even heard from some corporations about the problems they run into in dealing with outside counsel in this area. I imagine that the conversation goes something like this:
Client: "Tell us what you need, and we'll only send you that data" Lit Support vendor: "We'll come in and help you figure out how to limit the collection, and how to properly collect the data you need to send to your outside counsel" Outside Counsel: "I'm not sure what we need yet, as I'm just starting to work on this case, go ahead and send me what you have, and we'll figure out on this end what needs to be produced" Client: "No, I don't want to spend $X/hour for you to review documents that we know aren't relative" Outside Counsel: "Well, we don't know what's relative until we start reviewing what we have and putting the case together" Client: "You'll have to do better than that. We'll work with our vendor to run searches on keywords that you and opposing counsel have agreed to, on the custodians that you've agreed to, and send the results to you once we've culled the dataset internally" Counsel: "Well, we haven't made any agreements with opposing counsel. We don't want to be limited to that".
And round and round it goes. The bottom line, is that too many attorneys aren't doing the hard work of interviewing custodians, defining search terms or concepts, calling in technology and search experts, etc. They are still relying on the idea that they can just collect everything, and figure it out as they go along.
Here in the Midwest, that may still be true in many cases. The amounts of data that we see for cases here, most of the time, doesn't even compare to some of the large cases that other firms are dealing with. You might actually be able to do a first pass review and locate the relevant documents without doing any ECA now, but the amount of data in the cases is growing, and it's growing fast. On top of that, the clients are looking for ways to cut their costs, and they see the writing on the wall. They are becoming more and more aware of just how much they can save by using ECA tools themselves, and in some legal departments, doing the first pass review themselves. They're not just sending over what they have to be reviewed. That costs too much money!
Eventually, attorneys are going to have to let go of the idea that they can put eyeballs on everything. When you start getting hundreds of Gigabyte's of data, it's simply not possible to do that in any sort of reasonable time, for a reasonable cost. You have to do something different, and the good attorneys are already prepared for that. The rest will be playing catchup. I just wonder how many clients will be willing to wait for them?
Jenn Steele's debut column at Legal IT Professionals has some interesting tidbits about what we're waiting for in terms of law firms spending on IT projects. You should definitely go read all of it, but there were two things I found really interesting and wanted to highlight. The first is one of the two seeming contradictions I see in the legal industry:
Ironically, the same “powers that be” who are denying my colleagues the ability to do vital projects will get very upset if clients perceive them to be behind in technology, but that’s an issue for another day.
Ever since last month's ILTA conference, I've been mulling this same idea over in my head and wondering how to put it in a blog post. It's actually bigger than law firm management, I think there are clients who do want to be associated with what they perceive to be cutting edge, or innovative, firms, who also want to pay less in legal fees. Isn't that the demand that is causing all of this upheaval in the industry? Clients want more for less. They want innovation from their outside counsel in terms of efficient use of technology, and in terms of billing arrangements.
Unfortunately, I think many firms equate innovation with large scale infrastructure, and that isn't necessarily the case. Certainly, in many firms there are infrastructure projects that need to be financed in order to improve efficiency. Increased ability to work remotely, improving clients access to their data, better search tools, and more effective communications tools should be high priority for firms, and that may mean some improved infrastructure. But these aren't the only areas where the business world has already innovated, and the legal industry is lagging behind.
There are plenty of areas of technology that lawyers could use much more efficiently right now, with a little time and education. That sort of innovation goes a long way toward making life easier for your clients. For example, how many firms have form documents that a client could just download and use without having to wait for an attorney to get back to them? How many have collaboration tools that go unused? How many are scheduling meetings and conference calls with technologists (internal and external) instead of allowing clients to directly talk to them? How many are tapping the expertise that exists in their own, non-lawyer, staff to educate clients on areas like records management, security policies, e-discovery, HR policy, etc. to help them avoid litigation to begin with?
Of course, any of those things would require management level attorneys to do things differently, and that may be the largest hurdle to the legal industry ever really being innovative. No, it's much easier to build a virtual dealroom, a videoconferencing center, or some other big ticket item and brag about how innovative you are, even though no one ever actually uses it. Being truly innovative, and using technology efficiently on behalf of clients requires a bit more work than that. It's not just about the money spent on the tools, it's about putting them to good use. Innovative ideas and people will take you a lot further than any technology tool will, because they will build upon it and get the most benefit from it. They will solve real world problems with technology. No firm is going to be seen as innovative without the right people in place to make it happen. Let's hope that firms get that before one of Jenn's fears comes true:
Legal could bleed talent. Our best minds, tired of waiting and being over-extended due to short staffing, could jump to other industries that have ramped up more quickly. There is already evidence of an uptick in hiring in the general economy.
As far as the second seeming contradiction, well that's coming in another post. It's more directly targeted at e-discovery than this is though. :)
As many of you know, I've been in DC this week, swamped with the ILTA09 conference, not just as an attendee, but also as a speaker. I was asked, many months ago, to be part of a presentation on social networking.
I've already mentioned that I thought the session went well, but wanted to write up a brief post about the basic point I tried to make there.
Social Networking is not something brand new to be scared of, it is the same behavior we've always engaged in, communicating, connecting, sharing, etc. It is, however, light years more effective than any way in which we engaged in that behavior before, and that has ramifications, both positive and negative.
On the positive side, it's never been easier to connect to people. The barriers to entry online have never been lower, it takes very little technical knowledge to create a Facebook account, for example, and that has fueled an explosion in the number of people using the internet to network with each other. There are thousands of social networks that exist online, all it really takes is finding out where the folks you want to connect are spending their time, and then getting involved!
Of course, that efficiency also means that it's never been easier to make a jackass of yourself, and have the whole world know about it. It also means that it's never been easier for other people to do things that impact how others may see you. The example I gave, you might not be stupid enough to drunk tweet, but the people you're drinking with might be that stupid and they might talk about you! Same damage done.
So, as you folks go back from the ILTA conference and try to talk to your firms about social networking, try to focus on the fact that it's not some brand new scary thing. It's networking, in a much more efficient manner, with all the benefits and risk that any networking holds!
Tom Koulopoulus was the Monday morning keynote at ILTA09, and his message was one of innovation, and value. My quick take away was that for law firms, and for those of us who are looking to make some changes in that environment, the only way to do it is to prove the value. With the economy the way it is, everything has become about value. You maybe lost your job if you didn't bring enough value to the firm, or at least you certainly feel a whole lot safer if you have areas where you can easily identify the value you bring. Any money spent on training, or technology improvements have to show value, or be threatened by tighter budgets, and surely any adoption of new Web 2.0 technologies have to bring their own value to the table.
Unfortunately, most of us who work in an area as risk-adverse as law firms are trained to think first of the risks, and defend the risks when trying to introduce change. Perhaps we'd be better off focusing on the value added through the use of social networking, for example, and once we've proven that through our own examples of using these tools. After all, how much easier is it to defend against the risk when we're all already on the same page in terms of whether there's enough value to use the tools at our disposal?
Think of it in terms of email, surely we are all familiar with the risks that were associated with everyone in the firm having email. Eventually, though, the value proved to be so overwhelming that we accepted the risks and figured out how to deal with them. Social Networking and other Web 2.0 technologies haven't quite reached that point, but I believe they will. There's simply too much value in connecting to peers and sharing knowledge with as many people as possible, no matter the medium. We just need to share the value we've found with those who haven't.
Recently, I've had some conversation about the idea of whether a particular law firm is innovative or not. It's a tough question to answer, in my mind, because it really depends on how you define innovative. Just having innovative technology in place does not make a firm innovative, yet at the same time, even the most creative people can't be innovative without the proper tools.
To me, it involves having technology, culture, and the people willing to be innovative for a firm to be considered innovative.
So how do you determine whether you have the culture and people to make the investment in tools worthwhile? Is it enough to have conversations with various areas about how they work, or how they'd like to work? What kinds of questions would you ask of attorneys, paralegals and other staff to figure out how they would like to innovate, when they may not know much about the tools available to them? How do you get people talking about innovation, or how they use technology in an open, honest, and forward-looking way. How do you get past "Outlook runs too slow" as the form of IT feedback, and onto the much larger, strategic, questions? How do you get an attorney who's done the same thing, pretty much the same way, for 10 years, to consider how her clients might want them to be working differently, or how they could be more effective?
