Category Archives: law

Large law lawyer leverages technology, data and systems to change defense of mass tort claims

Mass tort defense

Twenty years ago, I terminated my firm’s Westlaw subscription and outsourced our legal research. How so? Law clerks attending law school whom I met on AOL message boards.

A clerk did the research, using free Westlaw, drafted a motion, memorandum or brief, forwarded it to my assistant to be put on a case caption and reviewed by my associate.

In a contingency fee case, a big savings of time for us. My associate could work on more valuable things. On hourly work, clients got a bill for a clerk’s time at $40 an hour while we paid them $15 an hour. Clients loved the savings and the innovation.

Without the Internet and a willingness to be different, none of that would have been possible.

Now I hear that a friend of mine, Attorney Steve Embry is doing a little bit of the same — except on a much larger scale that is likely to have a lasting effect on large law.

For years, law firms have defended mass torts the same way. Put an experienced mass torts lawyer on the case to lead strategy and execution and have legions of younger lawyers and in house staff do most of the work.

By leveraging the hourly rate, the defense of mass torts became wildly profitable for law firms, while terribly expensive for clients.

I should have known that Embry was onto something different when I first met him hanging out at legal tech and innovation conferences, even conferences dedicated to small law. You don’t see guys from large law (Frost Brown Todd) who have been defending mass tort cases for years at these conferences.

Embry was in fact out noodling on ways to be innovative in the defense of mass tort claims.

The problem with how mass torts have historically been defended is that, while the client can get great value and a great defense where there is an experienced lawyer engaged in what he or she does best, that is such things as strategy, handling and creating joint defenses, negotiations and even trial, most of the underlying work has been done by those who frankly are over qualified for what they are doing. There are better and cheaper ways to get most of the work required by mass tort cases done.

The answer, talking to Embry, is unbundling services. Unbundling legal services can be a dirty word to some bar associations and regulators, who would like to require a lawyer do all the work from beginning to end – and perhaps maintain the lawyer mononopoly while limiting services.

But Embry believes that the work in a mass tort case can be “unbundled” so that much of the commodity type work is done by alternative legal service providers at flat fees. The more creative work is best done by a seasoned lawyer.

To make this work — and get over any unbundling issue, Embry says that the lawyer must remain in charge of and responsible for all the work and that there needs to be a partnership between the lawyer and any service providers.

The lawyer and the insurance provider have to trust each other, work together and have each other’s back. This can only be done on if there is a long term relationship between the two.

Embry is now walking the talk, something most lawyers would be scared to death to do. He reached out to Elevate, an alternative legal service provider employing lawyers, engineers, technology and medical professionals to study the idea. If viable, Embry wants them to help propose it to insurance carriers.

Elevate suggested getting my friend (small world) Dan Linna, a law professor and director of LegalRnD at Michigan State University College of Law, involved. Elevate had worked with Linna and LegalRnD on other projects over the past few years and Embry was familiar with Linna through legal tech events.

Linna likes the idea – and sees it as a bit of self preservation for large law.

Law firms need to proactively work with clients to disaggregate legal matters. Why wait for clients to disaggregate matters and tell you, the law firm, what’s left for you—if they keep you around? Law firms need to demonstrate how they can provide greater value to clients. Greater value goes well beyond efficiency and lower costs. By creating a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, improving processes, getting the right people doing the right tasks, becoming data driven, and embracing technology, law firms can improve work quality and obtain better substantive outcomes.

Linna’s a bit like author, speaker and adviser, Richard Susskind, who finds it hard to convince a room full of people making a million dollars a year that they have a problem that needs correcting.

Most law firms cannot get beyond short-term thinking. They’re get stuck on the idea that improving legal-service delivery likely means less revenue in the short term. But they’re missing opportunities to become more profitable while at the same time generating greater value for clients. Going down this path strengthens relationships with existing clients and creates opportunities for law firms to differentiate themselves. It positions them to land more work and develop new ways in which to provide value for clients.

The team has already secured the agreement of one of Embry’s insurance carrier clients. The carrier is intrigued by Embry’s approach and is looking to be a case study that Linna will do so that differences in results and costs can be measured.

As he should be, Embry’s optimistic.

I think we will find that the case could be handled just as well if not better and the transactional cost less using this model.

