Genius Beta Lets Anyone Annotate Any Page On The Web

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 22:12

Rap Genius was just the first step to fulfilling Marc Andreessen’s Netscape dream of letting people annotate the whole Internet. Today, the lyric explanation startup tries to achieve its destiny with the launch of its new prefix that lets you add annotations to any web page.

Just put the prefix before a URL like , highlight a piece of text or image, and you can append a back story, explanation, context, or extra links. Other users who visit the version of the same site will see your annotation, and can upvote or downvote it, reply, or share the annotation. 

Genius Now Lets You Annotate Any Web Page, Not Just Rap | TechCrunch

Another entry into the “annotate the web” space. It seems like the tech is finally maturing and will be a welcome addition for educational use.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Amazon Web Services Makes Amazon Machine Learning Available

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 21:51

Amazon Machine Learning is a service that makes it easy for developers of all skill levels to use machine learning technology. Amazon Machine Learning provides visualization tools and wizards that guide you through the process of creating machine learning (ML) models without having to learn complex ML algorithms and technology. Once your models are ready, Amazon Machine Learning makes it easy to get predictions for your application using simple APIs, without having to implement custom prediction generation code, or manage any infrastructure.

Amazon Machine Learning

This is intriguing. I wonder what might happen if I throw 4.5 million state court opinions in there. I’d like to be able to sort them by round topics. I think I’ll take a look.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Mejiro is an interesting forgetful photo app

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 21:12

Mejiro is a forgetful single-file PHP web app for instant photo publishing. The app features expiration functionality. When enabled, it deletes photos older than a user-defined number of days — hence the forgetful moniker.

dmpop/mejiro · GitHub

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

5 Common Pitfalls To Avoid When Building Dev Team

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 20:35

Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to expensive resources like programmers and developers. Many startups that fail in the first year or two of business spend most of their money (read: their investors money) on “development,” thinking that product building is traction. However, constantly building can be a distraction and detrimental to building a company culture around success.

When a business relies on technology like an app or website, it is important to keep costs as low and as efficient as possible. This is so that when true emergencies arise, your company can not only survive, but adapt to the situation

Inc. : 5 Common Mistakes When Building Out a Development Team.

While written with large dev teams in mind, this advice is worth keeping in mind even if you’re still working solo out of your garage.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

My Twitter Digest for 04/09/2015

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:30
Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Family Justice 3.7: Concluding Remarks

slaw - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 10:04

I have, to the relief of many, exhausted my ability to devise alternate means of dealing with family justice issues. I could write more explicitly about therapeutic justice, I suppose, or perhaps provide a sketch of what a triaged entry to the justice system might look like, but these ideas have been talked and written about extensively. I doubt I have anything useful to add.

As I worked through these different models of doing family justice – and realized that I was reaching the end of my creative rope – it struck me that the first cause of the complexity inherent in family justice is that family law involves people, unpleasant motivations like possessiveness, jealousy, anguish, envy, fear and anger, and the turbulent emotional responses they generate. We can redesign family justice however we wish, but the management of human psychology is what it’s all about. It further occurred to me that family breakdown would be far easier to manage if: people were less devoted to the idea that romantic relationships are permanent and either monogamous diamorous, and approached separation with more equanimity; monogamous or diamorous relationships were entered into with the same degree of contemplation and intentionality as polyamorous relationships; imbalances of power, knowledge and resources were less tolerated; and, women’s formal equality were accompanied by substantive political, social and economic equality. This was the reasoning behind my post, “Family Justice 3.6: Rethinking Family to Reduce Conflict.”

This is very utopic thinking, I understand, and envisages social change at the fringes of likelihood, but it seems to me that recognizing these underlying issues and spending time stewing on our emotional responses to family breakdown might offer some valuable insights toward the reform of our present system of family justice, whatever the result might be.

Of course, lawyers play a critical role in the expression of our client’s positions, and the degree of conflict we encourage or discourage is highly determinative of how a family law dispute is resolved, as well as the amount of time and money resolution will require. In “Family Justice 3.5: Fostering a Settlement-Oriented Legal Culture,” I argued that lawyers have an ongoing obligation to proactively examine options for settlement and to recommend and encourage settlement when settlement is possible and reasonable. I also discussed how lawyers’ duty to promote settlement is not only complimentary to but in fact helps to satisfy our duty to advocate for our clients’ interests.

This theme was somewhat foreshadowed by my comments in “Family Justice 3.0: a Settlement-Oriented, Lawyer-Facilitated Hybrid Approach,” where I proposed a lawyer-guided rethink of the current system intended to promote settlement and take family law disputes out of the system to the maximum extent possible. I proposed other means of remodeling the existing system in “Family Justice 3.1: Inquisitorial and Abridged Hearing Processes” and “Family Justice 3.3: Automating Dispute Resolution.” In the former, I suggested a judge-guided model that was intended to be cheaper, faster and much more friendly to litigants without counsel. In the latter, I proposed a conceptual schematic for a software-based dispute resolution protocol that seemed to me to be actually quite doable and without requiring a monstrous budget to pilot.

In “Family Justice 3.2: Empowering Families to Address the Sequelae of Separation,” I suggested upending the current system to put the primary responsibility of resolving family law disputes on families themselves. I suggested that families in such as system would need to be well supported by a family services agency that would provide legal information, counselling, financial counselling and mediation, and would be the primary interface between the family and court. The court, of course, would be a unified family court.

My favourite alternative, one that has continued to grow on me the more I learn about administrative law, is a proposal I discussed in “Family Justice 3.4: A Family Services Administrative Agency.”