Right now, I'm not sure I have answers to those questions, but I'd like to hear from all of you, even if you don't work in a law firm. Attorneys are my primary focus, especially in dealing with Litigation Support tools, but the same questions would need to be addressed to sales people, accountants, engineers, customer service folks, and on down the line. What questions do you ask to get them to consider how innovative technology might help them do what they do more effectively? How have you gotten them involved in the IT strategic planning process?
Do share your successes, and even your failures, and what you've learned from them!
I saw their article today about the results of their annual survey of the Electronic Discovery market, and found a couple of striking statements:
While two years ago every copy shop in the land became an EDD provider, today law firms nationwide purport to harbor deep EDD expertise. Much of this is a convenient fiction, useful for marketing but of questionable veracity when it comes to client service; many participants estimated that no more than 100 to 200 hundred lawyers in the entire country really "get" EDD.
This is interesting, because truly, there have to be 1000 to 2000 lawyers marketing themselves as EDD "experts", but maybe only 10% of them are correct? Are the other 90% lying? Actually, I don't think they're lying, I think it's a case of them not knowing what they don't know. They may get the legal side of the equation, that you have to collect, review, produce in a usuable form, etc. but that does not an EDD expert make. I'd be willing to bet that many of the survey respondents have encountered one too many attorney who claimed to be the EDD "expert" and then didn't understand what a PST is, or who understood their need to hold and collect data, and then asked it to be emailed to their office.
Ok, ok maybe those examples are a bit extreme, but that's sort of what it can feel like if you're an in-house IT guy, asked to cooperate with the EDD expert attorney from Big Named Firm X, only to discover that while this guy may have written some articles on litigation holds, or spoken at a CLE about the Federal Rules covering e-discovery, he doesn't know the slightest thing about the technology.
Another interesting statement was this one about finding qualified people to work on EDD:
Hiring at corporations also has been difficult. Estimates are that by now maybe 20 to 30 companies have been about to acquire or develop respectable in-house expertise, but many others are hard pressed to find someone — anyone — competent, available and capable of taking the internal EDD helm.
Almost as quickly as those people are brought on board, others leave to join the provider ranks where they believe rewards will be greater and frustrations fewer.
I read this, and thought surely this applies to law firms as well, right? Of course, the obvious solution to keeping people in house is to offer greater rewards and fewer frustrations, but in legal departments, and law firms, I'm not sure that is possible. The culture is so "attorney-specific" in terms of giving senior attorney's all the decision making power, and the rewards that come with it, that I don't think it can be changed to give a technology expert, especially one that isn't an attorney, enough authority to feel like they are doing meaningful work.
For example, go to your local bar association's CLE seminars on EDD, how many IT people are speaking? How many non-lawyers are ever invited to speak about forensics, searching, deduplication, storage technology, etc.? If these topics are covered, it's typically one of those 100 or 200 attorneys. When was the last time they offered a CLE in data storage, or understanding the basic types of email storage, and how to effectively search an email store? Wouldn't it be great to have someone who knows this stuff talk to your IT people, whether it be from your legal department or outside firm? Sure would keep those IT folks from rolling their eyes as often as they do. (And they do, I've been on that side of the fence. It's not pretty.)
But instead, the legal industry keeps insisting that attorneys are the end all and be all of legal knowledge, when EDD requires a different approach completely. This survey shows it fairly obviously to me. Your clients are crying out for someone who really "gets" the technology involved with EDD, and you keep sending them lawyers who can recite the FRCP, all while keeping your technical staff far away from view, never getting the credit they deserve.
It's the legal departments and law firms that find a way to get cooperation between the IT experts, and the legal experts, and can recognize them both as equal parts of the EDD team, who will be the true "experts" in the field.
I finished up planning my week for ILTA09 the last week of Aug. As we prepared to get our presentation finished and submitted by the deadline this week, I realized that it's coming up pretty quick.
Unfortunately, as much as ILTA is pushing social networking, they dont have a way to share your itinerary on their site. So, I did the next best thing, saved it as a PDF and uploaded it to my own site. :)
On top of those sessions, (Two of which I'll even be presenting at, so I should be easiest to find there) I'll also be hitting up the Tweetup community of interest, the speakers meet and greet, the conference orientation (Yeah, I'm a newbie) and the opening reception on Sunday, and I'll be hanging around DC Friday and Saturday. Obviously, if anyone wants to say hello, you'll have ample opportunity!
When I read the post What if the Apple Store billed by the hour, I thought to myself, not only is this a good example of the problem with billable hour requirements, but to a lesser extent it's also a good example of how tracking employees every second and using that to measure productivity can be detrimental, the stuff I talked about earlier this week.
Jay describes his experience of going to the Apple store to get a new screen protector for his iPhone, having one sales guy notice that he was picking up the incorrect protector, then take him to someone who could check him out, who happened to know that someone else in the store was very good at getting those little buggers placed down on the screen correctly, who did, in fact get his placed down much better than he probably could have. He then goes on to describe how, if these folks had billable hour requirements, they never would have spent that much time helping him on such a small purchase.
The same could be said for people working in a tight "productivity" environment. Even if you would give them credit for all the time spent helping a customer as part of their "productivity", I can't help but wonder if, for example, anyone would know about the last person's skill with screen protectors. Doesn't knowing other teams members skills and applying that to the work at hand require your team to interact with one another socially? They have to know one another, they have to be available to help out a coworker on a project that might not be theirs, and they have to pay attention to the customer, which means listening, instead of hurrying up the transaction in order to speed along to the next transaction in the interest of keeping the numbers up! I've worked in places where it would have been all too easy for the first person to move along to the next customer when Jay said he didn't need help, letting him walk out with the incorrect part, and it would have been all too easy for the second to check him out and move on, never thinking about the fact that he might need help getting that protector placed properly. Maybe the effort didn't show in their sales or productivity reports, (After all it took 3 of them to sell a lousy screen protector!) but they served the customer well. Wouldn't you rather have employees capable of that instead of employees who can make reports look good?
I know, times are tough, and budgets have gotten cut all over the place, let alone in the legal industry. That why the folks at ILTA put together a "Make the Case" page that you can present to the management of your law firm as good reasons why the expense of this year's conference (Aug 23-27 in Washington DC) is worth it.
Seriously, I'm speaking at ILTA09 on Social Networking, and the sessions are so good that my own session would have been the 3rd choice of sessions I attended during that time slot. The schedule is that good!
On the e-discovery 2.0 blog yesterday at least, he gets what I've been saying about social media in regards to legal risks, there's not much that's new here:
There’s talk of intellectual property being cast out, irrevocably, onto the Internet for all to see. Or slanderous things being uttered for which your company may be held liable. But, hold on a second: is there really anything new here? Anyone heard of e-mail? Web pages? Peer-to-peer? Google? Instant messaging?
I'd actually go further, anyone heard of the telephone, or face to face conversations in public places? (Not to mention cell phone conversations on a commuter train, *cough*)
Any time one of the people who work for your organization is talking to someone outside of the organization, there's a risk they'll say something they shouldn't about their workplace, and yet we still actually let them do it! Shocking!
I don't know how business has survived this long, surely it's time to start requiring your workforce to live in company camps and only interact with coworkers, isn't it? I mean if you let them go out to dinner, or to a ball game, you have no idea who they might be sitting next to and who they might strike up a conversation with. Surely you can't risk them complaining about their job, or leaking confidential information, can you? These communications must be blocked! Or at the very least we should have strongly worded and specific policies regarding any and all such possibilities. Just giving employees general guidelines that apply to all such situations can't possibly be enough. We need a new policy for every new possibility!
It's June 1, the day the fine folks at ILTA released the full list of sessions and speakers for the annual conference in August. Naturally, I went looking for the session I'll be speaking in, which made the whole idea just a little bit more real, and thus scarier. :)
Seriously, though, I'm looking forward to both attending and speaking at the conference this year. I've never been before, but I hear nothing but good things, and looking at the full schedule leads me to think that I'm going to have a hard time choosing which ones to attend! Heck, even our session is up against some serious competition, specifically that judges panel on e-discovery and a panel on disruptive technologies. I'm actually sort of sorry I'm going to miss those!
A couple of weeks ago a rep from somewhere left a copy of Michelle Kovitch's Summ it Up! book with our office. It found it's way to me, and I've been leafing through it to see how I might adjust my training sessions with the way Michelle presents the information in her book.
