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♫ if you could hear my heartbleed
you’d hear me scream set me free
if you could feel my heart bleed..♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by the Peppermint Creeps.

 

heartbleed

The Heartbleed vulnerability has garnered a lot of press lately.  It has (understandably) set many on edge and left wondering if they are vulnerable and if so, what should they be doing about it?  Our colleague, friend  (and past columnist) Laura Calloway, attorney, past ABA TECHSHOW Chair and Director of Service Programs and Practice Management  Assistance Program at the Alabama State Bar wrote this piece on Heartbleed and we have reproduced it here with her permission.

I was out of the office last week when the Heartbleed bug burst into the news so, while I’m a little slow getting information posted about it, things seemed to have resolved themselves and I now feel comfortable providing our members with some information and recommendations about how to deal with it.

What is Heartbleed?

Many websites allow users to log in to complete tasks such as viewing and sending web based email, purchasing goods, viewing bank balances, transferring funds, paying bills, or doing legal research or interacting with client information such as calendar items, to-dos or client documents stored in the cloud. In order to keep your information confidential, the websites encrypt it before it’s transferred over the internet, using what’s called a private key. Many of these interactive websites use an open source program called OpenSSL to handle the encryption, and Heartbleed is a flaw in the program that allows an intruder to find the private key and use it to unencrypt the data being transmitted and read it, including usernames, passwords, the contents of email and financial data.

A real world analogy would be that you hid a key to your house in the potted plant next to the front door, but you left it so exposed that anyone coming up on the porch and looking into the plant could see it, take it, and gain access to your house if they wanted to. And like in this real world example, you’d never know that someone had used the key to come into your house unless you caught them inside.

There is no way to be sure at this point whether someone has or has not intercepted your data transmissions while you interacted with a site that uses the software with the flaw.

Does Heartbleed affect me?

If you use interactive websites that allow you to log on to engage in secure transactions, it’s likely that at least some of those websites used the software with the flaw. In addition, some other devices such as internet routers and telephones that use VoIP (voice over internet protocol) rather than the phone company’s copper wires, may also be affected.

The Alabama State Bar’s site uses an older version of OpenSSL, which did not contain the flaw.  Thus, none of our users were affected when logging in to our site.

Major sites that were affected include Google and Gmail, Yahoo and Yahoo Mail, Dropbox, Box, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Etsy, Flickr, Minecraft, Netflix, SoundCloud and YouTube. It appears that Facebook and Pandora may also have been affected. Although Amazon’s sales website was not affected, Amazon Web Services was, meaning that any website operator who uses this hosting service to provide its website has vulnerable users, too. The major banking sites don’t appear to have been affected, but USAA’s site was.  You can find a list of possibly affected sites here. To determine whether other websites that you log into are affected, try the Heartbleed Checkerprovided by LastPass.

What should I do now to protect myself?

Because Heartbleed is not a virus that infects your computer but a flaw in the software used to operate a website that you can interact with over the internet, you will need to change your password for every affected website, but you should first make sure that the operator of the website has fixed the flaw in their version of OpenSSL and also renewed the security keys and issued a new SSL certificate. As long as the website still relies on an unpatched version of OpenSSL for encryption or hasn’t renewed the security certificate after patching, the data you are transmitting remains vulnerable and changing your password won’t help.  In fact, doing so will expose the current and new password.

The LastPass checker linked to above should give you both an assessment of whether the site was affected and the date the most recent security certificate was issued. If it doesn’t, IT World writer Melanie Pinola has a good article on when to change your passwords and has also posted a spreadsheet listing all the sites she has checked, the date she checked them and her recommendation of whether it’s time to change passwords.

If you use the Google Chrome browser, there is an extension called Chromebleed which, once installed, will alert you if you navigate to a site that is affected and has not been patched, but this can give you a false negative because it won’t tell you whether the security certificate has been reissued.

-Laura A. Calloway, Director of Service Programs and Practice Management  Assistance Program, Alabama State Bar.

What is interesting is that Laura has noted that the New York Times has reported that there is a lack of evidence that the heartbleed vulnerability was exploited prior to its announcement, but that attempts are picking up given all the publicity that it has received.  Accordingly it is important to take the steps that Laura has indicated to change your password on sites that may have been affected.

