Google Apps Security For Lawyers: Premier Edition Only

I must confess I never much researched Google Apps’ security provisions. I just assumed that, as a product designed for the general public’s ease of use, they were minimal at best and that any data passing through gmail or google docs was unsecured. In other words, I never used them for professional purposes.

Turns out, I was only half right. The good news: Google  employs significant security provisions for its apps suite, but only for their Premier edition, i.e., the one that costs money. So for lawyers using Google apps for communication, collaboration and document storage, beware: if you’re using the standard edition, your data is unprotected.

Google Premier Apps consists of:

  • Gmail includes email, IM, voice and video chat, and syncs with Outlook and Blackberry.
  • The calendar is integrated with your gmail system, can be shared through the groups function and syncs with Blackberry.
  • Documents includes spreadsheets, drawings and presentations and are easily shared for collaboration.
  • Google Sites is an easy way to create secure web pages for intranets and team projects. No coding or HTML is required.
  • Google Groups can be used as mailing lists and to share calendars, docs, sites, and videos easily with co-workers.
  • Google hosts your videos, creating an channel for your business that can be used either through your intranet or shared on the web.
  • Last, wave enables groups to discuss issues or projects in written format, where each participant’s written contribution shows up in real time.

Here are the highlights of Google’s security policies:

  • Google adheres to the United States Safe Harbor Privacy Principles of Notice, Choice, Onward Transfer, Security, Data Integrity, Access and Enforcement, and is registered with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Safe Harbor Program.
  • Google has obtained a SAS 70 Type II attestation and will continue to seek similar attestation for the Google Apps messaging and collaboration products as well as for our security and compliance products, powered by Postini. A SAS 70 audit is an independent assessment by an outside audit firm that validates the subject company’s adherence to its defined controls and confirms that these controls are operating e!ectively. When complete, the audit firm provides a report that details the company’s compliance with these controls.
  • Google will not share data with others except as noted in the Google Privacy Policy.
  • Google provides capabilities for customers to take data with them if they choose to use external services in conjunction with Google Apps or stop using Google services altogether.
  • Some user data, such as email messages and documents, are scanned and indexed so users within a customer’s domain can search for information in their own Google Apps accounts.
  • Email is scanned so Google can perform spam filtering and virus detection.
  • Email is scanned so Google can display contextually relevant advertising in some circumstances.
  • Except when users choose to publish information publicly, Google Apps data is not part of the general google.com index.

Google offers these additional customized security controls:

  • Single Sign-On (SSO) service to customers with Premier, Education, and Partner Editions. Google Apps has a SAML-based SSO API that administrators can integrate into their LDAP, or other SSO system. This feature allows administrators to utilize the authentication mechanism of their choice, such as certificates, hardware tokens, biometrics, and other options.
  • Administrators can set password length requirements for their domain users and view password strength indicators that help identify passwords that meet the length requirement but may still not be strong enough.
  • Administrators can reset a user’s sign-in cookies to help prevent unauthorized access to their account. This will log out that user from all current web browser sessions and require new authentication the next time that user tries to access Google Apps. Combined with the existing ability for administrators to reset user passwords, this feature to reset users’ sign-in cookies improves security in the cloud in case of device theft or loss.
  • Google Apps Premier and Education Editions offer domain administrators the ability to force all users in their domain to use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) for services such as Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Sites, etc. Information sent via HTTPS is encrypted from the time it leaves Google until it is received by the recipients’ computer.
  • With policy-enforced Transfer Layer Security (TLS) for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), administrators can set up policies designed for securely sending and receiving mail between specific domains. For example, an administrator could specify that all external mail sent by their accounting team members to their bank must be secured with TLS — or deferred if TLS is not possible. Similarly, an administrator could mandate a secure TLS connection between their domain and their outside legal counsel, auditors, or any other partners with whom employees may trade sensitive communications.

While the security measures offered by Google are significant, there are still two issues of concern that remain. First, Google operates on a multi-tenant cloud platform, which means that your data resides on shared server space with any other Google cloud users. While this is a fairly common practice among cloud vendors, it is not the configuration of choice  for lawyers trying to control their data, even if off-premises. It is better to choose a vendor who stores each customer’s data on a single server.

More importantly, Google will not reveal (to you and presumably anyone else) the geographic location of your data, and it can be transferred from one server to another at any time. This gives rise to jurisdictional issues, since the site where data is located when a cause of action arises may be difficult to determine.  It also renders your data subject to the laws and regulations of the geographic location of your data, which vary Since Google has servers around the world, this could be problematic should a breach ever occur.