I had heard positive reviews of the first edition of the book going back over the past couple of years, so I was very interested in getting a glimpse at this edition. As I went through it, I have to admit I was really impressed not just at the amount of information, but also that it is written in such a non-tech jargon kind of way. Something any attorney can pick up and get a better understanding of how Summation works, and what they can do with it, above and beyond simple document review.
On top of that, it was good to read through some of the chapters and remind myself of some of the features, and what we could do with Summation that we don't do now. It can be difficult in the midst of trying to get the day to day work done, to view the larger picture and see how we might do something differently. Michelle's book, by covering Summation so thoroughly, helped remind me of that.
If you're working in a Summation environment, I definitely recommend it!
I was reading Josh Gilliland's post from yesterday about being careful not to break client confidentiality in your online networking status messages.
Here is how the risk of disclosure is possible: a Facebook user posts a status message they deem harmless, such as “I just landed ‘Company A’ as a client and have a bunch of back-up tapes to restore.”
Does this disclose any mental impressions or strategy about the case? Probably not, but it is flirting with disclosure. Moreover, Company A would probably not be thrilled with their lawyer announcing their actions in a lawsuit to 300 “friends.”
After reviewing data from imaged hard drives, the same individual posts the status message, “Wow, they really blew preserving their emails.”
If the client is somehow identifiable, there is a problem, because a mental impression of the client’s ESI is being disclosed. While the “friends” are probably in no way related to anyone in a lawsuit, disclosing a client confidence to one person is one too many.
As I read this, I was reminded of something I often talk about with people when it comes to social networking tools. The first rule of social networking has got to be "Don't be Stupid". In this case, anyone who works as a lawyer, or works in the legal field at all, has had client confidentiality drilled into their heads. Just because Twitter, or Facebook is easy to update and new doesn't mean those same old rules don't apply. Thinking they don't, is stupid.
Training Blog and My Latest Blog Post for the Firm
I spotted this on a link from one of the many people I follow on Twitter this evening, The Lit Support Trainer's Blog. It's relatively new, but I'm interested in seeing something dedicated to training others to do Lit Support work. As a Certified Summation Trainer, I've done a bit of training in our firm on using Summation, and am always interested in hearing how others manage to get training done, so I'll be keeping an eye on it, for sure!
In other news, the latest blog post I wrote for the work blog is up, titled e-discovery 2.0, it's a reminder to legal departments and lawyers that their organizations data might not end at the corporate firewall anymore, it may be in the cloud!
It's sort of different writing over there, one because there is much more of a sense of having to do it, as well as being very careful in what I say, since it's representing the firm, not just me! I definitely like writing representing myself better, but it's important to bring some value to the table in your career, so I'm more than happy to bring my years of blogging to the table there! Any extra value I can bring in this legal downturn can only be a good thing.
Personal and Professional Unavoidably Intersecting?
That's what Michelle Golden suggested last week, and I tend to agree. I see this most plainly trying to document the time I spend in the office. I'm an hourly employee, technically I'm supposed to do work in the office, and then stop. Except, in the era of constant connectivity, how am I really supposed to do that? Am I supposed to only read e-discovery or tech articles in Google Reader during work hours, and never at home? Am I supposed to plan a lunch meeting with a friend only during the evening hours, and hope we don't have to change plans after I leave the house that morning? Am I supposed to only look at the Twitter folks I follow who are directly related to my job function?
The whole concept is ridiculous for a knowledge worker. Do I stop trying to gain any knowledge about my field at 5 o'clock each day? Of course not, that's not good for me, and it's not good for the firm. Not to mention the fact that I was issued a blackberry, obviously someone has some expectation that I'll keep an eye on it and reply in an emergency.
Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, firms are constantly telling their employees not to spend too much time on the internet, or blocking sites that they deem "personal". Michelle makes some points that I've been saying for years now:
I’ll briefly touch on policies, too. Frankly, as much as companies have tried over the last decade to stifle employee access of third party email sites, interactive websites, etc, it’s simply impossible to restrict the entire internet. Why bother to lock out hotmail/yahoo when people have email and text on their smart phones??
That era is over.
And it’s dumb to block most websites, too. Disallowing Linked In, Facebook, Blogs and Twitter (yes, some firms lock down all of those) is cutting off your firm’s nose to spite its face. These are valuable marketing tools for those who wish to use them that way.
Michelle also points out that the way to deal with issues is the same way I enforced our policies back when I was working as the lone IT guy:
So, don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about who is using what forum and instead, if issues arise at the individual level with regard to performance, then address problems one-on-one with that individual. Worry about people not getting their work done is the real issue behind the bans, anyway, right?
Today's reality is that there is little choice now but to trust the way people spend their “time” is appropriate, overall, and simply hold people accountable for the end result: either they are cutting the mustard with performance, or they aren’t.
Couldn't agree more. If you have people who are not being productive, what makes you think blocking Facebook is going to suddenly change that behavior? How about if you just solve your personnel issues without involving IT? Don't we have better things to do than keep track of all the various websites users might be wasting time on and blocking them? I know I do.
This is a bit of a follow up to a post a few days ago about whether having an open ticketing system would help with the communications between techs and the users they support.
As I mentioned there, and talked more about in the comments, when you have systemic failure to communicate, it's much more than a technical problem. It's a people problem, and in many cases, it a culture problem. If your organization sees their IT department as "those" people down in the basement, you are going to continue to have these issues with people not giving the techs enough information. Conversely, if your IT folks see the people they support as (l)users, you are going to continue to have issues with your techs no following up appropriately.
Worse yet, when these attitudes are displayed by the CEO, or the IT manager, there is no hope of it getting better, no matter what technology you put in place! If your IT department is in its own silo, you're going to have problems. If all the other departments are in their own silos, you're going to have problems that go well beyond tech support. From what I hear, this is actually pretty common in larger law firms, as each practice area tends to be in their own silo, not to mention staff departments, like IT, which exist even outside of those practice area silos!
As I've written elsewhere recently, there are some things you can do, even if you're not in management, that will help. First and foremost, do some internal networking. Get to know people in other areas, develop relationships outside of the silo. Learn about what is happening in other areas of the firm and try to find ways in which your talents, or technology, can assist them in accomplishing things that are important to them.
Don't wait for management to develop a plan to get rid of silos, do it yourself on whatever level you can. Go to lunch with someone in another area of the firm, offer to show them how to use some bit of technology during a brown bag lunch. I've had some success offering to show people how to setup an RSS reader, for example. It's not official firm-approved technology training, it's taking my own time to help teach someone how to use a technology that could help them, with their job, or with other interests.
One other area where I've only recently begun to consider is in the use of social networking tools. As I've been on Facebook for a little while now, I'm realizing just how much it's growing in use, even among the non-techie people I know. In some cases, they are joining up to keep an eye on their teenaged kids, and finding plenty of old friends/classmates on the service, or are using it to connect with family members who are far away, possibly as a way to share photos, an then finding plenty of other groups and activities they enjoy, etc. Lots of these folks are also listing their work information, including employer.
I can't help but wonder if "friending" some of these folks would help me to learn about their interests, and find common ground, or maybe increase the level of interaction with folks who I don't normally get to see on a regular basis. At this point I've only connected with a handful of folks that I work with on Facebook, and none on Twitter, but I'm wondering if I should spend some time tracking down more of them, and using the technology to develop better relationships across silos. (Doing so without coming across as creepy stalker guy from Lit Support might be a little difficult though..*L*)
To me, a lack of communication in any business is a sign of a lack of relationships within that organization. People who know each other, are familiar with each other, and heck maybe even like each other, are more likely to share important information. People who don't know each other, or who couldn't even tell you the name of the IT person who helped them, aren't.
Of course, since I met my wife at work 9 years ago, maybe my perspective on building relationships at work is a bit biased. I tend to think the better you know the people you work with, the better you are going to communicate with them, and they with you. It's worked that way for me with plenty of folks that I didn't wind up married to as well. :)
What do you guys think? Do you regularly connect with folks from within your organization outside of work? If you work in a law firm, what chance do you think an internal networking goal has of getting any sort of momentum with people who are ruled by billable hours? I will say, it's been easier to build relationships with other staff members than it has been with lawyers. That is one silo that is going to be difficult to reach across, it takes time, and that's time that isn't being billed! Share your own thoughts in the comments...
