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Grow Your Client Base by Joining ARAG’s Attorney Network

Thu, 06/02/2016 - 05:55
“Attorneys who participate in ARAG’s network increase their visibility to consumers without paying marketing or referral fees.” —Lawyerist

ARAG is a legal insurance provider that provides group and individual legal insurance plans to help consumers access attorneys and control legal costs. ARAG’s national network of attorney providers offers services directly to those consumers, who are often of moderate or modest means.

Details

Many people will not seek out the advice of an attorney. They are afraid it will cost too much and they are worried about the quality of services they will receive. Meanwhile, many solo and small practice attorneys have a difficult time building referrals. ARAG’s legal plans bridge the access gap by connecting consumers who have legal needs with experienced attorneys who wish to build their business. After their initial interaction with network attorneys, ARAG members typically want a long-term professional relationship with that attorney and even refer the attorney to friends and family. In fact, 88% of people who use ARAG attorneys are likely to refer them to friends and family.1

Just as individuals who join legal plans receive a variety of advantages, attorneys who join ARAG’s attorney network receive a host of benefits. They receive free referrals, often from individuals who might not otherwise seek out legal services. For most matters, ARAG handles the administrative details regarding payment, ensuring that attorneys do not have to spend time worrying about collecting money from clients directly. Attorneys can maintain their normal scope of practice as ARAG does not require an exclusive commitment in order to join its network. Importantly, attorneys who participate in ARAG’s network increase their visibility to consumers without paying marketing or referral fees by being listed in ARAG’s network directory as a preferred provider. Finally, ARAG members may recommend ARAG attorneys to non-members, further increasing an attorney’s client base.

How to Join the ARAG Network

There is no fee to  join or participate in the ARAG attorney network. If you are interested in having an opportunity to increase your client base while assisting consumers who might not otherwise have access to quality legal assistance, you can begin the enrollment process here.

  1. Based on 2015 ARAG member satisfaction survey. 

Grow Your Client Base by Joining ARAG’s Attorney Network was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

4 Ways to Secure Your Clients’ Information

Wed, 06/01/2016 - 11:02

A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client. (Rule 1.6(c).)

So what are reasonable efforts when it comes to your clients’ information stored on your computer? You have to make an effort, obviously. But how much effort is so unreasonable that you don’t have to make it?

At a minimum, a reasonable effort has to mean taking advantage of the easy-to-use security features already available on your computer and device(s). Where the potential harm is great and the potential fix is cheap and easy to implement, it is also be a reasonable effort.

With that in mind, here are four ways you may not be making a reasonable effort.

1. Encrypt Your Clients’ Files

If you are using a Mac or a Windows PC that has Bitlocker, you can encrypt your files with just a few clicks. That is not hyperbole. All you have to do is change a setting.

But is it reasonable? Well, after you encrypt your computer and devices, you can continue using them exactly as you do now. And while encryption will affect your computer’s performance, the change will be so small that you aren’t likely to notice. Encrypting your files barely takes any effort, so it must be reasonable.

Many lawyers misunderstand what encryption means for using their computers. Under Rule 1.1, they probably have a duty to be better-informed about encryption technology, but the bottom line is that after encrypting your computer you can go on using it exactly as you do now. It is not like email encryption, which definitely still is pretty clunky. You can open and save files, send and receive files, and generally go on using your devices just like you are used to.

You should definitely be encrypting your client files.

2. Use a VPN

When you use a strange Wi-Fi network, it doesn’t matter whether you have to log into that network with a password or not. It is, for all intents and purposes, public. And public means that when you browse the web or check your email, you might as well be sharing it with the room. Anyone who wants to listen in, can. It isn’t even illegal. If you send a confidential document as an email attachment over a public network, anyone can read it.

Keeping your Internet activity private is not difficult or expensive, but it does require you to use a third-part service called a VPN (virtual private network). A VPN is a secure line to the web that prevents anyone on the same network from seeing what you are doing online. As Kashmir Hill recently said, “if you use the Internet, you need a VPN.”

3. Use Two-Factor Authentication for Key Services

Two-factor (sometimes called two-step or multi-factor) means using something you know (your password) and something you have (usually your phone) to log into an account. With two-factor authentication, you have to type in your password plus a code generated by an app or sent to you by text or email. Two-factor authentication is slightly more work than logging into your account with just a username and password, but it is also drastically more secure. Even if a malicious hacker has your username and password, they will not be able to log into your account or reset your password unless they also have access to your phone.

Without two-factor authentication, anyone who cracks your password can access your accounts. And anyone who gains access to your email account can change the passwords to all your other accounts, which will let them empty your bank accounts (goodbye, client funds!), go on a shopping spree on Amazon, or if you are lucky, turn your computer into a spambot.

If you aren’t using two-factor authentication on your critical accounts, you aren’t making reasonable efforts to protect the client information stored in any of your accounts.

4. Use Good Passwords

Good passwords may be the last thing on this list, but they are the most important, without a doubt. Even if you take all the precautions in the world, they won’t do any good if you use weak passwords.

In 2014, Russian hackers acquired 1.2 billion passwords. If each of those passwords represents a person, that means the hackers compromised about 17% of the world’s population. In order to get those passwords, they will have to attempt to decrypt the passwords. This is not particularly difficult.

If your password in the dictionary or uses common substitutions like 1 for l or @ for a, it will only take seconds to decrypt your password. If you use a long, randomly-generated password, it may be effectively impossible to decrypt. If your password is somewhere in the middle, cross your fingers and hope the cracker gets bored before it brings the necessary processing power to bear.

If a hacker manages to get ahold of your username or email address, connected with your password, then that hacker can access any other account for which you use the same credentials. In fact the first thing they will probably do once they have your credentials is try them on a list of popular websites.

Using good passwords is not unreasonable, it is required.

Fix These Things Now

We put our heads together to try to identify several things lawyers could do to drastically improve their computer security. We identified each of the problems listed above.

If you aren’t doing any of these things, we would give you a D- when it comes to your own computer security. But you can fix all of these things in under an hour (or start, in the case of using good passwords)! All you need is a step-by-step guide to doing each of them.

I put together a step-by-step guide to doing just that, and I just updated it. You can get the 4-Step Computer Security Upgrade in PDF right now. It is also available in paperback and (soon) for Kindle, from Amazon.

It won’t make your computer impregnable, but it will upgrade your computer security from a D- to at least a solid B. If you get the guide and follow the instructions, you can rest easier knowing you have taken care of the low-hanging fruit and made your computer far more secure than it was.

Originally published 2015-05-19. Last updated 2016-06-01.

Featured image: “Umbrella in the rain in vintage tone” from Shutterstock.

4 Ways to Secure Your Clients’ Information was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #70: Using Public Court Data to Predict Court Outcomes, with Sam Harden

Wed, 06/01/2016 - 06:12

“One of the things that I am unwilling to do with the data on the site is put it behind lock and key.” — Sam Harden

Sam chats with Sam Harden about his solosmall firm and how to balance having a newborn at home with a burgeoning law practice. Sam Harden also explains how he taught himself to code and leveraged Florida’s extensive public records law in order to develop My Court Case.

Legal Tech Is Exploding, but the Lack of Open Data Is a Problem

Sam talked about his trip out to Stanford for CodeX, a conference about how technology is changing the legal profession. Sam was part of a moot court arguing about whether the legal tech field is over-promising and underdelivering.

Legal tech is growing by leaps and bounds. Stanford maintains a legal tech list, a database with over 550 companies in the legal tech field. (There were only 539 in there last week. Things move fast.) As Sam and Aaron discussed, however, one of the biggest obstacles to legal tech is that courts are the gatekeepers of data, and many do not make their data easily available. That creates a bottleneck in the process of developing legal technologies that rely upon open data and large court data sets.

Using Public Court Data to Predict Court Outcomes, with Sam Harden

Sam Harden practices personal injury and criminal defense law at Metcalf Harden in Florida and has been recognized as one of the top “40 under 40” attorneys in Florida. Earlier this year, he founded My Court Case, which analyzes publicly available court data to learn how judges rule so that individuals can make choices about how to proceed with their criminal case.

You can follow Sam on Twitter.

Thanks to Xero and Abacus for sponsoring this episode!

Support the Podcast

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Listen and Subscribe

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To make sure you don’t miss an episode of the Lawyerist Podcast, subscribe now in iTunes, Stitcher, or any other podcast player. Or find out about new episodes by subscribing to the Lawyerist Insider, our email newsletter. We will announce new episodes in the Insider, and you can listen to them right here on Lawyerist.

Podcast #70: Using Public Court Data to Predict Court Outcomes, with Sam Harden was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Uncovering Big Bias with Big Data

Tue, 05/31/2016 - 06:12

A while back, two of my colleagues were arguing about which is a bigger problem in the criminal justice system: bias against defendants of color or bias against poor defendants. My first inclination was to suggest we could settle the dispute if we had the right dataset. (I’m an attorney turned data scientist, so yes, that really was my first thought.1) That being said, the right dataset magically appeared in a Tweet from Ben Schoenfeld.2

2.2 million Virginia criminal district court cases now available for bulk download and more to come! https://t.co/Wd82wkxJn1 #opendata

— Ben Schoenfeld (@oilytheotter) March 22, 2016

What follows is the story of how I used those cases to discover what best predicts defendant outcomes: race or income. This post is not a summary of my findings, though you will find them in this article. It is a look behind the curtain of data science, a how to cast as case study. Yes, there will be a few equations. But you can safely skim over them without missing much. Just pay particular attention to the graphs.

“Big” Data

Attorneys rely on intuition. It’s how we “know” whether a case should go to trial. But all intuition is statistical and the product of experience and observation. Unfortunately, it is also subject to an assortment of cognitive biases. “Big” Data promises to help transcend these shortcomings by checking our intuitions.3

To figure out the answer to which was a bigger problem—bias against defendants of color or bias against poor defendants—I sifted through millions of Virginia court records.4 You have some collection of variables and the suspicion that one of them is dependent on the others. How do you test your suspicion? In one word: statistics!

For the question at hand, our data need to contain at least three types of information:

  1. The defendants’ race.
  2. The defendants’ income.
  3. Some consistent measure of outcomes.

With enough data, we can look to see if judgement outcomes change when race and income change. That is, we can see if there are any correlations. The outcome is called the dependent variable. Race and income are independent variables, and we call these features.

Source: “Correlation” from xkcd.

If we can get data on other factors that might affect the outcome, we want those too. Generally, the more features, the better, because we can control for the effects.5 For example, we should probably know something about the seriousness of a charge. Otherwise, if we find outcomes (e.g., sentences) go down as defendant incomes go up, we won’t know if this is because the courts are biased against the poor or because the well-off aren’t charged with serious crimes and never face truly bad outcomes.

