Small Firm Innovation Launched, and What I Learned. So Far.

June 9, 2011

I mentioned it once before in an #abatechshow post, practically in passing as it wasn’t ready for prime time yet. Odd conference to pick, perhaps, but it was a good testing ground. Having other eyeballs look at something you’ve been staring at for a couple months is incredibly helpful.

So, yesterday, Clio officially announced Small Firm Innovation: First-person accounts of small firm success.

It’s built on the WordPress platform (yay open source!), and the designer and programmer did a really nice job translating verbal, well, garbage, into an excellent template. I say “verbal garbage” as I didn’t have a clear visual image of the site, just its direction and focus. Turns out I’m not one to dictate color schemes, I just lob out some ideas and leave the final crafting to the masters. They did an excellent job. I’m quite pleased.

While color scheming may not be my thing, messing around with code is actually quite fun. I’m a total novice at PHP. What I know, of PHP, HTML, CSS and the like, I’ve picked up on the job elsewhere, viewing lots of source code from lots of sites and reading books, web tutorials and the like. Just like with the law, I know enough to be dangerous, but not deadly. And I discovered, over the past few months, that code is incredibly soothing. And it’s down right fun to dig in into a problem, and systematically work through it to find the solution. I was pretty proud of myself for accomplishing so much the weekend before #abatechshow started, and just kept working at it the last couple of months, having set a hard deadline of June 8. I’ll tell ya, that pesky “Older/Newer entries” problem was a real nuisance! For such a common problem, there is no simple fix.

A good looking site is pretty useless, though, without equally good content. And for that, I have to thank our current Contributors:

  • Russ Alexander
  • Robert Ambrogi
  • Andrew Barovick
  • Nicole Black
  • Chad Burton
  • Colin Cameron
  • Carolyn Elefant
  • David Gulbransen
  • Tom Haren
  • Rob Hyndman
  • Mallory Lynn
  • Mark C. Metzger
  • Phillip Millar
  • Edward Poll
  • Donna Seyle

Many of them…OK, practically all of them, I know via Twitter and have met in person at various conferences. Needless to say, they weren’t surprised when I sent a DM asking if they’d like to contribute. And I know I surprised a few when I followed up with an email longer than 140 characters describing Small Firm Innovation. String a few 140 character sentences together, turns out you get a paragraph. 😉

They’re a fantastic group, and there are others whom I’m eager to post what they’ve written as well. It’s developing in the direction I had envisioned, which is pretty exciting. I’m genetically programmed to set exceedingly high expectations for myself, which ultimately results in numerous recalibrations that I’ve often viewed as mini-defeats. Call it maturity, call it wisdom gained through experience: I’ve managed to set appropriate expectations from the start this time. Or such is my view, thinking back over the past few months. Didn’t overdo it like normal, didn’t underdo it as a means to compensate for overdoing.

Suffice to say, it’s been a learning process and, well, fun. Yes, fun! I’m convinced I was a programmer in another life, or will return as one. There’s just something intensely soothing, and gratifying, about tinkering and creating something others find useful. Whatever “it” is, being it messing with code, finding images, talking to current and potential Contributors, Twitter, Facebook…perhaps the whole process, just seems natural to me. And it comes so naturally to me. Who knew?

Well, go have a look around, go poke around and let me know what you think. There’s bound to be something you want to see or know about. Definitely give the LiveFyre commenting tool a try. It’s pretty awesome. And like I said, it’s incredibly useful to have other eyes on things. Like this blog, Small Firm Innovation is a “work in progress.” I’d wager it’ll progress a heck of a lot faster than this blog, though.

And I just realized #jeopardy is on. Squirrel!

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You can tell a lot from Community Manager Job Descriptions

May 25, 2011

Not that long ago, I posted some thoughts on Latham & Watkins hiring a Social Media Specialist, and how the job description started with the position’s compensation and also observed that “job description implies they’ve given some thought to the Social Media Specialist position.” Having read quite a few job descriptions, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can tell a lot about what a company thinks of Community Management by its Community Manager job description.