One of the interesting things that struck me was how much the current state of the economy, especially in the legal sector, seems to be having the same effect on people as an angry boss does, namely, that it pushes otherwise brilliant people into making rash decisions about their careers. One of the biggest warnings about deal with an angry boss that Mike and Mark give is to not let yourself make career decisions because of your current boss. Not that you won't still decide to leave your current position, but that you don't rush into it just to escape the bad boss and wind up hurting your career long term.
I see the same thing going on with the economy right now. All the stories of law firm layoffs have people scared, and people who are scared don't make good decisions. They stay at safe jobs rather than moving forward and taking advantage of opportunities, they don't take on new assignments at work for fear of failing, they try to "lay low" and keep out of the spotlight so the layoffs will pass over them, etc.
I've got news for you, you can't lay low enough, and you can't really control if your firm is going to be going through layoffs. The only thing you can do, is excel and keep moving forward. As Douglas Welch recently wrote, it's "Time to turn off the news, and get something done". Stop spending all your time and energy worrying about the economy. The economy is going to do what the economy does, whether you worry about it or not, how much better spent could that time and energy be? Wouldn't you be better off spending less time worrying, and more time working with new people, creating new things, finding ways to be a benefit to your organization?
The economy is bad, I'm not going to lie, but it won't always be. When it's roaring along again, will you look back on this time of your life as wasted, or as the time you sought out and took advantage of the opportunities that are always brought about by change? Is your organization now finding itself short staffed in some key areas where you could reach outside of your normal silo and get things done in new, innovative, ways? Are there folks around you with ideas that need a little help to get off the ground that you can provide? Can you take on new leadership roles where there is suddenly a leadership vacuum?
This moment that you are living as you read this, will never come again. This day, week, and year will only come once. Will they be wasted while you lay low and hope for the best, or will you continue to do the best things for yourself, and your career?
Courtesy of Tom O'Connor, who picks up the discussion about lawyers needing to get some tech skills in order to understand how to effectively deal with e-discovery:
Sharpen up those pencils kids ?. it?s time to go back to school. Or fire those luddites and hire people who will.
It's true, when your client needs to deal with ESI, and your firm doesn't have the expertise to help them out, they won't wait around for you to get some technical expertise, they'll find one that already does.
Tami Schiller was kind enough to present a few ideas in the comments to that last post, and I definitely agree with what she had to say.
In fact, the survey results themselves show some growth in the areas of alternative learning, with more firms using webcasts, podcasts and other time-shifted training tools. That will help with attorneys who can't take time to sit in class, and it's something firms should be experimenting with.
On the other hand, as much as we are seeing more attorneys and law firm staff embrace new technologies, like Google Docs and various other Web 2.0 tools, they are still in the minority. Most attorneys do not know anything about RSS, Twitter, or colloboration tools like Sharepoint or Wiki's. The consideration of using tools like this in the firm comes from the IT department, or from individual users who are less tech adverse than the norm.
The bottom line is still that attorneys, and staff, don't make learning a priority, because firm management does not make learning a priority. Revenue and billable hours are a priority, as well they should be, and attorneys and staff do everything they can to meet their goals in those areas. Some firms make community service a priority, or charitable giving, or practice development things like getting published, getting speaking engagments, etc. and all of those goals get met. Learning how to take advantage of technology is not a priority.
So we've got a growing number of firms starting to dedicate staff time and resources to developing training programs, but hardly any of them doing anything but pay lip service to measuring whether their users actually develop any skills because of it. Until someone comes out and says "you are going to held accountable for developing tech skills, it's a part of your professional development, and this many hours should be dedicated to it", it's never going to be a big priority for attorneys, and if it's not a big priority for attorneys, they won't be encouraging their staff to do it either.
But, the legal industry doesn't really work that way. As Tom O'Connor said today in regards to a recent decision:
No, the real problem is one that Browning Marean and I have been trying to combat for over a year and that Ralph himself so accurately pointed out in a recent column: legal education involves no computer education. Why? Because legal education still has it’s own old paradigm. The one that working with a keyboard is not “professional” and is best done by support staff and hourly employees.
Read that again. Does your firm see technical skills and legal skills as two different things, or do they see technical skills as part of good lawyering? If it's the former, how does firm management, which is made up almost entirely of lawyers, even know how to measure the technical skills of their staff? And if they can't, or won't, measure those skills, what hope does a technical training program have? It's doomed from the start!
The only solutions I see are a combination of things. One, IT must get on track with not just teaching how to use the tools, but also explaining the why. Teach people what they can do with the tools, how they can use the tools to do their jobs, or to do things that they aren't doing now. Help them be innovative! Also, IT must continue to increase the number of training options. Not everyone is suited to sit in a classroom for training. Give them some other options.
Secondly, firm management must get out of the dark ages. It's 2009, technology is not going away. In fact, technology is changing the way every industry in the world works, and the legal industry is no different. Just having a law degree isn't enough any more. Good lawyers use technology to their advantage in a great many ways, to educate themselves, to network, to engage clients and to collaborate. Good firms support that, and great firms will demand it from their lawyers. If that means making technical training hours a requirement on par with CLE credit, then so be it. If that means placing less emphasis on billable hours, or even moving away from billable hours to an alternate rate structure where that makes sense, so be it.
Your firm won't be an innovative leader in the industry if management doesn't make it a priority to be there. Innovation requires developing some technical skills all across your organization, and having the leadership ability to take advantage of those skills.
Or, you can keep doing the same thing and see if you survive in the current economy. Good luck!
I briefly mentioned the woeful numbers when it comes to actually measuring the technical skills of law firm staff when I posted the link to the 2008 ILTA User Support survey.
Tonight, I'd like to dig into those thoughts a bit further. First, let's look at the top answers of some of the relevant questions to this post:
Does your firm conduct skills assessment? 65% -No
If your firm does skills assessment, who do you test? 59% -Prospective Staff
Does your firm have any ongoing technical training requirements for attorneys? 87% - No
Does your firm have any ongoing technical requirements for staff? 67% -No
What incentives are offered at your firm to support training? 52% -Food at sessions
Does your firm have an official budget for your training department? 62% -No
So, let's take those numbers and create a typical law firm staffer.
When you were hired, there's a less than 50% chance that anyone actually bothered to test your technical skills, other than looking at your resume, but there's a chance that someone would have, so let's suppose you do actually have all the requisite skills for your job, currently. Over the years, as technology changes at a great pace, you'll be given the opportunity to take some classes, mostly as part of large roll outs of new tools. There will be other opportunities for training, but no actual budget for it, and no one will be tracking whether you go to training or not. In fact, your skills will never actually be tested again, no matter how long you work with the firm. So long as you can continue to do the important stuff, you'll be fine. If, however, you decide you'd like to learn more about taking advantage of technology, and be more efficient through using it, you'll be richly rewarded, with a pastry.
Of course this is all different for the young associate attorney. For you, not only is your reward a lovely pastry, but you also get the lost hours of billable time that you'll need to make up, and, if you really learn a lot, you'll also be treated to missed billable hour minimums because your efficient use of technology allowed you to get work done quicker, and left you scrounging around for more work to make up your hours!
Which leads me to my last number:
What are the biggest challenges facing training and user support efforts? 73% -Lawyer Participation
Next, some ideas on correcting this problem. In the meantime, I'd love to hear yours!
The survey results are out, and there's a ton on information about how law firms are doing training and user support. I haven't had time to do more than give it a cursory glance, but there's definitely some interesting discussion points. Download a copy.
Also, there's a white paper available with some analysis of what these numbers might mean, and which I need to read through as well, before starting any blog posts discussing the numbers, though the fact that 65% of firms do no ongoing skills assessments, and 63% don't require ongoing technical training for staff (87% don't require it for attorneys) is a little bit mind-boggling. As much as technology changes, you don't have any requirements for people in your firms to continue learning anything technical?
It's no wonder clients think law firms are so behind the times.
Given the (low) cost of storage, is it worth the time/hassle of keeping track of 1GB vs. 15GB? I have no idea what typical volumes of data are for your organization, but as you noted, the client will end up paying more for the larger quantity of data reviewed... does the storage and machine time really make up a large actual cost?
I started to reply to Aaron's comment in the comments, but then it occurred to me that I'd be better off making this a new post, because I want to get into some of the nuances of e-discovery in my explanation.
First off, yes the cost of storage being what it is, there's not that much cost to us to store data, especially when comparing 1GB to 15 or 20GB. Processing that much data, however, is a bit different. For example, let's take 3 cases where clients are presenting us with PST files where we will need to use processing software to extract each message, each attachment and all corresponding metadata so that we can load it into a review database. The first is a 1GB PST, the second is a group of PST's totaling 20GB, the third 100GB.