In that post, I proposed the creation of three-part agency to exclusively manage family law disputes. The agency would include a decision-making tribunal, an independent commission with investigative powers and a family support services department providing families with legal information, parenting education, financial planning, counselling and other assistance. My thinking here was based on the idea that family law disputes are difficult and complicated, demand a forward-looking focus, involve important, intangible and non-monetary interests, and would therefore benefit extraordinarily from the use of decision-makers with significant subject-matter expertise and the flexibility that administrative processes offer. Speaking about the administrative model, I wrote that:

“The potential this offers is, particularly in the context of family law disputes, astonishing:

  • decision-makers needn’t be judges or even lawyers, but could be subject matter experts with a highly-developed skill set;
  • evidence and argument needn’t be given orally, but could be provided in writing, or even reduced to fill-in-the-blanks forms;
  • dispute resolution could involve all, some or a hybrid of negotiation, mediation and arbitration;
  • alternatively, decision-makers could adopt an inquisitorial approach and take an involved, hands-on approach to the management of pre-hearing and hearing processes;
  • tribunal powers could be regulatory or judicial in nature, or some blend of the two;
  • the determinations of tribunals could be recommendatory or binding, and in the case of the latter could have the effect of a court order or be enforceable in the same manner as a court order; and,
  • tribunals could incorporate an investigative function through an independent agency, as human rights tribunals do with human rights commissions.”

I explain my thinking more fully in the post, which I encourage interested, bored, insomniac and/or obsessive readers to browse through at their leisure or compulsion.

Although I have yet more work to do on this idea, and will probably develop it into a paper or formal proposal of some type, I am convinced that an administrative approach to family law is worth considering. I wrote, concluding the post, that:

“I am deeply struck by the extraordinary potential offered by an administrative approach to the resolution of family law disputes, the most important of which in my view are: the use of specialist, highly trained decision-makers; the ability to address separation and its legal consequences in a holistic, supportive manner aimed at fostering the wellbeing of the separated family; and, the extraordinary range of procedural options available to develop a less adversarial and more accessible approach to family law.”

Whatever winds up happening with the family justice system, it is clear to me, and to the Action Committee on Access to Civil and Family Justice, that change is required; the system simply cannot continue as it is.

Now, having sufficiently exploited the platform provided by Steve, I would like to ask: is there any other options I haven’t thought of? No matter how odd, improbable, unlikely or incoherent, I’m curious to hear from anyone who has any further thoughts on alternative means of doing family justice. If you’re not up to a comment, please drop me a line at

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

The Friday Fillip: Binds and Bands

slaw - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 09:00


For the next while the Friday Fillip will be a chapter in a serialized crime novel, interrupted occasionally by a reference you might like to follow up. Both this chapter of the book and the whole story up to this point can be had as PDF files.

You may also subscribe to have chapters delivered to you by email.


Chapter 6
Binds and Bands

Pushed too hard and too fast, the French press flooded the counter with a slurry of grounds and good coffee. Rangel swore, flapped at the mess with a rag, and then with a strangled shout flung the rag into the sink and stomped off to get showered.

She fiddled with the showerhead until she got it to pump out a hard pulse, then she drove the hammering hot water into the back of her neck.

Head down like a penitent as the water beat on her nape, she tried to put things in some sort of order, to think productively. Sander’s appeal and his challenge to her competence were at the top of her list. She tried recall what role, if any, she’d be expected to play in the proceedings. In a way she was now beside the point. What was done was done. Would she be allowed to intervene in any way? That would all be seen as special pleading, wouldn’t it? And would her participation be a wise course, even if she were given some standing in that aspect of Sanders’ appeal?

Something — soap in her eye, perhaps — made her realize suddenly that she had to call the errors and omissions insurance providers. There could be a civil suit by Sanders on top of his appellate slur.

The fact she’d taken on Gladys Tremaine as a client was next on her list of woes. Wally was right, of course: the money likely wasn’t there to justify the kind of effort needed to put the woman’s mind at ease. And she had to admit that when it came to playing the detective she was out of her depth. So it had been something of a mistake. And, yes, her lost brother Larry had inclined her to sympathize too much with Gladys about her lost nephew. No point in regrets. Figure out a plan. Three things here: she would set aside an hour to make sure she had a lock on the legal situation; she would ask Wally to get the court records of the declaration of Jared’s death; and she would speak to Ronnie Dabord down at the police station to see what, if anything, the missing persons report had turned up all those years ago. Perhaps she could tie it up in a bow, even a clumsy one, by the end of the day.

Clients. Without new paying clients she could last for a little while longer, eating through the sum of money she’d put aside against bad times, and these times certainly qualified. It would be sad — more than sad — if she had to close her practice and find a job working for someone else. Perhaps she’d find an NGO that needed her skills, whatever they might actually be. But she loved being her own boss and having her own practice, however modest — and however unprosperous.

And then there was the fire that destroyed her office. That thought made her lift her head and suddenly need action. She got out of the shower and dried herself hurriedly, turbaning her hair on top of her head in a fresh towel. She would call her brother Mitch about the wiring. It was probably too late now to get the Fire Marshall involved. The evidence was gone or tampered with. But she needed to know. If someone was out to do her harm, she needed to know. The thought chilled her.

With wet hands she found a piece of paper and a pen and wrote:

Call E&O
Call Mitch
Talk to Ronnie
Research life est. p.a.v.
?Consult counsel re Sanders ($$?)
?Speak to bank

Clean up mess in kitchen


Sitting at the small table in her bedroom, staring into the mirror without seeing herself, she realized that she was thinking of Larry. And of being children together. Children. She didn’t have children. She didn’t want children. Did she? How could she be uncertain about something so . . . so primal? Were children like acquisitions, where you totted up the pros and the cons and saw which side was longer. Because the cons would always outweigh the pros of raising children, making that notion nonsense. It was meant to be something you just did. Wasn’t it? There was time. Not a lot, though. And who? The gallant firefighter of the other night? She didn’t even know his name. Did he think? Could he think? Perhaps that didn’t matter. Or the judge in Elmdale, who, she seemed to recall, had been transferred to the city. She had thought there was something there. One thing was for sure, Backton was a shallow pool for this sort of fishing. If she was serious about children it was past time to search more broadly for the right . . . set of complementary genes.