 

StartScreen

Windows 8.1 Start Screen

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.

We have a number of Windows 7 computers in our office, all of which have performed admirably. It certainly would have been my initial preference to replace my remaining home and office XP computers with Windows 7, being the “devil I know.”

However, Windows 7 PC’s are no longer readily available at retail, and thus Windows 8, now upgraded to 8.1, was the obvious, easy alternative.

Windows 8.1 is really two, easily interchangeable interfaces in one.

The desktop interface borrows extensively from all predecessor Windows releases, and will provide familiar and mostly seamless continuity with all you have known before. With a few key exceptions, you won’t likely notice too much difference in the 8.1 desktop environment, whether you’re upgrading from XP, Vista or Windows 7.

The alternative, Start Screen interface attempts to replicate a tablet-like experience on your PC, particularly if you are using a touch screen. Rather than featuring shortcut icons that launch the familiar executable programs, it features clickable squares that open apps and features.  Windows 8.1 apps, shortcuts and other destinations on the computer are easily pinned to the Start Screen, allowing you to fully customize your experience.

You will find a number of apps pre-installed, many of which you will eliminate immediately as unnecessary. The Windows store allows you to download from a vast array of existing apps to more fully personalize your selection.

Whether you will prefer to use the Facebook, Twitter, Mail and Calendar apps on 8.1,  as opposed to accessing these services via your web browser, may be a matter of personal taste.

The bottom line is that the web browser versions of all these services remain full-featured, while their parallel apps contain streamlined and downsized versions. While it may make sense to use such apps on your smart phone or tablet screens, I have not yet been struck by any advantage to using them on the full-size screen of the Windows 8.1 desktop.

While the Windows 8.1 app ecosphere will undoubtedly grow and become more tempting over time, for now it’s a safe bet that most of my Windows 8.1 experience will be on the familiar desktop, with only infrequent visits to the Start Screen to use the occasional app.

StartMenu

Start Menu

The most common complaints about the original Windows 8 release related to its elimination of the familiar Start button and Start Menu. As a result, simple tasks like restarting your computer and finding your installed software became a chore.

With the new Windows 8.1 update, this problem has been eliminated.

The start button has returned to its familiar, bottom-left corner of the screen.  It  can be toggled to switch between the desktop and Start Screens.  Right-clicking brings up a menu with numerous familiar options allowing you to access your programs, task manager, Control Panel, and shut down functions.

As a result, Windows 8.1 will allow you to do everything you have always done in Windows, with the added bonus of the Start Screen, to be accessed as you may desire.

In all other regards, the updated Windows 8.1 interface is intuitive, sleek, user-friendly, fast and elegant.

As with any new computer initiation, installing software and importing files can be a bit time consuming.  This problem was minimized for me by copying everything I needed from my XP to an external hard-drive, including my Downloads Folder (and all the software saved to it), which allowed for surprisingly quick transition and program re-installations.

I was up and running within an hour or two.

With more than 30% of the world’s computers still running XP and support now ended for this venerable old OS, there is likely to be a mass migration over the next few months to Windows 8.1 computers, as we retire our remaining, trusted XP workhorses.

I’m pleased to say that for me, this first transition has been a fairly simple and easy one.

So today’s tip:  Windows 8.1 – try it, you’ll like it!

(And I’m still deciding whether I may attempt to salvage my still solid, but now obsolete XP computers by trying Linux – but that’s a whole other post for another day…)

Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

 

♫   There’s a bridge
I don’t know how to cross yet
I need your hand
To hold along the way..

Music and lyrics by: Tozer, Faye/lauper, Cyndi/pilsford, Jan/irn, Jasper, recorded by Steps.

scansnap 1500Since I am just recently back from ABA Techshow in Chicago which was held last week, I thought this blog post could be an amalgam of the sessions that touched on going paperless that I saw as well as the management issues that were raised in these sessions.

To start, there are “Three Key Steps to Paperless Success.” These are:

  1. Everything gets scanned
  2. You need protocols in place to make sure it gets done
  3. You (and everyone else) has to make time to do it

If you don’t scan everything, nothing else matters as the systems then start to break down.

