No #opensource at #ABATECHSHOW? No Worries.

January 9, 2012

The session schedule for #ABATECHSHOW 2012 is out, and #opensource didn’t make the cut this year. And you know what? That is perfectly OK.

Just glancing at the schedule, there are clearly bigger fish to fry than open source applications. Mobile security. Advances in cloud computing and security. Social media. Social media and eDiscovery. Technology moves at a fast pace, as you all are no doubt aware. And many of the advances have a direct impact on the solo and small firm cases. Open source? Not so much. Open source applications skill exist, mind you, and there’s nothing preventing you from trying some out or looking at them as alternatives.

Is it a bummer open source isn’t making a return? Yes. Am I that broken up about it? No. I’m more interesting in lawyers learning tips and tricks, and finding tools to use to better sift through the massive amount of data spewed across the Internet. The legal profession is undergoing shifts across the board, and #ABATECHSHOW 2012 schedule illustrates some of those shifts. Not only is the profession becoming more mobile, but its clientele is already mobile. In personal lives, we’re used to posting and commenting and not always aware of potential ramifications.

So #ABATECHSHOW is doing what it does best: educating lawyers on developments, advancements and new technologies. Are you going?

Some Big News – Small Firm Innovation #blawg100 and Relocation to #Vancouver, BC, CA

December 13, 2011

Well then.

There’s a fair amount of news to share as the year rushes to a close. I just realized a week from Saturday is Christmas Eve and have, um, have a lot of shopping to do. First things first though.

Small Firm Innovation has been chosen by the ABA Journal as one of its #blawg100 in the LPM category. Considering the blog only launched, albeit quietly, in April of this year, it is quite an honor. When I initially agreed to take on the project, the goal was quite simple: first person accounts of small firm success. Nothing more, nothing less.

There are a number of fantastic law blogs out there already, and the small contribution I could help make was in focusing on the business aspect of running a law practice, and the nitty gritty of what has makes a solo or small law firm a success. The best way I could think of doing that while not shoving Contributors into a tight corner was centering each month around a theme. That way, the site would remain cohesive in its message while giving a fair amount of latitude to Contributors. And the theme’s this year have reflected what I’ve gone through myself, and what I’ve noticed as common struggles from talking to many solo and small firm lawyers.

It’s been rather interesting and rewarding to work on this project. And I’m still awed and pleased you have found it helpful, and decided nominated it. A big thanks to you, and the ABA Journal for including it in its #blawg100. In a year filled with either level fields or deep valleys, it is certainly a high point.

Oh. Before I forget, you can still vote for your favorite #blawg100. You’ll be prompted to register, and then shown a list of categories. There are some really excellent blogs in each category. I found some I hadn’t heard before, too. It’s kind of like a treasure trove of legal blogging. Niche. News. Tech. For Fun. Good stuff there, too. Small Firm Innovation is listed under LPM. Good stuff.

And now the second piece of big news.

I am relocating to Vancouver, BC, CA. Clio’s home city.

The decision is not made lightly, nor without a fair amount of agonizing and distress. It’s one thing to move to a different US city, and merely be far away from family but still have the comfort of iTunes, Netflix, unlimited data plans and cable companies of which you are familiar. Not to mention banking and tax laws, measurements and generally all the things we take for granted and don’t think about. It’s been a very long, arduous process that really tests one’s patience. I’ve given some serious thought to starting a blog to better outline the whole process, a checklist of what comes next and generally chronicle this next phase.

Next phase. Yeah. You know that phrase, “Go big or go home”? Seems rather appropriate. Changing cities, changing countries and leaving behind all that is familiar just isn’t enough change for me. Nope. I have to hangup my #freelance spurs and dust off the more “corporate” shoes, too. I’m a bit apprehensive about that. I’m so used to doing everything myself, calling the shots and working wherever whenever, it will not be easy to switch that off. I’m not even sure I can switch it off. Tone it down, perhaps.