And now what was needed was some morale boosting. Time for some good shoes. Enough of the comfortable sneakers. Enough of the homely flats. It was time for something kicky, something that showed off her true majestic height. Which meant, of course, the new pair of black and gold Cydwoq heels she’d ordered from Gravity Pope. Calamity, they were called. What could be better? And that in turn meant a decent pair of trousers, the silk and wool, and perhaps the white top with the lace front. No, the red top with the gold thread. And a jacket . . .

Gravity Pope sounded like the name of a band, she thought, as she slipped on the shoes, admiring them yet again. A jamming together of random words, the way bands picked outré names, silly combinations, to get attention and maybe have people remember them. Gravity Pope would do heavy liturgical metal, lugubrious stuff from a full-throated pipe organ. Or the name was like one of those declarations in English you’d see on some Japanese T-shirts, where words-as-objects got banged together in a blithe frustration of meaning. Bands, music. It was here on her phone somewhere. She was never without it and never — almost never — played it. But now not only would she play it, she’d blast it loud through speakers and, goddammit, she’d do what they did, she and Larry. She’d stomp march around the room as if she were ten again, and she’d sing the naughty lyrics and all would be right, all would be as it once was, as it should be . . .

The Colonel Bogey march, the version from the Bridge on the River Kwai with the whistling, filled the bedroom, and Rangel, naked except for her turban and Calamitys, strode in a tight circle like a tin soldier, hollering that though Hitler only had one ball Goebbels had no balls at all.


Here’s a popup window taking you on walk backwards from a march to golf and then to horses.
[Link for those who get Slaw via email.] Start with the famous Colonel Bogey march. As in the story, this is the version from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai: Then comes the question: who was Colonel Bogey. And the answer is “nobody.” It’s said that the composer of the 1914 march used to play golf with an eccentric colonel who, instead of shouting a warning “Fore,” would whistle a descending minor third, an interval that stuck in the composer’s head and became the lead in to the march. The beauty of the explanation I’ve linked to is that it actually leads us on backwards to horses, when the author says at one point “the mind boggles.” Boggling is something that horses do — or, rather, did, I suppose. And it all goes even further back to the bogeyman, or boggle, a scary phantasm who could appear and frighten you and, well, the horses, who were often more sensitive to this presence than their human masters. The horses eyes would widen and roll and they would rear up, boggling in fact. (This is why minds may boggle, but nothing boggles the mind, boggling being an intransitive verb.) The history linking the bogeyman to a bogey in golf can be found here.  

“HEADED FOR THE CITY?” RONNIE Dabord looked her up and down and then waved her into the seat opposite his desk. He took a drink from a big plastic coffee cup and after swallowing thought to ask: “Coffee?” Dabord was a big man, stocky, with a red face and red hands. His dark grey hair was buzz cut. His grey eyes gave the impression of both intelligence and distance.

Rangel shook her head. “I’m helping Gladys Tremaine with some estate matters,” she said. Dabord nodded, waiting. “As I’m sure you know, her nephew Jared Tremaine went missing back in 2003. I’d be grateful to get a look at the missing persons report and any paperwork follow-up from back then.”

Dabord frowned. “I’m not sure where that would be,” he said after a moment. “We had that —” he waggled his hand “ —switcheroo in 2007, and some of the paperwork went to the capital and some of that never came back.” Backton was something of an anomaly, because it had its own police force when most of the rest of the province’s towns relied on the provincial police. The provincial government in power in 2007 had brought all local policing under the control of the provincial police, but when that government fell a mere nine months later, things in Backton at least returned to the way they had been so far as policing was concerned. It had had something to do with the fact that the local MPP, a former cop, owed and was owed a favour.

“Would it be hard to find out?” Rangel asked.

Dabord thought. “No, I guess not. Nancy’s off sick and Leroy is working on a bunch of thefts from garages. I could ask Jeannie to take a look.” Jeannie Pastor was the receptionist and all round force for efficiency at the station. “Might take a couple of days.”

“Thanks, Ronnie,” Rangel said, getting up and extending her hand for him to shake. As she headed to the door, she stopped, turned and said, “You know, I’m not convinced the fire at my office was accidental.”

Dabord, still standing, lifted his eyebrows. “Oh, G.R., I’d hate to think that,” he said.

Rangel shook her head a little. “I don’t have any evidence. But I also don’t think it was faulty wiring. And you know how the town feels about me because of Sanders.”

“Yes, but surely no one’s fool enough to do something like that.”

Rangel sighed. “I just wanted you to know. In case . . .” She shrugged. “In case you hear anything,” she finished.

Dabord nodded, sat down, thoughtful. He smiled with his eyes. “Nice shoes,” he said.

Rangel smiled back at him. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, they are.”


© Simon Fodden

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Is the Goal of the Future to Catch Up With the Past?

slaw - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:00

Yes. Sort of. But only if by “the past”, we mean some idealized period when things were easier, cheaper, simpler and better. Apply those same adjectives to the future, and you will forever be chasing the horizon or the end of the rainbow.

In discussions of access to justice issues or legal service markets, the present is the problem and the future looks even worse. For lawyers and the public we serve, everything is already too complex, too time or labour intensive, too expensive, too unjust, or just too hard. Accordingly, process improvement proposals or tech-driven solutions are not offered merely as a way to change course, but to reverse course.

We never really wanted flying cars, did we?

Sure it would be cool, but the underlying desire was to reduce/avoid road congestion. Something, according to Elon Musk in response to Neil deGrasse Tyson (NERD ALERT!!!!) that may be better accomplished using tunnels.

My point?

In the context of legal services, the idealized past we hope to reach in the future is one where the solutions address the needs and challenges of the people we are trying to serve. It’s not much more complicated than that. Where it gets complicated is that we all have wildly different ideas about which problems to tackle in which order and through applying which solutions.