There are three Scanning Methods that you can adopt:

  1. Centralized Scanning:  This is suitable for large firms. Here you have one person or a team dedicated to the task, using large capacity scanners
  2. Distributed Scanning:  This is suitable for smaller firms, where everyone scans their own documents.  Here you have staff that have multiple roles, including scanning. The King of Scanners for this method of scanning: The Fujitsu ScanSnap.
  3. Hybrid Scanning: This method is suitable for medium to larger firms.  Here work groups scan their own documents, using a variety of scanners.  Staff have greater familiarity with the types of documents being scanned as compared to Centralized Scanning.

Regarding  the management process behind the decision to go paperless, the suggestions were:

• Create a paperless policy/plan (Hint: it doesn’t have to be on paper)

• Get a Commander in Chief:  This person is empowered to make final decisions on the paperless process. This way you don’t end up with inconsistent policies and methods in the office.

• Have a detailed process for converting documents to paperless.  Decide if you are going to do it in a centralized way (one big scanner, dedicated staff), a distributed way (paper is distributed to secretaries/staff for individual scanning) or a hybrid method as noted above.

• Develop guidelines for destroying documents. Do you do so immediately after scanning? After 7 days? 30 days? How much of a window do you give yourself just in case the scan didn’t work…

• Evaluate your hardware and software – is it adequate? Going paperless puts an additional strain on networks and resources. Chances are you will need to upgrade equipment and software.

• How much data will you need to store? Do you have sufficient server/storage/backup capacity? What happens when you start adding additional documents to the collection as time goes on?

• When will the paperless records be destroyed? Here the question is, how long do you retain the electronic records?

• Avoid haphazard document naming conventions.  You will need a detailed and consistent protocol for naming files and folders if you are not adopting a DMS (document management system) such as NetDocs or Worldox or one of the DMS systems built into practice management systems such as Clio, Amicus Cloud, PCLaw, MyCase etc.  Some people adopt document naming conventions even when they use a DMS so that the names of the files are consistent and tell a great deal about the document without opening it.

• You need to nail down the details.  Paperless is not undertaken lightly or haphazardly.

• Watch out for unsecured data access due to devices with remote access capabilities such as cell phones being lost or stolen.  Can you remotely revoke their ability to access the network?

• You need to ensure that your backups work properly and most importantly, that you can restore from a backup. Accordingly, test backups and restores frequently. Have a remote backup (cloud) as well as a local backup just in case your office is destroyed in a disaster.

• Have a monitoring system in place just in case.  Check it frequently.

• Have a record retention plan as part of your backup system.

Once you have the management policies and procedures in place, here is a list of the hardware and software to think about to support your move to paperless:

• Scanners (the Fujitsu ScanSnap received rave reviews from every speaker. I can vouch for that – I have the iX1500 and it is a dream workhorse).

• Servers

• Back up devices/cloud/hardened hard drives (such as the ioSafe line of fireproof, waterproof, immersion proof USB hard drives and network storage devices).

• Multiple Monitors.  The last couple of years at Techshow the recommendation was to go to two monitors.  Now there are many who have gone to three or more monitors.

• Computers

• Shredders

• Copiers

• Fax machines (or increasingly, electronic fax)

• Printers

• PDF software (Adobe standard or professional, not just the reader) is a cornerstone to the move to a paperless practice.  Adobe Standard comes bundled with the iX1500 and you can pay for the upgrade to Professional if you wish.  Very cost-effective way of getting a scanner and the Adobe software.  Nuance has just announced Power PDF Advanced as an alternative to Adobe PDF software.

• OCR (optically character recognition) is a necessity for all documents coming into the paperless system.  Without an OCR version of a document, you can’t search the text behind the scan.  OCRing produces a ‘dual layer’ PDF – one layer is the image of the document (like a photograph) and the other layer is the text that is shown in the image.  You can read the image layer but a computer can not – it can only search the OCR’d text.  Adobe Acrobat and Omnipage are two applications that can OCR a document.  The ScanSnap has the ability to scan (both sides at once) and OCR a document all at once.

