Dr. Primavera Di Filippi of CERSA / CNRS / Université Paris II (Panthéon-Assas) gave a presentation entitled Ethereum: Freenet or Skynet? 13 April 2014 at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Here is the abstract:
Ethereum is a contract validating and enforcing system based on a distributed public ledger such as the one implemented by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The system allows for the management of complex distributed autonomous organizations, which raises questions about legality. Could this new platform promote the establishment of an entirely decentralized society, or will its disruptive potential eventually be absorbed by the established system? In this talk Primavera De Filippi — Berkman fellow and postdoctoral researcher at the CERSA/CNRS/Université Paris II — explores the dangers and opportunities of Ethereum.
Legal-technology-related topics covered by the presentation and the discussion afterwards include smart contracts, smart property, crypto-property, distributed autonomous organizations, modes of legal dispute resolution, ways to enable blockchain-based instruments to interface with legal systems, and similarities between autonomous block-chain based instruments and legal intelligent agents, including robots.
Dropbox is popular with lawyers. According to the ABA’s most-recent technology survey, 58% of lawyers use Dropbox, making it the most popular online file storage option among lawyers. Here is everything you need to know about Dropbox, from how to install it to securing your client files.Index
Installing Dropbox on your computer is simple and easy. Just download the installer to your computer, and run it. If you do not already have a Dropbox account, you can sign up for one during installation. This video from Dropbox walks you through the process:
After you install Dropbox on your computer, you will have a new folder. On a Windows PC, the My Dropbox folder is located in your My Documents folder.1 On a Mac, the Dropbox folder is in your home directory. As of this writing, Dropbox also has mobile apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Kindle Fire.
Any files you put in your Dropbox folder will be automatically synced to the cloud and to any other computers or mobile devices with Dropbox installed.Features, Add-Ons, and PricingSyncing, File Versions, and Packrat
Image: “This image is a vector file representing a cloud data backup sync concept. ” from Shutterstock.
Dropbox syncs your files between your computers and devices and the cloud. That means your Dropbox folder will have the same, up-to-date contents on every device. With Dropbox installed, you can save a Word document on your desktop, then open your laptop and keep working on the same file. Or pull it up on your smartphone.
You can also use Selective Sync to limit the files that sync to a particular computer. For example, you might not want to sync photos of your children to your work computer. Or your client files to the laptop you use at home.
TipIf you are going to do a lot of file sorting, it’s a good idea to pause syncing on all your computers, or turn them off, and use the web interface. This will help prevent duplicate files and conflicts.
By default, Dropbox saves every version of your file, which you can access from the web interface. It is easy to roll back a file to the last time you saved it, or recover deleted files. It functions like an extended “undo” function. However, Dropbox only saves the last 30 days by default. If you want unlimited file versions and undelete, you will need the Packrat add-on.
For an additional $39/year, Packrat will keep unlimited file history. With Packrat, Dropbox functions as a pretty good cloud backup solution for your files.Sharing
Other than syncing, Dropbox’s biggest feature is sharing. You can share any file in your Dropbox just by right-clicking a file on your computer or using the chain icon next to any file or folder in the web app. You can share your vacation photos with your friends or your client files with another lawyer in your office, all with a couple of clicks. Rather than attach files to emails, you can just copy the share link and send it, instead.
Importantly, Dropbox also has a sharing dashboard where you can see all the files and folders you are sharing, and who you are sharing them with.
Sharing is pretty simple. The person or people with whom you want to share don’t even need a Dropbox account of their own, if you just use a link. To do this, click the Share link icon on any file or folder in the web app, or right-click any file or folder in your Dropbox on your computer and select Share Dropbox Link to copy the link to the clipboard. In the mobile apps, just use the share button to copy the link to the clipboard.Camera Upload
Image: “Vector illustration of an old camera with flash and birds on the background of clouds” from Shutterstock.
The Dropbox apps can help you upload your pictures to your personal Dropbox account. The mobile apps give you the option to automatically upload all your photos; on the desktop app, you can upload photos when importing photos from a camera.
You can enable Camera Upload when you first install the Dropbox mobile app, or you can turn it on or off later in the Dropbox settings. It is an easy way to back up and share your photos, but it is also an easy way to get photos or screen captures from your phone to your computer.
Just a note: Camera Upload is only for personal plans, not business plans (see below).
Dropbox has more detailed instructions for using Camera Upload.Extra Storage
Still, if you use Dropbox for most of your files, you will probably run out of space. That’s where the paid plans come in. Extra storage for personal accounts comes in 100 GB ($8.25/month), 200 GB ($16.60/month), and 500 GB ($41.60/month) chunks. (Those are prices if you pay yearly; the plans are a bit more expensive if you want to pay monthly.)