Data Wrangling & Exploration ”I’m going to let you in on a secret: most of a data scientist’s time is spent cleaning and joining data.”

Ben’s data are basically a set of spreadsheets. Each row is a charge, and there are some 47 columns associated with each row. Here’s what they look like:

I’m going to let you in on a secret: most of a data scientist’s time is spent cleaning and joining data, sometimes called data wrangling or data munging. It’s not glamorous, but it’s necessary, and it’s a process that requires a good sense of what you’re looking for.

Immediately, I scanned the data for race, income, seriousness, and outcome. There was a column listing the defendants’ race, but there was no column for income.6 Luckily the dataset included the zip codes of defendants, and since the 2006-2010 American Community Survey tabulated mean income by zip code, I could make an educated guess about a defendant’s income.7 I just assumed a defendant’s income was the average income of their zip code. It’s not perfect, but we don’t need to be perfect. I’ll explain why.

Creating a Model “[A]ll models are wrong, but some are useful.”
—George Box

You might not have realized it, but we’re about to build a statistical model. When evaluating if a model is useful, I like to remember two things:

  1. Always ask “compared to what?”
  2. Always remember that the output of a model should start, not end, discussion.

Right now, we’re operating in the dark. I had a guess as to whether or not a defendant’s race or income was a better predictor of outcomes, and I bet you have your own guess, but we have reasons to doubt our guesses. After we build a model, we’ll know more. We can then use the model’s output to move the conversation forward. That is the most one can ask for. Admittedly, I’ve made a lot of assumptions, and you’re welcome to disagree with them. In fact, you’re invited to improve upon them as I have shared all of my work, including computer code, over on GitHub: Class, Race, and Sex in Virginia Criminal Courts.

That’s how science works.

It’s important to note what we’re doing is modeling for insight. I don’t expect that we’ll use our model to predict the future. Rather, we’re trying to figure out how things interact. We want to know what happens to outcomes when we vary defendant demographics, specifically their race or income. The exact numbers aren’t as important as the general trends and how they compare.

Finding Features ”Keep it simple, stupid.”

Next up, I had to figure out how to measure the seriousness of a case. The data listed charge types and classes (e.g., Class 1 Felony). You can find a description of what these mean here and here.8 Ideally, I wanted to place all crimes on a scale of seriousness. So I sorted the list of all possible combinations and numbered them from 1 to 10.9

This is where I got caught in my first rabbit hole.

I spent a long time trying to map these 10 charge types on to some spectrum of seriousness, but sanctions are multifaceted. I tried combining the possible number of days in a sentence with the possible fine to get a single number that represented how serious a charge was. Coming from Massachusetts, I was looking for something like the ranking of seriousness levels used in our sentencing guidelines. In the end, however, I realized that my overly complicated ratings didn’t really improve the model (specifically, its R-squared, which is something we’ll discuss below).

The data included multiple outcomes, including the length of sentences, information on probation, and an accounting of fines and fees. Again, I spent a while trying to figure out how to combine these before remembering the sage’s advice: keep it simple, stupid.

Consequently, I opted to define outcome generally by what I assumed to be the most salient measure: the sentence length in days.10

There was another variable relating to defendant demographics, sex, which I included.11 I could have looked through previous years’ data to construct a defendant’s criminal history along with a myriad of other features, but given that my question was aimed at the influence of race and income on outcomes, I was content to focus primarily on these features, along with seriousness. Consequently, there’s a lot more one could do with this data, and I’m sure that’s what Ben was hoping for when he compiled them. So please, dig in.

That being said, we’re ready to see how race, income, seriousness, and sex affect the outcomes of criminal cases.

Best Fit Lines (Regressions)

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you’ve seen the next step coming. For those of you who became attorneys because you didn’t like math, let’s slow things down.

At the heart of modern science there are a class of tools that fall under the general name of regression analysis. You’ve probably heard of at least one of these. Here, for example, is a linear regression I ran on a subset of the VA court data.

Fundamentally, a linear regression is concerned with finding a best fit line. In the graph above, we are plotting the seriousness of a charge against the sentence a defendant received in days. Every charge in the data is plotted, and a line is drawn by a computer to minimize the distance between itself and each data point. A bunch of these points fall on top of each other. So it’s hard to get a feel for how they are distributed. To help with this we can replace all data points with a common X value with a single representative “dot.” The graph below shows the same data as the one above, but it groups data points into a single dot at its members’ center with bars to indicate where 95% of its membership falls.

Consequently, the Y-axes have different scales. In both graph’s, however, it can be seen that as the seriousness of charges go up, sentences go up. The lines allow us to put a hard number on how much.

To get this number, we use the equation of a line, y = mx + b. Where y is the sentence, x is the seriousness of our charge, m is the slope of our line, and b is where our line crosses the Y-axis.

You’ll notice that the line doesn’t go through every data point. In fact, the data seem very noisy. We can see this best in the first of our graphs (Linear Regression: All Data Points). Life is messy, and by plotting every data point, we can see the variations inherent in real life. Thankfully, the seriousness of a charge does not dictate its destiny. Sometimes people are acquitted and cases are dismissed. Both of these occurrences result in a sentence of zero days, and often when there is a finding of guilt, there are extenuating circumstances, causing sentences other than the maximum. Consequently, being charged with a crime that could land you in jail for a year doesn’t mean you’re going away for a year.

There’s a measure of this noise. It is often framed as a number indicating how much of the variation in your data your model (best fit line) explains. It’s called R-squared, and in the above graphs, the model accounts for roughly 12% of the variation. That is, R-squared = 0.121689. A perfect fit with every data point falling on the line would yield an R-squared of 1. Knowing this helps us understand what’s going on. We’re used to thinking about averages, and in a way, the best fit is just telling us the average for every value along the number line.12 It’s worth noting, however, that our data are a tad peculiar because the seriousness of charges is always a whole number between 1 and 10. That’s why we see those nice rows.

Logarithms

If we look at the first plot of seriousness vs. sentences (in the graph above labeled Linear Regression: All Data Points), everything seems to be bunched up at the bottom of the graph, which isn’t ideal for a number of reasons. Luckily, there’s a way to deal with that. We can take the log of the data. When we do this, the name of our regression changes from linear regression to log-linear or log-normal regression. We won’t be able to read the number of days off our Y-axis anymore, but if we want to get that number, we could transform log(days) back into days by raising e to the log(days) power (i.e., e log(days)). It’s okay if you don’t understand logarithms. What’s important to know is that this trick helps un-bunch our numbers, and we can always undo this transformation if need be. One other detail, log(0) isn’t a finite number. Since many cases (dismissals and acquittals) have a sentence equal to zero, I’ll be taking the log of 1 + the sentence. Don’t worry about the details. Just look at these pretty graphs.

See, everything’s nice and spread out now. Note that in the All Data Points graph, our best fit doesn’t go through the dark patches of data points because it is brought down by our acquittals and dismissals at the bottom.

Now, you can’t always fit a line to data. Sometimes it’s a curve and sometimes there’s no pattern at all—there is no signal to grab on to. Such cases return very low R-squared values.

Curvy Lines (Fitting Polynomials)

If you’re looking to plot something other than a line, you can add exponents to the equation of your best fit. Such equations are called higher order polynomials. A line is a first-order polynomial (i.e, y = mx + b) where as a parabola (i.e., y = ax 2 + bx + c) is a second-order polynomial. You get third-order polynomials by adding an x 3 and fourth-order polynomials by adding an x 4. What makes polynomials useful is that for every term you add you get a new bend. So we aren’t limited to fitting straight lines. For example:

Some of you are probably yelling at the screen: “Danger, Danger!” As we imagine increasingly curvy lines, what stops us from fitting a curve that goes right through the center of each of our data points?  Judgment.

“You should only make use of curvy fits if you have a good theoretical reason to do so.”

You would be right to be suspicious of such a fit. It’s unlikely that it would be generalizable. If you take such a model and apply it to new data, it’s likely to break. Generally speaking, if you’re going to fit curves to your data, you should have some reason other than “it fits better,” because you can always make the line fit better.

For example, it might be that charges punishable by fines are different from crimes punishable by incarceration and as you transition from one type to the other the seriousness jumps. Consequently, you wouldn’t expect a linear relationship across all charge types. Instead, you might be looking for a “hockey stick.” That being said, you should only make use of curvy fits if you have a good theoretical reason to do so.

When you aggressively fit your model, and the fit doesn’t reflect reality, we call it overfitting. To help avoid this temptation, we need to check our work. The process of making our fit based on data is called training, and it’s standard practice to train one’s model on a subset of data and then test one’s model against a different subset. This way you can be sure your model is generalizable and will avoid the trap of overfitting. This testing is called cross-validation, and like data wrangling, it’s an important step in the process.13

Statistically Significant?

So how do we know if a correlation is real? It turns out we can’t actually say for sure. Instead, statisticians ask: “If there is no correlation, how likely would it be for us to see these or more extreme results by chance?”

The answer to this question feature by feature is something called a P-value, and you may have heard about these in the news recently. A thoughtful explanation of their meaning is beyond the scope of this piece. However, you should know that they’re scored like golf. Low values are better than high values. This score is often used to help determine if something is significant.14

Featured image: “P-Values” from xkcd.

The P-values for seriousness in the various models above are pretty good—well below 0.05. This comes as no surprise. What we really want to know is how race, income, and sex measure up. So what does a best fit look like when you deal with more than just seriousness? What happens if we take income into account?

Multiple Dimensions

What you’re seeing is a plot of seriousness and mean income against log(1 + the sentence in days). Instead of a best fit line, we now have a best fit plane. If you look carefully, you can see that income does, in fact, correlate with outcome, except this correlation is in the opposite direction. That is, the higher your income, the lower your sentence.

Like before, we can use math to quantify our best fit. In this case, however, we use the equation of a plane (i.e., z = ax + by + c). Of course, just like before, we could fit curved surfaces to our data, but we can also expand the number of features we consider. As we add more features, we add more dimensions, and our best fit moves into the space of n-dimensional geometry. This can be hard to visualize, but hopefully it’s easy enough to understand. We’re just doing more of the same. If we don’t worry about curves, we’re just adding two variables with every new feature/dimension, e.g., x’ = ax + by + cz + d.

Again, our best fit is telling us something analogous to the average for every value along both axes, seriousness and income. This implicitly includes all of their combinations. Yes, high income corresponds to a lower sentence, but the seriousness of a charge matters a lot more.

It’s worth noting that our race and sex data doesn’t look like our other data in that it’s not part of a number scale. To address this, we convert them into collections of binary variables. For example, I have added a column to our data called Male. It’s 1 if the client was identified as male and 0 if the client was identified as female. Likewise, there are columns for each of the races defined in the data except for Caucasian. If a client was identified as Caucasian, all of these columns would be zero. That is, our model’s default race is Caucasian.

