Fast Fish and New Technologies – Article

[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. Here’s an oldie that someone recently reminded me about. I wrote the first version of this article way back in 1997 and the version you see here was published in this form in 1999, but many people still like this article and tell me that they have found it valuable. It shows my belief that thinking carefully about how to use technology well is usually much more important than over-focusing on features of specific hardware or software products. As you begin to think about ideas like “Web 2.0,” you might want to give careful thought to the “fast fish” metaphor used in this article. It also applies to individual departments within larger organizations and other collaborative efforts.]
Fast Fish and New Technologies
We have moved from a world where the big fish eat the little fish, says Tom Peters, the famous management consulting guru, to a world where the "fast fish eat the slow fish."
I’ve noticed lately that many of the most innovative developments in legal technology have come from smaller firms and solo practitioners. Small firms and solos have developed some of the most successful legal web pages, pioneered voice recognition and other applications, and taken the lead in developing "paperless" office strategies. They have become the faster fish.
While much has been written (including by me) about the difficulties small firms and solos have in finding good technological assistance, the flip side of the story is that small firms and solos have some advantages over big firms that help them leverage new technology and level the playing field against larger firms.
Here are ten advantages that small firms and solos have over large firms when it comes to innovation and technology:
1. The People Most Affected by the Technology Decisions Actually Make the Decisions. Large firms generally have an IS department that handles technology matters. Technology decisions are generally announced to lawyers rather than discussed or voted on. As a result, decisions tend to be based on what is best for the organization as a whole rather than what it best for individual lawyers.
In a small firm, the people most affected by the decision actually make the decision. There is more opportunity to tailor technology to individual needs. More importantly, the decision-makers will directly experience the impact of their decisions. A critical factor in the success of the adoption of any technology is the amount of "buy-in" from the people who will be using the technology. Better participation leads to better attitudes about changes, greater success with training and more effective use of new technology.
2. Decisions Can Be Made Quickly. Some large firms have spent years debating whether to have a Web page. Some small firms have gone from decision to implementation over a weekend.
Any process that involves a long series of committee meetings will foster an atmosphere of cynicism and frustration. In a small firm, decisions often can be made over lunch or when several attorneys decide to make an impromptu trip to a computer store. For solos, important decisions can be made in the shower or on the drive to work.
3. The Need to Find Cost Savings Drives Innovation. In a small firm, every little bit of cost savings can have a direct impact on an attorney’s earnings. In larger firms, cost savings have more indirect results. Cost savings can be an important motivation for adopting new technologies.
If you are starting up or maintaining a small practice, the cost of a library can be prohibitive. Purchasing library material strategically on CD-ROM rather than in book form can result in both space and cost savings. Wise choices made while attempting to cut costs can result in an innovative use of technology that leads to a more productive practice.
4. The Size of the Project is Less Daunting. It is easier and cheaper to set up a network of three computers than it is to set up a network of three hundred computers. Adding a new hard drive to one computer is far easier than to add several mirrored hard drives to a network server.
5. Technology Improvement Can Be an Important Use of Downtime. Smaller firms and solos sometimes have alternating cycles of busy periods followed by slow periods. In a large firm, the constant push to bill hours does not allow for that type of cycle and puts pressure on attorneys to focus exclusively on generating billable hours and not on developing systems or improving technology. In a small firm, a slow period in the practice may be a perfect time to implement new software, to use document assembly to automate forms, to try a new calendaring or contact management program, or simply to plan for future technology requirements. Taking more time to think about technology and to explore options will result in more successful applications of technology.
6. Small Firms Are More Willing to Adapt Their Practices to Shrink-wrapped Software. In a large firm, different departments often do things in very different ways. In addition, there may be a "Firm" way of doing things which has not been modified for many years. These firms will often spend enormous amounts of money to customize programs to match existing practices.
Small firms, on the other hand, are likely to use commercial legal software, and even commercial software designed for home users, and adapt their practice to the software. This flexibility will often allow a small firm to use a time and billing program costing a few hundred dollars as opposed to a $100,000 time and billing package which might produce no significant practical difference in results. What matters is that time gets recorded and bill get sent out, not that you are using "legal-specific" or customized software to do it.
7. The Payoff From Technology Investment is More Easily Seen. If every time that you want to print a document you must copy the file onto a floppy disk and take it to another computer which is physically attached to a printer, you will clearly and concretely see the benefits when you network your computers and printer. A larger monitor may give you an immediate impact by reducing the need to squint to see details. A Web page might start producing clients that can be readily traceable to the Web page. A small firm’s return on investment can be easily seen and measured. In a larger firm, return on investment can be harder to identify and may take place over a longer time frame.
8. Small Firms Are Willing to Experiment. Small firm lawyers are usually the lawyers speaking at seminars about voice recognition software and other innovative technologies. As a general rule, lawyers are not known as "early adopters" and many large firms are extremely conservative and unwilling to take risks when it comes to technology.
In small firms, there tends to be more of an attitude of experimentation and a willingness to try new things. There is also a willingness to admit that an experiment has not worked and to try something new. This attitude allows smaller firms the opportunity to match technology to their needs and to keep them in some cases closer to the leading edge of technology than many larger. Smaller firms seem more willing to try new options like leasing technology and breakthrough legal software like CaseMap.
9. The Need to Level the Playing Field Drives Technological Change. Some of the more innovative uses of technology by small firms came in response to the practice of larger firms of trying to bury smaller firms in paperwork during discovery. The use of programs like Summation, or other litigation management software, can give a small firm control over mountains of evidence in a way that can be superior to what can be achieved by a team of big firm lawyers not using the same technologies.
Because it is all but impossible for a small firm to compete with a large firm in a war of attrition using human resources, small firms have tremendous motivation to leverage technology to level the playing field against big firms. Competitive factors often drive excellent decisions about technology.
10. Small Firms Focus on the Practical. Often big firms seem to be preoccupied with the theory of technological improvement and with thinking about how technology might work rather than actually using the technology. In the meantime, small firms are adopting new technologies that streamline their practices, putting up Web pages that draw in clients, and producing charts and visuals that help them to win cases.
An important example is law firm web pages. Large firms have a tendency to put out web pages because it is seen as a requirement for a firm of stature, with no real expectation of getting clients, often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Small firms put up web pages that work and get clients.
Here are five final points to remember about technology and the small firm:
1. Be flexible and willing to experiment.
2. Build on your successes. Constantly try to extend the efficiencies you have already gained through other technology and systems you’ve developed.
3. Try to identify areas where cost savings will also result in innovation and increased productivity in your practice.
4. Focus on practical and measurable results.
5. Get on the Internet.
Be a fast fish. By being flexible, practical and innovative, small firms and solos can use technology to increase their effectiveness and productivity and level the playing field against slower-reacting large firms.
[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. I wrote this article in January 2004 for the ABA’s GP Solo Magazine. Please note that parts of this article are dated, but I’ve not updated it to give you a sense of history. This article sets out several of my key principles in making legal technology decisions.]
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
This post brought to you by Dennis Kennedy’s legal technology consulting services, featuring website and blog consulting and technology committee coaching packages for law firms, corporate legal departments and other professional services providers.