If you’re a Google Apps user, be sure to subscribe to their Premier Edition to be certain you are meeting your ethical obligations regarding confidentiality and privacy. Better choice: find an Saas vendor whose products are designed for attorney communication and document storage to avoid the multi-tenant and jurisdictional issues. In any case, be sure to do your due diligence regarding any vendor’s security and privacy policies.

Axiom Law: Prototype for Innovation

Back in 2000, when Axiom Law Founder Mark Harris decided that big law’s hourly billings were excessive, he may have been the only lawyer who cared. The party for big law had been going on for some time now, each year bringing higher fees that clients could apparently pay, because they did. Medium and small firms and solos followed suit, each year inching up their hourly fees, and lawyers buying big houses, expensive cars and sending their kids to private schools. It was, indeed, a very nice party.

But Harris didn’t feel quite right about it all. So he did something that even today, lawyers are struggling with: he left his firm, teamed up with Stanford Business School grad Alec Guettel, and in 2000 founded Axiom, based on a business model where lower costs enabled the firm to offer lower-priced or fixed-priced services, by structuring his firm around cutting-edge concepts and technology.

Axiom serves GCs and in-house counsel in all but the most extraordinary legal matters. Sounds like pretty standard outside counsel stuff, but Axiom distances itself from that model as much as possible in both what it does and how it does it.

Axiom is a business model with the intent to analyze and understand their clients’ needs, and determine the delivery model that will best suit them. They serve over half the Fortune 100 companies in the markets they are established in, and partner with their clients to deliver:

  • Innovation:  Determine with their clients which parts of a matter should be outsourced or kept in-house, and how a project can be unbundled to deliver significant value;
  • Operation: Tackle urgent or back-burner projects so clients can stay focused, and advise clients on everything from registered, high-yield financings to complex commercial transactions on a project or on-going basis.

Although they do not consider themselves a “virtual law firm”, Axiom attorneys do rely heavily on technology to perform their services and have been called the most successful virtual firm to compete with traditional models. Axiom has also adopted fixed pricing arrangements in addition to an hourly billing model, depending on the nature of the project and what makes sense for both them and the client.

Axiom’s team of lawyers are not partnership-track associates. There is no law clerk courting, no offers of employment, no luxury offices. Instead, Axiom’s 8 international offices operate with 280 attorneys who work from home or at clients’ offices and sometimes gather for team work at small, stripped-down offices in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong. Axiom’s attorneys average about 18 years of experience, and they must have a minimum of 4 years experience to be considered. They are well-credentialed, well-seasoned lawyers paid at rates comparable to those of in-house counsel in return for self-determination: the ability to choose their work and regain control over their lives. They are employees, paid a salary with benefits. When they choose not to work, they are not paid. But they are not temporary employees; they are once again engaged when they are ready to return, and their compensation is reinstated.

Until the recession, Axiom was indeed a law firm ahead of its time. It was built on the “revolutionary” concepts of partnering with clients, unbundling of legal services, fixed pricing, technology, and the opportunity for their attorneys to choose what they will work on, and when. Today, these are all models of law practice whose time has come.

While Axiom is an alternative to big law, it’s innovative structure offers lawyers and firms of any size a glimpse into not only what can be, but now, what must be. The evolution of the law firm structure from its traditional form to one that can support offering greater value to your clients while creating a greater quality of life is an inevitable, and welcome, opportunity to examine the nature of your practice, the quality of your client relationships, the effectiveness of your services, and the satisfaction of your life-style. It doesn’t need to look like Axiom. It can be structured in any way that enables you to attract and serve your clients. If innovation is in your future, the time to start considering it is definitely at hand.

Law Practice Strategy: A New Resource for Solo and Small Firms

If you follow my blog with any regularity, you know that my passion revolves around the changing face of the legal profession. As with any altered landscape, there are benefits and challenges, pros and cons, but one thing remains steady, and that is change.

It’s been more than six months since I blogged about identifying a law practice strategy using alternative fee agreements, educational marketing, and web 2.0 technology, primarily virtual law office platforms, in Law Firms in 2010: 5 Pillars of Change. As I wrote that post, I knew my own direction had to change as well; not the direction of my interest, but of my business.  And as anyone who has gone through such a metamorphosis will know, this is both an exciting and scary proposition.

