Technology-Lawyer

Dennis Kennedy

Technology Law and Legal Technology. Dennis Kennedy is one of the few technology lawyers who is also an expert on the underlying technologies. Dennis an award-winning leader in the application of technology and the Internet to the practice of law. DennisKennedy.com gives you access to a wide variety of Dennis Kennedy's resources on legal technology, his writings, his well-known blog, DennisKennedy.Blog, and information about how you can have Dennis speak to your organization or group.

Dennis Kennedy is one of the most knowledgeable legal technologists you will find. - Michael Arkfeld.

Dennis Kennedy, a lawyer and legal technology expert in St. Louis, Mo., has been a significant influence in the ever-evolving relationship between lawyers and the Web. - Robert Ambrogi

Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

The Value of Podcast Listening

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column in its July 2011 issue. The column is titled “Ear! Ear! Podcast Gains Are in the Listening, Not Creating.” The column focuses on the benefits of listening to podcasts and how to listen to podcasts better and more effectively than you might be doing now.

I am a huge fan of the podcasting medium and I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’m always looking for ways to find great podcasts and to manage them in good ways so that I always have great podcasts to listen to all queued up on my iPod. Unfortunately, most of the articles and materials you can find about podcasts, especially for lawyers, seem to be focused on creating podcasts rather than on simply listening to them.

I decided to fill this seeming void with a practical article sharing some of my favorite podcast listening tips and making my case that podcasts can be a fantastic resource for lawyers. Read the article and see how well I did.

I talk about the different ways you can obtain and listen to podcasts and how, despite the name, an iPod is not a necessary part of the experience.

I sketch out the basic approach of using the iTunes store to find individual episodes and, more important, to subscribe to podcasts to automatically receive new episodes. I also mention the great Huffduffer website as a way to locate well-regarded podcast episodes. And I reveal my latest trick of finding podcasts or audios from seminar presentations as a way to quickly get an overview of and up to speed on a new topic.

I also advocate turning your car into a commuting education center by running podcasts through your car stereo. Best of all, I talk about the radically, yet incredibly effective, approach of listening to podcasts at double speed.

As I say in the conclusion of the column:

Podcasts are a wonderful learning medium for lawyers. The richness and value of the free content will surprise you. It’s an easy and useful way to keep up with developments in your field and topics of interest, and to make better use of your commute and other listening times.

Check out the article here. And, of course, you might just want to start out your investigation of podcast listening with the Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter ñ @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

qrcode

Decluttering Your Hard Drives

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column in its May 2011 issue. The column is titled “Declutter Home Hard Drives and Aid Performance.” The column covers some simple ways you can declutter, clean up and organize your hard drives. I do focus on your home computer(s), but similar principles will apply in the work setting.

Here’s the inspiration behind the column. I got a new personal computer for 2011 (MacBook Air) and needed to load data and files onto the new computer. That process got me thinking about whether there were some good ways to keep drives organized and to get them in good order after, seemingly inevitably, they get cluttered and wildly disorganized.

As I say in the column, “While it’s tempting just to buy a bigger drive or rely on desktop search tools or the enhanced search tools in recent versions of Windows and Mac OS X, these approaches are only short-term fixes.”

Although I couldnít resist the chance to work the buzzphrase “data hygiene” into the column, I decided to focus on a few basic principles and techniques – pruning, decluttering and organizing.

In pruning and decluttering, you look to eliminate duplicated and unneeded files and stop your computer from automatically creating and saving excessive numbers of files to free up space. After pruning and decluttering, you take a closer look at your approach to folders and try to simplify your approach.

Just some nuts-and-bolts concepts, but if you are moving data to a new computer, you’ll appreciate the making some efforts in these directions. Even if you are not moving to a new computer, you’ll appreciate having a cleaner, better-organized file structure.

Check out the article here.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter ñ @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

qrcode

Freemium, IgniteLaw and ILTA

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I received a package in the mail today with several copies of the June 2011 issue of ILTA’s Peer to Peer magazine.

On page 22, you will find my article called “Freemium,” which is loosely based on the presentation I did for IgniteLaw 2011 called “The Freemium Practice of Law.”

Even better, you can find a copy of my article online here.

The article discusses the potential application of Chris Anderson’s free and freemium principles from his book “Free” to the practice of law. I managed to reference Monty Python, Open Source software and modern portfolio theory, although, alas, my favorite reference to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in my IgniteLaw presentation hit the cutting room floor.

