Fish & Neave’s Identity Loss Problems Continue

Some would argue that it’s been a tough year for the prominent patent law firm, Fish & Neave. The firm has fought what appears to have been a losing battle to keep its identity.
First, the firm suffered through the agonies of being a victim of "identity theft by employee," with the attendant negative publicity.
Now, the firm will have its 125-year-old identity swallowed up by Boston’s Ropes & Gray, in a merger that, at least for now, will create the 8th largest firm in the country.
This merger is the latest in the large law firm merger fad of 2004. I’ll join the list of people who are baffled by these types of mergers and wonder what benefits that they will bring to lawyers in either firm or their clients in the long run. Presumably, however, the combined IT department will have a strong commitment to computer security.
The Blawg Channel’s Marty Schwimmer asks good questions about this type of merger here and here. Philip Mann has a more detailed and hard-hitting analysis here.
I’ll simply suggest that we all check to see how many lawyers stay with the merged firm for more than a year. Losing your identity once in a year is bad enough, but losing it twice is a terrible thing.

Today’s Scoreboard – Firefox 1.0; Broken Extensions, 8

The blog world has been abuzz with the news of the release of version 1.0 of the Firefox browser. I’ve been using the Firefox browser from the early days when it was known as Firebird.
To be accurate, I use both Internet Explorer and Firefox, which seems to be a necessity these days since the pop-up blockers of the browsers break websites in inconsistent ways. For example, I couldn’t see some important parts of Hertz.com this morning in Firefox, but I could in IE. Other sites break in the opposite direction. Just another day on the web in 2004.
I’ve become pretty ambidextrous in my use of the browsers and agnostic about the current edition of the great browser wars.
I’ve generally lived in the IE world for many years, but, frankly, IE has gotten boring and I’ve never liked the way Favorites work.
Based only on my own experiences, I rank the Netscape browser of the 90s as the buggiest program I’ve ever used. Some of the books and articles on the history of Netscape suggest that there were good reasons for me to draw that conclusion.
I was a little reluctant to try Firebird/Firefox, but I was won over by the Open Source approach and the rewrite of the Netscape rendering engine.
Most important, however, I was attracted to the tabbed browsing feature. I’ve been a fan of tabbed browsing since I discovered the now-defunct Clickgarden browser suite a few years ago.
So, lately I find that I was spending more and more time in Firefox as it gradually, and at times painfully, moved toward the version 1.0 release. I’ve experienced horrific crashes using earlier versions of Firebox, wacky problems, and I don’t even try to handle PDF files in Firefox anymore, an approach I’ve found that other long-time Firefox users have adopted. Don’t even get me started on my experiences trying to use Firefox themes.
However, the tabbed browsing and some usability features that I prefer keep pulling me back. And, since it was in beta, I knew and accepted the risks.
The other feature of Firefox that I really want to like is the extensions. I love the idea of extensions – small add-on programs that give you new, specific functionalities. I like many of the extensions I’ve installed. The concept is so cool and it represents a community and open approach to the browser.
The problem is that everytime I update Firefox, most of my extensions get broken. Installing extensions has often been a baffling and frustrating process. At one point, the default settings kept you from installing extensions and, believe, it was not intuitive what setting changes you needed to make.
Without looking too hard, you might easily find 100 blog posts in the last day or so announcing the releasing of version 1.0 of Firefox and urging everyone to drop Internet Explorer to move immediately to Firefox. You will also see rave reviews of Firefox from people who have only used it for a day or so.
Often, the main argument in these reviews (other than that Firefox is not a Microsoft product) is that Internet Explorer has so many security problems that you need to move to Firefox to be “safe” when you browse. People need to know that Firefox has had its own legacy of security problems. Let me be clear on this point: moving to Firefox doesn’t eliminate your need to pay attention to browser security problems and your need to watch for patches and updates. I am critical of Firefox’s approach of simply describing new versions as “more secure” rather than clearly stating that they contain important security patches. I have a suspicion that Microsoft would be criticized ever so slightly if it took that approach.
That said, here is my experience after installing version 1.0 today.
Eight of the extensions I installed in the latest pre-release candidate are broken. Probably updates will be available in the next few days. I downloaded and attempted to intall two new extensions. When you download a new extension, you will get a message that you need to close and restart Firefox in order to install the extensions. Many openings and closings of Firefox later, the extensions are not installed and I get the same message. I assume that if I reboot my computer they will install.
Here’s my conclusion. I like Firefox a lot. I’m using it right now (in this case, it’s IE that has the pop-up blocker problems). I’d like to see it succeed. I’ll use it on a regular basis. However, I think that the euphoric and uncritical response to Firefox is troubling. There’s a story called the “Emperor’s New Clothes” that some of the people cheerleading for Firefox might want to read.
Firefox has tons of potential, but it’s clearly a version 1.0 product, not a version 2.0, 3.0 or even a 6.0 product.
For experienced and tolerant users, Firefox has much to recommend it, but for the average and novice users, and for less tolerant and less patient users, Firefox may well turn into a source of frustration. The over-hyping of Firefox may well create a backlash against the product simply because it does not meet overblown expectations created by this rapturous response to its official release. And I say that as a fan of Firefox and Open Source in general, but not a fan wearing rose-colored glasses.