In his post “Build Bridges Between Aspiration and Realization,” Brian Solis says:

Understanding how we got to this place at this time is predicated by our actions as they were influenced by the events that touched us. Ergo, our aspiration is a deliberate state of intention and the distance defining our journey is measured by the actions that move hope and vision toward existence and propelled by conscious activity and purpose. It’s the difference between dreaming. . .and bringing dreams to life.

So, after six months of thinking and dreaming and plotting and scheming, I am REALLY excited to announce that my new venture, Law Practice Strategy, will officially launch on Friday, July 2, and the new site, LawPracticeStrategy.com, will go live on that day.

I’ve designed Law Practice Strategy to be a resource center and consulting service for new, unemployed or dissatisfied lawyers seeking to establish a solo or small firm, and for lawyers currently practicing who want to take their practices into the 21st Century.  The strategy revolves around the concept that solos and small firms can become competitive and successful by:

  • Offering clients Alternative Fee Agreements
  • Establishing a virtual-based law practice, or elawyering
  • Using Educational Marketing Techniques
  • Using  Legal Technology Applications for efficiency

None of these solutions is a novel idea. Each has been explored and advocated or denounced by professionals in all forms of media, and many of us have read about or investigated them to one degree or another.

But the key to using each of these systems to create a successful practice is perspective. Viewing each one separately may stimulate interest and a certain amount of enthusiasm. But by integrating them into a functional circle, where each is seen as enabling the other, their synergy to create a successful practice begins to emerge. Law Practice Strategy will offer information, materials and training in the integrated use of these concepts as a viable means to start and maintain a successful law practice.

The site will be a hub for resources, tools and links  related to alternative fee agreements, VLO technology and issues, content and educational blogging and syndication and web 2.0 technology for lawyers. It will track the course as these practice management changes take us into the future of our profession, including how the theories behind these systems change not only how we do law, but why we do law.

It will house my blog (all of the old posts are being transferred) as well as the increasingly popular free webinars page. Along that line, I’ve designed a “What’s New” page that will highlight updated information and links on topical areas, and will be updated each week as well. The site will host webinars and other forms of audio/video materials, and will evolve to include discussion groups and other activities as it’s community expands.

Over the next few months, I will also develop practical course content to guide you through the step-by-step process of creating your practice based on these principles, and offer low-cost consulting and assistance in getting up and running. And I have no idea what else might come into my mind or across my plate to embellish this project, but I’m sure there will be more!

For me, and I hope for you, there is even more to this venture than helping lawyers become entrepreneurs. At a recent conference, I had the privilege of sitting across the table from Ralph Baxter of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in San Francisco, recently named innovative managing partner by law360.com. Baxter has turned Orrick from a 200-lawyer local firm to a 1,100-lawyer global firm, instituting innovation all along the way. As our group discussed the use of alternative fee agreements, Baxter commented: “This [the inability of consumers to afford legal representation] is about access to justice. It’s a public policy issue.”

I look forward to contributing to the solution to that problem in some small way, and to helping lawyers find a new way to forge their future. Please join me there next week.

Preparing to Meet the General: What Do You Think About the (Legal) Revolution?

I will  have the opportunity to attend the Generals of the Revolution conference on Tuesday, June 15, sponsored by Data Cert. Richard Susskind will present, followed by participation in discussion groups about his theories. Susskind’s predictions are that the delivery of legal services will progress toward commoditisation as a result of the pull of the marketplace and the continuous development of technology. He advocates that elements of legal practice could be undertaken more quickly, more inexpensively, more efiiciently, or to a higher quality using different and new methods of working. Although the threat  for lawyers is that more jobs may be eroded, Susskind foresees that, for entrepreneurial lawyers, different law services will emerge which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today.

On the other hand, David Hill of the City of Vancouver Law Department, has written an article in Peer to Peer, the quarterly magazine of ILTA called “The Revolution Has Already Happened: A Curmudgeon’s Counterpoints.” Hill agrees with Susskind to the extent that “whatever parts of legal work can be automated, should be” but believes that “the smartest people I know in law and technology can’t do anything like what Richard Susskind is promising lawyers.” His view is that the changes in the profession regarding delivery of legal services, alternative fee agreements and the like are really an old approach to the practice of law (that’s true, so old no one practicing law today knows how to bill that way) , and that technology will have nothing new to offer that we haven’t already seen. He compares e-discovery challenges to the days of culling through hard copies to prepare for discovery and trial, ignoring the new and different  challenges posed by electronic storage regarding availability, content, privacy, privilege, and more.