• Get a DMS (document management system) to go paperless. A DMS will handle email + attachments rather than trying to do so by rolling your own system.  Just using a file/folder naming convention tends to break down quickly.  A DMS will keep everyone in line!

• Make sure your scanner works with your DMS.

ScannerPro will turn your iPad into a scanner for $2.99 (for use in a pinch).

Hopefully these management and hardware/software tips will help you cross the bridge to a paperless office…

 -David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.

 

 

Thanks largely the excellent work being done at Avoid a Claim blog by LawPro, Ontario lawyers’ professional liability insurer, we now receive ongoing updates about cybercrime, and in particular, criminal efforts to target law firms and steal from lawyers’ bank accounts.

A post last week by Tim Lemieux provided a splendid, nuts and bolts roadmap on the steps fraudsters took to steal several hundred thousands of dollars from a law firm trust account. It all began with a phishing email that duped a firm’s unwitting bookkeeper into providing its bank account numbers by telephone directly to the bad guys.

So the cybercrime problem is here and well documented. The question is how do we react and protect ourselves?

Let me offer these tips:

1. Ensure that only one staff member within your firm is authorized to communicate with your firm’s bank. If bank
enquiries are received via anybody else, these enquiries should be directed to the firm’s sole, authorized bank liaison person.

2. The person authorized as your bank liaison person should be instructed to immediately seek guidance from the supervising lawyer prior to responding to any unusual bank-related enquiry.

3. Educate your staff about phishing emails and why they should never be responded to. Inform your staff and associates that enquiries from banks rarely will come from unknown persons or unsigned emails. Bank enquiries are almost never general or generic. They tend to be about specific transactions, and due to privacy legislation and regulation, will virtually never be sent to anyone other than the firm’s authorized bank liaison person.

4. Use your phone’s call display to verify the identity of any unfamiliar caller purporting to be from your bank. Unless the incoming phone number coincides with your bank branch’s phone numbers, take a message, obtain a return number, contact your branch to report the call and verify the caller’s bona fides. Only then, if safe and appropriate, should you call back to address the unfamiliar caller’s enquiry.

5. Do a training session in your firm about the kinds of frauds that law firms now need to worry about and protect themselves against. Talk about examples in the press and on Avoid a Claim . Give your staff and lawyers the information they need to know to protect the firm’s bank accounts.

6. Ask your staff if they have ever received any suspicious calls or emails related to the firm ‘s banking. Be proactive about informing yourself on whether your firm has already possibly been targeted.

7. Instruct your bank to contact your liaison person for confirmation prior to releasing any funds via wire transfer from your account. Put it in writing. Ensure that your instructions are specifically noted on your Bank’s customer and account records.

8. Discuss this concern with your bank. Ask your bank for its advice on best practices to avoid victimization.

9. Ensure that all firm computers have up to date, working anti-virus and anti-malware software, and that such software is set to conduct daily scans to detect keyloggers and other malicious software that could be scooping confidential information from your network.

10. Stay informed. Fraudsters’ tactics will continue to evolve, and yesterday’s scam is unlikely to be tomorrow’s. Regularly read Avoid a Claim for updates on current risks and dangers.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

 

♫ Wake up and live, y’all!
(Wake up and live) Wake up and live now!
You see, one – one cocoa full a basket,
Whey they use you live big today: tomorrow you buried in-a casket…

Lyrics and music by Bob Marley, Anthony Davis, recorded by Bob Marley and The Wailers.

palm tree 2

This post is being written up in Whistler BC while on a spring-break ski trip.  Garry sent me an email that he will be off to Jamaica this week to lie under a palm tree.  Whether it be snow or sand that calls to you, the important thing is to heed that call and take the break from your routine and live big today!

The WebMD says:

Get away — often.  It’s a fact: People who take vacations have lower stress and a less risk of heart disease — not to mention a better outlook on life and more motivation to achieve goals.

Need more motivation? Psychology Today in an article entitled “The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health” says:

Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely, and depressed.

So there are multiple reasons for taking that break!

Psychology Today goes even further:

In a 2009 study, Canadian researchers Joudrey and Wallace reported that “active” leisure pursuits (such as golf!) and taking vacations helped to buffer or ameliorate the job stress among a sample of almost 900 lawyers.

