Is This What They Teach at Reed Smith University?

I first learned about “Reed Smith University” and the other Reed Smith approaches to the practice of law that led me to mention the firm frequently as an example of an innovative law firm from Denise Howell. Given that Denise is a pioneering lawyer blogger and widely-recognized lawyer in digital media, Internet and intellectual property areas, it made sense that she would be part of an innovative firm. I see now that, as usual, maybe it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.
Saturday, I learned on Denise’s blog, Bag and Baggage, that Reed Smith had fired Denise. I’m revising my opinion of Reed Smith, drastically. As Carolyn Elefant suggests, Reed Smith has probably guaranteed that rather than being known as an innovator or a premier law firm, it will be known instead as “the firm that dumped Denise Howell, one of blawging’s greatest talents.” Probably not the marketing move any firm would like to make, eh?
You might note that Denise’s notes about Reed Smith University mentioned above appeared in The Industry Standard. This is the type of publicity in the type of industry publication that most law firms would kill for. Ironic, isn’t it?
[Disclosure: Denise is a co-founder and co-author with me of the Blawg Channel and Between Lawyers group blog projects and I don't even pretend to be objective in my comments. I have not talked with Denise, however, about this happening or the events underlying it. My opinions, as usual, are uniquely my own.]
As I’ve said elsewhere, I thoroughly recommend that you read Denise’s post announcing her departure because it is well-written, savvy and raises important issues for the legal profession.
I was struck immediately by the irony that, as an appellate lawyer, Denise would require excellent writing, analytical and organizational skills. These are exhibited in great abundance in her post, making Reed Smith’s decision to fire her even more inexplicable than it first appeared to me.
As a friend of mine – an excellent writer – said after reading Denise’s post – “why can’t I write something that good?” Indeed, I was involved in hiring at law firms for many years and I’d be willing to hire Denise as an appellate lawyer on the basis of seeing that post as a writing sample.
All of which leads to speculation about what Reed Smith is thinking.
Let me say first that law firms obviously can and will make business decisions, especially personnel decisions, for reasons they believe are in the best interest of the firm. Others, of course, are free to second-guess those decisions. It is certainly fair to reach Carolyn Elefant’s conclusion: “Because if you’re a talented woman planning on having kids, why in the world would you EVER choose to work there?”
I’ve been thinking about what lessons we might be able to learn from this situation in our increasingly interconnected and Internet-focused world.
Based on my experience in law firms, inexplicable firing decisions (and sometimes inexplicable hiring decisions) almost invariably result in people inside and outside the firm drawing one of three conclusions:
1. The firm is slimming down for a merger. One standard approach in a pre-merger setting is to strip away people who will not fit into the new entity. Often that may mean of counsel and other lawyers in non-traditional arrangements. Since Reed Smith has engaged in some merger activity recently and there were stories of another one “on the street” at the end of last year, you might reasonably conclude that something along those lines was involved. If you saw other departures or departures from another likely merger candidate, this theory would be reinforced. Even if nothing is in the works, this type of decision invite exactly that kind of speculation..
2. The firm simply made a bad business decision. Hey, law firms don’t always make good business decisions. I suspect that the negative economic and PR consequences of this move will far outweigh the savings from eliminating Denise’s salary. However, I agree with Denise’s assessment of the business acumen of the managing partner of Reed Smith, so I think this conclusion is less likely than #1. However, since Denise is the classic example of a person around whom to market an innovative or Law 2.0 approach, the decision seems to reflect a commitment to an “old school” practice of law. “Old school” may prove the best way to go, but I question the approach and think that signaling a commitment to an old school approach undercuts efforts like Reed Smith University. Ironically, the fact that Denise was an appellate lawyer who did a lot of brief writing and was incredibly tech savvy made her the perfect test case for innovative approaches to dealing with work that could have served the firm well as a model for the future.
3. The firm may be having financial problems. Almost any time an experienced lawyer gets fired, people start to wonder about the finances of the firm. I was a partner at a firm where we might have a partners’ meeting in which we learned that we were having our best financial year ever, but also make a decision to terminate an associate, and then would see the staff and other associates worry that the firm was about to padlock the doors and go out of business. It’s just the way people react today. One of the most interesting presentations I attended this year was given by Alan Rich of Thomson Elite on why law firms go out of business. It’s a thought-provoking presentation that had a lot of resonance for me. In most of the cases, you saw firms that were riding high closing their doors in remarkably short periods of time. In each case, there seemed to be one of more management decisions that, in retrospect, made no sense and reflected a decision to go with “business as usual” when business was no longer usual. I think that this is the least likely of the three conclusions, but I also think, based on my experience, that it will be the one that people spend the most time speculating about, especially if there is even one more departure. I don’t think that law firms give that result enough consideration these days before taking actions.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m flummoxed by this decision, but suggest that we all look at it for lessons that we can learn about how we deal with talented people with non-traditional approaches and how to retain them, and for lessons about how best to run a law firm. As my title says, I’m mainly left with this question: “Is this what they teach at Reed Smith University?”
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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Let a Diverse Group of Smart People Talk