Okay, let’s run a regression on all of our features. Yay, multi-dimensional best fit!

Findings

The table below is a summary of the regression’s output. Remember P-values? They’re all really low (yay!). And although the R-squared isn’t great (6%), remember that life is messy.15 If race, income, sex, and the seriousness of a charge predicted a case’s outcome 100%, I’d be questioning what attorneys were for. So what do the rest of these numbers mean?

Well, the coef (short for coefficient) column tells us the slope of our best fit for a given variable.16 That is, they tell us how big and in what direction a feature (e.g., race) is correlated with the dependent variable (the sentence).17 So we can see that a defendant’s race is positively correlated with the sentence they receive, and their income is negatively correlated.

Here’s our model boiled down to an equation.

  • D is our dataset of court cases joined with income data.
  • S is the Sentence in Days plus 1 day.
  • Coefficients through  are those determined by an ordinary least squares (OLS) regression for the dataset D corresponding to features x1 through x8 receptively, with  equal to the intercept. Values of these can be found in the table above along with P-values and additional summary data. An explanation of these summary statistics can be found here.
  • = some random error for the above OLS. For more on this, consult Forecasting From Log-Linear Regressions.
  • x1 = the seriousness level of a charge.
  • x2 = 1 if defendant is male, otherwise 0.
  • x3 = the mean income of the defendant’s zip code, used as a stand-in for their income.
  • x4 = 1 if defendant is Black (Non-Hispanic), otherwise 0.
  • x5 = 1 if defendant is Hispanic, otherwise 0.
  • x6 = 1 if defendant is an Asian or Pacific Islander, otherwise 0.
  • x7 = 1 if defendant is an American Indian, otherwise 0.
  • x8 = 1 if defendant is Other, otherwise 0.

Again, those coefficients tell us how big an influence our features have.18

For a black man in Virginia to get the same treatment as his Caucasian peer, he must earn an additional $90,000 a year.

This all tells us for a black man in Virginia to get the same treatment as his Caucasian peer, he must earn an additional $90,000 a year.

Similar amounts hold for American Indians and Hispanics, with the offset for Asians coming in at a little less than half as much. 

The answer to our question seems to be that race-based bias is pretty big. It is also worth noting that being male isn’t helpful either.

Because the R-squared is so low, we’re not saying that being black is an insurmountable obstacle to receiving justice as a defendant. Our model only accounts for 6% of the variation we see in the data. So thankfully, other factors matter a lot more. Hopefully, these factors include the facts of a case. However, it is clear that defendants of color are in a markedly worse position than their white peers.

And yes, correlation isn’t causation. And yes, strictly speaking, we’re only talking about the Virginia Criminal Circuit Courts in 2006-2010. But my guess is we’d find similar results in other jurisdictions or times. So let’s start looking for those datasets. That being said, we know a good deal more than when we started. So I’m willing to articulate the following working theory: race matters.

If you’ll forgive my soapbox, it’s time we stop pretending race isn’t a major driver of disparities in our criminal justice system. This is not to say that the courts are full of racist people. In fact, I’m working on a more detailed analysis of this data that seems to suggest that, at some points in the course of a case, one’s race plays no significant role in determining an outcome. What we see here is the aggregate effect of many interlocking parts. Reality is complex. Good people can find themselves unwitting cogs in the machinery of institutional racism, and a system doesn’t have to have racist intentions to behave in a racist way. Unfortunately, the system examined here is not blind to race, class, or sex for that matter. Knowing this changes everything. Once you recognize the bias in a system, you have a choice: you can do something to push back, or you can accept the status quo.

Words of Warning

I did all of my analysis with freely available tools, and there’s nothing stopping you from picking up where I left off. In fact, I hope that a few of you will look at this GitHub repo and do exactly that. However, it’s important to note that you need a solid foundation in statistics to avoid making unwarranted claims due to lack of experience.

Featured image: “Data Science Venn Diagram” by Drew Conway is licensed CC BY-NC.

And beware the danger zone! As Drew Conway (creator of the Venn Diagram above) points out, “It is from [that] part of the diagram that the phrase ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ emanates.”

That being said, there is nothing magic here. You can also discover hidden truths. My advice? Be suspicious of answers that reinforce your existing assumptions. Do your work in the open. When confidentiality allows, share both your findings and your data. Have someone check your math. Listen to feedback, and always be ready to change your mind.19

This post was updated on 6/1/16 to address commenter feedback and to correct mislabeled Y axes on the first two plots. In retrospect, the last paragraph of this article seems prescient. Shortly after publication, a commenter took me up on the offer to dig into the data and noticed that I had neglected to clean some extraneous entries from the dataset (i.e., those entries with unidentified race and sex). It amounted to two lines of missing code the consequence of which was to inflate the coefficients associated with race and sex in the model. The coefficient for sex only changed slightly. However, those associated with race came down a good deal. After correcting for this error, the original observation that a black man had to earn an additional $500,000 to be on equal footing with his white peers was amended to reflect the fact that the model now puts the dollar amount closer to $90,000. Additionally, the offset for Asian defendants turned out to be a little less than half that of Black, Native, and Hispanic defendants. Aside from the paragraphs in which these results were communicated, the table of summary statistics, and footnote 18, the remainder of this article is unchanged with the exception of the inclusion of new plots to correct the mislabeled axes and references to the associated r-squared in same.

Featured image: “The Supreme Court” by Tim Sackton is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0. The image has been modified to include a big Data and text, with inspiration from Josh Lee.

  1. It’s worth noting the work I’m describing here was done on my own time and in no way represents the opinions of my employer. 

  2. As his site, Virginia Court Data, makes clear there’s quite a story behind this data, and my hat’s off to Ben for making them usable, despite some disagreements over the particulars of the release. See note 4. Thank you Ben. 

  3. In my experience, most practitioners of data analytics are ambivalent about the term Big Data. Only a handful of institutions deal with truly big data. Google and Facebook come to mind. Most of the time when people say Big Data, what they’re really talking about is data sufficiently large for statistical analysis to be useful. Hence, the quotes. 

  4. As a criminal defense attorney, I’m well aware of the complications that arise from such a dataset. As a recent ethical breach involving OkCupid data makes clear, just because you can aggregate data doesn’t mean you should. The data used here was aggregated from publicly-accessible court webpages that include defendant names. The contents of these pages are in fact public records. However, Ben has prudently hidden defendant names behind one-way hashes, and the court had enough foresight to partially obfuscate dates of birth. Unfortunately, this does not preclude de-anonymization of the data in the future. I would have opted to further obscure some of the data to make de-anonymization harder, and I shared some suggestions for further scrubbing the data with Ben. It was clear he took seriously the need to consider the unintended consequences of making this data more accessible, hence his effort to obscure defendant names. It was also clear that he felt there was a clear public interest in making these public data (in the sense that they are public records) more accessible, listing several cases where he believed obscured data would have made the discovery of injustices in the system harder to find. In response, I provided several hypotheticals illustrating the concerns behind my belief that more scrubbing was called for. We both agree that true anonymization is probably impossible, barring full homomorphic encryption, and that their is a public interest in making parts of this data easier to access than they are in to the existing court interface. Where we disagree is on whether these should included all or only a subset of the data. He left open the question as to whether or not he will further scrub the data, but he made clear that he had no intent to do so in the near future. For this reason, I have not included the raw data in my supplementary materials. Consequently, if changes are made to provide additional privacy protections, these materials won’t be a weak link in the chain. 

  5. When you have a lot of potential features, however, some special issues start to crop up. 

  6. The Race column listed 6 categories: American Indian, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black (Non-Hispanic), Hispanic, Other, or White Caucasian (Non-Hispanic). However, I do not know what criteria the court uses to determine a defendant’s label. Also, I am aware that this appears to be a conflation of race and ethnicity, but again, these are the categories provided in the court data. You will see these labels referenced by shorthand in this article as Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Other, and Caucasian respectively. 

  7. Assuming I limited my analysis to 2006-2010 data, which I did. This also limited me to data from the Criminal Circuit Courts

  8. If you look at the data, you’ll also see U under the class column as well. These are unclassified charges with their own sentencing range, separate from the standard classes. 

  9. This excludes class U charges. See note 8

  10. You may notice when we examine the relationship between seriousness and sentence below, some Class 3 & 4 Misdemeanors are linked to jail times despite the fact that such offenses should only involve fines. See Virginia Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences. For the cases I could find, these sentences agreed with the information found on Virginia Courts’ Case Information website. So this does not appear to be an issue with Ben’s data collection. A number of possible explanations come to mind. For example, Public Intoxication is a Class 4 Misdemeanor, but subsequent offenses can result in jail time. It is also possible that there may be data entry errors (e.g., misclassifying a charge as a Class 3 Misdemeanor when the governing statute makes clear it is actually a Class 1 Misdemeanor, something I saw in the court’s data). Whatever the reasons for these potential errors, they seem to be the exception, not the rule, and without direct access to the courts’ methods and measures of quality control, I have to take the data at face value. Hopefully, the fact that we’re working with hundreds of thousands of cases means that 134 outliers, if they are actually errors, don’t do much to skew our results. 

  11. The VA data listed a binary sex, not gender. So I am limited to such a taxonomy here. 

  12. What’s really going on is something called ordinary least squares

  13. To learn more about how I arrived at the final model below, check out this supplemental notebook

  14. What counts as a good P-value, however, depends on context. For example, in most social science research, a P-value of less than 0.05 is considered significant, but in high-energy physics they hold out for a P-value of 0.0000003

  15. I tested a number of different models and you can see my work in more detail over here

  16. If you’re curious what all the other numbers mean, check out this post

  17. Technically, the log of 1 + the sentence in days. 

  18. For income’s influence to counteract that of being black
    Therefore:
    –0.000004166x3 + (0.3763)(1) = 0
    x3 = 0.3763/0.000004166
    x3 = $90,456.73 

  19. Thank you to Adrian Angus and William Li for your feedback. It was greatly appreciated. 

Uncovering Big Bias with Big Data was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Should You Join the JAG Corps?

Mon, 05/30/2016 - 06:12

This is the first of a two-part series on joining the JAG Corps. Part two is “Applying to the JAG Corps: Make the Cut”.”

Military lawyers are an interesting breed. It takes something a little strange in someone to want to go through college, through law school, and then join the military. But judging by the growing number of applicants to the various branches of the JAG Corps, it might seem that that breed of lawyer is rising. However, you might say that the rise in applications is nothing more than a reaction to poor job market, or a desire for extreme job security. But one thing is certain, a lot of law students and lawyers are trying to become military lawyers for whatever reason. If you happen to be one of these prospective applicants, and if you’re wondering whether the JAG Corps is right for you, I will do my best here to provide some insight.

