Announcing the 2013 Blawggie Awards – Tenth Edition

Welcome to the 2013 edition of Dennis Kennedy’s annual Best of Law-related Blogging Awards, affectionately known as the “Blawggies.”

The Blawggies, which honor the best law-related blogs as determined from my personal and highly-opinionated perspective, were first unleashed on an unsuspecting blogosphere in December 2004 and are an annual tradition here at DennisKennedy.Blog.

This historic tenth edition of the awards makes them the longest running annual awards list for law-related blogs selected by a lawyer named Dennis Kennedy living in St. Louis, Missouri. What was originally just a crazy idea turned into a bit of an institution in the world of law-related blogging, illustrating my original premise: “Hey, I have a blog and there’s nothing stopping me from making up my own awards.”

I’ve included some explanatory and historical information about the Blawggies at the end of this post. As I’ve said before and explain in more detail at the end of this post, the Blawggies are not based on any popular votes, surveys or, God forbid, objective criteria. I choose the winners from only the blogs I read regularly. They are highly-opinionated choices made by me alone as I write this post.

Executive Summary.

Spoiler Alert In this era of short attention spans, many people, especially lawyers, do not like three thousand word posts such as this one. Even fewer like long introductions to even long blog posts, or reading through commentary to learn the award winners. What follows is the executive summary list of winners. If you’d like to keep up the level of suspense, you’ll want to scroll quickly past the summary list. If all you really want to know is whether I mention you or your blawg, hit control-F (or command-F for Mac users) and search for your name or your blawg’s name.

Here’s the list of the award winners. I will encourage you to read the whole post for details and the runner-up choices, and my thoughts about the blawgs. And I definitely encourage you to add the RSS feeds to all of these blogs to your RSS reader or “regularly-visited blogs” list.

2013 Blawggie Award Categories and Winners.


1. Best Overall Law-Related Blog – 3 Geeks and a Law Blog

2. The “Marty Schwimmer” Best Practice-Specific Legal Blog – Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning

3. Best Law Practice Management Blog – Adam Smith, Esq.

4. Best Law-related Blog Category – Law Librarian Blogs

5. The “Kennedy-Mighell Report” Best Legal Podcast – The Return of the Legal Talk Network

6. The “Sherry Fowler” Best Writing on a Blawg Award – Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning

7. Best Law Professor Blog – Legal Skills Prof Blog

8. The “DennisKennedy.Blog” Best Legal Technology Blog – V. Mary Abraham’s Above and Beyond KM

9. Best New Blawg – Jerry Lawson’s NetLawTools

10. Best Blawg Aggregator – Tie: TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld; Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest

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I encourage you to keep reading this post to learn about the winning blogs (and why I felt that they were winners) and about the runners-up.

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THE 2013 BLAWGGIE AWARDS

1. Best Overall Law-Related Blog – 3 Geeks and a Law Blog

I decided to single out the excellent 3 Geeks and a Law Blog not only for great content, but also for its ability to generate serious discussions. With everyone involved in several forms of social media, “engagement” and discussion with blog posts and blog comments is becoming harder to find than ever before. This blog has raised a lot of great questions about law and law practice and gotten people talking about those issues. I admit the authors and especially like how they’ve been able to keep a group blog going in a vibrant way – a rarity in the blawg world. My hat is off to 3 Geeks and a Law Blog for making themselves an easy choice for this award in 2013. Congratulations to Toby Brown, Greg Lambert, Lisa Salazar and their team of helpers.

Runner-up – Jordan Furlong’s Law21 blog won the 2012 Blawggie in the “best overall” category and continued in a very strong fashion this year, ending the year with a thought-provoking post called “You Say You Want a Revolution” that’s garnered a lot of attention. The post exemplifies Jordan’s coverage of law practice and the legal profession with insight, creativity and a willingness to challenge business-as-usual approaches.

2. The Marty Schwimmer Best Practice-Specific Blog – Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning

This category is named for Marty Schwimmer, whose The Trademark Blog, has long been my gold standard for what a practice-specific blog should be. Cybersecurity, discovery and data privacy have become front-and-center issues for many lawyers in 2013 (and should become top of mind for many more lawyers). I’ve really enjoyed Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning blog this year. She focuses on computer security and ediscovery, but has branched out in privacy and other areas. The posts are practical and thoughtful and often cover breaking developments with real-world insights. These topics cut across all traditions areas of law practice and I give this award in part in recognition that lawyers should no longer think of their niche practice areas as isolated islands that are somehow unaffected by the changes technology is bringing us.

Runner-up – The Inhouse Blog took the runner-up prize in this category for 2013. Since I work as an in-house counsel, this blog is a very useful resource with practical information, links, news and developments relevant to in-house counsel. Highly recommended for anyone who is an in-house counsel, wants to be an in-house counsel or wants to work better with in-house counsel.

3. Best Law Practice Management Blog – Adam Smith, Esq.

The Adam Smith, Esq. blog has long been the gold standard in analytical study of the practice of law, with an emphasis on legal economics. The blog usually focuses on so-called BigLaw issues, but there is much to be learned for firms of all sizes. The blog also does the occasional longer, multi-part thought pieces that are well worth your time and attention.

Runner-up – Allison Shields’ LegalEase Blog. I know that Allison had to spend time away from her blog this year to write two books with me, but her blog (and email newsletter) have lots of great practical tips. There’s a series of time management tips she’s been writing and I really like her recent experiments with infographics.