Advantage Behavioural Healthcare says in regards to vacations:

Relationships are enriched

Spending time together enriches a marriage, which strengthens the family foundation. Through traditions and rituals, such as vacations, any relationship can be enriched. Vacations and other traditions make memories and are the glue that binds us. Vacation can provide an opportunity to talk with one another, learn new skills or discover new interests.

It is not just the taking of the vacation that has benefits. The WebMD goes further:

Even better, the biggest boost in happiness comes from planning the vacation. You can feel the effects up to 8 weeks prior to your trip. And when you’re done with that retreat, start planning the next one. Simply having something to look forward to can be rewarding.

I can hardly wait to start planning the next ski break!  Wake up and live now!

-David J. Bilinsky, Whistler BC.

 

Are you thinking of building (or updating) your law firm’s website?

As my firm begins an overhaul of our ten-year old site, I’ve certainly learned it can be a bit of a daunting task.

Website-building for lawyers has become considerably more complicated over the last decade. The public has become much more sophisticated in its expectations of professional websites and the extension of law firms’ online presence, beyond websites to blogs and social media, creates challenges for firms seeking to maintain a consistent message and identity online.

There is no “one size fits all” solution or template that will meet every firm’s needs. Nonetheless, it will be a good idea to keep the following guidelines in mind when updating or building your law firm’s website:

  1. You are writing for people, not Google. Besieged as we may be by magical claims to the contrary from the search engine optimizing (SEO) industry, trust me on this – online success is not about keywords and inbound links alone. In fact, Google is increasingly less tolerant of those who try to game it with robot text and suspicious links. Speak to your real, human readers in your online text.  If you share your professional knowledge in your own user-friendly voice, your writing will inevitably be rich with search-engine-friendly keywords without you even trying – and people, along with search engines, will find you.
  2. Give real attention to your firm’s branding and your website’s graphic design. Identify your audience. Craft a central theme or message. Maintain positivity. Create a modern, crisp professional “look.” And frankly, consult with marketing and design professionals.
  3. Dare to be different. Avoid overused graphic cliches like briefcases, handshakes, pens poised to sign, and the ubiquitous scales of justice. Oh, and ambulances too – no ambulances, ok?
  4. Content remains king. Fill your website with high-level, plain-English legal information regarding your areas of practice and interest. The more content, the merrier. Not only will the public learn about the law from your website (and that is typically why they are searching online), the public will also be learning about your firm’s legal expertise.
  5. Integrate your website with your other social media properties. Prominently display links to your blog, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter pages, especially if they are frequently updated with new posts. If you have blog posts that are relevant to your areas of practice, make them easy to find on your website.  Try to maintain consistent branding, logos and design themes across all platforms.
  6. Use photos and video.  The best modern legal websites often feature compelling images and topical video presentations to create interest, demonstrate competencies and enhance readability. Use multimedia to reach a wider audience and build on your firm’s central messages.
  7. Navigation should never be an afterthought. Ensure it is easy to get to key pages on your website from your home page – and from every page.
  8. Get professional headshots done and be creative with your firm’s professional biographies. Ensure that you include contact information, Skype particulars and an email link with each biography. Make it easy for clients and prospective clients to reach you.
  9. Keep it real. Your firm’s online personality should be authentic and it should closely align with your firm’s genuine offline character. Identify your firm’s strengths and points of difference – whether they involve client service, specific competencies, or your lengthy history of successes – and tactfully emphasize them online. Don’t try to clone someone else’s online presence. Above all, be yourself on your website.
  10. Consider including a password-protected client portal on your website.  Client portals can be employed to enable clients to retrieve documents and perform accounting functions online.  This is the way of the future.  In the decade ahead our websites will increasingly become hubs of interaction, communication and professional activity, rather than educational and marketing vehicles, alone.  Needless to say, if you intend to be an early-adopter in this direction, ensure you have the best professional guidance on maintaining security in all transactions and interactions.
  11. Ethics, ethics, ethics. Your law society’s professional conduct rules provide regulatory guidance on the do’s and don’ts of legal marketing and online professionalism. In short, read the Rules applicable to your province or territory and take them to heart. When you follow them, you make your firm – and all of  us – look good.

