I do not usually review consumer hardware here, but I am making an exception for the Sony RDPX200iP speaker dock for iPads and iPhones. I’ve been wanting a new speaker dock for awhile and have researched several popular options, including the highly recommended Bose SoundDock Series II. But the reviews kept leading me back to this Sony, [...]
CAT | General
The Third Annual Super Marketing Conference, with a focus on web marketing, is taking place in Boston on Thursday, May 16. The conference is presented by the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, the Massachusetts Bar Association, Suffolk University Law School and Avvo, together with a variety of other sponsors.
The keynote speaker will be Avvo founder and CEO Mark Britton, who will speak on the topic, Ten Opportunities Lawyers Miss in Online Marketing. The full conference agenda is available here.
This all-day conference will be held at Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont St., Boston. Registration, which includes breakfast and lunch, is $69. If you belong to one of the sponsoring organizations (and there are more than I’ve listed here), registration is $49. Web access will be available via the Massachusetts Bar Association’s On Demand portal.
I have both spoken at and attended this conference in past years and can tell you that it has always been well worth the price of admission.
I read a lot of blogs. I am often impressed by the quality of the posts. Many lawyers consistently write thoughtful, insightful posts about their practices and interests. Even so, I often notice simple mistakes in lawyers’ blogs that can detract from their ability to build readership. Here are five common mistakes that you can easily fix.
1. Don’t bury your blog. Law firms sometimes make the mistake of burying their blogs within an interior page of the firm’s website. There is nothing wrong with incorporating your blog into your site. However, the blog should have a “brand” of its own. Give your blog a unique and memorable name and give it a unique URL, even if that URL redirects to a page within your site. The name should be descriptive and easy to remember.
2. Sign your posts. A group-written blog can be an effective way to highlight a practice area within a firm or to share the blogging load with others. But even a group-written blog should highlight the individual contributors, each of whom should bring a unique voice and perspective to the overall effort. I sometimes see group-written blogs where the posts are not signed. That leaves the reader wondering which of the contributors authored the post. Make sure each post identifies its author. And make sure each author has at least a brief bio available on the blog or there is a link to the author’s full bio elsewhere.
3. Describe your blog. Most blogs include an “About this Blog” page or box. But I am frequently surprised when I see blogs that skip this simple step. Readers want to know something about who you are, what you do and what your blog is about. Most surprising to me is when I find practice-group blogs that nowhere describe the practice or that do not even link back to the practice-group description on the firm’s website. And, yes, I have seen this. The description of your blog is both a service to your readers and a marketing opportunity for you.
4. Promote your blog. With so many legal professionals launching blogs, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. To attract readers to your blog, you need to let them know you exist. To do this, make sure your blog is listed in directories of legal blog. The ABA Journal maintains a Blawg Directory that will add your listing upon request. Justia also has an extensive directory of legal blogs. Besides listing your blog in directories, make sure you share your posts to your networks on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
5. Update your blog. The single biggest mistake new bloggers make is to neglect their blogs. The period when you first launch a blog is when consistent, regular updates are most important. This is when you are building a readership. You want to give readers a reason to come back. You hope to generate some buzz. You do not have to post every day, but I believe a new blog should be updated at least three times a week. As you become more established and build up a reputation and a readership, frequency becomes less important.
Nothing causes lawyers more sleepless nights than fear of missed deadlines. Just one ill-timed lapse can let a statute of limitations run out or a filing deadline pass. For that reason, tools that help you calculate and calendar deadlines are invaluable.
One such tool is LawToolBox.com. It claims to have been the first online, rule-based deadline calculator, and it backs up that claim with a patent it applied for in 1999. However, until relatively recently, the Denver-based company kept a low national profile, in part because it was gathering the various court rule sets that would allow it to offer its product nationally. Currently, its rule sets cover all state and federal trial courts and some appellate courts.
A key feature of LawToolBox is that it combines the advantages of a cloud-based system with tight desktop integration via Microsoft Outlook. Because the service is cloud-based, you can access it anywhere, from any device, and it is always kept up to date with rules changes, without requiring local software updates. And because it integrates with Outlook, you get to track deadlines and receive notifications just as you already do. (The LawToolBox folks say that 70 percent of lawyers rely on Outlook as their exclusive calendaring system.)
LawToolBox also integrates with LexisNexis Time Matters and with Google Calendar. But the majority of the company’s customers — primarily litigators in firms ranging in size from solo to large — use the Outlook integration.