I am really excited to be able to participate in the discussion groups at the conference on Tuesday, and am preparing questions and comments I hope to be able to contribute to the conversation.

What are your thoughts on these issues? Do you agree that our profession is marching onward to a more commoditised delivery of legal services, or are we merely recreating the past and have reached the end of how technology can change our practice?

I would love to include your questions or comments in the discussion groups to the extent I am able, so please share them in the comment section below.  Since I intend to write extensively about these discussions, I will include a link back to your site in my posts or articles.

Look forward to your thoughts!

Your Legal Career: Employment Strategies, Choices and Alternatives

More attorneys than ever before have been affected by the need to develop marketing and rainmaking skills, whether they are sole practitioners or large firm associates. The same skill set applies when looking for employment or opening your own firm: learning to network, online and in-person, and becoming involved in activities that will reflect your interests and abilities.

I recently moderated the Lexis Hub/Connected Twitter conversation for new attorneys addressing career and employment choices and alternatives. It evolved into a discussion with more than 130 tweets and dozens of participants sharing career advice and experiences.  Here are some of the highlights of the conversation, encompassing career strategies, networking, social media, job hunting, career alternatives, entrepreneurial spirit and solo practice.

The Twitter event kicked off with Donna Seyle asking new attorneys, “What have your job hunting strategies been?

Donna: Has anyone tried social media marketing strategies to gain law firm employments—results?

Newzee22 asked if anyone tried temporary legal jobs—do they hurt or help a new grad’s chances of securing “real” positions?

MH Tweets added: Temp Jobs can help a new grad’s chances—better than sitting around waiting for a call.

Donna: Temp jobs provide experience for your resume and show initiative, and often lead to full time positions.

ViceArt suggested pro bono as a way for new law grads to get their foot in the door to a new career.

MH Tweets agreed, claiming pro bono is probably even better than temp work for gaining experience.

ViceArt then mentioned that he tried pro bono and it worked its way into a secondary income stream.

Social Media:

Donna-asked lawyer using social media for their job hunting strategies.

MH Tweets commented: Build your network organically without being annoying—have a reason to connect with someone, a context before reaching out.

Similarly, Newzee22 noted: ask questions about skills and get advice to build rapport as opposed to asking for a job right away.

For Law Students on the Job Hunt:

Donna: Job search advice for university students is to build your online profile/portfolio before you graduate. (blog, join networks. etc).

MH Tweets went on to use the example of @Rex7, who built “The Social Media Law Student” before graduating and positioned himself well in the social media world.

Donna noted that www.lawstreetjournal.com is a student-created web site.

Ron Fox added: suggest you first decide on a practice area (use findlaw) then find practitioners doing it (lawyers.com) and market yourself to them.

ViceArt recommended the following for new grads and job seekers: “Remember, talent isn’t everything in getting a job – read Malcom Gladwell’s “The Talent Myth.”

About Networking:

Donna:  go to live networking events at the ABA and other conferences, and do the “coffee interview.”  Adding a reminder that networking continues throughout your career. Conferences are a good value, and Donna advises that they are a tremendous place because networking opportunities are all around you.

MH Tweets adds that the “coffee interview” gives new lawyers a chance to network as well as learn more about that person and what they do.

Donna also encourages participation in discussion on M-H Connected and Lexis Hub (www.lexishub.com), having a profile on lawyer networking sites and answering questions on Avvo will increase your exposure.

On Alternatives such as Solo Practice:

Donna asked if starting a solo practice feels overwhelming and what the biggest hurdles would be.

Ron Fox added that a fundamental value of our profession: a lawyer’s commitment to select a position consistent with his/her professional goals and personal values.

MH Tweets asked why so many new lawyers seem to chase the $$$ cash?

Ron Fox explained that one reason new lawyers go for the $$$ cash is the pressure and advice from law schools to go to biglaw to pay loans based on outrageous tuition.

Donna asked how a new attorney can learn the entrepreneurial skills needed to start a successful solo practice?

MH Tweets remarked that fear is probably the biggest hurdle to going solo.

The Online Bar added that security by salary is like addiction.  If you’ve tasted it over a period of time, you never totally get over it, then went on to ask, “can you spend a year or more failing on little income before you succeed?

Donna pointed out resources for those who fear solo practice through www.myshingle.com.

MH Tweets added that the Lexis Hub (www.lexishub.com)

is also a great resource, as well as the Legal Business Community.