Ones that are cookie-cutter, use all the write keywords, like “content strategy,” “actively engage,” “build brand visibility” and pretty much any others you’ve read in other marketing or communications-related job descriptions. The differentiating factor between “community manager” and “communications manager” seems to be the use of social media. Heavy use of social media, to be more precise. I’ve come to use The New Community Manager Profile, from Edelman Digital, as the yard stick for evaluating Community Manager positions before forwarding such openings to friends or people I know, still out of work and for whom there might be a good fit.

And you can get a good sense of a company’s take on strategic, social and project management experience for a Community Manager, and whether the company sees it as a long-term endeavor or is merely looking to capitalize on the latest craze. I’ve noticed that most of the Community Manager job descriptions follow the same template, as it were. Do a search on Monster or CareerBuilder, and you’ll find a number of “Community Manager” openings that, except for the company name, sound an awful lot alike.  They all make an assumption, too: you either know the market, or can quickly learn the nuances of the audience. And that is where companies that take community management, and Community Managers, seriously, distinguish themselves.

One example is a Community Manager position with salesforce.com. It reads, in part:

This position stewards any content that’s thought-leadership and social media industry related and oversees the blog, webinars, podcasts, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, client profiles – anything that helps contribute valuable, educational content to our community and customers around the social media space.

Thought-leadership. Social media industry related. Valuable, education content to its community. Its community of cloud-based users. It sets the expectation parameters of the position, and spells out exactly its audience and audience expectations. And then it says:

This position also has a limited Community Manager role and does plenty of participation in the community to understand what questions and issues folks are talking about around social media, and writes/manages content contributors to ensure Salesforce has stocked and current resource library. This positions answers questions, contributes to the larger dialogue through blog comments, and participates in Salesforce outpost communities (mainly Twitter, blogs, and LinkedIn).

Translation: active engagement. Instead of using the buzzword, salesforce.com actually describes what that means! But wait, there’s more!

This role is dedicated to manning the main monitoring post for the Salesforce brand, and ensuring that those posts get to the right members of the team for engagement and response. This person’s job is to filter the posts as they come in using the Radian6 engagement console and workflow, properly tag, classify, and assign them according to our engagement playbook (which they also maintain and keep up to date to ensure consistent practices among our team). This role also includes analysis of activity in the form of reports on team activities and trends, and some direct engagement for specific types of requests for information that come in. It’s a pivotal role on the Community team, and ensures that we are always timely and present with our responses.

Translation: teamwork (cue The Wonder Pets). Another buzzword described!

Community Management is not necessarily a one person show. There are times when you simply can’t answer a question or handle a situation because you are not equipped to do so, and you are not supposed to be equipped to do so. Such situations can be anything from technical issues to sales inquiries to something random or unexpected that requires putting heads together for a solution. Companies that take community management, and Community Managers, seriously, understand this. Community Managers can be the touch point for the greater community (read: user base), and it’s important that both Community Managers and the rest of the company understand this, and the importance of the role. As the Community Manager becomes educated on the finer points of the company, product(s), etc., more of the load, be it Support, tech, sales, etc., can be shared. That 30-second “click the Export button” question can be answered by the Community Manager, saving the Support team 30-seconds it can then devote to a more complicated question.

So if you’re looking for a Community Manager position or are responsible for writing the job description, keep these things in mind. As a job candidate, asking questions during the interview might be able to help fill in the gaps from the job description. And if you’re responsible for writing the job description, asking questions ahead of time might help make the hiring process a little easier.

From either side, clarity and direction for community management can help find the best match, and ensure the community remains engaged and continues to grow.


6 months of one, 3 years since the other. Looking like that thing called a career?

May 24, 2011

Historic moments. Something I kept coming back to while in Florida for the Endeavor space shuttle launch. Its final voyage before it ends up in a museum, a piece of “remember when” for future generations.

It’s something I keep coming back to lately. Another “remember when” or, perhaps more appropriately, “remember how” I heard the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden: Twitter.