I am quite excited about the move though, and the potential 2012 holds. I’m taking the best advice I’ve been given: trust your gut. My gut says head west to Vancouver.

SearchMetrics Essentials and How it Compares to My Previous Foray into Web Analytics

October 24, 2011

My introduction to Web analytics came in 2005 when I was hired as an online marketing coordinator. Back then, competitor research was a mix of manual searches, Urchin (before Google bought it and turned it into Google Analytics) and a tool called WebCEO. Looking back, it all seems fairly simple. The concepts of search engine optimization and search engine marketing were beginning to take hold, and companies were understanding it was necessary to participate in order to stay competitive. Very much how companies are viewing social media now.

There wasn’t quite the proliferation of data there is now, and the tools, for the most part, did the job. Granted it was a bit time consuming and full of spreadsheets that, at times, all looked the same. But since search wasn’t quite the defacto method for most back then, it was manageable.

When I struck out on my own, and landed my first blogging gig, I went and bought WebCEO so that I’d have a tool to add some value. Writing good content has been something that comes naturally to me. And while companies spot that immediately, it also helps to have some hard data to back it up. So imagine my surprise to learn that WebCEO hadn’t changed much in the 4-5 years since I’d last used it. The UI was the same. The process of entering data and running reports was still slow and cumbersome. It was PC-only, though now it has an online version.

So when I was given the opportunity to check out a new tool, SearchMetrics Essentials, I took it.

SearchMetrics is completely Web-based, and has various packages from Basic to Ultimate, and more focused options on SEO+SEM or Social. In a word: options.

I checked out the SearchMetrics Essentials option, one of their newest offerings that combines SEO+SEM and Social. I spend my time on SEO and Social, but knowing what’s happening with SEM can make a difference. You want to see how the stars line up, as they say.

With SearchMetrics Essentials, you can run all kinds of data searches and reports, and get comparisons of competitor websites to see where you stand. You can check sub domains, which is handy if your blog is a sub domain, and directories, industries, videos, images. Pretty much any data set for SEO, SEM and Social, you can check out and research. You can do it to see where you stand generally, and you can see where you stand with your competitors. Both the competitors you know, and the competitors you don’t.

For SEM, you can look up keywords, see volume, cost and ad budget. Rather handy when you want to figure out if you’re getting the most bang for your keyword buck. And if you run multiple social media campaigns, you can see who is talking about you, what they’re talking about (if it’s the campaign or something else) and on what platform.While it’s good to confirm people are talking on the platforms you expect, it’s also helpful to be able to dig a little deeper and see where else people are talking about you. There might be a market you didn’t know about, or overlooked because there wasn’t data to back it up.

Course, having so much data to sift through can be visually challenging. The eyes can only handle staring at spreadsheets for so long, and the brain can only process so much text. SearchMetrics does away with all of that, and the need to export an Excel file in order to create your own graphs.

Its UI presents data in text and visual form cleanly so you can see the text and which keyword or social media platform has the biggest slice of the pie. You’ll also see where else people are talking about you, and what they’re talking about. You might find a blog post buried on your site that still gets a fair amount of social media activity. Or perhaps one section of your sight is getting all the attention. Start combining data sets and you’ll get a good picture of what is working, and not working, for achieving your goals.

And then there’s this other feature, called Visibility Charts, that lists Winners and Losers. It shows you the domain, SEO Visibility and Enhancement. There are broken down into Absolute and Relative. While the Absolutes are domains synonymous with the Web, like Wikipedia, Amazon and Google, the Relative domains, domains with “largest relative visibility gains for organic search results in the previous week,” look to be an indicator of both competition and trends or news items.

Thanks to Danielle Simon at SearchMetrics for giving me a tour of the product, and Tim McDonald for the introduction.