The group recently spent a day at Frost Brown with lawyers, paralegals and other professionals to map out getting work to the right people, improving processes, using data, and implementing technology. Linna tells me that rather than being defensive and territorial about the work, as I have personally seen in large tort claims with multiple parties, the group realized the benefits of collaborating to identify opportunities to improve the value provided to clients.

Embry was concerned his firm would see this approach as a threat, the firm acknowledges it as the new reality.

The practice of law is changing. While clients don’t mind paying for bespoke work, they are no longer willing to pay top dollar for commodity work that can be done cheaper someplace else. If we don’t accept that reality and try to meet our client’s needs, we risk losing the whole ball of wax.

Embry’s firm may have less work in the short run. But Embry believes that clients will see the benefit of the model and engage him and Frost Brown for future work.

Now we just need to have Embry out blogging what he’s learning and doing along the way — soon.

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Washington Post’s Arc publishing platform a model for LexBlog

Washington Post Arc publishing LexBlog

When Amazon built a digital department store, then competitor, Toys “R” Us licensed Amazon’s technology for the online sales of its goods. Toys “R” Us could not compete on software.

When Amazon had surplus cloud hosting capacity, Amazon created AWS for the licensing of its cloud hosting services to third parties. AWS now represents over a third of Amazon’s revenue.

When Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, the Post, at the encouragement of Bezos to follow the AWS model, built a digital publishing platform the Post could license to third parties.

Arc Publishing, the name of the Post’s publishing platform, is now licensed to news publishers as large as Tronc, the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun. Ironically, Tronc had claimed that its technology prowess would allow it to succeed whether other news publishers failed.

It’s a nice model, develop the software platform you need to succeed and license your technology to third parties whose services exceed the scope of yours. The Washington Post does not cover Chicago and LA news. Amazon does not provide near as many services as are being delivered by companies using its AWS cloud service.

Reading Jack Marshall’s Wall Street Journal story on Tronc’s licensing Arc, I was struck by how LexBlog’s model mirrors the Post’s — obviously on a smaller scale.

For years, LexBlog ran a design and development factory shop much like other web developers and marketing agencies. Graphic designers rendered designs, which when approved by clients were reduced to PSD’s (photoshop design files), which were then developed on our platform by web developers.

Time consuming, fraught with points where mistakes could be made and it didn’t scale – the more “successful” we were in selling, the greater the problem we had in maintaining, hosting and upgrading ‘sites.’

The answer for LexBlog was to develop the publishing platform we needed to succeed – the Apple Fritter design and publishing platform.

Apple Fritter, built on WordPress core and customized WordPress software, allowed our art director to design in software on a ‘live’ site. Customers could look in if they wanted to. No developers needed. Developers work on AF upgrades (including quarterly WordPress upgrades) and new features.

Arc isn’t bare bone publishing software, it offers publishers a suite of tools. Per Marshall:

The Arc technology suite includes a range of tools designed to help publishers produce, manage, publish, host and monetize their websites and apps, in addition to offering other analytics and optimization tools.

Tronc CEO, Justin Dearborn sees Arc giving its newspapers everything they need on the software front.

This partnership will provide us with the capabilities that our reporters need to deliver award-winning journalism across all platforms and new tools that allow our marketing partners to connect with our growing digital audience.

I’ve been in DC and Chicago the last couple weeks introducing large client publishers to Apple Fritter and the ability to license our Apple Fritter as a self service design and publishing platform for their blogs, mini-sites, magazines and networks.

Apple Fritter, with its tools and features, provides client publishers all they need to publish, distribute and track their posts, articles and stories. Custom designs for various types of publications will have already been loaded by LexBlog.

As with the Post’s Arc being available to all news publishers, large and small, Apple Fritter will be available to all publishers – law firms, law schools, bar associations, legal tech companies, web development agencies, marketing companies and other organizations. Not only for publications, but also for websites.

As context, all of LexBlog’s products and add-ons are named after products at Top Pot “Hand Forged” Doughnuts, a large doughnut chain here in Seattle, that boasts of being the official doughnut of the Seattle Seahawks. Thus Apple Fritter.

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Michigan State University College of Law Ranks Number One

We’re all familiar with Michigan State University’s athletic prowess. As a Notre Dame graduate, I’ve seen on TV any number of football losses at East Lansing. Basketball Coach Tom Izzo has kept the Spartans near the top nationally for what seems like twenty years.

