This is a live post from the Reinvent Law Silicon Valley conference in Mountain View, CA. Please forgive any typos or errors in conveying what speakers say. Now up, in a six minute Ignite-style talk, is Kingsley Martin, CEO of KM Standards (formerly Kiiac) on Reverse Engineering Legal Logic.
Until today, we have followed inductive approach to law. But deductively, we can read documents to find out what they mean and what’s common. Kingsley says he is close to breaking the “subjectivity barrier”. Just as we will have driverless cars, we can have machines that draft contracts.
Some argue that we need intuition to think. Kingsley: when you measure by outcomes, does it matter what the mechanism is?
Find, analyze, and optimize are the three steps to make a decision or draft a document. Consider as example of buying a car. First, find info on all cars. In past, this would have required trip to library or consulting friends. Today, we solve by Internet search. Second, analyze the cars. With Amazon and other tools, we can use “faceted search” to narrow results and compare results ("Structural Classification"). To optimize, you need to be able to pull data from documents (from search results) and interpret.
Technology can find contracts - that’s easy. Most of Kingsley’s effort is to analyze similar sets of documents to identify relevant elements and come up with a checklist or template of common elements. Analysis also assesses how similar or dis-similar each clause is. “Standard” clauses have little variation in clauses across documents. Where there is heavy variance in language, it either reflects heavily negotiated clauses OR by lawyer personal preference. Some clauses are relatively rare but these have little variation. A fourth set of clauses are both rare and vary - these are deal specific.
A computer cannot draft a document from scratch - but it can pull clauses and combine. Computer can also reverse-engineer the logic to derive the questions that need to be asked. Beginning the journey to be able to data mine out of documents all of the necessary clauses. Will be able to benchmark, provision by provision, whether clauses meet market standards or raise issues in courts.
Let’s assume that today, humans are more capable than computers. But with computers doubling in capacity every 18 months… they will overtake humans. [RF: this is the Ray Kurzweil Singularity argument.]
This is a live blog post of an online debate between UK-based legal technology gurus Daniel Brown (TheKnowList) and Charles Christian (Orange Rag/Legalit Insider) as they square off, hosted by Burke & Company LLC and its Legal Technology Observer (LTO) blog. Christy Burke, President of Burke & Company consulting firm is the moderator/referee as “Brown and Christian make bold projections – and sometimes clash - about imminent global legal IT trends for law firms, vendors, the cloud, what’s hot (Surface) and what’s not (Blackberry), and whether eDiscovery is finally faltering as the industry’s cash cow. [Live post - forgive typos]
What are the hottest legal IT trends for 2013?
Charles: US and UK differ. UK is rather far behind on MS Office upgrades; many missed the 2007 upgrade. Not seeing much interest in Windows 8 but we all know to wait for a couple of service pack releases before migrating. Firms have 10 year old tech and most move forward. Others are same as what they’ve always said: better systems and services for clients.
Daniel: Agree on Windows - and that it is quite dull. Yes, firms have been saying same things for 25 years. But topic will have to change. Pace of change is quickening. Formerly 3-year projects are now 12 months or less. Firms will follow many different paths, unlike the follow-the-pack mentality of past. Responses to BYOD will differ.
What is the future for Microsoft Surface, RIM Blackberry, and Apple iPad?
Charles: BB is a couple of stumbles away from irrelevance - like the parrot in Monty Python skit. Android and iPhone are established and even Windows phone has traction. BlackBerry era is over. iPad is great but it is not a desktop or laptop replacement. Surface might replace it. If MSFT overcomes some initial problems, the Surface combo device of tablet and serious notebook could win. BB down; watch Surface; iPad to continue as ancillary device, laptop alternative for lightweight access.
Daniel: iPad is productivity tool but does not replace laptop. Looking at analyst reports (e.g., IDC), apps drive the market. But we should not write off Microsoft or RIM too quickly. Only device Obama uses is BB because of security. BB installed base still very strong in large corporates. As yet, now entirely dislodged. May seem unlikely but not impossible to grab market foothold. Sees developer interest in BB 10. Reviews of Surface suggest limited apps but that could change and that it may be more useful as productivity tool than iPad. RIM stumbling but has not fallen over.
Is the e-Discovery industry faltering as conference sponsor mainstay?
Charles: US still has some 600 EDD players. His sources say that consolidation is picking up and smaller players seek exit. One view is that market will consolidate to 2 or 3 big players. Separately, it is not longer purely a US industry - it has become global. But focus is shifting from litigation to regulatory and compliance. As for trade shows… all have a natural lifecycle. Legal Tech may need to re-think its role. Has heard more vendors saying they will not be at LTNY.
Daniel: EDD has been Legal Tech show cash cow. Agrees consolidation likely. Seeing more collaboration in EDD now, meaning that law firms changing their approach and law departments building their own teams. Hearing that IBM is bringing out technology ‘far beyond predictive coding’. Events don’t have lifecycle but the organizers of them may. There is so much tech and emerging issues to showcase. Much innovative tech could be show-cased at LTNY. Organizers have to make sure to keep event new and fresh. But does agree that, as conceived, Legal Tech could face challenges. It needs imagination to re-think its role
Charles: Events continue provided that they are re-evaluated and re-invented. It is lack of imagination causes them to die. Looking at UK, huge legal tech shows have come and gone. I’m not saying LTNY is doomed without EDD. LTNY is tired - needs a fresh look. It’s a management issue more than concept issue. Example: lack of WiFi at event.
What is your opinion of cloud adoption in legal in 2013?
Charles: Has moved from worrying concept to one that people now understand. The limiting factor is need to understand exactly what you are buying, how secure it is, where the data are, what happens if provider goes away. Conceptual issues is sorted out but the practical issues are not. It will not be as big an issue in 2013. Just another way to deliver information in 2013. The mystery /mystique will have faded by end of 2013.
Daniel: Getting bascis right - e.g., SLA and data location - is critical. Germany now requires that users pinpoint where data is physically housed. As IT realizes that cloud is not a mystery, it has to manage the data. Clifford Chance saying all their data will be in cloud by 2015 is quite ambitious. New regulations are still emerging - it’s brave to build a total cloud strategy until the reg framework is clearer.
Charles: Daniel and I do agree on a lot. Does not agree on BlackBerry. Thinks Good Tech fine for mobile security - does everything BB did and more. Thinks issues is installed cost of BB. We will see more Big Data in 2013. Large firms will start mining their data. Likely to see more of that in UK because of business pressure of ABS. BYOD creates emphasis on devices on themselves but the bigger trend is the consumerization of software. No one gets training for Facebook - the most widely used software. Legal software needs to be app-ified.
Daniel: More in common that I thought. Time will tell on RIM BlackBerry. Need to spend more time looking at legal as a business. Tech has been viewed as bolted on cost to run business. We need to re-think that view. Move away from focus on “legal tech” to how can we integrate technology with business goals.
Audio recording to be available at http://www.burke-company.com/.
Yesterday a friend ended an e-mail exchange writing “I have an app for that”.
I hear that a lot these days but not so much in the legal market. Two recent Wall Street Journal articles got me thinking about technology and apps in the legal market.
The sub-title of Automatons Get Creative Powerful (18 Aug 2012) says it all: “new computer programs are doing tasks once reserved for composers, writers and policy-makers”. It opens noting that “Creative types tend to think of themselves as doing work that is beyond the reach of automation.” Yet the “more we understand about creativity, the more we are able to distill it into the language of algorithms”.
This article does not discuss law but consider two of its examples. First, an algorithm “across more than 1,700 political and military predictions [has] been correct twice as often as those of the CIA’s own analysts.” And “algorithms can already grade essays as well as the best human graders.” Both are about text - the life blood of lawyers. Can we be that far away from legal algorithms? (And no, this post is not about e-discovery predictive coding.)
Today A Peace Corps for Civic-Minded Geeks explains that a non-profit is placing “tech stars” in local government to help them use technology to solve problems. They “have designed more than 35 apps, for everything from urban blight to school buses.” The apps seem to fall into two categories: (1) crowd-sourcing to collect information that cities use to optimize service delivery and (2) putting data and analysis in the hands of workers when and where they need it.
These principles apply just as much in legal. Powerful algorithms to find data patterns and draw conclusions, crowd-sourcing data to identify problems and opportunities, and “just in time” content and analysis. All would be useful in legal, especially when delivered in easy-to-use apps.
So, as I prepare to depart for the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) 2012 Annual Conference (there’s an app for that), I will keeping an eye out for interesting apps.
It won’t be long before lawyers regularly hear “I have an app for that”. And not long after, “I can make an app for that”. It can’t be too soon.
Some lawyers still resist legal project management (LPM). An earlier generation thought they could ignore e-mail. I view LPM like e-mail: inevitable for both inside and outside counsel. In this post, I discuss an intriguing LPM tool.
At Legal Tech last week, I met with executives of ERM Legal Solutions ("ERM LS"), which offers an intriguing LPM tool. The company focuses on the legal market now but has roots in and serves multiple markets. The horizontal focus is good. While lawyers need customized interfaces, which ERM LS offers, they can benefit from and apply project management techniques honed elsewhere.
The company’s software uses either a template or custom-built project plan. To custom-build a plan, lawyers write one using an outline metaphor via an on-screen yellow pad. For each element of the plan, the project manager must specify the appropriate resource (type of timekeeper), estimate the hours required, and spell out the sequence of work. Once that is defined, the system presents each timekeeper with a list of his or her tasks - from that new project as well as from others - in priority order. It also has a dashboard so that the lawyer in charge or project manager can monitor overall progress, including budget versus actual.
Patented algorithms drive resource allocation. As timekeepers indicate they have finished a task and report their hours for it, the system dynamically updates the overall plan. For example, an associate may see several pending tasks from multiple projects on her list. The system shows tasks in priority order and which are ready for action. As other timekeepers finish their work, the priority order of tasks in one or many projects may change.
As important, the system generates alerts for project managers and lawyers in charge to highlight which tasks may be over budget or at risk for going over budget. It also provides an overview of organization-wide resource allocation which is constantly re-prioritized in real time. And finally, law firms can share selected aspects of the plan with their clients through a web based portal.
I am not a professional project manager and I spent only one hour with ERM LS, so the most I can say is that company offers a promising approach. Two large firms - Perkins Coie and Baker Donelson - are considering piloting the software. Additionally, ERM LS tells me that their LegalTech demonstrations have yielded three other large firms eager to explore piloting the software.
Legal project management is not just for law firms. I hope that in-house counsel, who need LPM just as much as law firms do, also consider it. Corporate legal departments can leverage efficiencies with all their outside law firms with this tool.
I have two reservations to share. First, some screens seem too busy, though I suspect that lawyers will either adapt or ERM LS can simplify, consistent with each firm’s preferred user view. And second, lawyers may resist the idea that “the computer tells me what to do” in that the software presents tasks in a suggested order. That, however, is a human problem and one likely true of any good LPM tool. Proper project management means letting the project plan inform lawyers what to do. The system appears to have the flexibility to allow lawyers to change priorities though doing so will ripple through the project plan and all other project plans - as well it should.
LPM is much more a mindset and approach than it is software. But for those with the right mindset and approach, effective software eases the effort. For large law firms and law departments, the market does not offer that many LPM software choices. I am glad to see a promising new one. Comments from anyone who has evaluated it in more detail are, of course welcome.