There are some dates that get etched in our memories, ones we share with many, like 9/11/01 and 5/1/11. Others are more family oriented, like birthdays. Holidays we remember because they’re always on the calendar. Christmas. New Year’s. Thanksgiving. Memorial Day. Fourth of July. Yet other dates are unique to the individual, in my case, 4/30/08. And 10/12/10.

4/30/08

Three years ago and some days now. It was the date I got laid off.

I still remember it. Quite clearly. Stressing out of integrating automated return labels, skipping lunch to try and resolve the problem only to get called into my boss’s office. An HR rep was already there, and I politely knocked and waited. Then the sinking feeling when he motioned me inside and to have a seat. I didn’t need an explanation; I had predicted this moment in January when there had been a definite shift in company mood with a new CFO. I never met the man, but what I heard made me think he sat in an office and looked over spreadsheets with names and numbers. Salary numbers. Sales figures. I wasn’t in sales; I was in corporate communications. I wasn’t responsible for taking, fulfilling or picking up orders.

I wasn’t responsible for ensuring computer systems worked properly or writing code. I was responsible for documenting policies and procedures for those tasks so they would completed the same way throughout the company. I was responsible for creating order. Though it can be quantified, it is not as easy to do as looking at sales figures. In the big scheme of things, at the time, I had no discernible impact on the bottom line and was thus expendable.

I remember the shock, of me and of other employees who found out. None of them thought I’d go, especially not in the first round. I thought I’d go, since my job was not as easy to quantify, but I didn’t think it’d be in the first round. And since I did, that meant the rest of them were just as vulnerable. A few really didn’t know what to make of it and were visibly unnerved.

My boss was as gracious as he could be, and though he didn’t need to say “it’s not you nor a reflection on your performance,” he did anyway. The reason was “corporate restructuring,” and I fully knew that. I’d heard enough grumbling to know there was much restructuring going on, and a whole lot more to come. All those books on business I’d read proved to be quite helpful.

The interceding months…OK…year, or two, is kind of a blur. Getting laid off is hard, whether you expect it or not. It’s incredibly demoralizing, and it takes some time to process. More time than you might think. I’m rather glad I had grad school to keep me company, and that I had gotten laid off so early, well ahead of the tidal wave. I finished my masters, landed what turned out to be a really good contract job and started thinking this whole “consulting”-entrepreneur thing. I seemed to have stumbled onto something with law, and open source. The accidental mixture of social media also seemed key as I landed my first couple of clients through Twitter.

And it is Twitter that brings me to the second date that sticks out.

10/12/10

The day I started working for Clio.

There’s a story here, though, that starts earlier, in August or September. I was biding my time, really, trying to figure out what exactly to do, what direction to take. Shadow Froggy Consulting was kind of languishing, no real direction. People told me I should make it a social media consulting company, but I found (and still find) the idea uninviting. Not to mention there were so many “social media consultants” touting one thing or another. I wasn’t interested. Open source, however, had my attention still. And since the economy tanked, there was a sudden interest in this idea of “free software.” There was something there, and I saw social media as merely a tool to educate. I’d developed a decent following by then, and my hankering of open source adoption in the legal profession was well known. The Texas Bar Journal article was out, as was the first article I co-authored with Dennis Kennedy for Law Practice Today. I just needed to hone the message and build a better website.

Or so I had been thinking until Grainger called, and I moved through the interview process. I was either in the midst of the interview process, or waiting for a final verdict, when I got a DM from Clio. Random.

I knew of Clio. I follow them on Twitter, and I’d seen a demo and met Jack and Rian at ABA TECHSHOW in 2009, and again in 2010. I briefly entertained the idea of approaching them about becoming a Clio Certified Consultant. I couldn’t quite rationalize that idea, and not being a lawyer seemed to be a strike against me. It was hard enough not being a lawyer talking to lawyers about open source, but I possessed knowledge on the topic already and had been published in well-respected legal publications. Two things I found carried some weight. A non-lawyer talking about cloud computing practice management? Struck me as a tougher sell.