As many readers know, I occasionally use this blog to show some of my approaches to writing. You might be interested in comparing this article to my original IgniteLaw script to see the choices, especially in resequencing the points, I made when adapting the talk to an article format.

The rest of the issue looks great, but I wanted to highlight JoAnna Forshee’s article about IgniteLaw 2011 on page 132 (online here), which summarize IgniteLaw and points to ways others might use the “Ignite” format.

Let me know what you think of my Freemium article. I’d enjoy hearing about efforts to experiment with freemium approaches in the practice of law.

Thanks to the great people at ILTA (always a pleasure to work with) for their interest in this topic and for publishing my article. If you aren’t familiar with ILTA, you need to be.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now Available! The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

qrcode

Starting a Conversation about Open Source in Law Practice

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

At ABA TECHSHOW 2011, I got the opportunity to speak with Rodney Dowell on the topic of the “Open Source Powered Law Firm.” Rodney was great, the audience was engaged, and I really enjoyed the experience. Gwynne Monahan does a nice job of capturing the session in her post, “First Mac, then #cloudcomputing so perhaps #opensource #abatechshow.”

As I mentioned in the session, former Red Hat CEO Bob Young was a keynote speaker at ABA TECHSHOW 2000 and, I believe, this was the first TECHSHOW session since then to focus on Open Source software. Young’s talk inspired me to write a law review article on the Open Source licenses in 2001 (“A Primer on Open Source Licensing Legal Issues: Copyright, Copyleft and the Future,” 20 St. Louis Univ. Pub. L. Rev. 345 (2001)) and put together a list of web sources on Open Source legal issues. I’ve been interested in Free and Open Source software and the philosophy behind it ever since. If you Google my name and “Open Source” you’ll find some of my writings and a couple of podcasts (e.g., this podcast).

I’ve had the chance in 2011 to write one article and co-author with Gwynne Monahan another on the use of Open Source software in the practice of law.

The major article is the one with Gwynne that was recently published in the March/April 2011 issue of the ABA’s Law Practice magazine. It’s called “10 Tips for Getting Started with Open Source Software” and it’s meant to be a easy and practical introduction to Open Source Software and the role it might play in law practice. As you might guess from the title, it feature ten important practical tips.

In my monthly technology column for the American Bar Journal in March 2011, I wrote a short and concise introduction to Open Source software in law practice called “Free Can Be Good: Add Open Source to Software Considerations.” In the column, I conclude: “Open Source programs are be coming realistic alternatives for lawyers, especially for focused tasks. Now is a great time to add a consideration of Open Source software to your technology decision-making process.”

Through the presentation and the articles, I wanted to join with Gwynne and Rodney in raising the profile of Open Source software, highlighting its growing importance and introducing the philosophy and reality of Open Source software.

Open Source is about community. The articles and presentation are meant to start the conversation, but we also wanted to find ways to continue and extend the conversation about the use of Open Source software in the practice of law. One step in that direction is a new LinkedIn group called Open Source Tools for Law Practice. With luck, it will grow to help people find others interested in Open Source and offer a place for conversations. If you are interested in Open Source, please consider joining the group.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now Available! The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

qrcode

Tech Resolutions for 2011

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column. It’s called “Happy New Tech Year: 4 First Steps for the Next 365 Days” and, as you might gather from the title, it makes some recommendations for “new year’s resolutions” you might make about technology from 2011.

Although, I make a few specific suggestions (e.g., change all of your passwords), the article focuses on the notion of how to make good resolutions and to focus on what makes the most sense for you.

As I say in the column, “Think of resolutions as first steps that are simple, easy to accomplish and targeted toward areas that will reduce friction between you and the rapidly changing world of technology.”

I highlight four areas you might want to focus on for 2011.

1. Protect Yourself. Examples include change all of your passwords or get a password management program.

2. Spruce Up Your Online Presence. Examples include refreshing your design, updating pictures and visiting your profiles on online directories.

3. Learn. Pick a technology topic, program or feature (track changes, email management, PowerPoint) and take a class or find other ways to learn it well. Or subscribe to a podcast like The Kennedy-Mighell Report to keep up-to-date on legal technology developments and topics.

4. Innovate. I like to try one new technology every year. I think this is my year of the Mac. 2011 might be a good year for you to try a cloud computing application.

