Law profession needs R&D support, bloggers say | Year-end bonus etiquette

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The Make More Rain Blog reached out to legal industry experts to get their predictions about the state of law firms, law firm technology and law firm business development.

One prediction of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog’s Ryan McLead: “Firms will begin active research and development programs to improve communications, efficiency, and profitability,” he wrote. “They will apply scientific rigor to testing new ideas and techniques, building upon those that are successful and swiftly discarding those that are not.”

Innovation is hard work, “and we need to actively support and foster innovation as other industries do,” Kate Simpson, a Canadian knowledge design consultant, wrote at Slaw. “I would suggest an organization that acts as a kind of innovation incubator for [Canadian] legal startups.”

Three key types of support are needed, Simpson writes: access to a network of like-minded individuals; a supporting infrastructure that provides office space, services or capital; and access to knowledge support from the rest of the industry. “The profession needs an incubator-like resource that creates a ‘safe’ space for innovators to explore ideas, to find what works and what doesn’t. It’s what ReInventLaw is already doing (but south of the border).”

‘A collection of words’

E-discovery consultant Craig Ball posted at Ball in your Court to voice his disagreement with a New York Law Journal post from earlier this month objecting to judges’ practice of ordering the disclosure of search terms when requested. The authors urge judges to recognize “that a search term is more than a collection of words, rather, the culmination of an attorney’s interaction with the facts of the case.”

“Espousing the sanctity of work product privilege to an audience of litigators is like saying, ‘I support our troops,’ ” Ball writes. “It’s mom, baseball and apple pie. … But let’s not let jingoism displace judgment. Search terms are precisely what the authors claim they are not: search terms are a collection of words. They are lexical filters. Nothing more. Search terms deserve no more protection from disclosure than date ranges, file types and other mechanical means employed to exclude data from scrutiny.”

One’s selection of search terms doesn’t reveal much about a lawyer’s mental impressions or legal theories. Especially the way most lawyers go about it, Ball says. “The process by which lawyers typically arrive at search terms in litigation would be pretty funny if it weren’t so pitiful: Lawyers mostly guess. Call it ‘judgment,’ if you wish; but, mostly it’s a wild ass guess.”

A gift, or a paycheck?

A reader who received a generous year-end bonus from the partners at her small law firm wrote in to Kat Griffin at Corporette to ask what her appropriate response should be. “Is a thank-you note for the five partners appropriate?” she asked. “An in-person thank you? Or nothing?”

Griffin says she knows thank-yous would not have been appropriate when she was receiving lockstep bonuses at her former Am Law 100 firm. “Still, when my reviewer said, in a very cursory manner, ‘your bonus is $80,000 this year,’ and I tried to graciously say ‘thank you,’ it was followed by an awkward, cringe-worthy pause from both of us,” Griffin wrote. “It just felt SO little-girl/feminine and not at all what a Captain of Industry would say. I imagined men saying something like, ‘Well yes, I earned it!’ or ‘Wonderful, I can make the next payment on the yacht!’ or perhaps, ‘Bully, let’s all go play golf!’ But not ‘thank you.’ “

Even though the reader who wrote in works at a smaller firm, Griffin still thinks that a thank-you note would not be appropriate. “I think just continuing to do good work is the appropriate response (if not stepping up your game further).”

Tech faves

North Carolina family lawyer and Divorce Discourse blogger Lee Rosen admits to having some enduring love affairs with technology. “There’s always something new that grabs my attention, but these products keep my love long after the romance of the daily infatuation fades,” Rosen writes. Two of his picks:

7. Skype. “This is how we communicate within our firm using the chat feature as well as the voice/video. It’s the primary way I communicate with members of my team. I also use it talk to clients and others. In fact, I use Skype instead of my cellphone when I need to make a call.”

8. Byword. “It’s a simple, stripped-down text editor for the Mac. I use it instead of a heavy-duty word processor like Microsoft Word. I can publish these blog posts directly from Byword, and I simply cut and paste when someone requires a Word Document. I’m in and out of Byword all day long, and there’s so little to it that I can’t be distracted by the bells and whistles found in the powerful word processors.”

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