That seems a little ridiculous now, no? Maybe. To be perfectly honest, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how I’ve ended up in a position that is too much fun to be work. Granted there are times when it seems like, and if you stop to think about it, it is, an awful lot of work, but it’s fun. And it’s fun because it is what I have been doing already: sharing information about technology and the law, which is why I got a Master of Sciences in IT and Privacy Law in the first place.

I’ve been fairly good at predicting things, but this wasn’t even on the radar.

Not only that, but the fit, the fit! Who knew I’d actually fit well with a company not my own? Message. Mission. Audience. Ideas. Direction. And from the most unconventional hiring process I have experienced.

Unconventional hiring, especially after going through several conventional hiring processes. Job duties that put to good use my education, social media, writing and strategic thinking skills. The pieces are starting to form that thing people often refer to as a career.

Six months. OK. Seven. It was a bit of a surprise when it dawned on me it’s been six months. I usually notice at three months, and some kind of internal clock orients itself as if it knows to start counting down to the point where boredom has been maximized. It says something I only took notice at 6 months, still the find the position fun and challenging, and haven’t gotten bored. Small Firm Innovation has played a role, no doubt, but so has the intersection of technology and the law.

It’s no secret the law moves like molasses, but when it moves, it is fascinating to watch it ripple across the industry.

I seem to have landed on a ripple moving across the industry, and we seem to be moving as one.

Suffice to say, it has been, and looks to remain, rather interesting.


A “forest for the trees” moment

March 28, 2011

By now you’ve heard of the speakers for Ignite Law 2011. And no, I’m not one of them, which is perfectly OK. And thanks for the votes, “good luck” and “aww” when the speakers were announced. Quite reminiscent of ABATechShow’s open source presentation. Again, I’m touched.

The experience presents a “forest for the trees” moment, of which I seem to be having quite a few lately. I don’t refer to myself as an expert, in anything, as I think whatever you do is a learning process. You learn your strengths and weaknesses, what you like and what you don’t, what kind of personalities you get along with and what kinds you tend to clash. And you learn how other people view you, which is not always how you view yourself.

When Dennis Kennedy suggested I submit a talk about Twitter, I initially balked. It struck me as kind of absurd. OK. Not “kind of” but totally absurd. The “forest for the trees” metaphor popped into my head shortly after when a member of the Clio Support team suggested I create a introductory video about how to use Twitter. A few people have suggested that, now that I think of it. I was dismissive of the idea (we’ll see how long that lasts).

And then my brother Skype’s me and asks for help on how to integrate his blog with his Facebook page and Twitter account, and explain exactly what to do with Twitter. Friends of his suddenly follow and contact me via Twitter, also asking for advice. What is it, exactly, that I do that makes my use of Twitter successful…to other people. I say “to other people” because they clearly view myself and my Twitter use quite differently than I do. And that, mind you, is a good thing.

These requests, and submitting an Ignite Law talk, forced me to step “out of the forest” and look at the trees that make up the forest. To look at my network that I have inadvertently built. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. I’ve cultivated a network of value. A network which I value, and that also values me in return. I hadn’t noticed that before; Twitter just seemed a natural thing to me, I just saw “forest for the trees.”

And then there’s that opposite problem, seeing the trees for the forest, or what is more commonly called “taking your eyes off your goal.” And what do you see? Obstacles. That, however, is for another post.


Latham & Watkins looking for Social Media Specialist

March 16, 2011

Imagine my shock when a job post for a Social Media Specialist appeared in my Twitter stream.

The shocking aspect was the company name, ahem, law firm name, attached to the opening: Latham & Watkins. Talk about prestige! And they want to hire a Social Media Specialist? Just one Social Media Specialist? My curiosity got the better of me so I opened the link on my Android. As I said, my curiosity got the better of me, and no, I was not driving at the time.

What immediately struck me was that the description did not start with the responsibilities of the position, but rather the position’s compensation. After all, if you are going to hire the best and the brightest, you wouldn’t want them to assume you’re hiring them for free.