With billable hours being the determining factor in cost of in-house processing, you are going to be billed for the time I spend connecting up the external drive to our processing machine, setting up the new project parameters, labeling the appropriate information, doing a quality control check after it processes, and finally starting the export process. There's no difference in my time for 1GB or 20GB, but how long the machine is in use is vastly different. Granted, we don't have the most robust processing tools, but 1GB can be kicked out in a couple of hours, 20GB takes a couple of days! Keeping in mind that during those couple of days, anything else that comes in has to wait to be processed, there may not be a fixed "cost" of machine time, but there is definitely an opportunity cost of tying up resources that might be used to otherwise be working on billable work. Especially if it's time-sensitive and we end up having to outsource it, losing potential revenue, in the interest of getting in done on time.
The 100GB case, given our resource limitations, would almost certainly be shipped to an outside vendor, and that cost (which may very well be a per GB charge by the vendor!), is then passed directly to the client.
At the end of the day, two of the clients are billed the exact same amount for processing and the third is billed a cost that may be higher or lower because it's based on a completely different factor than the first two. Throw in the very real possibility that these are actually three different collections from the same client, coming in at different times, and what you have is a lack of clarity in billing/costs that is the essence of the argument against billable hours!
So while the firm, as a whole, really does make up the difference when it comes to the longer review process, it might be clearer to people if we simplified the process when it comes to certain tasks, and moved away from time as the factor and toward volume. My point is less about the actual cost in dollars, it's more about how to make the process clear and fair to all clients.
Secondly, the cost of storage actually works in the other way too. As organizations struggle with the amount of data they have, it's cheap and easy to "throw more storage" at the problem, as opposed to making the hard decisions about what they need to keep, what they don't, and how to enforce that policy. I call it the Gmail theory, "don't worry about deleting or organizing, just keep everything and we'll search it!". That may work great when Google is indexing everything in your email constantly, it might not work so great when you're keeping everything on servers, on shared drives, and not indexing or organizing it in any way.
When these organizations are then party to litigation, the amount of data that needs to be searched, or possibly reviewed, continously grows. There may be no real difference to our firm in the cost of a 1GB versus 15GB case right now, but when you start talking about Terabytes of data? As the cost of storage declines, the amount of data being stored by organizations grows, and the more storage we have to incorporate in order to store the relevant data to our cases. That cost will need to get passed on somehow, and right now that is through the review process, but it's an indirect method of passing the cost along. If you want something clearer and easier to understand perhaps we should have a small per GB charge for storing data? Tie the amount of data directly to their costs, and perhaps that would even encourage them toward better document retention and organizing behavior as well, in turn leaving us fewer documents to review, and attorneys more time to work on other, much more interesting, endeavors?
Possibly, but that's a discussion for another time, and one that, being a non-lawyer, I wouldn't even know where to begin with. :)
Nicole Black's new endeavor Legal Tweets is keeping track of a conversation about whether the billable hour is still feasible for law firms.
It's an interesting discussion, and I think it wouldn't hurt for you to go check it out and follow the links to the different ideas.
Now, I definitely think there are places where law firms should think about something other than the billable hour as a revenue model, but then again there are other areas that simply don't translate well. Let me give you an example from the e-discovery/lit support world.
Let's say you have two cases, one involves maybe 500MB worth of data that needs to be processed, stored and loaded into a Summation database to be reviewed, the other has 20GB of data. Since we only bill by the hour, and don't bill machine time, or network storage, your processing costs as a client are going to be basically the same for both of these cases. You'll pay for the time it takes me to setup the project in the processing software, to setup the export, and to setup the load into Summation. Obviously, all of the machine processes will take much longer in the second case, but you won't see any difference in my time, therefore you'll pay exactly the same for the processing.
That hardly seems fair, does it? Of course, the larger case is going to see many more hours billed by the attorneys for reviewing the documents, as well they should. It takes longer to review 20GB of data than it takes to review 500MB of data! That's a good example where the billable hour makes sense.
Certainly, we've seen vendors and some firms switch to a per-GB cost for processing and hosting, and that makes perfect sense, even if most firms have not recognized it yet. Does it make sense for document review to move to that model? I would say no, because all gig's of data are not equal when it comes to review. I think we can all agree 1GB of video files is not going to take near as long to review as 1GB of Word documents, can't we? Whereas a GB of data that needs to be extracted from emails, transferred and stored is a GB of data regardless of the type of information in that GB, that doesn't hold true in other areas of e-discovery.
If you're not going to use the "hour" as the measurement for review, what are you going to use that makes sense?
Jordan Furlong has an interesting look at the current economic malaise in the legal industry. He's convinced the downturn is part of a "regeneration" of law,
People will always need lawyers, and lawyers will still be here to do what we do best: counsel, advise, advocate, analyze, facilitate and connect. The legal profession will be transformed, but if we do this right — and I know we can — the transformation will be a regeneration: stripping away the obsolete and counterproductive and elevating the best of what the law and lawyers hold at their heart: service to clients, the community, and the greater good.
I don't know if that's how things will turn out at the end of the day, but there is definitely something going on. Firms with over century of history suddenly going belly-up? Associates, not to mention non-lawyer staff getting cut by the hundreds at others? This isn't just a downturn in the economy, this is something larger. I haven't been in the legal world long enough to really know what it is, but I suspect we are seeing a change in the way many other industries work, as Jordan states in the post, I don't see why the law should be any different.
Now, to be fair, I've seen this sort of thing play out at places outside of law firms as well. You have someone who's very good at their job, getting that job done properly is very important to you, so you want to do everything you can to keep them in that job. Unfortunately, that sometimes includes blocking their ability to advance, possibly into other areas that they are more interested in. Certainly, there are plenty of legal secretaries who would rather work in IT, or legal marketing, etc. but are good secretaries with partners who depend on them. That may mean the only way to advance their career is to leave the firm, which hurts the firm at the end of the day.
In another organization where I worked in the distant past, we actually had something similar, but every so slightly different. We called it being promoted to the level of your incompetence. Typically, if you were good at a specific job, they wanted you to stay there. But if you weren't very good, you'd be more likely to get promoted, and pushed out of the way of people actually getting the work done. Naturally, the more incompetent you were, the higher up the org chart you had to move in order to be out of the way of the day-to-day operations.
Obviously, this is somewhat exaggerated, but it's easy to imagine this sort of thing going on when you are constantly told how good you are at your job, but find every attempt to advance out of that job to be fruitless, especially when, as the article says, someone half-jokingly refers to blocking your attempts to leave because you are good at it!
This is really one area that shows how short-sighted people are. How much good does it do your law firm, or other organization, to try and keep someone in a job they are very good at, but ultimately not happy staying in? If you've got people looking for new challenges and different career paths, they are going to leave if they don't find them within their current place of employment. So, while blocking them may keep them in that job you depend on them to do for a little while, they'll be completely gone soon enough, and you'll be the one looking to bring in new people, and hoping they are as competent as the person you just lost.
Maybe you'd do well to have enough of a relationship with the people who work for you to know where they want to go with their careers, and help them get there?
Back in November I told you about an ABA Journal Survey of lawyers regarding the impact of recession on their practice. Today, as part of the special recession issue, they've shared the results.
The numbers that jump out at me, and not just because they are front and center of the page, are that 31% of attorneys expect to see attorney layoffs at their firm, and 19% expect to lose their jobs because of the economy.
Wow, think about that for a moment, 1 out of every 5 attorneys expects their own job to be cut because of current conditions in the legal industry. That's sobering for lawyers, for legal staff that has to be more than sobering. After all, non-lawyer staff is probably more likely to see layoffs!
That's why it's so important to be out growing your network and making connections. The more people you know, the more options you have if you need to turn to your network. Get out and cultivate those relationships now, before you find yourself looking for work!
Check out all the articles in the Special Recession Issue, seems like there's a lot of good information in there that might help you deal with what's going on, including advice on what to do if you do find yourself laid off.
Hmm, so attorney's are going to want more mobility, and clients always want more responsiveness from their attorney. Let's face it, clients are not going to accept "I'll get back to you when I'm back in the office next week". They'll find a new attorney, one who can respond to their email, review a document, and send a letter on their behalf without waiting to be "in the office" to do it.
