I often get asked by lawyers: what legal tech should I purchase and, relatedly, how in the hell can I know what I need to know about tech and keep up with it. It’s an ongoing source of frustration: lawyers constantly hear they need to be tech savvy but are clueless how to get there.

That’s why I really like a new book by Sharon Nelson, John Simek and Michael Maschke entitled Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide. I’ve known Sharon and John for several years through the ABA’s Law Practice Division and admire and respect their knowledge about legal tech and process, so I was excited to see that they put their knowledge on paper for all to access.

In a nutshell, the book is consistent and reasonably well written. It’s divided into topical standalone chapters so if you’re interested in, say, cloud computing products, you can read that chapter and get a good idea of what’s available without having to read other chapters that you might not be interested in.

The book is pretty comprehensive with respect to legal tech needs of lawyers

The book is pretty comprehensive with respect to legal tech needs of lawyers, and includes sections on operating systems, printers and scanners, servers, hardware, security, case management, time and billing software, document management and remote access, among others. It even has suggestions for what a tech savvy lawyer should take on the road and where LegalTech may be going in the future.

As to the writing itself, the writing style is informal which is perfect for making a technical topic directed to a non-technical both readable and understandable. The authors share some good and pertinent stories which add to their explanations in a non-obtrusive and helpful way.  There are a few spots where the cutting and pasting between the 3 writers is evident. Also, when read sequentially, there is some repetition. However, both are understandable since the authors were obviously focusing on making each chapter a standalone chapter that people could use as a resource. In any event, the writing style is not particularly distracting given the overall mission of the book.

Sharon, John, and Michael aren’t shy about offering recommendations of vendors and products

A couple of things I really like about the book. First, Sharon, John, and Michael aren’t shy about offering recommendations of vendors and products. This is refreshing since so often legal tech writers tend to provide a list of providers but stop short of telling you which ones they like. Of course, the authors are quick to point out that different products might suit different needs. But for the ones they recommend, they do a good job of telling you why and showing what situations in which their recommendations might not be suitable. Secondly, they successfully walk the thin line between being too techy and nerdy and being too simplistic and condescending. Many efforts in this area fall too far on either side of this line but the authors manage to hit the right balance in my mind.

Sharon and John (and presumably Michael) are known for being blunt: I particularly liked how they took vendors who try to hide their prices till you get the proverbial sales call to task. The practice is like those restaurants that try to hide the price of their take-out menu just to entice you to buy. The authors also have some choice words for lawyers who won’t put their smartphone down (at one point they say about smartphones: “they have become a kind of crack, with many lawyers seriously addicted to them and unable to disengage…risking their health and relationships”.)

The book also comes replete with plenty of security precautions for lawyers all in an understandable format (“Bottom line…don’t share your iCloud account credentials” and “Do not use WEP!”)).

The book has lots of  ethical advice relating to technology. (About Windows XP, they note “legal ethicists regard its continued use an ethical violation since it is no longer receiving security updates and places client data at risk”), practical advice (“ we encourage our readers to seek input from lawyers who actually use the products you are considering”) and even practice tips (“Make no mistake about it, studies have shown over and over that manual {time tracking} results in a lot of lost time and expense”).

If the book saves you from paying for just one hour of consultant time to help you set up your technology, it has more than paid for itself several times over

What’s not to like? The price. If you buy the book through the ABA (the only way you can get it) it will cost you $89. For a book that’s about 180 pages long, on its face that’s a pretty hefty price. But on the other hand, if the book saves you from paying for just one hour of consultant time to help you set up your technology, it has more than paid for itself several times over. By the way, the price for Law Practice Division members is a little less ($64); there is an eBook option, but it appears to be the same price.

The book serves as a good counterpoint to a recent post by in the Artificial Lawyer by Matthew Kellet of EY Legal entitled, Law Tech: Is It Worth the Risk? Kellet concludes that for a whole host of reasons the chances of buying the wrong tech are quite high and would be catastrophic. He seems to imply that making good tech choices just aren’t possible with the plethora of products and claims available and information out there.

I asked Nelson about this point. She said, “There is a right way and wrong way to go about vetting tech to enhance your chances for success-a guide like our book is one of them.” So, while it’s a fair point that getting good info and recommendations sometimes takes some doing, Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide belies the notion that making smart decisions is not possible.

The  book is worth the price. Even if the authors do recommend android phones over my precious iPhone. I mean, really Sharon, how could you?😉

And finally, while the book is styled as a guide for solos and small firms, it has a lot of good information for all lawyers interested in technology and learning about how some of the tech tools their firms are using actually work. It also has tips for making that tech work better.

So, if you’re interested in legal technology, need help with your tech decisions or just want more information, buy the book: it’s worth it. Even if the authors do recommend android phones over my precious iPhone. I mean, really Sharon, how could you?😉

I was fortunate enough to be invited to and attend last week’s Solid West Summit on Legal Innovation and Disruption in San Francisco. The Solid conferences are the brainchild of David Cowen, who runs the Cowen Group, a legal recruitment, professional development and thought leadership agency. The Summit describes itself as a “TED Talk style summit focused on innovation and the business of law”. David holds Solid Summits at various national and international locations throughout the year.

The Summit Format

The conferences are by invite only and Dave routinely draws some of the top thinkers in the legal tech and innovation space including Chief Innovation Officers from some the country’s largest firms, practicing lawyers, leading product and service providers and thought leaders. Primarily– although not exclusively– geared toward larger business and commercial firms, it’s one of those conferences that you leave tired, stimulated and a little intimidated by the smarts of the people you hear from. Continue Reading Solid West Summit:10 Legal Innovation & Disruption Highlights

Thomson Reuters today announced a new legal workflow solution that it claims will enable firms to better plan, manage and execute legal matters with enhanced data and data analytics. A cloud-based system, Thomson Reuters PanoramicTM is built on TR’s Practical Law’s legal guidance platform and its 3E financial management system to better connect the front office of a law firm—where the legal work is handled—to the back office—where law firm financials are monitored and analyzed.