Dennis Kennedy

legal technology

To Tech or Not to Tech? – Article

[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. I wrote this article in January 2004 for the ABA’s GP Solo Magazine. Please note that parts of this article are dated, but I’ve not updated it to give you a sense of history. This article sets out several of my key principles in making legal technology decisions.]
To Tech or Not to Tech? Important Questions (and Answers) for Your Practice
Hamlet, in Act III, Scene 1, delivers these immortal lines:

To tech, or not to tech: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The crashes and reboots of outrageous operating systems,
Or to take arms against a sea of software glitches,
And by opposing delete them?

Or he might have, if the play was written now and set in a small law practice.
Trying to make good technology decisions has left many otherwise skilled and confident lawyers feeling like TechnoHamlets – seeing and speaking with ghosts and making friends and colleagues wonder about their sanity.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. This article will show you how to think about systems and technology and give you a solid foundation upon which to build a framework for making good decisions about legal technology.
Technology is both a tool and an investment. As does any good craftsperson, we must try to find tools that are both the right tool for the job and of sufficient quality to give us a good return on our work.
A Story of Technology as Both Tool and Investment.
My wife’s brother went back to law school at the age of 40 after working in the real estate and art gallery businesses in the San Francisco area. He wanted to open his own law firm from day one. We had a number of telephone conversations about what computer and software he needed when he started, primarily focusing on a laptop computer and speech recognition software. He would ask me about specs, memory, screen size, percentage accuracy of the programs, and the like. After a while, we seemed to be returning to the same questions without getting a decision made.
Finally, I asked him what he really wanted to do with a laptop and speech recognition software. It turned out that, as a practical matter, he could expect to pay about $4,000 (about the price of the computer and software at the time) a month to hire a good legal secretary. He didn’t know whether he could make enough in the first months to pay the secretary, let alone leave anything for himself.
Now, we were on track. If the only thing the laptop and speech recognition software did for him was to delay the need to hire a secretary for a few months, buying them would be a good investment. In fact, he bought himself nine months. That’s $36,000 of value for a $4,000 investment in just nine months, not a bad return. He has told me several times that my “advice” made all the difference in getting his business off the ground.
I don’t think that I gave him “advice.” I simply asked the right question. When you ask the right questions, the answers get a lot easier. What I want to teach you is how to ask the right questions about technology.
The Right Questions.
The question whether “to tech or not to tech” is one of the right questions, but, properly understood, it is a question that comes later in the process.
There’s a great scene in my favorite science fiction TV series, Babylon 5, where one of the main characters is suspended in a state between life and death, bathed in waves of light, with disembodied voices asking repeatedly, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” Because the character can answer those questions with clarity and authenticity, he goes on to fulfill his great destiny.
“Who are you?” “What do you want?” It really doesn’t get much more basic than that. However, these are pretty deep questions to answer when you really thought that your question was “should I get an inkjet printer or a laser printer?” My argument is simply that the better the answers you have to these two questions, the better decisions you can make about technology.
Here’s the Key.
You must choose technology on the basis of whether it helps you be who you are and do what you want better than the other alternatives that you are considering.
There are several consequences of this approach. First, my best technology choices will not be your best technology choices. Second, although you should listen to advice and recommendations, the final decision must be your decision. Third, this approach forces you to think of technology as both a tool and an investment.
Do Not Separate Technology From Systems.
Lawyers create and are creatures of systems. A law practice incorporates a large number of systems. There are systems for:

  • Running your office (Workflow management, operations and procedures, hiring and training, accounting and financial, planning and continuity)
  • Getting clients (Contact management, marketing materials, follow-up, client intake, engagement letters)
  • Serving clients (Project and workflow management, procedures, filing, forms, calendaring and docketing)
  • Getting paid (Fee setting, timekeeping, billing and collections, banking and trust account, procedures)
  • Complying with rules (Conflict checking, confidentiality, calendaring and docketing, recordkeeping, training and CLE, taxes)

