Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Celebration of Play



(This is a piece I wrote in connection with my 25th college reunion.  I wanted to put it here so I could link to some of the references mentioned therein).

My undergraduate experience continues to nurture (it is our "alma mater" after all) the parts of me that are the most important. Not enough space here to list them all, but here is the most critical and the one that may sustain many of the others: the ability to play.

To be fair, I certainly arrived in late Summer of 1986 with some innate and learned capabilities for play (or at least playing . . ok, playing around): a working knowledge of a soccer field, a basketball court, various “leisure activities,” and a host of comedy movies. But my undergraduate experience took an unfocused affinity and hard-wired it into me, so much so that what took place during that relatively brief (and getting briefer) 4-year span spawned a quarter century of the same.

Soccer on those Saturday afternoons (you know I like the smell of cut grass) with Scott Levitt, Patrick Brown, Rick Silva and others was just a beginning, and in the years since I have spent many hours playing, coaching, and watching, most recently celebrating Rolf Piranian’s career back in October.

Basketball: the intramural and pickup hoops in the Warner Center, Doremus, and outdoor courts around town presaged future nights at Episcopal High School in Alexandria with Chris Giblin, Wesley Goings, Russell Wilkerson, Fred Shannon, Lynwood Mallard and others, law school and attorney leagues, and shoot-arounds with my children.

Even the P.E. courses were extraordinary and memorable. Harlan Winn and I experienced “Aerobic Running” with “Stormin’ Norman” Lord, and I don’t think any subsequent physical challenge was any more difficult than some of those runs. But we did it together.

Russell Wilkerson and I took softball with the legendary Joe Lyles, (where we “paired off in threes” and “lined up in a circle). I must’ve used those phrases and others a thousand times over the years. And years later, (as Clint Robinson knows), there is something indescribable about throwing the baseball for the first time in the Spring.

As significant as the organized events were the invented, improvised, and impromptu contests and collaborative efforts-  Quad Lacrosse, Bounce, Bridge Tennis, Bike Polo, Ultimate Frisbee, and hacky-sacking on every patch of grass in Rockbridge County- sprung up again in various forms over the years, notably when Thomas Sheehan and I hacked at Loveland Pass.

Play extended far beyond the fields and courts and into our living space as well. Hobe’s Place was a veritable playground. My undefeated record on the ping-pong table still ranks as one of my greatest athletic feats.

The Fort we built in Chris Pennewill’s room drew a line in the sand for play: Either you understood it, or you didn’t. That metaphor continues to apply in numerous contexts.

The music played during those years has never stopped. What started at the Pavilion, Zollman’s and other venues (behind the Phi Kap House in particular)- offering up Little Feat, Charlie Daniels, Indecision, Widespread Panic, Liquid Pleasure, the Truly Dangerous Swamp Band, and at least five of the better versions of “Whipping Post” I ever heard-- transitioned seamlessly to the Blue Dogs, The Allmans, the Grateful Dead, Phish, and others.

Eventually some of Michael Higginbotham and Tiny Purple Fishes must have rubbed off on me, (and it only took 15 years) and now I have the great fortune to jam with the Bomber Invitational House Band on occasion.

(At this point you (or I) might point out that this play was surely not unique to our college experience.  After all, we were scarcely the only college kids coming up with things to do outside the classroom.  True.  But something about Lexington and W&L created a safe and welcoming environment for those experiences that was truly unique).

All of those shared experiences--and the laughs, community, and connection they sparked and fostered-- have been a common thread ever since. And not just a thread, but a lifeline and a source. As is always the case with the really meaningful stuff, the true significance of play (and its role in my “education”) was not apparent during those salad days, but revealed its real value as life began to unfold.

It was apparent that as a Freshman I could crack a joke and get a laugh (See “They Call Me the Cruiser” speech, Fall of 1986). Making Trey Haydon laugh, and laughing with him, is without question one of the best feelings, and still feels as good as it did in the mid-80s. But back then I sought to create laughter to overcome what I recall as crippling insecurity and a staggering lack of confidence.

I had no idea back then why a fully developed sense of humor was so essential for navigating life’s real slings and arrows. I now know. It is absolutely true that sometimes there is nothing left to do but smile, smile,smile—and laugh at yourself- in service of forgiving (yourself and others) over and over again.