The money quote:

Technology is definitely complicated, but lawyers have to keep up. The best way is to have some written resolutions that help you take small steps. Go for easy wins, build momentum and surprise peopleóincluding yourselfówith how far you can go in 2011.

Check out the article here.

Tom Mighell and I also discuss this topic, with a strong focus on how to make resolutions that you will actually complete, in a recent episode of the Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter ñ @dkennedyblog. Follow me ñ @denniskennedy

The Lawyerís Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

MacGyver Your Software

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column. It’s called “MacGyver Your Software: Necessity Reveals Useful Tools You Never Knew Your Software Had.” It covers some ways you can cleverly make use of the standard programs you have to do some things that you thought only programs you don’t have could do.

As I say in the column,

I have noticed that many lawyers who make innovative use of technology in their practices take advantage of program features not commonly used by others. Often, this results from the lack of budget or permission to install new programs. Necessity becomes the mother of invention.

Those of you famility with TV history (and who isn’t?) will get the reference to MacGyver, who could also make some amazing new use out of seemingly random materials at hand to escape from difficult situations.

Many lawyers with limited technology tools have felt like a MacGyver trying to cobble together software and hardware to accomplish something that technology they didn’t have would easily do.

The premise of this column is to take a look at ways you can use common tools for quite different purposes, not just give you some tips to use existing programs better.

Some examples include using your word processor as a metadata scrubber or blog publishing tool, presentation programs as a graphics editor or audio/video editor and Adobe Acrobe for a wide variety of purposes.

The idea is to get you to think in new ways and not to throw your hands up in despair because your firm won’t let you get tools you need. There are other options.

The money quote from the column:

Now is a great time to explore the unused features in software you already have. If you unleash your inner MacGyver, do some exploring and are willing to be creative, you are likely to find a much bigger and better-stocked toolbox than you ever imagined.

Check out the article here.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now Available! The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

Using PowerPoint as a Tool, Not as a Necessary Evil

Monday, October 4th, 2010

The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column. It’s called “Bite the Bullet Point” and deals with the growing problem of poor use of PowerPoint slides that drains all of the energy out of many presentations I see today, especially those by lawyers.

As I say in the column, “The biggest problem I see is that people have moved the focus from the speech and the speaker to the slides.”

Or, as I also say: “[M]ost complaints about PowerPoint are like blaming modern hammers for poorly built houses. It’s not the tool, but how the user uses the tool.”

Everywhere I turn lately, I see references to “death by PowerPoint” and similar harsh critiques of the use of technology in presentations today. There’s no question that most “standard” presentations these days bury you in bullet points and boredom. Worse yet, after seeing all the slides and hearing the talk, you often don’t know what the main conclusion is, what should matter to you, and, most important, what you should do next.

If you’ve read this blog or my articles, including my ABA Journal column, over the years, you’ll notice that focusing on using technologies as appropriate tools is a recurring theme of mine. As tempting as it might be to want the “new shiny thing,” you’ll want to always keep in mind that technology is a tool and you should always keep in mind the ways a new technology can help you do what you actually want to accomplish.

Think about the oft-cited example that vendors want to sell you a drill, but what you want to buy is the holes you need to get the job accomplished. The drill is just the vehicle that gets you to the holes.

That’s the background for the new column – my concern that the focus for presentations has turned to slides, PowerPoint (or Keynote), video, audio, design and transitions, and away from educating, persuading and inspiring.

However, I’ll stress that I’m not a PowerPoint opponent. When it’s used correctly, it can definitely help you educate, persuade and inspire. If you don’t think that’s the case, you haven’t seen someone use PowerPoint really well in service of their message.

In the new column:

I run through a list of some of the things that bother me about how many people use PowerPoint in presentations these days. I’ll note that it’s a 650-word column, so I couldn’t fit everything in there, but you’ll get the idea.

More important, I give six of my best suggestions to help you break out of today’s PowerPoint and presentation traps:

1. Ask the question: Are slides even needed?

2. Remember that slides must serve the presentation, and not vice versa.

3. Keep the focus on the presenter and presentation, not the slides.

4. Don’t make slides do double duty. A huge problem I often see is using the same slides for the presentation and the handout.

5. Details matter. At a minimum, view your slides on the screen from the back of the room before you speak. I hate it when the speaker knows a slide can’t be read and apologizes out loud for it. Fix it; don’t apologize.