It’s no wonder you are so tired at the end of the day. There’s plenty of work involved in creating and maintaining systems before you even get to the practice of law stuff.
I have two core principles about systems:
1. You always have a system, but it may not be the one you want.
2. Your systems should work for you, not against you.
We all know lawyers who use the following “system” for locating notes, correspondence and documents. Every piece of paper is stacked in tall piles on desktop, credenza, office chairs and floor. When something is needed, the lawyer digs through the papers until frustrated and then calls in a secretary who assists in going through the piles until the document is found or another emergency arises.
This is, in fact, a system for retrieving needed documents. Is it a good one? Is it an efficient one? Is it one that the lawyer would have designed or ever have intended?
Technology in Proper Context.
Technology must always be viewed within the context of your existing systems. Thinking about technology outside this context will lead you in the wrong direction. Unless you consider how a technology fits into this context, you cannot read reviews in a meaningful way and lists of “editor’s picks” may lead you to unsuccessful purchases.
Consider the previous example of a “system.” The question of whether the lawyer should buy one brand or another is not useful. The “best” scanner is the one that will hold the highest pile of papers stacked on it when it is treated as another storage space. The better question is: does any scanner make any sense in this type of system or are there better options?
If you want to implement any technology, the introduction of the new technology must do one of two things:
1. It must implement a better system; or
2. It must improve an existing system.
If it will, it makes sense to proceed. It’s as simple as that. Even a technophile like me will admit that in certain cases a technology solution may not be the best approach.
Technology is only a tool; it is not a panacea. As a practical matter, technology simply enhances the habits and skills you already have. Technology does not magically give you new skills. Speech recognition only makes it easier to get your words into a document; it does not magically make you a better writer.
It all comes back to the basic question: does the technology help you be who you are and do what you want? If the answer is that you want to be a better writer, speech recognition will not be as good an option as some non-technological efforts. If, on the other hand, you want to be able to launch a practice with minimal expenditures and only bring in a secretary when you feel that you need one, then speech recognition makes a great deal of sense.
Two Big Roadblocks.
Most lawyers are aware of only a tiny fraction of the choices available today. For example, did you know that there are more than one hundred “case management” programs? Often, a lawyer or firm will be trying to decide between the lesser of two evils when there are better choices available that they haven’t heard about. The list of resources at the end of this article will help you with this roadblock.
You will also get a lot of well-intentioned misinformation about legal technology. People recommend using Linux instead of Windows to a lawyer who barely knows what a mouse is. People will warn lawyers away from newer versions of software or installing updates and patches (a security problem just waiting to happen), lead them to obscure programs, and draw conclusions from setups that are outdated or clearly inadequate. In simplest terms, they are giving you generic information that does not take into account your specific needs or the context of your systems. The result is that you learn that what works best for them doesn’t work out so well for you.
Think about the practice of law. A client comes to you and asks whether they should form a C corporation or an LLC. The best response is to ask, “What do you want to do?” To answer, “I heard that some people had some kind of tax problem with C corporations a few years ago so I tell people never to use them,” probably is not a good approach to the practice of law or helping your client.
Key Variables to Consider.
Some factors are especially important in making technology decisions and your needs in these areas can have a dramatic impact on the choices you should consider.
Solo / Solo with Staff / Small firm. The type and number of users will have a huge impact on your choices. If your practice consists of just you, you can look at much simpler choices over a longer period of time. As soon as you move to two users, you must consider networking, training and standardization of software.
Litigation or Not. I do not see how you can be a litigator and not use a laptop computer. Because litigation software, such as CaseMap and Summation, can be so valuable, you will need to devote time to learning more software options. Projectors, wireless access, PowerPoint and other “options” may well become necessities.
At Desk All Day or Not. If you are an at-the-desk lawyer, PDAs and cell phones are much lower priorities.
Volume of Work. This factor may be the most important one of all. The cost of replacement cartridges for an inkjet printer will eat you alive if you print thousands and thousands of copies a month. If you have a small number clients, you may well be able to run your accounting with a spreadsheet. If you have a lot of clients, a range of rates and lots of matters, you probably have to go with a legal accounting package. Asking “how often will I use this?” is an essential part of hardware decisions in particular.
Your Priorities. It could well be that who you are and what you want will be the lawyer who has the coolest gadgets. It might be that you want to reach jurors with a simple, plain-spoken style rather than thrill them with the latest thing in multimedia. Don’t ignore who you are.
Area of Practice and Client Needs. In some areas of practice, there may be standard technologies that everyone uses. Some lawyers have told me that to make a decent living in family law these days, you need to automate to the greatest extent that you can. Similarly, you may have clients who require that you provide documents in certain formats, have ready access to e-mail, or implement security measures.
Twelve Tips, Observations and Recommendations.
Because this article argues that a one-size-fits-all approach is never appropriate in making legal technology decisions, I hesitated before setting out a list of general comments. However, I do want leave you with some practical pointers.
1. Even the least expensive of today’s computers is a rocket ship compared to the computers of even a year or two ago. Don’t limp along with old, slow computers. Four corners not to cut in configuring a new computer are: memory (RAM), hard disk capacity, number of USB ports and CD or DVD burners.
2. The new generation of high-capacity external hard drives offers the best inexpensive backup solution we have seen so far.
3. A laptop now makes sense as the primary computer for all attorneys. It is essential for today’s litigator.
4. Windows XP Professional is the operating system of choice for lawyers in the Microsoft world.
5. For any firm putting in a network, the new low price of Windows Small Business Server ($750, or less when bundled with a server) make it a must-consider option to get standard networking capabilities, including remote access, at an affordable price.
6. Volume discounts for many software programs, including Microsoft programs, can be obtained for as few as 5 users and some consultants can offer you programs to roll hardware, software and consulting costs into a monthly payment option.
7. While Microsoft Office 2003, Small Business Version, might be the best option for small firm lawyers, there are now free alternatives such as OpenOffice that may work in your situation.
8. If you are prepared to do a little more research and go off the well-worn path, Macintoshes and Open Source software represent very acceptable non-Microsoft alternatives and no lawyer should dismiss them out of hand.
9. With the advent of electronic filing, a PDF creation program should now be considered essential software. The gold standard is Adobe Acrobat (Writer, not just Reader), but cheaper alternatives are available.
10. If you have a laptop computer, you should have a wireless card (802.11b or 802.11g) or Intel Centrino technology to take advantage of wireless Internet hotspots at airports, hotels and restaurants.
11. If you are not installing Windows security updates and updates for other programs, running an updated antivirus program, and using a hardware or software firewall (ZoneAlarm is free), you might as well turn on a big neon “welcome” sign to the bad guy hackers.
12. Take a class in any program you use on a regular basis.
Action Steps.
So . . . what should you do when you finish this article? Take a few minutes to think about your technology and your systems. Then take the following actions over the next week or so:

  • Do enough research to find 3 or 4 software programs you did not know about that can be used in your specific areas of practice.
  • Inventory and make a quick assessment of your current technology and systems.
  • Look back at one significant technology decision you made in the past and reevaluate it using the principles outlined in this article and write down the lessons you learn.
  • Identify one or two technology options that have been on your mind and apply the principles outlined in this article as you make your decisions about them.