4. Best Law-related Blog Category – Law Librarian Blogs

I use this category annually to highlight the blogs written by law librarians, a category that I don’t think gets enough attention. These blogs are places to find great information, help for finding information, links to great resources and just plain interesting insights into topics like knowledge management and our changing world of information. If you want to try just one, Sabrina Pacifici’s BeSpacific Blog provides a steady stream of links to great US government and other information. The Law Librarian Blog is a great starting place and there’s a great list of law library blogs here.

Runner-up – Non-US Law-related Blogs – I also use this category to remind people that blawgging is a global phenomenon. As longtime readers know, I’m a huge fan of Canadian bloggers. As I’ve said before, “If you only have US blogs on your reading list, you need to go global.” Diversity is a good thing. Why not start in Canada? The annual Clawbie awards will give you a starter list. In the UK, I especially like the Legal Futures Blog.

5. The Kennedy-Mighell Report Best Legal Podcast – The Return of the Legal Talk Network

I name this category after the podcast Tom Mighell and I do, since I can’t really give it the best podcast award without causing much eye-rolling from Tom. Last year, we thought the Legal Talk Network was finished, but it was resurrected by the great people at Lawgical and I’m thrilled that LTN is again a vibrant resource for legal and law-related podcasts.Lots of choices. If you have not tried listening to podcasts, the Legal Talk Network gives you a great place to start. Try out a few of them.

6. The Sherry Fowler Best Writing on a Blawg Award – Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning

I’m a big fan of the pure writing ability of some of the best blawggers. I named this award after the legal blogger who had the biggest influence on my blog writing, Sherry “Scheherezade” Fowler (who hasn’t been a lawyer blogger for many years). This is my favorite of the Blawggies, my most-opinionated award, and the one I historically get most criticized for. The bottom line: I like the writing I like.

As I was thinking about this award, I started thinking about how much I enjoy reading Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning blog on a regular basis. Sometimes when you have known someone for a long time and are friends with them, you tend to take for granted how good their work really is. Sharon’s an excellent wrier and her blog captures her voice so well. Blog pioneer, Dave Winer, has defined a blog as “the unedited voice of a person.” Sharon encapsulate that notion well. It’s time to recognize that.

Runner-up – Jane Genova’s Law and More – Topical, opinionated, wide-ranging, thoughtful and well-written, the Law and More blog is one that I just enjoy reading every day. I like the way Jane addresses issues like alcoholism, depression, burnout and other things that many lawyers like to avoid.

Special Mention – Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest – Although technically not a blog, Jeff Brandt’s daily email newsletter selects three or four worthy blog posts and summarizes them in a pithy, witty and engaging style. Jeff also illustrates Dave Winer’s idea that a blog is the “unedited voice of a person.” We all get too much email, but this is an email newsletter that you won’t mind at all in in your inbox.

7. Best Law Professor Blog – Legal Skills Prof Blog

Although, I’m nominally a contributing editor of the Legal Skills Prof Blog, I’m way more a reader than a contributor. As the debate about the future of legal education started to take hod in 2013 and gain momentum, the “practical skills” approach started to get a lot of attention. THis blog’s coverage of those issues was excellent and it’s a great place to keep up-to-date on discussions about the future of legal education, analysis of current trends, and generally help links and information.

Runner-up – Paul Caron’s The TaxProf Blog What more can I say than that this blog covers tax topics in such an interesting way that I want to read every post. My greatest compliment: reading this blog makes me want to take a class from Paul. I hope he’s thinking about doing some online courses.

8. The DennisKennedy.Blog Best Legal Technology Blog – V. Mary Abraham’s Above and Beyond KM

[Note: I used to give my own blog this award every year, in part because of the attribution issue I talk about in this post and in part because I thought some of my blogging friends got a laugh out of it. They did, but others didn't, and, instead, I started the tradition of naming the award for my blog rather than having my blog win it. I still get some criticism for that, and my friends laugh even more at that. Or maybe they just like to laugh at me.]

Legal technology takes many forms and covers a wide rage of areas. This category’s winner, V. Mary Abraham’s Above and Beyond KM, covers an area I’ve long been interested in gaining more expertise – knowledge management. Interest in legal KM has ebbed and flowed over the years, but it seems to be gathering attention, especially as we start to enter the realm of Big Data. I find that I look to Mary’s blog for thoughtful commentary and her always excellent notes on presentations she attends. It’s a niche topic, but also one that has broader insights and principles.

Runner-up – Law Technology Today OK, I’ll admit that this blog is one that I post to on a once-a-month basis, but I really like what Josh Poje and his team are doing with this blog. If Above and Beyond KM is an example of a niche legal tech blog, Law Technology Today is a great example of a practical, general audience legal tech blog. Lots of great practical advice, often from well-known legal tech writers.

9. Best New Blawg – Jerry Lawson’s NetLawTools

I’m kind of cheating in this category, but you’ll see the reason for my selection. Jerry Lawson is one of the true Internet pioneers among lawyers. I had the chance to write a regular column with Jerry on Internet marketing more than ten years ago. Jerry is the one who first noticed that I had written that blogs might be a great thing for lawyers about two years before I actually got around to starting my blog. In 2013, I noticed that Jerry had started posting to his blog again after a long absence. It’s so great to have his voice and insights back on a regular basis that I knew that I had to give him this award, even if I had to change the rules. Then I realized that I made up all the rules and can do whatever I want. It is very welcome news to see that Jerry is back to writing regularly and I highly recommend you check out his blog.