6. Find new role models. I’m a huge fan of Cliff Atkinson and his influential book on presentations called Beyond Bullet Points. His approach to slides is very visual, with minimal text and no bullets. He emphasizes the importance of theme, structure and story. Spend some time watching TED Talks videos and videos of other great presenters.

I’d definitely like to hear your reactions to this article and to the topic. I actually wrote it several months ago and when I re-read it, it really seemed to reflect the theme of practical and effective use of technology to help you with what you do everyday that’s been my goal with the ABA Journal tech column over the years. Let me know if the column works that way for you.

If I would have had a few more words for the column, I might have added a seventh point about hard work and rehearsal (although it’s alluded to in the column). As I mentioned earlier, I’m not anti-PowerPoint. In fact, I’ve always liked it. What I like, though, is the way it makes some aspects of preparing a presentation easier and frees you up to spend more time and effort on your message, your delivery and your audience. As they say, you can work smarter, not harder, and focus your effort on what matters most.

Check out the article here.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now Available! The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

Top Ten Tips for Technology Committees

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

After I wrote my previous post about my recent ABA Journal column on law firm technology committees, I went back to see what I had done for the 2006 webinar I did on my top ten tips for tech committees. It turns out that the slides I did were very visual (in the Beyond Bullet Points style), so it doesn’t make sense to post them. However, I did find the handout I did for the session, which I write in an article format. As best I can tell (or remember), it hasn’t been published before outside the actual webinar. I decided that I should post it on my blog as a companion to the earlier column. And because I don’t like the idea of a good article not being available to the public, It appears below. I didn’t edit it, so there might be some 2006-ish outdated references, but it still should work pretty well. Your feedback will be appreciated.

Dennis Kennedy’s Top Ten Tips for Technology Committees

It might be a question: “Would you like to be on the firm’s technology committee?” It might be an assignment: “We’ve put you on the firm’s technology committee?” But, however it starts, one day you find yourself on your law firm’s tech committee. Maybe you even find that you are chairing it.

You know a few things right away. First, you won’t see anything extra in the pay envelope for this mission. Second, this appointment probably has more to do with the fact that you seem to know your way around a computer more so than you know what is required to meet the technology needs of a law firm. Third, based on my experience, you will quickly find that a word like “paucity” seems quite appropriate to describe the resources that are available to help you learn about your assignment.

The technology needs and goals of law firms can vary dramatically, depending on the size of the firm, areas of practice, firm culture and other factors. A firm’s historical experience with technology can have a dramatic impact many years after a negative experience, and every firm has at least one horrifying bad technology experience in its history. It’s also the case that technology committees often get started in response to a problem. They also get started and continue to exist in an effort to bridge the large and growing communication gap between lawyers and IT staff.

With that in mind, I wanted to draw upon my own experience on technology committees and working with and talking to many lawyers on tech committees to offer my top ten tips for technology committees and lawyers on technology committees. These are not “cure-alls.” They are not even specific things that you must do. However, they will help you have better success with your committee experience, improve the technology situation at your firm and make your life a little easier.

1. On the Same Page: Know Your Starting Point.

Quite probably the most illuminating question that a technology committee, or a new member of a committee, can ask is: “How many computers does the firm own?” A simple question, but it is the rare firm that can come up with the answer with any certainty. Follow up that question with: “Do we have enough licenses of the software we use to cover all of those computers?”

These two questions will give you a sense of how tight a ship your firm is running and how well you know what you are dealing with.

A technology committee works best when it works with facts that are known. It’s hard enough to predict the future in technology, but it’s impossible to do so if you don’t start from what is known with certainty.

It’s vital to get everyone on the committee on the same page and working with actual facts. Tech committee meetings can quickly run off-target with all kinds of speculation. When you try to work without specific facts, your chance of wasting time go way up and your chances of making good decisions go down.

Recommendations: Nobody likes the word “audit,” but the fact is that some form of regular technology audit is a baseline requirement for any law firm technology committee. The potential savings from identifying unused, expensive and unnecessary resources alone will make these efforts worthwhile. The benefits you get from having committee members on the same page will pay off many times over.

2. Diversity Matters: Get the Right Mix of People.

The first technology committee I was on had a managing partner of the firm, the office manager, the IT director (in our case, she was the whole IT department), me (in the role of the lawyer who is very knowledgeable about technology and can act as the go-between the IT people and the lawyers), and an outside consultant who was helping us with big projects. This approach worked extremely well.