All that requires mobile technology, and the attorney's are going to demand the freedom to use whatever mobile technology is easiest and most convenient for them. That includes thumb drives, Blackberry or iPhones, VPN connections, etc. (Eventually this will probably include "cloud" storage too.)
Of course, of the other hand you have two interests on the opposite side of all this mobility and accessibility. One, obviously is data security. How do you keep confidential information, well, confidential?
The other is the possibility of electronic discovery. What happens when you're party to litigation, and the people of interest have been using a blackberry, maybe a thumb drive or two (or 3-4?), working on some documents on their personal PC? A mess is what happens, that's what.
So, the question for law firm IT folks is how to you balance these two seemingly competing interests?
To me the answer lies in policy and education. Unfortunately, that's not going to be easy. There are no shortcuts. You've got to figure out what is going to work best in your situation, and then do the hard work to find the correct balance. I'm still not sure what it would be.
The ABA Journal is asking lawyers to take a survey about the job market and the current state of the legal economy. I'm not a lawyer so I can't take it, but I'm very interested in seeing how the results work out. I think all of us have seen, at the very least, a belt-tightening in terms of expenses, but I'd be curious to see how things are in firms around the country.
If you are an attorney, you can take the short survey here:
Today at work I was being helpful and covering the helpdesk for an hour so that our helpdesk folks could have a meeting with their manager. Being the always-on kind of guy, I posted to twitter from my phone about doing that and what it was like.
In fact, I mentioned that it was kind of like riding a bike, after a couple of phone calls, I fell right back into a groove with it, short-lived as it was.
Alas, that's not why I am writing this post. The inspiration for this post came from a reply I got on Twitter, from Tony Hartsfield:
@mikemac29 Wonder if a help desk stint shouldn't be a mandatory annual exercise.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought that might not be a bad idea, at least in some cases. Here's why I think it could be, because not all IT jobs have direct user contact, and sometimes, without that, it's easy to lose sight of why you are there.
Now, for myself, Lit Support has a ton of direct user contact, so I really don't need the reminder, but I know plenty of networking folks, or software developers, etc. that don't have much, if any, contact with end users. Sometimes that leads to seeing their role as something other than providing the technology support so that others can do their jobs. An occasional shift at the helpdesk would remind them that the core business of the organization isn't to have a server room, or cool tech tools. Those tools exist to help the people who are at the core of the business. In many cases, IT isn't there. It's an important part, but it's not the core.
Sometimes it helps to peek out of the server room and see how those tools are impacting the people who are out doing the organization's business.
I've seen opinions on law firms doing e-discovery processing or collections in house, as opposed to farming that work out to a vendor that are about as varied and strongly held as the Presidential election. Some people think it's a great value-add for clients, or even a revenue source, while others would never, ever, take the focus away from their legal work, and don't want to deal with the ethical risks involved in handling this stuff incorrectly.
I can't really say that either side is wrong. Many of these folks have worked in this industry much longer than I have, and have more experience dealing with these issues. What I can say, is that if you're going to do more of this work in house, it helps to know what resources you have, and how they can be applied.
For example, we don't do a lot of in-house stuff, but we do a fair share. One of the things we do in house some times is get a forensic "clone" of a hard drive. When I get asked about getting a copy of a drive to work from, I generally say, that yeah, we can do that. Most of the time, that's true. yesterday, it wasn't.
Not because I didn't have time, or I didn't have a cloning tool, but because as technology has advanced, and the ultra-portable market has grown, we've discovered various types of hard drives that we don't have the proper tools for. I can do a SATA drive or IDE drive from any laptop or desktop, but when you bring me an ultra portable with a 1.8" drive with a PATA(ZIF) connector, or even one of the new SSD drives, there's not much I can do. I don't have the proper drive connectors to handle that. At the end of the day, we don't have the resources a forensic expert would have to handle various types of media. That's not our business. On the other hand, if we try to do some of this work in house, we're going to run into the limitations of our resources, and sometimes that's going to be problematic. Might we have been better off simply saying we'd have to send the drive out to be cloned from the very beginning? Maybe. Might our client balk at that sort of cost and find a firm that could do it in-house, and cheaper? Maybe. Is trying to be "somewhere in the middle", being able to do some work in order to limit client costs, but not everything so that we're not doing just that, going to bite us every now and then? Obviously, yes.
Is there a right answer? I doubt it.
Does the fact that I hadn't ever seen the 1.8" drive like that one mean I've been out of the tech loop long enough that my tech knowledge is starting to be irrelevant? Sadly, yeah. :)
Key findings of the survey of the trial lawyers group's more than 3,800 members include:
? That court pleadings and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure too often are used as leverage to force a settlement, rather than to better define and move a case ahead toward trial.
? That judges don't do enough to control excessive discovery (particularly e-discovery, which can be extremely expensive).
? That the current system works well for some kinds of cases, such as individual tort claims, but is unwieldy for mass tort claims, ERISA cases and administrative law actions, among others.
So if it's going to cost more to go through the discovery process than you would win as a result of the case, what's a litigant to do?
First of all, let me just say that, as a non-lawyer, it seems to me that the Federal Rules, especially regarding e-discovery, seem pretty straightforward. I don't really see any reason why opposing parties can't meet, and come to an agreement on reasonable discovery terms. Maybe there's something I'm missing by looking at them from more of an outsider perspective, but they seem pretty simple to me. If they don't come to an agreement, it's the duty of the judge in the case to make them. I can only assume then that you have attorney's who refuse to be cooperative, and judges who lack the resources, or knowledge, to take control of the discovery process, that both parties are part of the problem right now.
Technology can only do so much. Everyone is waiting for the magic bullet that will make e-discovery costs manageable, but no technology can make up for people not coming to reasonable compromise. Search technology and culling will get better as time goes on, but if you don't agree on search terms, or how to cull documents, the tech is useless!
Here's the thing, if costs continue to go up, fewer and fewer people will even bother to seek justice in the Courts. Why bother? Even if you win you'll end up broke?
Of course, if you're a litigation attorney, that's the last thing you want. Fewer people bothering to bring a suit means fewer cases, fewer clients, and fewer billable hours. If that doesn't provide enough incentive to work on some solutions, I don't know what will!
Any way you look at it, this entire area of the legal industry is very much in flux, and promises to stay that way for a long while.
Turns out she was right. Not only are the 50 chapters nice easy to read stories, but they provide some great insight into much more than how to cross examine a witness. Obviously, there are some highly entertaining anecdotes and some great examples of how to cross-examine, but there's also quite a bit to take away about how to deal with people in any situation. Personally, I got some pretty good insight into how to read people, the importance of knowing all your facts, having done all your research, and the importance of having trustworthy people around you when you need to depend on their work.
Surely those are lessons that all of us could stand to be reminded of from time to time, and when you combine that with the experience the various authors bring to the table, and the stores that come from that experience, it makes for a very interesting read.
In fact, reading it sort of reminded me of the "After the Catch" show that has spun off recently from the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch series. (At least the way that show started before they started screwing it up this year with too much planned discussion!) Just get a bunch of experienced fishermen to sit down at a table in a bar and start telling stories. It was seriously interesting and entertaining, much like listening to cabbies, or ER doctors. You don't have to be one of them, or have any desire to be one, to find the stories highly entertaining.
This book is sort of like that, reading it I felt like I was getting to witness some of that story-swapping between attorneys. Obviously, working at a law firm, I found that interesting, but I think anyone with some interest into how trials work, and how attorney's approach them, would find it pretty interesting as well!
As it turns out, my inability to get this book read quickly turned into a timely coincidence, and the publisher is doing a blog for the month of August. It's called your Witness for 30 Days, and it's featuring short quips and tips from the book.
Inside Counsel (April 2008) reports on a LexisNexis survey on information overload by professionals: ?77% of legal professionals? cite a clack of sufficient information technology tools to cope with the ever-increasing information burden."
Law firms and legal market vendors undoubtedly can do better in creating, deploying, and training on tools. But it irks me to see surveys point fingers at IT professionals. I?ve run IT at a law firm and hosted widely publicized internal seminars to create awareness of or training on new tools. Often, literally not a single lawyer shows up. And many lawyers who complain have almost no patience to learn new software or new features. So many lawyers have only themselves to blame.