Donna acknowledged that it is one thing to be taught entrepreneur skills, but being one requires action and persistence.

Creating a Client Base:

Donna: Writing and getting published is one of the best ways to create a client base—it can work for employment search, too.

On Gen Y and Work/Life Balance:

Donna asked if Gen Y has a different attitude about life and work, seeing life as too fleeting to work that hard.

MH Tweets noted that there are ambitious Gen Y folks who work all day and attend law school at night. MH Tweets joked that being Gen Y might be a prerequisite for social media careers, to which…

adriandayton suggested one needs to be able to think like Gen Y.

JonLin agreed that non Gen Y people use social media with great success.

Final notes:

Donna: Take ownership of your career!

Ron Fox: Self-promote because very few openings are actually advertised or result in on campus interviews.

New Attorneys: Set your Legal Career in Motion

Time was, there would be no purpose to creating resources where new attorneys could find help figuring out “Where do I go from here?” when the cap & gown came off. They knew where they were headed, and they knew if they didn’t like it, there was plenty of career opportunity elsewhere. We all had offices with windows and a closet full of impressive suits. It was all good, like the Clinton era. We were in our heyday.

But no one’s partying like it was 1999 anymore, and new attorneys, young associates and 2nd and 3rd years are looking askance at the employment landscape. I could get really melodramatic and compare it to an Iraqi desert, but of course, I won’t.

Well, here’s some good news. The legal industry is rallying in support of the newly-anointed, and one resource that stands among many is the Lexis Hub for New Attorneys. It is a special division of LexisNexis Communities entirely devoted to providing career information, strategies, guidance and tools to  navigate through the current state of the legal industry intact.

The Hub has developed a career and practice resource with strong editorial direction that is becoming the go-to-destination for new lawyers, associates and law students preparing to launch their careers. At the Hub, you can:

  • Build practical career skills, gain practice area knowledge, research  writing and professionalism through free downloads, live webinars, on-demand training, how-to guides and other easy-to-use tools.
  • Explore and evaluate the broad career options you have with a J.D.
  • Advice on how to get hired, finding the right fit, moving up the ladder, creating  business development skills.
  • Be a part of an interacting community of new attorneys, associates years 1-6, and 2nd and 3rd year law studients

For those seeking employment, the site provides assistance on interviewing and resume writing. But the content also focuses on assisting its audience in looking at career development and success from a long-term perspective, asking questions such as: what do you want your law career to look like, and what would you like to be doing in 10 years? In the rush to find some way to create income to pay off those big school debts, these are important aspects of career development frequently overlooked by the new graduate.

The content also includes blogs and articles on emerging issues, legal technology, social media and practice-area specific developments. Because now, it is no longer sufficient to simply lawyer well. Law is both a profession and a business, rainmaking is an expectation not extra-credit, and none of this is being addressed in formal law school training. Professional development skills, cost-effective research strategies, efficiency improvement, preparation for those first on-the-job assignments and managing heavy workloads are all addressed here, providing tactics and strategies for success in this rapid-pace, fluctuating world we call practicing law.

In conjunction with Martindale-Hubbell Connected,  Lexis Hub will host a twitter event, Recruiting & Transitioning into New Roles on June 1 at 11 am PDT, 2 pm EDT. The hashtag is #MHJOB. I will be moderating the event along with Lori Sieron, Director of Lexis Hub for New Attorneys. I invite not just law students, new attorneys and associates to come with questions and perspectives, but also seasoned attorneys who can contribute their experiences, insights and useful information to help those facing a profession in flux at the most pivotal time of their careers.  I look forward to seeing you there, and interacting with you at the Hub.

Law Blogs: How To Combine Information and Compassion

I recently came across a post by 16-year-old Nigerian entrepreneur named Onibalusi Bamidele on www.ariwriter.com called Blogging with Influence in 5 Easy Steps. Besides being so moved by the fact that such a young man has been able to comprehend and distill the elements of a good blog, I was left with a bigger question: how do lawyers combine information with compassion?

These are the 5 steps Onibalusi includes:

  1. Content: “Your content is you; you are your content. The power your content can hold, the influence it can add to you should not be underestimated.”
  2. Passion: “Your passion is a building block for your content. If you seriously have passion for what you do, it will definitely reflect in what you write.. . . Your passion has a lot to do with your content (which is a building block to your influence).”
  3. Care: “Do you care for your readers? Caring for your readers is a great element that should not be neglected if truly you want to have great influence on them.”
  4. Authority: “Let people know you are an authority. You don’t need to be subjective but let there be sounds of authority, assurance, and affirmation in anything you write.”
  5. Distinction: “The final step to influential blogging is distinction. You should be able to distinguish yourself from other bloggers. You should be different.”