LawToolBox integrates with Outlook using add-in software called Integrated Deadlines. The initial set-up of a case is always done online through the company’s website. Set up requires someone — a lawyer or paralegal — to enter the basic case information, select the venue, and enter a trigger event, such as the date the complaint was served or the date the trial begins.
Once the trigger is set, LawToolBox calculates all the deadlines and generates a detailed deadline chart that shows each deadline as well as the authority on which it is based. This chart can be downloaded and saved to your desktop.
For users who opt for Outlook integration, the deadlines are automatically added to their Outlook calendars. Users can set options for how these are displayed. Deadlines can show as all-day events in your calendar, as tasks on your task list, or both. Specific scheduled events, such as depositions and court appearances, can be scheduled as appointments. Users can also customize when and how event reminders appear within Outlook.
In addition to calendaring deadlines, LawToolBox sends email reminders. Many of these reminders include brief practice tips about the particular deadline and links to the applicable rule. Here again, you can choose whether or not to receive these email reminders.
Note that the integration is one way only. Changes to deadlines cannot be made within Outlook, but must be entered through the website.
Some of the other features of LawToolBox include:
- Create your own deadline templates. If your firm has developed its own deadline template for specific types of cases, these can be important into and used within LawToolBox.
- Share cases. You can designate which attorneys and support staff in your office have access to a case. Each user is able to individually customize preferences for integration and reminders. If a user is removed from a case, all synchronized events are removed from the user’s calendar.
- Transfer cases. If an attorney leaves the firm, the case deadlines can be transferred to another attorney within the firm. Alternatively, the departing attorney can take the case to the new firm, without paying another set-up fee.
- Deadline customization. Deadlines can be calculated and customized to match the specific requirements of a case. Thus, if a court enters an order modifying or setting deadlines, LawToolBox can make the necessary calculations and changes.
- Reports of deadlines. Various custom reports are available, showing deadlines for the firm, a case, an attorney or a paralegal. Typically, LawToolBox generates and emails a deadline summary report every Friday, covering the following week or month.
- History tracking. LawToolBox maintains a history of your activity, showing who created or modified a deadline and when it was done.
The company offers free support for the first 30 days, after which support calls are free for the first 10 minutes and then charged at $95 an hour. It provides a set of free video tutorials that cover most aspects of its use.
Unlike many cloud-based services, which are priced on a subscription basis, LawToolBox charges by the case. LawToolBox gives new customers a price quote that may vary in its details. Typically, however, a firm will pay a discounted rate of $49.50 per case for the first three weeks, after which the per-case cost becomes $69. In addition, to use the add-on that enables synchronization with Outlook, there is a per-user monthly charge that ranges from $10 for a single user to $3 for 26 or more users.
If a firm uses its own custom rule set, then the price is reduced to $17.50 per case.
This per-case pricing offers two benefits. One is that it allows the firm to pass the cost through to the client, so that the firm actually pays nothing for the service. The other is that it makes the service portable; if you move to another firm, you do not pay a second time to set up the cases you take with you.
One other note on pricing: If you settle or close the case within 60 days of setting it up, the fee is refunded.
For lawyers who are involved in litigation, a deadline calculator does more than help you sleep at night. It also helps you avoid malpractice and, in many cases, save on the cost of your malpractice premium. There are various calendaring products out there; some I’ve covered include JuraLaw, DocketLaw, and Deadlines.com (formerly Deadlines on Demand). With its per-case pricing, cloud accessibility, and tight integration with Outlook, LawToolBox is worth investigating. The company offers a free trial or you can view some of its video tutorials to get a better sense of how it works.
Call me late to the party on this book. Electronic Discovery for Small Cases: Managing Digital Evidence and ESI, by Bruce A. Olson and Tom O’Connor, was published a year ago. I happened to pick up a copy a couple months ago and only finally read it recently. Now that I’ve read it, I can report that this is a well-done and much-needed guide to e-discovery in smaller cases.
The authors — both of whom are veteran legal technology and e-discovery consultants — start out by framing what they call the “small case dilemma.” This dilemma stems from the simple fact that many of the leading e-discovery platforms are neither built nor priced for small cases. Conceivably, a case with just 200 GB of data could end up costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For smaller cases, that means, the cost of e-discovery could easily exceed the value of the case. So what do you do if your e-discovery budget is just $10,000, or even less?