Michigan State’s Law School though, which I am sure has received national recognition in the past, has not been discussed historically with the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Michigan.

No longer. The Spartans are getting known, and known in a big way for their law graduates who have harnessed the power of the Internet to learn, to network and to build a name for themselves.

Law firms and other organizations are seeking out Michigan State grads because of what they have learned on the innovation and technology front – and in a good number of cases seeking out particular law students and offering them jobs.

You got it. Students and law grads being offered jobs by companies and firms seeking them out. Not students and grads applying for jobs as is the customary way students are taught it’s done.

What happened?

The law school recognized what the rest of the country knew. The Internet was a powerful tool for learning and networking – and that everyone and their brother was using it. Why not a law school’s students?

First there was ReInvent Law (video channel in absence of site) launched by then Michigan State Law professors, Dan Katz and Renee Knake. When you put on conferences featuring legal innovators in Chicago, Palo Alto, New York City and London, folks take notice. Especially when you’re selling out large venues packed with practicing lawyers, legal tech executives, law students and law professors.

Then Dan Linna left nine years of large law practice to become Assistant Dean for Career Development and a professor at MSU Law, along with serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

Without putting words in Linna’s mouth, he saw what was bubbling up at MSU Law. An opportunity to expand the curriculum to include the business of law in ways not taught before – the use of technology, innovation, project management and lean business processes to change the way legal services are delivered by major law firms.

You add guys such as Ken Grady as an adjunct professor and now a full time professor, and you have a real force. Grady, who’s known internationally, in large part through blogging and social media, for transformation in legal and has worked as general counsel, large law partner and CEO of SeyfarthLean.

About this time MSU Law students started using the Internet. Blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, About.me and Facebook, all on professional matters. These kids were bringing it.

So much so that MSU Law students starting citing my blog and sharing items I posted to Twitter. As a result, I heard them and got to know them – from 2,000 miles away. I started spreading the word, online and offline. Other influencers did the same.

These students invited me back to East Lansing to share my thoughts on blogging and social media – as well as to judge a social media contest the law school was conducting for students.

I went. What an incredible afternoon, I was welcomed and introduced by then Dean, Joan Howarth.

I discovered that social media and blogging was not only taught at the law school, but that students needed to use what they learned over a semester or more. The contest was an opportunity to share the results – not just a beauty contest with followers, but in internships gained and invitations to speak in San Francisco.

I asked Dean Howarth, “Why? How?” She said what else was she to do, stand by and watch what was happening to law grads and law students. Howarth, who had yet develop her Facebook prowess (came with her attending a day long MSU Law social media bootcamp), empowered change and the use of social media – as a gift to the law school and its students – whether she knew it or not.

I was at a legal technology meetup earlier this year when a lawyer heard me talking about Michigan State’s tech, innovation and social media bent. He said that his firm, a large one, looks for Michigan State grads because of exactly that.

More powerful than MSU Law’s reputation, or maybe the cause of its reputation, is its students’ use of social media itself.

Pat Ellis, who graduated two or three years ago, landed a job on graduation at the second largest law firm in Detroit, in part because of his blogging and social media use.

Ellis left within two years to accept another opportunity. Someone suggested to him on Twitter that he apply for a position with the general counsel’s office at General Motors. He got the job.

I met Ellis on Twitter, as then, @spartylegal, and via his blogging. I had the pleasure of joining him in a presentation to MSU Law students, with Dean Howarth and faculty attending.

Ellis advised students that what they thought was important no longer was. A tier one law school, top grades and law review were no longer what separated you from others. The Internet enabled students to blog, with posts seen in a day by a law professor across the country, versus never for a law review article. Social media democratized things for the little guy. Opportunities awaited, per Ellis.

Ellis is not alone.

Irene Mo, a recent MSU Law graduate took innovation classes, participated in blogging and social media bootcamps at the school and served as an innovation assistant for the school’s LegalRnD program.

She’s now an ABA Innovation Fellow developing tools to reduce privacy and data security risks for low-income people. An associate position at a leading Chicago privacy and security law firm awaits – this based on MO’s Twitter exchanges with the managing partner.

Samir Patel came to MSU Law planning to be a sports agent – and why not, with the Spartan’s athletic prowess. But he attended a MSU Law social media bootcamp.