There are cheaper alternatives to Dropbox if that pricing does not work for you. Of course, one of the reasons Dropbox is able to charge a bit more than some of its competitors is that its widespread popularity means that Dropbox works with most of the apps and services with which you might want to use it.Business Plans
Originally, there was just one kind of Dropbox account. As more people and businesses started using Dropbox, though, some people wound up with multiple Dropbox accounts. Eventually, Dropbox released business plans, and they are finally becoming useful now that you can use your personal and business account at the same time.
While personal accounts are billed according to how much storage you need, business accounts are billed according to the number of users. All accounts come with unlimited storage and some additional features like the ability to remotely wipe a users’s files.
The cheapest business plan is $795/year for up to 5 users. Each additional user is $125/year. Solos and very small firms will be just fine using personal accounts, as long as the storage options are sufficient, but the business plan is a great option for firms with 5+ people who need to share files.Using Dropbox
Some people only use Dropbox to share or transfer files, like a USB drive but more convenient. While Dropbox works great for that, it is hardly the most effective way to use Dropbox.
Because Dropbox lets you share folders, it can function as an effective, inexpensive file server. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about actually maintaining a file server. It just works, and it keeps everyone on the same page. You can even sync up things like your QuickBooks company file or your Time Matters database.2
On mobile, Dropbox is essentially the missing file manager. Because of its popularity, many apps support Dropbox as a way to get files onto your phone or tablet. TrialPad, for example, largely relies on Dropbox for loading exhibits. So do the best text editors for iOS.Security
Image: “Big safe door with Gold ingots.” from Shutterstock.
Dropbox is about as secure as your online banking website. That means your data is transmitted to and from Dropbox over an encrypted connection, and it is encrypted while it is stored on Dropbox’s servers. This is pretty standard security for cloud software that handles private information.
There are a couple of things to know about Dropbox security, though.3 First, data is transmitted over an encrypted connection (SSL). The data itself is not encrypted, however, until it reaches Dropbox’s servers. There, it is encrypted before it is stored on Dropbox’s servers. Second, Dropbox has your encryption key. That means Dropbox can decrypt your files if it has a good reason to (like a subpoena). There are reasons why Dropbox does these things, but there are alternatives with greater security — and some tradeoffs. If you want greater security but you still want to use Dropbox, Viivo may be the best way to have your cake (Dropbox) and eat it too (file encryption).
Dropbox also offers two-factor authentication, which makes it much harder for someone to log into your account, even if they find out your password. To log into Dropbox with two-factor authentication, you have to enter your password as well as a code sent to your smartphone (or generated by an authentication app like Google Authenticator in order to log into your Dropbox account.
If you are storing anything important in Dropbox, you should definitely turn on two-factor authentication for substantially better login security. Make sure you get your recovery code after you turn on two-factor authentication, and store it in a safe place in case you ever need it.Terms of Service
Dropbox recently amended its terms of service to include mandatory binding arbitration and ban class actions. If you do not like these user-unfriendly changes, consider another service. As of this writing, the terms of service for Box and Google Drive did not contain mandatory binding arbitration or a ban on class actions.
With Dropbox, the terms for a personal account are the same whether you pay for the service or not. Some companies, like Google, change the terms of service when you become a “premium” customer.Who Should Use Dropbox
Dropbox is more secure than anything most lawyers have used to secure their files from the Battle of Hastings until about 5 or 10 years ago. Only the rare lawyer … needs to worry about a higher level of security. … Dropbox is just fine for most solo and small firm lawyers’ client files.
Texas criminal defense lawyer Mark Bennett disagrees, and he makes some strong arguments against using Dropbox for client files. Those arguments are even stronger now that we know what the NSA has been up to, and after the Heartbleed showed how a minor error by an OpenSSL developer can lead to a huge security breach. Cooperstein is still right, but many lawyers will want to re-think the cloud and use it in a more limited way from now on.
But that doesn’t mean you should not use Dropbox at all. Indeed, you can hardly avoid it if you want to be productive on more than one computing device. Instead, go ahead and use Dropbox, and use an add-on like Viivo to encrypt sensitive information.
In Windows, you can make your Dropbox folder behave like your My Documents folder. To do this, right-click your My Documents folder, then click on the Location tab and click the Move button. Then, select your My Dropbox folder, and your Dropbox folder will open whenever you select My Documents. ↩
These do work, but the files will only sync when QuickBooks or Time Matters is closed on one computer. If you try to open your QuickBooks company file or Time Matters database on two computers at once, or before everything is synced up, Dropbox will create a conflicted copy. ↩
Dropbox for Lawyers and Law Firms: the User Guide is a post from Lawyerist.com. The original content in this feed is © 2013 Lawyerist Media, LLC. This feed is provided for private use only and may not be re-published.