[Updated (9 Feb 2011): For another review of ERM LS, see Toby Brown’s post 9 Feb 2011 post, A New LPM / AFA Tool on the Market.]
This is a live blog post from Legal Tech NY of the session Why ERP Now for Law Firms?, presented by Martin Telfer, Global Director, GIS, Baker & McKenzie ("BM").
BM has 70 offices in 40 countries with 10,000 users. BM currently uses Elite Enterprise with 50 servers around the world. It’s costly and complicated to maintain. “It’s becoming almost unmanageable.” Because of the customization done in Elite long ago, the technology has become “fragile.” This Elite product is near the end of its service life. Processes are not unified across the firm; because each office has a server they can - and do - make local customizations. Further, because of local custom, offices pull data for Elite and often re-enter data in another system. Consequently, there is a lot of duplication and inconsistency across the firm.
New business demands also give rise to new technology requirements. Client demand for flexible billing arrangements means new analytic and reporting requirements. The firm needs to manage profitability across many billing options. The firm no longer wants duplicate bookkeeping across offices. BM wants more integrated systems to support more cost-effective cross-selling. The current weekly build of a global data warehouse no longer suffices to meet the demand for real-time analysis.
Current obstacles include: client information is fragmented. Client names vary across offices. Once weekly reporting does not satisfy partner needs. Finance has too many people. Finance is larger and more expensive (human costs) than IT. The data warehouse can only hold 3 years but firm needs 5.
What is the firm to do? Looked at Thomson’s new product (Elite upgrade) and Aderant. The law-firm specific features are good but there limitations. Language is a big one. Another weakness is strategy and reporting. Dealing with multiple currencies is too hard. BM does not have expertise on statutory reporting globally and neither does vendor.
So BM look at SAP. The replacement infrastructure with SAP will be much simpler - a single instance of SAP firm- and world-wide. In addition, it offers: full coverage on all languages; statutory reporting in all locations; proven performance in a single instance; law-firm specific functionality; opportunity to define product functions and features; scope and scale. SAP does NOT have law-firm specific know how but its partner Tata does. BM is helping Tata come up to speed on law-firm specific requirements (and defining overlay software functionality).
When Telfer first announced a single instance product, there was an outcry in the offices. But as he demonstrated it around the globe, resistance melted. Performance was not an issue with the web-based interface. Blue Arc accelerators help with performance for SAP and other systems. This had been modeled at SAP’s labs in Waldorf, Germany in advance.
Other benefits over time of using SAP will be conflicts and intake, HR system, and CRM. Will eventually use to manage professional development and CLE. Maybe eventually global payroll.
Once the firm evaluated the options, choosing SAP was a ‘no-brainer’. Telfer recognizes that many in market think BM is crazy. He characterizes law firm requirements as much less demanding than the typical SAP instances. SAP resources are less expensive than Elite resources. Says implementation time is about 16 months. It will do all law-firm specific functions. Tata Consulting Services has been very responsive in building the law-firm specific function.
I ask about document management. Currently on Open Text. Looking at SharePoint. Maybe eventually. WAN connectivity is a big challenge because moving large files, even with accelerators, is too big a problem. Will probably use a regionalized version of SharePoint.
A friend recently asked two two questions: 1. What would you say would be the top five technological improvements in the legal profession over the past five years? 2. What would be the next beg steps for technology in the legal profession coming up? . My answers below.
What would you say would be the top five technological improvements in the legal profession over the past five years?
- 1. Lower cost of hardware, improved ease of use of software , and mobility (including broadband net access), all of which mean lawyers can work from most any location.
- 2. For large law firms, maturing of portal software (e.g., SharePoint) and enterprise search (e.g., Recommind), which mean firms can find, consolidate, and present disparate information more easily. But this does not solve the information overload problem.)
- 3. For litigators, e-discovery data processing cost drops and search capability increases. Unfortunately, the growing data volume all but obscures these huge improvements.
- 4. Social media and collaborative platforms - e.g., blogs, wikis, Legal OnRamp, Facebook, Tweeter - for sharing know-how internally, for connecting with fellow professionals, and for marketing legal services.
- 5. Cloud computing, which makes many software services lawyers need cheaper and easier to manage; as important, it supports and fosters collaboration.
What would be the next beg steps for technology in the legal profession coming up?
- 1. Wider spread adoption of social media and cloud computing.
- 2. Improved tools for dealing with information overload.
- 3. New interfaces that make doing work easier, as illustrated by touch / gesture paradigm of iPad and iPhone.
- 4. Renewed growth in practice specific intelligent tools, both for lawyers and for clients, e.g., contract analysis, interactive advisory systems, document assembly.
- 5. On-going challenges remain: security, privacy, data preservation, learning new systems, change management.
- [Bonus Answer: Batteries that last all day but that may be a long ways off.]
A couple of weeks ago in Paralyzed by Choice - Too Many Tech Options I explained that with so many choices - mobile phones and carrier plans in particular - decisions are hard. Well, sometimes circumstances simplify the choice.
On Saturday, my BlackBerry died, which forced a decision. When I downloaded an updated Google app and did the necessary re-start, I encountered a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) Error. In my second call to Sprint advanced tech support, I was told I would have to go to a Sprint repair center and allow 2 hours.
Well, I dread the prospect of going to any wireless carrier store. But I did not want to be without a mobile phone. So I hopped in my car and drove to the Apple store 10 minutes away and bought an iPhone. Elapsed time - even with provisioning and help setting up MobileMe - was under 2 hours.
In the end, with all my angst about iPhone versus Droid and different data plans and the mobile hot spots versus tethering mobiles for broadband, convenience and certainty won the day. I had been leaning toward a Droid phone. But then I would have had to (1) figure out which one and (2) go to the store of a wireless carrier.
I realized that going with Apple meant a simple decision… the iPhone 4. From a decision-making process, going down a branch with just one choice had a lot of appeal. The Droid branch would have meant lots more decision-making. Perhaps there is a more generalizable lesson here: that limiting the number of choices is a good thing.
Economists tell us choice is good. It turns out though, only up to a point. Recent studies find that many people, when confronted with too many options, end up less satisfied. The fear of making ‘the wrong’ decision about changing my mobile phone and mobile broadband access has paralyzed me.
At the risk of a bit of stream of consciousness - something for you to ponder over the long weekend - here is my somewhat cluttered thinking about my mobile communication needs.. If it’s confusing, well, that’s because the choices and decisions are confusing. If I had an answer, I’d just blog what that answer is.
I welcome any feedback but would ask not just for recommendations, but for the right framework for thinking about such decisions. It’s not like this is the only consumer electronic device I need or want. It’s also time to replace my ancient digital camera. But wait, maybe I don’t need a dedicated one and can just use a new mobile…
So I have a 2+ year old BlackBerry 8830 World Phone running on the Sprint network. No camera. It meets my core needs of e-mail and calls, both domestic and international. The international is key because I do travel overseas 1 to 4 times / year. I also use it in ‘phone as modem’ mode, tethered to my PC, for mobile broadband. My friends assure me this is slower than a dedicated USB receiver but the pay off is that I carry one less device (and have one less item to lose).
I am not longer under contact so can change devices. But what to change to. Yes, the iPhone is cool. But I read the articles about the A&T newtowrk. And the Android operating system and several of the handsets running it get good reviews. Without trying both out, checking out call quality, and seeing the ecosystem of apps, the decision is not obvious.
But wait, there’s more. I am also intrigued by 4G data access. Right now, I am only aware of one handset - the Sprint HTC Evo handset - that offers 4G speed. But the Wall Street Journal gave this feature a bad review. Not sure I want a cool fun where the core function I want performs poorly.
Then there’s the questions of whether you can tether some or all of these phones to a PC for mobile broadband. And if you can, can you also make and receive calls without losing the data connection? Can you actually exchange data if you have a voice call. Try finding answers to these questions on carrier or manufacturer websites. (It may be there, but good luck finding it.)
Hold on, “if you order now, there’s even more….” Not really, but that’s the way if feels. What if you want a mobile hotspot. Some phones offer the feature. But now I can’t remember which and if they are 3G or 4G. Oh, and can I make a call if it’s acting as a mobile hotspot? And if I can really get 4G speed reliabliy, does the unit / carrier support Skype, so I can avoid ridiculous international rates? But will I get that speed when overseas? And if I do, will it break the bank?
Maybe I should stick with my BlackBerry and just buy a dedicated mobile hotspot. The New York Times on Thursday reviewed the new, inexpensive Virgin Mobile MiFi. Cool, but it’s only 3G. Sprint’s mobile hotspot costs more but is 4G (where available). And then there’s the question of whether I want to carry around yet another device - and charger for it.
Now I know I said in a recent post an iPad is not for me. But if I did get a mobile hotspot, then I would not need the iPad 3G because I would carry my own 3G or 4G local wifi cloud. So from a cost perspective, that makes the iPad a cheaper decision and gets it closer to “nice to have, affordable, this is cool enough that maybe I can just buy to fool around. But is it really very cool and Apple-like to to have to whip out two devices? And how long does it it take to get both devices up and connected anwyay?
Now, if I could finally decide on the right combination. What is the likelihood that within 2 weeks, some even better device / combination becomes available? No joke - I almost bought a mobile hotspot then decided to wait. Good thing because the Virgin one - reviewed Thursday - may be a better choice for me.
All right, now I have a headache. And that’s why I am paralyzed. There was a certain simplicity when I was a kid and your only choice in phones was a black, Western Electric, rotary dial handset. (The intro of the Princess line did nothing for me personally.)
In all seriousness, I feel like the choices are legion, the uncertainty about exact feature operation enormous, and the challenge of optimizing a basket of goods is just way too daunting to actually allow deciding, at least not with buyer remorse setting in quickly. Is it just me?
Have you ever wondered what your e-mail says about you? Conversation is ephemeral; e-mail leaves a record. The e-mails you send and receive and the meetings you have tell stories. Now, there is fun software that extracts those stories for you. And I can see how the underlying code and concept could be helpful in e-discovery.
Cataphora recently released Digital Mirror, which “is designed to help you understand your behavior and those of others in your digital ecosystem.” This software is released in connection with Cataphora CEO Elizabeth Charnock’s new book about the Digital You.
The company explains it has applied its “software and expertise to uncover evidence in major litigation and investigations” along with “patented data analysis technologies” to create this software, which “allows you to see a reflection of your digital universe and your role within it.” For now, the free download works only on your own Outlook files; future versions will do more. I’ve installed and run the software here. I share here my experience and comments.
The download is free (here). Installation ran smoothly. The first step is indexing your Outlook messages. Doing so is easy; the software automatically found all of my PST files. As warned, however, the indexing takes time. Mine took about 2 hours and I was able to use my PC during indexing.
Digital Mirror indexed 70,000+ items for me. I have PST e-mail archives that go back to 2003, so that’s a lot of years of e-mail. Nonetheless, the count seemed high since X1 indexed only 58,000. The Digital Mirror FAQs explain that it indexes events (appointments) and contacts. Adding those in, the count I would expect is fairly close to what was indexed. Once the indexing was completed, I could not find a way to see which PSTs were indexed nor how many items.
The Stories: What Digital Mirror Tells You
The Digital Mirror software opens with a dashboard displaying several tools to learn about the digital you. I discuss a few in detail:
Quality Time. “The Quality Time visualization gives you some insight into who you devote your valuable time to. Digital Mirror’s analysis draws on Outlook information about meetings you attend, along with how many emails you write – especially long ones that typically require more time and care to compose.” The website provides a top level explanation of how these results are derived. For example, the software uses semantic analysis to determine if e-mail messages are about meetings and gives these more weight than just e-mail.
