Business of Law

Moving in the Cloud: ABA Conference Displays How Technology Changes Practice

Posted Jun 1, 2011 1:30 AM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky and Mark Hansen

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Techshow photos by Wayne Slezak

Celebrating its silver anniversary, the 2011 ABA Techshow was a high-flying thing as mobile technology and cloud computing became the buzzwords of the three-day conference. Depictions of how technology is changing all corners of law practice—from jurisdictional restrictions to confidentiality concerns—dominated the kickoff event, Ignite Law, a fast-paced alternative to the traditional panel presentation model where 12 speakers had only six minutes each to make their points with slides flashing beside them at 18-second intervals.

The theory behind the six-minute format is that it’s just long enough for a presenter to make the key points needed to educate—and entertain—an audience about a business model, new technology or whatever is on the speaker’s mind. It’s also organizer Matt Homann’s nod to the six-minute billing increment, which Boston lawyer-turned-consultant Jay Shepherd prophesied will be obsolete across the profession by 2019.

Ethical dilemmas also took center stage: Solo practice guru Carolyn Elefant of Washington, D.C., highlighted the confidentiality pitfalls of sites like Shpoonkle, where clients post online what is often confidential information while seeking bids for legal services (see “A Shpoonkle?”). And Hartford, Conn., employment lawyer Dan Schwartz questioned the restraints represented by state bar regulations and the complications that arise when maintaining the status quo in a virtual and global age.

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Matt Homann's Ignite Law event included Carolyn Elefant and Victor Medina.

A form of software that’s gained enough interest to merit its own Techshow session was mind-mapping, which uses software to allow organization of ideas, thoughts, tasks and activities in a creative and visual way. It’s available online in various free and premium offerings.

Proponents say it helps them more easily see the big picture as well as the individual parts of a particular case or transaction. It can also enhance productivity by allowing you to do more in less time while communicating more effectively, better managing your workflow, conducting more efficient legal research, and brainstorming with colleagues in real time.

Two such proponents—Britt Lorish, a legal technology consultant with the Affinity Consulting Group in Roanoke, Va., and Dave Maxfield, a Columbia, S.C., litigator and avid mind-mapper—demonstrated the software’s possibilities. Maxfield, who started diagramming his thoughts on butcher paper while preparing for the bar in 1994, says he found graphic display helped him remember information better than a typical outline. Lorish, who uses mind-mapping to chart the status of various projects, said the beauty of the technology is how little effort it takes to master.

“How many pieces of software can you say that about?” she asked.

STARTING IN SOCIAL MEDIA

“Social media is to marketing what email is to business communication” was the bold analogy Robert Ambrogi and Reid Trautz presented on ways to use social media to boost your overall reputation and marketing scheme.

The duo’s No. 1 bit of advice? Start a legal blog.

“As far as arrows in your quiver, there is nothing more powerful you can do online to enhance reputation than start a blog,” said Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., who writes the LawSites blog. Blogs allow you to demonstrate knowledge and expertise while building trust-filled connections with colleagues and potential clients.

Other online networking tips included:

• Don’t overreact about ethics rules. Follow the same etiquette for sharing (and common sense) that you would at a professional cocktail party.

• Complete your full profile on LinkedIn. More than 100 million professionals are connected on the site and that number grows daily.

• Look at who your competitors are connected to on the Web. Ask whether these are individuals you should be connected to as well.

With the proliferation of smartphones and their frontal assault on how lawyers do business, separate sessions for iPhone/iPad, Android and BlackBerry users discussed tips, tricks and apps for the devices.

As for cloud computing—the use of software and data storage on the Internet versus a private computer—uncertainty about the ethical responsibilities of client confidentiality and privilege makes many lawyers hesitant to fully embrace the cloud for their computing needs. While some await the cyber equivalent of a Deepwater Horizon breach, presenters Brett Burney of Beachwood, Ohio; Sharon Nelson of Fairfax, Va.; and Dan Siegel of Havertown, Pa., offered plenty of tips about keeping client data safe at a session on ethics concerns surrounding cloud-based services.

Among the most important questions to ask cloud service providers:

• Is data stored in multiple data centers that are geographically dispersed?

• Has there been an audit of the provider’s security conducted by a trusted third party?

• Does the service-level agreement clearly state who owns the data?

• Does the provider have an uptime guarantee to ensure access to the data?

And keep critical data out of the cloud. “You won’t see the formula for Coke in a cloud,” Nelson said.

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Legal technology pioneer Fran Musselman spoke at the opening reception.

Along with all that was new, the tried-and-true sessions offering computing tips and websites to enhance both fun and profit were well-attended. The recommendations included:

WebmasterCoffee. This free program analyzes your website and gives feedback on ways to improve it.

SignMyPad. Clients and others can sign documents and fill out PDFs right on an iPad, eliminating paper copies and allowing documents to be emailed and electronically stored immediately.

BlackBerry Protect. This app, which allows users to automatically back up data to the Research In Motion server, pinpoints lost or stolen devices on Google Maps, and sends messages and wipes data remotely.

Pamela for Skype. It records Skype videos and calls, which can be emailed to those who missed the chat and viewed at a later time.

LegalTube. This lawyers’ version of YouTube hosts videos of attorneys speaking on a variety of topics that can be searched by practice or location.

ABA TechEZ. New technology training videos are posted here every Tuesday.

PowerPoint slides of many presentations have been uploaded to the ABA Techshow website.

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