One thing led to another and Patel was clerking for a leading blockchain law firm in London because of identifying a niche he could get after with Twitter and blogging – the use of blockchain in professional athletes’ contracts. Patel didn’t ask for the clerkship, the firm asked him on Twitter.

Then, it turned out that someone Patel was interacting with on Twitter was a practice group lead at Holland & Knight. Patel, who just graduated, is joining Holland & Knight in Miami as a result.

Linna has brought real structure to it all launching, two years ago, LegalRnD, MSU Law’s Center for Legal Services Innovation.

LegalRnD is dedicated to improving legal-service delivery and access across the legal industry. It accomplishes this through research and development of efficient, high-quality legal-service delivery tools and systems — heavily relying on the net and social media/blogging for learning and networking.

LegalRnD brings together professionals from a broad range of disciplines. Students are trained in established business concepts and study them with partners, including: legal aid organizations, solo practitioners, corporate legal departments, law firms, courts, and entire justice systems.

Its curriculam, harnessing the powers of networking through the net via blogging and social media, covers:

  • Artificial intelligence & law
  • Delivering legal services, the new landscape
  • Quantitative analysis for lawyers
  • Information privacy and security
  • Litigation data and process
  • Entrepreneurial lawyering

Young people choose law schools for a whole lot of reasons. Usually based on the school’s name and rank.

If I am looking to understand what’s possible, achieve extraordinary things and have employers ask me if I want to work for them in areas of interest to me — all because I’ve learned to used the Internet to learn, network and build a name I’m looking for a law school which can deliver on that front.

MSU Law ranks number one in that poll.

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NY State Bar Association sides against consumers on access to legal services

NYSBA

Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve always thought the legal profession as a whole, some lawyers more than others, stood up for the little guy, the consumers if you will.

In that bar associatons are run by lawyers and talk about pro bono work and access to legal services, it would seem to be a natural that they would champion consumer causes — such as access to legal services.

But amongst the good work of bar associations stands the effort of many bar associations to snuff out the use of technology and innovation to bring consumers access to legal services.

The latest comes from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) in their advisory opinion of a couple weeks ago finding that Avvo’s Legal Services program violates ethics rules.

As reported by the ABA Journal, consumers using Avvo’s Legal Services purchase specific services, such as an uncontested divorce, for a flat fee. For example, when a client receives services from a lawyer through Avvo for $149, Avvo collets a $40 marketing fee.

All of this done on a website, and most probably on Avvo’s mobile site. Makes sense in that consumers purchasing legal services on Avvo would want to do so just the way they purchase everything today. A whopping 70% of Amazon consumers purchase on mobile.

What does the NYSBA offer for access to legal services?

A dated website with limited legal information, much taking consumers to pdf’s on government sites, resulting in a disjointed and confusing experience.

The bar association does have an 800 number call-in lawyer referral service and $35 service for talking to a lawyer. I question how the NYSBA numbers compare to New York consumer traffic on Avvo.

Avvo is a technology company with financial partners whom backed the likes of Zillow, a household name. With a fleet of developers, Avvo brings regular upgrades and feature enhancements. A non-profit voluntary bar association, understandably, could never bring the consumer experience and service Avvo does.

What does the NYSBA find so wrong with Avvo’s access to legal services program?

Avvo benefits finacially from the service. Seriously.

From the ABA Journal, quoting the NYSBA opinion:

Because Avvo lawyers are assigned a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, and “the Avvo website also extols the benefits of being able to work with highly rated lawyers,” While this opinion doesn’t forbid lawyers from using ratings generated by third parties in its advertising, “Avvo Legal Services is different. It is not a third party, but rather the very party that will benefit financially if potential clients hire the lawyers rated by Avvo.”

Rather than looking to leverage technology to improve service, like every other industry, the NYSBA heads in the opposite direction.

I agree with Avvo’s Chief Legal Officer, Josh King in his response to the opinion.

[The NYSBA Opinion] …actively discourages lawyers from using technology to reach out to clients who see an increasing gap between them and meaningful access to the legal system. And if there is one opinion, one voice, in this discussion that should be amplified, it is not that of the New York State Bar Association or of Avvo, but that of the consumer.

Rather than jumping on the NYSBA for limiting access to legal services, all I saw from lawyers and law firms was joy that Avvo took in it the shorts.