If I were a character in a novel I would work at a think tank in a log structure in the mountains and would wear glasses that connect to the internet and flash a virtual keyboard in front of me with a voice command. And I would have a satellite phone with a secure line. And I would be really cute and tall.
Think tanks are not just plot elements in novels or adventure fantasy. They are potential research sources.
I received an email today from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. The email shared an interesting report titled Housing Affordability and the Standard of Living in Calgary. The full report is available on the site and appears (after a very rush review) well written and has all the indicia of a citable source:
My questions for Slawyers: for statistics rich information or comparative data, when is it reasonable to use information from an indirect source? If I were looking at this document to support a legal research project, is a concise well crafted report from an unrelated body found on the web as reliable as a published journal article?
Have we passed the tipping point where information that is available to the casual browser that is from a reasonable source worthy of citation to the courts?
We’re obviously talking about the high-minded ideals of the profession, and not the day-to-day reality of a sole practitioner trying to balance the books, but lawyers historically don’t like to think of themselves as being part of the rough and tumble of the business world.
The fear is that lawyers who are worried about the business end of the business will be distracted from their higher purpose – how do you preserve justice when at the same time you need to promote shareholders’ interests?
This sort of philosophical rhetoric is really the purview of big firms with separate accounting departments. For others, the argument is already moot. Small and solo practitioners have always had to have a hand in the business end of their firms, and scrappy startups are remodelling the foundations of legal business strategy.
In the aftermath of the global economic downturn, legal professionals have by necessity adopted more business-type strategies, paid more attention to their bottom lines and found internal efficiencies to meet new targets. They’re following the business model by shedding less- or non-productive staff, freezing hiring, adopting project management techniques and automating and outsourcing routine functions to less expensive jurisdictions.
Those less expensive jurisdictions include legal professionals with an entrepreneurial bent who are finding new ways to perform old tasks, cutting through the inefficiencies of traditional legal practice to reveal a streamlined core. They tend to see the current regulatory structure as stifling to innovators such as themselves – it hinders their ability, among other things, to raise the venture capital that will allow them to translate their thoughts into action.
The CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative has found the idea of alternative business structures to be “a point of significant contention within the consultation,” according to an interim report on the consultation. “Most participants understood that they notionally provided opportunities for better business practices, but there was no agreement on the impact that ABS would have on lawyers’ professionalism,” the report says.
The Law Society of Upper Canada recently launched its own inquiry into the question – one of the first North American regulators to do so.
Alternative business structures have been a fact of life for some time in Australia and the U.K., and some point out that lawyers there haven’t abandoned their ethical principles to pad shareholders’ pockets.
There seems to be no doubt that change of some sort is called for. The question is whether the rules can be rewritten in such a way as to allow for innovation while at the same time preserving the legal profession’s higher principles.
Here are excerpts from the most recent tips on SlawTips, the site that each week offers up useful advice, short and to the point, on technology, research and practice.
It is a safe bet that the microphone on your desktop or laptop probably makes you sound like you are under water or in the next room most of the time. If you make a lot of call calls on Skype, regularly participate in Hangouts, or record music or podcasts, a decent can make a world of difference. . . .
Internet Archive – more than just the wayback machine
It may be a rare Slaw Tips reader who has not plugged a website URL into the Wayback Machine offered by the Internet Archive. We have mentioned Internet Archive in a couple of previous tips here and here. Today’s tip is a reminder that Internet Archive is more … much, much, more than just an archive of the web. . . .
Migrating from XP to Windows 8.1
David Bilinsky & Garry Wise
Amidst all the hype about this week’s end of Windows XP support, I made the jump on the weekend to Windows 8.1 from the first of our remaining, four XP computers. Overall, it was a pretty seamless and surprisingly anti-climatic event, particularly given my long avoidance of this change, buttressed as it has been by the many mixed reviews of the Windows 8 interface I’ve encountered online. . . .
As a PhD student studying the use of knowledge technologies and access to justice strategies, I am following with interest the development of the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) [Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, SBC 2012, c.25;] in BC – an online dispute resolution process which will provide an alternative to the courts for small claims and strata property disputes. I want to share some thoughts regarding online dispute resolution processes and to pose the possibly provocative question: Are online dispute resolution processes necessarily access to justice strategies?
You might ask how an online process could not be an access to justice strategy. The CRT, for example, is designed as an alternative to the court process. It aims for a low cost (even no-cost), timely, simple, and self-directed dispute resolution mechanism. Studies demonstrate cost (in particular), complexity (another important factor) and time (to a lesser extent than the other two) are significant factors that influence people’s decisions in civil justice matters. So why question the impact of strategies, such as the CRT, on access to justice?