10. Best Blawg Aggregator – Tie: TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld; Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest

Two different approaches to keep up with legal tech and law practice management blogs and other posts related to the legal profession. If you read DennisKennedy.Blog, then you should be (and probably already are) a member of Neil Squillante’s excellent TechnoLawyer community, with its great set of resources on legal tech, marking and management. TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld is a weekly email newsletter that uses human editors to cull out usedul blog posts and other materials. They say, “Week after week, BlawgWorld provides you with everything you need from the legal Web but nothing you don’t.” The Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest is a daily email newsletter in which Jeff Brandt highlights three or four blawg posts on legal tech and summarizes and comments on them in his perceptive, concise and often witty way. His eye for selection is also great and I usually find myself checking out a few of the linked posts everyday.

And there you have it – the 2013 Blawggie Awards.

I wish I could give awards to all the blawgs (and blogs) I like, but this post is already long enough (another Blawggie tradition). Once again, I encourage you to create your own awards (although I’d prefer that you not call them Blawggies – that makes me feel that you don’t read my blog).

When it really comes down to it, the Blawggies are really my way of saying thank you to the blawgs I enjoy most. There are times when blogging can seem like a thankless pursuit, so remember that all bloggers welcome a thank you from readers from time to time.

Some Background on the Blawggies.

The Blawggies are not based on any popular votes, surveys or, God forbid, objective criteria. They are highly-opinionated choices made by me alone, based on my experience, expertise and likes and dislikes gained from nearly ten years of blogging and from reading blogs voraciously for a good number of years before that.

The reactions to the Blawggies have traditionally run the gamut from “who does this guy think he is?” to “if he’s so smart about blawgs, why didn’t he give my blawg an award?” to “who is Dennis Kennedy?”

I used to get some criticism for giving myself awards or naming awards after me on this list (in fact, I still do), but, as I’ve explained before, most of the reason for that stems from my longtime experience of seeing lists I made republished without attribution or linkbacks. Adding myself to the list is a way to make sure that someone finds his or her way back to my work if the list is “repurposed.”

I’ve always wanted to do three things with the Blawggie awards:

1. To highlight the law-related blogs I read and like and to say thank you to those who write them.

2. To direct my readers to the law-related blogs I enjoy.

3. To prompt others to give their own awards so I can learn about other blogs I should be reading.

From the beginning, I expected that many bloggers would pick up on the idea and write their own awards posts. After all, there is no barrier to entry for posting your own awards. I thought that I could then get great recommendations for blogs to add to my reading list from other awards posts in much the same way you can get great recommendations for new music to listen to from the “best of the year” posts by music bloggers that appear at this time of year.

As I’ve said before, “When you realize that there is no reason that you can’t simply post your own awards, you move you from merely blogging to becoming a Blogger with a capital ‘B.’”

The best response to my list is to post your own list, although I do invite your comments and discussion about my list.

The Blawggie-winning Criteria.

I like blogs with (1) consistently useful content, (2) a generous and helpful approach, and (3) a combination of commitment, personality and talent, with an emphasis on good writing. In other words, I like blogs that compel me to read them on a regular basis.

The awards necessarily reflect my many biases and personal preferences, which are far too numerous to list here.

It’s very important to remember that the awards also reflect the blawgs I actually read. While I read a lot of law-related blogs, the number of blawgs I read continues to decrease and the number of non-law-related blogs I read increases. Also, the blawgs I do read are concentrated in my areas of interest and day-to-day focus.

I’m a transactional lawyer, who focuses on information technology law, legal technology and law practice management issues. For better or worse, I’m simply not familiar with most litigation-oriented, criminal defense, regulatory or other specialized blogs. You get the idea.

A Word about the Name “Blawggies.”

Among the historic documents of law-related blogging are a series of emails in which Denise Howell (@dhowell), blogging pioneer and coiner of the term “blawg,” and I had on the question whether “Blawggies” (as well as “blawgger” and “blawgging”) should be spelled with one or two “gs”. As a result, I’m pretty confident of the correct spelling, although I’m seeing more of the single “g” approach lately.

I use the word “blawg” in the sense of “law-related blogs.” I find “lawyer blogs” or “legal blogs” to be limiting and inaccurate for what I want to cover.

All best wishes for 2014.

Dennis

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

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The 2010 Blawggies – Dennis Kennedy’s Annual Best of Law-related Blogging Awards

Welcome to the 2010 edition of Dennis Kennedy’s annual Best of Law-related Blogging Awards, affectionately known as the “Blawggies.” The Blawggies, which honor the best law-related blogs as determined from my personal and highly-opinionated perspective, were first unleashed on an unsuspecting blogosphere in December 2004 and are an annual tradition here at DennisKennedy.Blog.

I’m very pleased that this seventh edition of the awards makes them the longest running annual awards list for law-related blogs selected by a lawyer named Dennis Kennedy living in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s difficult to keep a blog going for that length of time, let alone maintain an ongoing feature on blog for so long. I’ve enjoyed seeing how what once was just a crazy idea has turned into a bit of an institution in the world of law-related blogging.

Some Background on the Blawggies.

The Blawggies are not based on any popular votes, surveys or, God forbid, objective criteria. They are highly-opinionated choices made by me alone, based on my experience, expertise and likes and dislikes gained from nearly eight years of blogging and from reading blogs voraciously for a good number of years before that.

The reactions to the Blawggies have traditionally run the gamut from “who does this guy think he is?” to “if he’s so smart about blawgs, why didn’t he give my blawg an award?” to “who is Dennis Kennedy?”