Happy web designing.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

 

♫  Doin it right, doin it right
Doin it right, doin it right
The blues bands cookin and the drummers burnin down
Doin it right on the wrong side of town!!!  

Lyrics, music and recorded by the Powder Blues.

fail

Law firms like to think that they do things rather well.  Exceptionally well, as a matter of fact. Particularly the biggest ones.

Only problem is, not everyone agrees with that perception.  Take Casey Flaherty for example.  Casey just happens to be the General Counsel at Kia Motors America.  In his words (and this is an exact quote) “Lawyers see themselves as Tom Cruise but most of their work is drudgery.. and they suck at using computers.”

His proof?  He gave a mock assignment to lawyers that he knew should take no longer than 30 minutes to complete. When tested the average time to compete the assignment was 5 hours  and some took as long as 8 hours.

He has devised a technology audit that he gives to firms before he engages them to test their technology competence.  We are not talking sophisticated legal tools here. Casey is testing knowledge and use of basic Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel and Adobe Acrobat.

From the ABA Journal article by Casey Flaherty himself, he stated:

Sample tasks include:

(a) formatting a motion in Word,

(b) preparing motion exhibits in PDF, and

(c) creating an arbitration exhibit index in Excel.

The specific tasks, however, are of little importance as they are designed to test general skills. The foregoing examples could just as easily be:

(a) formatting a contract in Word,

(b) Bates stamping a document production of PDFs, or

(c) isolating pertinent performance data in Excel—or, really, any of the other myriad, routine, low-value-added tasks that lawyers regularly complete on their computers (or should).

He has given the audit 10 times.  All firms failed…some spectacularly.  Both the median and mean was 5 hours.

What does he have to say about the audit results?

My claims are much broader: a lot (of waste exists in the legal system) and enough (of that waste is attributable to technological incompetence to make this a problem worth addressing)

The real issue is that law firms (and particularly the largest ones) have absolutely no incentive to have their lawyers increase their technological knowledge.  So long as they bill by the billable hour –  meaning there are no competitive pressures forcing them to acquire greater skills, this situation will exist.  The greater hours put into a file translate to a bigger bottom line.

There is something very very fundamentally wrong here. No other business or profession has been allowed to languish on the borders of technological incompetence and still be in business.  Most if not all other business would have been driven out of business by failing to meet mounting competitive pressures.

Is there a correlation here with Access to Justice?  The middle class have been claiming that lawyers are far too expensive and out of reach for their typical legal problems for some time now.

I wonder just how long the public will stand by before they start to call for fundamental changes to the legal system in order to bring about the changes that they desire.  My co-author for this column, Garry Wise of Toronto, in reviewing this article stated that:

But in fairness to Canadian lawyers, in part, without paperless courts and automated systems for court and other filings, there is even less incentive for us to master the skills that would be necessary to put electronic documents together.  Our system simply doesn’t require that we prepare or know how to complete effective “non-papyrus” documents.

I agree with Gary ..the solution is not piece-meal.  We have to address the entire workflow of how we produce, serve, file, share, store, search, and archive legal documents. I was presenting at a CBA Immigration conference in Vancouver last week and my co-presenter Laura Best a lawyer at Embarkation Law Group asked the attendees how many people in attendance filed electronically in federal court.  Only a handful of hands went up indicating that even where e-filing is possible, lawyers are not getting on the bandwagon (Laura happens to be one of the biggest users of e-filing here in BC, I understand).

This is a knowledge management issue, it is a management issue, it is an issue where all the players in the room have to come to the table to brainstorm on how to change not only behaviours but the system itself to encourage lawyers to bring about the necessary change.

The call to arms here for lawyers, law firms and regulators is to prod, push, cajole and otherwise mandate greater change before this change is thrust upon us.  We have to become students of change and move with the technological times. Management of firms should not stand by and simply be satisfied with the status quo.  They should be bringing in IT training (complete with tests and assignments) to ensure that their lawyers are up to speed on at least basic technological tasks.  There are no lack of trainers and programs, both in house and available thru consultants for this to occur. Furthermore, court administration, judges and tribunals should be right on-side and equally looking at how their systems can be improved to increase efficiencies and effectiveness.