“To tech or not to tech” is only part of the question. Technology should not be seen as an area of bewildering complexity. Instead, treat it as both a tool and an investment. Fit your technology into the context of your existing systems and only make decisions that result in either the implementation of a better system or the improvement of an existing system. If you do so, you will come closer to the goal of having your technology enable you to work the way you want rather than force you to work the way it wants.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
This post brought to you by Dennis Kennedy’s legal technology consulting services, featuring website and blog consulting and technology committee coaching packages for law firms, corporate legal departments and other professional services providers.

Blessed Rage for Simplicity: The Most Important Trend in Legal Technology – Article

[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. An earlier version of this article appeared in the September 1999 of my legal technology newsletter called “Legal Technology Strategies.” Please note that parts of this article are dated, but I’ve not updated it to give you a sense of history. In many ways, I’ve long felt that this article captures most closely my general philosophy about technology and its use. ]
Blessed Rage for Simplicity: The Most Important Trend in Legal Technology
When you are around accomplished craftspeople for any period of time, you start to notice how easy their work seems to be for them. You also notice that they have a lot of tools, many of which you’ve never seen before, all of which seem perfectly suited for the task at hand. I’m often struck by the elegance of their function and how simple and well suited both to the task and to the individual doing the task they seem.
I’ve noticed this in a number of settings lately. The other day, I got on an elevator with a guy who was delivering five-gallon water bottles. He had a handcart that had a couple of shaped metal tubes that allowed him to slide the bottles securely onto the cart and unload them easily. He could also carry several more bottles than he could with a standard handcart. In fact, I tried to imagine how difficult it would be to hold these rounded bottles on a standard handcart and the time and effort that it would take to try to strap them on and keep them secure. I also pictured myself with a tipped handcart and the bottles rolling across the floor, something that would not happen with this specially-designed handcart.
But I also imagined a day when someone said, “Here’s what we need. Why don’t we try welding some tubes onto a handcart so the bottles slide right in and don’t fall out?” In fact, maybe one delivery person got so tired of bottles falling off that he or she welded the bars on a regular handcart. A simple idea makes a great tool. A better result comes from considering the user and the process and by limiting functionality rather than expanding it.
I was reading the story of the inventor of the PalmPilot and his efforts to make sure the first PalmPilot would work as he envisioned it. He focused not just on operating system and technical details. He also cut a block of wood in the same dimensions as the PalmPilot and carried it around for months to make sure that it really worked as a shirt-pocket device. He wanted to understand the user experience. Thinking about this story will help you understand what a Palm device can and cannot do well.
We are moving toward a time when we have technology that fits our tasks rather than having our tasks fit our technology. In other words, I think all the talk about “information appliances” means something.
Part of what’s driving this movement is the general sense that our lives, and our PCs in particular, have become too complicated and overwhelming. There’s a movement toward simplicity in other technologies we use. Want fresh-baked bread? Push a button on your bread maker. Microwave ovens have one button to push for popcorn and cooking sensors for one-button cooking and reheating. As more intelligence gets built into products, they become easier to use. PCs have even more intelligence built into them, yet it seems that using them is getting harder and harder.
In part, there are, in a way, too many choices – Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 98, Windows 95, Macintosh, Novell, Linux, BeOS, WordPerfect, Word, 25 different case management programs, Palm, multiple product versions. You finally reach a state where you long for what Wallace Stevens once called a “blessed rage for order.” How do you make sense of it?
We are trying to make our PCs and the standard programs we use perform tasks for which they are not optimally suited. Another part of the problem is that clearly the PC environment does not always work for the ways that we work. You see a lot of frustration, primarily focused on Microsoft.
Now, some people seem to deal with this issue by adopting an anti-Microsoft method of dealing with complexity. It goes like this: I don’t care how much it inconveniences me, as long as I can avoid using Microsoft products, I am doing a good thing.
As a general rule, this kind of negativity gets you nowhere, in no small part because it does not focus on how you work.
I advocate another approach: a movement toward simplicity. Simplicity in the sense of what works best for the way you, not anyone else, work. And we are seeing some signs of that movement.
Windows can be a maddening environment, but I tend to like it. Microsoft has done some things that really work for me. I really like the right mouse button and knowing that I can click it and most of the things I want to do become available. Coming from a Macintosh background, I’ll always prefer a graphic interface. I also like the fact that you get a lot of consistency in the interface. I never liked DOS and DOS programs where F7 would mean “enter” in one program, “print” in another and “exit” in a third. Even if you argue that it is easier to press one key than to use a mouse, that doesn’t work for me. The good news, however, is that there doesn’t have to be a right and a wrong.
How do you work? Learning to dictate for voice recognition does not make sense if you can type 100 words a minute and have an unusual accent. Learning to type is no solution if you can’t type but can dictate 100 words per minute. “Simple” depends on how you work best.
How you work best can vary with each task. It now drives me crazy to wait for Windows to boot. Especially if all I want to do is enter a phone number, make a note to myself or jot down some ideas for an article. Here, the instant-on Palm device is perfect. When I want to write an article like this one, however, a Palm device is not the right tool. A handheld Windows CE device might be perfect for on-the-road presentations because it is so light and will run PowerPoint presentations. If you have to edit your presentation on the fly, however, it’s the wrong tool.
Other examples? Bill Coplin, at NetTech, thinks that the “killer app” for attorneys will be the perfection of handwriting recognition on a device like the CrossPad [NOTE: Today the example would be a Tablet PC.] because attorneys are so used to carrying legal pads. On the other hand, Bob Wiss and Greg Krehel at CaseSoft want CaseMap to “replace the legal pad.” I’m excited by the cordless flat panel web appliances due out soon from Cyrix and others that will allow you to access the Internet while sitting in your favorite chair. My notion of the perfect simple device has full-time Internet connectivity. [NOTE: These deviices never made it, but a Tablet PC with WiFi access does the same thing I had hoped for.]
The fact is that getting to simple is not so simple. In fact, the whole notion of simplicity is quite complex.
How do we begin to move to simplicity in our computer technology. I want to talk about four possible solutions, all of which open up the paradoxes of simplicity.
One solution is to create simplicity through multiplicity. There’s always been a strand in predicting our technology future that focuses on making computers “ubiquitous.” An excellent recent discussion on this point of view can be found in an article on MIT’s Oxygen project by Michael Dertouzos in the August 1999 issue of Scientific American (
0899dertouzos.html). The notion is that we can make life easier and simpler by having many computers instead of one and scattering them all over our houses and offices and matching function to location. Lately, this notion includes the idea of having “Internet tone,” just like dial tone, so we can plug into the Internet anywhere and anytime.
As an example, we might have a PC on the desk, a Palm in our pocket, an electronic phone book in a cell phone, an electronic book on the night table, and so on. The right tool will always be at hand because there will be many location- and function-specific devices.
This approach becomes more possible as hardware prices continue to drop. In my opinion, the Palm gives us a taste of this approach and it is an attractive one.
A second solution is to create simplicity by standardizing on one interface (and that interface might even be Windows). The most-talked about candidate is the browser. The browser is simple. What if we can use the browser as the main interface and treat all the information we use as if it were a series of web pages? Click on a hyperlink and access information anywhere and retrieved information from other programs or even get Java applets to do word processing and other functions.
This approach really appeals to me because I sometimes feel that I’m one of the half dozen people outside Microsoft who really likes browser integration in the operating system. Think about it: whether you are accessing files on your local computer, your network or the Internet, all you’re doing is accessing files. Why use a different program? This approach to file access and management is so obvious and desirable to me that I literally cannot even understand the arguments to the contrary.
But the browser is not the only option. Look at is how you use your computer. In what program do you spend most of your day? It might be Outlook (check out Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard initiative), ACT, a word processor, a PIM, a case management program, an e-mail program. An approach to simplicity would be to add functionality and access to your data to that program.
A third approach is to create simplicity by limiting functionality. Palm computing is one example. Another example is something like a Java-based approach that would allow you to grab as much functionality as you need at the time.
Here’s an example. As I write these words, I’m looking at a screen that has shockingly close to 100 buttons and menu items on the screen as I simply type text. If I step back from writing and look at the screen, I feel a bit like a jet fighter pilot.
What if I could grab versions of a word processing program that gave me only the functionality I needed for the task at hand? A couple of fonts, spell checker, word counter. When I needed more functions, I could just grab that specific functionality as, for example, a Java applet. [NOTE: Sounds a little like AJAX and Web 2.0.]
Or, maybe I could rent the additional functionality or even other programs only if I need them from an Internet-based service. Presumably, a limited-function version of our standard programs would run faster and cause fewer glitches.
A fourth approach is to create simplicity through customization. A custom approach tailored to how we work might require the underlying programming to be more complex, but what we will see and use will be much simpler – to us. It’s going to be more expensive, and more work to set up and get right, but it gives us some interesting possibilities.
Consider this example. Think of a lawyer who doesn’t want to use a computer, but when pushed, says that what really frustrates him or her about computers is that they can’t do what would be most useful to him or her: calculating settlement figures. When an opposing party makes a settlement offer, it might take days and several people using several programs to put together disbursements, fee arrangements and the like into a form where the lawyer could decide whether the offer was “reasonable” or not. Far too often, these settlement calls come on a Saturday or after hours, at a time when the lawyer can not get any information. That lawyer might very well say that if you could give him or her one button to click on that would produce that information, he or she would immediately buy whatever technology that could make that happen because the technology would solve the lawyer’s business problem.
A programmer might be able to give the lawyer that button to produce that customized result. Clicking on that button would set of a process, invisible to the lawyer, that pulled information transparently from a variety of underlying programs and then displayed the necessary result in an understandable and usable form.
Custom approaches are funny things. Most people have a reluctance to go that route. The upfront costs are certainly higher than off-the-shelf solutions, especially where you don’t put a cost on frustration and wasted time. In this country, “custom” seems for many people to be synonymous with “decadent,” or seen as a luxury.
On the other hand, custom can bring us closer to getting the right tool for the job, Just as the carpenter has a specialty router jig for certain cuts that saves a great deal of time, gets the job done right and allows the carpenter to enjoy the craft, a settlement calculator may do the same thing for a busy personal injury attorney. Ironically, the better the custom design and the more upfront work put into it, the more effortless and simple the results.
I’m fascinated by this notion of simplicity and the “complexity” that seems to underlie it. My friend Howard Smith is a serious cyclist (he owns 15 bikes) and was helping me buy a bike recently. He ended up building a bike that he thought would work best for me and I learned a lot during the process.
At one point, Howard introduced me by e-mail to Grant Peterson, something of a legend in bike design circles. We had an interesting discussion about handle bars and other things, all in the context of how I would actually use a bike. After I got my bike, I began to subscribe to Grant’s great newsletter ( Even if you don’t ride a bike, the newsletter is fascinating for the glimpse it gives into how a gifted designer sees things. Grant’s comments on things outside the realm of cycling are often incisive and profound. Another great source of ideas about simplicity is Jakob Nielsen’s writing on web design at
Both Peterson and Nielsen advocate a highly user-focused approach that moves you toward customization, where it makes sense, and lots of upfront effort in the design stage of a project. Both leave you with a sense of simplicity and effortlessness in the actual use of a bicycle or web site that you will want to apply in other areas.
There’s a lot to think about on this subject. I recommend taking a look at the technology tools you use and thinking about how they work for you and how they could better fit what you do. It’s that aspect of simplicity that I would suggest that you focus on and make a guiding principle. Resist the urge to make a dislike of Bill Gates your motivating principle in making technology choices. You still may end up miles away from Microsoft, but do so in a way that reflects the way you work best.
The great news is that there are so many technology choices and so much power in those choices that we can come much closer to finding the tools that suit us best than we ever have before. And that trend is likely to continue. Paradoxically, it may be in more complexity and looking forward rather than backward, that we move to a simplicity most of us crave.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
This post brought to you by Dennis Kennedy’s legal technology consulting services, featuring website and blog consulting and technology committee coaching packages for law firms, corporate legal departments and other professional services providers.