A fascinating blog post on the Anecdote blog callled “Hire a diverse bunch of smart people and let them talk” is well worth your reading time, both for what it says and the underlying article, audio and study it references.
The key idea is “knowledge bridging.”
The money quote:

The article elaborates on Hsu and Lim’s research describing the ways Silicon Valley biotech companies created new patents and using this information to map the lineage of invention in the valley. Knowledge bridging was a noticeable trait of the successful companies and remarkably the only factor they could find that led to knowledge bridging was the act of hiring a variety of researchers. This reminds me of the Larry Prusak quip, when asked what someone should include in a knowledge strategy Larry suggested: hire smart people and let them talk. Perhaps we need to modify this to: hire a diverse bunch of smart people and let them talk.

Bring together a diverse bunch of smart people and let them talk. That’s a great description of what we try to do with LexThink. It’s also a great benefit of being part of the Between Lawyers blog. It’s a great idea in many, many ways.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Like what you are reading? Check out the other blogs where I post – Between Lawyers (feed) and the LexThink Blog (feed).
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Not the Net; It’s the Applications

Mark Cuban has a great post called “The Internet is old news and boring.. Deal with it” that will challenge your way of thinking about the Internet and its implications. Challenging your thinking is a good thing.
A few money quotes:

+ Its not the net, its the applications stupid !
Falling costs to create , host and deliver digital bits enable entrepreneurs to be entrepreneurial. Kids can save enough money these days to buy a computer and create applications their friends can use and maybe even buy year round for less than they can buy a decent lawnmower to mow lawns with only in the summer. Its the brainpower that is changing our world. THe internet is just a utility to deliver the digital bits they create.
I cant wait for my daughter to ask me why people used to get so excited about the internet and I can tell her that after the first few years it made no sense to me either.

+ The net hasn’t made the net better. Its better pricing, capacity and performance for all the things we use to run all the applications that attach to the net that have made the net better.

+ The biggest compliment I can pay to the net and to all those pioneers who got it to this point is that its boring.

+ What we have seen are incremental applications that have been powered by the amazing ongoing drop in pricing of PCs, hard drives, memory and BACKBONE (not last mile) bandwidth. None of which are “the internet ”

Some interesting things to think about, whether you agree or disagree, as the Internet becomes more and more ubiquitous. Maybe it’s now time to stop capitalizing the word “Internet.”
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
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The Growing Role for Legal Administrators in Legal Technology – Article

[ Note: This is another in a continuing series in which I am reposting some of my original drafts of published articles.]

I wrote this article earlier this year for the ALA’s Legal Management Magazine. It’s a short report on my trip to the 2006 LegalTech New York conference. It takes the point of view of the legal administrator and highlights some key trends and developments in legal technology that would especially interest legal administrators. There are a few insights in the article for lawyers and legal tech vendors as well. Enjoy.