The second tech committee I was on, at a different firm, had perhaps a dozen people, including the IT director, but no executive committee members or outside consultants. It worked, but not nearly as effectively, in my opinion, and there was a tendency to talk about some topics over and over for months and months.

As a result, I tend to favor smaller committees rather than larger committees, but I do recommend that there be enough diversity. By diversity, I mean representation in various categories of job functions, practice areas, and points of view. Although it is important to have people on the committee who “get” technology, it is more important have people on the committee who understand the culture, practices and business of the firm. The larger your committee gets, the more diverse you want it to be. Be very open to including young lawyers. I like to suggest that you consider adding the least tech-savvy lawyer in your firm. It gives you both an opportunity to educate this lawyer and an important reality check on what technology might really work in your firm.

Tech committees, even more so than hiring committees, are a good assignment for senior associates in the year of two before they are up for partnership consideration. It’s a great way to see how they work with people and test their business judgment in a real world setting.

Recommendations: If you have a large committee, consider slimming it down or even moving to a smaller executive committee that uses the full committee as a sounding board. Look for representation from each of the constituencies and categories in your firm on the committee. Consider business judgment of a member to be at least as important as technical knowledge. Don’t be afraid to bring the most knowledgeable people into the committee, even if they are young, associates, paralegals or even staff.

3. Decision-maker on Board: Who Must Be on Your Committee?

I once read that the best question to ask about project management is “Who gets to say that the project is done?” A powerful question, because if that person is not involved and invested in the project, its chances of success diminish greatly.

When your tech committee meets, is the person who makes the ultimate decision sitting at that table? In my first tech committee, the necessary decision-maker was at the table and things got done. If the necessary decision-maker is not at the table, you end up with more of an intellectual exercise.

There are different approaches on this issue. Tech committees can work quite well if the tech committee chair has the ear of the necessary decision-maker, but I prefer to see the decision-makers sitting at the table.

Recommendations: Ask the question. Do you have the necessary people at the table? If you include the IT director, office manager and a managing partner or member of the executive committee, you probably will have a very productive tech committee.

4. One Solid Strategy: A Prudent Portfolio Approach.

When I write or speak about legal technology trends each year, I can easily list ten or twenty (or more) important trends in legal technology. Lawyers and staff in your firm will always be bringing you more ideas. If you read the resources in legal technology, you can add even more items to your list.

From that, you might easily generate hundreds of potential projects. What you must do is the align technology projects with the firm’s business goals and mesh technology with what is needed to support the practice areas of the firm and help lawyers provide excellent work to satisfied and happy clients. That’s easier said than done, of course, and it’s easy to go down the path of doing technology for technology’s sake, because it’s cool, everybody else is doing it or one of many other justifications.

It’s also easy to “stick to your knitting” and only focus on conservative projects that relate to IT infrastructure and leave your lawyers literally years behind current versions of today’s software. Most law firms are reluctant to try any novel and creative (i.e., risky) IT projects.

If we look to the finances services sector and the Nobel Prize winning modern portfolio theory, we can find some answers. In modern portfolio theory, the focus is on diversification of assets, investing in a basket of assets that combine all categories of risk and reward. The learning in modern portfolio theory is that, paradoxically, investing only in the “safest” class of assets may be the most “risky” course you can take. For example, if you invest in low-interest, AAA long-term bonds (very safe) and go through a period of high inflation, your “safe” investment was not safe at all.

As a result, the prudent approach is not simply to focus on low-risk, low-return investments, but to diversify. Adding a portion of higher-risk, higher-return assets is, in fact, the safest move to make, especially in the long term. We then establish the appropriate mix of investments in line with our investment personality, risk tolerance and short-term vs. long-term needs.

If we move this notion over to technology committees, we see that a prudent technology committee will develop a strategy that begins to look like a mixed portfolio. This approach will help a firm develop a mix of projects that will help balance failed projects (and there will be some) and position the firm to exploit wise bets on newer technologies, rather than always focusing on infrastructure and being reactive.

Recommendations: Do a quick assessment of your firm’s priorities and projects by assessing them to the appropriate risk/reward categories and see how diversified your portfolio really is. Start to address any imbalance. Consider the difference between “prudent” and cautious. Use the portfolio approach in connection with the idea of business alignment to make some experiments in technologies, especially those that appeal to clients, and that might have some risk, but may pay off very well in the long-term.