There’s plenty I don’t agree with about Avvo, but I’m not going to say good for limiting consumers access to legal services because I don’t like that Avvo salespeople called the lawyers in my firm or that Avvo rates lawyers, the same as Martindale-Hubbell did for 100 years.

I also wouldn’t cheerlead the prevention of lawyers willing to do so from offering fast, simple and cost effective flat fee legal services. It didn’t work for cities looking to prevent drivers from Uber lifts and it shouldn’t work for a trade association looking to prevent lawyers from helping consumers.

Of course we can split hairs as to “If only Avvo just did this or that, the NYSBA would have said all’s good.” I don’t buy it. I see bars, with some exceptions, jumping on Avvo, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer as if it were sport.

Lawyers, if they truly care about access to legal services, are going to need to come to grips that the solutions to do so are likely to come through the private sector. It’s the private sector which has driven change and consumer services across the Internet.

The delivery of legal services will look different than in the past. Companies, and their investors, will make money in the process.

But that’ll be okay for those of us standing up for the little guy — consumers.

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Vegas to Tulsa to Norman

That’s where I am headed to this next week.

Las Vegas for ILTCON, the International Legal Technology Association annual conference, from Monday late afternoon to midday Wednesday.

Disliking Las Vegas, and having been to two conferences there already this year, I was ready to pass on ILTA.

But over the last couple weeks I’ve had any number of friends, companies, PR professionals and bloggers ask if I was coming and to get together if I was.

ILTACON is one of the places legal technology folks gather each year, so with an industry based on relationships, it’s best I go.

I’ll do some Facebook Live’s with some of the people and companies I find most interesting. A lot of the tech at ILTACON doesn’t draw my interest as I don’t understand it, it’s older, it’s coming from larger companies or is only used in situations I don’t come across.

I find the entrepreneurs and their stories of believing they have something, self funding, riding the emotional roller coaster and now feeling they’re pulling it off to be the fun interviews. People and their personal stories can be as interesting as their technology.

With LexBlog growing from an agency to a software company and publisher, a few folks have reached out to meet to find out if we could work together. Whether to license our managed platform for publishing or to gain additional visibility and build their name through our growing publisher’s network.

I’ll be in Tulsa Wednesday evening and Thursday to keynote at “Professionalism Day” at the University of Tulsa College of Law.

Professionalism Day is a cool program that I understand a number of law schools put on to prepare students for the practice and business of law.

Rachel Baker, The Associate Director of Professional Development, has been following my blog and the message I’ve been delivering to law students and law schools.

The law school thought it would be great if I could come back and inspire the students as well as share some practical “how to’s.”

Not only will it be an honor to speak to the law students at Tulsa U, it will be a lot of fun. Little is more rewarding than “reaching” a law student or two as to the opportunities that await them and share how they can realize their dreams with the technology of today.

On Friday I am headed down to Norman to visit with folks at the University of Oklahoma Law School.

I was blown away by a presentation at AALL (American Association of Law Librarians) on what OU Law is doing in legal tech for their students.

We’ve since talked about OU Law beginning to use the LexBlog platform and Law School Blog Network for their students and professors. Getting to together face to face to talk more and see first hand what they’re doing will be fun.

If you’re looking for text or call, 206-321-3627.

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Do law schools take professional development of students seriously?

Law school professional development

In the last week I’ve had exchanges with a couple law schools that made me wonder how serious law schools take professional development of their students.

I’m basing this on my belief that a law student’s understanding of how to blog and use social media to build a name and network is serious stuff. As they used to say, “as serious as a heart attack.”

In one case, a law school was appproached a year ago by one of the their law students suggesting the school hold a social media bootcamp for law students. The student who had good success using the net for learning, networking and building a name wanted to learn more — and wanted to help his fellow students.

The student, who would organize it, was told that things were awfully busy at the school and maybe it could be discussed in the spring. Nothing happened.

I approached the school earlier this year, was told the idea sounded good. When I heard nothing, I emailed back and like the student last year, was told things were awfully busy this fall, let’s look at the spring.

I can take the hint that we don’t value helping our students, professionally. Or, just as bad, we don’t take seriously learning how we can better help our students, professionally — we’re going to do what we have always done.

The second exchange, and actually much more positive, came when it was explained to me that the law school is pushing social media but is meeting resistence with students who question its value.