First though, I have to give a few disclaimers. I am a Judge Advocate in the Air National Guard. So I am not on active duty, and I have never been in the Army, Marines, Navy or Coast Guard; just the Air Force as a national guardsman. Because I am in the Guard, and not active duty, I can write this with candor, but I must emphasize that my advice  and  opinions here are my own, and don’t represent the views of the U.S. Government or any one of our military branches’ JAG Corps. I also am only intimately familiar with the experience of one branch of the military, so while this advice will apply fairly well to the various JAG corps generally, it is simply that: a general analysis. Now, on to what you care about.

The Good

There are a lot of great reasons to join the JAG Corps; far too many to list here. So I will stick to the high points. The chief reason why so many people—at least until the last few years—apply is that JAGs get a truly one-of-a-kind experience. In your first few years as a Judge Advocate, you might be fully lititgating a criminal trial (a.k.a court martial), defending the U.S. Government against a taxpayer whose house got damaged by falling aircraft parts, or briefing troops on “shoot/don’t shoot rules of engagement” and laws of armed conflict. The thrill of the JAG Corps is that you don’t know where you are going to go, who you are going to meet, or what kind of lawyer you are going to be. The Air Force has a saying: “Bloom where you’re planted.” It speaks to the fact that you have almost no say in where you want to go, or what you want to do; but whatever it is that you do or wherever it is that you go, you should make the most of your opportunity.

To be fair, I also need to add that I know several JAGs who got completely rockstar assignments right out of the gate. What constitutes “rockstar,” you ask? I’m talking about places like Japan, England, Italy, Germany, Las Vegas and Pensacola. If you can’t bloom in any of these places, your roots are messed up, friend.

There has also never been a more lucrative time to join the military. The pay is good, you receive no-cost health insurance for you and your family and you get decent, free housing. Hell, you may even get an enlistment bonus. Add to that the fact that the military has also made great strides in lightening enlistees’ student loan debts, and you have several great financial incentives for joining up as a military lawyer.

The Bad

Being in the military can be pretty stressful. On top of already being in an already stressful profession,  military lawyers have the obligation to not only be good lawyers, but an obligation to also be good officers. Obviously there are several benefits to being an officer; and it’s a role to be proud of, certainly. But you are also expected to carry yourself in a professional manner at all times. As an officer, your everyday activities are subject to scrutiny: who you’re friends with, who you date, what you like to do on the weekends, whether you pay your credit card bills on time, etc. Some people handle this well; others don’t. The trouble with this is that your commitment to the branch you are in is usually 4 years, and if you don’t enjoy your work or the military lifestyle, you’ve got yourself one long road ahead.

Being on active duty can be extremely taxing on both you and your family. You have to move away from your home to other bases or stations “as the mission requires,” and you and yours might absolutely despise where it is that you have to move to. You also have to go through some form of training where you get yelled at, where you won’t get any sleep, and where you will be fed awful food. And if this weren’t scary enough, guess what? You are more than likely to deploy to some pretty awful places in the world, and you will have to do it sooner rather than later.

“The Suck”

Yes. You are going to deploy if you join the JAG Corps. For some JAGs, this is an insanely stressful but incomparably rewarding experience. For others, it’s just insanely stressful. Deployments can cause divorces, missed births of first-born children, missed NFL seasons, and just an overall miserable six months to a year of your life. And oh yeah, almost forgot, you are sleeping, working and eating IN A FREAKING COMBAT ZONE.

But nearly every person I have deployed with, and nearly every JAG I have spoken to wouldn’t trade that experience for any other professional achievement. You get to provide legal counsel, represent service members and advise commanders in a hostile part of the world. If you can do that and do it well, then you have a hardening experience that can prepare you for nearly anything that the legal profession can throw at you. Also, name another occasion where you can sit down with a client while wearing a sidearm (put your hands down, Texas attorneys).

This list is not exhaustive, mind you; and I hope that I have emphasized the good over the bad here. Personally, I decided to join the Air National Guard because it offers a good mix of both the freedom to live a civilian-puke life with the thrilling experience of being a part-time Judge Advocate. If you think that you are interested in a life as a Judge Advocate in one branch of the military or another, stay tuned for part two of this post on how to apply to one of the various JAG Corps.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thenationalguard/4146449809/)

Should You Join the JAG Corps? was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Stop Trying to Be Happy, Lawyers

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 09:27
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
—Victor Frankl

Why bother with happiness? From the Declaration of Independence to modern self-help aisles, we are bombarded with resources and tips telling us to find happiness. But the happiness hawkers assume, usually without analysis, that happiness is a worthy goal. As good lawyers, we should examine the premise that happiness is worth achieving before we embark on its pursuit.

The Upside of Happiness

There are a plethora good, research-backed reasons to pursue happiness. Happiness has been associated with numerous health benefits, including stronger immune responses. Happiness may also promote longevity.

At work, being happier may produce significant benefits.1 Barbara Frederickson, of the University of North Carolina, has found that happier people are more open, which helps them see more connections between ideas, think outside the box, and have more creative insights. Creative problem solving is, no doubt, a boon for attorneys. Happier workers also are more productive, which could help lawyers manage his or her notoriously heavy workloads.

And of course, there’s the obvious reason to pursue happiness: We simply feel better when we’re happy.

Yet this rosy picture, the one usually presented by the media and those who make a living selling happiness, overlooks important details that are especially relevant for lawyers.

The Downside of Happiness

If we felt happy all of the time, we would be deprived of critical tools for our own development: negative emotions. Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, authors of The Upside of Your Dark Side, argue that every emotion has a job to do. Negative emotions “identify trouble or opportunity and suggest methods of repair or gain.”

Psychologist Aaron Sell, who studies anger, notes that anger prevents people from being exploited. Getting angry at opposing counsel may make them back down — protecting you and you client.

Or consider frustration, an emotion that’s a far cry from happiness. Frustration, while unpleasant, can be what some researchers call a “desirable difficulty.” It forces you to engage, struggle, and process more deeply. In another words, It helps you develop.

Failure and adversity are two more emotions that do not promote happiness, at least not in the short-term. But we need failure and hardship to learn and grow. This gives us the chance to fail, dig deep, and overcome obstacles. Unrelenting happiness doesn’t provide opportunities to examine shortcomings, which may be essential to improvement. And, ironically, as anyone who has ever returned from a setback can attest, the ultimate achievement is sweeter than it would have been without the obstacle.

The Value of Pessimism for Lawyers “The ability to anticipate the whole range of problems and betrayals that non-lawyers are blind to is highly adaptive for the practicing lawyer who can, by so doing, help his clients defend against these far-fetched eventualities.” —Martin E. P. Seligman

Lawyers should approach pursuing happiness with special caution. In most endeavors, pessimism is maladaptive. Pessimistic athletes perform worse, pessimistic students get worse grades, and pessimistic life insurance agents sell less. But pessimistic people may make better lawyers. Though more study is needed, one examination of University of Virginia law students showed that pessimistic law students performed better than their optimistic classmates.

Pessimistic attorneys may be better able to spot potential problems for their clients.  If you become too optimistic, there is a possibility you will not serve your clients quite as well.

That’s important because serving others may be one of the surest paths to a meaningful (if not happy) life. Happiness, in contrast, can be more about taking for oneself. One recent study by Steve Cole and Barbara Frederickson found that happy people who have little meaning in his or her lives look the same as people who endure chronic adversity.

Many lawyers derive deep meaning from serving his or her clients. In fact, the American Bar Association has advised that you seek meaningful work to improve well-being.

A Better Goal: Meaning

There is a happy medium between pessimism and happiness. The first step is to become aware of when pessimism or negativity is needed so that you can turn it on and off. Hunting for the worst case scenario will help you draft a killer motion, but it may not serve you well outside the office. Learning what the pessimism feels like, when it’s warranted, and when you should leave it behind can enable you to excel as a lawyer while protecting your own well-being.

The second step is to search for meaning, not just happiness. Negative emotions are as important to a full life as the positive ones. As Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, wrote, “Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure… or a quest for power… but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.”

Featured image: “Businessman with a paper bag with angry face on it” from Shutterstock.

  1. Research needs to be done to determine whether these benefits hold true for attorneys who may have a special need for pessimism 

Stop Trying to Be Happy, Lawyers was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Attend TBD Law and Prepare Your Law Practice for the Future

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 08:50

If you are serious about preparing your practice for the next ten years, you should be at TBD Law on August 14th!

What It Is

For TBD Law, we have replaced the speakers you would usually find on a conference agenda with probably the best meeting facilitators in the country: Matt Homann and the Filament team. After all, you can watch speeches on YouTube.

I realize a “conference” without speakers seems a little weird, at first. But we are confident everyone is going to get way more than the price of admission from TBD Law.

So what will you be doing at TBD Law instead of passively sitting and listening to someone talk? The focus will be on activities, not speeches. The activities (workshops, hack sessions, troubleshooting, etc.) will focus on solving real problems framed by the Filament team. At TBD Law, you will work through those problems with a room full of smart, innovative lawyers and leave with a game plan for your own practice and a network that will help you and hold you accountable.

Sound exciting? If it does, you should apply for an invitation.

How to Attend

TBD Law is a small event because we aren’t just trying to pack a conference hall. So we can’t invite everyone. Instead, we are asking people to apply for an invitation.

Those we invite to TBD Law will be practicing lawyers who are innovating in their law practices. Innovation can mean many things, including technology, business models, client-service models, work-life balance, and more. Tell us what it means to you and why you need to be on the guest list.

We hope to see you in St. Louis on August 14th!

Apply at TBDLaw.co

How to Attend TBD Law and Prepare Your Law Practice for the Future was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Legal Software Bill of Rights

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 06:12

As a legal software customer, you have a right to demand a few things from the companies with which you do business. Information, for one thing. Like the price, and like security measures.

You have a right to try software before you buy it. And you have a right to get your data out. And you have a right not to get jerked around during onboarding.

Here’s what you should expect from your software vendors.

The price of legal software shall be published.

In order to buy software, first you have to know what it costs. If there is no price posted on the website, it’s a sure sign that the company lacks confidence in its product and relies instead on a hard-sell approach to convince you that it’s worth the price.

The price of software should be posted on the website, and it should be easy to understand. No small firm should have to schedule a demo or speak with a salesperson just to find out how much software costs.

And while we’re on the subject, regressive pricing sucks. Software companies that offer volume discounts probably aren’t going to care much about their smaller customers. Look for software that offers the same rate regardless of the number of users.

There shall be a free trial, which shall be easy to get started.

You cannot know for sure whether software will work for you until you try it. And trying new software should be a pretty simple endeavor. Download and install. Sign up and start using. Or just click to use a dummy account online.