The results are presented as a pie chart showing the “Top 5″ people. The pie chart changes every month and a time line at the top lets you look at one month or “play” the time line as an animation, which lets you can see how your Top 5 evolve month by month.
Playing the time line was a trip down memory lane for me. The pie slices showed names of people with whom I met or corresponded. I saw few surprises but was reminded both of big work projects and some periods of intense e-mail conversation with friends or family.
I think this is a good and simple display, easily understood. I look forward to a future version that shows more people and adds feature. For example, it would be nice to be able to control the speed of the animation or to show two pie charts at once from any two arbitrary months.
Social You-niverse measures “closeness” to contacts. “Closeness is measured using a wide variety of factors, including how you greet each other when writing emails (Dear Professor Einstein versus Hey Al! for example), as well as analysis of emotive tones used in emails between you. ” The display is solar system with you in the center and contacts orbiting you at very distances. It too uses a time line, which you can play as an animation.
I found a a fair bit of overlap here with “Quality Time”. It’s hard for me to tell the difference between “quality” and “closeness”.
Who? What? When?. This shows a grid of “hot topics” and who participated in the conversation. Hot topics are determined by linguistic analysis that includes how often you reply, e-mail length, “Whether you tend to store messages about the topic” (though if not stored, the software would not know about the topic so, hmmm?), and “Whether the topic is associated with a ‘good’ group of correspondents.” In this display, you can click on column heads, row stubs, and the cells themselves for additional information. Having more “drill down” features like this will be crucial for commercial grade software.
This is potentially the most interesting analysis but I found it very limited. Digital Mirror selected five topics across several years. (Interestingly, the analysis here only begins in 2007 - the others begin in 2003.) Five topics over 3+ years just does not tell me very much. And one of those topics “Google Alerts” is a red herring. I do forward a lot of Google Alerts but that is for their content and links. This shows the challenge of computer-based linguistic analysis.
Other Features. Digital Mirror also includes displays for
- Blow Off Scoreboard
- Pecking Order
- Buck Passing
- Loud Talking
- Temperature Gauge
- Stressful Topics
I found these less useful / interesting in the current version though they all seemed accurate as far as I could tell. I can see, however, where this type of analysis could be interesting. Note that in some displays, a mouse click in a matrix brings up a menu to advance or go back a topic.
Comments on the Visual Display
I find the analysis and some of the measures very interesting but the visual display could use some work. Backgrounds are too busy / distracting for my taste and both the dashboard and data display icons are, in my opinion, corny. The real work here, however, is the analysis and I suspect cleaning up and making the displays more business-like would not be a big task.
This is the first product I know of (or at least remember!) to bring semantic analysis to the desktop. Of course desktop search makes full-text indexing readily available. But Cataphora goes much further in using linguistics to derive meaning from all the words - and the metadata - stored on our hard drives.
For purely personal use, I suspect Digital Miror will remain more in the category of fun than genuinely useful. For e-discovery and investigators, however, I can see how the underlying technology could be very helpful. If I wanted to get a quick and easy sense of what someone worked on and who they corresponded with, I think the approach (if not all the actual displays) here would be very useful. Of course, this is not surprising since Cataphora had its start with e-mail analysis (see, e.g., my 2004 blog post, Using Visualization to Manage Legal Organizations, which mentions Cataphora.)
We see more and more articles about our digital footprint and how hard it is to eradicate. Today, it is hard to get a clear picture of what all the data say. Digital Mirror represents a very good first step in being able to understand the data. Being able to expand this approach to cover social media and websites, as well as the desktop, would be interesting indeed.
The line between blogging and Tweeting just blurred a bit today.
Today, document assembly company Exari wrote the blog post The insidious nature of the billable hour. It discusses why the billable hour is a barrier to building document assembly tools. Central to its point is a Twitter conversation among Mary Abraham, Jeff Brandt, Doug Cornelius, and me [links are to Twitter]. This spurs some observations.
1. A Tweet I wrote is first. I can’t remember why I wrote it nor do I remember the entire dialogue at Twitter. So much for knowledge management of Twitter content. Skeptics might think there is nothing worth preserving but this suggests otherwise. So I ask my knowledge management friends… any hope of ‘doing KM to Twitter’? Personally, I periodically copy my Tweets to a spreadsheet, which is a manual and clunky process. And it saves only mine, not exchanges like Exari captured.
2. Seeing what Exari has done here, I wonder whether there are other Twitter conversations I’ve had that are blog-worthy.
3. In August I posted Divining Meaning and Intent in the Modern Era, commenting on Dan Regard’s comment that “re-assembling fragments of what once was” will create meaning as well as EDD challenges. I would have been very hard-pressed to re-assemble the dialog that Exari presents. If asked about it, I probably would have had, at best, a dim recollection. So I view the Exari post as a great illustration of “re-assembling fragments”.
4. And finally, I can see the lawyers starting to swarm on the copyright issues. I’ve not spoken to Mary, Jeff, or Doug but I suspect they, like me, are perfectly happy to have their content re-purposed with attribution and links (as Exari does). Is such reproduction fair use? Will reproducing a Twitter thread that never really existed as thread lead to legal issues? I certainly hope not but Tweets have already given rise to libel actions.
Sometimes answers just fall into your lap unexpectedly. That happened to me today about Twitter.
I attended a lunch today of local legal knowledge management professionals. We meet monthly and at our last meeting, Twitter came up. One thing led to another I agreed I would demo Twitter today. After a quick orientation to Twitter, I said “Let’s see if we can find the answer to a key question about Twitter using Twitter” so I Tweeted:
- I am at DC Legal KM lunch demo’ing Twitter. Any comments on the single best reason to use Twitter?
Within the space of about five minutes, I received the following replies on Twitter. Both the substance of the answers and the fact that I got so many answers so quickly was quite a good demo of the potential value of Twitter:
- CarlJacobsen Best thing about twitter is the unexpected. I love the serindipity nature of it – finding things I never knew I didn’t know
- jeffrey_brandt Its a great resource for whats happening, stimulating questions and links to more indepth information
- IntegreonEDD Twitter is a great medium for building relationships with other people and organizations that share like interests
- stevematthews Best twitter use is asking questions & getting answers from those you choose to follow. A personal advisory board.
- KMHobbie 1 Replace Google Reader as the best way to find the good articles on #km in law and business. 2 Make nice with @VMaryAbraham.
- bobambrogi Single best reason is to monitor the buzz, see what colleagues are talking about.
- bschorr Colleagues I respect often Tweet articles or ideas that I might otherwise have missed.
In fairness, I explained that not every question I asked on Twitter elicited so many answers so quickly (I think my ‘followers’ understood the demo circumstances). But I’ll let the self-referential nature of this post speak for itself. And also for how one can integrate blogging and Tweeting.
In January 2006 I wrote about the promise of telepresence, which is high definition, room-encompassing, virtually-there video conferencing. Today I tried it and it’s great.
I attended a KM meeting today at the DC office of DLA Piper, hosted by my friend and former colleague Jean O’Grady. Jean thought our small group would appreciate seeing the firm’s relatively new Cisco telepresence system in action - and indeed we did. (It’s not KM but hey, even KM professionals know cool tech when they see it.) She thinks DLA is among the first large law firms using it across several offices.
True to my reading, it’s like people elsewhere are right there. The rooms two rooms seemed to merge. The woman in Chicago was crystal clear. When I asked her to hold up her Blackberry and I held up mine, the person sitting a few seats from me (in DC - now you have to be clear in which location you mean!) could see each equally clearly. There is no jerky motion and the sound is crystal clear. It’s easy to connect and display a computer screen (e.g., PowerPoint).
Jean commented that the transition from conventional video to this is “like going from a Gramophone to an iPod.” I couldn’t agree more.
PBworks (formerly PBWiki) launched today (28 April 2009) a legal market version of their signature collaborative Wiki. I had a pre-launch demo and it looks very good.
The company already has many AmLaw 100 firm users. A private group of large law firm KM professionals in which I am involved happily and successfully used PBWiki to organize a recent meeting.
For any law firm interested in wikis and collaboration, this product is worth considering. I do not review products and indeed that is not my goal here. Rather, this product release makes me wonder about the direction of legal applications generally. (PBworks legal launch press release here.)
Any new product, no matter how wonderful, faces three structural challenges:
- 1. The components of most of BigLaw IT infrastructure have been stable for sometime. SharePoint is the most recent widely adopted addition. Most IT departments avoid adding applications, especially where similar functionality is available. (In the case of PBworks, SharePoint offers some similar features.)
- 2. Lawyers, partners especially, famously spend most of their time in Outlook and a bit of time in a browser. Persuading lawyers not only to learn but regularly use another application is a big challenge.
- 3. Even if you can overcome 1 and 2, keeping content current in an inherently content-driven application is a chronic challenge.
Large law firm CIOs must decide when and whether new features warrant adding a new and possibly better app. So let me ask you two questions. Is there a principled basis for deciding when the cost and effort of a new app is worthwhile? And who ultimately should or does decide? These are important questions to consider, irrespective of your views of wikis.
By now I assume most readers have at least heard of Twitter, a microblogging service. (If not, you definitely need to read this post).
Twitter allows anyone to create an account or home page - mine is http://twitter.com/ronfriedmann. You can then post, from a PC or mobile phone, an unlimited number of “microposts", that is messages of up to 140 characters. You can follow an unlimited number of other “Tweeters” and likewise, be followed. As of now, I am following 51, 94 are following me, and I have posted 87 updates since Oct 29, 2008 (almost all purely professional rather than personal).
Before anyone rolls their eyes, think back to e-mail, the web, and blogging. Lawyers resisted each much longer than most; today, however, e-mail is indispensable, it’s hard to imagine a law firm without a website, and blawging is mainstream. Be prepared to add Tweeter to that list.
That said, I am not yet 100% persuaded its value. Yes, there are law firms, legal publications, and mainstream media (MSM) that Tweet. So Tweeter is a good way to keep up with developments. Here are the challenges I’ve found so far for use as a professional tool:
- Too many people to follow
- Too many people posting uninteresting personal information
- Hard to filter types of posts
- Competition for my share of attention
Enumerating the above, I risk the wrath of the Twitter cognoscenti, who will tell me that I can use third party services such as Tweetdeck or Tweetgrid to “enhance my Tweeter experience.” Precisely the problem. I’m busy enough that I’m reluctant to spend a lot of time learning a whole another ecosystem. I know many will argue that doing so is easy, not time-consuming, and worth the effort. But we all need to make trade-offs with how we spend our time.
I’ve also created a Facebook profile, I blog (here and at my employer’s blog), I maintain two websites (this one and my employer’s), I subscribe to ~100 RSS feeds, I participate in Legal Onramp, and I stayed connected on Linkedin. So, for the moment, I spend some time on Tweeter, viewing it as an “option” to stake my ground in the future.
One business note. It’s interesting to see a whole ecosystem develop around Tweeter, a free service that does not have a long-term obvious way to generate revenue.
You can now chose from at least two specialized legal market search engines.
Quest from law.com has been around a while. I’ve been disappointed in my occasional use of it so, inspired by Bob Ambrogi’s article Tour the Legal Web’s New Sites, decided to look quickly at the more recently released Lexis Web.