Granted, that may just be their job opening template, and will certainly cater to people who are involved in social media simply to make money. All snarkiness aside, though, it is interesting that a BigLaw firm is actively looking for a Social Media Specialist. I imagine there was some debate about calling the position “specialist.” However, being able to formulate “a comprehensive social media approach that is integrated with the firm’s public relations and marketing endeavors, as well as supporting the development of the firm’s social media policies and governance” no doubt requires such specialist skills. And this is a respected law firm we’re talking about, so reputation management will no doubt be paramount. More so, I’d suspect, in light of Aflac and Chrysler. Social media backfiring, indeed.

The job description implies they’ve given some thought to the Social Media Specialist position. It doesn’t read quite like many other job descriptions for that or similar positions. It also implies they’re currently active in social media, which is up for debate. They have a Facebook Page, which is currently the firm’s Wikipedia entry. There are a couple others that are empty community pages. They have a Twitter handle, but 0 tweets. As of this posting, anyway. A search of “Latham Wakins” turns up attorneys there who tweet. Given the number of disgruntled attorneys in this economy, and the attorneys (disgruntled and otherwise) on social media, you kind of have to wonder who they will ultimately hire. The job description says nothing about having a legal background. They’re looking for what you’d expect: PR/Communications. Kind of wonder, though, what chances a lawyer-turned-pr-communications pro would have.

Take a few minutes and read the Social Media Specialist job description yourself. If nothing else, it offers a glimpse into what the future may hold for non-legal jobs. To some, that may mean “career transition.”


Took the #ignitelaw plunge

March 16, 2011

After some prodding, friendly prodding, I submitted a talk to #ignitelaw: 50,000 Tweets and Counting: Twitter Lessons You Need to Know.

Yes, I opted to take the Ignite Law plunge this year. Voting just opened, so I wanted to take a moment and let you know that, well, voting has opened.

There are a number of really good submissions this year. I confess that, last year, I found out about Ignite Law just before it happened (yay for Twitter!) so I didn’t have the opportunity to read through, let alone vote, for submissions. I did, however, have a ton of fun tweeting from the event. And it’s exciting to see some familiar as well as new faces with submissions this year. So check’em out and, of course, vote!

And you can bet, whether or not I’m selected, I’ll be tweeting away. Huh. Be quite a challenge to present and tweet at the same time! Well, maybe my Twitter lessons will remain a secret and I’ll just share everyone else’s. I really have no idea.

Good luck to all!

Now, really, stop reading this and go vote!


Needles in the #ediscovery haystack at #ltny: @TextFlow, @TrialPad, @RealPractice and @MyCaseInc

February 9, 2011

There is probably a reason why LegalTech New York is called LegalTech and not the eDiscovery Showcase, and the logical explanation seems to be consistency. This year’s big vendor push may not be the same next year, though I’m inclined to think eDiscovery will be just as big next year but we’ll have to wait until next year.

There were some needles hidden in the eDiscovery haystack, though, which managed to make themselves known through the cluttered Twitter feed. I admit, it’s rather cool when they send you a tweet and ask you to stop by, but I couldn’t help being a bit skeptical, too. Everyone always has something to show off at a trade show, that’s the point.

Of the ones I browsed, four stick out:

TextFlow

As a freelancer, I spend an awful lot of time emailing or uploading documents with all kinds of edits. Articles, drafts of books and blog posts, comment letters, you name it. While Google Docs is helpful, not everyone uses it. Same with ZoHo, so I often have to resort to using OpenOffice or Microsoft Word, which creates the step of re-saving and attaching the document to an email. You see where this is going…

So I was downright excited when I was approached by the people at Nordic River while waiting for the Kroll On Track session, who proceeded to give me a demo of TextFlow. The premise is incredibly simple. Mind-bogglingly simple. You upload the original document, and an edited version or two, and TextFlow shows you each change, line-by-line. Line-by-line! In an incredibly user-friendly interface which, quite frankly, puts Track Changes to shame, not to mention the total lack of anything useful like that in Google Docs.