Any good blog coach will tell you that your blog must reflect who you are so your readers can begin to know and trust you. It must show that you care about your audience, that you’re passionate about your subject matter, that you know what  you’re talking about, and, as if that weren’t enough, you must do it differently. When you’re talking about law blogging, that is not an easy task.

Grant Griffiths at Blawging Lawyers puts it this way:

Blogs build trust and reputation “organically” by allowing potential clients to see the people behind the law practice in action, not mediated by slick marketing. Ironically, this is the most powerful form of marketing there is.

By providing information to the public, you become a trusted and reputable resource. Trusted and reputable resources get clients, period. . . It is well-known in marketing and consumer psychology circles that people prefer to do business with other people they like and who are like them. People cannot like you if they don’t know you, and a normal Web site doesn’t give them a chance to know you and like you.

But we’re talking law, here. We’re talking about an intellectual exercise that requires considering permutations of thought that challenge the best of minds.  How do you present this kind of information in a blog post that will reach out and touch someone and invite them to rely on you?

Here’s some ideas that will help you create a blogging perspective that combines substance with style:

  • Have a conversation with your best friend. You are not interacting with your monitor, or even the (hopefully) masses of people that will read your post. You’re talking to your best non-lawyer friend, chatting about an interesting situation he/she encountered and wondered how that would be viewed from a legal perspective. It’s a conversation at the end of a golf game over a good, cold beer on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Enjoy yourself.
  • Assume your friend knows you and trusts you. You’ve been friends for 15 years. There’s a reason for that. You’re likable, reasonable and you know your stuff. You know you are held in some esteem by your friend, so there is no reason to shy away from asserting your knowledge with confidence.
  • Use a “How to” approach. The majority (I don’t know the exact statistics) of online searches start with the phrase “How to. . .” Now, your friend has presented you with this dilemma or desire. Approach your response from a practical point of view. What can/should one do in that situation to resolve the dilemma, or what steps should he/she take to achieve the desired result? You can use some limited legal analysis to give credibility to your advice, but only for that reason. Your friend won’t benefit from a full-blow diatribe on how the courts have viewed the subject, and doesn’t really care.
  • Embellish the topic with an example. Giving examples of similar situations and their outcomes shows you are really relating to the topic and feel strongly about it, so much so that you remember once about 10 years ago when. . . .Just remember it MUST BE FICTIONAL. An amalgamation, perhaps, of several different scenarios. But you must respect your ethical obligations to your clients and your attorney/client privilege, and write accordingly.
  • Speak from a preventative point of view. No one wants to get entangled in a lawsuit anymore, it’s just no fun, it costs too much money and you hardly ever get what you want, anyway. Give your friend advice about how to be sure to avoid the dilemma in the future, or the most important things he/she must do to prevent the lawsuit monster from visiting when he/she has achieved the desired result.

You can decide to blog because someone told you to, and hate it. Or you can embrace it as an opportunity to help someone, to use your specialized knowledge to advise someone on how to stay out of trouble. The former will never turn into a success story, but the latter surely will. Play with it, have fun with it. No one will laugh(unless you tell jokes) and if they do, you won’t know it!

And What Did You Learn Today on Twitter?

So I’m celebrating a big anniversary this month. Yes, I was born in May, but that’s not the one. I was also married in May (twice, but on different dates), but I’m not talking about that either. Those anniversaries come every year, and surely the birthdays are something I could seriously do without.

No, I’m talking about my Twitter anniversary. It is one year from some day in May (didn’t write that one down) that I started “lurking” in the background of lawyers, social media marketers, bloggers and other uncategorized members of this huge “tribe” of constant communicators. Fortunately, I’ve gone far beyond the lurking status to engage in one of the most dynamic connecting/engaging/learning experiences of my life. If I had to relate to a real (i.e., physical) life experience, it’s like being at a year-long 24/7 conference where you never leave the hotel,  you attend presentations, read hand-outs, and engage in conversations with thousands of other people. Constantly. Fortunately, you can go back to your room and hide if you want, and no one will notice. Because everybody does it.