One of my favorite topics is “e-discovery concept search”. Using that string in Lexis Web, one of my blog posts is the first hit (ego surfing was not my goal!). Other hits on the first page are from a range of sources. In contrast, the Quest search yields hits only from law.com publications on the first page, even though I selected the “Legal Web” rather than “Law.com Network” option. I also find the Lexis Web interface much cleaner. Using “knowledge management” as the string yielded similar results.
A substantive legal topic in the news this year was “medical device preemption”. Using that string, I was surprised neither search engine yielded an obvious first page hit about the February Supreme Court decision on the topic, Riegel.
My quick tests are not systematic much less scientific. But my conclusion after 30 minutes is that anyone who wants to rely on either needs to invest some time to figure out exactly how each works. I supposed this post has now become self-referential because it is about concept searching.
Last week I read about a product called vlingo in the New York Times. It strikes me as an important technology development.
vlingo is voice recognition for smart phones, the Blackberry to start. With it, I can speak a command (e.g., “open calendar"), dial by voice a phone number in my contact list, or dictate an e-mail or SMS message.
Two aspects of vlingo technology are interesting. First, all voice recognition processing is server side: vlingo transmits your speech (via standard audio files) to its servers, where its advanced software performs voice recognition. In essence, this makes the smart phone a “thin client” because the heavy duty processing is performed remotely.
If you think about this in connection with “cloud computing", we may not be that far “an office on your smartphone.” (Voice recognition and Google apps might be all many people need for basic personal productivity needs.)
vlingo solves one of two big problems with hand-help devices: input. As a fast typist, I’ve never been a dictation fan but I cannot type nearly as fast with just two thumbs as I can with 10 fingers doing touch typing. So I plan to keep using vlingo.
The other big problem is screen size. We need folding or rolling screens. With organic light emitting diode screens now in commercial production, that day may not be so far off. With both, the computing world could see a dramatic shift.
I might at one time have said local computing power is a big problem. Between advances in chip and the vlingo demonstration of client-server computing, I don’t think that is a constraint. (Of course, mobile carriers must provide sufficient bandwidth.)
The second intriguing aspect of vlingo is the approach to voice recognition. vlingo’s uses Hierarchical Language Models and adapts to users and applications. I wonder if these techniques could be used to help speed reviewing documents in e-discovery.
I took the plunge and created a Facebook profile a few weeks ago. I am still trying to decide if it’s worth the time. I suspect many legal professionals, from large firm lawyers to CIOs are asking the same question.
My Web 2.0 / Social networking go-to-guy, Doug Cornelius (KM Space Blog, Goodwin Procter Bio), answered a question I posed on my Facebook Wall: “I am still trying to figure out the real value of Facebook.”
Reprinted here with his permission is our Facebook Wall to Wall dialogue. Meanwhile, the jury is still out for me.
Ron is still trying to figure out the real value of Facebook.
As with any communication tool, it grows rapidly in value as more and more of your connections communicate with the tool. “Less young” people like you and I have fewer people using the tool than much younger people.
I am polling my summer associates again. Last summer the vast majority checked into Facebook at least once a day
The challenge is finding the optimal way to communicate and digest information. Right now, we are in a situation where each new tool and technology creates another source, another place to check. At least for the “legacy” folks among us. At the moment, Facebook for me is an “extra,” not an “instead of.” Change is hard enough, but it’s even harder where the promise is “do even more work.” All that having been said, do you find it is substituting for any of your prior activities?
It is of limited value. I largely use it is a platform to tie onto other areas and, in turn, promote my brand. Most of my flow of updates and information in Facebook comes from other sources. My blog posts get pushed into my outgoing feed. I update my status using twitter, Dopple updates my trips.
It is the communication platform of Facebook that is so alluring. But frankly I spend just a few minutes a day checking my “friends” update feed to see what is going on. This is the most intra-Facebook activity I’ve had in a few months.
So you are saying that Facebook is a personalized aggregation site for other information, I think. That does make it intriguing. But let me be blunt: I am very interested in what you have to say on many topics, but why is your (or anyone’s) status and trips of interest. My friends accuse me of TMI (too much information) but given info overload, should we care exactly what our friends are doing at the moment or where they are?
Clearly there is lots of noise in all the status updates and trip descriptions and what your friends are having for dinner. You may not care about my trip updates, until you notice that one of them is Washington, D.C. or that I plan to be in South Dakota at the same time as you.
There is serendipity in the noise. It is fairly easy to filter the noise in Facebook. You can tune settings for feeds from of your friends. Less of her, more of him. I think of it as more of diversion than true value time. Check while commuting, while watching the red sox, etc
There’s a certain irony that we have to rely on this technology to identify circumstances to meet face-to-face. But for all the tech, might not we explicitly try to see each other more? Ok, all that said, given the world in which we live, I can see the value in serendipity. Though in the age of multiple of distractions - Facebook and Linkedin included - I feel like I have less and less time to actually spend with people - serendipity may strike but am I ready? I am now probably guilty of several rhetorical flaws in creating a circular argument
A pending change in Internet domain names creates new law firm branding opportunities.
The New York Times reports in New Flavors for Addresses on the Web Are on the Way (27 June 2008) that the authority regulating Internet domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has approved custom “top level domains” (TLD). Common TLDs are .com, .edu, .org, .net, and a host of two-letter country codes. Moving forward, at six-figure plus cost, anyone can purchase a custom TLD. So I could purchase .friedmann or a law firm, say Skadden, could buy .Skadden.
The article does mention the confusion this may cause. But think of the branding opportunities…. www.securities.skadden or www.mergers.wachtell. Of course, this extends to e-mail addresses such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. This type of naming is distinctive and potentially memorable; it could also create style and usage challenges.
Beyond the potential visual appeal of a practice_area.law_firm_name URL, marketers could more easily create customized e-mail addresses for one-time use in tracking inbound inquiries from print or web ads. Of course, this might require some back-end e-mail administration.
And let’s not forget the legal disputes that may well arise over trademarks and name usage. That likely will keep at least a few lawyers busy.
No typo in title. The skies for cloud computing may well be green - energy efficient green. This could accelerate the move to cloud computing.
Demand for Data Puts Engineers in Spotlight (New York Times, 17 June 2008) reports on the rapidly rising demand for engineers who can reduce power and cooling requirements of data centers.
Reading this, I was thinking of articles on cloud computing and how Google and its competitors are building enormous data centers, sited specifically to take advantage of hydro or other low-cost power supplies. I don’t know for sure but my guess is that the energy cost per unit of computing in the cloud is lower than in a data center (granted the cloud is a data center but I am taking poetic license).
Technology, unlike law practice, changes rapidly. For a time, we had a surplus of data centers. No more. For a time, software as a service was a curiosity. No more. For a very long time, no one worried about electricity for or cooling of computers. No more. Law firms long resisted the move to data centers. No more.
Cloud computing raises many issues, not least of which are security and functionality if disconnected from the cloud. Underlying economics already drive some computing to the cloud. Will the exponentially growing interest in being green cause businesses to migrate to the cloud? I doubt law firms will be the first to move but with all the other unexpected tech shifts, BigLaw CIOs should keep an eye on these two possibly converging trends.
I don’t normally write about spam but I just received a new and irritating type I’ve not previously seen.
In my junk mail folder in Outlook 2003, missed by the spam filter on my server, is a spam message about an award. But this is no ordinary message; instead, it’s an Outlook meeting request. So not only do I have junk mail, I have a junk tentative appointment in my calendar - for today, where I will certainly see it. I had to resist “declining” the request, which would delete the appointment from from my calendar but send back an e-mail.
Is this a new type of spam or have I just been lucky so far not to have seen this?
What if enterprises could do away with Microsoft exchange servers?
Maybe they can now, and without switching to Lotus Notes. Bringing Outlook and Gmail Closer Together (NY Times blog and in print on 31 March 2008) describes a product by Cemaphore Systems called MailShadow for Google Apps. It
“allows people to automatically synchronize their e-mail, calendar and address books between Microsoft’s Outlook and Google’s Gmail… it represents an interesting use of the Google computing “cloud”… [it] would allow businesses to rip out their Exchange servers and run Outlook, which millions of users are familiar with, directly from the Google servers.”
This technology has potential as both a back-up service for law firm e-mail, if not as a way to eliminate Exchange servers. I’ve previously written about Google’s Cloud Computing; this is an application / service that rides on top of it.
I’m not techie enough to venture a guess on the potential e-discovery implications of moving to this architecture. At minimum, it would be one more data source to harvest.
Working virtually may have a down side according to a study just released.
Google’s Lunchtime Betting Game (NY Times, 7 Jan 08) reports on an economic study of a prediction market run internally at Google. Prediction markets use the wisdom of crowds, via individual bets, to predict outcomes (e.g., of elections, stock price, or where Google will open a new office). In analyzing the correlation of individual bets, the authors (3 economists) found that the
“strongest correlation in betting was found among people who sat very close to one another, trumping even friendship or other close social ties…. This is tangible evidence, the authors argue, that information is shared most easily and effectively among office neighbors, even at an Internet company where instant messaging and e-mail are generally preferred to face-to-face discussion.”
So much for working virtually or formal knowledge management. Maybe it does all come down to proximity! Or perhaps workers waste time in idle chit chat with neighbors. Take away the neighbors and then they have to communicate with actual co-workers. Of course, if you can group workers in close physical proximity, that indeed has value. But given global teams, that often is just not possible.
By the way, I have previously suggested that law firms use prediction markets to tap collective expertise. So, one article and three of my favorite topics in it (working virtually, knowledge management, and predictive markets).
I never thought I’d see an intersection between legal technology and the Holiday Season.
This year I have received noticeably fewer holiday cards by US Mail and many more by e-mail. The e-mail greetings range from simple images in the e-mail body to links to extravagantly produced Flash or other animations.
I welcome cards with hand-written notes. Instead of pre-printed cards, however, I prefer bits over atoms: an e-mail greeting spares the environment the impact of the paper and moving it around.
Updated (12/24/07): E-Greetings Gain Ground at Businesses This Season, a front page business section story in the New York Times today reports on this trend. It reports “Eric B. Rothenberg, a partner at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers who directs its green committee, said his firm sent about 10,000 e-cards this year, but individual partners sent out an additional 1,200 traditional cards at their own expense.” The firm sent an image embedded in the e-mail so recipients would not have to click through to a web site.
Enterprise search is a hot topic for large law firms.
I recently cited John Alber’s excellent article on enterprise search. Another leading thinker about search is Oz Benamram, the mover behind Morrison & Foerster’s AnswerBase (AnswerBase article; AnswerBase demo).
In a message circulated to an ILTA listserv, Oz wrote about two additional search considerations (quoted with permission):
1) Search Engine vs. Enterprise Search:
John focused on the differences among search engines. Even even the most accurate search engine, however, is likely to yield too many results merely because most firms have so many responsive documents. What good enterprise search systems, such as Recommind’s, do to solve that problem, is to provide users with context to (i) further narrow down the results list and (ii) determine the value of each result.
For example, after searching for a “motion to dismiss” you may want to narrow down the results by jurisdiction, court, or judge, and select only those that won. You may want to focus on motions written by a specific individual or by the author’s practice group, or that were used when Bryan Cave was on the other side.
Only an enterprise search system (as opposed to merely a search engine) can connect all the parts of the information within the organization to provide you with the context you need. That’s what makes information actionable.