Seriously, though, I’ve always wanted to do three things with the Blawggie awards:

1. To highlight the law-related blogs I read and like and to say thank you to those who write them.

2. To direct my readers to the law-related blogs I enjoy.

3. To prompt others to give their own awards so I can learn about other blogs I should be reading.

From the beginning, I expected that many bloggers would pick up on the idea and write their own awards posts. After all, there is no barrier to entry for posting your own awards. I thought that I could then get great recommendations for blogs to add to my reading list from other awards posts in much the same way you can get great recommendations for new music to listen to from the “best of the year” posts by music bloggers that appear at this time of year.

As I’ve said before, “When you realize that there is no reason that you can’t simply post your own awards, you move you from merely blogging to becoming a Blogger with a capital ‘B.’”

The best response to my list is to post your own list, although I do invite your comments and discussion about my list.

The Blawggie-winning Criteria.

I like blogs with (1) consistently useful content, (2) a generous and helpful approach, and (3) a combination of commitment, personality and talent, with an emphasis on good writing. In other words, I like blogs that compel me to read them on a regular basis.

The awards necessarily reflect my many biases and personal preferences, which are far too numerous to list here.

It’s very important to remember that the awards also reflect the blawgs I actually read. While I read a lot of law-related blogs, lately I find the number of blawgs I read is decreasing and the number of non-law-related blogs I read is increasing. Also, the blawgs I do read have become concentrated in my areas of interest and day-to-day focus.

While the trend toward creating niche blogs has its benefits, I’m not really able to follow law-related blogs in niche areas outside of my subject matter. For example, I’m a transactional lawyer, who focuses on information technology law, legal technology and law practice management issues. For better or worse, I’m simply not familiar with most litigation-oriented, criminal defense, regulatory or other specialized blogs. You get the idea.

A Word about the Name “Blawggies.”

Among the historic documents of law-related blogging are a series of emails in which Denise Howell (@dhowell), blogging pioneer and coiner of the term “blawg,” and I had on the question whether “Blawggies” (as well as “blawgger” and “blawgging”) should be spelled with one or two “gs”. As a result, I’m pretty confident of the correct spelling, although I’m seeing more of the single “g” approach lately.

I use the word “blawg” in the sense of “law-related blogs.” I find “lawyer blogs” or “legal blogs” to be limiting and inaccurate for what I want to cover.

The 2010 Social Media Factor.

As I predicted in my 2009 Blawggies post, the biggest trend in blawgging in 2010 is the continuing movement of blawggers into social media. It’s definitely decreased the frequency of blog posting by many blawggers and changed what gets written about on a blog as opposed to distributed via social media. As I considered the 2010 Blawggie awards, I was surprised by how many well-known blawgs were not very active this past year because the authors were using social media as their primary daily outlet.

Executive Summary.

Spoiler Alert I’ve found that many people do not like long blog posts such as this one, or long introductions to long blog posts, or needing to read through commentary to learn the award winners. What follows is the executive summary list of winners. If you’d like to keep up the level of suspense, you’ll want to scroll quickly past the summary list. If all you really want to know is whether I mention you or your blawg, hit control-F and search for your name or your blawg’s name.

Here’s the list of the award winners. I will encourage you to read the whole post for details and the runner-up choices, and my thoughts about the blawgs.

2010 Blawggie Award Categories and Winners.

1. Best Overall Law-Related Blog – Real Lawyers Have Blogs

2. The Marty Schwimmer Best Practice-Specific Legal Blog – Ken Adams’s The Koncise Drafter

3. Best Law Practice Management Blog – Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Management Tips

4. Best Legal Blog Category – Law Librarian Blogs

5. Best Legal Blog Digest – Stark County Law Library Weblog

6. Best Blawg About Legal Blawgging and Social Media – Kevin O’Keefe’s Real Lawyers Have Blogs

7. The Kennedy-Mighell Report Best Legal Podcast – The Legal Talk Network Family of Podcasts

8. The Sherry Fowler Best Writing on a Blawg Award – Jordan Furlong’s Law21.ca

9. Best Law Professor Blog – Tie: Paul Caron’s The TaxProf Blog and Jim Maul’s Mauled Again

10. Best New Law-related Blog – Tie: Jane Genova’s Law and More and Rebecca Stahl’s Is Yoga Legal?

11. The DennisKennedy.Blog Best Legal Technology Blog – Jeff Richardson’s iPhone J.D.

12. Most Important Trend in Law-related Blogging – Social Media, the Mobile Platform and Personal Portals

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I encourage you to keep reading this post to learn about the winning blogs (and why I felt that they were winners) and about the runners-up.

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THE 2010 BLAWGGIE AWARDS

1. Best Overall Law-Related Blog – Kevin O’Keefe’s Real Lawyers Have Blogs

Dave Winer has famously defined a blog as “the unedited voice of a person.” Nobody covers the ways lawyers are using blogging , social media and other outlets in the way Kevin does. His blog is informative, feisty, conversational in the best sense of the word, highly-opinionated and a treasure trove for anyone wanting to learn about how lawyers are using the Internet and the issues that arise. In other words, he has the unedited voice of a person and his blog is a must-read. I always learn a lot from Kevin and he regularly gives me new ways to thing about aspects of blogging and social media that help me question what I’m taking for granted. One of my favorite experiences of 2010 was a webinar on managing your online presence I moderated with Kevin and Jim Calloway – it’s definitely worth looking for the replay. Kevin is one of the early Internet pioneers who has had a big impact on lawyers using the Internet for many years. He’s a true believer in the best sense of the term. In the interest of disclosure, Kevin’s company hosts the companion blog for the collaboration tools book Tom Mighell and I wrote.