When we were in Lexington, we took for granted that we were there for each other because we really were- in no small part because of the sheer amount of time we spent together. And when we needed to lean on one another, it was usually because we were literally about to fall down. Over time, as we began to realize that we were only immortal for a limited time, so too came the understanding of why friendship is such an inestimable blessing. Play was the bond, the glue, and the ease that set those relationships in stone.  As The Bard wrote, “those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried; grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”  Done and done.

I have had amazing experiences and countless successes over the last 25 years.  I have also lost people and relationships that are irreplaceable, and wrestle with doubt, guilt, regret and many other demons daily (all in a First-World way, mind you. I agree with Jason Isbell that I have it more than “Relatively Easy”). 

And while Lexington has always been a place to celebrate, it has been equally welcoming for grieving, a safe place to fall apart, and fertile ground for rebirth and renewal.

Fortunately, whether I am flying low or high, W&L made sure that come what may I would keep playing. And paradoxically (aren’t all essential things paradoxical?), the nonsense of play, in Lexington, Atlanta, Pensacola, Alexandria, Transylvania County, Columbia, Jackson Hole, and countless other locales, is often the only way I make sense of things.


The ability to play gives me fresh eyes to know the world, and washes away the cynical, the tired, the mundane and banal, and the constant drumbeat of the haters. And for me that is most crucial, because if left to my own devices sometimes I am one of those haters. When you spend a lot of time in your head like I do, it is very easy to establish and maintain a separateness.

Playing works instead in the heart, and connects me back to what is truly timeless: the love, joy and magic created when people who love each other do the things they love together. When I play, it is neither 1986 nor 2015, and the experience is the same as it ever was. Chronos shifts to Kairos, and I get just a fleeting glimpse of the eternal.

And for that I am most grateful.

I look forward to playing with all of you in Lexington--

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Podcasts for Lawyers

I have written previously about the benefits of podcasts: interesting, relevant, and timely content pushed directly to your device (so you don't have to go looking for it) that you can enjoy whenever you want.  What's not to like? And if you want a tutorial on how to get and use podcasts, read this article I found while putting this post together. And further, if you are interested in starting your own podcast, take a look at this piece.

Here are the legal podcasts on my device right now (with summaries largely based on their own descriptions), in alphabetical order so I don't have to rank them:

  1. Amicus With Dalia Lithwick. Lithwick writes about courts and the law for State, and Amicus is all about the United States Supreme Court. Great resource for following the goings-on at SCOTUS.
  2. Digital Edge. Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway discuss topics related to lawyers and technology. Sponsored by the Law Practice Management Section of the ABA.
  3. Kennedy-Mighell Report. Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell educate lawyers on how technology can be used to improve services, interactions with clients, and overall workflow.
  4. Lawyer 2 Lawyer. Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams address current issues from a legal perspective. 
  5. Lawyerist.  A weekly show about lawyering and law practice hosted by Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Glover and Street interview successful lawyers and interesting people about law practice, and answer questions from the Lawyerist community. Great interviews with interesting people in the legal community.
  6. Legal Toolkit.  A really good law practice management resource. Heidi Alexander and Jared Correia invite forward-thinking lawyers to discuss the services, ideas, and programs that have improved their practices.
  7. Oral Argument. A podcast about law, law school, and legal theory. Joe Miller and Christian Turner, law professors at the University of Georgia, do some really in-depth analysis of cases and legal issues.  A must-listen for those (including myself) interested in the laws of airline seat reclining and speed traps.
  8. This Week in Law. Denise Howell discusses breaking issues in technology law, including patents, copyrights, privacy, drones, driverless cars, the Internet of Things, and many other topics. 
  9.  