My primary concern relates to the self-directed aspect of these processes. For many of us the notion of sitting at our computer after work resolving a small debt matter seems quite plausible. An online process relieves you of taking time during your work day to travel to the courthouse and wait for your case to be called. Instead, you sit at your computer, navigate to the online dispute resolution site and negotiate a resolution. This seems like access to justice. However, this image is not one that may be shared by all. For some, these processes could create new barriers not only because they will require access to a computer and the internet, but because they will require the individual to work through the process on her/his own. These processes could become an isolating, disempowering and ultimately unsuccessful experience.
There have been a number of process strategies (think rule reform) in Canada in the past few years. While these strategies do have an impact, concerns of access to justice have not diminished and, arguably, have even increased of late. Why is this? One reason is that, while the CTC factors (cost, time, complexity) are important, they are not the only factors that influence an individual’s decision on whether to engage in a civil justice process. More importantly, they are not necessarily the first factors that influence these decisions. Studies demonstrate that an individual’s sense of disempowerment is a powerful and early factor that influences action or inaction. Not surprisingly, it is the most vulnerable members of society who are least likely to take action on a justiciable dispute. Canadian research indicates as many as 34% of law-related problems experienced by low to moderate income Canadians are abandoned or remain unresolved (Currie, A National Survey of the Civil Justice Programs of Low and Moderate Income Canadians, 2005). Similar results have been found in studies in Britain and the United States.
Online dispute resolution processes are solitary processes conducted between parties through computers. Various studies (see Julie MacFarlane’s study of self-represented litigants, 2013;) demonstrate that most individuals with a justiciable issue seek advice (sometimes legal, sometimes other) for dealing with the matter at some stage before and during proceedings. A seminal study from Great Britain (Genn, Paths to Justice, 1999), found that 90% of individuals with a justiciable issue sought some form of advice at some time. Other studies have noted the importance of in-person assistance. For those who feel disempowered in the face of a justiciable issue or who are vulnerable, a self-directed process is unlikely to encourage their participation.
Further, there is evidence that 42% of the working-age population in Canada score below the threshold needed by adults to participate fully in the knowledge economy (The Daily, Statistics Canada, January 2008;.). These individuals are challenged to read, follow directions, and fill in forms. This does not bode well for their success with an online dispute resolution process.
Online dispute resolution processes have the potential to create convenient and lower cost spaces for people to negotiate and resolve problems. In this sense, they may be successful. But, should we expect a little more from access to justice strategies? Should access to justice strategies be designed to challenge barriers that prevent individuals from participating in current dispute resolution mechanisms and to create real opportunities for those individuals (as well others) to seek resolution to a justiciable problem? I believe the answer is yes. We should watch with interest the BC process for what it can tell us about the success of online dispute resolution strategies to challenge access barriers.
Organizations pursuing civil justice objectives need a website. On this point, there can be no doubt. Often operating with constrained budgets, these organizations need an efficient and appealing means to inform stakeholders and attract supporters and, in this regard, nothing can be more cost effective than a website. It’s now an article of faith that promotion of that website and engagement of those stakeholders also requires an active social media presence. But do the facts support that view?
Based on analysis[i] of social media engagement with CanLII (a free-to-access legal information site containing nearly 1.3 million court and tribunal judgments, statutes and regulations), the answer appears to be … sort of. But you may need to rethink how you set and measure your social media goals.
To understand the contribution of social media towards the organization’s objectives, you need to look beyond Facebook friend and Twitter follower count, and you need to look deeper than page views. Consider the following:
CanLII has nearly 6,000 Twitter followers and on any given week CanLII can expect to receive hundreds of visits to its website from people clicking a link found in a tweet. As the chart below demonstrates, social media is a significant and growing source of traffic to CanLII. On the surface, this could suggest that CanLII has successfully leveraged its social media presence. However, a closer look reveals that CanLII is not the sole author of its good fortune and that not all page views are created equal.
Whose tweets drive the traffic? Hint: it’s not yours
In March of 2013, I examined the full extent of CanLII’s Twitter activity in 2011 and 2012 and determined that CanLII’s tweets were likely responsible for no more than 4% of CanLII’s Twitter-generated page views.
During that time period, over one-third of CanLII’s tweets were replies or retweets. Approximately three-quarters of the remaining “original” tweets contained links; about half of which (~350) pointed back to CanLII. Aside from its direct tweeting activity, CanLII played an indirect role in promoting tweets of its content and Twitter engagement from its stakeholders generally when it inserted Twitter buttons alongside the court judgments on its site back in September 2011. But even with this “nudge”, CanLII’s ability to claim influence is limited.
Ultimately, it is the interest and desire to share of the people visiting the content that will determine whether it is tweeted, liked or otherwise socially circulated. My research led me to this conclusion when I looked at social sharing via Twitter of the same court decision – one version from CanLII’s site and one version from the Lexum-run Supreme Court of Canada decision site (a comparison I was able to perform courtesy of Lexum’s willingness to support my research through access to certain internal statistics).