In a recent post, Ravel Law CEO Daniel Lewis recounts a story about a 1948 U.S. senatorial election campaign during which the legal advisors to a pre-presidential Lyndon B. Johnson set about finding a judge most likely to rule against Johnson’s interest. Read the full post for more details, including why losing was the objective. In Lewis’ telling, this was an early example of what his company currently enables – legal data analysis. For me, the story served as a reminder that the needs and wants of earlier periods are less subject to change than the suitability of the solutions we devise.

When it comes to putting your best foot forward in court, the timeless need of lawyers and clients from any era is to present the facts and law in ways that resonate with the judge. In Johnson’s day, that was aided by the efforts of several lawyers poring through case reports. Today, Ravel Law uses a combination of big (legal) data and lawyer-informed algorithms to help predict what Judge “A” may or may not do in response to particular arguments. Tomorrow, they or someone else may design a better methodology.

We won’t know what will work until it works

I’m a big fan and promoter of experimentation and innovation – particularly when it comes to legal tech and to rethinking legal service delivery models. I’m of the school that believes that when the challenges we face came about while we’ve been doing things one way, then it is worth exploring different ways of doing things even if we can’t yet be certain which path will lead to better days.

On the tech side, we don’t need to embrace everything that comes along, but we do need to encourage the innovation. Rare is the technology capable of creating a need and corresponding market (tablets, fitbits, 3D home printers, and smart watches do come to mind here), rarer still the scenario where the originally conceived tech advances can hold their place in the market and the hearts and minds of consumers, undisturbed, for decades at a time (although microwaves and dishwashers are having a very impressive run). More common is the scenario where our desire remains relatively constant (e.g., watching movies at home) even as an ever changing array of solutions come and go (16mm film, VCRs, pay-per-view, DVDs, blue-ray, bittorrent, digital downloads, Netflix….???).

Luddites though lawyers may be, we aren’t incapable of evolution. After all, most of us are now pretty comfortable with electronic legal research. But we do need to up our tech game as our worlds begin to change faster than Apple upgrades iPhone versions!

I can’t tell you which current or future development will bring us close to the idealized past, but I do feel confident in suggesting that lawyers interested in making things easier, cheaper, simpler and better need to get engaged. I’ll go further and suggest that true engagement means looking beyond your own experience and industry for ideas and collaborators. I’ll go further still and suggest that the biggest barrier to reaching the idealized past is refusing to move forward and being part of that shrinking cohort that believes that the best approach lies in doing things the way you always have.

If we truly want to recapture yesterday, we need to start building tomorrow today.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

UNCITRAL’s Working Group III on Online Dispute Resolution Is All but Done

slaw - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 06:00

Between February 9th and 13th, 2015, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Working Group III held its 31st session, the 10th session devoted to “the preparation of legal standards on online dispute resolution” (ODR) and, most probably, the last. After close to fifty days of negotiations (over five years), United States and European delegates proposed that the Working Group cease its work on ODR and redirect its resources to projects that had a better chance at reaching a successful outcome since discussions had been at a stalemate for a few sessions.

After a disastrous 30th session where almost as much time was spent taking “consultation breaks” as actually discussing matters as a group, the 31st session was seen by many observers as the quintessential “make it or break it” point for the Working Group. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the efforts put forth by the secretariat to help reach a compromise, it now seems as if the Working Group will not “make it”. Granted, countries such as Egypt and Japan are still trying to salvage the project, but without two of the three most important ecommerce economies in the World (China being the other with a stronghold on the second spot after the US), any rules coming from the Working Group would be likely to have as little success as other UNCITRAL ecommerce efforts such as the 2005 United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, that has, to this day, been ratified by merely six countries, only one of which – Russia – has cracked the top ten of the world’s largest economies (the next highest ranked being Singapore in 36th place).

It’s obviously too early to write the eulogy for the Working Group’s efforts since the Commission, not the Working Group itself, has the power to dictate that a project should or should not be abandoned. However, taking into account economic considerations, the current state of negotiations, as well as the last version of the draft procedural rules, all signs point to this being the end, and participating delegations will have no one to blame but themselves for this failure. Where the Commission instructed delegates to keep in mind that “low value, high volume transactions […] require an efficient and affordable dispute resolution process”, some delegations pushed for a somewhat convoluted process compatible with the New York Convention. Taking into account the most recent data that suggests that average online purchases range between $94.80 and $126.26, depending on the device, it seems obvious that such a process was ill conceived. In fact, the secretariat had warned against it when it wrote, back in 2010, that the New York Convention might not be seen as “an optimal solution for small value claims in the context of ODR”. If only they had listened…

To summarize our position, although we still believe that clearly drafted, simple, rules – such as was the plan put forth by the Commission – would have been welcomed by the international ecommerce community, this is not what these rules were shaping up to be. In fact, important legal problems regarding application of the rules can be identified throughout the draft documents, starting with paragraph 1, which states that:

“The Rules shall apply where the parties to a sales or service contract concluded using electronic communications have, at the time of a transaction, explicitly agreed that disputes relating to that transaction and falling within the scope of the Rules shall be resolved under the Rules.”

This definition is much too broad since it does not limit the rules’ reach to “the context of disputes arising out of cross-border, low-value transactions conducted by means of electronic communication” (the agreed upon reach of the rules according to their preamble). In fact, as it is currently written, paragraph 1 of the draft rules goes far beyond “cross-border, low-value transactions”. Moreover, it does not limit itself to electronic commerce in the common sense of the term (activities that relate to the buying and selling of goods and services over the Internet). Granted, it might not be a bad thing to expand on the definition to allow for the rules to evolve with the times, but the current definition technically covers ticket purchases at your local cinema, or the purchase of public transport titles, if one or the other is done through a terminal, something that is more and more common, although not considered electronic commerce by most. In fact, in places like Quebec, it’s not even considered a distance contract. Now, suggesting that parties to such transactions should turn to ODR to settle disputes is not, as such, a bad idea. We would in fact encourage it – although, depending on the final version of the rules, it might be impossible in certain jurisdictions. However, this clearly falls outside of the Working Group’s mandate, i.e.: “to undertake work in the field of online dispute resolution relating to cross-border electronic commerce transactions”.