Now, of course, as an IT guy, I completely agree with Ron. There are much better ways to cope with information that many people, not just lawyers, simply don't take the time to learn. RSS is a great example of this, I would tell you that the number of percentage of people I know using RSS readers is probably in the single digits, and I know a lot of people who work in tech and blog, so I'm betting my experience is on the higher end compared to most. Instead, most people are still hitting websites every day looking for the latest news items, or worse, subscribing to dozens and dozens of email newsletters that they just let sit in their inbox along with hundreds of other emails, never to be read.
There are better ways to handle information, but you have to learn to use the tools, and adapt them to whatever suits your style best.
That being said, now that I work in Litigation Support, I find myself more frequently in a different role. Instead of supporting the tools we roll out for other people to use, some of my time is now spent using those tools to get certain things done. Sometimes, the tools I have, as many and varied as they are, simply aren't that good.
Lately, I've found myself longing for a different tool than what I have because I've needed to cross-reference financial information by querying across numerous spreadsheets, which isn't difficult to do if I bring those sheets into Access, but then I have to export the results of my query back out in order to use formulas to get my bottom-line numbers. It's frustrating that the tools I have limit me like this, but I also know I can't really expect to have an unlimited budget for tools, so I deal with it. I make do because I have to. (This is lesson #1 for those of you who want to work in Lit Support, learn how to make do however you can to get things done!)
On the other hand, maybe this is exactly what Ron was talking about. I probably could do this easier if I knew VB or something, but I don't, and I don't really have time to learn it on the fly either. Hmm....
How do you resolve the competing need to bill hours, or get work done in any organization, versus spending the time to learn the tech tools that can help you do that work? There are no easy answers, that's for sure.
I know, I know, it was just a few days ago that I wondered if I could go back to just working at the help desk after sitting in the session about ethics in e-discovery.
Truth is, even there, I was subject to more stringent ethical rules simply by virtue of working at a law firm. I was reminded of that today, while certainly handling ESI gives me more opportunity to screw up in a big way, every single person at the firm is responsible for handling some client data, and is charged with even keeping our client's confidentiality. That's just part of the job, and something that has pretty severe consequences for not adhering to.
So, while there's certainly a lot of responsibility when collecting or processing ESI, or building a Summation database with the client's documents, those ethical responsibilities have always been in place. You simply have to do what you know is right in every case, no matter what. You know it's wrong to talk about your clients outside the office, you know it's wrong to offer advice when you're not a lawyer, and you know it's wrong to be careless and end up with possible spoliation of ESI, so you don't do it. It's pretty clear what you're not supposed to do, so be careful to do things the right way, and you won't have to worry too much about the sanctions that comes from ethics violations.
Still, I get a little jittery every time I have to sign a chain of custody form. :)
Barron: Quit using copy/paste and search replace to create documents! You copy over errors into all your documents. Most of the people, who consider themselves power users, don't use word processing software effectively at all. Movement away from per hour billing to flat fee means you need to work quicker and get more done!
Allan: Within Word you can use fields to simply fill in a letter, or other common docs, you can even set up the template to use fill in questions to fill in those fields. You can use styles to reuse what is typed in one field in another field. Use Autotext, not just globally, but specific to a template as well, makes it easier to find and use in that template. So, you can create a clauses folder with autotext entries and simply enter the clauses that are relevant to only that template. If you use links to a template your letter will update any time you change the autotext library for that template, say if you make part of it underlined, then you hit Ctrl-Shift-F9 to close links before saving. Minor programming in 2003 will allow you to automate that as well. (Note, need to research exactly how these sorts of macros are written and how we could use them.)
Autotext in 2007 is different, you need to add it to the quick access toolbar to reach it...
Commercial Drafting Systems: Can be a nice option if you don't have time to design these yourself. Lexis has forms, ABA, and your local Bar Association have good forms. This helps to keep up with law changes, because they send you updated forms, and usually have listserv to help communicate with other users of the form set, who also happen to be in the same practice area as you. On the other hand, they can be expensive, and are charged SAAS, so it's ongoing, may not include all you need or every state, some are difficult to learn, or maybe don't work very well. Biggest complaint Barron hears is complexity of system in some cases.
HotDocs (a Lexis Nexis Product) is the market leader. HotDocs has a web-based component as well. Barron is showing off doing a letter in Hot Docs by answering questions. Simplified training, want to do a letter, "open the letter template". You program the one template and everyone shares that so you know every letter is going to have the correct stuff in it.
What documents to automate: create chart, two axis how frequently you use them, and how difficult they are to do. Start easy when you're learning how to program templates! If you start with the hardest document you handle, you'll never get anywhere, start with things like fax cover sheets, and grow from there. You can still save lots of time with these simple documents being automated, maybe 5 minutes at a time.
Barron is on office.microsoft.com talking about training videos that are on there. Also suggests the Word MVP site. He wishes he could give every law office the simple understanding of how to really use their word processing software. He actually got applause with that one..:)
OK, this will be the last post for today, not going to try to blog 60 sites in 60 minutes, it goes too fast, and then I'm off to spend the afternoon with the wife before flying home. I'll have more to say about the event overall soon.
I haven't worked in the legal industry for very long, but I am familiar with the ethical practice of not double billing your time. For example, if you are typing an email to one client, while one the phone with another, you can't bill them both for that time. Naturally, that's to encourage you to stop and pay all of your attention to the client you are billing for that time, which is a good practice. Typically, the ethical line extends down to paralegals and others, but it's unclear if it extends to litigation support. Here's why:
It's very, very common for me to have one process, such a Summation load, running, while I'm working on something else. Would it be ethical for me to bill both clients? Now, we get around the ethical question easily enough, we don't bill for "machine time". So, even though that load file may take an hour or two to finish loading, I typically only the bill the amount of time I spent setting it up and starting the process.
On the other hand, one of the folks I talked to at the E-Discovery conference in New York suggested that as the very reason he doesn't recommend law firms process electronic discovery in-house. His argument was, if you only bill your time, and not machine time, then you end up giving away the resources. So, while it may take the better part of the day, and over night, to process discovery documents through a program like IPro's E-ScanIt, you can't use that machine for anything else, and all that processing is only a cost, not a revenue generator. I haven't even mentioned the cost of data storage either, which is getting larger and larger every day. His argument was, for large cases, ship all of that to a vendor and have them host it, then simply turn around and pass that cost directly to the client.
That conversation got me thinking, that we really do "give away" quite a lot of our resources (and that's even assuming all the hours we bill actually gets billed to the client, and not written off by the attorney), but is that a bad thing, or does it keep costs lower for our clients, which we also kind of like to do whenever possible?
Any way you look at it, there's no easy answer. What we do now, seems to work for us, but I'm not sure it always will, in every case. We'll need to be flexible on this and see where each case takes us.
I'd love to hear from some law bloggers, lawyers, or other folks working in the legal industry about how they handle this. Comment away!
I think I've mentioned before that I use the free version of Evernote at work, because I don't have access to Onenote like I do at home. I've even talked about the time tracking template that someone had built that I have been using to make quick notes of work that I need to bill later. (Yes, I'm not an attorney, but I bill time like one..*L*)
Recently, my copy of Evernote has been informing me that there's an upgrade available. For the most part, I've been ignoring it, becasue I haven't really had much time to mess with it, but this past Friday, I was looking at a relatively calm day, so I went ahead and said yes, go ahead and upgrade me.
You'll note, of course, that I didn't do any research on the upgrade. I didn't check out the user forums for possible problems, etc. I just agreed, like a typical user. (For shame!)
After restarting the program, I discovered that the time tracker template, didn't work at all. Yes, the one thing that I use the most, and is most valuable to me in the program, was broken. Worse, once I went to look at the forums, I discovered that, oh yeah, there was information about how the upgrade would break custom templates!
Luckily, there were instructions on how to tweak the XML to fix the template, and after an hour or so of messing with the code I had a usable template again, albeit one that doesn't really look as good as it did, before. Given that I also had a huge headache after looking at XML code for that long as well, I decided to cut my losses and work with the somewhat ugly, but functional, template.
If you use Evernote and have trouble getting your weekly time tracker template working, drop me a line, or if you want to take what I have and make it look pretty again, I'll be glad to send you what I have!
You may recall me talking about getting a free copy of this short book earlier this month.
Today, I finally had some free time to read it at work. It didn't take long, it's only about 41 pages long, but I thought I'd share my observations about it.