The Growing Role for Legal Administrators in Legal Technology – A Report from LegalTech New York 2006
The annual LegalTech New York conference has been unveiling new products, services and trends in legal technology for the last twenty-five years. The 2006 event was a well-attended, even crowded, gathering of more than three hundred exhibitors and thousands of attendees.
There are many lessons that legal administrators can draw from this event. The biggest one may be that IT decisions in law firms will have an increasing impact on legal administrators. This article will give you some of the highlights and stress some of the trends and developments you need to know to help you do your job better.
1. Electronic Discovery Everywhere. By some counts, there are around five thousand vendors today who describe themselves as being in the electronic discovery business. Perhaps one hundred of them exhibited at LegalTech. There is no area of legal technology that is likely to have a bigger impact on law firms in 2006 than electronic discovery will have.
Although electronic discovery may seem to be the realm of your IT and litigation departments, it will have serious implications for legal administrators.
First, sorting through electronic discovery vendors is no easy task. Expect to see vendor research projects, request for proposal (RFP) processes and tech committee or management committee involvement in electronic discovery decisions.
Second, the electronic discovery process is becoming so complicated that it is inevitable that outside vendors, consultants and other providers will be involved in the process. From readjusting budgets to simply handling requests for identification badges for outside providers coming to your office, watch for the impact of electronic discovery on your day-to-day work.
Third, even firms that have had little experience with electronic discovery may be forced into action this year. Watch for staffing changes and the introduction of new positions for employees who focus on electronic discovery and litigation technology issues. Keep an eye on the growing trend of firms hiring litigation support managers.
Fourth, look for some of the techniques and requirements learned in electronic discovery to flow over into law firm administration – email management and policies, archiving and related issues.
2. Security and Disaster Recovery Issues Did Not Go Away. Concern about security and disaster recovery seems to ebb and flow. The 2005 hurricanes brought disaster recovery to the forefront and moved security concerns to the back burner. As time passes, we see security concerns getting more attention. However, neither issue ever goes away.
At LegalTech, you could find both sessions and vendors focused on these issues. A trend to watch is a growing sense that handling security and disaster recovery internally may no longer be realistic. Law firms in New Orleans, for example, learned about the value of keeping data and backup systems in another part of the country. Some firms report that their IT departments are spending more than half of their time on security issues, leaving limited time for new projects.
Legal administrators are invariably involved in both of these issues. Expect a bigger role for outside vendors in both of these areas. One interesting product/service to watch is Network Box (www.network-box.com), which allows you to get state-of-the-art security outsourcing for a reasonable monthly fee.
3. It’s a PDF World. PDF is becoming the standard format for electronic filing, scanning and electronic discovery. Recent stories about embarrassing revelations of “metadata” (hidden data associated with Microsoft Word and other files) have also focused attention on PDF as the preferred way to send documents outside firms without the same metadata concerns.
Many firms think of PDF only in terms of creating and reading PDF files. Adobe Acrobat 7 (www.adobe.com) provides a wealth of other tools – security, collaboration, search and document management. Some legal programs, such as CaseMap (www.casesoft.com), let you integrate seamlessly with Adobe Acrobat and create PDF files as well.
Use of the PDF format makes sense in the area of dealing with metadata. Litera’s Change-Pro (www.litera.com) is a suite of tools to help you work with PDFs and handle metadata.
PDF makes sense in many areas of law firm administration, especially external communications and for any documents that the recipients should not edit.
4. Outsourcing Becomes an Option in Almost Every Technology Decision. The sheer number of vendors and options can be overwhelming. It raises questions that many law firms are beginning to ask: what is our core business and do we need to handle every technology function inside the firm?
From evaluating products and services to hiring qualified people, the technology questions inside law firms are getting more difficult. Add in the pressure from clients wanting firms to provide technologies like extranets and we see technology issues moving outside the IT department and into management committees and the realm of legal administrators.
In even the most basic technologies, you will find in a law firm, you could see vendors at LegalTech that will provide the same services on an outsourcing basis. For example, companies like Pitney Bowes (www.pb.com), Merrill (www.merrillcorp.com) and others, will provide a variety of services, including handling your entire mailroom function.
5. Document Assembly in Nontraditional Ways. Some technologies shown at LegalTech may make sense for uses beyond what lawyers have traditionally considered.
Consider the example of document assembly. In a document assembly application, a user simply answers a series of questions on the computer screen and, as if by magic, the software generates a custom document based on the answers. Most law firms see it as a way to general legal documents.
However, with today’s tools from companies like Ixio (www.ixio.com), Microsystems (www.microsystems.com), (www.exari.com) and DealBuilder (http://www.business-integrity.com/document-assembly.html), you might generate many of your standard administrative and other documents with these tools, saving time and effort and generating tailored documents. If you want to explore one technology for yourself in 2006, document assembly would be the one I would suggest.
Conclusion.
Of the thousands of people at LegalTech, lawyers made up only a small percentage. With so much happening in legal technology, especially in the area of electronic discovery, you will want to focus on more training for lawyers and getting some of them out from behind their desks to investigate and make decisions about the technologies that are changing the practice of law and the way law firms work. The time is right for legal administrators to play an even bigger part in the legal technology process. This article will give you a few places to get started.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
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Meeting the Law Librarian Bloggers

I had a great time meeting about 30 or so law librarian bloggers and bloggers-to-be in St. Louis last night. Connie Crosby offers her perspective here.
As always, it is great fun to meet other bloggers in person. I’ve long been a big fan of what law librarians are doing with blogs (note category #2 here) and it was a pleasure to meet some of the bloggers I’ve read for a long time in person and to see some BlawgThink alumnae again.
Congratulations to Sabrina Pacifici who received a very deserved and very prestigious award for her work at LLRX.com and the BeSpacific blog at this AALL annual meeting.
If you ever get the chance to go to a gathering of bloggers, do whatever you can to try to attend. I’ve always found a generous, welcoming group who are as smart and interesting as their blogs are.
As an aside, it was interesting to see how a LexThink Lounge event would work very well for a group of this type and the vendors who want to reach that group.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
This post brought to you by LexThink!(R) – The Legal Unconference. Ask us about private LexThink retreats and conferences for your firm, business or organization. Coming soon – LexThink Lounge – April 19, 2006.
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