2) The Relevancy of Relevancy:
It is worth noting that relevancy is subjective. It depends on the user who runs the search, and the task at hand. For a litigation partner in the New York office, a document written by a colleague in New York is likely to be more relevant than a similar document written by a tax paralegal in Tokyo. Similarly, the documents most relevant to a lawyer writing an appeal will likely not be the same as those most relevant to a lawyer writing a merger agreement.
Few search vendors are addressing these aspects.
To accomplish what Oz refers to in point 1, the search tool requires “entity extraction,” that is code that allows it to determine names, courts, jurisdictions, dates, parties, and other relevant information from within a document and then present those choices as “search facets.” A facet let’s you select a particular attribute, for example, jurisdictions or deal types. For point 2, the search technology needs to give extra weight in relevancy ranking to the user’s own works and perhaps, the user’s own searches, or other indicia of the user’s interest.
Search has come a long way from “inverted indexes,” Boolean expressions, and proximity!
Attending the annual ILTA conference last week was the proverbial “drinking from a fire hose.” I’m left mulling strategic information technology decisions for large law firms, specifically the fate of document management and federated search.
My entirely unscientific “buzzometer” noticed Interwoven’s announced integration with federated search tool Vivisimo, Starlaw’s Enterprise Information Management system, and Microsoft’s SharePoint. (Full disclosure: I won a telescope prize from Starlaw for attending a demo.)
All are promising but potentially complicate long term technology planning. Life was once simple: 2 widely used document management (DM) systems and full-text search that did not work for the most. Now, StarLaw appears a viable 3rd entry for BigLaw DM. Plus many expect SharePoint (perhaps with add-ins) to be a viable DM soon. On the search side, Recommind plus a host of other products offer federated + enterprise search. And, though not high on buzz last week, don’t forget the adjacent product category of specialized work product retrieval tools such as West KM and RealPractice.
If a firm expects eventually to migrate to a new DM, what does that mean for the choice of federated search? Do you buy federated search from a DM vendor or from a stand-alone company? What’s the best combination of tools to help deliver knowledge management services? What will the interface of choice be in 3 years - Outlook, a custom web interface, SharePoint, or other? The answers are not yet clear but for BigLaw CIOs, it’s great finally to have a range of choices. Of course, with choice comes the risk and anxiety of making a decision!
Law.com has released a new search tool, specific to legal web sites. This will likely be a useful tool for lawyers and legal professionals.
Law.com Quest lets you search two sources:
(1) “the Law.com Network of sites, including the New York Law Journal, The American Lawyer, The National Law Journal, Law Firm Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court Monitor, and more publications and resources from ALM Media” and
(2) the “legal web” which includes #1 plus “hundreds of hand-picked law firm websites and prominent legal blogs.”
Users can suggest to law.com additional sites to include in the search index.
I’ve recently experimented with niche legal customized searching using Google. Quest is a welcome and more powerful addition, though I’m still intrigued by creating well-defined, discrete searches (click here for three examples of niche legal searches).
I am intrigued to see that Quest offers faceted search results (especially after my post yesterday about Endeca) but in my initial testing, this does not yet work quite right, at least for me. I am sure, however, that any initial kinks will be worked out quickly enough.
I continue to be intrigued by Google’s custom search engines. These little tools have potential value for law practice and law business.
I recently blogged about a top US law firm search I created. After that, Mark Gould, Head of Knowledge Management, Addleshaw Goddard LLP contacted me and was kind enough to provide access to one he created for the Top 50 UK firms. Both now appear on a new resource page at prismlegal.com, Legal Market Custom Searches.
Assessing the impact of custom search engines (CSE) will take time. I can imagine many CSE covering specific niches. Web search engines do a good job of bringing back relevant results from the entire web. But searchers often get back are more than they want or can digest. Limiting the search to narrowly defined sets of web sites (URLs) can help make search results more meaningful.
One concern is validation. By this I mean that the user has to trust the engine creator that appropriate sites are included. I’ve not found a way to see a full list of the sites included in an engine someone else created. Of course, if a firm’s law library creates a CSE, validation is not an issue.
I will consider including other engines on the new resource page; if anyone would like to contribute, contact me at searches at prismlegal dot com.
In my prior post, I described the challenge of searching across the AmLaw 100 web sites.
Spotted today at slaw is a post about custom Google searches. My experiment below, which searches top US law firms, roughly defined by the AmLaw 100 survey.
This is made possible by Google Co-op. The “gadget” above also has its own home page.
Last week I saw an interesting illustration of one way to make sense of ever-growing data volumes.
Until the Web matured, just finding data was hugely time-consuming. Today, finding is easy; instead, we drown in Web and enterprise data. The challenge now is to distill meaning - to analyze and interpret.
I previously proposed “legal radar” for general counsel: software that scans blogs to identify emerging legal problems. Last week I saw an interesting demo for sophisticated, off-the-shelf software that does this and more. Datops, recently acquired by LexisNexis (press release), identifies problems and risks via semantic analysis. It classifies blog posts, news articles, and other content as positive, neutral, or negative. Companies can track their reputation, emerging product problems, customers, credits risks, and more.
Several visual interfaces give data meaning. Behind the scenes, the software normalizes multiple sources, extracts entity information (e.g., names of companies or people), summarizes documents, and allows drill down to see what’s behind the visual displays.
This class of software seems destined for wide-spread use by corporate marketing, public relations, credit, and compliance professionals. Inhouse lawyers have an opportunity to reduce both risk and legal service demand. In ten years, we may wonder how we survived just with search engines that merely find but don’t tell us what the results mean.
When I see demos, I usually stick to describing what I saw and my views. In this instance, LexisNexis (LN) explained the company’s strategic goals. Given the important role LN plays in the legal market, I thought readers would be interested as well. LN is moving from an information vendor to a solutions provider, seeking to differentiate itself from content aggregators on the one hand and software developers on the other. Datops will be one part of LN Intelligence Solutions, which will marry Web and proprietary news and legal content with analytical tools. Another example is the acquisition of Interaction CRM software, where LN now adds its proprietary content plus workflow tools to enhance the value of Interaction.
It will be interesting to watch this strategy unfold. Personally, I’d love to see Datops integrated with Applied Discovery EDD tools. I’ve frequently argued that the legal market needs to shift some of the work lawyers now do in reviewing documents to software.
Not long ago I wrote about using enterprise RSS to deliver the right information to lawyers. I’ve since learned of another good use for this technology.
My former colleague Robyn Rebollo is a law librarian. She recently moved from the US to Australia, where she writes the Accidental Aussie blog, which covers resources for US and Australian researchers. In response to my post, Robyn wrote:
“I wanted to comment on your posting concerning RSS feeds. In my prior job, I purchased several copies of Feed Demon [a new aggregator] for both the library and marketing departments to use for business and competitive intelligence tracking purposes. The deployment was a big success and I was able to really get a grip on all my RSS monitoring. Glad that you mentioned the SEC will be offering RSS. There are many government sites out there already doing the same thing.
Let me share with you a good tip on monitoring other law firms and clients. You can track other firm or client press releases, new attorney listings, or product announcements. If a page with regularly updated information does not have a built-in RSS [really simple syndication] feed, you can use the web site Feed Yes to create an RSS feed for one or more pages. That turns out to be a great way to keep track of what firms and clients are doing, especially cases competing law firms were involved in.”
My guess is that in a few years, RSS will be ubiquitous as way to fetch, deliver, and consolidate information. It will be like electricity - something we use all the time but don’t talk about except when it goes out.
Update: (11/8/06) Bloggers Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell wrote a good article on RSS in Law Practice Today; it lists other tools similar to Feed Yes. More generally, it’s a good intro to RSS.
Telepresence seems like an interesting new technology with potential value for BigLaw. It’s video conferencing on steroids.
I’ve seen several articles and ads recently. For example, Are You Ready For Your Close-Up? in Business Week (11/6/06) says of telepresence: “videoconference systems intended to make participants forget they’re in different places. The people captured onscreen are life-size – and lifelike: Lips move in perfect sync with the video. There’s eye contact. And no audio lag.”
Here’s how it works: you sit in a conference room and face a bank of large, high-definition flat panel video screens. Multiple cameras and a very high speed connection drives the system so that the - according to ads and articles - you feel as if the people on the screens are in the room with you. It sounds like a new generation of video - but at a high cost (both one-time hardware and on-going fees).
Over they years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of traditional video conferencing. I think there’s a case for telepresence, even at its much higher cost. If telepresence corrects the shortcomings of traditional video conferencing, at least for smaller groups, it could be a hit for inter-office meetings in BigLaw. After all, the cost to fly partners around is quite high, especially for internal meetings. And think of the opportunities to connect more closely with clients if the travel barrier is eliminated.
I make no prediction about its ultimate penetration. Cost seems a likely barrier for a while but I suspect that some big companies and BigLaw will adopt in 2007.
Several vendors supply telepresence systems; see, for example, Cisco or Polycom.
On Monday, I explained the benefits of information delivery to lawyers using “enterprise RSS.” On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a good, concrete example of why law firms need to consider enterprise RSS.
SEC Financial-Reports Database To Undergo $54 Million Upgrade (WSJ, 9/26/06) reports that the SEC will overhaul EDGAR (the database of public corporate filings) with “interactive data ‘tagging’ that makes it easier for investors, analysts and the agency to find, search for and compare information.” Moreover, the database overhaul “will allow users to receive real-time streaming data using RSS feeds and other automated Web tools to receive the latest corporate data from newly-filed corporate reports.”
For transactional lawyers or for heads of law firm client service teams, automatically receiving notification of client, competitor, or prospect filings could be very valuable (and free!). While enterprise RSS is not the only means to get at this information, it probably will turn out to be the most effective way for BigLaw to manage and deliver this and huge volumes of other information that will, over time, become RSS-enabled.
Merging large law firms say that they offer clients more and deeper expertise. But do mega-firms effectively tap their collective wisdom?
Knowledge management professionals and legal technology consultants see how hard it is to identify who knows what in a BigLaw firm. Much KM work these days focuses on systems to find experienced lawyers within the firm.
Beyond “experience location systems” lies a potentially more valuable way to tap collective know-how: an internal predictive market to reach the best collective answer to tough client problems. Business Solutions: How to Decide? Create a Market (Wall Street Journal, 6/19/06, $) describes a relatively new class of software that allows tapping “the collective knowledge of an organization by letting employees bet on future events, such as forecasting sales or betting on the most promising new product.” It’s not a big leap to apply this idea to predict the outcome of litigation, to find the best transaction structure, or to decide on the best argument.
Why do internal markets work?
“To understand why these markets work as well as they do, consider the usual alternatives companies have for aggregating this sort of knowledge: committee meetings, polling, reports or focus groups. Meetings are often dominated by the person with the best arguments or most forceful personality, not necessarily with the best information… While each player may have very little information, collectively, they have a great deal.”
Moreover, the market approach allows far more people with expertise to contribute than other approaches. GE, HP, and Corning have tested the internal market approach.
Granted, predictive markets are still embryonic. And getting lawyers to participate raises challenges. Markets, however, declare winners, which would appeal to most lawyers’ competitive sensibilities. In fact, cash rewards are even an option.
All that said, were I a general counsel facing a bet-the-company case, I’d sure like the collective wisdom of several hundred lawyers thinking about the best solution to my problem. In fact, I might even pay my outside firm a fee to motivate the lawyers not working daily on my case to spend some time to review my situation and participate in the market. Of course, law firms could help persuade a GC this is worthwhile by doing some testing first.