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Five Posts You Viewed Most in 2013

  1. Five Must-Reads for Graduates (and Everyone Else).  Thanks to Jay Bilas for retweeting this piece and with one click making it the most popular post of the year by far.
  2. Computer and KM Stuff Good Lawyers Should Know (First Draft).  It is about time to do a second draft.  Did any of you catch the Dick DiVenzio reference in the title of the post?
  3. Every Lawyer is a Technologist: Take a Step Back to Take the First Step Forward. People, Processes, and Computer Technology are the tools you use.
  4. Some Thoughts on "Email: The Reality in Law in 2013". My discussion with Christian Stegmaier
  5. Smarter Than You Think and its Lessons for the Legal Profession. A really important read for lawyers trying to figure out how to work with computers.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Effective Security Starts at the Top: The S.C. Supreme Court Mandates Strong Passwords

Earlier this month the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered all members of the South Carolina Bar and all foreign legal consultants to log-in to the Attorney Information System (AIS) and 1) adopt a stronger password; 2) choose and answer updated security questions; and 3) update and verify their contact information in AIS.  Pursuant to the terms of the Order, those who fail to do so by December 15, 2013 may face suspension.

The Court's Order offers good lessons for all attorneys (and others) attempting to secure their firms and businesses.

Security is a Process, Not A Product

The Court recognizes that the security of the AIS relies in no small part on strong passwords created by attorneys, and mandates a process to attain that end.  As discussed here, human mistakes (as opposed to software or hardware inadequacies) account for most security breaches.  Using a  "weak" password (one that a computer can guess by means of generating many characters) or a "common" password (one that a person can guess or read) is like leaving a door open or a safe unlocked.

Although various technology products offer essential parts of an effective security program, (as discussed here and in  Locked Down: Information Security for Lawyers) no product will save you from yourself if you decide to use "password" as your password, use the same password on multiple sites, click on bad links, or voluntarily share your bank account number in response to an email message.

Consider how to make security a priority in your firm, through the use of policies, training, and/or other methods.  And understand that the combination of people, processes, and technology is necessary for appropriate security.  

Any Effective Security Process Has Support From The Top and Appropriate Teeth


A Supreme Court mandate with Chief Justice Toal's signature and the threat of losing the ability to practice law is an effective way to get an attorney's attention and ensure compliance.  Moreover, the fact that attorneys will not be allowed to pay their license fees until they have complied with the Order all but ensures 100% participation.

By contrast, how many attorneys would have updated their information in response to an email memo from a systems administrator for the AIS suggesting the use of stronger passwords?  How many of you consider the recommendations of your IT staff, implement same, and follow through to make sure they are followed?

Protecting the client file as required by Rule 1.6 (“Confidentiality of Information”) and Rule 1.15 (“Safekeeping Property”) of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct ("RPC") includes securing electronic information.  A security breach caused by a weak password or indiscriminate browsing may cause the same unauthorized disclosure of a client's confidential information as the theft of a paper file.

Conclusion  


Although strong passwords may be a hassle and create yet another thing for attorneys to remember (and for some assistance with "password fatigue" click here), clearly their use is one part of an effective information security program.  Just as incentives and discipline are used in connection with other corporate purposes and obligations (e.g. to "encourage" lawyers to get their time in), so too should lawyers consider how to best encourage and enforce the development of a culture of security in their firms.     

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Smarter Than You Think and its Lessons for the Legal Profession

I just finished Clive Thompson's Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Brains for the Better

Thompson examines the ways technology tools are changing how we learn, remember and use knowledge, and concludes that these transformations are on balance positive.  His views are not blindly “techno-optimist” in character, but historically based: new tools (writing, printed books, paper and pens, telegraph, telephone) have always shaped the way we think, as well as what we think about.

Computer technologies are just the latest tools of our "extended mind" (Harold Innis) – the way we outsource parts of the way we think so we can free ourselves up for higher-level thinking. 

And each innovation that has helped our memories and the way we communicate encourages new behaviors and pushes us away from familiar behaviors.  This process has been called “the bias of a new tool.”

According to Thompson, the main biases of digital tools are
  • external memory: meaning information that is outside your head (and lots of it)
  • more connections: not just between and among people (Facebook, LinkedIn) but also between ideas, news, and types of data
  • communication and publishing

Figuring out how to live with these technologies means understanding them and how they are changing us.  Or, brought to a more topical and practical level for attorneys, “understanding the risks and benefits of relevant technology.

Below are several points made in Smarter Than You Think, along with some thoughts on how attorneys may consider them in evaluating the risks and benefits of digital tools.