Runner-up – SLAW – It’s worth noting that Kevin kept the SLAW blog from achieving a Blawggie three-peat this year. SLAW is still a great blog, but I liked what Kevin did this year more and I’ve started to feel that the large number of contributors to SLAW might have caused it to lose some focus and personality. SLAW is still great, however, and has consistently useful posts, a welcome diversity of viewpoints and focus, and shows off the excellent Canadian blawgosphere.

2. The Marty Schwimmer Best Practice-Specific Blog – Ken Adams’s The Koncise Drafter

Legal drafting expert Ken Adams recently renamed his Adams Drafting blog to Ken Adams’s The Koncise Drafter and revamped his site. Ken covers every aspect of improving the drafting of contracts. If you ever find yourself in a debate over whether you need to say “indemnify AND hold harmless,” this blawg will be the resource you will want to know. His blog is a fantastic resource for transactional lawyers who draft and review contracts, and it would also be useful for litigators who need help in interpreting specific contract language. [Note #1: This category is named for Marty Schwimmer, whose Trademark Blog, has long been my gold standard for what a practice-specific blog should be. Note #2: This category illustrates how my choices are based on blogs I actually read and my own subject matter areas, and should give you a reason to create your own awards to highlight the best blawgs in your practice areas.]

Runner-up – Evan Brown’s Internet Cases – One the one hand, Evan’s blog is a model for a practice specific blog focused on a single niche topic (the title says it all), but it also shows how really good blogs can transcend the genre, show personality and create an enjoyable experience for those not practicing in the niche. If you want to keep up with legal developments on the Internet, Evan’s blog is the place to start.

3. Best Law Practice Management Blog – Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Management Tips Blog

Repeat-winner Jim Calloway is a model of consistently good blogging and Jim has a great understanding of what his audience will find helpful. Jim is the Practice Management Advisor of the Oklahoma Bar, a popular author and speaker, and one of the most knowledgeable experts on law practice management you will ever find, especially in the solo and small firm space. His genuine helpfulness and willingness to teach always shine through in his blog. I’m happy to call him a friend, too.

Runner-up – Jordan Furlong’s Law21.ca – Jordan Furlong covers law practice both as a journalist and a thought-provoking commentator. His blog both keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments and gives you Jordan’s insights and analysis about these developments. Simply put, if you want to get the jump on what people will be talking about a year or two from now, you’ll want to read what Jordan is writing today.

4. Best Legal Blog Category – Law Librarian Blogs

I’ve long been a fan of blogs written by law librarians. These blogs are places to find great information, help for finding information, links to great resources and just plain interesting insights into topics like knowledge management and our changing world of information. Just this past week, I was noticing how often I was finding links to useful documents and information sources on a variety of topics on Sabrina Pacifici’s BeSpacific Blog. The Law Librarian Blog is a great starting place and there’s a great list of law library blogs here.

Runner-up – Non-US Law-related Blogs – There is a whole world of law-related blogs outside the United States. If I could read a language other than English, I’m sure that I’d know even more about these than I do now. There are many great United Kingdom blawgs and, as longtime readers know, I’m a huge fan of Canadian bloggers. As I’ve said before, “If you only have US blogs on your reading list, you need to go global.” Diversity is a good thing. Why not start in Canada? The annual Clawbie awards will give you a starter list and I’m proud to have received a 2009 Clawbie for being a “Friend of the North.”

5. Best Legal Blog Digest – Stark County Law Library Weblog

Nancy Stinson and the Stark County Library Weblog gets the three-peat this year. If you can’t or don’t want to follow a lot of blawgs, be aware that some blogs aggregate information from other law-related blogs, digest posts from other law-related blogs or highlight and point to posts on other law-related blogs. You can effectively monitor the best posts from a number of blogs in one place. Nancy Stinson at the Stark County Law Library Weblog is my favorite example of this category. She makes excellent selections and I find a lot of good posts from this blog. If you don’t have much time, this blog is a great way to keep up with the best of the blawgosphere. I always enjoy seeing that Nancy has highlighted a blog post that I also liked.

Runner-up -Legal Blog Watch – This blog has had a major transition from the halcyon days when blawgging giants Carolyn Elefant and Bob Ambrogi ran it, but it’s moved forward and is still a good place to find coverage of what’s being talked about on other blawgs as well as coverage of news and developments. Also, although technically not a blog, I really like Tom Mighell’s “Linkstream” as a resource for following the blog posts Tom finds most interesting and useful – I find lots of great information there.

6. Best Blawg About Legal Blawgging and Social Media – Kevin O’Keefe’s Real Lawyers Have Blogs

I have to admit that I started this category as an inside joke so I could make Kevin use the word “blawg,” which he hates (or used to), when he mentioned that he won this award, as he has done every year. I now think it really does deserve its own category, especially as social media has transformed the world of blawgging. As I said in 2008, “No one covers the world of legal blogging (and now related topics like Twitter and social networking) better than Kevin does. And no one today knows more about the practical aspects of legal blogging and what lawyers are doing in blogging than Kevin does. . . . If you want to learn how to start blogging and how to blog better, there’s no better place to start than Kevin’s blog.”

Runner-up – Tom Mighell’s Inter Alia and its Blawg of the Day feature – For me, the best way to learn about blogging, especially as a beginner, is to look at and read as many blogs as you can and decide what you like and dislike. For years, Tom Mighell’s Inter Alia has offered a Blawg of the Day feature in which he has highlight thousands of blawgs. This feature provides a service to the blawgging community and gives you a way to find lots of new blawgs. It also is a great way to spot trends and patterns and see what is happening in terms of design and content in new blawgs.