Starting off my Vacation with Ross and Paul

It’s nice to take a little vacation.
I started off my vacation visit with my family for Thanksgiving week by speaking with Ross Kodner and Paul Unger at an all-day seminar on legal technology for the Allen County Bar Bar Association. We covered almost every aspect of legal technology during the day and I really enjoyed myself doing the event.
Ross, Paul and I spoke for the same group last year and I believe it was even more fun than last year. As most everyone knows, you won’t find anyone more knowledgeable about legal technology and how to present it than Ross is. Paul is also quite knowledgeable and a pleasure to present with.
I took the lead on a digital marketing session and chipped in with a few insights, ideas and tips of my own throughout the day. Well, maybe more than a few, because my voice is gone today. Anyway, the whole day was just a pleasure for me and I left thinking about how genuinely fun the day had been. Thank you Ross, Paul, Maribeth and the other people at the Allen County Bar and all the attendees.
We’re back for Thanksgiving visiting my parents, brothers, nieces, nephews and other relatives. I’m planning to take some time to rest and relax and might avoid, to a large extent, the blogosphere and email.
Matt Buchanan of RethinkIP is nearby and we’ll probably get together one day this week and that likely means some “rethinking” will be going on. It’s unavoidable when you get together with those guys.
But otherwise, I may decide to stay pretty far off the radar for a week or so. I’m sure the blog world will get along just fine without me for a few days.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]

Hanging Out Your Shingle on the World Wide Web: Promoting Your Practice in a Digital Era – Article