Sure, some companies feel the need to give you a 30-day money-back guarantee or demand your credit card to get your trial started (and they will automatically start billing you if you don’t cancel before your trial expires). These kinds of “trials” are kind of petty, but they’ll do.

However the trial works, you should be able to try software for at least 10 days (although a full billing cycle is ideal) before you buy.

If software requires onboarding, onboarding should not cost extra.

Some software legitimately requires a team of technicians to install and configure. And some software is so complicated (but still, somehow, useful) that it requires training to use it effectively. If that’s true for your software, the onboarding cost should be on the pricing page along with an explanation for why it is necessary.

But there is at least one legal software vendor that requires you to pay for someone to remotely log into your computer to download the install file and double-click it, and then point at all the buttons and menu options and tell you what they do. And there is at least one CRM vendor that requires everyone to pay for training whether or not they already know how to use the software or are comfortable exploring it on their own.

No company should get to charge you for that kind of thing.

Security measures shall be clearly described.

How is client data encrypted, and when? (Before, during, and after transmission? At rest?) Which encryption technologies are employed?

How does the company control access to encryption keys and client data?

Where is client data stored? How often is it backed up, and can customers access those backups to restore data?

Do any third parties have access to client data? If the company is using a third party for hosting (e.g., Amazon), how does it ensure the third party it cannot access client data? Speaking of Amazon, which many cloud software vendors use to host data, if the answer to any of the above is “Amazon takes care of it,” which of Amazon’s many security options has the company elected to employ?

Is the software HIPAA compliant? Does it conform to any other recognized standards (Like the Legal Cloud Computing Association Security Standardshint hint)?

Does the company use a third-party security auditor?

Nobody should have to dig through hidden pages on the website or speak to a sales representative (who probably doesn’t even know) for this information.

It must be possible to export data in a useful format.

The client owns the file, which means you must be able to return the file to the client. You may need to take your clients’ files with you when you change firms. Or you may need to give the file to an ethics investigator someday. Or you may just want or need an archive of the file for other reasons.

One way or another, it should be possible to export data in a useful format. It may be complicated or clunky, but it should be an option.

Do you have anything to add to the Legal Software Bill of Rights? Let me know in the comments.

Legal Software Bill of Rights was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #69: The Big Case, with Making a Murderer’s Dean Strang

Wed, 05/25/2016 - 06:12

“[The Steven Avery case] was important in raising serious structural questions about how we administer justice in Wisconsin.” —Dean Strang

On this podcast, Sam talks with Dean Strang, the attorney who represented Steven Avery in the case that formed the basis for Netflix’s Making a Murderer documentary. They discuss how Strang came to represent Avery and how an attorney makes a decision to take a case that will be all-consuming.

Your Memory Can Be Altered

Aaron and Sam discuss a recent study that found that your memory can be manipulated by others, including the police, even after you’ve written those memories down. The study found that if a witness’s own statement is later doctored and then given back to the witness, the witness will often change their recollection of the crime to fit the statement. Police actually did alter witness statements during the investigation of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 soccer fans in England were crushed to death in a stadium.

The Big Case, with Dean Strang

Dean Strang is a trial attorney at Strang Bradley, a four-person firm in Wisconsin. Strang was featured in the Netflix ten-part documentary, Making a Murderer. The documentary followed Strang’s representation of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who initially served 18 years in prison for a wrongful sexual assault conviction. Two years after Avery was released, he was accused of murder. Strang represented Avery in that trial, which lasted over a year.

Thanks to Xero and Abacus for sponsoring this episode!

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Podcast #69: The Big Case, with Making a Murderer’s Dean Strang was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To (Properly) Redact a PDF

Tue, 05/24/2016 - 06:12

Redacting a PDF seems like it would be the easiest thing in the world. Just draw one of those black boxes over the text you need to have disappeared, and voila! Redacted! Except that your recipient can actually just place their cursor over that part of the document, copy, and paste it into a new document.

This is exactly what happened a few years ago in a patent infringement lawsuit involving Apple and Samsung. The judge’s decision contained redactions, but a simple copy and paste revealed everything beneath. If you want to make sure you’ve actually redacted something before sharing it, there are several methods—all of which are more secure than the black box.

Redacting Using Adobe Acrobat Pro

Redacting in Adobe Acrobat Pro is very simple. The main problem with this method is you need Adobe Acrobat Pro. It is not cheap.1

You can buy the desktop software (Mac or Windows) for $449, or you can subscribe to it for $14.99 a month if you agree to a year-long commitment. Acrobat Pro is $24.99 if you want to go month-to-month. The latter model is suboptimal, as you’re basically renting the software. But renting does get you access to Adobe’s Document Cloud service, which adds features like the ability to fill out, sign, and send forms from your tablet.

If redaction is a real rarity (as in a one-time thing), you can download a free 30-day trial of Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Adobe provides an overview of how to redact documents and remove sensitive information. It really only takes a few clicks.

First, open the document you wish to redact, go to the Tools menu, then select Redact.

Doing so will bring up the redaction tools when you hop back to your document. Select Mark for Redaction and Adobe will pop up a handy reminder that redacting is a two-step process.2

From there, just highlight the text you want to redact. Acrobat will outline it for you in bright red.

Click Apply to redact… but first, Acrobat will ask if you are really sure you want the material gone.

Click OK and your text will disappear forever. Acrobat will then ask you if you want to find and remove any other hidden information.

You should always say yes to this. Acrobat is asking if you want to remove the metadata, and you always want to remove the metadata. In this document, there’s nothing particularly secret, but the metadata does let you know I’m on a Mac and that I made this PDF with Microsoft Word originally.

Scrubbing the metadata ensures that any author information, revision information, or anything similar gets completely excised from the document. There is no reason to ever hand over a PDF before you’ve scrubbed the metadata.

Alternatives To Adobe Acrobat Pro

$449 for Acrobat Pro is a pretty steep price. Unfortunately, super-cheap PDF redacting is hard to come by. There are a few alternatives, though. If you are on a Windows machine, consider NitroPDF, which will run you $159. You can get a free two-week trial to check it out. Foxit makes Foxit Redactor, which is software solely to redact Microsoft Word documents. It’s an Office plug-in, so you access the redaction tools within Office itself, which is handy, and it’s only $39.95. However, Redactor only works on Windows and only works within Office, so it is limited to documents you create (or already have in an Office format), not PDFs you’ve received.

Old-School Redacting

Sometimes low-tech (or no tech at all) is the easiest-and cheapest-approach. Print out your PDF, black marker the heck out of it, scan it, and send it. Just remember you really do need to make a few passes with that black marker to completely obliterate things.

If you don’t feel like printing, marking, and scanning, you can do something similar via computer. Take your PDF and draw a black box in Acrobat Reader or Mac’s Preview or any similar PDF reader. After you do that, take a screenshot of your document. The resulting image is just that—an image—and therefore can’t be manipulated in Word or any other program. The problem with these two methods is that you are left with a document that isn’t searchable or conducive to redlining or commenting.

Bottom line: If you are in the type of practice that requires a good deal of document redacting, it is probably best to invest in a dedicated program, even though there will be some sticker shock.

  1. Sure, you already have Adobe’s Acrobat Reader, because everyone does, but you can’t perform redactions with it. 

  2. Nonsense text for this document courtesy of Office Ipsum

How To (Properly) Redact a PDF was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Briefs: Posner Gets Mad at Legal Jargon, BigLaw Rates Hit $2,000/Hour, Etc.

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 13:08
Judge Posner Wishes Courts Would Stop Using Legal Jargon

Related Six Benchslaps to Brighten Your Day

In his concurrence on a criminal justice opinion, the ever-irascible Judge Richard Posner takes aim at many phrases that most judges (and lawyers) love. He was perfectly happy with the outcome of the case, which upheld a drug sales conviction. He’s just mad about how the majority opinion was written.

“I disagree merely with the rhetorical envelope in which so many judicial decisions are delivered to the reader,” he writes.

Among the phrases Posner slams:

• “Great deference.” Why give “great deference” to probable cause determinations by magistrates who are “certain or almost” certain to approve them?

• “Actual guilt” and “actual innocence.” Why not use the simpler terms “innocence” and “guilt”?

• The “heavy, nearly insurmountable burden” of proof for defendants challenging the sufficiency of evidence. The phrase appears to be “hyperbole,” and why should the defendant have this high burden?

We Don’t Know Much at All about How the Criminal Justice System Operates

Over at the Marshall Project, there is a piece that highlights just how little data we have about policing. The White House set up a police data initiative, but it is voluntary, and participation has been less than spectacular, to say the least.

Of nearly 18,000 police agencies from coast to coast, just 53 had signed on to the effort. Of that inaugural class, eight released data on officer-involved shootings, and six published information on their officers’ use of force.

Because the data gathering is so poor, there are huge categories of things about which we know nearly nothing, including:

  • How many juvenile offenders graduate to become adult offenders
  • How many shootings there are in America
  • How many police are investigated or prosecuted for misconduct
  • How often police stop pedestrians or motorists
  • How many corrections officers are disciplined or prosecuted for abusing prisoners
  • How many criminal cases are referred to prosecutors and how they decide which to pursue
There Are an Awful Lot of Companies in the Legal Tech Field Now

If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of legal tech companies, Stanford has got you covered. Apparently there are now 539 (!) companies in the field. The list is divided into eight categories, including document automation, practice management, and analytics.

Top Rates for BigLaw are Now an Absurd $2,000/Hour

Yes, $2,000 per hour. You read that right. In-house counsel will pay twenty Benjamins per hour to external law firm attorneys when they face “bet-the-company IP work, enterprise level M&A litigation, large-scale government investigation, and defense against high-profile activist hedge funds.”

New Jersey Says Lawyers Are Mis-Using the Term ‘Super Lawyers’ in Advertising

It may seem at times that everyone is able to call themselves a Super Lawyer or a Rising Star, without any real context as to what that means. The New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Lawyer Advertising is not terribly fond of that and issued a reminder as to what additional information needs to be included if a lawyer chooses to use those terms when advertising their services.

Lawyers may refer to such honors in their advertising “only when the basis for comparison can be verified” and the group bestowing the accolade “has made adequate inquiry into the fitness of the individual lawyer.” […]

The inquiry into fitness has to be more rigorous than a simple tally of years in practice and lack of disciplinary history, according to the committee. Honors that don’t involve a bona fide fitness inquiry include popularity contests that tally votes by telephone, text or email.

When an award meets this preliminary test, lawyers who want to use it must provide a description of the award methodology, either in the advertising or by reference to a “convenient, publicly available source,” the notice says.

Bottom line: at least in New Jersey, if the sole grounds for your Super status is that a lot of your friends voted for you, it does not meet the test that would allow you to use it in your advertising.