5. Measure Results: Determine What is Working.

In most firms, a technology project will get done (and, in some case, will never get done), and the firm will move on. It is rare to see a firm that measures results on technology projects. What was the initial budget? What did it really cost? What was promised? What was delivered? Everyone likes to talk about return on investment (ROI) to justify a new project, but are you willing to compare the projected ROI with the real ROI.

At least a modest amount of measure and assessment is vital for technology committees. You want to operate from facts, not speculation, and definitely not from rosy memories. In some tech committee meetings, people will remember unmitigated disasters as successful projects. Show me the numbers.

I’m suggesting that you need detailed financial evaluations. I’m looking for some back of the envelope calculations that I can use as rules of thumb for future projects. If I know that it invariably takes twice as long as estimated to do a project in house, for example, then I can make a better-informed decision about outsourcing.

Ultimately, you want to approve of projects that have similar characteristics to other successful projects and not approve, or pull the plug on, projects that have similar characteristics to unsuccessful projects. By focusing on facts and the real numbers, a technology can do more good in this area than anywhere else and, as a side benefit, eliminate interminable discussions based on speculation and vague memories of other projects.

Recommendations: Take a recent project and calculate an estimated ROI on it. Identify one recent successful project and one unsuccessful project and see if you can identify the distinguishing characteristics. Look at a few ongoing projects and compare estimated costs to actual costs.

6. Tools for Lawyers: Aligning with a Firm’s Core Business.

When I was a young associate, new to the job, I got up the courage one morning to talk to a managing partner and make the case why I felt that I needed a computer on my desk and that, otherwise, I simply did not have the tools I needed to do my job. A year later . . . I had an old Wang word processing terminal on my desk and was as happy as could be and was the envy of other associates and a few partners.

A significant portion of my legal career was spent as a partner in a law firm. My point of view reflects that.

I often say that there have been three stages in legal technology. In the first, the needs of the staff (word processing, et al) were the key factor. In the most recent stage, the needs of the IT department (network stability, standardization, et al) took center stage. In the third stage, the focus is on what tools do lawyers need to do their work in a way that is most responsive to clients and efficient and easy for lawyers.

The core business of most law firms is to generate optimal income from the fee-earners. Too often, I see that take a second seat to standardization and conservative approaches. For example, there is now a current trend to move lawyers away from notebook computers back to desktop computers to save a few dollars and make it easier for IT departments to maintain computers, despite the push from clients and others toward mobile computing. Ask a lawyer at a firm of any size how difficult it would be to get a Tablet PC.

A big part of the role of a tech committee is to represent and convey the needs of the working lawyer.

Recommendations: Determine whether you would characterize your firm as in the first, second or third stage of legal technology. Remind yourself to ask follow-up questions whenever the concerns and wishes of lawyers are summarily over-ridden. Determine in what ways new technology projects makes the work of lawyers easier or harder.

7. It’s Good to Ask: Client Surveys and Client-focus.

I’ve also talked about a fourth stage of legal technology – the era of client-driven technology. Here, the initiative for technology change comes from clients and technology is chosen because of its impact on clients. This means that technology should make it easier for the client to work with and stay with the firm.

At this point, it’s quite rare to see fourth stage law firms, but there are a growing number of examples. However, it is growing increasingly common to see significant push from clients on their firms to move the firms toward client-facing technologies. E-billing and extranets are two common examples.

As you probably know, clients were responsible for the sea change that occurred when the vast majority of firms switched from WordPerfect to Microsoft Word as the primary word processing software. I have talked with many clients of law firms who are frustrated by incompatibilities, difficulties and other problems in using technology to communicate, work and collaborate with law firms.

At the same time, these clients, in many cases, are willing to work with law firms to improve the technology tools and arrive at common platforms. Almost all would respond to a technology survey.

If there is a single item that should be on every technology committee’s agenda, it would be this area of client-driven technology.

Recommendations: Put this topic on the agenda for your next meeting. Ask all lawyers what they are hearing from their clients on this topic. Consider creating and using a technology survey, possibly even in conjunction with new client engagement letters.

8. Less is Better than More: Focusing Your Agenda.

You can easily have too many items on your agenda. If you feel like there are too many issues to cover, it’s probably because there are too many issues to cover.

Tech committee agendas can be very frustrating. It’s rare to make it through the whole list. Topics like document retention policies and technology use policies might initially be allocated a ten minute segment and you may still be discussing them months later.