So I thought, in celebration of this life-changing event, I would offer a peek into what I learned on Twitter today. Here is a list of the places I ventured to online as a consequence of the generosity of my Twitter community:

That’s a lot of information to digest in one day, and certainly I don’t always have time to take advantage of all that Twitter gives you access to. The option is to go to the site and save it in your Evernote account for later access. (Evernote will save your life, it’s free and really easy to use).

But what else did I do on Twitter this morning? I found out someone was frustrated, another was delayed at the airport, yet another this really funny line from a teenager. I saw a picture of someone’s son in his T-ball uniform. I received some thank yous and compliments and sent some out. I asked someone when they could be available for a chat.

Why is this stuff important to me?  Because we don’t just “talk” at each other, we “talk” to each other. We get to know each other. Some of us are friends who have never met, but hope to soon.

I really do celebrate my one year anniversary on Twitter. I celebrate the fact that the derailed early retirement I thought I was headed for no longer matters. I’m engaged. I’m excited.  And it started a year ago.

So how about you? What did you learn on Twitter today? About anyone or anything? Because if you didn’t, you’re missing the conference. And it’s still going on.

A New Brand of Lawyer: Are You Ready?

I started delving into the theories of Richard Susskind, law professor, revered  legal futurist and author of The Future of Law (1996) and The End of Lawyers? (2008), after interacting online with Jorge Colon, technolawyer, pragmatic futurist and international lawyer/entrepreneur.  At the end of a 2-1/2 hour conversation with Colon one Saturday afternoon, I can confirm he is all of that and more.  He clearly articulates his goal: “My heart,” he says, “is in bringing people together, people you can trust, to make money, to work and play together.”

But Colon doesn’t just focus on people who are within easy reach. This is an international adventure. And if you’re up for the ride, you better hop on quick: Colon moves fast.

Maybe that is to be expected from someone who has lived in New York and London, and now practices in Miami, Fla. He graduated from Georgetown Law, and since then his resume reads like someone who knows how to be in five places at one time. Among his many pursuits, his primary practice since 2007 is Colon Partners, a virtual international law practice with clients and projects in Florida, New York, South Africa, Eastern Europe, UK, Spain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Canada.

But his primary love is establishing and expanding his new website and future legal network, Online Bar Association. OBA is currently operating through a LinkedIn group of the same name with his wife and attorney, Mayra Colon. Being a member of that group, I can tell you the Colons have a well-defined plan for the expansion and operation of OBA. His LinkedIn profile states: “OBA is designing the blueprint for helping lawyers and other legal professionals organize into Virtual Enterprise Networks (VENs) and build global networks for success”.

Colon began experimenting with Susskind’s ideas in the early 2000′s, when he realized Susskind was making the same projections about the future of law that he had been thinking about. Concepts like (these are taken from The End of Lawyers):

  • The path to commoditization, a continuum of kinds of legal services, from simplest to most complex, as commoditizied, packaged, systematized, standardized, and bespoke (original documents)
  • Standardization of recurrent legal tasks
  • Systemization of repetitive tasks
  • Packaged tasks – giving clients access to a firm’s systems so they can do it themselves, but with the availability of attorney input as necessary
  • Commoditized products – a completely standardized service that can be made available on a mass basis with little or no attorney input
  • Proliferation of elawyering, or virtual law firms, that provide services online

and paradigm shifts that include moving legal services:

  • From an advisory service to an information service
  • From a reactive service to a proactive service
  • From time-based billing to commodity pricing
  • From a legal focus to a business focus
  • From problem-solving to legal risk management (preemptive consulting rather than litigation)

Colon’s thought processes easily aligned themselves with those projections. He is a systems guy. He chose law school over business school because the training would enable him to keep asking the right questions. When you ask the right questions, you can design the right systems. If you can design the right systems, why can’t you design the right software to carry out the systems?

We are clearly seeing the concepts and paradigm shifts Susskind identified in process, moved along dramatically by economics and technology. The arena of opportunity called the “legal services industry”  is growing off the charts. But now Colon is looking down the line and seeing the limits of even these changes. You can put your practice online, change your billing structure, shift your focus to an advisory capacity, take advantage of time and cost-saving technology. . .but you’re still only you. Your firm is still just your firm, stuck in the confines and formalities of an entity designed in the past. If and when that business model stops working for you, for any reason, what’s next? Within the traditional “firm” construct, when you compete on quality and price, there is no room to scale up

Colon envisions the legal industry moving past even this. Next paradigm shift: moving away from the adversarial to the collaborative. We have the systems, both procedural and virtual, to do this. We have the evolving mindset: providing  free information and research online, creating high levels of trust through social media (read Trust Agents by Chris Brogan) and expanding our relationships are opening the door to collaboration. We don’t need structured law firms, we need networks of lawyers collaborating through technology, or Virtual Enterprise Networks (VEN).

