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Archive for September, 2010

The legal technology industry is increasingly being driven by a need do more with less.  This means “Doing It Yourself”.

What’s the best approach?  Borrowing a tagline from my favorite home improvement store Lowe’s, instead of going it alone, “Let’s Build Something Together.” Here’s how!

Know Your Skills
Think of yourself as a legal technology’s version of Bob Vila?  You are probably not.  In fact, I will guarantee you are not.  Unless you have a degree in computer science or related field. Or unless you’re some freak talent that’s been managing a Pizza Shack and suddenly the light went off.  That I can believe.

If you are in a legal-related or professional services company, your expertise is in client service, project management, marketing, budgeting, client communications, logistics — even if you are an internal service bureau. Focus on those competencies, compete on that landscape, and kick your competitor’s ass on those.

The reasoning is simple.  You can’t afford to be wasting time on something you have no competitive advantage in – you don’t have time to do something poorly.

Back at the Lowe’s, I love looking table saws while I am buying light bulbs.  In the end, my wife makes sure I just leave with the light bulbs and that we hire someone who is really good with a table saw. Someone who is actually Bob Vila.

Oh, that person always has their own table saw already, and it’s a better table saw then I would have bought. And for sure, I don’t try to build a table saw.

Science Matters, Scientists Matter
So what next?  I’ll use Nextpoint as an example. We started out with a group of liberal arts trained power-users who could make Microsoft Excel land a Boeing 747 and make pigs fly in Photoshop. Fantastically talented and hard-working.  Super-duper smart. Lawyers hired us to help with their technology needs.  We were and still are professional technology integrators – and some of the best in the business at it.

But we reached a point about five years ago where our customers needs were breaking the software we bought from Microsoft and Adobe, just to name a few.  Excel and Access-based databases didn’t work anymore. Networking became a nightmare.  Our servers were filling up faster than we could plug them in.  Our backups were choking.  Security provisioning was difficult and inconsistent. Our costs were skyrocketing. Our clients were complaining about our costs.

The cause was we kept seeing the data volumes growing exponentially.  100 MB, turned into 500 MB, turned into 1 GB, turned into 50 GB, turned into literally 100s of GB routinely. Computer science – namely Moore’s law – told us this was not going to change in the foreseeable future. So we needed a new strategy — we needed computer scientists to tackle a computer science problem.

Don’t understand the programmatic difference between files with the extension of  .TIF and .PNG? Not sure what needs to happen on a file structure level to change one into the other?  Me neither.  But my background is working with law firms and legal technology companies.  Not writing code.

The Nextpoint Technology Lab writes code. Read this post on Ajaxian.com about how great software gets built from the ground up. You’ll get a sense of how much you actually know.  And how much you don’t know. For servers, storage and backup, even our computer scientists went to other computer scientists.  We partnered up with the computer scientists at Amazon Web Services.  Collectively, these scientists know a lot more than you or I will ever know about security, large scale storage and processing — unless you happen to be that guy from the Pizza Shack.

Focus on Your Strengths By Being an Early Adopter
This doesn’t mean give take a “hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil” approach. Great technology needs to be adopted not passively looked at.  It doesn’t mean don’t touch the data.  But know what you are supposed to do with the data.  Maintain chain of custody.  Have an inventory.  Know where it came from. Know what to do with it when you get it. Learn the vendor landscape.  Learn about the technology landscape.  Be an early adopter.

Your job isn’t to build the next generation of technology is – it is to know it when you see it! Early adopters aren’t wrong — they are winning.  Early adopters get a competitive advantage. Early adopters power their organizations to be world-class.  Early adopters are adapting to cloud computing.

I was frankly surprised at ILTA how few supposed technology professionals from law firms actually spent time on the floor talking to the technology integrators, developers, and consultants who are there for their disposal to learn about the latest and greatest. It’s a shame. Don’t be one of those people. It’s like going to Lowe’s for the hot dog.