Your best approach is to pick a few main areas to address for a given year and make those a priority. Forget about covering every potential topic. Find some that will provide the most benefit and concentrate on doing them really well.

Recommendations: Try to reach a consensus, or at least a majority vote, on the three big issues you want to address. You can change them later if you need to. It does make sense to see what your competitors and clients are focusing on. In 2006 and probably for several more years, electronic discovery should be one of the big agenda items.

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask: Getting Outside Help.

As I mentioned, our outside technology consultant sat in our technology committee meetings. He was there as a sounding board and a way to give us a reality check. He also understood what our concerns were, the business issues we wanted to address and the ways lawyers worked.

The approach of using an outside tech consultant is relatively unusual, but the use of outside advice is quite common. Unfortunately, it tends to be word of mouth and very anecdotal. I’ve seen major project plans scuttled at the last minute because someone talked to a brother-in-law’s friend whose company might have tried something similar and it was a disaster. In other cases, law firms in a given city all may use the same programs because everyone heard that some other firm used it. Is that the best way to make decisions?

Based on my experience, getting expert outside help for your committee on a project basis or an ongoing basis is an attractive way to go. In our case, we got expert advice, a reality test and an education about technology and our options. Many of the legal technology consultants I know are excellent educators. Other benefits include knowledge of many software and hardware options, standards and practices in the industry, and access to other experts and vendors.

There are a number of approaches to take along these lines. I would suggest that you either hire someone who will be independent and not bidding on future projects or you simply invite your current outside consultant to the meetings.

IT people often lament that they simply are not aware of all of the legal software options and, increasingly, hosted services for legal applications.

Recommendations: Give this option careful consideration. This approach benefits both lawyers and IT directors and staff. Ask your IT director whether this approach might be helpful. Consider the knowledge of the legal technology vendors that your firm has and the access it has to high-level executives at legal technology vendors. If you have communications issues between lawyers and IT, especially if there are questions about competence and direction, this approach will be an important one to consider.

10. Preventing Surprises: This is Job #1.

I wanted my last tip to sum up in two words everything I have learned about law firm technology committees over the years. I wanted to describe what I thought the main purpose of these committees is.

My answer is: “preventing surprises.”

We’ve reached a point where people expect technology to be stable, to do what they expect and, frankly, to do almost anything. That’s because on the Internet and in other industries, people use technology routinely to do things that seem magical.

Lawyers and other employees look to a tech committee to make sure that they are not surprised by changes in the ways they do their work. Managers look to the tech committee to make good recommendation and bring important issues to their attention so that there are no surprises, financial or otherwise. IT departments look to tech committees to make sure that they are focused on the right priorities and that they are not surprised to find that they have been heading in the wrong direction.

In large part, the primary role of a tech committee and a tech committee member is to improve the level of communication about technology among all constituent groups in a law firm. In part, the role is one of education. In part, the role is one of a visionary. In part, the role is one of a hard-headed realist with an eye on the business of the firm and the bottom line.

If you tell a manager partner or executive committee that the only thing you will accomplish with your tech committee is to prevent surprises, they will be very happy indeed.

Recommendations: Begin implementing the previous nine tips. Look for surprises. Be willing to surface issues before they become problems. Talk to and listen to all constituencies in your firm.

Conclusion.

Putting together a technology committee or serving on a technology committee can be difficult and you may have difficulty find the help and resources you need. However, the role of technology committees in law firms has become increasingly important to the success and viability of firms. With the ten tips you find in this article, you can have better success with your committee experience, improve the technology situation at your firm and make your life a little easier.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now Available! The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

Power Panels – Tips for Tech Committees

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

The ABA Journal has published my latest monthly legal technology column. It’s called “Power Panels” and deals with one of my favorite legal technology topics, law firm technology committees.

I’ve been part of or assisted with a number of law firm technology committees over the years. I’ve also been impressed by how hard lawyers on technology committees work to evaluate options, balance the needs of competing constituencies, and attempt to make good strategic and tactical decisions.

Law firm tech committees do all of this without much in the way of reference materials and support groups. In fact, if you get appointed to your firm’s tech committee, you will quickly notice that there is not much guidance out there.

Unfortunately, if you do a Google search on law firm technologies committees today, you’ll actually find a a very promisely-sounding webinar that I did that is no longer available. I still get the occasional inquiry about that seminar. Maybe I’ll see if I can post the handout or slides for that seminar in a future post.