Study and Practice the Art of Finding (Be Your Own Librarian)


Digital tools, both those within the walls (servers?) of our law practices and outside them, provide a mind-boggling amount of external memory.  This is undoubtedly a good thing for lawyers, as we have the ability to store all of our information and knowledge very inexpensively.  Taking advantage of external memory spares finite brain resources from having to store information in our heads, and allows us to reach higher levels of thought by focusing on the important stuff (finding creative solutions for clients).  See here for additional discussion about freeing up your mind to do the heavy thinking.

The challenge, (aside from protecting this information), is being able to find the right information when we need it. And the explosion of electronic information appears to make that an impossible task.  However, the challenge of organizing information is not a new one.  By way of analogy, it took a very long time to make books useful as reference tools.  Aids like indexes, paragraph breaks, and page numbers evolved over a long period of time.

To manage large amounts of digital information effectively, lawyers need to develop and use their own reference aids. Within your organization, this means taking full advantage of the capabilities of search tools.  And while search has become very powerful in navigating your data haystack, lawyers will also want to draw attention to the needles, by naming and organizing documents with an eye toward future use, and “tagging” documents by subject and keyword so that a search will find them. When your information has been captured and organized for future retrieval, then you can use it effectively to provide value for your clients.  For more on ways for lawyers to manage information, click here.

And searching outside your organization requires the same critical thinking you employ for other reference materials.  In other words, “check everything” in the digital world with the same discerning eye you have always used in evaluating the efficacy of cases, treatises, or other sources.

Connection Has Its Costs- The Risks of Being Always On


The connection and collaboration enabled by digital tools offers countless opportunities for lawyers (and everyone else).  Of course, instant and constant access to so much and so many has a downside.  Thompson is not the first to point out that the creativity necessary for problem-solving requires what he calls “interiority” and the ability to mull over things. As I have discussed before, a great deal of what attorneys do requires sustained attention, and the time to absorb information.  Switching back and forth from a brief to the email inbox or the Web destroys attention and focus. 

There are ways to mitigate the distracting qualities of computer tools, such as turning off notifications, or employing software tools like Freedom or OMMWriter.  Thompson also recognizes that practicing mindfulness (“paying attention to your attention,”) can help you keep from getting caught up in interruptions without even realizing it. 

Of course, as I have also discussed, many of the distractions and interruptions that destroy attention and focus- unannounced office visits and purposeless meetings, for example- aren’t digital at all.

Writing For More Audiences


The digital world offers more opportunities for lawyers to write, but the best reason for doing so is not necessarily what you may think.  Lawyers know that writing clarifies thinking.  Thompson cites Sir Francis Bacon’s observation that "reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man."  Externalizing thoughts allows you to evaluate them more objectively.

And writing for an audience further clarifies thinking.  It is easy to win an argument in your head. Knowing that you are writing for somebody makes the weaknesses in your writing stand out very prominently.  As Thompson points out, the "audience effect" of communicating to someone else "forces you to think more precisely, make deeper connections, and learn more." Moreover, the “generation effect” of writing about a topic improves your memory.

So the real benefit of writing a blog or posting for an audience is not the number of people who tune in (thank goodness), or how much information or understanding is conveyed to that audience, but rather the learning effect on the writer.  Thompson’s quote by Cecil Day-Lewis captures this point perfectly: “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand."  And so more writing platforms and audiences provide more learning opportunities for attorneys, hopefully in the subjects that exist in the margins of your attention.

Conclusion- Not Either/Or Or But Both


What I like most about this book is Thompson’s demonstration that the strengths of humans (intuition, creative thinking) and computers (storage, search, calculation, number-crunching) are not mutually exclusive.  On the contrary, as Thompson’s chess example demonstrates, collaboration between people and computers resulted in “higher levels of human excellence in chess.”  Likewise, computer technology is undoubtedly one of several essential tools that will continue to help attorneys get better.  