7. The Kennedy-Mighell Report Best Legal Podcast – The Legal Talk Network Family of Podcasts

[Disclosure: Our podcast, The Kennedy-Mighell Report, is now produced by the Legal Talk Network and I’m an unabashed fan of the production team at LTN. That has no impact on my choice, but you might wish to factor that into account and it gives me another chance to remind you that these awards are my personal, opinionated choices. I used to get some criticism for giving myself awards or naming awards after me on this list (in fact, I still do), but, as I've explained before, most of the reason for that stems from my longtime experience of seeing lists I made republished without attribution or linkbacks. Adding myself to the list is a way to make sure that someone finds his or her way back to my work if the list is "repurposed."]

2010 has been the year of the legal podcast. There are many great legal podcasts and it’s difficult to choose just one. So, I took the easy way out (and went with my heart) and chose the whole family of blogs on the Legal Talk Network, the producers of the The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast. This family of podcasts includes the “granddaddy” of legal podcasts, Lawyer to Lawyer with Bob Ambrogi and Craig Williams, and excellent podcasts from Rodney Dowell, Monica Bay, Sharon Nelson and John Simek, and many others. With consistently great production values, top notch hosts and great topics, LTN is the place to go for legal podcasts. This award is, in part, a small way to thank LuAnn Reeb and the LTN team for all the great work they do.

Runner-up – Denise Howell’s This Week in Law – I’m not sure whether it was Denise’s decision to actually make this a weekly (rather than an occasional) podcast, the addition of Evan Brown as a regular, or great topic choices and guests, but TWIL really found its stride this year. The podcast covers new developments in technology law and occasionally strays into other interesting areas of technology. It’s a great place to find discussion of the legal issues arising out of technological change. The podcast is very long (usually at least an hour), which some might find off-putting, but you can always listen at double speed on you iPod (my favorite tech tip of the year).

8. The Sherry Fowler Best Writing on a Blawg Award – Jordan Furlong for the Law21.ca blog

I’m a big fan of the pure writing ability of some of the best blawggers. I named this award after the legal blogger who had the biggest influence on my blog writing, Sherry “Scheherezade” Fowler (who hasn’t been a lawyer blogger for many years). This is my favorite of the Blawggies, my most-opinionated award, and the one I historically get most criticized for. The bottom line: I like the writing I like.

On Jordan Furlong’s Law21.ca, Jordan writes longer essay posts of the type I favor. You will find well-crafted, thoughtful and thought-provoking essays on a variety of law practice management topics, including legal technology and economics of practice. Often the first to delve into a topic, Jordan always makes you reconsider your assumptions and to look at the world with new eyes. His posts often get retweeted by many people on Twitter. Highly recommended.

Runner-up – Ernest “Ernie the Attorney” Svenson – Ernie is one of the pioneering lawyer bloggers and one of my favorite people to read. He’s created a small family of blogs, including the excellent PDF for Lawyers blog. His writing on technology is patient, accessible and enlightening, as Ernie is in person. I always find something of value in his thoughtful posts, even those on topics I think I’m quite familiar with. Ernie’s perspectives and insights are always a welcome visitor to my Google Reader.

9. Best Law Professor Blog – Tie: Paul Caron’s The TaxProf Blog and Jim Maul’s Mauled Again

The Blawggies have always had a spot for the best law professor blawg and now that I’m a contributing editor to the new Legal Skills Prof Blog on the great Paul Caron’s The TaxProf Blog and Jim Maul’s Mauled Again. I like how they both cover tax law and tax developments, explain the practical implications, and branch out into the economic crisis, law school issues and much more. Both bloggers show how to write a blog with an academic focus and a a real world impact. I admire them greatly. Perhaps my highest compliment is that their blogs make me wish I could take a tax law class from them, which is no small feat when you consider that the late Martin Ginsberg was one of my favorite professors at Georgetown University Law Center.

Runner-up – Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law Blog – Eric’s blawg covers my own area of work – information technology law and related and intellectual property law issues with gusto, style and excellent insights, all done in a way that keeps touch with the real world. Very helpful.

10. Best New Law-related Blog – Tie: Jane Genova’s Law and More and Rebecca Stahl’s Is Yoga Legal?

I found this to be the hardest award to decide on this year, in large part because so much of the new action seems to be taking place in social media and in part because most of the new blogs I’ve begun to follow this year are not law-related blogs. With today’s focus on niche-oriented blawgs and so much happening in social media, my sense is that it’s harder than ever for a new blog to get traction and find a general audience.

I found two new blawgs this year that have found a home in my Google Reader and that I enjoy reading on a regular basis. Both blogs illustrate my belief that good writers make for good blogs.

The first is Jane Genova’s Law and More. It’s one of my favorite types of blogs – opinionated, feisty, thoughtful and always interesting. Even if I don’t agree with Jane’s point of view, I enjoy reading the argument. I especially like the way Jane writes fearlessly about topics often like to avoid.

The second is Rebecca Stahl’s Is Yoga Legal?. This blog actually started in late 2009, but I wanted to include it and, since I make up the rules, I stretched the rules a bit. It’s perhaps turned into a blog more about yoga than law, but I find myself looking forward to reading each post. It’s like a small oasis in my Google Reader list. It’s always important for you to read some blogs that fall outside your beaten path.

11. The DennisKennedy.Blog Best Legal Technology Blog – Jeff Richardson’s iPhone J.D.

As I mentioned, I used to give my own blog this award in part because of the attribution issue I talked about earlier and in part because I thought some of my blogging friends would get a laugh out of it. They did, but others didn’t, and, instead, I started the tradition of naming the award for my blog rather than having my blog win it. I still get some criticism for that and my friends laugh even more at that.