Crookes v. Newton, 2011 SCC 47, was an October 2011 decision about hyperlinking, thus making it a particularly apt ruling to examine. In 2011, a mere 55 of 2,368 page views of this decision on CanLII were attributable to inbound referrals from Twitter links. Over at Lexum’s Supreme Court of Canada decision site, inbound referrals from Twitter links accounted for 614 page views (stats of total views were not provided). This example showed that CanLII’s own tweets and its promotion of Twitter offered just the smallest of bumps, but the motivation to share the content from the SCC decisions site needed no such bump as the community itself decided the link was worth sharing and clicking.
Are social media visitors here for a good time, but not a long time?
Social media originated page and visit counts are easy to track, but they can offer a misleading impression of their impact. A closer look is beneficial. Most web statistics packages will permit detailed dissection of traffic results. When CanLII looks at its inbound social media traffic, we see a very different profile from that associated with visitor that access the site directly (e.g., from bookmarked pages or direct entry of the URL).
CanLII’s general experience with social media referrals appears to be consistent with that experienced by major media websites according to a recent Pew Research Center / Knight Foundation study. CanLII results are similarly consistent with other media across the range of social networks and in the distinctions that exist between networks. Here’s a sampling of CanLII inbound referrals from February 2014:
Part of the explanation for the appearance of lower engagement from a social media visitor is technological. On average, less than 10% of CanLII’s visitors access the site from a mobile device (smartphone or tablet). In contrast, 35-40% of social media traffic to CanLII comes from a mobile device. Statutes and long court judgments are not always easily digested on the smaller screen, so it is not surprising to see shorter visits from mobile traffic. The second major reason for the difference is attributable to the motivation of the person clicking the links. By this I mean, a person visiting your website directly does so with a specific intent to find some information, whereas a social media visitor is more likely to be surfing or following links without any pre-existing interest in reviewing the material or the subject matter. The latter behaviour is strongly correlated with short visits.
So if true influence via social media is limited, why bother?
In offering these insights into CanLII’s experience with social media, my intent is not to take the bloom off the rose. Quite the contrary. Social media presents an excellent opportunity for civil justice organizations to reach new audiences and, more importantly, to gain new insights into the interests of their communities and stakeholders. But these benefits come from true engagement – from following and interacting, rather than from merely amassing followers; and from seeing what is circulated, rather than stressing over how many people are seeing what you’ve posted.
Stats are a useful way of understanding the impact of your activity on social media, and digging deeper will only improve that understanding.
[i] In early 2013, I prepared a research paper as part of my LL.M. studies on the role Twitter plays in the dissemination of legal information. Even now with my studies complete, I continue to be intrigued by the story behind social media stats and spend far too much time tracking the stats and thinking about the implications.
A condensed version of this article first appeared on the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice A2J Blog.
The European Citizens’ Initiative is the European Union’s online direct democracy system.
For more resources related to this event, please see the comments to this post.
The presentations concern the use of technology for improving access to justice.
The conference was held 15-17 January in Jacksonville, Florida, USA.
HT David Bonebrake
Even a person with the most passing interest in cloud storage likely has a Dropbox account, if for no other reason than that your Dropbox-loving friends invited you so they could collect that sweet additional-file-space bounty for doing so. When cloud syncing and storage was in its relative infancy, Dropbox was a miracle worker: a little piece of software that ensured you could stash stuff and grab it from anywhere without dragging USB sticks around or endlessly emailing things to yourself.
These days, you have tons of Dropbox alternatives (Wikipedia lists a dizzying array of upwards of 25 right now) to choose from if you’re so inclined. So why would you move away from the comfortable confines of Dropbox?
Perhaps you’re worried because Dropbox was affected by Heartbleed, but then again almost everything was. Maybe you’re worried about file security, even though Dropbox is generally as safe and secure as most law-related computer storage methods. (Sadly, digging a bunker under the earth and burying your physical client files there is an unattainable choice for most of us). You could be mad that Dropbox tapped Condoleezza Rice for its board. No matter what your reason, you can now jump ship and take your data with you. No way we’re looking at 25+ services, but here are five that you might consider.
— Cambridge Journals (@CambridgeJnls) April 2, 2014
From the website:
[CJLS] is a bilingual periodical publishing cutting edge research in the broad field of law and society scholarship. Rooted in the innovative Canadian Law and Society movement, CJLS features international scholarship concerning the intersection of law and sociology, cultural studies, literature, political science, criminology, history, human rights, gender studies and political economy. The journal is edited by renowned scholars Mariana Valverde and Violaine Lemay supported by an international editorial board comprised of forward thinking and active scholars from a range of disciplines.
This article from February 13, 2014 is by Nora Rock, corporate writer and policy analyst at LAWPRO.
