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Archive for February, 2008

A great story on from the NYT today on their “Talk To The Newsroom” feature. The interview is with Graphics Director Steve Duenes, and while there is some very interesting Q and A’s about their process for anyone involved with informational design, the highlight for me was the story told in response to the question of “What’s the best graphic you’ve ever done?”. Which for a creative is a tough question, it’s like asking which of your children you like the best.

Duenes’ response is a really cool story crystallizing the power of even a simple visual explanation. Nicholas Kristof, one of the paper’s columnist, had done a series of columns on third-world disease. These columns formed the genesis of Bill and Melinda Gates’s interest in world health issues. The couple told Kristof this on a trip they all took to Africa to see the work the Gates Foundation was doing. Kristof sends an email to the NYT Graphics department relating this episode to them. I’ve included the relevant section below.

Great! I was really proud of this impact that my worldwide reporting and 3,500-word article had had. But then bill confessed that actually it wasn’t the article itself that had grabbed him so much — it was the graphic. It was just a two column, inside graphic, very simple, listing third world health problems and how many people they kill. but he remembered it after all those years and said that it was the single thing that got him redirected toward public health.

No graphic in human history has saved so many lives in africa and asia.

I’m sending you a copy of the story and graphic by interoffice mail. whoever did the graphic should take a bow.

nick kristof

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A surveywas just published by LexisNexis about information overload in the workplace, and specifically among legal professionals. Below are the first three survey results which were fascinating, along with some thoughts I had about each one.

– Sixty-two percent of professionals report that they spend a lot of time sifting through irrelevant information to find what they need; 68 percent wish they could spend less time organizing information and more time using the information that comes their way;

I’m surprised the percentage is this low. The other thirty plus percent must be senior levels who, in line with a 1950s style of management, have all information already consolidated for them.

Our experience in preparing for trial is not only having command of the evidence frustrating for the trial team, it’s the single obstacle to preparing an effective trial strategy. Most trial teams simply don’t have command of their evidence in real way. The amount of energy and effort we’ve see wasted in determining if a document was produced, what Bates numbers it was produced with, and which depositions it was marked in is remarkable and counter-productive — in the end, it doesn’t further the trial strategy, either tactically or legally, at all.

— Workers admit that not being able to lay their hands on the right information at the right time impedes their ability to work efficiently; 85% agree that not being able to access the right information at the right time is a huge time-waster;

What a shock! Not being able to access the evidence effectively is a time waster? This is going in our sales presentation as exhibit one.  This is our Copacabana rule. If you can find the lyrics to Copacabana easier than you can find evidence, you’ve got a big problem. Google “Copacabana lyrics”. Or click this link. Uh, oh, was that easier and faster than finding a piece of key deposition testimony? That’s a problem.

There is a real problem we see of trial teams being under the illusion of control. Having paper exhibits in a binder with highlighting is not real control. Lawyers who believe in this “tried and true” method haven’t “tried” it with a million pages to access. Or more to the point — a million emails to access.

— More than 40 percent of the survey participants indicate an inability to handle future increases in information flow;

Because most people in the legal industry know what no one is saying. The emperor has no clothes. Very simply legal technology is not working right now.  The technology most lawyers and law firms are still investing in was developed twenty years ago.  We see that most legal technology isn’t even used by lawyers (outside of Blackberries and cellphones). Evidence management is outdated. The conclusion is correct, the current infrastructure is unable to handle an increase in information flow.

This is our mission.  To free lawyers of this overload.

Our customers find their information quickly.  The most experienced lawyers we work with insist on one thing — immediate access to everything instantly. Period. They don’t waste time managing information, and have even less patience for hearing why it can’t happen. And they know that however the technology changes, we’ll be ahead of them on figuring out a solution.

Our customers don’t worry about this stuff. They worry about how to win their case.

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It’s a question increasingly being asked. One of the keynote speeches at LegalTech this year focused on the idea, suggesting that the IT departments of corporate clients are better suited to handle litigation-related data management functions currently performed by law firm IT resources.

It’s really quite simple as to why this has become an issue. There is an economic disconnect between the value delivered by law firms in implementing technology and the amount it costs. Law firms simply aren’t good at designing or executing great technology strategy, but they charge a lot for it when they try do it.

One thing that separates our customers from their law firm bretheren is that they actively bring us in to manage large data sets other firms routinely bill their clients for — even in some cases when they have substantial in-house resources. Why would they do that?

First, the firms save their clients a lot of money. Managing electronic evidence is our core expertise, and our bill rates are lower. Our law firm customers love delivering value for their end clients. Part of the reason we are so passionate about solving problems for our law firm customers is that these firms get it. They appreciate what we bring to the table and in turn, we work like crazy to justify that faith.

Second, the lawyers at these firms get better technology service from a company like ours than from their in-house department. We aren’t an overhead expense. We don’t have political issues to navigate. We don’t jeopardize their core legal fees and in fact, help to protect them. We build our own products. We reinvest our profits in innovation. We survive and thrive by being better. It’s self-evident in a way.

Finally, we free lawyers to refocus on their core value add which is the intellectual capital involved in managing legal risks. And when they focus on their highest value services, clients are happier and fewer fees are written off. Their clients get better legal services and better technology services for less money (see #1).