As it turns out, there are various technologies that are both effective and affordable for smaller cases. This book describes desktop and cloud platforms that can be used for collecting, processing, search, review and production of electronically stored information. The authors identify specific products and walk you through their use. The book is detailed in its instructions and peppered with screenshots to illustrate the text.
For lawyers not experienced in e-discovery, the book opens with an overview of key concepts and terms. Throughout, the book is written in clear language that even e-discovery novices can easily understand.
For a book about technology, perhaps the best advice it contains is decidedly non-technological. It comes early on, in a chapter entitled, “A Cooperative Approach to Managing E-Discovery in Smaller Cases,” and the point is simple. The best way to reduce costs in e-discovery, the authors argue, is to use your skills as a lawyer to think through what you really want, be specific in your discovery requests, and take full advantage of the meet-and-confer to cooperate with opposing counsel.
“Planning, a targeted approach to discovery, cooperation between counsel, and the use of the proper tools to meet your specific case needs can help you lessen the cost of e-discovery in smaller cases,” the authors write. With this book, they show you how to do each of these.
[Updated with new additions 5/13/13.]
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Kopf made national news this week when he wrote on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, about the frequent irrelevancy of the Supreme Court. “A lot of what the Supreme Court does is simply irrelevant to what federal trial judges do on a daily basis,” wrote Judge Kopf, who presides and blogs from Lincoln, Neb.
As unusual as it is for a federal judge to call the Supreme Court irrelevant, it is perhaps even more unusual for a federal judge to have a blog. Judge Kopf launched his blog just two months ago, on Feb. 20, explaining in his introductory post that, having assumed senior status, he wanted to write about “what it means to be a federal judge on a day-to-day basis.”
Even as blogging has taken off within the legal profession, it remains rare to find judges who blog and even rarer to find federal judges who blog. Probably the best-known blogger on the federal bench — indeed, perhaps the only other blogger on the federal bench — is Richard Posner, judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago, who has been co-author of The Becker-Posner Blog for nearly a decade. Back in 2008, I wrote here about another federal blogging judge, Nancy Gertner, who became a contributor to Slate’s Convictions blog. She wrote just four posts. Now, she is no longer a judge and the blog is no longer updated.
There is good reason, perhaps, for this judicial reticence, as was made clear in a 2007 article on judicial blogging in Case in Point, the magazine of The National Judicial College. Judges are constrained in what and how they can communicate by both ethical rules and practical considerations, the article points out. The atmosphere for blogging is even chillier in the U.K., where judges were warned last year that inappropriate blogging could result in disciplinary action.
Given this state of affairs, I thought it would be interesting to survey just who, exactly, is blogging from the bench. From what I could find, the pickings are slim. I hope you who read this will let me know if there are others I have missed.
Blogs by Current Judges
Bench and Bar Experiences. Described as a blog “to record and convey the daily experiences of a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge,” this is the blog of Judge John DiMotto. He has been a judge since 1990 and has blogged since 2009. His posts tend to be of a general public-education nature, covering broad topics such as civil discovery in Wisconsin.
Judge Bonnie Sudderth. As the name reveals, this blog is written by Bonnie Sudderth, a judge of the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, Texas. The blog covers the Texas Rules of Evidence. There have been no updates since November 2012.
The Magistrates Blog. From the U.K. comes this blog about the Magistrates’ Courts. Although the authors are anonymous, they are identified as a team “who may or may not be JPs.” A JP is a justice of the peace, a title given to the magistrates, and it is generally assumed that at least some of these authors are, in fact, JPs.
When the Abuser Goes to Work … This blog is written by a judge, but is not about judging. The author, Patricia Barnes, is an appellate judge with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone tribe in Nevada. Her blog covers workplace bullying, discrimination and abuse.
A Work in Progress. Here is another blogging U.K. magistrate, Trevor Coultart. However, his blog rarely touches on his day job. Rather, it covers personal topics ranging from faith to cycling to photography.
Contentandcarrier. This blog covers European electronic communications and media law. One of its four authors, Hans Peter Lehofer, is a judge at the Austrian Administrative Court.
Country Judge. Tom McCarthy, a Minnesota District Court judge for 25 years, launched this blog in February 2013. His purpose, he writes, is to “reflect on the people, cases and work that have made my judicial career interesting and fulfilling.”