Jeff Richardson’s iPhone J.D., as I mentioned last year when it was a runner-up in this category, is the perfect example of a niche legal technology blog and how a niche blog, if done well, can grow a larger audience as it expands its coverage and reflects the interests and personality of its author. This blawg has excellent coverage of the use of the iPhone in legal practice – developments, tips, news, apps recommendations. It also meets one of my favorite crtieria of a great blog – I don’t even have an iPhone and I’m a regular reader.

Runner-up – Tie: Ron Friedmann’s Strategic Legal Technology; Ernie Svensons’s PDF for Lawyers blog; and Rick Borstein’s Acrobat for Legal ProfessionalsRon Friedmann’s Strategic Legal Technology has long been one of my favorite legal technology blogs. Ron and I have similar interests in and perspectives on legal technology and he’s great at posting about issues that intrigue me, like outsourcing, strategy and bigger issues. Ernie Svensons’s PDF for Lawyers blog is a great resource to help practicing lawyers use PDFs in their practices. Rick Borstein’s Acrobat for Legal Professionals is both a great practical resource for tips and techniques for using Adobe Acrobat and a model for how a software vendor should use a blog to distribute useful information to users.

12. Most Important Trends in Law-related Blogging – Social Media, the Mobile Platform and Personal Portals

I really see this as one trend with three components. Tom Mighell and I have talked quite a bit about these topics on our podcast this year. Social media has had a huge impact on the frequency and types of posting blawggers do. If you take my blog as an example, my frequency of blogging might be the lowest ever (about once a week or so) and many of the things I probably would have blogged about in the past now appear as links on DennisKennedy.Microblog, my blog’s Twitter account.

Readers now find information you publish in many places, especially on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Part of my blog posting regimen is tweeting about a blog post after it has been published and issuing a Facebook status update about it. Readers often read your material using a smartphone as we all move onto the mobile platform.

It used to be that websites and blogs made a great effort to drive people back to the website or blog and capture the reader there. The website or blog was the one central “home base” (as Chris Brogan and others call it). Now, I see our web presence as much more distributed and our audience finding us in a variety of unrelated ways. The key thing is not to “drive and capture,” but to recognize the different routes people take and the different audiences, and make each location a “personal portal” that lets your audience easily find and get to your other presences, if they choose to do so. This means more repurposing, more linking and a more open and fluid web presence than in the past. It’s challenging, but it’s exciting. It will be interesting to see how much longer blogging awards like the Blawggies still make sense in the dynamic world of social media, apps and new developments.

I’m looking forward to seeing how all of this year’s winners deal with these challenges, the experiments they try, and the lessons we share. And I’m especially looking forward to those not even on my radar this year who will rise to the top and teach me new things next year.

And there you have it – the 2010 Blawggie Awards.

I wish I could give awards to all the blawgs (and blogs) Ilike, but this post is already ridiculously long (another Blawggie tradition). Once again, I encourage you to create your own awards (although I’d prefer that you not call them Blawggies – that makes me feel that you haven’t read my blog). The Blawggies are really my way of saying thank you to the blawgs I enjoy most. There are times when blogging can seem like a thankless pursuit, so remember that all bloggers welcome a thank you from readers from time to time.

Best wishes for 2011.

Dennis

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

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

A great addition to your bookshelf for 2011! 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

Social Media Presentations for Lawyers – My Approach

I gave a presentation recently on Social Media and Legal Ethics to a great audience at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. I’ve given a half-dozen presentations on this topic (often with Mike Downey covering the ethics part) over the last year – to Indiana lawyers, to law students, to young lawyers, to corporate counsel, to estate planning lawyers and to the staff at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

As I drove home after the presentation, I started thinking about lawyers and social media, the changes I’ve seen as I’ve presented on this topic, and how my approach to talking about this topic differs from much of what I’ve seen about how this topic is presented. I thought it might be fun to share my observations and reflections at this point.

1. Interest Level. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of hands that go up when I ask who in the audience is actually using social media services. My experience largely reflects what I’ve read and surveys show. Most lawyers using social networking or social media tools primarily use LinkedIn. Facebook has always come in second place, but the gap between LinkedIn use and Facebook use is decreasing rapidly. The growth in Facebook users in my informal surveys has been dramatic in the last year. Twitter usage lags well behind, and there seems to be more hesitancy and fear of Twitter usage than of any of the other tools. In part, that’s due to lack of understanding how Twitter works and what the potential benefits might be. Alas, there have usually only been one or two bloggers in my audiences. This might be an unpopular (and definitely unscientific) assessment, but my sense is that most of the individual lawyers who really want to do blogs have already tried it. I think firms are still looking at and trying blogs – that’s a good thing – and there are still opportunities to create new blogs that could be successful, but the energy and growth seems to be in other places. For example, if I were thinking about starting a blog in 2010, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t do something in Facebook rather than write a separate blog.

2. The Traditional Approach. When I present on this topic, I definitely do not take a traditional approach – more about what I do later. In fact, I tell my audiences that upfront. The traditional approach, and I’ve seen too much of it myself, goes like this: Social media is new, it’s scary, it’s risky, and it raises lots of questions for which we have no answers. In fact, the only thing the audience can possibly do to protect itself from the scary risks and dangers is to have a social media policy prepared by the law firm of the lawyer doing the speaking. If you think I’m joking, you should see how people nod their heads and laugh when I say exactly this during my presentation as I contrast what I’m about to do. By the way, this same approach was taken on the risks of blogging when blogging first started, and on websites before that, and email before that.

