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March 2007

Surprises from Donald Trump

Every once in a while Donald Trump surprises me in a way I wouldn't expect. I mean, I am always surprised when he pays thousand dollar fines because the press he gets off of the "scandal" brings him in so much more; but on his blog today, I saw him write something I didn't expect.

On his post, Swim Against the Tide he reaffirms the rule that we all should abide by: do a job that makes you happy. His article cites a guy who worked on Wall Street because it was family tradition, but hated the job to the point where it really wore down on him. However, with a little external motivation, this sad Wall Streeter broke tradition, swam upstream, and went on to become a successful, and happy, member of the golf industry.

This is a story told too often, but only because of how much truth is in it. Why sit in wasting away at a job you hate, when happiness in your professional life is not out of reach?

There are so many things that can try to hold you back, but it is important to realize the responsibilities you have to yourself. Holding you back could be the fear of leaving what is safe and normal, worry over finances, or commitments to friends and colleagues; but you have a responsibility to yourself to find a career that makes you happy.  More so than any professional commitment, you have a greater commitment to yourself and your family to do something that keeps a smile on your face and intrinsically inspires you to drive farther.

Blawg Review #100

A massive presentation of Blawg Review #100 is up and it is definitely Blawg Review on Viagra. This one is a must read since it is hosted by the infamous and anonymous "Ed."

What?  You don't know what eh Blawg Review is?  You HAVE NEVER READ the Blawg Review?  Man.  Get with the program.  This blog carnival is truly the greatest show on earth a must read for anyone interested in legal blogs and information.

Here is the intro, which says it all ....

Blawg Review is the blog carnival for everyone interested in law. A blog carnival is a traveling post about a topic or theme. For example, there's Carnival of the Capitalists, concerning business and economics, and Grand Rounds is about medicine and healthcare. Blawg Review, of which this is the 100th issue not counting the extraordinary annual Blawg Review Awards for 2005 and 2006, has topics discussed by lawyers, law students and law professors.

Blawg Review #100 is a milestone that we hope will give new readers a chance to catch up with what has become one of the most popular blog carnivals. It just might be the best blog carnival anywhere. We're honored that Blawg Review is a featured blog carnival this week at the website.

Check it out and add it to your favorite RSS feed reader.......

Survey Says: Netvibes!

I have posted in the past of the importance of the test drive, and been taking my own advice over the past few weeks. My latest test drive has been of a web 2.0 technology called netvibes, and I have been extremely impressed with what I have found.

Netvibes is a unique technology upon which you can add modules and feeds that can be accessed from anywhere with a simple username and password. Upon signing into you are shown a few of the 700 modules that are available that include Google search boxes, mail account boxes, calendars, a bookmark log, and many more - all of which can be added or removed at will. Netvibes also allows you to sign into feeds of everything from the NY Times, to the BBC, and even a feed of your favorite blog.

What is extremely helpful to the high-tech attorney is the ability to log into the feeds of your own basecamp accounts. By subscribing to your projects' feeds with netvibes you can receive abbreviated updates of your account right at your homepage.

I have been most impressed by netvibes because it makes RSS feeds easy to use for anyone. By placing the little synopses of added material from all of your feeds right onto a single page, it makes the RSS an arena that is easy to access and digest in an even shorter period of time.

So, just as the test drive equation goes, I have tested netvibes myself, and am giving you the go ahead to try it for yourself.

The Safety of the Internet

Last year the American public was shocked to hear of the breach of their own privacy that occurred because telecommunication giants had been sharing their customers' information with government investigators. I recall the outrage that had been sparked, but it was interesting to me, how quickly everyone tended to forget. However, it appears that everyone's favorite search engine was listening, and is now making changes that will protect the privacy of its users much more than under today's system.

According to Elise Ackerman of Mercury News, Google is changing the way in they store user information in order to ensure consumer privacy, while still following legal regulations regarding data storage. As she states, "[t]he goal: to make sure the billions of Internet searches stored in Google's digital vaults cannot be used by the government or any other third party to identify a specific person years after the original query was tapped out on a keyboard."

Technically, Google is going to hack off the last digits of the IP addresses that connect searches with computers, and make cookies anonymous; steps that erase the fingerprints of those who use the giant search engine.

This is great news for both casual internet users and those of us who rely upon the internet in our businesses because it builds up both the real, and perceived, safety of the internet. One of the highest hurdles that firms like ours must face is alleviating our clients' worries over our practices. With files being digitized, whole discoveries being conducted in cyberspace, and confidential information being zapped, copied, and distributed through emails and networks, the security of confidential client information can be a great worry to those who call upon our services.