OBA is becoming that network.  ”OBA is building that culture of global collaboration, friendship and mutual support, a free membership culture of quality and collaboration. The desire and understanding by many lawyers of the need to build trust and relationships on a global scale for their success is driving OBA. As OBA members we can adapt and move much quicker in response to market and client needs.

“We want to make OBA primarily social, a joy to practice law, with a badge of trust between us as OBA members. This will translate into huge leverage for small to solo firms on a global scale not available to them before,” Colon says.

Did I hear someone say the words “law” and “joy” in the same sentence? Perhaps there is a means to constructively engage in  a legal system that is so broken as to be beyond repair. Perhaps we can put the excitement back in a profession that is dull with drudgery and uselessness.  Jorge Colon thinks so, and he wants to take us there.

Lawyers and Social Media: a Powerful Force

I’m going to break all the rules of social media optimization here and start this post talking about the movie “Legends of the Fall”, which I had watched on Sunday. The story is about a lot of things, but what reached out and grabbed me was the nonchalance with which Alfred, the older brother/politician, treated the murder of his brother Tristan’s wife (Tristan being a defiant kind of guy) during a confrontation about selling alcohol during prohibition. Tristan was a low-end dealer, but he was beginning to eat into the profits of Alfred’s buddies, who served most of the city folk their share, including Alfred. His wife’s murder: collateral damage, no one to report it to because they were all on the take, and Alfred was clearly not concerned.

Yesterday, the news reported an incident of a police department that had to release a group of college students held in custody for beating policemen, when a video was released on uTube depicting the police viciously beating the kids with clubs. Now the video is being circulated internationally to show once again how authority attempts to hide its mistakes.

Later that morning, a friend emailed me a link to the video, at WikiLeaks.org, that captured the 2007 Iraq massacre (yes, it was) of a group of men crossing the street.  The military had called it being “engaged in combat”, but the only combat apparent was our helicopter gunmen opening fire on about 8 men nonchalantly crossing the street, 2 of whom appeared to be carrying rifles. Among them were the 2 Reuters reporters carrying their cameras who were killed in the attack. There was absolutely nothing suspicious about their behavior, and I doubt it was unusual to see Iraqies carrying weapons in 2007 Baghdad.  And oh, the kids in the van that arrived to try to recover the dead and wounded? Well, our guys couldn’t see them, they were too busy bantering and making sure they shot down anyone who appeared at the scene. But the truth of that incident, too, is now circulating the 2.0 globe, confirming the suspicions that not all who serve care about liberating the downtrodden from their oppressors, as we are led to believe.

And that is the beauty of social media. 24/7 real-time access to the reality rather than the next day’s regurgitation of the story concocted to justify action. Anyone engaged in web 2.0 can become part of an international community that might just be the last stance against self-annihilation.

As lawyers, we received an education that took us down the dark corridors of our institutions.  The benefits of that education is that we were also taught what could be done to make it right. “Making it right” hardly ever seems to be accomplished. But by engaging with online communities armed with our knowledge, we have so much to give to accomplish things that in Tristan’s time he couldn’t even fight for.

Later on in the afternoon, (yes, this was all in one day) I was led by my twitter/facebook friend Tim Baran to a site called Cutting Edge Law. The tagline of the site is this: “What if Lawyers were Peacemakers, Problem Solvers and Healers of Conflicts?” This new and exciting legal networking site advocates for a legal, institutional and world view that includes collaborative law and practice, community lawyering, holistic or preventative law, and lawyers for social change.

Of course, there have always been lawyers who fought for social change. But there is one thing they did not have by their side: social media. They could not operate with technology that allowed them to collaborate internationally, gave them access to information they were never supposed to see, and spread their message to people and places they did not know.  All that is available to us now, and we have a responsibility to use it.

We are no longer one person standing in a lonely courtroom whose pleas for justice are falling on deaf ears. We can be part of  international communities that are as close as the nearest wifi connection, whose focus on cooperation and mutual respect, even in the face of disagreement, could lead to (dare I say it?) solving international challenges.

I know these are unstable times for lawyers and we are preoccupied with our own survival. But it is also the best of times for the world community to become just that. Lawyers have the skills, the presence, the training to organize efforts and overcome challenges. Let’s not let this chance slip us by.