12th Chancery Court District of Mississippi. This blog is written by Chancery Judge Larry Primeaux. It provides news and information about practice in Lauderdale and Clarke Counties. “So much in Chancery Court practice depends on the preferences and predilections of the judge,” he explains. “I hope that this blog will give you an insight into some of my preferences and predilections about practice in Chancery Court in the 12th District.”
Blogs by Former Judges
Judge Tom Talks. Tom Leonard, a former judge of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court, shares his views on current issues in workers’ compensation law. The last update to the blog was in August 2011.
Developments in California Trial Practice. This blog is written by Gregory Ward, a former judge of the Santa Clara County Superior Court. It covers cases and legislation relating to California trial practice. The last update was in August 2012.
AsktheJudge.info. This blog is intended to serve as a resource to help teens understand the law and their legal rights. It is the creation of Tom Jacobs, a former juvenile and family court judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona.
Say What?! The author of this blog is not only no longer a judge, he is no longer alive. For nearly 30 years, U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer wrote a courtroom humor column for the Texas Bar Journal. This blog, published by the Texas Bar, keeps Judge Buchmeyer’s humor alive.
What have I missed here? Let me know of other blogs written by judges and I’ll add them in.
Legal research service Fastcase has long had a citator function, called Authority Check, that lets you see how a case has been cited. Unlike Shepard’s from LexisNexis or KeyCite from Thomson Reuters, however, it has not alerted you when a case is no longer good law.Now it does. As of last night, Fastcase rolled out Bad Law Bot, an enhancement to its Authority Check function that identifies cases that have been reversed or overturned.
Now, when the bot identifies a case as bad law, the case will be tagged with a red flag in your search results and when you view the full case. If you run Authority Check, the report will identify the case in which the negative treatment appeared.
An important caveat here is that the identification of bad cases is being done algorithmically. Whereas Shepard’s and KeyCite use editors to analyze cases, Fastcase’s Bad Law Bot is using computer analytics. It searches for citations within cases that indicate that the cited case has been overturned or reversed. When an opinion cites a case as having been overturned, Bad Law Bot flags the case as having a negative history.
This means that Bad Law Bot will help in identifying bad law but should not be relied on as the final word on a case. As Fastcase’s own announcement says, “Because it reports what cases say in citations, researchers should rely on Bad Law Bot as an aid to identifying negative history, not as a comprehensive guide.”Fastcase CEO Edward J. Walters calls this one of the first “big data” applications for legal research, insofar as the bot has searched through some 65 million citations within the Fastcase library and harvested that data for actionable intelligence.
While Bad Law Bot is not a substitute for Shepard’s or KeyCite, it is a noteworthy enhancement for Fastcase and a further step towards the functionality of its Goliath competitors. And it’s not the last step, apparently. In a brief phone conversation with Walters last night, he described this as the “first step” in making Fastcase’s citator more comparable to Shepard’s and KeyCite. So stay tuned for further developments.
Walters has posted a video in which he explains how Bad Law Bot works. Watch the video at http://youtu.be/ZsKu7FoO2Ns.
Monica Bay, editor in chief of Law Technology News, invited me to be a guest on her Law Technology Now podcast this week. Our topic was a recap of legal technology trends we’ve seen on the trade-show circuit this year, primarily at the recent ABA Techshow and the earlier LegalTech New York.
Listen here: 2013′s Legal Technology Trends.
The managing partner of a law firm called me and asked my opinion of how his firm’s blog was doing. This struck me as an odd question. After all, wouldn’t he know this better than I? So I put the question back to him.
“How do you think your blog is doing?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” he answered.
“Well, how has the traffic been?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” he answered.
“Has it generated any contacts?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
“Are you getting any pingbacks?” I asked.
“What’s a pingback?” he answered.
“Are you collecting any data at all?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” he answered.
Here’s the deal: You may not care in the least whether your blog is generating traffic. You may be writing it just for the fun of it. But if marketing is even just a part of the reason you blog, then you should know whether your hard work is delivering any results.
So how do you know that?
Well, if you want to know how something is doing, then you need two types of information. First, you need to know where you’re trying to get to – in other words, you need a goal. Second, you need some way of measuring your progress towards reaching that goal, some form of mileposts.
As for a goal for your blog, you have to decide that yourself – preferably before you ever launch it. Your goal may be to build your reputation within an area of practice. It may be to enhance your firm’s search engine rankings. It may be to directly bring in clients. It may be to draw media interviews. It may be any or all or none of these — plenty of bloggers write just for the satisfaction of it.