As for the rest of paragraph 1 of the draft rules, since four different proposals remain on the table, some of which deal with the somewhat complex two-track system we addressed in previous posts, needless to say that it does not correspond to the idea of clearly drafted, simple, rules.

We could spend page after page going through every problematic idea, phrase, and comma within the rules, but the very fact that the delegates present at the last session could not agree on the meaning or reach of the draft rules seems sufficient to substantiate our argument that the rules were too complex. When two well-meaning, educated, and well-informed experts read the same paragraph and cannot agree as to what it allows, it seems obvious that clarity and accessibility have been neglected in the search for an ever-fleeting consensus…

Have we witnessed the last session of the UNCITRAL’s work on ODR? We cannot say for sure. Working Group III is tentatively scheduled to meet again in Vienna between October 5th and 9th, 2015. However, if we were betting men, we would wager that said meeting will not be held or, at the very least, its focus will most probably move away from ODR… If such is the case, expect one of our future blogs to be titled “We Told You So”, since we announced our scepticism as to the possibility for the Working Group to reach a consensus back in 2013. That being said, we get no joy in knowing that yet another ODR project could fail since it shines a very bad light on a struggling but promising practice.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Yes, Your Personality Matters to Clients

The Lawyerist - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 06:00

Finding clients, meeting with clients, and getting clients to retain your law firm is part of the daily grind for most attorneys.

Many attorneys resort to hard-sell techniques — emphasizing how awesome they are, recent successes, or industry awards — and neglect to actually connect with potential clients.

Your Skills are Still Number One

Let me be clear: The number one thing a client wants is results. If you can not or do not establish your problem-solving skills, nothing else matters. That said, your personality still counts.

Most clients are also savvy enough these days to know that more than one attorney can help them. When a potential client comes to your office, they have likely decided that you have the skills and experience to help with their problem. What many potential clients are trying to decide is whether they want to work with you.

At this point, potential clients are no longer trying to decide if you can help them; instead, they are trying to decide if you are the right attorney to help them. And for some potential clients, that means they want to know who you are, not just what you can do.

Small Talk is an Essential Skill

Image Credit: xkcd

I teach “beginner” practical skills to first year law students — things like client intake and handling client meetings . By far the most common mistake is a complete and utter lack of small talk skills. Law students just treat the fake client like a piece of meat and start chomping away.

Actual people need a little more of a warm up. People hire lawyers because they have problems that are causing them stress. And for many people, all they know about lawyers is what they see on TV (or from a prior bad experience with a lawyer). Establishing a comfort zone and a comfort level with your potential client is critical.

If you do not take the time to small talk, you will never establish a comfort level with your client. Instead, you may come across as a busy lawyer who only talks about fees. This will give your potential client you only care about the bottom line.

Add Personality to Your Office

Nobody is going to ask you about your law school diploma, and they probably won’t ask about any awards hanging on your walls.

To keep it simple, decorate your office with items that are important to you. For instance, behind my desk are two canvas prints: one from my wedding day and another picture of my two little kids. I put them there because those are the most important things in my life. Having these pictures makes it easy to connect with potential clients, because it’s usually the first thing people ask about. This always leads to me asking about their kids. And if there’s one way to create a connection with people, it’s talking about their kids.

That does not mean you need pictures of kids to engage in small talk. Maybe you are passionate about something else such as marathon running, quilting, collecting old medicine bottles, or winter camping. Everyone has a hobby or something they do when they are not being a lawyer. Those interests will help you connect with clients.

Your Personality Counts, Maybe More Than You Think

Maybe you’re the greatest attorney in the world, and you have carte blanche to act however you want. If you are, I doubt you’re reading this post.

For everyone else, remember that your personality matters. Clients want someone to help solve a problem. But lawyers aren’t robots, so don’t act like one.

  • 2013-07-09. Originally published.
  • 2015-04-10. Republished.

Featured image: “Man with a paper-bag on his head working on the laptop” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Podcast #12: Ellie Krug on Starting a Firm and Litigating as Both a Man and as a Woman

The Lawyerist - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 20:15

Google is going to start directly penalizing websites that aren’t mobile device–friendly. We explain why this is important. Also, in its secret labs Google is learning to tell whether you are lying or not. Just something else to worry about. Then, in this week’s interview, Ellie Krug has a lot of interesting things to say about starting a law firm, building a strong reputation, trying cases — and yes, trying cases as a man, then after coming out as a woman.

It’s Time You Had a Mobile Website

Related “Why You Need to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly”

In just a few weeks, Google wills start penalizing mobile-unfriendly websites. I know, I know, this sounds like another wonky SEO thing. It’s not. Aaron and I spend a little time talking about why, if you care about your clients, you should make sure your website is well-designed and mobile-friendly.

Google’s Lie Detector

This seems crazy, I know, but Google is working on a way to “allow factual validity to contribute more heavily to a page’s search ranking.” That’s pretty cool.

Interview: Ellie Krug

Related Getting to Ellen: Living and Litigating in Two Genders”

Okay, the headline here is very true. Ellie has litigated as a man and as a woman, and she has some pretty interesting things to say about that — as well as some advice for male litigators.

But Ellie was also a real-deal trial lawyer back when litigators actually tried cases, and she took a huge risk by investing $70,000 to start her own law firm back when a laptop cost $4,000. And she built a successful practice with a reputation for aggressive advocacy and honest dealings.

In addition to all that, Ellie wrote a book about her transgender journey, Getting to Ellen, and started an award-winning public interest organization, Call for Justice.