3. My Approach. I really think my approach is better, but I’m interested in your feedback, and I’m continuing to evolve what I do. My basic premise is that lawyers can spot issues and balance risks, but they need a solid understanding of how people use social media tools to do so. I spend most of the time in my presentations showing actual screenshots and explaining how and why people use these tools. The fact that I’ve been experimenting with many social media tools for a long time also helps. No matter how knowledgeable you might be, it undermines your credibility with an audience if it seems like you are new to using social media or, worse yet, that you don’t use it at all. I once attended a social media legal presentation where the presenter actually said, “I’m sure you all know more about using social media than I do.” I honestly don’t remember what he said after that because I tuned him out. What I’ve found is that once lawyers understand the basic use of the social media tools, they can spot the issues and risks very easily and will often point out issues and potential solutions that I hadn’t considered. By the way, this approach is comparable to how I presented about electronic discovery years ago.

4. A Framework. As I was writing a standard disclaimer to give at the beginning of one of my presentations, I wrote: “I’m Dennis Kennedy. I’m here today speaking personally and not on behalf of my employer or any other entity. And this presentation is for educational purposes, and should not be considered legal advice.” Hey, it’s a disclaimer. I was thinking about ways to either make it shorter or to jazz it up, when I saw that there were three components to that disclaimer – identity, role, purpose – and that getting those components right were an essential theme in social media. More important, confusion and lack of congruity in those three components causes most problems. The funny thing is that now I give that disclaimer as my opening, and I sometimes get some chuckles because it seems so like what lawyers do. Then I explain the three components and how they work, and it seems like I immediately get everyone’s attention and give them a framework for understanding the rest of the talk.

5. The Social Media Matrix. I don’t think lawyers make enough use of the matrix or quadrant charts most business people use regularly. I had this crazy idea last year that I wanted to create a one page chart that explained all of social media. Well, here’s my latest version and it seems to work for presentation purposes. Again, I want to give an audience a simple framework to help them understand the practical aspects and benefits of social media.

Social Media Matrix

6. Questions. I like using a lot of screenshots and showing what I actually do and telling about what I’ve done right and wrong. As people see and understand how these tools work, they want to ask questions. Often, I can see the light bulbs going on as people realize that they are only using LinkedIn in a small fraction of the ways they could or that Twitter could be extremely valuable even if they never tweet. As a speaker, it’s difficult not to take the questions as they arise and, at the same time, it’s easy to get into an open discussion with the audience. My presentation is structured in a way where I can go with the flow, but I can tell you that presenting on social media in a short time (say 25 minutes) is incredibly difficult and requires major editing work before and during your presentation.

7. Practical tips. It’s easy to get laughs talking about all the dumb things lawyers and others have already done while using social media. However, we’re all starting to hear the same stories over and over. I like to use instead some hands-on practical tips. In the last presentation, I took five minutes and used a series of screenshots to show exactly how to change your Facebook privacy settings, what settings I actually use and why, and some of the considerations to think about when making those decisions. I thought I won the audience over when I explained to them exactly how to block Farmville updates from their Facebook friends. You decide – would you rather hear about social media policies or learn how to block Farmville updates? Exactly.

8. Simplification. I actually take some time to explain Web 2.0 and the read/write web, in a non-technical way, because I think it helps people understand how social media works. But, I keep it simple. I also simplify my examples of social media, but also show people the range of social media tools (which seem to be growing all the time) rather than overload them with details on each. I always end by saying that people need to try a few tools, focus on one or two, and find what best fits you. In general, the social media tools that I like will not be the same ones other people like because I am a writer and a content producer. I agree with most of the lawyers I talk to – I don’t have any idea how they would use Twitter. Giving permission to the audience to try just one or two and that it’s OK if they feel something doesn’t work for them really seems to help them with the topic.

9. Action Steps. Social media policies are a good thing, and the speaker’s firm might even do a great job of preparing them, but a presentation that ends with a call to action to hire the speaker’s firm to prepare a policy is an infomercial rather than an educational presentation. All lawyers get this part of it. It doesn’t take any convincing, but they want to know the hows and not the whys. I actually don’t even talk about social media policies because it seems so obvious, but I do point people, in my handout, to useful resources on social media issues. That’s what I would want – guide me to where I can learn what I need to learn. I end with four practical action steps for people to try when they leave the presentation:

  • Pick one social media to try or to delve more deeply into (and gradually experiment until you find one that “fits”).
  • Create clean lines between personal and professional identities.
  • The learning process is always consume first (listen, learn, understand the community and the medium), then produce.
  • Monitor Twitter Search to get a sense of how people use Twitter.

10. What Can I Learn? I’ve learned new things every time I’ve presented on social media. There’s a lot that I don’t know, and there’s so much growth and change in social media that I’m not sure anyone can stay on top of it. By sharing what I know, I feel like I’m helping others explore and learn new things that maybe they’ll share with me. More than any other topic I’ve presented on, social media presentations really seem to lead to an exchange of ideas and opportunities for continued conversation.

11. The Secret of Social Media. I hope this doesn’t get me kicked out of the blogger guild, but I do reveal the true secret of blogging and social media in each of my presentations. It’s not about ROI and stuff like that, The secret is that it’s really fun and you meet the greatest people. And that’s enough – everything else is gravy.

In a way, I’m just thinking out loud and trying to capture some of these reflections. Hope you find them useful. Let me know.

[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

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/)]

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