In the weak moments when I think about writing another book, I think that that book would be a handbook for lawyers on technology committees. Then I come to my senses.

As a technology topic topic, law firm tech committees are a topic of vital importance to, well, members of tech committees, especially the new-appointed. To the rest of lawyers, not so much. I’ve noticed that my recent ABA Journal columns have started to draw a fair number of comments. In the case of this new column on tech committees – none. You are more than welcome to make a comment after you read the article just to make me feel noticed.

To the new column:

The idea here was to put together a basic primer and give a set of my five favorite simple and practical tips for law firm tech committees.

I discuss how every firm large or small actually has a formal or informal “tech committee” that makes decisions. It would be rare that only one person makes key tech decisions in isolation. I also point out the several roles tech committees play.

My five tips:

1. Diversify membership.

2. Enhance IT relationships.

3. Set a simple strategy.

4. Monitor return on investment.

5. Consider outside help.

If you are a lawyer interested in technology, being part of your firm’s tech committee can be rewarding, help the firm and give you a practical outlet for your tech interest. It’s also the best way to have significant input on the technology you will use.

I’d definitely like to hear your reactions to this article and to the topic.

Check out the article here.

If there’s interest, I might dig up some of my writings about tech committees and post them onthis blog or as a PDF.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter – @dkennedyblog. Follow me – @denniskennedy

Now Available! The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

iPads and Lawyers

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

My most recent technology column for the ABA Journal is called simply “A Legal iPad” and, not surprisingly, talks about the potential usage of the Apple iPad by lawyers.

One of the tricky things about writing a technology column for a print publication is the lead-time necessary for articles. Longtime readers will know that my favorite definition of a blog is “an online newspaper or magazine column without the newspaper or magazine.” With a blog, you write the post, publish it and it’s instantly ready to be read and find its audience.

For my ABA column, there’s generally a two month or so lead-time. So, this column about the iPad was written back in February. As a result, I wrote it before the iPad was released and before I could have had one in my hands. That’s reflected in the article, which is not a review. Of all my columns, it’s the one that I had the most concern about becoming outdated or inaccurate before it actually came out. But, because of the way I wrote the piece, I think it turned out OK in terms of timeliness.

The column generated a lot of comments, showing the interest of lawyers in the topic.

My approach in the column was to look at whether the tablet computer form factor, iPad or otherwise, would ever replace the venerable legal pad for lawyers.

Now, I’m a longtime Tablet fan (see my 2005 article on my Tablet PC epiphanies). In fact, in the column, I refer to myself as “eternal optimist about tablet devices.”

However, I’m definitely a “wait until the second version” Apple hardware person. So, I’m actually planning my iPad purchase for late 2010. I’m definitely following the experiences of my friends and others using iPads in the meantime. As I always say (and I emphasize this point in the latest episode of The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast), you really have to focus on what your own “use case” is when you buy new hardware.

In general, I’m bullish on the iPad and the likely uses lawyers will make of it. Take a look at the article and see how accurate my initial predictions seem to be. My concluding thought: “I don’t think we’ll see the legal pad disappear anytime soon, but it’s about to get its biggest challenge yet.”

The money quote:

Where I expect to see significant early iPad adoption is among solos and small firms (including boutique firms started by refugees from large firms) that are already using the Internet and technology in new ways.

One of my main points in the column was the importance of the iPads as an application platform. It’s the apps that matter.

I point specifically in the column to Dan Bricklin’s Note Taker app (originally for the iPhone and iPod Touch), which allows you to write with your finger on the screen and capture and work with notes. I was intrigued by its potential on the larger form factor of the iPad. Bricklin, who has the development of the original spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, on his resume, has an active web presence, so you can follow his work and thinking as he develops the app for the iPad.

That said, it’s been interesting to see both Jeff “iPhoneJD” Richardson and Josh “Tablet Legal” Barrett write positively about Note Taker recently. Maybe I was on the right track in the column.

I recommend the column to you and also suggest that you take a listen to the podcast Tom Mighell I did on the iPad called “The iPad: Gadget or Game-Changer?

I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences with the iPad.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

Follow my microblog on Twitter: @dkennedyblog; Follow me: @denniskennedy

The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together, by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Visit the companion website for the book at LawyersGuidetoCollaboration.com. Twitter: @collabtools

Listen to The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast on Legal Talk Network. Twitter: @tkmreport