Listen and Subscribe

To listen to the podcast, just scroll up and hit the play button.

Thanks to Ruby Receptionists for sponsoring this episode of our podcast.

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Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Dropbox is Not “Insecure”

The Lawyerist - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 18:57

On SoloSez recently, someone asked whether Dropbox is secure or not, to which someone responded “Treat it as insecure, because the consumer version is insecure.” I thought my response might be worth posting here, as well:

Dropbox is most certainly not insecure.

In fact, secure/insecure is not a binary thing. There is a security spectrum, and Dropbox is somewhere in the pretty-secure-but-not-as-secure-as-it-could-be-if-it-made-a-few-more-tradeoffs range on that spectrum. It is secure enough for some (including some lawyers) and not secure enough for others. Or, if you like, Dropbox is secure enough for some uses, but not secure enough for others. Plus, there are ways to make Dropbox more secure so that it will make everybody happy.

Related “Is File Sync (Dropbox, et al.) Safe?”

Asking whether Dropbox is secure or not is asking the wrong question. What you need to figure out is (1) what security measures does Dropbox take, and (2) are you and your clients comfortable with those security measures. Most lawyers aren’t sufficiently technologically competent to accurately assess the first question, much less decide the second — and that is a problem. But maybe I can help a bit with that.

What measures does Dropbox take? Here are the ones I think are relevant:

  • Dropbox does not encrypt your files before they leave your computer.
  • Dropbox does transmit your files from your computer to its servers using SSL encryption.
  • Dropbox encrypts your files for storing on its servers.
  • Dropbox has the ability to decrypt your files.
  • Dropbox has strong internal protections against the wrong person decrypting your files, or any person decrypting your files for an unauthorized reason.
  • Dropbox will obey legal process, even if it means providing your data to another party without notifying you first.
  • Dropbox does not claim to own your data, although people routinely raise the alarm that it does.

If that sounds like Greek to you (assuming you do not speak Greek, in which case pretend I wrote “If that sounds like Chinese to you …”), then maybe the following comparisons will help.

Note that I wrote objectively, but we could probably have a lively argument about each of those statements that would involve a lot of words that sound like Greek/Chinese to most people. As in all things tech that relate to clients, I think you have a duty to become competent enough to judge for yourself. The ability to have those arguments is important. But hopefully this will help you make a decision in the meantime.

(As for me, I use Dropbox, but I also use Viivo for additional security for client files, among other things. This involves tradeoffs that make Dropbox less useful, but I’m willing to live with them.)


Related “Dropbox for Lawyers and Law Firms: the User Guide”

What I didn’t add — but probably should have — is that Dropbox is probably more secure than your own file and Exchange server unless you have an expert IT security professional keeping a close eye on it.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

An Ontario Benchers’ Candidates’ Word Cloud

slaw - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 15:28

The candidates for the forthcoming elections have all – save one – drafted statements or manifestos to garner support.

What these documents frame is what’s on the minds of the candidates as they try and anticipate the issues that most concern the lawyer members of the legal profession who will shortly be voting.

The picture speaks volumes. The size of the text reflects how frequently the concept occurs in all of the candidate statements.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Git Large File Storage Extension Allows for Better Versioning of Large Files

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 15:08

Git Large File Storage (LFS) replaces large files such as audio samples, videos, datasets, and graphics with text pointers inside Git, while storing the file contents on a remote server like or GitHub Enterprise.

via Git Large File Storage.

This could represent a solution not only for projects with large media assets, but also for doing things like keeping database dumps within a project. There is an API that lets you build a backend so you don;t need to use Github. The Reference server that uses the API is at

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

My Twitter Digest for 04/08/2015

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 14:30
Categories: Teknoids Blogs

FBI Warns of ISIL Defacement Attacks on WordPress Sites

<CONTENT /> v.5 - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 10:39

The FBI issued a public service announcement today [April 7, 2015], warning concerning WordPress website attacks being carried out by individuals sympathetic to the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). The perpetrators of these attacks are defacing sites across various platforms such as news organizations, businesses, government sites, and religious institutions.

via FBI Warns of ISIL Defacement Attacks on WordPress Sites.

Everyone running WordPress out there needs to make sure they’re patched up and security is tight on your WP sites. CALI’s Classcaster and other WordPress sites are up to date and secure.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Why the 2015 LSUC Bencher Election Deserves Your Attention

slaw - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 08:00

I recently spoke with Henry J. Chang, one of the Toronto candidates in this year’s Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) bencher election. I asked him why members should pay particular attention to the elections this year and what issues are most important to voters. A summary of our conversation appears below.

YSC: Why is it important for LSUC members to pay attention to this year’s election?

HJC: Convocation is currently debating several important and potentially controversial issues. During the election, LSUC members will have an opportunity to support the candidates whose views are aligned with theirs. As six incumbent benchers in Toronto and eleven incumbent benchers outside of Toronto are not running for re-election this year, individual votes will have an even greater influence on how those issues are ultimately resolved.

YSC: Can you tell us what appears to be the most important election issue this year?

HJC: There are actually a number of significant issues that might be deserving of that title. However, if I had to choose one, I would say that the issue of Alternative Business Structures (“ABS”) is quite possibly the most important election issue this year.

YSC: What’s your position on ABS?

HJC: There is a simple answer and a complex answer to this question. The simple answer is that I am against ABS. However, ABS actually involves a broad spectrum of proposals and some are more controversial than others.

In terms of non-lawyers (such as private equity firms) holding significant ownership interests in law firms, I am very much opposed to this. However, I am not opposed to considering lesser changes such as: (1) relaxing some of the fee-sharing restrictions currently imposed on multi-disciplinary partnerships, (2) permitting law firms to use other types of corporations besides professional corporations, or (3) permitting long-time employees of a law firm to have a small ownership interest in a law firm, at least while they are employed by that firm.

YSC: What are some of the other controversial issues that have been raised during this year’s election?