The problem may come when you begin by pairing up students and asking each student to look at the problems that may be presented by their follow students Internet identity. The focus rather than what’s great and what can be done is “let’s look at where you can get in trouble.” I can imagine skiing lessons starting with how you are likely to tear your ACL.

Rather than look at trouble, why not begin with the positives and tell students that there probably isn’t a lawyer a year, out of the million of them, who gets into trouble, professionally through the use of social media and blogging. And that there are lawyers coast to coast who are building careers and practices from social media.

Tell law students where they can go by using social media now. Tell them of Pat Ellis, three years out of law school, who is now reporting to the General Motors GC — because of blogging and using Twitter while in law school.

Every student has a networking machine in their pocket. Introvert or extrovert, I bet 99% of your incoming 1L’s use Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook for networking with friends and relatives. They just need a little guidance as to using this machine for learning, networking and building a name.

If you, as a law school, don’t know how it’s done, you just have to care enough to find out how — and to find out today. Otherwise what are you going to tell your students struggling to get a job, we’ll start trying to help you next Spring or the Spring after.

People today communicate via social media. It’s where they get their news, information and damn near everything else. It’s where people build relationships – over two billion people use Facebook.

At least as much time, if not more, should be put into teaching students how to use the net to build a name and to network than into getting firms into the law school for interviews, clerking opportunities and postings for postitions students are supposed to send off a resume. Knowing how to use the Internet is much more likely to help students — and unquestionably, more students.

The second exchange was much more positive as I am headed out to that law school next week. 😉 Like with other law schools, I’m getting calls from out the blue to visit and talk with the students. I’m no savior, the schools need to have programs teaching the stuff and I’ll only vist a dozen schools a year.

I’m just afraid there are many law schools who are not taking professional development seriously.

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Law school operated WordPress a replacement for today’s law reviews

Law Reviews WordPress

With the advent of the Internet, and with it the expansion of open publishing, it’s not reasonable to expect law reviews to continue in their current form.

Law professors looking to publish should be provided their own “printing press” operated and supported by the law school. With WordPress the defacto content management system of record for digital publishing, WordPress should serve as the law school’s printing press.

Law reviews have been published in the States for almost 200 years, with the first being the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 1852. Today, we have Law Reviews published by most every major law school, covering either general topics with the law review in the law school’s name or a partcular area of the law, such as environmental law.

Until the Internet, printed law reviews made a lot of sense. How else could the insight of law professors, judges and practicing lawyers be disseminated? How else could such commentary be cited by the courts?

But, as University of Kentucky College of Law Professor Brian Frye writes this week, as information costs drop ever closer to zero, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify law reviews in their current printed form.

Law reviews today, rather than disseminate legal commentary per Frye, limit the distribution of valuable ideas.

The inefficiency of the law review editorial process is legendary. While peer-reviewed journals may take even longer to publish articles, law reviews are still inexcusably slow. Many (most?) law professors post drafts of their papers to repositories like SSRN, Bepress, or the new Lawarxiv. Typically, articles do not appear in “print” until long after they are publicly available, often a year or more. By that time, most of the intended audience for the article has already seen and read (or ignored) it. Much of the delay is caused by the pointless convention that law review articles appear in printed “volumes” and “issues.” Nobody wants a printed law review, especially a smorgasbord generalist one. It is a huge waste of time, money, and effort to produce print law reviews that inevitably go straight to the landfill, along with the law porn that accompanies them. There is no longer any reason for law reviews to publish anywhere other than online. If authors actually want printed copies of their articles, they can order them print on demand.

Worse than distribution, says Frye, is the incoherent and arbitrary way student run law reviews choose what to publish, and from whom. A lot of good ideas and insight from legal professionals never sees the light of day.

A lot of good scholarship gets ignored, especially on subjects law students don’t understand, and a lot of flashy dross gets published. It is an article of faith among law professors that law review editors prefer constitutional law to any other subject, and the odds of placing an article are proportional to the number of editors who have taken the relevant class. Law students also reward articles with lots of carefully bluebooked citations, a metric that seems largely uncorrelated with good scholarship. And under the wildly inefficient and depressing “expedite” tradition, most “prestige” law reviews don’t even consider or bother reading articles until one of their “prestige competitors” has accepted it for publication.

University of New Hampshire Law Professor, Ann Bartow, hit on the idea of law professors having their own printing press at the law school in a 2008 blog post, cited by Brye.