Knowing that Google is now on the side of consumers, by erasing their names from their internet searches, means that we can all rest assured that the information we distribute through the internet is safer than it was before. I hope that Google's announcement sets a standard for privacy that is matched by all other internet operators, which will enhance consumer confidence in the security of the internet, and alleviate their worries about dealing with those whose work is rooted in the world wide web.


The unique "fringe-benefits" of work with internet giant Google are the things of legends among those looking for careers in the new century. "Unlimited amounts of free chef-prepared food at all times of day. A climbing wall, a volleyball court and two lap pools... On-site car washes, oil changes and haircuts, not to mention free doctor checkups" according to Miguel Helft of the New York Times. But as elaborated in his article, Google employees can now hitch a ride through some of the "worst traffic in the nation" on their own mass transit system.

These buses have their routes constantly shifted in order to accommodate new employees and include wireless internet, bike racks, and even a spot for pets. Check out Helft's article to see the great recruitment boost that has come with the system and how employees have reacted, but suffice it to say: it is a success with Google employees.

Google Buses are just an example of how new-age businesses can offer services never-before offered by traditional competitors to BOTH clients and employees. Your own operation may not offer the catered lunches or free oil changes, but in a town dominated by the 9 to 5 old-style firms, your ability to offer the chance to work from home or at extremely flexible hours is definitely going to turn qualified people in your direction.

These are the perks of going high tech, and after all, YOU did it to break free of traditional molds, so why shouldn't those people who work for you enjoy the same liberation?

The Focus Should Be on Mankind, Not Technology

Thank you to Jim Calloway at his Law Practice Tips Blog for reminding me that Time Magazine named YOU the person of the year. Time says that the year 2006 is about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. Check out the story here.

In the spirit of Web 2.0, I would also like to congratulate YOU. After nearly a decade where we all focused on technology and the Internet, we are finally coming full circle. Man is not here to serve technology. Technology is here to serve man. Technologist get so caught up in the latest and greatest hardware and software that they forget that mankind is both the object and driver for all innovation, including technological innovation. And I’m not talking about the people who create technology. I’m talking about the people for whom technology is created. I am talking about the end-user.

I worked for an Internet company in Boulder Colorado from 1994 to 1996. We built collaboration tools for hospital systems. Our technology was more sophisticated than most of what is on the market today, including Basecamphq. But, surprise, surprise, the end-user wasn’t near ready for such tools. In 1996, doctors and their staff were considered "hi-tech" if they were receiving email. By 1997, they were responding to email. By 1999, they were attaching documents to email.

The great revolution that people are now calling Web 2.0 is, as the Time Magazine "Man of the Year" article suggests, man. Despite our penchant for the status quo, the general population is now willing to consider changing their habits at work and at home. The revolution is not collaboration tools, it is the end-users willingness to use them.

The good news is that mankind is now willing to sit at their computer and interface with various software programs for hours on end, not the least of which are the web browser and email applications. The bad news is…well, that man still has to sit at their computer in order to drive these applications. For those of you who know me well, you know that I believe that mankind must find a way to separate himself from the computer, while preserving the ability to interface with it. The answer for now is found in personal assistance and portable dictation devices which allow us to instruct others how to interface with software programs such as basecamp. The real "ah-ha" moment here will be when mankind realizes that they can still derive the benefit of software and hardware without sitting in front of the screens themselves.

Google Earth Captures Cruise Missile

The new technologies that are coming out of the second wave of the internet are amazing. From Google Earth to netvibes; basecamp to myspace, the internet is being fused together for easy use and higher efficiency. Web 2.0 technologies are bringing the world before our fingertips, with so much to explore.

But there are often "unforeseen" consequences of these new tools, as The Register, found out.

According to The Register, Google Earth viewers can find a cruise missile soaring above the beautiful tundras of Utah. According to the article, it is unknown whether this flying object is a Tomahawk Cruise Missile, or just a run of the mill cruise missile; personally I don't know my ballistic projectiles enough to give an expert opinion.

Web 2.0 is Sometimes Open Source Collaboration

Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips blog had an interesting post called "Top 10 Hacks on Flicker" recently. The interesting part of the post to me wasn’t the concept of flicker, but Jim’s take on Web 2.0. We have heard Web 2.0 described as collaborative internet and community building. Jim notes that "one of the most interesting aspects of web 2.0 is how many creative people and organizations build on the work of others. One creates an interesting web application and then another builds something even more interesting related to that."

His quote reminded me of the concept of open source software code. Wikipedia defines open source as "the principles and methodologies to promote open access to the production and design process for various goods, products, resources and technical conclusions or advice…made available to the general public with either relaxed or non-existent intellectual property restriction…allows users to create user-generated software content through either incremental individual effort, or collaboration."