Law firms are really good at hiring, training and promoting lawyers — not computer scientists or creative design experts. It might be that in-house technology departments for law firms don’t make sense for these functions, even on a day-to-day basis.

I’ll make an analogy to the car business. Car manufacturers know how to make cars. They focus all of their energy and effort and put all into manufacturing and marketing really great cars that are safe, fast, efficient, and comfortable.

But they don’t make tires. And the cars they make have to have tires. Tires are critical to the performance of their product. It is not possible to sell a car without tires! But car companies leave tires to the tire companies, and focus on their core functions.

It’s a question we’re asking our law firm customers. Are you spending your time building a better car or trying to figure out how to make a tire?

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When I am asked by a customer to look at a presentation they are thinking about giving or an opening statement they are working on, I have the same two comments.

  • Use fewer words
  • Show don’t tell

No one reads presentation text — people look at it. Like you look at a billboard or a headline. So it should say something. That fast. And it doesn’t have to be a sentence. Like the web. No one reads it, everyone skims it. So jab and move.

Second, there are few things with less visual appeal than a bullet point about data.

  • Revenues Q108 are down 20% from Q407

Snoozer. Show me the bullet!

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The Case of PC v. Mac

At Nextpoint, we’ve historically been fanatic Thinkpad fans. I felt about my Thinkpad I would imagine the same way Derek Jeter felt about his glove. But then something changed. Like when someone stole Jeter’s gamer and tried to sell it. Actually, a lot of individual things changed.

First, we started developing applications for the web instead of local installs because of the overwhelming business case to be made for SaaS products. Then, Thinkpad was sold and the build quality of the computers went down. I started using Firefox so I had a non-IE browser. Finally, an impending Vista upgrade and an “upgrade” to Office 2007 killed my T60 and put the final nail in the coffin. I migrated to a 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro and absolutely love it. It’s been so successful we’re planning on migrating most of the company to Macs as part of our overall strategy. Why?

It’s the Web, stupid. Web developers know Macs work better with the web. Nextpoint is web-based. We built it to maximize our performance in a number of core trial processes – exhibit stamping, document presentation, deposition management, file sharing – for which no existing software worked. Because its web-based, we are no longer tethered to a Windows environnment in order to use of host of outdated applications that didn’t work very well in the first place.

We are seeing new customers and lots of interest from lawyers who run Macs. They simply had no option for litigation-focused software. Neither did we until now, making the Mac a completely feasible option.

It’s less expensive. With Nextpoint, we don’t need local installs of Summation, Concordance, TrialDirector, Sanction or LiveNote. No Citrix configuration, no mapping of databases to networked drives. And one of the major advantages for us is that we can have a gradual transition as our equipment goes out of date versus needing to convert the entire company immediately. Macs and PCs can work on the same data with no problem. Forget about the effect on our bottom line of a forced upgrade to Vista, followed by forced upgrades by all of the supporting applications. Just contemplating the amount of support hours to install, patch, upgrade, and reset our entire network was enough to force us to another option. And I’m glad it did.

It runs Office seamlessly. Office 2008 for the Mac works almost seamlessly with Office 2007 and to a lesser extent 2003 – even with graphic and data intensive PowerPoint and Excel files. This means we can open files without using Parallels, which frankly was not a pleasant experience. Migration to Entourage has been almost painless, and my BlackBerry didn’t even need to be updated. That said, we’re actively looking at enterprise web-based e-mail solutions so we can stop spending time on managing our internal network, and more time on our customers.

It works super fast and looks great. My PC took forever to boot and shut down. My new MacBook flies through applications. Double finger scrolling through screens is great. The video drivers are vastly superior to PCs. VPN and wireless configuratios are a snap. The 16:9 screen means our document callouts are wider and easier to read. And the photos of the kids look better when I’m on the plane wondering when a gate at O’Hare is going to open up.

All in all, I had a great run with Thinkpads. I loved them dearly and will always have a soft spot for them. But in a way, its seems very 90s now, the stylish black case with the red mouse point I still occasionally grope around for, a memory of something that feels like it’s missing. For so long, it was the sign of competence, of gravitas, of business computing might. But alas, times change and so must we. And today, at least in my world, its time for a Mac.

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I’m going to assume for the sake of this post, that you’ve already decided to host your evidence with an outside service provider. That’s a decision that acknowledges the true cost of managing in-house production/evidence systems. From storage, to software, to staff it’s a huge commitment to manage your evidence in-house. But when it comes to using a hosted provider, there are some serious pricing considerations and details that need to be considered and are rarely discussed throughout the buying process.

Some of these gotchas ring a bell?

-Exporting your evidence will cost extra
-If you want to search, you need to OCR. That’ll cost extra.
-Basic support, extra.

Most of us aren’t aware of this issue until we’re locked in. These Nickel and Diming practices add a ton of complexity to your preparation process. Your case is likely complicated, but researching and managing your productions should be simple. Consumer simple, like email or searching the web. If you haven’t been already, ask your vendors how they price for export, OCR, and software support.

The products and technologies that I’m most passionate about are those that make it easy not only to sign-up, but exit should that time come. Funny how the products that are easiest to leave are the ones I’ve stayed with for years.

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This is a brief overview of Nextpoint’s flagship product that came about after an interview and post by Ajaxian.com.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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