What if faculty members published their articles exclusively in their “home” journals? That would eliminate the focus on the “placement” of a piece, hopefully with increased attention to actual content as a result, and motivate both students and faculty to do more high quality work, I’d suspect. Bias against scholarly subject areas would be reduced, and generalized bias against faculty at lower tier law schools would no longer affect the “sorting function” that placements have on junior faculty writers. Law faculties that produced good, relevant scholarship would see their home journals get numerous citations. Law faculties that did not would see the impact of their home journals and the reputation of their law schools suffer, and deservedly so.

Ten years ago it would not have been as easy to set up, or license, a WordPress publishing platform. Most law professors were, and still are, publishing blogs on TypePad, outdated and little used publishing software, originally produced by Six Apart.

Today, WordPress is running almost 70 percent of the content management systems in the world. WordPress is regualrly updated and enables a multi-user platform with multiple individual sites, all of which would be needed by a law school’s “printing press.”

Many law reviews publish online-only content in addition to their print publications, with some law journals abandoning print entirely, publishing solely to the Internet.

Why not go with the inevitable and enable the “home journals” referenced by Bartow and Frye with the open source technology we have at our disposal today, WordPress.

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Number of active social media users passes 3 billion worldwide

Social media users

The latest Global Digital Statshot from We Are Social and Hootsuite reveals that the number of people using social media around the world has just passed the three billion mark.

That’s with a B — and represents forty percent of the world’s population.

Social media use

Growth shows no sign of letting up with the number of social media users growing by one million a day over the last quarter.

Note that the growth in Internet users did not slow over the last quarter, the issuers of the report did have any major updates to their Internet user numbers. The growth in social media use suggests though that Internet use is rising at a similar rate.

Facebook exceeded two billion active users in the last month, and unquestionably is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to social platforms.

Other social platforms being used by a good number of lawyers are growing in active users as well.

YouTube has 1.5 billion active users, Twitter, 328 million aactive users and LinkedIn, 109 million active users. Instagram, used more socially by many lawyers, has 700 million active users.

The takeaway for lawyers has to be if you want to connect and engage with people, you need to be using social media.

Whether it’s leading law firms or associatons, nurturing relationships with clients, prospective clients and referral sources or looking to make legal services and justice more accessible to the public, social media is how people communicate.

You may review and download a complete copy of the report here.

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RELX Group’s Elsevier fights open access in Germany

Elsevier open access

With the democratization of publishing brought about by the Internet, and now WordPress, there’s a legitimate question as to how long publishers of academic and research information can retain their business model.

A business model that enables such publishers to obtain research and scholarship at little cost and then sell subscription access to the research to the very institutions whose scholars performed the research and authored the resulting papers.

The recent acquisitions of SSRN by LexisNexis in May and bpress by Elsevier last week are disconcerting to some U.S. law librarians because of, among others, open access. I shared librarians response to the bpress acquisition.

Both SSRN and bpress have served as repositories, generally open access, of legal papers and scholarship. However, RELX Group, the parent of both acquiring companies, as opposed to mostly open access, sells subscriptions to legal, scientific, medical and other scholarship. Add to that, Law Librarians don’t seem to trust either LexisNexis or Elsevier.

Open access is particularly coming to a head in Germany where a consortium of German universities, research institutes and public libraries are demanding from Elsevier fair pricing and open access to all papers authored by researchers at German institutions. After over eight months, the two sides remain at an impasse.

Chemistry World’s Ned Stafford reports that more than 70 universities and institutions have cancelled contracts with Elsevier to ‘improve their negotiating power.’

Tim Gowers, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge and an open access supporter who led a boycott against Elsevier in 2012, tells Stafford:

I am very impressed that the German negotiators have had the courage and vision to stand up to the bullying tactics of Elsevier, and that they have had the necessary support from researchers who use the journals.

Lead negotiator Horst Hippler tells Stafford that the negotiation team is in close contact with the U.S. and other European countries.

We are receiving a lot of positive feedback and recognition, especially regarding our negotiating goals for transformation to open access and for a fair and sustainable price model.

David Matthews, for Times Higher Education, reports that some in the German negotiating group are willing to “pull the plug” on Elsevier and get access to articles from other sources, like university repositories and academic social networks.