The concept of incremental individual effort has tremendous applications in the field of law. After all, what do lawyers really do? Here are some examples:

  • We draft contracts;
  • We draft pleadings;
  • We do research;

While firms sometimes do a decent job at leveraging each other’s work product, Web 2.0 offers even greater possibilities. While going to a firm’s form bank to grab the latest and greatest LLC Operating Agreement certainly saves the client time and money, the whole point of Web 2.0 is that it extends beyond the corporate walls.

What if lawyers were able to move towards a consensus as to what an LLC base form needed to look like? In the spirit of Wikipedia, lawyers could draft a base LLC Operating Agreement. Then all lawyers could use that base document to draft the intricacies required by any given client. This would achieve standardization and drastically reduce the cost of legal services.

Web 2.0 offers the possibility of consensus and standardization, sometimes referred to as the movement towards commoditization of legal services. Of course, this would require lawyers, even outside the firm’s walls, to work together and develop base work product moving incrementally towards a smaller number of standards than exist today. Perhaps someday we can even make ourselves obsolete!

Tech Savvy

Earlier I posted on the traits that make a good entrepreneur, a post inspired by Thomas Harrison's interview by Michael Sexton over at Trump University. This, however, got me thinking about what it is that makes a successful high-tech entrepreneur in the legal field. Yes, we have to have the charisma and the dedication that any entrepreneur needs, but there are also other factors that contribute to success in this new age. Of these factors, experience with technology is a key.

It is so important for a new-age attorney to be technologically savvy because technology is the foundation of your operation. Knowing your way around HTML coding, the different capacities of computers and the constitution of networks are extremely important if you are going to build a business that runs off of those tools; but it is also within the basic idea of technology from which its importance derives. When you are operating a business who's call to fame is its technological advancement, it is going to take more than a specialized staffer to operate that aspect of the firm. You, the person with whom the client directly, the person who leads everything that happens within the firm, need to know the ins and outs of your operation, which includes the technology it uses.

I know there are always times when we need to call an expert in to do some tech-support, but in the long run you need to have an understanding for technology because you are the figurehead by which clients will make their own approximations of your advancement; and thus your ability to provide superior service. The most highly educated staff, who collectively know everything there is to know about computers, cannot replace a head attorney who can sit in with clients and discuss the specifics of the tools of your operation.

Hourly Billing Reduces Firm Profits

Christopher Marston over at the inside the firm of the future blog just happened to post about an issue I’ve been talking about a lot recently. In an article titled "Time-Based Accounting is Behavior Modifying to the Detriment of Profits," he analyzes the economics behind the billable hour.

What I have been referring to as capitalism, Christopher explains as behavior modification. Behavior modification is nothing more than the human outcome of the incentives that are put in place by a law firm.

Chris notes that the traditional hourly billing firm has as its core the premise that billable time is valued above all else in the firm. Reacting to that firm mission, attorneys are trained to bill as many hours as possible and reduce any non-billable time. There is incentive to pad bills and ignore the fundamental issue of whether an hour spent on a client matter actually provided value to the client. When revenues are down, law firms spring into action pressuring their attorneys to find and bill more hours to clients.

Here is the money quote:

"The quest to meet billing requirements is inherently a short-sighted. For instance, there are severe pressures on attorneys to pad bills and over-lawyer legal matters with no regard for the risk-return relationship on which businesspeople make decisions. These concerns are not only ethical ones, but also foster a relationship of distrust between the client and the attorney. In addition, the efforts to raise short-term revenue are clearly at the expense of clients (who know they are being taken for a long walk) and end up leaving or simply never become loyal to the firm. So, say for example that an attorney (who really needs to put in some hours to make quota) gives into temptation and decides to put in 20% more hours on a case than is necessary. Do you think that the 20% extra revenue this year is greater than the Net Present Value of future cash flows NOT EARNED by virtue of one attorney's self-interested behavior? Of course not!"

Chris notes several problems with the near thoughtless obsession with billable hours by most firms. Blind obsession with the billable hour not only destroys the relationship amongst attorneys and staff at a firm but inevitably between the firm and its clients.

Chris’s post is a must-read for anyone interested in creating a law firm built on incentives rewarding teamwork and relationships, both internal and external. At Traverse Legal, we are one step short of Chris’s value-billing law firm model. While Chris’s firm, Exemplar Law Partners, doesn’t keep any timesheets and bills exclusively on the value model, my firm, Traverse Legal, works within budgets set by the client, defines and documents deliverables and charges a maximum fee or hourly rate, whichever is less. Some of the work we do purely on a flat fee is essentially the value-billing approach used by Exemplar.