But here is the critical part: Once you’ve set a goal for your blog, then you need to measure how well you’re doing at reaching it. You need to identify mileposts and then track your progress.
How do you do that? The best way to start is the free measurement tool, Google Analytics. This is an easy-to-use but extremely sophisticated platform for tracking the effectiveness of a website or blog. All you need to do is install a snippet of tracking code on your blog – help pages walk you through this – and you’re on your way. You will begin to receive rich data about how visitors come to your blog and what they do while they’re there. What are your top traffic sources? Which are your most and least popular posts? Google Analytics tells you.
Oh … and did I mention it is free?
Microsoft’s Bing offers its own set of web analytics tools, also free of charge. One advantage it has over Google Analytics is in measurement of incoming links. Incoming links – which sites and how many sites link to you – is an important measure in how search engines rank your blog. Bing’s analytics show you this in greater detail than does Google Analytics, which shows only recent trackbacks.
Traffic analytics are only one measure of the success of a blog. Depending on your goals, there are other measures you might track. Is your blog moving up in search engine rankings? Are you getting direct contacts from potential clients or referral sources through your blog? Are you receiving more invitations to speak at seminars or business events? Are you getting more calls from the news media to comment as an expert in your area of law? Any of this information can be tracked and, over time, provide a picture of how well your blog is doing.
So if I happen to run into you somewhere, don’t ask me how I think your blog is doing. That’s a question you should be able to answer for yourself.
Business cards can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that they provide an easy way to exchange contact information. The curse comes when you get back to your office and have to figure out what to do with them. Basically, you have two choices. One is to condemn the cards to business-card purgatory – that shelf in your office where they sit and gather dust. The other is to make them useful by adding the information to your contact-management system.
In the prehistoric days of the all-paper Rolodex, adding business cards to your contacts was easy. You could just clip two notches in a card and insert it in your Rolodex in appropriate alphabetical order. In fact, business-card notch clippers were once popular giveaways at legal trade shows. Now, however, you face the problem of having to get the information from that paper card to your digital file.
Not surprisingly, there are apps for that. One of the easiest to use is Bump, which is available for iPhone and Android. With Bump, you can forget the paper business cards altogether. Just hold your phone in your hand and bump the hand of another Bump user. Your contact information is magically transferred between phones.
Bump sounds like the ideal remedy for business-card overload. The problem is that the other person’s phone needs to have Bump installed and both people need to have it ready to go and set up to exchange contacts. Rarely have I actually used Bump, primarily because the other person either does not have it or has never set it up.
Another alternative is an app that turns your smart phone into a business-card scanner. There are a number of such apps available. One I have used is CamCard from IntSig, available for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. Snap a picture of the business card and CamCard recognizes the contact information and saves it to your address book. It will also read QR code business cards. Once you’ve saved the information, you can search for the contact on LinkedIn or export the information to Excel.
These scanner apps are nice but imperfect. If you start with a plain, block-text business card and get a well-lit, sharp picture, the OCR software does a good job of deciphering the information on the card and inserting the correct information in the correct fields. But if you start with a more stylized card or cannot get a clear shot, the OCR performs less admirably. Either way, you end up having to go in and manually check and edit the scanned information. For the amount of text contained on a business card, it almost seems easier to type it directly.
The Holy Grail
What makes CardMunch different is that it uses real humans. Just as with the other apps, you use your smart phone to snap a photo of the business card. Once you have the picture, you tap “upload” and wait. Unlike OCR apps, CardMunch sends the image to real-live humans. They transcribe the information and send it back to you, at which point CardMunch notifies you, “You have a new contact.” The most recent one I tried was returned to me in roughly an hour.
CardMunch stores your contacts and also stores the scanned cards in a cover-flow view — hold your iPhone vertically to see the list of contacts, turn it horizontal to see the cover flow. You can also save each entry to your smartphone contacts, which you can then synchronize with your Outlook contacts.
Another neat feature of CardMunch is its integration with LinkeIn. Each contact in CardMunch includes a “connect” button. Just click it to send a connection request to that person on LinkedIn. (If the person is not on LinkedIn, you receive an email from CardMunch telling you that.) CardMunch also pulls information from your contacts’ LinkedIn profiles, including their photographs, and adds it to their CardMunch file.
The only bad news I can report about CardMunch is that it is available only for iPhone. Its website used to say that support for both Android and BlackBerry phones “is coming soon.” But that message appears to have disappeared.