[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. This article is another favorite ofmine. Earlier versions of this article appeared in the September 2000 issue of the Missouri Bar Bulletin and the Spring 1997 issue of the St. Louis Bar Journal. Please note that parts of this article are dated, but I’ve not updated it to give you a sense of history. This was my first significant to capture what I thought I had learned about the use of web pages by lawyers. It’s instructive to see how many of the links are dead in even an article like this one with a short list of footnotes. In early 1997, there were only a few articles like this one available and it seems like all of the authors sought the other others out for guidance. In a real sense, this article led to my chance to meet Jerry Lawson and built the foundation for the Internet Roundtable columns that Jerry Lawson, Brenda Howard and I (along with the occasional guest author) wrote on that I think constitute some of the best analysis and advice about lawyers using websites that you can find. It’s also interesting how blogs, by their nature, create the content-based approaches I advocated in this article.]
Hanging Out Your Shingle on the World Wide Web: Promoting Your Practice in a Digital Era
While many attorneys have focused on the use of the Internet for legal research, others have learned that the most innovative uses of the Internet by lawyers can be found in the area of marketing. In January 1995, no more than twenty law firms had web pages.[1] In the past few years, however, thousands of law firms and lawyers have created web pages and many more firms will debut web pages this year. If you have not thought seriously about implementing a web page for yourself or your firm, now is the time to consider your options.
Individual attorneys and law firms have been attracted by the demographics of the hundreds of millions of users of the World Wide Web – generally more educated and more affluent than the population at large. Attorneys have seen their clients, potential clients and competitors establish presences on the World Wide Web. Internet-savvy firms have learned that web pages can be excellent ways to deliver and enhance client services and to develop cross-selling opportunities with existing clients. A web page can also provide a cost-effective way to supplement or enhance other marketing efforts.[2]
Peter Martin has said that “enterprises moving serious commercial activities onto the Internet undoubtedly will want legal counsel and representation from lawyers who understand the Internet and show that they can work comfortably in that environment. They will be looking for law firms with branches already established in this new enterprise zone.”[3] A web page offers a lawyer or law firm a chance to create a presence in and gain access to this new enterprise zone.
This article will focus on the two types of World Wide Web pages commonly used by lawyers — the law firm web page and what I call the specialty page, offer some practical tips on getting started and publicizing your web page, and discuss realistic expectations of results.
The Law Firm Web Page.
There are two general types of law firm web pages: the “static” web page, which is basically an electronic business card or brochure, and the “dynamic” web page, which adds a number of enhancements and interactive features.
A static web page generally is a simple conversion of an existing marketing brochure into electronic form. Such a page might contain biographical information about attorneys, information about firm practice areas, contact information and other marketing materials. In some cases, a static page is no more than an electronic business card or billboard. Other static pages are electronic copies of existing marketing brochures or recyclings of existing marketing materials. The major drawback to static pages is that there is no reason to visit them more than once.
A dynamic web page includes much of the same material found in a static page, but adds a number of important enhancements, such as articles and memos written by firm members, e-mail newsletters, lists of links to other web pages and other information helpful to clients and non-clients alike. Each of these enhancements is designed to prompt some form of interactivity or to encourage a visitor to return to the page on a regular basis. New types of features incorporate the lessons of "e-commerce" learned from Internet companies like and might include personalization, private areas and discussion areas.
You will want to have a dynamic web page because the main goal with a web page is to create a high volume of traffic and, especially, return traffic from visitors of the type that you want to attract. Return traffic creates potential clients, potential referrals and enhances your reputation or that of your firm.
You can give people a reason to return to your page by providing interesting and changing content which highlights the specific aspects of your firm which you wish to market. One of the key maxims on the Web is that “content is king.” Your page should offer content that is valuable to visitors of your page and which gives them value on each visit to the page. Your web site should also provide easy and speedy navigation through all of the pages comprising the site so that visitors can easily find content which would be useful to them and e-mail contact to request more information or follow-up with you.
Law firms that have generated clients from their web pages point to the use of e-mail newsletters and mailing lists as the key to a high number of return visits and the production of business directly attributable to the web page.[4] E-mail newsletters can help enhance your reputation for expertise in a given area or provide you with a ready means of contacts with people who are already interested in your firm, whether they are clients or not. As a result, you can use the e-mail newsletter for targeted marketing efforts. An e-mail newsletter also provides a built-in feedback mechanism to help you measure the impact and effectiveness of your web page.
Since a primary purpose of a law firm web page is to market your firm, you will want to know how well your efforts are working. Web counters are available which will count the number of visitors you have had to your page, but these simple counters do not inform you whether you had one-time visitors or prospective clients. More sophisticated tools are becoming available and should be used as a matter of course, but simple features like e-mail newsletters and guest books will help you count the number of quality visits to your page. A subscriber to your e-mail newsletter shows much more interest in your firm than a casual browser. These simple techniques can help you gain useful marketing data and quantify the benefits of the web page.
There are many innovative and useful law firm web pages. Visiting even a few law firm web pages will give you an idea of some of the potential benefits of a web page for your firm. A great listing of reviews and links to many law firm web pages can be found at
[NOTE: Website no longer in existence.]
The Specialty Page.
The second type of web page being used by lawyers is the “specialty” web page. A specialty web page is a page that is devoted to one specialty topic; for example, estate planning. A specialty page can be a stand-alone page done by an individual attorney or it can be a sub-page on a law firm’s overall web site.
Specialty pages tend to be built around a set of articles written by an attorney or a set of links to other web pages dealing with the same specialty topic. Specialty pages generally grow out of an attorney’s personal interest or as an attempt to fill a perceived need for such a page.
I created my first web site because I simply wanted to have a handy collection of web pages dealing with estate planning and tax information on the Internet. I decided that the information would be useful to a wider audience and my page then grew and evolved to cover a large number of related legal areas. Similarly, a lawyer who has written a few articles might start a specialty page containing only those articles. Over time, such a page might grow to include related links, other articles, practice pointers and recent decisions. A good specialty page can be an excellent starting point to get a quick overview of a specialty area and can also be helpful to those looking for technical and in-depth treatments of specialty subjects. Often such a page can be an excellent point of entry to a specific legal topic.
Specialty pages are typically designed to help others, provide educational materials, publish or publicize written material, or enhance an attorney’s reputation as an expert in a specialty area. They are not usually designed with the primary intent to produce clients directly.[6] By developing a reputation on the Web, however, an attorney might expect to get referrals or new clients as an indirect benefit, in much the same way as would an attorney who lectures at seminars.
Not every area of the law currently has a web page devoted to it. With a little effort and persistence you can have a nationally-known specialty page. My estate planning page, for example, was personally rewarding and seems to have been helpful to a good number of people all around the world. Every attorney has a unique perspective and expertise and is capable of producing a creative and interesting web page.
Getting Started With Your Web Page.
The very best way to get started is to spend some time on the Web and look at as many law firm and law-related web pages as you can. There are a number of web pages that will direct you to some of the best legal and law firm web pages.[7] Again, I especially recommend the Redstreet Consulting list ( [NOTE: Website no longer in existence.]). You will know after you look at a number of pages if having your own web page is going to appeal to you. In addition, you will gain a good understanding of what seems to work for other firms and what features might work well on your page.