SFI Dead2Me Got Me Thinking of @Comed and #nopower again

August 6, 2011

This month on Small Firm Innovation, the theme is Dead2Me. I really was going to write about the phone book, but #nopower killed that idea.

This past week, Jordan Furlong and Niki Black published posts that got me thinking of ComEd’s response to the stormy disaster that was July. Jordan asked: “Will Your Client Someday Say: You’re Dead2Me?” while Niki wrote about “Social Media: Timing is Everything.” The two hold lessons for ComEd, and its customers. And while utility companies rank half a rung above insurance companies, I think ComEd deserves from credit for its efforts. I’m not saying they were perfect, and I have no idea how often/long ComEd has been active in social media, but it strikes me that they adapted rather quickly.

Timing, indeed, is everything. Many, myself included, took to Twitter. First to chronicle the storm, and next to get the word out (and complain) about #nopower. Needless to say, things were quite a mess. I was initially irked at ComEd, like so many others, for what seemed like an incredibly slow response to restore power. Once I was able to get out of the neighborhood though, I understood.

Picture the tree, only rows of them down entire blocks, and the branches snagged and twisted in power lines. There was no easy way to disentangle the mess. Trees had to be cut down, but cut down around the wires in which they were entangled. No easy feat. And let’s not forget no crews could get out immediately; there was still a lot of lightning once the winds passed. And to be honest, I don’t think the media did even an adequate job of covering the damage.


ComEd was quick to jump on the #nopower tag, and also started propagating their own tag: #comedrestored. And people responded. When power came back on, people, ComEd customers, let it be known. It would’ve been cool to have a Google Maps Mashup of the tweets and their locations (proximate, in some cases), and see how it tracked across the region. Missed the timing on that social media endeavor.

And it was by jumping on the #nopower tag, and then propagating #comedrestored, that ComEd fulfilled:

Respond to every client request in a timely fashion, even if it’s just an acknowledgement that the message was received and a promise of a response within a specified period.

Managing the Twitter feed for Clio and Small Firm Innovation, responding to “every client request in a timely fashion” can be a challenge. You need a good feel for what “timely fashion” means to your client base, and the medium they use to communicate. An email response might have a different “timely fashion” expectation than Twitter. And responding in 140 characters or less is a bit of an art. Throw in a #nopower crisis, though, and it’s a whole other ballgame. I don’t have the faintest idea how many people ComEd has monitoring and responding to Twitter, but its stream is full of responses. Not “canned responses,” but apologies with a personal touch, inquiring for more information or directing to the phone number or website to report an outage. Useful, helpful responses. Some might point to @comcastcares as the model, and it is a forerunner.

ComEd seems to have struck both social media timing and customer response correctly, though. I’m rather looking forward to their customer roundtable.

Twitter, #nopower, @comed, #comedrestored and @zaarlychicago: What to do next time

July 15, 2011

You may not know it, but Lake County, Illinois, which borders Wisconsin and Lake Michigan, got hit with a nasty storm Monday. I woke up a little before 8am and it was dark out like it was 11pm. A few minutes later, the rain came in buckets and the wind howled, taking some trees with it.

Oh, and it took the power, too.

Now, since being back home, I’ve become accustomed to random power outages. Even on perfectly clear, sunny days. It usually comes back within the hour, if not a few minutes. ComEd is not very forthcoming about where people sit on its grid, so I’ve taking to thinking that we sit at some intersection prone to outages whenever they’re doing work, or someone is doing work, near it a part that runs into us. I used to imagine a guy sitting at the intersection, watching the grid from each direction and flipping a switch when there was a hiccup. Hence our power would be out momentarily and then back on again.

Monday’s storm whipped the guy off his perch and took all the power in the area with it. Everything east of 294 was dark. Traffic lights. Great America. Gas stations. Restaurants. Hospitals. Doctors offices. Businesses of all kinds. And since the lightning hung around for awhile, ComEd crews couldn’t get out to start assessing the damage. Except it wasn’t just the lightning. Trees were down, everywhere, so getting out of a neighborhood, or even the house, was impossible. Pretty incredible.