My initial thought was that the book might be a resource for attorneys, but I don't know about that. It covers a lot of the Federal Rules and other areas of e-discovery they should already be quite familiar with. There's some small mention of some of the technical aspects, and I think the book could help them understand how to think about e-discovery from the standpoint of how data is stored, and all the various places it could be stored.
The thing I think this little book would be great for though, is with IT managers. Those are the folks who are usually too busy to think about something like e-discovery until their company in the midst of litigation. Those are the people who this is written for. Those are the folks who could save themselves a whole lot of trouble if they familiarized themselves with the concepts early on!
On the other hand, I think there are some links over at this post on ediscoveryinfo.com on explaining computer forensics to lawyers, that may be a great resource to keep around!
One thing that does jump out at me though, is number 7:
Enterprise companies have to constantly think about government regulations and standards?while Google can store a lot of data for enterprises on Google servers, there is no easy-to-use, automated way for enterprises to regularly delete data, issue a legal hold for specific docs or bring copies into the corp
Joe, rightfully, points out that Microsoft has plenty of it's own hosted services, including email that would suffer from the same problem. So, it's a bit disingenuous of them to make it a reason not to use Google. The truth is, it is a pretty valid reason to think twice about using any hosted services.
The more I learn about legal holds, and e-discovery, the more I realize just how much trouble can be caused by your organization's data being spread all over the place. When it comes time to produce these documents, having them hosted on-line as part of a collaboration project just adds one more place, and one more cost, to the discovery process.
In fact, just the other day when I was in a meeting where a desktop sharing product was being demonstrated, the chief concern of the attorney present was whether or not the site stored any information on the documents as they were being changed. (It doesn't) This is a major concern for any legal situation. You want to have control over what information, and metadata, is in any documents you are sending out, or that may have to be produced as part of discovery in the future. The more places you have documents being stored, the harder that is to do.
Personally, I know that any e-discovery process is going to be more complicated when any of the information custodians is using web-based services as part of their job. Like PDA's or home computers, it just adds one more place that needs to be searched for relevant information. Any organization that wants to utilize on-line apps has to at least consider that and have a plan to deal with it.
Neville Hobson posted something interesting over the weekend, and Shel Holtz added some further thoughts to the discussion today, about the number of companies who have simply blocked access to Facebook and other social networking sites.
I think they cover some of the objections to this pretty clearly, but I want to focus on a couple of areas, specifically around the area of law firms, since that's where I work. :)
I'm also going to broaden the discussion to sites beyond Facebook, to the general idea of employee personal use of the web.
I've run into these sorts of objections in regards to my own blog, and to various tech blogs, and forums that I visit regularly. For your web-savvy employees, the line between personal use and professional use is so blurred as to almost be non-existent. I spend a fair amount of time reading tech blogs, participating in tech discussions, answering questions in forums and mail lists. In many places, I'd be forbidden to do that during work hours. Since the blogs in question, or the interactions I'm having, are not directly related to a specific work task I'm trying to accomplish, according to policy, they are "personal", and therefore a violation.
Never mind that I'm making professional contacts, sharing and learning from the greater community at large by being an active part of it, and that the employer gets the benefits of that work every day, it's still not allowed.
For law firms, these sorts of rules are even more counter productive. Lawyers, practice development experts, and even staff, are all an important part of making connections with clients, getting the word out about the firm and the work we do, turning up new business from people we have contact with, sharing information with experts, etc.
There are more sites than I could possibly count that include communities built around the practice of law, a specific industry that our clients may be working in, marketing law firms, litigation support technology, general tech, human resources, web design, etc. Some of them are going to be located on sites like Facebook, or MySpace. Some of these connections are going to be made on LinkedIn, in message boards, on on our own blogs.
The Web gives your employees the opportunity to be plugged into these sorts of communities, and contacts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from anywhere. Many of the most web-savvy employees will be contributing to these communities during the work day, at night, and on weekends.
Given that, and given the benefit the firm sees from these activities, why would you block them, either with blocking technology or policy? And, given the time these folks spend away from the office as part of these communities, why do you begrudge them taking a few minutes to read ESPN, send a personal email, check the show times at the local movie theater, or even read the latest gossip?
When you go out of your way to block these things, or make an overly-stringent policy about personal Internet use, here's the message you are sending to these folks, "We don't trust you to get your work done".
Maybe you don't trust them. Just remember that the next time your secretary has to deal with your biggest client, or write up a letter for them. Remember that the next time you ask your IS team to handle electronic evidence from a large case, or the next time you have someone put together a PowerPoint presentation for you. You trust them to do an awful lot for the firm and your clients. You trust them to not break confidentiality every single day, which is a huge deal for a law firm. But you don't trust them to use Facebook or other sites without it interfering with work. Doesn't that seem a bit out of whack?
Unproductive employees are unproductive employees. The way to fix that is not to block websites. They'll find another way to avoid getting work done. The real policy should be to find people you can trust, and trust them.
That seems to be the message being sent by court decisions as mentioned on Future Lawyer today. They point to an article by Roger Matus where he talks about the increasing number of cases where the "We don't have enough resources" defense for not meeting a discovery request just doesn't cut it.
As a guy who used to be the one IT guy for a small business, that scares the heck out of me. I was involved in some litigation, as well as an unemployment arbitration in my time there and I can't even imagine the amount of work I would have had to put in if either of those things had fallen under the current federal rules for e-discovery. I would have spent a lot of time doing keyword searches, tracking down locally stored .pst files, searching across the network, restoring stuff from backup tapes, etc. and we had a really small, simple network. You throw in something like Exchange, or maybe a couple of file servers, or firewall logs and this gets really huge, really quick!
It's no wonder e-discovery vendors are popping up all over the place. There's some serious money to be made helping organizations that don't have the resources or expertise to comply with electronic discovery requests.
I also happen to think there's a pretty good opportunity for a law firm with the internal resources to take on some of this work on behalf of their clients to become a major player. Of course, that requires having the expertise on staff and making a commitment to keeping it. I haven't worked at a law firm that long, but I'm betting that's easier said than done. Ultimately, a law firm is about the attorneys, not the e-discovery team, so you do have to weigh going outside the core competencies of your organization and how dedicated you want to be to doing that. I can't imagine it's an easy call, but certainly I think a firm with some e-discovery technical expertise can have a leg up in certain situations.
So do Blackberry users put others at risk? I don't know about that, like I've already said, it's not so much the device as it's the person who can't put it down that is the risk.
However, I do know that in a law firm, having a blackberry not work can be a hazard! Lawyers really don't like when their Blackberries don't work. I also know I was a hazard to other people during the 2 hours I spent today trying to get a new Blackberry to authorize on the BES server! Somehow after many unsuccessful attempts at Enterprise Activation, it suddenly just activated and started working. I have no idea why, unless I managed to move into an area with better wireless coverage going from the attorney's office down to my desk and in to the server room and that caused it to connect.
All I do know, is that if this becomes a regular feature of my weeks, I'm going to become dangerous to be around..:)
At least the week is over and we have a weekend to enjoy!
I stumbled across a meme today that I found interesting. Now, you know how much I normally hate memes, but this one intrigued me because it was making it's way around the law blogosphere, and I do happen to work at a law firm. Basically the idea was to complete the sentence "Lawyers appreciate...."
The interesting thing to me was that of the 20 blogs listed as having posted a response as of this writing, not one of them mentioned any appreciation for their staff. Not one mention of a legal secretary, paralegal or assistant, let alone an IT person.
Now, let's get one thing straight, I'm not about to go bashing lawyers on here. I do, however, want to point out something that I do believe is true about law firms. This industry is not one to get into if you need constant praise. I work at a firm that prides itself on it's collegiality, and it's rare that the attorneys who work here go out of their way to praise you. There's usually a thank you when you help them with something, (which is much more than you get in other firms from what I hear) but there's also simply an expectation that when you help them, you're doing what they pay you to do.
That's not to say there's never any appreciation shown to staff. It just tends to be more in a material sense. Good benefits, a nice Christmas party or summer party, small birthday gifts, etc. are all things I've enjoyed in my time here, and they all show me that the firm appreciates what I do, I just don't tend to hear it from lawyers often. I'm not sure why that is, maybe there's a certain mindset that it takes to get through law school, or the practice of law requires a focus or personality that is less likely to consider their staff first when they think of what helps them be successful. I don't really know, but I accept it.
At the end of the day I'd rather work for lawyers who pay me well, look out for my benefits and offer me the little extras than ones who tell me how good I am at my job but never back it up.