You will want to take the time to get a strong understanding of what your goals are with your page and how you will determine whether those goals are being met. Sketch out your ideas for the page, drawing the graphics, layout and navigation scheme. You should think at all times like someone who will be using the page. Will the page be easy to navigate? Will the most valuable information be easy to find? Will your features enhance the visitor’s experience or simply lead to long, frustrating delays? Will it be easy to contact you from the page? Fortunately, there are many resources on the World Wide Web about effective web page design to assist you in this process.[8]
Before you implement your page, you will need to resolve two important issues. The first question is should you create the page yourself or should you bring in an expert? There are pluses and minuses of each approach. The programming language for creating web pages, “HTML” (HyperText Markup Language), is not difficult to learn. You can buy a book on HTML[9] and put together a solid web page after a couple of weekends of reading and work. Web page creation programs, like Microsoft’s FrontPage, make the process even easier because they eliminate the need to learn the underlying HTML code before you create your page.
On the other hand, a web page consultant who comes highly recommended might produce a great web page with graphic design and features that you could not produce or think of on your own. A professional designer might also help you avoid problems that you would only discover through experience. A professional will charge a fee; if you do it yourself, the cost is your time or the time of someone on your staff. Lately, the balance has probably shifted over to professional design of most law firm sites.
The second and more important question, however, is who will keep the page updated? In order to get return traffic, you must have a page that regularly provides new or updated content. Even if someone else created your web page, you will need to decide if that person will update the page on an ongoing basis or whether it is more reasonable to update it yourself. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to update on a regular basis. If you do not, people simply will not return to your page. Nothing turns off a web page visitor more than finding that a page has not been updated for several months.
Five more tips on getting started:
1. Do not overwhelm yourself by trying to design a perfect, feature-laden web page which you never complete. Start with a solid effort and then build and improve as you see what does and does not work.
2. Commit to the web page. If you or your firm has tried other marketing techniques and they have been successful, your web page is more likely to be successful. If you have started newsletters or other marketing efforts which have been discontinued, then you will probably need to hire out the updating of your web page. Be honest with yourself.
3. Be guided at all times by two concerns: (i) your goals with respect to the page and (ii) the viewpoint of the potential user of the page.
4. Find a good, reliable host for your page. Web pages are not self-executing; after you design and code your page, you will need to put your page files on a computer that is attached to the Internet (a “server”). The complications of hosting your own page on your own server are outside the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that most web pages are hosted by a third-party provider.
5. Become familiar with the applicable ethical rules. The use of web pages raises important ethical considerations, but, as an example, the ethical guidance in Missouri has been favorable to web page development. You will need to know the applicable rules of your jurisdiction and monitor developments.[10]
Getting Publicity For Your Page.
The world’s greatest web page will do you no good if no one sees it. You will want to make sure that the people that you want to see the page can find it. Your guiding question should be: how do you want people to find your page? By concentrating on this question, you will be forced to consider what your target audience is, how that audience will use your page and in what ways you want your audience to find your page.
I have gradually come to the conclusion that planning for getting publicity for your page is more important than planning for the actual design of the page itself. I suggest taking plenty of time to draw up a written plan for getting publicity for your web page. Do not forget that publicizing your web page is an ongoing project.
Your web page is one part of your overall marketing effort. Once your web page is online, you should send out an announcement about your web page and mention the page in every marketing mailing. The address of your web page should be placed on business cards, stationary, brochures and your yellow pages ad. If you have a newsletter, you will want to run a feature article on the new web page, as well as create an e-mail version of that newsletter which can be subscribed to from your web page.
It is vital to let your existing clients know about the page. One of the best uses of a web page is to help existing clients find out about other services your firm can provide. Every marketing consultant will tell you that the best way to increase your business is to cross-sell your existing clients and provide other services to them that they are not now getting from you and may not even know that you can provide.
How does someone find your page if you do not tell them about it yourself? There is no single index to the World Wide Web. People using the World Wide Web find information by using what are known as “search engines.” Search engines are web pages which allow you to use key words to search a database consisting of indexed information from actual web pages and produce a list of links to web pages that best match your search request.[11] Each of these search engines allows you to submit your web page to be added to its index. You should definitely do that as a starting point to publicize your page. But they are only starting points.
You will also want to consider getting your web page listed on one of the Web’s directories of law-related web pages. Two examples are the large collections of legal web pages found at Findlaw[12] or CataLaw [13] You will probably want to add a link to your web page from your firm’s online Martindale-Hubbell listing.[14 ] If you have done your homework, you will probably have a list of law-related web pages on which you would like to have your web page listed. You simply need to contact those web pages and ask them if they will add a link to your page. A very important way to get publicity for specialty pages is to give and get these "reciprocal links."
If you want people to find your page by searching, for example, for “St. Louis law firms,” then you must learn enough about search engines to find out how you can guarantee that your web site will found by someone doing a search using those key words.[15] You should also submit your page to all of the online St. Louis business directories. If you want your page to be found because it contains specialty information, you must design a strategy so that people looking for that type of information will find a link to your page when they use the most likely key words on one of the major search engines. You must stay focused on how you want someone to find your page.
You will get the best results if you develop and execute a plan to gain publicity for your site and monitor your results. Be innovative, take advantage of free publicity and remember that getting publicity for your page is an ongoing process.
Realistic Expectations of Results.
It is probably best to look at a law firm web page, at least initially, as a supplement to existing marketing efforts and part of a total marketing package. Use of a web page can generate substantial savings in terms of reduced printing, publication and postage costs related to ongoing marketing efforts. For example, changes to your marketing brochure require a new printing and a new mailing. Substantial changes can be made to the web page simply by making changes to the underlying computer file and uploading it to your web page.
On the other hand, there are firms, especially in the areas of immigration, intellectual property and technology law, that have developed a significant client base through the use of the World Wide Web. Greg Siskind has said that as much as two-thirds of his immigration law practice arises out of his web page.[16] Lew Rose, an Internet pioneer with an advertising law web page, reported that he had $175,000 of business in 1996 alone that he can trace to his web page.[17] Computer giant Sun Microsystems hired a law firm on the basis of the firm’s web page.[18]
Most lawyers and law firms, however, have had difficulty quantifying the dollars-and-cents benefits of having a World Wide Web page. However, remember that for certain firms there may be disadvantages of not having a web page. There is an expectation that leading firms and firms with certain types of practices, especially high tech and intellectual property, will have web pages. Firms without web pages risk creating an impression that they are not current with the cutting edge in either technology or law and losing out in their efforts to recruit young attorneys..
The use of the Internet is dramatically changing the ways in which all business is being conducted. It is impossible for the Internet not to have a similarly dramatic impact on the practice of law and, especially, on the business of the practice of law. The Internet is certainly a new enterprise zone and that fact must be addressed by you and your law firm. A few years ago, having a web page for your law firm would have been a novelty. It later became a trend. Now, it is a necessity.