Briefs: Posner Gets Mad at Legal Jargon, BigLaw Rates Hit $2,000/Hour, Etc. was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To Build Links for Your Law Firm Website

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 06:12

Lawyers do some crazy things to get links to their websites. From posting spammy blog comments, to crappy infographics, to sending email spam to bloggers, to spinning up unreadable articles, to linking 50 websites together.

Seriously, lawyers have tried it all.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the equally misinformed “if you write it, search traffic, inquiries, and clients will come” crowd. That’s not to say becoming a recognized authority on a niche subject can’t earn you links; it most certainly can. But it takes a lot of work, a long time, and typically cannot be outsourced.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Getting ranked favorably in Google’s search results is not exactly a white hat wonderland.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for crappy Internet legal marketing. But instead of lamenting the loss of a simpler time in legal marketing, let’s cut through the BS and talk about what solo and small firm lawyers can actually do to earn links that drive inquiries from potential clients.

The Importance of Links

While there are some who predict the death of links, acquiring quality links has long been—and continues to remain—critical to success in search. In fact, quite recently, Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, confirmed links & content are the most important ranking signals that Google uses.

Before we explore some of the ways I’ve seen links help lawyers earn meaningful traffic, here are a few obligatory disclaimers for the uninitiated:

  1. I have no idea whether you specifically should spend any time or money on marketing (let alone, Internet marketing and search marketing).
  2. Web and search engines are dynamic. Part of this means what works for one law firm may not work for you and your corner of the web.
  3. Search engines and the Internet are not a substitute for traditional notions of reputation and relationships. You might be able to suppress some unfavorable listings, but you can’t SEO your way out of bad lawyering and poor client service.

Now that you’ve sobered up a bit, let’s examine a few ways lawyers build links that matter.

Internal Links You are probably overlooking an important source of links: your own web pages.

I suspect some of the search-savvy among you expected to jump directly to external links (other web pages pointing to your web pages). But if my suspicions are correct, you are probably overlooking an important source of links: your own web pages.

The power of internal linking is regularly overlooked by novice and experienced SEO experts. Old-school webmasters probably remember when on-page signals reigned and building intricate internal link schemes could propel pages to the top of the search results. Like most things in the search world, internal links were widely abused, causing search engines to adjust, but not abandon, these signals.

In fact, internal links make up part of the content soup Andrey Lipattsev referred to in the video above.

To get a better sense of how search engines work and why internal links matter, I recommend checking out Paul Haahr’s presentation at SMX West 2016:

Internal links play a role in three major components of search.

1. Discovery

Internal links help search engines find your pages. The most basic rule here is to make sure all of your pages can be found and crawled by a link from another page.

All hypertext links should also include contextually descriptive words relevant to the page to which they point. For example, a link that points to your contact page should probably include “contact” as part of the anchor text.

2. Context

Like page titles, internal links help search engines understand what your pages are about. This is critically important to whether your page will even be considered as part of a search engines what pages to consider analysis (i.e. relevance to the query).

3. Usability

Internal links help visitors use your site, and it’s not always obvious or intuitive how your visitors will navigate your site. I encourage you to read Dr. Pete’s The 2 User Metrics That Matter for SEO. But in a nutshell, search engines want to deliver results that satisfy their users’ queries.

Useful internal links attract a visitor’s attention and compel them to click through to another page on your site. This gives you additional opportunities to supply your visitor’s demand for information and may reduce the chance that the visitor will return to the search engine to perform the same query. This tells the search engine your web pages satisfied the user’s query, potentially improving your site’s ranking for that query.

Creating and Maintaining Internal Link Structures

If you’re building a new site from scratch, you ought to spend some time considering your site’s internal link structure. I see too many legal websites that implement haphazard navigation, category, and tag structures. This is particularly problematic for WordPress sites (mostly because WordPress makes it so easy to create these elements).

Related “How To Write Your Practice Area Page”

Think about the information that will be most important to your potential clients, and then tell search engines that those pages are more important through well-organized internal links. In other words, would a visitor to Page X be interested Page Y? If so, make it easy for the visitor to quickly find and click on that page.

In my view, there’s no single correct way to organize a site. However, it’s usually pretty easy to tell how well a site is organized from its internal link structure. If you’re just getting started, I encourage you to read Everything You Need To Know About SEO Web Structure & Internal Links by Tom Schmitz. It’s a few years old, but Schmitz’s book still contains a lot of great information related to organizing internal links.

If you already have an unruly site, you’re going to need to look into “crawling” your website to get a sense of what your internal linking structure looks like. I’m partial to Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider Tool. In this context, pay particular attention to the Internal tab and internal inlinks and outlinks. Check to see if your site follows a logical internal linking structure that would be useful for visitors.

It’s also useful to compare your internal linking structure to your competitors who appear prominently in search rankings for relevant terms.

You should also check to see whether any of your internal links are broken (i.e. return a 404 error) or include unnecessary redirect chains (i.e. return 301 or 302 errors). These can send mixed signals to users and search engines.

Finally, be mindful of how you link out to other sites. Google recently issued link penalties for patterns of unnatural outbound links. If you have participated in certain incestuous outbound link schemes, consider yourself at risk to be penalized.

External Links

External links point at a domain different from the domain on which the link exists.

Most search marketers agree that signals related to these links play a significant role in how search engines order relevant pages for a search query. But …

External links aren’t equal. At the risk of stating the obvious, links aren’t equal. Further, their inequality isn’t like linear inequality; it’s more exponential or logarithmic. This makes focusing solely on quantity a losing game.

Don’t rely on one metric. The most common metrics we have to determine link quality aren’t very reliable. I’m not going to be able to completely untangle this here, but don’t obsess solely on metrics like domain authority. That’s not intended as an indictment on those metrics, it’s just that search engine ranking soup is complex and nuanced.

Spam still works. Search engines are good and getting better, but they’re not perfect. While I tend to recommend taking a long-term approach to link building, I’m sure many of you have plenty of counter-examples of aggressive spammy link building that just works. At least until it doesn’t.

It’s complicated. A cynical person might suggest that search engines are interested in spreading misinformation and creating FUD around what works. A less cynical person might suggest that search engines release aspirational information—suggesting where it is trying to go, as opposed to what’s working today.

Each lawyer must decide their own link-risk tolerance.

Now let’s look at some examples of ways solo and small firm lawyers can build links that matter without breaking the bank.

Local Links

As search engines evolve, they are getting better at delivering personalized, localized results to their users. For many solo and small firm lawyers who want to be found online by people in their local communities, local link building should be made priority. But local link building is a lot less about link-begging and buying and much more about taking a leadership role and developing relationships in your community.

Google says:

Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help find the best match for your search. For example, Google algorithms might decide that a business that’s farther away from your location is more likely to have what you’re looking for than a business that’s closer, and therefore rank it higher in local results.

Prominence refers to how well-known a business is. Some places are more prominent in the offline world, and search results try to reflect this in local ranking. For example, famous museums, landmark hotels, or well-known store brands that are familiar to many people are also likely to be prominent in local search results.

Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.

Let’s start with a few lay-ups. Listing your firm in legitimate local business directories is typically easy and free. You’ll usually be able to determine the legitimacy of a directory by simply looking at the site. If the directory site looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 90s, contains a series of hyphens in the domain, or is heavily littered with AdSense or other ads, it’s probably not even worth your time.

On the other hand, if the directory lives within a legitimate site, like your local municipality’s official site, then it makes more sense to complete a listing.

Even better than general local business directories are legitimate local legal directories. Again, these might also be found within local legal organization websites.

Using the Ahrefs Site Explorer Tool, I sifted through a couple of search prominent law firm websites from around the country. You can do this too.

Here are two examples:

1. ca.gov:

2. dadecountybar.org

You can also earn these relevant, highly-local links by being active in your local community. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Coach a team.
  • Officiate local youth sports.
  • Volunteer at an elementary school.
  • Sponsor a local organization.
  • Participate in local meet-ups.

These are the type of things you should be doing anyway.

It can also be useful to participate in online conversations at local blogs and forums. Not only do these matter to search engines, but they’re also likely to get clicked by real people who actually need your help.

Content Marketing

You’ve probably heard that if you focus on just writing great content, links, ranking, and visitors will just appear.

If you’re a talented, prolific writer, they might. And even if you’re not, you might get lucky here and there. But if you’re in a competitive practice area and location, you’re probably going to have to do something beyond merely pushing publish.

Google says:

The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

This, of course, isn’t wrong per se. However, even most link-worthy content needs a little nudge.

Let’s start with some basic examples.

Write an Article

In this example, the firm simply wrote a post discussing the NFL concussion story.

thenation.com:

This link from the firm got picked up by a writer at the thenation.com. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this firm did nothing else but publish this post and through pure search serendipity, the author found it and linked to it. This is the editorial link-vote search engines want to recognize.

But it’s quite possible the firm took some action to get this post in front of the writer. Maybe they:

  • Connected on HARO.
  • Sent an @reply on Twitter.
  • Chatted by email.
  • Had an existing relationship.

However it went down, this is the type of link that helps.

Contests

Let’s consider something a little more gimmicky that’s a bit easier to pull-off: a jingle contest.

wsj.com:

Now it is unlikely jingle contests will get picked-up by wsj.com. But the same, or similar, concept can work on a hyper-local level.

Write an Ebook

Another option is write a book or online guide.

seattleweekly.com:

If you’ve already tried this and it didn’t work, ask yourself why not. It’s possible the content you had wasn’t very good, or you just didn’t get it in front of anyone who was willing and able to link to it.

Resources

Lawyers tend to love adding legal information resources on their sites. Most of them are lousy and are reincarnations of other firms’ pages. This is particularly problematic with practice area pages. But even basic legal definitions, glossaries, and case summaries can earn links as source material.

Write About Currents Events

Being a regular source of credible information on current events can also earn valuable links.

freerepublic.com:

slate.com:

Unfortunately, too many lawyers prefer to regurgitate local news stories without adding anything of substance. After all, that’s hard and takes time.

Discounts

Here’s an example of something that might be considered a bit controversial: offering a discount.

utsa.edu:

A 10% discount on a personal injury contingency fee? This might be the first time I’ve ever seen this.

Support What You Love

Another really easy and obvious method for link building is to sponsor organizations, events, and other causes that you care about. Here’s a sponsorship of Creative Commons.

creativecommons.org:

Finally, Prioritize Relationships and Reputation

With all of this talk of search engines and links, it’s easy to lose perspective of what’s most important: reputation and relationships. But it’s not reputation or the web, it’s reputation and the web. In fact, as the lines between the web and the real world continue to blur, they actually work together.

If you take this approach to marketing your practice online, not only will you earn visibility in search engines, you’ll also avoid algorithm updates that harm your traffic.