HJC: Another issue currently being debated is the Law Practice Program (“LPP”) and whether the LSUC should continue offering it as an alternative to the traditional articling process. Several arguments have been raised by critics of the LPP, including the potential discrimination that LPP participants might face in the job market and the speculation that law graduates who could not find articling jobs will have difficulty finding employment after being called to the bar. However, we can’t determine at this early stage whether or not those concerns are well founded.

For now, what I can do is share some of my personal observations with you. I started my articling year during the 1990 recession and, although I found an articling position, many of my colleagues had a hard time getting placed. I don’t believe it was because they were incapable of being good lawyers; the economy was just terrible at the time.

Although a shortage of articling positions due to an economic downturn may not be the fault of a particular student, it may still prevent him or her from becoming licensed. I don’t think this is fair, especially if that law graduate will likely pass the bar exam once he or she is permitted to write it.

Some members have stated that a law degree does not automatically give someone the right to be a practicing lawyer; I completely agree with this. However, in my opinion, the bar exam should be the method used to test minimum standards, not the articling process. If we need to increase the difficulty of the bar exam in order to achieve this objective, perhaps we should consider doing that instead.

YSC: Are there any other controversial issues that have been raised during the election?

HJC: I was asked by several members for my position on whether Trinity Western University (“TWU”) should have been accredited by the LSUC. As you know, last year, Convocation voted to reject the accreditation of TWU by a vote of 28 to 21. However, TWU has commenced an application for judicial review of this position, which is currently pending, so the issue continues to be debated.

YSC: Can you tell us your position on the TWU decision?

HJC: This was a tough issue for me to reconcile because I am conflicted between my personal views and my desire to apply the rule of law. I think most people will accept that TWU’s policy discriminates but, as a private university, it is not subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On the other hand, the LSUC is subject to the Charter when making discretionary decisions, such as law school accreditation. This particular case involves a conflict between two Charter rights: (1) the right to freedom of religion and (2) the right to equality.

As you may know, a similar issue arose in Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, a 2001 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. In that case, the SCC considered the same issues and ultimately decided that, in order to balance these two competing rights there had to be an actual or very real risk of discrimination, not just the perception of risk. On that basis, the SCC required the BC College of Teachers to accredit graduates of TWU.

There are some who say that this decision no longer reflects society’s views and should not be followed. However, until the SCC actually overturns this precedent decision, I think we have no choice but to apply it.

YSC: Younger lawyers are arguing for greater representation in Convocation. Do you believe that you can represent their interests as a bencher?

HJC: Although I have been practicing for more than 23 years, I am still under the age of 50. More importantly, I still remember what it was like to article during a recession year and then to open my own law practice after being admitted to the bar. Younger lawyers who are entering the practice of law now are still experiencing these same difficulties. So yes, I believe that I can represent the interests of younger lawyers also.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

How to Fight Inbox Overload with Outlook

The Lawyerist - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 07:45

It’s a real dilemma: the busier your law practice gets, the more cluttered your Microsoft Outlook inbox will be.

Related “This Simple Email Habit Will Make You More Productive”

While there are all sorts of tools that can help you achieve Inbox Zero nirvana, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the inbox management features already available in Outlook itself. Here’s how some of those features can help you fight inbox overload.1

Move Routine Emails Out of the Way with Rules

It sure would be lovely to have someone available 24/7 to screen your email, highlight emails that need immediate attention, and move the rest to the side to deal with later. With Rules, you can.

For instance, I’ve created Rules that flag every email received from any subdomain and moved them into case-specific subfolders based on its case number in the subject line. If one case is particularly hot, you can deal with those emails immediately and leave the rest for later in the day.

You can harness this same trick for moving newsletter subscriptions to a Read Later folder.

The easiest way to set up a rule is to open an email you want typically want to automate. Just right-click on that email and, in the contextual menu that pops up, choose Rule > Create Rule.

While you can do a simple rule in the Create Rule dialog box, the more powerful option begins with clicking on the Advanced Options button. This will take you into the Rules Wizard.

The Rules Wizard asks you three questions:

  1. Which of your emails need to be automatically handled? For example, these could be emails you receive from certain email addresses or with specific text in the subject line.
  2. What do you want Outlook to do with those emails? Once Outlook spots an email that meets those criteria, do you want to move it to a new folder, pop up an alert, or forward it to another recipient?
  3. Are there any exceptions to the conditions in #1 above? For example, if you’re rerouting emails from the CM/ECF system to your assistant, you wouldn’t want to do that if your assistant is already getting cc’d (his/her email address would appear in the body of the email as a recipient). Those of you who practice in multiple federal districts (some of which do not allow secondary notification emails) will appreciate the convenience of such exceptions.

The Rules Wizard steps you through these three questions with checkboxes to select the available options. In this example, I’ll show you how to move an incoming ECF email automatically in a specific case to another folder and flag it for follow-up.

Step One: Select Conditions

First, will check two conditions: the subject line and the sender.

With each of these conditions, you’ll need to click the blue underlined text and tell Outlook what specific words or phrases it needs to look for. Here’s where starting with an email like the ones you want to handle comes in handy, because Outlook will automatically take that subject text and bring it into the Rules Wizard. However, to use that text as criteria, you often need to tweak it.

The second criteria is the sender’s address. It’s the same drill: click the blue underlined text and specify what pattern Outlook needs to look for in the sender’s email address.

Step Two: What do You Want to do with the Message?

I’m telling Outlook to move that email out of my Inbox and flag it for follow-up so it appears on my To-Do list. The steps are very much like the ones in the previous dialog box. We will click “specified” to pick the folder to move the email to, and then click “follow up at this time” to choose which flag will be applied to the email.

Step Three: Are There Any Exceptions?

In this particular example, we do not have exceptions. But if you wanted to exclude any ECF emails that were also sent to your assistant, you could check the box next to “except if the body contains specific words” and substitute your assistant’s email address.