They do offer a free trial, and the cost posted on their website is $4.99/user/month. Not bad. Do some due diligence and number crunching though to see if it’ll work for you.

TrialPad

There was a fair amount of buzz before #ltny about TrialPad, with some lawyers already raving about its use in the field, also called the court room. Being a new iPad owner (though not a lawyer), I was intrigued. After TextFlow, it also struck me how mind-bogglingly simple TrialPad is by also focusing on one specific area or addressing one specific issue. That whole “do one thing and do it well” mantra at work again. And guess what? It works with Dropbox! *ca-ching*

The lawyers already using TrialPad were right on the money. It’s quite intuitive and easy to use. Nothing super fancy, nothing you don’t need. It makes good use of the iPad, from what I can tell, and rotating between documents and presentations, not to mention folders, is a fairly smooth process. Its annotation ability was pretty nifty. I can see law schools finding the app quite useful, too.

I imagine their inboxes are overflowing with feature suggestions, and it will be interesting to see if it gets adapted to other platforms, like Android.

RealPractice and MyCase, Inc.

In the interest of full disclosure, and so you don’t all yell at me, I do work for Clio as its Community Manager. That isn’t a secret. However, I attended #ltny as me, the Founder & Chief Consultant of Shadow Froggy Consulting. And if you follow me on Twitter, or read this blog, you know I’m an incredibly curious individual always looking to learn new things or engage in discussions. Both RealPractice and MyCase, Inc. did not fall short of engaging discussion. And neither did Nordic River or TrialPad, for that matter. There’s some downright awesome stuff happening in the legal field, and it’s fascinating to see it from so many different viewpoints and being able to share them on this blog.

So. RealPractice and MyCase, Inc. Both are entrants into the online practice management realm, but with a twist.

RealPractice integrates website and marketing efforts with its practice management system, simplifying the process of collecting leads and inputting them for future follow-up and/or reference. It was more seamless than I expected, and the websites are professional-looking, which is not always the case when trying to integrate separate systems. It does a fairly good job of merging the business-side of law with the actual practice/case management of law, which you don’t often see.

The website and marketing functions stick in my mind more so than its practice management system, though, as website and marketing are two areas ripe for growth, still, in the legal industry. Their demo made me think of something my dad often repeated when I first started my consulting company: build simple websites for small firms and doctors offices. They don’t have a clue, they need it and you’ll have repeat business. RealPractice is doing just that.

MyCase, Inc. had me intrigued with its “social practice management” tag line. What the heck does that mean? Turns out, it means integrating social media aspects into an online practice management application. A “social media layer,” as they say. Their website defines it as “the idea that a law firm should have a secure and accessible social network between themselves and their clients. It is the idea that clients should have this constant connection to their attorneys without having to be on the phone or in person with them.” It made me think of my open v. closed network part of an MHConnected presentation last year.

It uses a similar message/update function like Facebook, an Activity Stream, and a notice function like health care companies. You know, those emails you get about an update to an EOB or response to a message, but there’s nothing in the email notice except a link to log into the site to read the message. I personally find those annoying, that extra step just to get information, but I understand the reasoning behind it. We had a really interesting conversation about improved communication, the far too early demise of Google Wave and how document management is still annoying, not to mention there is still not such thing as “paperless.” Even Michael Rogers, the Practical Futurist, still uses paper. He was holding paper notes during his presentation!

Parting Thoughts

With the continued proliferation of mobile devices, there will be dramatic change to eDiscovery in the coming years. Vendors I talked to expressed optimism that mobile platforms, like now trusty desktops, would become more standardized so data dumps will become just as routine. There is just as much activity going on outside of eDiscovery, though, that it should not be ignored.

The thing that is clear, and was mentioned more than once at #ltny, is that technology is shifting the legal landscape. Not in small areas or minor ones, but in big tectonic shifts. Like the dealing with the recession, we’re reaching the point where action is required. It will be interesting to see what happens as the year progresses.