Avoid Obvious Mistakes
It’s a mistake for non-technology based companies like law firms, in-house legal departments, and even consultancies to go much past project management.  Don’t try to process it yourself.  Don’t try to host it.  Don’t move it from software package to software package. Trying to bring processing in-house is a mistake.  Attempting to provision your own review platform and install it behind your firewall is a mistake.  Attempting to network and support litigation databases is a mistake.  Throwing more money, servers, and software at a problem is a mistake unless it’s your core business.

Focus all of your energies on work flow with the technology marketplace – whether that’s an integrator or software developer. The quality varies – some are good, some are awesome, and some are smoke and mirrors. And there are real differences. Focus your energies on figuring out who is who.

Early Adopters Do Just That — Adapt
So how do you do-it-yourself? Early adopters change and restructure their work patterns to maximize great technology.

Early adopters were the first to burn CDs to MP3s and put them on portable music device. Even earlier adopters had cassette tapes to walk around with their music.  Early adopters were the first to carry PDA’s to get email anywhere.  Even earlier adopters had email.  Early adopters were the first to use LCD screens on their desk, even earlier adopters had LCDs on portable laptops.  Early adopters were the first deploy on cloud computing platforms.  Even earlier adopters had built applications that worked over the internet.

You get my point.  Adapt to survive.  Adapt to thrive.  And that is something you can do yourself today.

Great Technology Always Saves Time and Money
What to adapt to?  Great technology does two things.  Saves time and saves money.  Define what you can DIY that saves time and money without a huge upfront expense.  Go after the low-hanging fruit, not a three-year, six figure implementation.  That day is over.

If you have to spend a lot to save a little, that’s not DIY — that’s a bad idea.  If you have to spend a lot of time and money and are unsure if it’s going to work, that’s not DIY, that’s going to Lowe’s loading up your carts, tearing up your kitchen and then realizing you need to call in a contractor to fix it. Lowe’s wins. The contractor wins.  You don’t.

DIY means knowing what to not buy at the Lowe’s. DIY means being an early adopter of great technology.

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Above the Law – Russia Uses Microsoft to Suppress Dissent – NYTimes.com

Another nail in the coffin for those continuing their misguided but vigorous efforts to make the assertion that a shared pool of computing is inherently riskier than some a mythical “private” computing resources.

Much like believeing the world is flat (literally, not in the Tom Friedman sense), an obvious observation is actually not just wrong, but profoundly, deeply misguided.

Here’s the latest example.  The NYT times reported this past Sunday on the efforts by the Russian government to use piracy charges concerning
Microsoft software to confiscate computers from dissidents and use the data on those computers to suppress their efforts.

As Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith addresses in a blog post, “it
suggested that there had been cases when our own counsel at law firms
had failed to help clear things up and had made matters worse instead.”

So much for “private” computers being more secure.  Or harder to get data from. Or that local install software licenses are fully vetted, and present no business risks. Or that Microsoft outside counsel – lawyers – are able to manage the privacy implications of local install software.

As we’ve always maintained, locally installed data on portable computers and devices is inherently riskiest possible way to store data.

But what’s so novel about this news from Russia is a new theory I’d never heard — that once
you’ve installed the software — any software — on hardware, that the
hardware could be confiscated as a result of anti-piracy efforts.

Your hardware, if not properly licensed, is subject to being confiscated
by federal or state authorities in order to enforce anti-piracy
protection. It’s self evident.

The next logical conclusion is that in order to evaluate the contractual issues with cloud computing, one should look at the contractual issues around local install models in order to do a full and complete comparison to cloud computing models on an “apples to apples” basis.

For those naysayers who pronounce the contractual issues around cloud computing are too new or untested or that the unwillingness of the cloud computing providers to provide exceptions and indemnities, how many of you gave your Microsoft EULA or any local install software license an equal scrubbing?

Zero.

How many of the cloud computing critics have clicked “I Agree” through their local install software licensing agreements without requesting any modification to the terms?

All of them.

I know I’ve got a new interest in what my actual contractual rights are with local installed software. My guess is that it doesn’t contain a blanket guarantee that the data is in my control regardless of the circumstance.

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