At the risk of sounding like a self-help book designed to help you find Mr. or Ms. Right, we’d like to remind you (the day before Valentine’s Day, no less!) that being selective about the clients you represent is an important claims-prevention strategy.
Depending on your area of law and how established your practice, you may be tempted to dismiss this advice as being valid only for lawyers in the enviable position of having more referrals than time. But turning away clients that are a poor fit can be especially important for lawyers trying to build a practice.
Difficult clients can hurt your practice in a number of ways, for example, by:
Of course, clients who will ultimately turn out to be difficult don’t come with hazard labels: to identify them, you need to pay close attention to your instincts. Asking appropriate questions and listening for red flags in the course of the intake interview can reveal trouble on the horizon. Here are some clues that a potential client may not be a good fit:
Of course, individuals with strong personalities, strong opinions, or even mental health problems need and deserve legal representation just as much as clients who are easier to deal with. When making a decision about whether to represent a client, you can find guidance in the Rules of Professional Conduct – especially Rule 2 “Relationship to Clients”, which covers a wide range of issues, including how to represent a client who may be under a disability (lack capacity).
You know yourself best, and have a sense of the kinds of people with whom you have difficulty working. For example, you may be good at defusing a client’s anger, but may find yourself very frustrated by clients who talk constantly and never listen. If, in an intake interview, you find yourself developing a strong dislike for a potential client, ask yourself whether this is a person who pushes your particular buttons. If it is, then he or she may be better served by working with a different lawyer.
If it’s the merits of the matter – and not the client – that are giving you pause, don’t hesitate to defer the decision about whether to accept the retainer until after you’ve done some preliminary research (unbilled, of course). Remember that another lawyer with a different range of experience might view the prospects more favourably; and that this can be a valid reason to refer the client elsewhere.
Finally, if you suspect that a client is mentally ill or cognitively impaired to a point that puts his or her capacity into question, proceed with caution, especially if you have no experience with clients with capacity issues or with arranging capacity assessments. If you do decide to take on the retainer, obtain advice – for example, from an experienced mentor – about how to best protect the client’s interests.
There is no limit to the diversity of human personality, and lawyers have a duty to avoid discrimination when offering representation; however, an effective lawyer-client relationship requires trust and communication. Where interpersonal difficulties put the establishment of trust and communication into question, declining a retainer can both protect the lawyer’s reputation and practice, and also avoid a situation in which the client’s interests are not optimally served. The bottom line? Know when to say no.
For additional strategies for dealing with challenging clients, see “Dealing with the Difficult Client” by Carole Curtis, available on practicePRO.ca. If your concerns about a client raise questions of potential fraud, review the red flags identified in Kathleen Waters’ article “Five client types to watch out for − there be dangers in these relationships”, which originally appeared in the August 23, 2013 issue of The Lawyers Weekly published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.
The news media’s appetite for MOOC stories has been insatiable. So when the University of Pennsylvania sent an email inviting several hundred education reporters to a seminar on massive open online courses, it anticipated a healthy turnout.
But as the catering deadline approached at the National Press Club, in Washington, organizers realized that they had barely enough registered attendees to justify a platter of finger food.
“We didn’t have a set thing in mind as to how many would attend, but what we were thinking was 15 to 20 from, let’s call them, ‘established’ media outlets,” said Ron Ozio, director of media relations at Penn. “And we got four.”
The university canceled the event.
If 2012 was the “Year of the MOOC,” as The New York Times declared, and 2013 was the year of the MOOC backlash, what is 2014? The year that MOOCs ceased to be interesting—at least to anybody not working on them directly?
As the major MOOC providers have gradually distanced themselves the notion that they will reshape higher education, the existence of free online courses has become less sensational. Coursera’s new chief executive, the former Yale University president Richard C. Levin, last month reiterated that the company’s MOOCs should be thought of as “additive to what universities are doing, not disruptive.”
Stephen Downes, the Canadian researcher who co-wrote the first MOOC, in 2008, has been tracking mentions of MOOCs in the media since late 2012. His data suggest that news coverage has not waned. So are journalists still writing about MOOCs but not gathering to attend seminars about them?
“Truthfully, I just don’t know,” said Mr. Ozio.
The presentations from last year’s Semantic Web in Libraries (SWIB13) held in Hamburg, Germany, were posted a few months ago. Lots of great stuff relating to linked data, metadata, classification mapping and ontologies, including a few case study reports (e.g. Europeana updates).
I recommend to you Dorothea Salo’s presentation, “Soylent SemWeb Is People! Bringing People to Linked Data.” * Drawing on a rather stretched analogy to the Charleton Heston movie Solyent Green she explores this question:
“… how do we best invite people — including skeptical people, reluctant people, less-technical people, people committed to different data structures — to learn about, contribute to, and use Linked Data?”