As Thompson puts it, “let the human continue to do what it does best, but let the machine work.” His reframing of the debate about whether computers or humans are “smarter” is a pretty good lesson for lawyers:

Which is smarter at chess – humans or computers?
Neither.
It’s the two together, working side by side.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Computer and KM Stuff Good Lawyers Should Know (First Draft)



D. Casey Flaherty's LegalTech West keynote “Raising the Bar on Technological Competence- the Outside Counsel Tech Audit," (described by Flaherty here) has certainly sparked a fair amount of debate on the topic of just how much computer technology chops attorneys need.  (You can also view the entire presentation here - registration required).

I don't have the time or energy to choose a side in the debate over whether outside counsel need pass Flaherty's audit.  However, I value the perspective of people who know more about law office technology than I do. One such individual is Niki Black, Director at MyCase.  Niki was kind enough to provide her take on lawyers and technology:

Because the American Bar Association recently amended Model Rule 1.1 to require that lawyers stay abreast of technological changes, lawyers need to be aware of the technologies available to them and have a basic understanding of the technologies that they use in their law practices. And, this amendment notwithstanding, it's important for lawyers to explore the possibilities offered by new technologies. Doing so will help lawyers improve their day-to-day lives by supplementing traditional methods and helping to streamline the practice of law. Innovating in the delivery of legal services by implementing new ways of serving clients--such as using cutting edge technologies like web-based law practice management systems to communicate and collaborate with your clients--is one of the best ways to compete in the 21st century legal marketplace and meet consumer demands.

And Flaherty makes several great points about the ways attorneys can get more effective and efficient use of their computers and the software programs they use in their day-to-day practices. Inspired by his examples, below is my work-in-progress version of a number of things that attorneys and folks who work in law offices should consider doing, learning, and keeping in mind as they manage information. 
  1. Recognize that almost any office task you do repeatedly can be improved by the use of computer technology.
  2. Share your knowledge with your colleagues.
  3. Presume (at least initially) that your “How do I do this?” question can be answered by you.  Not by IT, not by anyone else.
  4. When in doubt, right click.
  5. Before seeking (human) assistance, put your question/issue/problem in quotations and paste it into The Google.
  6. Identify and use the search and find functions in all programs and interfaces.
  7. Name and organize documents according to a plan.
  8. Learn how to sort and filter and do so when appropriate.
  9. Use folders and rules to manage emails.
  10. Identify (Tag) documents so you can find and use them again.
  11. Microsoft Word:
    • Use Styles for numbering any multilevel list.
    • Learn and use Templates, Automatic Tables of Contents, and Tables of Authority in briefs and other documents
    • Hyperlink and cross-reference in contracts.
    • Use QuickParts and AutoText
  12. PDFs
  • Create documents using a print driver
  • Make your documents searchable
  • Reduce File Size
  • Use Bookmarks
  • Bate Stamp Electronically
  • Extract Pages
  • Use Portfolios
  • Use Batch Operations/Perform Actions to Multiple Files
I welcome any and all feedback, suggestions, etc. on this effort, as it might be nice to hear from folks other than comment spammers.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Five Must-Reads for Graduates (And Everyone Else)

It is that time of year again, and if you are looking to give something really meaningful and worthwhile, consider one or more of the following:
  1. This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.  The late David Foster Wallace delivered this commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  In sum, exercising the choice of what you think about is essential in navigating the day-to-day where we live our lives.  And being attentive and mindful of what is right in front of you is necessary to overcome your inherent self-centered nature-- the real journey of a lifetime.
  2. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon. This is important for anyone starting or planning a career.  It poses some very difficult questions, but aren't those the only ones worth wrestling with?
  3. Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court, by Jay Bilas. This is an extraordinary thorough and insightful exploration what it takes to complete the missions you undertake.  And toughness is not what you think it is.  
  4. Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, by R.A. Dickey.  Dickey has faced and overcome tremendous challenges, numerous setbacks, and professional and personal failures on his journey back to the Major Leagues.  This is not a book about baseball, but about confronting your demons, figuring out what really matters, and persevering- again and again and again.  If you think you know something about bravery and courage, read this.
  5. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More Of It by Kelly McGonigal.  Doing what matters is difficult, in part because our brains are wired to to want and seek something different.  McGonigal offers the most practical explanation I have read of why this is the case, as well as down-to-earth advice on how to train yourself in service of your real goals.  For my previous discussion of this book, click here
For a previous list of good reads, (including some of these), click here.