Once the weather cleared, and crews were able to get out, people were able to get out. Kind of. We found ourselves in a disaster zone. And what are we to do, with #nopower and thus no Internet? Why turn to our smart phones and Twitter, of course! And this is where Twitter became incredibly useful, and it has been pretty awesome to see ComEd (@comed) embrace it, too. I hope they’ll examine this and integrate Twitter with their reporting systems. Was easier and more responsive than calling their 800 number, which is only helpful if you have your account number.

While all the media attention has been on social media being used to organize protests, street or flash mobs and unruly behavior, we used it to help notify ComEd of outages, downed wires and problem areas, as well as when and what areas had been restored. It was clear the outage was massive, but Twitter provided the opportunity to see how massive, and track restoration efforts. This is huge, as Comed’s map is as general as you can get. Sure, it’s helpful to see the numbers go down, but the map doesn’t tell you where power has been restored. In other words, the map doesn’t tell me what part of Gurnee has power and what part doesn’t. So I couldn’t tell if Gurnee Mills had power unless I called or drove over. Or used Twitter.

And it was from Twitter that I learned that west of 294 had power, so Panera and Caribou Coffee were OK. That meant food, coffee, water and a working bathroom. After 2 days of #nopower, you really do appreciate such things!

The other tool that I don’t think got as much use but very well might next storm we get. And we’ve had 4 storms like this already so another one soon is not out of the realm of possibility. And 2 of those 4 times, we lost power. So next storm, check out Zaarly (@zaarlychicago).

It’s kind of like Craigslist, for lack of a better description, but it plots requests on a map of your area and lets you respond and post with incredible ease. You post what you want, and name your price. As more #comedrestored tweets showed up, it struck me that Zaarly is an excellent way to connect those people with those who still have #nopower. Bottled water. Batteries. Candles. Heck, even a tent, sleeping bag, gas or even a generator.

And now that many of us are in clean up mode, using Zaarly to help with that strikes me as useful. I was out picking up debris in our yard last night, we can practically build another forest with all the tree parts, and I found myself thinking: this would go faster if we had a leaf sucker-upper. And how would I get it? Zaarly it!

So this experience has been a lesson in 21st century preparedness:

  • Tweet from your smartphone
  • Use a tag like #nopower
  • Follow a good news tag like #comedrestored
  • Use Zaarly to find/ask for stuff until power returns, and use it again to help cleanup

Keep those in mind next time severe weather knocks you back to the 19th Century.

60-something Mother Schools 30-something Son on The Cloud

July 4, 2011

Before Google+, there was a steady stream of blog posts, tweets and general discussion about Apple’s new iCloud service. It’s not that new; it’s the new MobileMe which was the new .Mac.

Remember .Mac? Seems most people don’t, and understandably so.

I remember it, though. I was a sophomore or junior in college at the time, had a Mac in my dorm room while most of the campus had PC labs. This was before laptops, and before computers were pretty much a requirement for incoming students. The best way to work on a paper during a long break between classes was to carry around a floppy disk. There were a couple of computer labs that also had a few Macs. As long as none were in use, I could pop in my floppy disk and work on a paper or project. I just had to remember to pop the disk into my computer in my dorm room, transfer a copy and then transfer the updated version before the next day. You can imagine, perhaps remember, the large room for error and version confusion, not to mention simply forgetting the disk in my dorm or, perhaps worse, in the computer lab.

Enter .Mac. As long as I kept a copy of my paper or project on .Mac’s iDisk, I could mount it on a computer lab computer and get work done. Transferring the latest version was fairly simple, and left little room for version error. In a computer lab, I could make some final edits before class, print it and hand it in. Heck, I could even make final edits and email the final copy to the professor! It was awesome.