Sound interesting? Then you might want to check out the software vendors the article mentions: Consensus Point, Inc., Inkling, Inc., and NewFutures. And you might also find interesting A Marketplace Trial, an article I wrote (American Lawyer, Fall 2003) about creating a financial derivatives market to help hedge outcomes of high stakes litigation.
In July I wrote a post titled Computers Pick Outside Counsel Better than People Do, reporting on a NY Times article. The article’s broader point was that computers often decide better than do people. Remember, lawyers are people too.
Maybe We Should Leave That Up to the Computer (NYTimes, 7/18/06) reports that “mathematical models generally make more accurate predictions than humans do.” Computers can best people in medical diagnoses, purchasing decisions, predicting grad school performance. Judgment and expertise are overrated. “Other cherished decision aids, like meeting in person and poring over dossiers, are of equally dubious value when it comes to making more accurate choices, some studies have found…” Beyond better outcomes, models have other advantages: codify and retain knowledge, teach newcomers reasoning processes, and immunity from fatigue.
Of course, not everyone believes this and the article reports the skeptics’ views. So, should some legal decisions be delegated to models? In thinking about this, consider the following:
- Some of the online legal services I list here are, in a sense, models that provide users with answers.
- I have written how formal risk analysis using decision trees can enhance decision-making in litigation. While not the algorithmic approach the Times article means, this approach moves away from “gut feel” to a more quantifiable and easily communicated view of a case.
- My friend and mentor David Johnson (a professor at NY Law School) already experimented years ago (when he was a partner at Wilmer Cutler) with neural nets and genetic algorithms to determine whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. A 20-factor test drives this; if the reported cases were properly translated into a large enough and well-structured data set (ok, a big if), then perhaps an algorithmic approach would work.
- Lawyers (well, at least the forward thinking ones) are increasingly relying on “smart search engines” to reduce the cost of reviewing e-discovery documents.
- Many documents are already created automatically by a wide range of “document assembly” tools. Two years ago articles reported on Cisco’s “Click-Accept” automated approach to contracting (see my post, Contract Management).
BigLaw CIOs do not need to budget for this in 2007 but it’s interesting to think about how our legal system would change if more decisions were computer-based.
9/18/06 Update: Add to the list above selecting a jurors in voir dire using a computer; see Computer Voir Dire, National Law Journal, 9/6/06.
9/19/06 Update: Dennis Kennedy has an interesting post referencing this: Computer-based Legal Decision-making in 2006 raises the question of whether “justice is something fuzzier, yet more comforting than pure accuracy.”
Long-time legal technology consultant Ross Kodner has started a blog.
Ross Ipsa Loquitur Blog is a clever name for Ross’ blog, which covers a range of legal tech issues. Early posts include good advice on practice applications, pointers to peripherials, an ILTA update, and sneak preview of Ross’ new online CLE offering. Welcome to the blawgosphere!
Video is a great way to communicate. That explains why so many people have their eyes glued to the TV. And why mobile phone and PDA makers are rushing video-enabled devices to market? Where are law firms in this action?
In what appears a first, Canadian law firm Torys has released legal updates as videos for viewing on the web or as a podcast. Torys tunes in to latest pop-tech craze in the Toronto Globe and Mail (5/17/06) reports that Torys appears to be the first firm to offer video updates. Traffic to the web site has been good, with 900 visitors watching or downloading a clip in the first 8 eight days.
Have a look or download at Torys’ video center. I applaud the firm for breaking new ground and expect other firms will follow suit.
I was a bit disappointed that the clips I viewed are just “talking heads.” I’m not a video expert, but there are probably inexpensive ways to make video more engaging. It’s a great start though - let the law firm video wars begin. How long before BigLaw retain the services of experienced producers or directors?
A recent McKinsey & Co. survey of IT executives of big companies found that they view two new technologies - virtualization and software as a service ("SaaS") - as highly promising for real benefits.
Virtualization: Until recently, each operating system and many applications needed ran on dedicated servers. “Virtualization” allows running multiple operating systems (e.g., Unix and Windows) and multiple applications on a single server or a group of servers. Virtualization can lower costs while improving performance and reliability.
SaaS: “Rather than purchasing and deploying applications inside the enterprise, many companies are buying access to externally hosted applications, so they pay for the software as they use it.” “Software as a service” started in the dot-com boom but is only now really taking root. McKinsey reports that popular SaaS applications include HR management, billing and order entry, sales management, and network security. SaaS can mean lower costs, faster roll-outs, and easier maintenance.
Law Firm Implications: McKinsey notes that the relatively high rate of uptake indicates “that a technology architecture transformation is beginning to take shape in many large and midsize organizations.” In my own experience, I know that some large law firms are considering these options and some are already moving in this direction. BigLaw CIOs who need ammo to explain infrastructure issues to firm management might do well to share this two page McKinsey article when they propose virtualization or SAAS.
E-Discovery Implications of SaaS?: An interesting side question: what’s the impact of SAAS on e-discovery? I’m not sure if SAAS limits the options for producing data - formats or media - or requires subpoenaing the SaaS provider. Limitations might be good; in any event, lawyers representing companies using SaaS need to understand the discovery implications. I’ve checked a few e-discovery web resources and vendor web sites and found no info on this question. If anyone knows, please drop a line or leave a comment.
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a technology standard that makes automatically distributing information easy. Many organizations (including the New York Times and WilmerHale) use RSS to let web site visitors receive updates automatically. Now, a large law firm is using RSS internally.
Marketing expert Larry Bodine blogs that “Dykema Chooses Newsgator for Firmwide RSS Aggregator.” With this enterprise tool, the firm can automatically deliver information directly into the Outlook based on individual need.
For more information, see my prior posts: Blogs and RSS Feeds - Enterprise Approach? and Follow-up on Enterprise Blogging and RSS, both from last summer.
Well, after three intense days, Legal Tech is over. This annual gathering seems to grow every year. Here then are my observations.
I spent most of my time with clients and in one-on-one meetings. So I can’t offer the first-hand report I had hoped. For a good summary, see David Munn’s LegalTech.com Blog reports (here and here).
My private conversations support David’s observation that MS SharePoint has rapidly gained mindshare. David also reports that e-discovery is everywhere (suggesting that the “elevator index” I proposed in my prior post is, not surprisingly, going up).
Indeed, EDD was everywhere: ads on the floor (how do they stick those plastic “billboards” on the floor?); ads in the program; in the elevator. Even ads in the men’s restrooms - on the walls as one entered, above the urinals, even on the mirrors. Not sure that’s where I’d want my product featured, but it was memorable.
From one-on-one conversations, it’s clear that large law firms have serious planning underway for portals, document management upgrades, and significant KM undertakings.
I’d say that the change is incremental; I did not notice anything revolutionary. Yet unlike some years past, there is no sense of stagnation. It’s not the dot-com era (thankfully), but excitement is back.
Update (2/6/06): Jim Calloway over at Law Practice Tips Blog has a good Legal Tech report.
The annual Legal Tech trade show is next week in NYC, at the same time as ALM CIO/CTO Forum. With two education programs and many technology exhibitors, there is much to learn and see.
If you visit the exhibits, here are my suggestions for what to see:
The above are companies/products I’ve seen or spoken to and think have cool and useful technology. (Practice Technologies has retained me on some projects.)
Those who need to understand a dense contract should consider special software to create a hyperlinked version. I recently spoke with the founders of Affinitext, a service that converts mega-contracts into easy-to-navigate, on-screen documents.
Founders Ed Adams and Graham Thomson have extensive experience - law and business - dealing with contracts for major project such as dam or highway construction. Their service converts multi-volume, cross-referenced contracts into a set of hyperlinked documents. Delivery is on CD to serve managers and lawyers on-the-go or in remote locations without connectivity.
Many users will take comfort in the Affinitext interface, which is the same format as Windows on-screen help. Converted contracts have many links - from document to document and back to definitions - as well as “mouse over” pop-ups with explanations.
Dense and deeply cross-referenced contracts create barriers to reading, much less understanding. Affinitext appears to lower significantly these barriers. This is especially useful for anyone just coming up to speed on a project. For projects in dispute, the side using the tool might gain a significant advantage.
My previous posts about improving contract management focused on managing high-volume contracts. Affinitext, in contrast, targets complex documents and may also be effective on simpler ones as well. The only arguably similar product I know is Thomson-Elite’s DealProof.
A forward-thinking law firm that works on dense contracts might consider giving clients an Affinitext version. Absorbing the cost might pay back in client satisfaction. Moreover, clients who regularly consult contracts might call firms more often for follow-on advice – at the usual billable rate.
I’ve previously suggested that blogs could serve as radar for legal problems. A new, off-the-shelf tool from IBM should make that easier.
IBM has released new software that Tracks Blogs, Web Content to Capture Buzz, Spot Trends Around Companies (spotted on beSpacific). It uses new full-text techniques IBM has developed that I’ve discussed in earlier posts.
How long before a law firm uses this product to identify legal problems it can solve for clients or in litigation or lobbying PR battles? Forward thinking CIOs and librarians should consider learning more about this software to see if it would be a helpful resource for lawyers. Or maybe the marketing chiefs will beat them to the punch.
SAP, the enterprise software company, has an unusual ad in the current American Lawyer magazine - a shot across the bow for law firm financial software vendors in my opinion
The ad is an 8-page essay themed with a Hegelian synthesis of law practice and law business via flexible and integrated financial software. (Aside: good thing I read Marx in college.) It suggests that existing financial systems cannot run increasingly large and global law firms. This is not SAP’s first foray into legal; last December I wrote that Howrey adopted SAP.
If I were Elite, Aderant, Redwood Analytics, Whitehall, or any other law firm financial software supplier, I would read this essay and start thinking about SAP as a serious competitor. It’s hard to imagine SAP running this ad in isolation, meaning the company is likely to continue pushing in legal. Law firm managers should welcome the possibility of more choice.
I could not be at the ILTA (formerly LawNet) conference in Phoenix this week, to my regret. My friend and business partner, Shy Alter, CEO of ii3, however, is attending and provides a “highlights” report.
Microsoft is in the house: Looking at the program, many tracks are conducted by leading vendors in the space. These educational tracks are provided by vendors such as Hummingbird, Aderant, and a relatively new but fast growing presence – Microsoft. In fact – measured by the number of tracks, Microsoft out does all other vendors. When MS decides to move into a space – well – they don’t beat around the bush – and the CIOs I talked to are definitely taking notice.
Integration, integration and some more integration: I met and interviewed four CIOs on Monday. One interesting common theme emerged when I asked about the future of business applications in the firm (e.g. DM, CRM etc.) – and whether there’s appetite for more – all of them said that the issue is not new applications, but how to make those that they have “talk” to each other.
Shy is attending ILTA in an official capacity, to produce ii3 TV segments for ITLA. He is interviewing numerous conference attendees and will assemble a video segment (details on availability of this to come). For those who would like a preview of his considerable substantive and production talent, go to ii3 TV for two 15-segments on knowledge management topics.
I have previously suggested that corporations could scan blogs as an early warning system for legal issues. Business Week’s Blogspotting has an interesting post that relates to this idea.
Quoting an “experienced corporate blogger,” How corporations track the blogs: A blogger weighs in reports “any company that is not watching the blogosphere is missing out on a great deal of information that is quite useful/pertinent. It’s stupidly easy to do and basically, a free way to gather intelligence.” Among the sources of information one might not find elsewhere: spouses and new or ex-employees.
A forward thinking law firm could either track the blogosphere as a service for its clients or to identify possible legal issues as part of its marketing efforts.
I have previously suggested (here) that general counsels could analyze the blogosphere as an early warning system for potential legal issues. Blogs as radar is now happening in consumer markets.
Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal, in Marketers Scan Blogs for Brand Insights (free WSJ content), that a “growing number of marketers are using new technology to analyze blogs and other “consumer-generated media” … to hear what is being said online about new products… Purveyors of the new methodology and their clients say blog-watching can be cheaper, faster and less biased than such staples of consumer research as focus groups and surveys.”
For companies interested in preventive law, trying blog analysis seems worth investigating. Many companies already pay outside services to scan the Web for use of their trademarks. This goes a step further to analyze potential trends or mentions that could affect the company’s overall legal health.
I recently came across an interesting new Web-based form of communication that law firms should consider for CLE and delivering client updates: web-based TV.
My friends at ii3, Inc. recently released ii3 TV. The concept is simple: short, professionally produced TV segments streamed to a web browser. The initial topics are the business case for KM and taxonomies. These 15-minute segments are worth watching for any KM professional. More broadly though, partners or marketing departments attempting to reach clients with updates in an engaging manner should consider this format. (Professional development managers can also use this format for CLE.)
ii3 CEO Shy Alter says “As a consultancy focused on the legal market – with a special emphasis on knowledge and information management – ii3 is always looking for innovative marketing tools. We have been very successful in educating our market on knowledge and information management related business issues, via seminars and Webinars. Lately, we have turned to web-based video streaming as a means of creating widely accessible, high impact knowledge programs. We now create high quality programming that relies primarily on tightly edited interviews with peers and practitioners.”
Unlike newsletters - printed or e-mail - delivering TV over the web offers the potential to track viewing patterns. ii3 has chosen not to require registration but firms could do so. Webinars, with the combination of audio and PowerPoint slides or software demos, may not be suitable for legal content. ii3 TV illustrates how a law firm could feature several lawyers speaking about current topics. With all the dollars flowing into content prep and marketing, it seems firms should at least experiment with this media.
Speaking of ii3, I have now affiliated with the company to offer consulting services on a joint basis. I first met ii3 when I was CIO at Mintz Levin. When I started consulting, they were my first client. We’ve now transitioned our relationship to a joint venture (press release). I look forward to working with my friends at ii3 on consulting projects.
And if anyone wants details on the mechanics of this type of TV, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the production folks at ii3.
No, this is not a post about mixing cleaning powder and food. The Wall Street Journal this week had two articles about interesting technology developments. This is a bit techier than my usual posts, but I was fascinated by both reports.
Separately, in a Tuesday front-page story (subscription req’d), the Journal reports that researchers have discovered problems with hashing algorithms. A hash converts any amount of text to a short string of numbers. Hashes are critical in authenticated transactions and digital signatures. They are also used to ensure the integrity of data in forensic evidence collection. The idea is that you can very easily and efficiently tell if text has been altered by hashing it and comparing the resulting short numbers. Different texts are always supposed to yield different hashes.
The researchers have, however, found a way to create two different source texts that produce the same hash string - something previously thought virtually impossible to do. The security implications of this could be far-reaching, though it is not clear that anyone needs to worry just yet.
These two reports are more techy than many of the articles I read in computer trade publications. That alone suggests, I believe, the ever-increasing importance of technology in day-to-day life. In years past, I do not recall such detailed tech accounts in a mainstream business publication.
DC-based Howrey Simon Arnold & White, LLP has chosen enterprise resource management software SAP to run key business processes. This may be a first for a US-based firm.
According to an SAP press release, “[t]he first phase of Howrey’s implementation will include SAPÂ® solutions for financial accounting; management accounting; client and order management; engagement management, including time and expense management and invoice management; and business analytics.” The system will run on hardware from Sun Microsystems.
Anecdotally, I do not know of any other US law firm that has installed SAP; I have heard that at least one firm in the UK has. It will be interesting to see if SAP for Professional Services will gain traction in the legal market. Presumably, it would do so at the expense of other financial management, time and billing, and HR systems. From the perspective of a large law firm’s CIO, it cannot hurt to have another player in this space.
I am intrigued by the press release reference to “first phase.” It will be interesting to observe what phase two brings and what other benefits this industrial-strength software can have for large law firms. SAP may unintentionally tip its hat a bit when it refers to “order management,” language that does not reflect legal market reality. Yet in my experience, there is a gap - both in software and mindset - in managing client matters that remains to be filled, so there is no lack of opportunity to put the software to good use. And bringing an industrial mindset to law firms is a good thing in my opinion.
Blogger and lawyer Matt Honman has a regular feature in which he asks five experts to provide five answers to a single question. He recently asked “What five new technologies should all lawyers incorpoate into their practices, but probably won’t?"
The five replies are interesting reading as a group, ranging from general issues to some very specific suggestions. For mine, click here.
The list of the five experts is:
Jeff Beard - Attorney and Legal Services IT Manager with Caterpillar, Inc. Jeff blogs at LawTech Guru, and is a frequent national author and presenter on legal technology and practice management topics.
Ron Friedmann - Lawyer and legal technology expert. He is the founder of Prism Legal Consulting, Inc. and blogs about “Strategic Legal Technology” here.
Kevin Heller - Attorney and author of the Tech Law Advisor and Kevin Esq. weblogs. Kevin also is a contributor to the The Blawg Channel.
Jerry Lawson - Author of The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers and blogger extraordinaire, authoring or contributing to eLawyer Blog, IECJournal.org, Fedlawyerguy.org, Chesslinks Worldwide, and the Netlawblog and Netlawtools sites.
Dennis Kennedy - Attorney and legal technologist. Dennis is a prolific writer and speaker. Dennis blogs at the self-titled Dennis Kennedy Blog, and is one of the founding members of The Blawg Channel.
Remember all the talk about “disintermediation” during the dot-com boom? It means that the Web allows producers to connect directly with consumers and eliminate intermediaries. It may be back as potential threat to legal publishers.
In Law Professor’s Web Log is Jurists’ Must-Read, the Wall Street Journal reports today (7/19/04, p. B1) that law professor Douglas Berman’s web log (blog) on the Blakely decision concerning sentencing guidelines has become the “go-to” source for up-to-date information on that decision and its ramifications. Though blogs are “small fry” compared to commercial sites, the article points out that for niche interests like Blakely, blogs can be a “must-read for the particular community interested in every bit and piece related to the subject at hand.”
What if many lawyers - whether professors or partners at large firms - started blogs on their own niche specialties? The bloggers could use both the Web and commercial services to find the most current decisions (or legislative action or other legally significant action) and post both “raw material” and their learned interpretation and comments. Since most of the raw material of law is government created, copyright would not seem to be an issue. So bloggers can (and Prof. Berman does) post cases and other materials of interest. A well-maintained blog can become both a running commentary on the latest developments and a searchable repository of source materials.
For lawyers doing research, turning to certain blogs would be like turning to treatises or monographs - authoritative and comprehensive treatments of niche areas, only constantly updated. Of course, there is always the issue of validation of the material, but in many instances, the reputation of the blogger would probably suffice.
With enough high quality, niche legal blogs, legal publishers could, at least on the margin, lose some usage. But there are potential business opportunities as well. Having a reliable, central directory of all the niche blogs would be valuable to legal researchers. Fees and/or advertising might sustain such a service. It would probably also make sense for that central service to provide services to the bloggers as well. One example would be the sale of advertising. It strikes me that advertisers would be more willing to pay for placement across multiple blogs than paying for one at a time.
As a dot-com casualty myself, I recognize that it’s one thing to outline this vision, another to make it happen profitably. But it seems to me that focused legal blogs have the same potential to shake-up today’s legal research as computer-aided legal research eventually had on traditional print research.
If you read several blogs and do not already use an aggregation service, you should consider doing so. Over the holidays (yes, they do seem like a long time ago), I tried a couple (for example, FeedDemon). I decided to use Bloglines.com, a web-based service instead of client software locally.
My decision to use Bloglines was based on a couple of factors. First, I found that FeedDemon and other local software had more features than I needed or wanted. Second, I already run so many applications and have so many icons in my task tray that I was not thrilled about yet one more (and yes, I do have 512 meg of RAM). And third, I liked the idea of a web-based service since it means I’d have access to my list of blogs from any PC, not just my own.
I have been very happy with Bloglines. The interface to set up “subscriptions” and folder them is not quite as crisp as it might be, but once I figured that out, it was easy sailing. Now I find it very easy to keep up with multiple blogs from a single, easy-to-use interface. Though I have yet to use it, Bloglines has another interesting feature: you can create an e-mail address for use in subscribing to listservs or e-mail newsletters. I imagine this is helpful for content and spam management. Next time I find a new service to which I want to subscribe, I will use Bloglines. Eventually, I may try to move over other regular e-mail alerts to it.
My only reservation is that I don’t understand the business model of the company. It’s free and there are no ads. After the dot-com boom, that makes me very suspicious. I would not be happy if the company started running ads, but I’d most likely be willing to pay a modest monthly charge to use the service.
PS - shortly after posting the above, a friend just let me know that he could not automatically subscribe to my blog using the auto-detect feature. The work around for this is to copy the RSS 2.0 link (right click on link and select “Copy Shortcut") and paste the URL into the subscription box on bloglines.
Microsoft has recently released a new addition to its Office suite called OneNote. It’s a “free form” text entry tool with a tabbed interface, outliner, and built-in search engine. I have been evaluating the product for about 30 days and like it so far. I think this is software that many lawyers are likely to find quite useful.
I am not generally a fan of Microsoft and have complaints about their products and market behavior. But I must admit that for a version 1.0, OneNote seems pretty good. I am using it to store miscellaneous information that formerly would be scattered across Word documents, Outlook, and other applications.
The “tabbed interface” across the top makes it easy to create multiple topics (e.g., for different clients or projects). Each tab allows creating an unlimited number of named “pages” down the right side of the screen, allowing quick access to multiple subjects by topic. On each page, you can arbitrarily click and start entering text or other data in it’s own “block.” A quick look at the outlining feature suggests that it is much easier to outline in OneNote than in Word. (I still miss PC Outline from the DOS days! OneNote may be the answer.)
From the reviews and articles I’ve read about it, I believe that Microsoft intends OneNote to be particularly useful and optimized for tablet PCs. I have not explored these features (I don’t use a tablet), but I can see from the design of the software and my experiences using a friend’s tablet that OneNote would work nicely with that hardware platform.
OneNote creates multiple files, one per tab. I think you can keep tabs at different places in your directory structure and access them from OneNote by navigating via the directory structure. I found this aspect a bit confusing, but did not fully explore because I decided it was best to keep all the tabs in a single sub-directory. The one peculiarity (I have not encountered any serious bugs yet with OneNote) is that when my automated back-up runs nightly (I back-up to a secure, web-based service), the log file shows a lot of OneNote files being updated that I don’t see listed in Windows file explorer. I’m not sure what that means, but it seems innocuous.
If you have experience with or insights into OneNote, I would be grateful if you would leave a comment.
Yesterday the New York Times carried two interesting articles that relate to knowledge management. Markets Shaped by Consumers reports on a constant dialog between producers and consumers about products consumers want. In the past, the dialog was primarily via consumers modifying products (e.g, the first mountain bikes were built from old-fashioned heavy bikes by enthusiasts) or consumers using products in unexpected ways (e.g., using Blue Tooth equipped cell phones not so much for data exchange with computers, but rather to message nearby strangers). Now the article reports software facilitates the conversation, citing both blogs and “social network software.” The latter uses “search technology, referrals and rankings” to find helpful information and connect people (including producers and consumers).
I have previously reported on IBM’s Web Fountain full-text project. According to the Times, IBM considers social network technology as one aspect of “what they term ‘relationship-oriented computing’.” The article provides a bit more detail about Web Fountain: “Using search, business intelligence and text analytics technology, I.B.M. researchers can look for trends, buzz and hints of shifting consumer attitudes as evident from Web postings. I.B.M. hopes to sell this market intelligence as a service to companies. ‘It’s the collective I.Q. of the Internet coming to your aid,’ said James C. Spohrer, director for services research at Almaden.”
A companion piece, Idea for Online Networking Brings Two Entrepreneurs Together, discusses social networking software in more detail. One of the products mentioned in both is Linkedin. I registered for this service a few weeks ago and am still trying it. The idea is to make use of your contacts’ contacts. This can facilitate expertise location and relationship management. My initial and not yet very informed opinion of this software is that it is more likely to succeed within an organization or existing community than in the public at large. Law firm knowledge managers interested in expertise location and CRM, however, should keep an eye on this space.
The November 10, 2003 issue of Business Week has a short report about a company called Dipsie. Dipsie is a new search engine scheduled to go live in 2004.
My understanding of both the Dipsie web site and the BW article is that Dipsie will search not just static web pages, but those generated dynamically in real time, searching three times as many pages as does Google. It’s not clear to me exactly how this will work since many pages are generated from database back-ends based on specific user inputs. BW also reports that Dipsie will use semantic analysis, “sensing content and context” and thus distinguish word meanings such as equity stock versus inventory stock.
Some lawyers want to use Google for searching their own work product. While it’s not a bad Boolean search engine, the feature that makes Google so useful - link analysis - is of no value for internal use in a law firm. To the extent that Dipsie offers new or improved semantic analysis, it may be of interest to law firms. Of course, the search engine space is crowded and the company may not even target selling its software for internal use. But it will be interesting to see if a start-up can compete against Google. And for lawyers and law firm staff who rely on the Web to uncover interesting facts, a tool that indexes more pages than Google could be very useful.
Document management systems (DMS) are an essential part of the infrastructure in most large law firms. A few do not use DMS or have created their own systems, but most use commercial products such as Hummingbird DM (formerly PC Docs) or iManage. Last August, Interwoven and iManage agreed to merge (see the press release). Last week, storage vendor EMC agreed to acquire DMS vendor Documentum (see Documentum press release and the article EMC Acquires Documentum in Portals Magazine).
The business dynamics of the DMS space may be changing and law firm technology managers - both operational and strategic - should keep an eye on the market. With luck, these changes will work to benefit law firms. I remember, however, an earlier chapter in the history of DMS. About 10 years ago a company called SoftSolutions was one of the first to market with a legal market DMS product. It was acquired by WordPefect, which in turn was acquired by Novell. Novell then “upgraded” SoftSolutions, though in the opinion of most law firms, that upgrade made the product virtually unusable because some key features were eliminated (e.g., client-matter lookups).
It’s also important to keep in mind what Microsoft might do in this space. Between MS Sharepoint and discussions of a new file system based on SQL-Server in the next version of the Windows operating system (see, for example, Microsoft Details Longhorn Storage, it may be that a free-standing DMS will not be necessary in the future.
Law firms need not take any immediate action, but between what Microsoft may release and changes prompted by vendor consolidation, they may face some interesting choices in the next couple of years.
In my posting IBM is Developing New Search Technology of 13 Aug 2003 I discussed new full-text software from IBM called Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA). On September 13, 2003, the New York Times carried short piece reporting that IBM is introducing a new full-text service called WebFountain.
On its venture development web site, IBM describes WebFountain as “a new text analytics technology from IBM’s Research division that analyzes millions of pages of data weekly. Using this technology, organizations can access critical business information and uncover valuable insights that are otherwise difficult and costly to acquire by manual methods.” The IBM Almaden Research Center web site has some more information
This sounds very promising for both knowledge management and litigation support applications. Of course, as I have noted in prior postings, there are many interesting full-text technologies and evaluating them (and the cost-benefit trade-offs) is difficult. With IBM’s history of innovation, this bears watching for those in the legal market. Also note that IBM now is specifically serving the legal market, including litigation management.
Being the eager type, I requested about 10 days ago more information (i.e., a white paper) via e-mail to a WebFountain information e-mail address. To date, I have not received a reply, which is surprising, especially in light of a litigation management offering. Nonetheless, I will keep my eye out because the IBM Systems Journal has accepted a paper in preliminary abstract form that describes WebFountain.
In Office Buzz: Check the E-mail on September 25, 2003, the New York Times reviews Office 2003, the latest Microsoft upgrade to the Office suite. The review is mixed at best. The columnist notes that “Microsoft has made shockingly few changes to Word, Excel and PowerPoint.” In contrast, Outlook has many new features. But the review is not the main point here…
The review notes that the corporate edition is “crawling with features that work only on networks.” One of those is “Information Rights Management” or IRM. This feature allows users to determine “who can do what” with documents and messages, including controlling access to documents (view or print) and specifying destruction dates. See Microsoft’s technical information on IRM for more information.
While protecting data has its benefits, lawyers need to be aware of who has a “master key” to open locked documents. Depending on how IRM works and is administered, it is possible that at least in some law firms, client organizations, or home offices, users will be able to create documents that are encrypted in ways that make it difficult or impossible to open them. As Peter Coffee points out in The Best DRM Policy May Be No Policy at All in eWeek’s September 8th issue, “rights management technologies represent yet another way for the enterprise to lock crucial information inside containers defined and controlled by others.”
Administered properly, IRM has the potential to protect privacy and confidentiality. But as Coffee suggests, problems may be lurking if users can create documents that cannot be easily opened. This would make it hard for law firms to access their own work product or to view documents in an e-discovery process.
In my July 30th posting, Thoughts on Full Text Retrieval (a KM and litigation support topic), I discussed lingering questions I have about the value of advanced full-text retrieval. My questions notwithstanding, I do believe that more sophisticated tools offer value, at least when used appropriately. And of course, as tools grow in sophistication, the answer may change.
The current issue of eWeek magazine (8/11/03), in the cover story IBM Takes Search to New Heights, describes new search technology IBM is developing. It appears that the new software, dubbed Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA), combines multiple approaches to searching, including statistical algorithms, rule-based reasoning, symbolic reasoning, and artificial intelligence. An IBM spokesperson is quoted as saying the software understands text and tells you what’s in it.
An IEEE publication provides a bit more information: “The Combination Hypothesis states that using a variety of techniques - such as natural language processing, statistical analysis, and syntactical and grammatical rules-based intelligence - together may result in significant data analysis improvements.” More detailed information is available in an IBM white paper on Architecting Knowledge Middleware, presented in May 2002 at a conference.
IBM has developed many interesting technologies so, at a minimum, this initiative bears watching. Some readers may remember the early days of Optical Character Recognition (OCR). There were “voting engine” systems that used multiple brands/approaches to perform OCR on the same documents and let the the majority result rule. Perhaps this analogy is overly simplistic, but it sounds conceptually similar. The key of course, is how the voting algorithms work (and I could not find detail on that).
Law firm technology managers interested in KM and searching document stores should stay tuned for more information on this promising approach. A conceptual breakthrough in search - or even an incremental step forward - could be important.
Reading the July/August issue of Law Practice Management magazine, an interesting ad caught my eye. On page 3, 3M corporation advertises RFID to track paper files.
RFID means Radio Frequency Identification. This is a passive chip that, when subject to a radio query, broadcasts back identification information. It’s likely to replace bar codes for many applications. This is not a futuristic technology that may or may not happen. It’s here. Though there have been bumps (see Wal-Mart Cancels RFID Trial As Companies Get Realistic About The Technology in the July 14th issue of Internet Week, many consumer product manufacturers continue to test the viability of RFID tags to track pallets now and perhaps individual consumer units in the future. The 3M ad suggests that law firms tag files or boxes with RFID so they can always be found.
So much for background. Just last week I was meeting with a law firm about some tech issues. A partner expressed interest in knowing who was in the office via a Web-based, check-in/check-out system. Since we had our “vision hats” on, we talked about the possibility that lawyers might someday wear RFID tags and the building would “know” if they are in our out and where they are. Of course, this raises many privacy concerns and I am not sure this is a good idea. But certainly the technology is available if the goal is to know - automatically - if someone is available.
Along these lines, instant messaging offers a similar feature - presence detection. That is, most IM programs broadcast whether a user is available or not. Various features are available to control revealing this information or automatically sending a message that you are away from the PC (because, for example, you have not touched a key in 20 minutes). I know that many firms have tried or actually rolled out IM, but I am not sure many are using this feature.
I would be curious to hear if anyone has reactions [not flames:-)] to using RFID or IM presence detection in a law firm. [By the way, I am working on upgrading my blog to allow comments and other features.]
On May 19th, the New York Times reported on wikis (a shared web space in which anyone in a group can add and delete content). Today, the Times reports on the growing popularity of blogs in the corporate workplace in an article titled “Blogs in the Workplace.”
In an effort to deal with e-mail, the article reports that “a growing number of businesses, government organizations and educational institutions are using Web logs to manage and improve the flow of information among employees.Ã¢â‚¬Â The article cautions, however, that it is too soon “to tell whether the corporate blog will emerge as a genuinely useful tool for business communications or simply another way for bores and blowhards to blather.”
Toward the end of the piece, a corporate user describes how his company now uses blogs to archive instant message transcripts. I don’t know if this is common, but knowledge managers beware!
Also from LegalIT, referenced in my prior post: Chrissy Burns of Blake Dawson Waldron in Sydney writes an interesting article about the role of e-learning in LegalIT. Her article, E-learning: Say goodbye to the classroom, describes a booming market in e-learning and potential opportunities this creates for law firm to provide online services to clients. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In many cases large clients are approaching their external law firms for computerised training systems.Ã¢â‚¬Â But law firms face competition, difficult questions concerning platform selection, selling challenges, and content creation issues.
Since this is my second posting in a row about online legal services, let me mention that I maintain a list of online legal services at Prism Legal Consulting, Inc.. If anyone knows of large law firms that offer online services that is not on my list, please let me know (by clicking e-mail comments link to the right).
The June 2, 2003 issue of Business Week, in the Technology & You column titled Just Click on the Dotted Line by Stephen H. Wildstrom, reports on the current state of digital signatures. The column points out that in the dot-com boom, the focus was on using the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for online signing. That approach never took off because the PKI is complex to manage. Instead, the “digital signature most likely to dominate will strongly resemble the pen-and-ink kind.” The column reports that notaries will endorse a system that uses computer files instead of logbooks to witness signings. The combined hardware-software package will also save a digital version of the ink signature.
I spent 5 months working for a dot-com, iLumin, that provided an online signing solution. At the time (early 2001), it seemed to make so much sense that traditional signatures would be replaced by online signing. The failure of the PKI-based approach to catch on was a good lesson in why not all promising new technologies are adopted. Among the lessons: a new approach has to have compelling benefits over existing ones - for everyone affected by the changes - to be adopted.