One-Click Email Handling with QuickSteps

Some of you are shuddering right now. I totally get it. The thought of having “the machine” move your emails to heaven-knows-where without alerting you first can lead you to believe an important email will disappear into thin air. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, you can use QuickSteps to achieve the same result without adding too much work.

QuickSteps is, basically, a macro (though Microsoft carefully avoids using that word). A QuickStep lets you click one button to start a series of commands, like marking an email as “read” and moving it into another folder (or forwarding to your assistant).

Look on your Home tab in Outlook, and you will see several QuickSteps Outlook provides to you by default:

Click on “Create New” to create your own QuickStep.

There are all sorts of options, and you can choose multiple Actions for the same QuickStep:

For example, you could make the first Action “Mark As Read,” then add another Action “Forward,” and a third Action “Move to Folder.”

Depending on which Actions you choose for your new QuickSteps, you can select a whole bunch of emails, click the QuickStep button, and they’ll all get magically handled.

Redirecting Replies to Your Assistant (or Anyone Else)

Ever send out an email to a large group — co-counsel in a case, the Young Lawyers section of the local bar association, whomever — and asked them to send their responses to your assistant, only to have them send an avalanche of return emails to you instead?

To be charitable, they’re probably just too swamped to read your directions carefully. But you can turn his or her inattention into your advantage.

Before you hit send, go to the Options tab and, over on the right, click “Direct Replies To.” Delete your name from that field and substitute your assistant’s (the Select Names button takes you to your Address Book). When done, click Close, then send your email.

No more avalanche.

Get Creative with Inbox Management

You can probably look at your Inbox any given day and group 90% of the emails into a category (read later, forward to someone for handling, etc.). Avoiding email overload may be as simple as strategically deploying one or more of these tools.

Featured image: “Young man getting overload with emails.” from Shutterstock.

  1. Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows. 

Categories: Teknoids Blogs

Cultivating Word-of-Mouth Referrals

The Lawyerist - Thu, 04/09/2015 - 06:12
According to a Small Business Trends and Verizon 2014 survey, 85% of small business owners say they get most of their business through word-of-mouth referrals.

Word-of-mouth referrals are the lifeblood of new clients for lawyers. But ensuring that a steady stream of referrals continues to roll in is not easy. It takes time and effort to build a base that consistently passes you quality referrals.

If you’re not proactive about creating a process for getting more word-of-mouth referrals, it just won’t happen. So what can you do with the little time you have? Try focusing on the following tips — they will help build and nurture your referral base, which will result in stronger referrals.

Make It Easy to Refer You

The easiest way to ensure others will refer you is by doing good work. But that is often not enough to keep the referrals consistently rolling in. Here are four additional steps you can take that can make it that much easier for others to spread the word about you:

  1. Ask for a specific referral. It is essential you create very specific “asks” that make it easier for those around you to recommend your services. The level of specificity can vary, but it should be more than, “Do you know someone who could use my services?”
  2. Give your referrers something to pass along. This can be simple, as long as you create a process that ensures you do this with every potential referrer. As an example, I know a website developer who includes a couple business cards in the same envelope as part of her thank you letter. The benefit of this offering is that people cannot forget your name or your business name if they have something of yours within reach.
  3. Send a survey. A survey is a simple and yet effective tool to use in gathering feedback about how your clients felt about the service you provided. In the survey, you should ask point-blank, “Would you refer me to someone you know?” If the person answers in the affirmative, respond to them with a message that gives them easy options to refer you.
  4. Remind people. Everyone needs a reminder now and then. You can do this subtly by putting referral reminders in your email signature block and on your website or blog. It is also ok to do this overtly through direct asks via email or over the phone.
Focus on Building Relationships

To nurture word-of-mouth referrals, you must invest time and effort in building relationships with the people around you. Go beyond asking your network of past and current clients, colleagues, friends, and family for referrals. Spend time with the people you know who do or can send you referrals.

Occasionally, take your referrers out to lunch and talk about family, hobbies, and more. Attend social events — not to talk about yourself, but instead to listen to others and show them you are interested in what they have to say. The more you focus outward, the more others will focus on you.

Stay Top of Mind

Out of sight, out of mind. It is as simple as that. To nurture your relationships with your referral base, you need to stay ever-present. Here are two sure-fire ways that will help you remain at the forefront of your referrers’ minds:

  1. Send newsletters. Whether you invest in email marketing or print marketing (or both), you should absolutely consider sending regular newsletters to your clients and colleagues. Email marketing offers a fairly cost-effective method of keeping in touch. Print newsletters help you stand out from the crowd — how many people get nice-looking, informative mail these days? Regardless of the route you take, make sure you are focusing on sharing short snippets that highlight your expertise. Do not push heavy marketing messages.
  2. Speak at CLEs and conferences. Showing your referral base that you know your stuff makes it that much easier for them to send potential clients your way. Be on constant lookout for speaking opportunities such as seminars and CLEs. To make the most of these opportunities, make sure you have ample time to engage with the audience before and after your presentation.
Reward Your Referrers

One of the most important steps to take in cultivating your referral relationships is to recognize your referrers. After someone sends you a referral, respond quickly with a thank-you. A thank-you email is fine, but a handwritten note goes much farther in showing your appreciation. Putting pen to paper simply shows that you have put more thought and effort into acknowledging the referrer.

Related “Lawyer Referral Fees: Worth Paying?”

You should also consider doing more than just saying thanks, especially for individuals who consistently refer solid leads your way. Consider paying a referral fee if your local ethics rules allow it. Or just send a gift such as a fruit basket or bottle of wine. (Again, check the rules to see what you are allowed to give.)

Whatever the form your thank-you takes, be sincere. A little bit of grace and gratitude can go a long way.

Featured image: “Business man hand writing Referrals” from Shutterstock.

Categories: Teknoids Blogs