TR says Panoramic is specifically directed toward large and mid sized firms although it’s primary beneficiaries in my opinion may turn out to be the more innovative mid size firms (the AmLaw firms in the 100-200 range) who lack the resources and systems of some of the very large firms. As I have previously noted, it is, in fact, these mid size firms that will be most under threat in today’s changing legal marketplace. But because of their generally reduced cost structures and overhead, some of these firms, those that choose to distinguish themselves in the market, also have a big upside potential. And tools like Panoramic, if vigorously adopted (which is an if, as discussed below), could enable this capitalization. Continue Reading Thomson Reuters Announces Panoramic: New Tools With the Mid-Size Law Firm In Mind


I have written before about the Big 4 accounting firms and the threat that these firms may pose for U.S. lawyers and law firms.

The response has typically been a bit like that of the first two pigs in the old 3 Little Pigs nursery rhyme who arrogantly believed their houses of straw and twigs would protect them from the Big Bad Wolf. Going into last week’s Legalweek in New York, several legal pundits (and lawyers) made it a point to tell me Big 4 encroachment on U.S. legal can’t happen. That Sarbanes-Oxley won’t allow it. That the Big 4 don’t make enough profits to do it. That they can’t do what U.S. law firms and lawyers do. That the Big 4 isn’t at all interested in the U.S. market. That they certainly have no business or strategic plans pointed in our direction. I was starting to conclude they were right. Continue Reading U.S. Law and The Big Four: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

So, as promised in my general post about Legalweek last week, here are my thoughts about the three most innovative and relevant products I saw at this year’s Conference (plus one).

As I said before, none of the three is groundbreaking in and of themselves. None will change the way we fundamentally practice. But taken together and added to any number of other products that are designed to address particular pain points, they collectively move the needle in various ways from efficiency to life balance. This is what good product developers do: they find a problem and try to solve it. Forget saving the world. Continue Reading New and Hot At Legalweek? Zero. Windtalker. LoopUp. And Casepoint

Legalweek is one of the preeminent legal tech shows. For years it primarily was directed to the ediscovery community; while there is still a heavy emphasis on ediscovery, the Show has branched out signigificaly in recent years. Put on by the legal media Goliath, ALM, it occupies 4 full days of programming,  mammoth exhibit halls and, of course, numerous vendor parties.

As it began to wind down on cold Thursday afternoon, I took a break and sat down in the Plaza Hotel lobby bar to reflect. The Plaza of course is a grand dame of New York hotels featured in movies as diverse as North by Northwest and Home Alone 2. It’s a great place to sit, reflect, people watch, have a glass of wine and write. Continue Reading Legalweek Musings on a Cold Day in New York

Roy Storm of ALM broke the news early this week that Casey Flaherty, owner of the consulting firm Procertas and former GC of Kia along with legal pundit Jae Um will join the legal bemouth, Baker McKenzie. They will join recently added David Cambria, affectionately called the “Godfather of legal operations,” in an effort, according to the firm, to  “reengineer the delivery of legal services.”

When I first heard the news, I was reminded of (and tweeted out) the question posed to Winston Churchill: “Sir, are you ready to meet your maker?” Sir Winston’s response: “Yes but is he ready to meet the likes of me?” And that’s the big question here. Continue Reading Cambria, Flaherty and Um to Baker McKenzie: Is Baker Ready For the Likes of Them?

 


It’s not often I disagree with Joe Patrice, who frequently writes for Above the Law. For one thing, he’s a lot smarter than me. For another, he’s a better writer. In fact, about the only thing I have on Joe is several more years of wear and tear in the trenches. That doesn’t make me right but maybe gives me a different perspective.

Joe recently wrote an article the premise of which, and I paraphrase, was that automation and technology are depriving junior lawyers of the training and experience lawyers used to get when they began practicing. Continue Reading Junior Lawyers Going Extinct. I Disagree. Wait…I Agree

 

Why Is EY Willing to Invest $1 Billion to be Innovative? 

Sports Illustrated used to have a column entitled Sure Signs the Apocalypse is Upon Us which included references to often bizarre and ironic events. It was a favorite of mine since it was a satirical poke at the seriousness we take sports and a display of the humor of everyday existence.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately depending on your perspective), the gradual and continual onslaught of the Big 4 accounting firms into traditional areas of legal practice and encroachment on law firm clientele seems destined to ultimately disrupt the practices of traditional law firms particularly at the mid-tier level. I have written about this before and while I and several others keep trying to suggest the Big 4 is coming, the message doesn’t seem to resonate. Continue Reading Sure Signs the Apocalypse (Big 4) Is Upon Us

Last year, while attending the Consumer Electronics Show, I wrote a piece on how technology  might end or substantially reduce the need for litigators. The idea was not that technology would do the job of lawyers-no robo lawyers please, although after hearing about IBM’s Project Debater, I’m not so sure-but that technology would end or reduce the number of disputes on which lawyers feed.

This year, I remain even more convinced that technology can reduce the number and the nature of disputes that exist because of its ability to record and/or flawlessly trace events. I am also starting to believe that the skill set future successful lawyers will need to have will be more technical in nature than ever before. Continue Reading Will Technology Mean the End of Lawyers?