A Practical Example of Why Talking to Your Clients about Technology is Important

Mike McBride of the Life of a One-man It Department nicely sums up the problems lawyers create for their clients by (1) not understanding the technology they use and (2) not checking with their clients about technology preferences and problems.
Interestingly, he blames law firm IT people rather than lawyers. My guess is that the IT department at the firm he deals with has made several efforts to educate lawyers about this very issue, probably with light attendance by the lawyers.
The money quote:
“Can you please train the lawyers and legal assistants that you work for to actually attach a document when they’re sending it to an outside entity, like the one I work for? I’m really tired of getting yelled at by my users because they can’t open the attachments when all that really got sent to them was a link to the document as it exists in your document management system. Obviously, from here, that link is useless.”
The lesson here for clients is that you need to raise these technology issues with your lawyers when they happen. Law firms will address these issues when they are pointed out to them. Don’t assume that lawyers are aware of these issues or are doing these things only to irritate you. Your best approach is to talk with your lawyers about the programs, formats and other technology preferences that you have.
I have long suggested that IT directors of clients talk with IT directors of their law firms on a regular basis to address these types of issues and share best practices.

Legal Technology Psychic Hotline?

I was listening to a psychic give on-air readings on the radio yeserday morning. I began to lament, for a moment, the fact that celebrity psychics make more money from these “readings” than I ever will from providing technology consulting services to law firms.
I then noticed Kevin O’Keefe’s salute to my prediction abilities about blogs and RSS feeds.
That reminded me that I had recently finished my annual article on legal technology predictions.
Maybe I’m missing something obvious here, I thought.
What about doing a psychic hotline for legal technology, with a hefty fee for each reading?
“I can see that you will finally leave WordPerfect 5.1 behind by the end of 2007.”
“No, you are actually wasting more money than you think on technology.”
“I see your clients leaving you because of your antiquated technology.”
“No, your young lawyers won’t believe that Blackberries are the equivalent of Tablet PCs.”
“Yes, I definitely see you hiring me to help you out.”
I guess the idea of a legal tech psychic hotline will not work.
Kevin O’Keefe is someone whose insights and opinions I really respect. I badgered him with my obsession about the importance of RSS feeds during a phone call a few months ago. I’m slowly convincing lawyers. With Kevin now on board, the total is now creeping up toward the double figures.
I got to spend some time last week with Tom “Inter-Alia.Net” Mighell. To me, Tom is the lawyer who understands this whole blogging thing better than any other. At dinner one evening, someone asked Tom and I about blogging. I swear that we both said at the same time that “it’s RSS feeds that really matter.” As usual, I saw a puzzled look in response.
As a legal tech psychic, I can confidently predict that most lawyers will be way too late to understand the implications of RSS feeds. For me, though, the feed phenomenon is one party at which I want to be one of the early arrivals.

Predicting The Coming Fad of Writing Articles Predicting the End of the “Blogging Fad”

The blog world played a large role in the election. However, if you remember the time period after the end of the Iraq shooting war, the number of blogs and volume of postings will drop after an event which drives a large proportion of posts has ended.
Commentary on the presidential election has constituted a huge proportion of blog posts for the last few months in particular. There will be an inevitable drop off in postings for many blogs and some political blogs will definitely disappear.
Watch for many nay-saying articles predicting the end of the “blog fad” to beginning appearing over the next few months. I’m just predicting the coming onslaught of these types of articles.
The truth, of course, will be elsewhere. Keep your eyes open for what is really happening.