Elsevier takes an old school bullying approach to ‘no deal.’ Without access, Elsevier tells Matthews that “German university rankings and their ability to attract talented academics could suffer.”

Elsevier may also be feeling pretty good, with Matthews reporting that their profits were up 3 per cent last year as the company released another 64 journals. Matthews also added that the publisher’s profit margin at 37 per cent “remains high enough to make many academics wince.”

Things can change fast though. Just ask the folks who were at Martindale-Hubbell, also a RELX Group company, when its profit margins exceeded those of Elsevier’s. A failure to adapt effectively to the Internet resulted in a company worth a billion dollars being sold in close to an asset sale a few years later.

I am not suggesting that Elsevier is going to be sold for assets, but I am suggesting that universities and institutions should be publishing open access on open source technology so that they control their intellectual capital. This intellectual capital can then be reviewed and shared freely across the Internet.

Advances in science, law, medicine and the like will move faster as will the ability to build a name for yourself in these fields.

Rather than hold on to the past, Elsevier could look to enable the inevitable, open access, and build business models around it.

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Publishers are exiting Medium for WordPress

Medium

WP Tavern’s Sarah Gooding reports that publishers are moving back to WordPress after short experiments with Medium, a free online publishing platform.

Medium’s original business model was two-fold, to serve as a platform for subscription based publications which would put up articles behind a paywall and to run native advertising (advertorials) in a publisher’s content.

In January of this year, the CEO and co-founder of Medium, Ev Williams announced that the company’s business model wasn’t working and laid off one third of the company. Though Medium remains live and provides a nice publishing interface, it’s yet to come up with a viable buisiness model.

Medium’s business model was never a good fit for publishing professionals, ala lawyers. Lawyers’ publications were hugely important to them in building name and relationships, but subscription and ad revenue was not what they were after.

What lawyers and legal professionals should make note of here is the risk publishers, including lawyers, run when not controlling their own publishing and publication. Publishing for free on something that feels good to start with can have problems down the road.

Gooding shared what Film School Rejects (FSR) founder Neil Miller had to say.

“What we were sold when we joined their platform is very different from what they’re offering as a way forward,” Miller told Poynter. “It’s almost as if Ev Williams wasn’t concerned that he was pulling out the rug from underneath publishers who had placed their trust in his vision for the future of journalism.”

After moving FSR back to WordPress, Miller said the partnership with Medium was great until the company changed course to become a different type of platform.

“As time went on, it became clear that Medium’s priorities had shifted from being a platform for independent publishers to being itself a publisher of premium, subscription-based content,” he said. “As we learned more about their future plans for the now-existent Medium ‘Members Only’ program, it became clear that our site wouldn’t be able to continue to operate the way we always had.”

Miller said the process of trying a new platform and returning to WordPress made him realize that he “missed some of the customizable features of WordPress,” which led his team to work on some new features they will be launching in the future. The site has reinstated its banner advertising on pages.

And, via Poynter, that Judd Legum, founder of ThinkProgres, one of the largest publications to make the move to Medium, believes Medium is no longer even being developed with publishers in mind.

“I’m certainly not eager to have a bunch of ads on the site — and we’re not going to,” Legum said. “I’d love to have none. And if it were possible, I’d be interested in figuring out a model where we don’t have to have any. But if it’s connected to a platform that’s not going to be developed with publishers in mind, it doesn’t really make sense to think through that as a platform. That sealed it for me.”

ThinkProgress is taking its 8 to 10 million unique pageviews per month back into the independent publishing space. It is the latest of several other publishers leaving Medium after having been persuaded in 2016 to jump into Ev Williams’ experiment with initial promises of free hosting, more traffic, and advertising money.

Not all of the larger sites Gooding found exiting Medium went to WordPress. One went to Vox Media and another is publishing as part of Wired.

Medium’s new subscription model with users paying five dollars a month to help out and receive some “premium content” is still in beta. But as Gooding concludes, “…[P]ublishers moving away from Medium are not willing to stay on for the the startup’s experiment at the expense of their writers and staff.”

As I have said before, I am not one to bet against Ev Williams, the co-founder of Blogger and Twitter. He’s done some great stuff in publishing.

But if you are a lawyer or other professional, you just need to control your own publishing platform. And when working with third parties, as you must to some extent, make sure their business model is alignment with your business model.

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