It’s an interesting presentation in which she expresses the frustration that many people have when they try to participate and contribute to the linked data movement. She speaks about the feelings of alienation that many librarians have when the “people making the technology forgot about the people who will use this technology.”
Librarians, and especially cataloguing and digital librarians, have many skills that are applicable in this linked data context. And she suggests that when we lose cataloguers we have a serious problem.
“… as I talk to librarians about linked data, what I hear back is that they feel ground up into hamburger — sorry, sorry, I had to — by the whole thing, because the way it’s usually explained to them, it’s so abstract and so divorced from the actual library work they know. The linked data movement can show them graphs, but it can’t show them interfaces for doing their work. It can tell them about triples, but it’s not telling them how the catalog will work if their Internet connection fails. It can explain ontologies, but not how they’ll navigate them.
After one explanatory talk I gave, I had one cataloger tell me with immense frustration, ‘I just don’t see how this will WORK!’ And I didn’t have a good answer for her. Because I don’t see that either.”
Her frustration is palpable and resonates with many of my own experiences trying to negotiate how we will work in this new environment. I agree with her when she recommends that we need “well-documented linked-data tools … linked-data workﬂows, based on real-world problems and real-world solutions … linked-data systems that do REAL LIBRARY WORK, right out of the box. … code that lets real live people do real-world work with linked data.”
It’s a challenge that we continue to confront. The potential of linked data is amazing but we need, as Dorothea Salo says, to connect development efforts to the people. She reminds us that, like Solyent Green, the semantic web is “made of people.”Her slides are available on Slideshare.
Huginn is a system for building agents that perform automated tasks for you online. They can read the web, watch for events, and take actions on your behalf. Huginn’s Agents create and consume events, propagating them along a directed event flow graph. Think of it as Yahoo! Pipes plus IFTTT on your own server. You always know who has your data. You do.
This is intriguing. Written in Ruby, Huginn allows you to create agents that will scour the Internet collecting information you are looking for, act on the information, and report back to you. I think this would be useful for someone who likes to keep track of lots of stuff.
One of my more popular columns last year dealt with introducing a new lawyer to your firm. I said the arrival of a new lawyer or group of lawyers was a marketing opportunity both inside and outside the firm. As the dust settles on the collapse of Heenan Blaikie, it’s time to look at the other end of the spectrum—the departure of a lawyer or group of lawyers from a firm. Not many firms go the way of Heenan Blaikie, but individual lawyers or groups jump ship all the time.
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that the departure of a lawyer from a firm is a marketing opportunity, but it’s certainly time for the firm to check on its retention strategies—which it should have been implementing from the moment it took on clients. Client retention strategies are a lot like quality assurance: they can’t be “inspected in” at the end of the process; they have to be there from the beginning. As soon as someone becomes your client, they become someone else’s prospect, so keep paying attention to them.
Client retention is a fundamental business issue for law firms. It’s one of the four Rs (Revenue, Reputation, Referrals, and Retention) that should guide law firm marketing decisions, as in, “Does this [insert expensive marketing activity here] enhance one of the four Rs?” If not, don’t do it.
That’s the proactive side. The reactive side usually isn’t pretty. Partner A suddenly announces that he’s leaving. He might be taking several colleagues and support staff with him to another firm; he might be setting up his own firm; he might be going in-house with a client; he might be leaving law—whatever. No matter the reason for leaving, what happens to the clients served by that lawyer? Notice I didn’t ask, “What happens to his clients?” Only a sole practitioner has his or her own clients. Lawyers practising in groups serve clients of the firm, no matter how certain they are that said clients will follow them wherever they go.
This is where client retention strategies are really put to the test. If clients have never had contact with anyone at the firm other than the departing lawyer(s), showing the love for the first time now will look cynical at best. You want them to have been invited to events at your firm, met other lawyers and staff, received the firm’s newsletter and client alerts and otherwise had occasion to know the firm as an entity. Then that call from the managing partner telling them the firm will take really good care of them after “their” lawyer leaves will ring true.
To get started on a client retention strategy, make a list of the firm’s top 10-20 clients. Sometimes this alone is a productive exercise: who knew that that little company you incorporated five years ago just overtook a legacy client in annual billings? Now think about what would happen if those clients went to another firm. How much revenue would go with them? How can you show those clients that they’re important to the firm? One win-win tactic is to invite a panel of non-competing clients to speak to your firm about the latest developments in their industry. Besides being excellent education for your younger lawyers, those who really listen will hear a number of opportunities to offer legal services. Make sure the room is packed, allow for networking time, and make sure your clients meet lawyers from practice groups whose services they need but aren’t currently using.
Which brings us to the best client retention strategy of all: cross-selling. The more of your services clients use, the less likely they are to leave your firm to go with a departing lawyer. Think about it: how often do you change banks? You think you can get a better deal elsewhere, but switching accounts is such a pain. There’s the business account and the trust account and the holding company account… Before long, you’re saying, “forget it, it’s not worth it.”