End Notes
[1] See
[2] See generally (which covers topics addressed in this article in more detail and provides links to helpful web pages).
[3] Martin, Prospecting on the Internet, ABA Journal, Sept. 1995, at 52, 53.
[4] See Greg Siskind’s article, “Building a Law Firm Using the Internet”, at Siskind has also co-written the widely-praised book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet. For more information about his book, see or
[5] See
[6] See
[7] E.g.,;
[8] See, e.g., some of the resources I list on the site and Jerry Lawson’s excellent Netlawtools site at A good discussion of designing law firm pages can be found in Cohen, "What Makes Web Pages Work: The Dos and Don’ts of Cyberspace", 1 AmLaw Tech, Winter 1997, at 56.
[9] I recommend any of Laura Lemay’s excellent "Teach Yourself Web Publishing" books from Publishing.
[10] For a general discussion of ethical issues, see Mary Toy’s excellent article in the Spring 1997 issue of the St. Louis Bar Journal. Informal Advisory Opinion 960151 from the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel is the key guidance in Missouri. For example, in Missouri you also need to be familiar with Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct 4.7.1 -4.7.4. There are two excellent web sites covering ethical issues: and A good summary of ethical issues can be found at Other ethical materials can be found in my discussion at
[11] See my list of search engines and related web sites at
[12] See
[13] See http:///
[14] See
[15] See, e.g.,
[16] See Greg Siskind’s article, “Building a Law Firm Using the Internet”, at
[17] Cohen, "What Makes Web Pages Work: The Dos and Don’ts of Cyberspace," 1 AmLaw Tech, Winter 1997, at 56.
[18] Id. at 57.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
This post brought to you by Dennis Kennedy’s legal technology consulting services, featuring website and blog consulting and technology committee coaching packages for law firms, corporate legal departments and other professional services providers.