Here are some additional resources for follow-up reading on link building:

Photo by: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Meyers [Public domain]

How To Build Links for Your Law Firm Website was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

ARAG: Increasing Access to Justice and Attorney Referrals

Mon, 05/23/2016 - 05:55
“Attorneys have an opportunity to enroll in ARAG’s attorney network, which gives them access to a base of clients with no referral fee or joining fee.” —Lawyerist

ARAG is a legal insurance provider that works to increase access to justice by offering affordable legal services delivered by seasoned attorneys. Attorneys who enroll in ARAG’s network get access to a client base and resources to help them grow their practice.

Details

Consumers of moderate and modest means often believe that they will not be able to access legal services because they will be too costly. Those consumers also often hold the belief that the services of an attorney will make no difference in resolving their legal problems. Legal insurance helps these consumers by taking the risk and guesswork out of getting legal help. ARAG’s insurance policies and certificates meet stringent federal and state laws, rules and regulations to protect consumers and attorneys.

Legal insurance works similar to health insurance. Plan members pay a monthly fee to ARAG and are then able to access ARAG’s 11,000-provider attorney network. ARAG generally handles receipt of the consumer fees and negotiates a fixed rate with attorneys in its network and then pays those attorneys directly. Clients are relieved of the anxieties of finding a reputable provider, negotiating fees, and paying legal bills. ARAG also provides plan members with guidebooks, informational materials, and an interactive DIY legal document assembly tool created by attorneys.

While many individuals have trouble accessing legal services, many attorneys, particularly solo and small practitioners, have a difficult time finding clients. Attorneys have an opportunity to enroll in ARAG’s attorney network, which gives them access to a base of clients with no referral fee or joining fee. ARAG also works to create an attorney network that reflects the needs and demographics of its members, including providing multilingual attorneys and interpreting services. ARAG provides resources and training on best practices and technology trends to help attorneys keep pace with client expectations.

How to Join the ARAG Network

ARAG contracts with each attorney individually. Find full details of the rights and obligations of an ARAG Network Attorney and how to begin the enrollment process here.

ARAG: Increasing Access to Justice and Attorney Referrals was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Overcome Chronic Back Pain with Healthy Habits

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 06:12

Lawyers, like many office workers, are susceptible to chronic back pain. We sit and stare at computer screens for long hours, and our careers are plagued with stress-inducing situations. Those are the primary causes of chronic back pain.

Because I am a six-foot-three man with bad posture, I have had terrible back pain for years. But it came to a head about a month ago when I bent down while holding my one-year-old and severely strained my lower back. About a week later, after I was able to walk like a human being again, I decided to do something about it. Here are the steps I am taking to overcome my back pain.

Recognize You Have a Problem

This part is, unfortunately, easy to identify if you’ve already been reduced to a quivering blob of pulled muscles.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 80% of people will experience lower back pain. The risk factors for back pain include:

  • You are between the ages of 30 and 50.
  • You are not physically fit or are a “weekend warrior.”
  • You have an inactive desk job and poor posture.
  • You have pre-existing issues with stress or depression.

I fit this profile pretty much perfectly. Most lawyers probably do, too. But even if you may not fit this profile exactly, don’t ignore potential back issues before they start.

Make Time for Exercise

While it may seem like a no-brainer, at least one study shows that walking can help ease back pain. Other studies show that regularly walking can improve your mood. So get out of your office at least once a day to walk for thirty minutes or more.

Of course, a large part your ability to exercise during the day depends on the location of your office. If you work in a big office building surrounded by parking decks and a six-lane highway, that is not conducive to taking a lunchtime stroll. But given the health and mental benefits, you cannot afford not to incorporate walking and exercise in your daily routine one way or another.

See a Professional

Your goal should be staying healthy so that going to a doctor or chiropractor is the last resort. That being said, you can benefit from chiropractic adjustments, especially if you have ongoing spinal issues such as mild scoliosis. If you do have severe back pain, seek a professional opinion. You do not want your back pain to develop into something worse, like a herniated disc.

You should also consider trying yoga or other types of core-strengthening regimens. While you can always buy a DVD or look up exercises online, consider going to a class, especially if you are not an experienced yogi. The most important thing is to make whatever exercise you choose to do a routine — even if it is just a couple times per week.

To Sit or Stand?

The buzz surrounding standing desks began a few years ago. We now know that sitting all day is bad for us. It increases the chances of dying in the next three years. It increases the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. It also, unsurprisingly, increases your risk of back and neck pain even if you have textbook good posture.

Related “Ergotron WorkFit-S Sit-Stand Workstation Review”

One of the biggest downsides to standing desks is the cost, which can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. If you are not willing to make that kind of investment, try to make your chair and computer setup more ergonomic. Following simple steps such as making sure you don’t have to turn your head to look at your monitor, or adding lumbar support pillow to give your back more curve while you work can help. Finally, try to pay attention to your posture while working, instead of just slouching over the keyboard.

Maintaining Your Healthy Habits

Making these habits routine may be a struggle. I am the quintessential weekend warrior when it comes to working out. After about a week or two of trying to get back in shape, life inevitably gets in the way of exercise.

If you struggle with stress and back pain like I do, there are several ways to manage it. Meditation can help relieve stress and improve your mood. And just getting out from behind your desk and taking a walk can reduce stress and help your back pain.

But keep in mind that every person is different, and so you will find different things that work for you. What’s important is that you try to create a routine that is comfortable and doable. A routine will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent a back injury before one happens.

Overcome Chronic Back Pain with Healthy Habits was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Firm Manager: Substantive Updates Deliver Increased Efficiencies to Small Firms

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 05:55
“Firm Manager’s updates make it clear that LexisNexis is actively listening to its customers’ requests.” — Lawyerist

LexisNexis released three substantive updates to Firm Manager, its flagship practice management software: integration with the Intuit QuickBooks Online accounting software; bulk uploading of folders and files; and integration with most web-based and desktop email applications. These enhancements come just months after Firm Manager earned “Best Practice Management Software Platform” at  the 2015 Legaltech News Innovation Awards, as well as first place in National Law Journal’s “Best of 2015” products in the category of “Docketing & Calendaring Software.”

Details

Firm Manager’s updates make it clear that LexisNexis is actively listening to its customers’ requests. For instance, approximately 50% of its current customer base stated that email integration was a critical requirement. Among many of its features, the integration with email applications—including Gmail and Outlook 365—enables customers to automatically save emails and their attachments to individual case files.

Additionally, the QuickBooks Online integration proves to be extremely useful to small firms. According to a LexisNexis survey, more than 60% of small firms spend an average of 8 hours on billing each month. With this integration, billing becomes more streamlined, which decreases reliance on additional staff while increasing total number of billable hours in any given year. Firm Manager customers can also send other financial data to QuickBooks, including payments, time entries and credits.

Finally, the new data import tool makes uploading documents to the software a breeze. Customers can upload as many documents as they choose—there are no storage limitations for Firm Manager customers.

How to Get It

If you would like to learn more about Firm Manager, you can take a self-guided tour. You may also either request a live demo or sign up for a 30-day free trial.

Paid subscriptions to Firm Manager cost $44.99 per month for one user. You may add additional users at any point at a $29.99 charge per user, per month. After signing up, you will receive initial training and ongoing support to help you make the most your experience.

Firm Manager: Substantive Updates Deliver Increased Efficiencies to Small Firms was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Abacus Acquires Amicus, Expanding its Cloud Offerings

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 16:51

Today, Abacus Data Systems announced that Amicus Attorney (previously developed by Gavel & Gown Software) “will become an integrated part of the Abacus family.”

However, the companies will continue to operate independently:

Both companies will continue to offer all products and services with no changes made to either company’s staff or management team.

So why does it matter to lawyers? Stepping stones.

There isn’t a lot of growth in legacy software, like AbacusLaw and Amicus. Both are desktop/on-premise practice management software. Newer, cloud-based options are steadily taking away market share. Here’s a snippet from the 2015 ABA TECHREPORT:

In small firms nearly 50% have case/practice management software available to them …. The most common software in this category is Outlook at 49%, followed by Casemap (11%), Clio (10%), Time Matters (9%), and PC Law (7%).

(Emphasis mine.) I’m sure AbacusLaw and Amicus are on the chart, and probably not much further down since they’ve got well-established, loyal user bases. But still, further down and probably sinking because legacy software isn’t picking up many new users.

But Abacus also has Abacus Private Cloud, which is a cloud-based “desktop-as-a-service.” Basically, you can move your entire law-firm network to a private, secure cloud server—whatever software you use. (Abacus says it has APC customers who use Clio for practice management.) So if you are already using Abacus—and now Amicus—moving to the cloud is a piece of cake.

And now Abacus has Amicus Cloud, a full-featured, cloud-based practice management suite. According to some of the members of our forum, Amicus Cloud needs some work, but it is well-suited for firms that want practice management software without many compromises.

So on the one hand Abacus just increased its “legacy” software user base by adding Amicus users. But many of those firms need to move to the cloud, and Abacus Private Cloud and Amicus Cloud make it much easier to keep those firms as customers—and bring on new ones.

If you are already an Abacus or Amicus customer, now you have new options for moving to the cloud, whether or not you are interested in working in a browser.

Abacus Acquires Amicus, Expanding its Cloud Offerings was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Marketing Emails Law Firms Should Consider Sending

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 06:12

Once you pick the right email marketing software for your law firm, the next step is to figure out what exactly you are going to send your subscribers.

There are a few different types of campaigns you will want to try out and measure for results. But before you start sending your campaigns, a few words about measuring your campaign’s success.

Email Campaign Metrics

Your email marketing software will be able to provide you with metrics. Each campaign will have a report on items including:

  • Open rate. Did people open your email?
  • Click rate. Did people click the links in your email?
  • Reply rate. Did your email’s call-to-action get people to respond?
  • Unsubscribes. Did your recipients get so annoyed by your email or the frequency of your emails they unsubscribed from your list entirely?
  • Forwards. Did your recipients like your email so much they shared it with friends?

Those numbers will help you evaluate whether your emails appeal to your subscribers.

The most important metric for your campaign should be open rate, followed by click rate. That being said, your open rate can skyrocket or plummet based on the quality of your subject line, and the time of day or day of the week you sent the email.

To test the open rate of any given campaign, first you need to find the optimal day and time to send your campaign. According to LawyerCasting, the best time to send an email campaign to your clients is 9 AM—though you should test these numbers out, as your cohort of clients may be more receptive at different times.

If you are feeling ambitious, your email software will probably have A/B testing tools. These tools allow you to test different subject lines to see which gets a better open rate using a small segment of your list. The best performing subject line will then be sent to the rest of your subscribers.

Now that you can measure the performance of your campaigns, let’s dive into what kinds of emails you can send to clients.