It’s similar with legal services. Let’s say several different corporate/commercial law groups are wooing one of your clients, but that client also has their employment & labour and litigation work with you. Assuming they’re satisfied with all three services (more on that later), that client will think twice about leaving you.
Another retention strategy that few firms undertake is to call clients who left you. Remember that RFP from an existing client that you thought was just a formality, but the work went elsewhere? Call the client and ask how things are going. Send the message that you’re interested in their welfare, not that you want to see if the other firm crashed and burned. Keep lines of communication open so that if by chance the other firm did crash and burn, the client won’t feel embarrassed to come back to you.
Similarly, keep in touch with inactive clients. These are the ones that, as far as you know, still regard you as their law firm but haven’t sent you a file in a while. Again, the message is your interest in their welfare, not when you’re going to get your next file from them. You might find out that they had some dissatisfactions with your firm—better to find that out and do something about it than have them vote with their feet.
Which brings us back to client satisfaction. Right up there with cross-selling as a client retention strategy is checking in with clients to find out how you’re doing—in their eyes. There are many ways to do this and I’ve covered surveying clients in a previous column. You can also hold annual ‘how are we doing?’ sessions; you can distribute ‘end-of-matter’ questionnaires with final bills, or you can set up a client advisory board, to name just a few.
However you go about it, it’s the firm’s responsibility to treat clients like they are clients of the whole firm and to maintain depth of expertise to meet clients’ legal needs. Then when lawyers leave, clients don’t have to.
Each Monday we present brief excerpts of recent posts from five of Canada’s award-winning legal blogs chosen at random* from sixty recent Clawbie winners. In this way we hope to promote their work, with their permission, to as wide an audience as possible.
ONSC Awards Four Months Notice to Employee With Less Than One Year of Service
What is the appropriate notice period for an employee dismissed after less than one year of employment? While the answer will always be “it depends,” in a decision released today by the Honourable Justice Catherine D. Aitken of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice sitting at Ottawa, Wellman v. The Herjavec Group Inc., 2014 ONSC 2039 (CanLII), the reasonable period for an employee who had worked for only 51 weeks was found to be four months. . . .
Helping Clients with Legal Information and Legal Referrals
Settlement workers in BC help new immigrants as they start their life in Canada. Sometimes new immigrants need information about the law or legal help, and they turn to workers in settlement agencies for help. The Settlement Workers Guide to Helping Clients with Legal Information and Legal Referrals is a new training tool for settlement workers and others providing legal information and referral services. The guide is a series of short videos and text that provides practical information and examples to help workers: . . .
Legal Post Blog
Auditors won’t let Livent decision stand without a fight
Last Friday, an Ontario trial judge ordered Deloitte to pay $85.6-milllion in damages to the receiver of Livent. Deloitte has a few weeks to decide whether to appeal. I suspect the firm will, and not just because of the millions at stake. Shareholders and creditors have been suing external auditors for years in Canada. They’ve so far met with little success. Auditors benefit from the strong protection provided by a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada case called Hercules Managements Ltd. v. Ernst & Young. Yet auditors guard this protection jealously. They won’t take anything that might knock a chink in their armour lying down. . . .
SOQUIJ | Le Blogue
Les articles 210, 212 (1) j) et 213 (1) c) du Code criminel (C.Cr.), qui limitent la prostitution, sont invalides
Offrir des services sexuels contre de l’argent n’est pas un crime. En effet, au Canada, la prostitution n’est pas illégale. Par ailleurs, jusqu’à tout récemment, il en allait autrement du fait de tenir une maison de débauche, de vivre des produits de la prostitution ou encore de communiquer avec un client en public à des fins de prostitution, soit trois infractions prévues respectivement aux articles 210, 212 (1) j) et 213 (1) c) du Code criminel. En décembre 2013, la Cour suprême, dans un jugement unanime (Canada (Procureur général) c. Bedford) rendu sous la plume de la juge en chef McLachlin, a conclu à l’invalidité de ces dispositions parce qu’elles portaient atteinte au droit à la sécurité de la personne garanti à l’article 7 de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés, et ce, d’une manière non conforme aux principes de justice fondamentale. . . .
Thoughtful Legal Management
Must See: Helen Lawrence at the Stanley
It is not too often that I get to write about technology and theatre. However, to every rule there is an exception. And this is an exceptional exception. Helen Lawrence is playing at The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver until April 13, 2014. This is a world premier. If you haven’t already seen it – I urge you to take a moment and head off to one of the remaining shows. It will be gone before you know it. The writeup for the presentation is as follows: . . .
*Randomness here is created by Random.org and its list randomizing function.