Granted, .Mac wasn’t without its shortcomings or failures, but it beat having to carry around..check that, remember to carry around, a disk and hope the lone Mac in a PC lab wasn’t in use.

All this talk of iCloud reminds me of how far cloud computing has come, and an “ah-ha” family tech moment from the Christmas holidays.

I work from home, which means I’m easily accessible when my parents have tech-related questions. Facebook. Email. Transferring photos from one device to another. What keywords to use to search for something. Enough questions have been asked and answered over the past two years that I’m giving serious consideration to writing a little self-help manual for them, complete with a dictionary.

Apparently I underestimated the amount of technical information my parents have been absorbing.

Back in December, my eldest brother was home for the holidays. We both conduct a fair amount of business from our smart phones, and at the dinner table or standing around the kitchen, we seem to have an informal contest on who checks their smart phones the most in less than five seconds. Most times ended in a draw. He does, however, far out number me in text messages, both sent and received.

From his business travels across the globe for five straight years, he’s acquired more friends and experiences than anyone else I know. I may have snowboarded Whistler, but he has been skiing in Dubai. Can we say sibling rivalry? At any rate, I’ve always considered him “with it.”

So one evening, my brother mentions an email from a friend about a senior position opening up in Chicago.

“Apply,” Mom said.

“I will,” my brother said.

“Go upstairs! Go send in your resume.”

“My resume is not on that computer.”


“It’s on the computer in my apartment.”

Without missing a beat, my mother asks: “You mean you don’t use the cloud?”

The Cloud! My mother, in her 60s, understands “the cloud” and is completely mystified how my 30-something brother does not use it to keep something like his resume handy.

I was impressed, and found myself thinking hey, if my 60-something mother understands the cloud, then anyone can. Apple, with its launch of iCloud, seems to be thinking the same thing.

Articles: eDiscovery and Social Media, 10 Tips for Getting Started with Open Source

June 17, 2011

Back in April, I had a couple articles published in two different publications.

Social Media and E-Discovery

Truth be told, I had forgotten about this article. I was reminded of it when I got a phone call from a lawyer in Texas. He had read the article and was looking for help in understanding social media for one of his cases.

Published in the April issue of the Texas Bar Journal, its main point is that lawyers need to understand how social media networks operate as social media will increasingly play a role in eDiscovery. Lawyers don’t need to spend hours tweeting or posting to Facebook, but they do need to understand how to setup an account, how posting to Twitter is different from posting to Facebook, LinkedIN, FourSquare or other networks and how the privacy settings vary from network to network. Knowing what is considered private v. public, and how a user has setup his or her account, is increasingly important. The courts have taken notice, so it is important for lawyers to do the same.

Social media isn’t a fad, and it’s time to start looking at it from a more case-specific perspective than the common marketing perspective.

10 Tips for Getting Starting with Open Source Software

Just in time for #abatechshow, in the March/April issue of Law Practice Magazine, I co-authored this article with Dennis Kennedy. Dennis and I have co-authored open source articles before, and this time, we thought it’d be helpful to provide a guide, or stepping stones, to open source. Take-aways, if you will, to coincide with Dennis and Rodney Dowell’s open source presentation at ABA TECHSHOW (PDF).

There are numerous options for open source software, it can sometimes be hard to figure out where to start. So we offered these tips:

  1. Get Familiar with the Philosophy and the Licenses
  2. Know Thyself
  3. Be Savvy about Support
  4. Make Reasonable Comparisons to Commercial Software
  5. Start Small
  6. Go to SourceForge
  7. Utilize Utilities
  8. Do Your Due Diligence
  9. Stay in Charted Territory
  10. Consider Contributing to the Community

It’s really awesome to see open source gain traction in the legal professional as a useful, practical tool instead of a form of intellectual property. And it’s fun to see lawyers realize they don’t need to fully switch to open source but can pick and choose and find the right combination for their offices. Be interesting to see what ABA TECHSHOW has in store for 2012.