The Newsletter

The newsletter is the default email campaign for law firms. The newsletter is a periodic email—often monthly or quarterly—breaking down everything that has been happening at your law firm. Here are some things your newsletter campaign could include:

  • Recent blog posts you want your subscribers to read.
  • New hires and team updates.
  • Community involvement and charity events.
  • Abbreviated discussion of new laws and cases that may affect clients.

While the newsletter is common, there are some pros and cons to sending this campaign.

Pros. A newsletter is easy to put together and does not require a long-term strategy. Many law firms are concerned about being too invasive and bothering their subscribers (many of them clients). To avoid unsubscribes, these lawyers will only send out a few emails per year. This is not the best approach. You want a culled email list of educated and engaged readers rather than a massive list with low open rates and very infrequent emails. But for firms that do not want to bombard their audience or do not have the time to create extensive email campaigns, the newsletter is a solid go-to.

A newsletter is also easily digestible. You can share an array of items in your newsletter that do not quite fit elsewhere. The race report from the 5k your firm sponsored may not warrant an entire email, but it will fit perfectly in a paragraph in your newsletter.

Cons. Used alone, newsletters offer sporadic engagement.

Sending only twelve or so emails per year limits opportunities to interact with potential clients who may hire you or refer other clients.

Try sending emails until you get two emails in a week from subscribers who say, “You’re sending too many emails.”

Newsletters also lack compelling calls to action. A periodic email that covers a lot of material is great, but it does not give readers a clear path on what to do next. If you include a lot of links to blog posts or upcoming events, your click-thru rate may actually go down rather than up.

Educational Series

If you want to educate your audience about your practice area and help them understand your expertise, an educational series can work wonders. The educational series must be planned ahead of time. Before you begin, you should have your outline, each email should be written out, and each should have a compelling subject line. A logical flow to the emails is important to the series.

The series should contain anywhere from 6–12 emails sent sequentially over several weeks to inform your clients. It should end with a call-to-action to either hire you or buy a product (such as your new book). Here are the three steps you should take with an educational series:

  1. The first email introduces the topic and explains that over the next few weeks you will be sending a few emails on this topic. Importantly, you should explain in the introduction why your audience should care about this series.
  2. The following emails should be in-depth, with each email covering a very specific angle.
  3. The last part of the sequence are emails that recap the topic and have a call-to-action (e.g. “Now that you see how important it is to get an estate plan, call us to get your estate plan”). If you have a flat-fee or a promotion to offer for a particular service, you can create urgency by saying something like “Since we’re offering this new service, for the next three days, we will draft your will for $799. After that, it goes back up to $1,199. Just reply to this email to get in on the special rate before it’s gone.”

Pros. The educational series benefits your subscribers. It helps them understand an area of law they should know more about. It teaches them the basics of what they need to know. Most importantly for you, it also teaches potential clients why they should hire a lawyer.

If your email campaign went well, it should get you some new clients.

Cons. The main drawback to the educational series is you may see a bump in unsubscribes for sending out many more emails in a short period of time. But remember, unsubscribes are not a catastrophe since they weed out individuals who are not engaging with your content.

Another concern is the call-to-action part of an educational series can be perceived as too “salesy” for a law firm. Your call to action does not have to be as aggressive as the sample above, but creating a sense of scarcity and urgency in your emails can compel subscribers to become paying clients.

Holiday Emails

Holiday emails can be an excuse to stay top-of-mind with your audience.

Wish people a Happy New Year, Happy Arbor Day, or whatever it is you celebrate. Like a greeting card around the holidays, it shows your subscribers you are thinking of them.

For New Year’s holiday emails, in particular, you have the opportunity to recap what your firm did in the past year, and your goals for the coming year. It permits you to humbly brag about your accomplishments for the year and impress your readers.

Urgent Update in the Law

SCOTUS smashed its gavel on decades of patent law with its latest ruling. Your clients may be panicked. How will this affect them?

By blasting out an email shortly after a new case or statute, you have the opportunity to help your clients understand what is going on and let them know what they need to do.

This type of email achieves a few things:

  1. Provides education and value to your subscribers.
  2. Demonstrates your knowledge of the issue.
  3. Compels your subscribers to reach out to you.

An IP law firm emails me every time there is an update in its practice area. Should any of the issues they discuss affect me, they are probably going to be the first people I call for help.

Updates and Events

If you want to stay top-of-mind with subscribers who may eventually be able to hire you or refer to you, the occasional newsletter may not be enough. Instead, send an email on every big occasion. Some suggestions:

  • A new hire or promotion at the firm.
  • An award or recognition in your field.
  • A CLE or event where you will present.
  • A community event you are sponsoring or participating in.
  • If you are a solo or small firm, a recent personal milestone such as the birth of a child or completing your 12th marathon.

Emails that serve as status updates serve a few purposes: it shows your commitment to your field and your local community; you may get more engagement with your subscribers; and it serves as a pretext to send an email and remind your subscribers that, should they have a lawyer to recommend, you are around.

Your firm should experiment with sending different types of emails to your clients, colleagues, and referral sources. There is not going to be one perfect solution for your firm. Eventually, you will find the right serving of emails that help your firm bring in new business.

Marketing Emails Law Firms Should Consider Sending was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Beating up on Legal Tech in Front of a Home Crowd at CodeX 2016

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 14:31

Podcast guest and Casetext VP Pablo Arredondo asked me to join him at the CodeX1 conference at Stanford Law School to argue about whether the legal tech industry is making promises it can’t keep. Here’s the setup:

Imagine it is the year 2020. Plaintiff, a dissatisfied attorney, has brought suit against the entire legal tech industry, alleging that the claims and promises it made in 2016 amount to fraud and false advertising. Using a moot court format, this session explores some of the legal tech community’s grander predictions, and examines the various ways the community might succeed (or fail) in reaching these lofty goals.

We will be joined on Friday, May 20th, by Casetext CEO Jake Heller and Keith Lee, who writes the Associate’s Mind blog. Keith and I will represent the plaintiff, and Jake and Pablo will represent the legal tech industry, on cross-motions for summary judgment.

Here are the promises we’ve agreed are at issue:

  1. Legal tech will “disrupt” the legal profession.
  2. Legal tech will increase access to justice.
  3. Legal tech will increase access to legal information.
  4. Legal tech will increase access to lawyers/make it easier for people to find a (good) lawyer.

Before I get on the plane to beat up on the legal tech industry in front of a home crowd, I’d like to go on record as being quite optimistic about legal tech. I think it’s going to substantially increase access to justice, legal information, and lawyers, and I even think a little disruption might be possible here and there. That said, I don’t think it will be hard to argue that the legal tech industry is over-promising and under-delivering, even if the future is rosy.

For more on our session, read Keith Lee’s thoughts, Monica Bay’s preview, and check out our “bench memo.”

If you are able to come, you can register with the code SPEAKERREF to attend for just $200 (the regular rate is $350 except for students and faculty, who get in cheap).

And if you are going to be at CodeX, please hit me up on Twitter to let me know!

  1. I believe the X in CodeX is technically the Greek letter chi, pronounced as a hard K. So CodeX is pronounced like codec, and a codec “encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing.” Which kind of works for this conference. More trivia: the X in LaTeX is also a chi, so it is pronounced la-tek. And LaTeX is apparently what the U.S. Supreme Court uses for its opinions, according to lawyer-typographer Matthew Butterick

Beating up on Legal Tech in Front of a Home Crowd at CodeX 2016 was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How To Encrypt Microsoft Word Documents

Wed, 05/18/2016 - 06:12

You already know you should be encrypting all of your data and that uploading and sharing documents through a secure portal is the gold standard. But what if you do not want to, or are unable, to do so?

One easy way to ensure a document remains safe is to add a password to it in Microsoft Word. Here’s how to do it on a Windows machine and on a Mac.

Encrypting a Document in Microsoft Word for Windows

We are going to be using Microsoft Word 2010 for these screenshots, but the same commands apply for all versions after that. However, if you are using the online only version of Word packaged in Online Office 365, you are out of luck. You can’t password protect documents in that version, period.

Open an existing Word document or a new document and go to File and select Info. You will see an option called Protect Document.

Click on Protect Document, and you will get this menu:

Once you choose Encrypt with Password, Word will prompt you to add a password. Either use something you know you will remember or write it down—there is no way you can recover the document if you forget.

After you choose a password, Word will prompt you to enter it again.

When you try to open the document again, you will get a message informing you the document is password protected.

Encrypting a Document in Microsoft Word for Mac

We are using Microsoft Word 2016 for these screenshots, but the same commands should also work for legacy versions. The method is very similar to that of Windows, but the commands appear in different places in the ribbon.

Just as in the Windows version, start by opening an existing Word document or a new one. Go to Review and you will see, at the far right of the screen, the Protect Document option.

Click that, and it will give you this pop-up:

From there, add a password. As with the Windows version of Word, the program will prompt you to enter the password again.

That’s it. You’re done. When you try to open this document again, you will see this:

If you send this document to someone, they will need the password to open it. Alternatively, on a Mac, you can set it so your recipient can open it without the password, but they will need a password to modify. Just go through the same steps as above, but instead of choosing Set a password to open this document choose Set a password to modify this document.

There you have it. With a few brief clicks in Windows or Mac, you can increase the security level of a document. Now you have no excuse for not doing it.

How To Encrypt Microsoft Word Documents was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #68: What’s Happening at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, with Adam Ziegler

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 06:12

“Our favorite thing to do is build and rely upon open source of technology.” —Adam Ziegler

Sam and Adam Ziegler talk about the future of law and the challenges it faces through the lens of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. They also explore the beginnings of Perma.cc—a tool that saves links from rotting—and other products that have also come out of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.

No One Knows How To Redact PDFs

Today in nobody-knows-how-to-redact-PDFs-properly news, Ohio Supreme Court edition. https://t.co/XOu8YyV342

— Lawyerist.com (@lawyerist) April 30, 2016

Sam and Aaron talk about how the Ohio Supreme Court does not know how to redact a PDF. Turns out, they are not alone. Many lawyers do not know how to properly redact their PDFs, running afoul of their state’s confidential information rules.

To avoid the same pitfall, follow this tutorial to start redacting your PDFs properly starting today.

What’s Happening at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, with Adam Ziegler

Adam Ziegler works at the intersection of technology and law. Currently, Adam is part of the Library Innovation Lab at Harvard Law School, where he leads several exciting projects in this field, including H2O, Perma.cc, and Free The Law. Adam also spends his time collaborating with developers, designers, librarians, lawyers, university administrators and external partners. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.

Thanks to Smokeball and Xero for sponsoring this episode!

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Podcast #68: What’s Happening at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, with Adam Ziegler was originally published on Lawyerist.com.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs