IT Portfolio Management

Applying portfolio management theory to IT planning and projects has long been a favorite topic of mine. I noticed a few more good articles on the topic today.
First, Ron Friedman on the excellent Strategic Legal Technology Blog points to and discusses a very good article by Josh Fish of HubbardOne called “Using Strategic Technology to Win and Keep Business,” which appears in the November 2003 issue of the highly-recommended Peer-to-Peer Newsletter.
In the article, Fish discusses an online delivery mechanism for health care law developed by Reed Smith, the differences between “strategic” and “operational” technologies, and the role of portfolio management in IT planning. It’s a very good article, although I think that it underplays the element of diversification of IT portfolios and the fact that “risk-avoidance” techniques are, in the long run, riskier than a diversified strategy. In this context, I suggest taking a look at my articles, “Thinking Strategically about Technology” and “A Prudent Approach to Legal Technology Spending
in a Slowing Economy
.”
Second, CFO Magazine has a great article on IT portfolio management in general. The money quote:
“Technology portfolio management, experts say, may be the perfect tool for this task, since it is designed to steer scarce resources to the projects that will produce the greatest overall value. Rubin claims first-time adopters of IT portfolio management can reduce their existing IT costs by 25 to 30 percent in the first year.”
For a context in which to think about IT portfolio management, see my “Seven Easy Ways for Law Firms to Throw Away Money on Technology.”

Open Source Families and Facts

A good day for finding helpful resources on the Open Source licenses.
First, my article, “Open Source Families and Facts,” has appeared on UnixReview.com. It’s a useful little article that sorts the Open Source licenses into four families and then illustrates some of the key features and differences among the various families. I also include a section on “Ten Practical Tips for Choosing, Using, and Living with an Open Source License.” It’s exciting for me to be published in a techie publication rather than a legal publication for a change.
Also, Pamela Jones’s post called “The GPL is a License, Not a Contract, Which is Why the Sky Isn’t Falling,” a helpful analysis of the “viral effect” question that arises with the General Public License. I’m not sure I buy the license vs. contract argument in its entirety, but I think that the discussion helps people understand the “viral” issue and shows how derivative works under the GPL should be handled.
A third greaat find is Joel Spolsky’s “Biculturalism,” a fascinating discussion of the differences between UNIX and Windows programmers that occurs in the context of Spolsky’s review of Open Source guru Eric Raymond’s new book, The Art of UNIX Programming. Spolsky’s essay can be read as a fascinating response and follow-up to Raymond’s seminal The Cathedral and the Bazaar.
I keep a page of Open Source license resources, including the law review article I wrote on the Open Source licenses in 2001 (watch for an updated, less-academic version of the article to appear soon in the Journal of Internet Law), on my web site.
The Open Source license are very important and, as Pamela Jones points out, it is also important that lawyers understand these licenses because there is some FUD out there. I hope that my articles and these resources help clarify some of the issues.

Legal Departments, Law Firms and the “Digital Divide”

There’s a great line spoken by Ambassador Kosh in Babylon 5: “The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.”
I was reminded of this line today as I read “GCs Struggle to Hold the Line on Legal Spending” by Rob Thomas of Serengeti Law.
Here’s the money quote: “This strong level of dissatisfaction among corporate clients presents a clear opportunity for those firms that are willing to work with their clients to improve efficiency and predictability. Rather than waiting for their clients to impose new constraints, outside counsel can gain a competitive advantage by identifying and proposing practical solutions that will meet the needs of both sides of the relationship.”
Thomas describes the key problem: “In-house counsel are caught between a heavier workload and their companies’ need to hold the line on legal spending. . . . the top concern of most in-house counsel [currently 82 percent] is getting control over outside legal spending. Dissatisfaction with outside legal costs is leading companies to impose more constraints on firms and to send less work to them.”
Further, he adds, “And it’s clear that more in-house counsel are turning to technology to increase productivity in order to handle more work with current resources: The concern that increased the most this year was having ‘technology to improve the efficiency of the law department and work with outside counsel.’ In-house counsel are starting to close the technology gap with their colleagues at firms. Unlike last year, in-house counsel are generally planning to increase spending on various new technologies during the coming year. In general, as Internet-based systems, such as extranets and e-billing, have matured and gained mainstream acceptance, they have moved up in the list of technology priorities that law departments are considering. E-billing is at the top by a wide margin, with more than 28 percent of law departments currently considering implementing it with their firms. The smorgasbord of other technology to help law departments manage their legal work breaks down roughly into two categories: external tools [that include their firms], and internal tools [used only by the law department]. Among external technologies, law department extranets, currently used by about 20 percent of law departments, continue to grow in popularity as a way to share information.”
Take just a moment to recall that the most common reason law firms get fired is “lack of responsiveness.”
Now consider this statement: “In-house counsel report that firms are not cooperating when it comes to controlling legal costs. Each of the past three years, outside counsel have been rated lowest in performance on cost consciousness and predictive accuracy. In fact, the top suggestion for outside counsel is to be more concerned with costs. These sentiments are supported by reports of law firm resistance to alternative fees, failure to respond to requests for bids, and reluctance to accept other changes sought by in-house counsel.”
Anyone else hear the sound of a big train coming down the track?
I’ve been preaching on this topic for a while, and that’s part of the reason I like this article so much. The other reason is that it is very clear that this train is coming and part of my business is helping law departments and law firms deal with these trends. Since law firms don’t want to listen to the legal departments of their clients, I’m more than happy to help legal departments, through seminars or consulting projects, put together a package of technologies that will definitely get the attention of their law firms, or help them find lawyers who will listen.

Surviving Spam Filtering

I recently made a decision to delete, without opening, all e-mail messages with a blank subject line. It became apparent that this type of message was an unsolicited advertisement. So, if you send me an e-mail with no subject and I don’t recognize your name or e-mail address, I will not be reading, let alone be responding to, your e-mail.
As with each backstep I’m forced to make because of spam, I feel a little sadness.
I’ve long argued that good e-mail practice requires good subject lines, but writing good subject lines has become imperative in today’s world of spam and spam filters.
Usability guru Jakob Nielsen makes a very similar point in his weekly column, “Automated Email From Websites to Customers,” in which he says:
“Transactional email can be a website’s customer service ambassador, but messages must first survive a ruthless selection process in the user’s in-box. Differentiating your message from spam is thus the first duty of email design.”
I’d only add that the same principles now apply to all e-mail as the combination of spammers and spam filtering have made the simple act of e-mailing much more complex.

The Digital Practice of Law Blog

One of my favorite writers and speakers on legal tech topics is Michael Arkfeld. His book, The Digital Practice of Law, is probably the best one volume resource on legal technology that you can find because of his commonsense approach to the subject, even though some of the hardware sections have become a bit dated. He now has a blog (with RSS feed) on litigation and legal tech topics that should also become a great resource, particularly on litigation technology topics. In addition, his new book, Electronic Discovery and Evidence, has just been released and will probably become a standard reference text on this important subject.