Perhaps another message for general counsel like Casey Flaherty is to look for smaller firms that could do it right…even if they come from the wrong side of town….

-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.

 

dicta machine

After months of nagtext messages from my cell carrier, all promoting  my available hardware upgrades, I finally made the move several weeks ago and switched to a sparkling new iPhone 5s.

I wasn’t much interested in the new (for me) Siri functions, to be honest. I had long ago lived through my friend’ eager demonstrations of Siri’s amusing ability to handle their obscene test questions with digital grace. There was little novelty left.

Little did I realize that the technologies associated with Siri would ultimately be a pathway for my rediscovery of the long-lost art of dictation.

Back in “the day” when I first started practicing law, most lawyers dictated their written work. Old-fashioned dicta machines had been rather large and clunky appliances, but by the time of my call, battery driven machines equipped with micro-cassette tapes were the norm. They were a bit smaller than the current iPhone, but twice as heavy.

Typical workflow involved lawyers dictating on client matters, and then handing off the tapes to our assistants.  They would transcribe these tapes on their electric typewriters/early generation DOS computers, and when the tape was done, return completed, typed drafts to the dictating lawyer for review.

Since revisions to these drafts mostly involved either messy, liquid white-out solutions or re-typing of entire documents, it was in the dictating lawyers’ (and assistants’) interests to get it right the first time.  With practice, we mostly  did.

I remember well, those Sunday afternoons I spent in my early offices, nearly straddling my filing cabinet  as I rifled from file to file to file, dictating updates, reports, follow-ups, and even pleadings on each and every active matter.

As I completed dictating on a matter, I would place its paper file atop an ever-growing pile, which would be left for my assistant when all dictation was done, with tape perched on top (like a little cassette crown).

I’d feel a nearly devious sense of satisfaction, anticipating the looks on my assistants’ faces as they encountered these formidable Monday morning piles, knowing they’d be thinking, “I’m never going to get through all this stuff.”

Back then, that felt like productivity.

I tell this long tale of the past, knowing that over time, with the advent of desktops, laptops, notebooks, smartphones, and tablets, we lawyers were blessed with very effective tools to do our own typing, and little by little, dictation fell out of fashion, in my practice at least.

My new iPhone has changed all that.

What started with the rather annoying problem of a narrower keyboard that kept me clunkily hitting the microphone button in error (as I searched in vain for commas and semicolons), evolved into a re-discovery of the art of dictation, and a parallel reawakening as to just how efficient and effective a workflow tool it can be.

As you will see in the attached video, the iPhone makes it all so easy. Simply click on the microphone icon on the bottom of your keyboard, speak away, and when you’re done, the iPhone will miraculously transcribe it all before your very eyes.

(In case you’re wondering, I used my old iPhone to make the video of my new iPhone).

Dictating well is a discipline, and probably will take some practice. But I think you will see that as you master dictation, the words will flow more easily and coherently. Beyond that, ideas and insights will emerge as you literally ‘think aloud.”

Dictation may well be anathema to those who prefer a cut and paste world of fill-in-the-blanks and templates. I like those too, but frankly find that when I dictate emails and more complex documents, both the quality of my work and the detail I am able to include are superior.

Perhaps that’s because I speak more quickly than I type, and it’s simply faster and easier to dictate.

But I also find that dictation engages a different form of mental activity than typing. It’s more like free-flowing conversation or oral argument, as opposed to the distracting mechanical concentration that is necessary for typing on a keyboard, especially a tiny, mobile keyboard.

In any event, I’ve once again started to dictate in my practice. I’ve been using my iPhone to dictate emails, reporting letters and memos, in particular.

And the good news is there is no danger to the assistants in my office that the renewal of my affections with dictation will ever again leave them with insurmountable, Monday morning towers of files, tapes on top, and a full week’s worth of rote work awaiting.

The iPhone handles all that, instantly, and they remain freed up to do far more serious tasks that add real value to our collaborations.

So Today’s Tip is…

Use your iPhone to rediscover the joys of dictation.

It may make your life easier and your work better.  It may even help you get to inbox zero (and inbox hero).

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

 

♫  Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye my love
I can’t hide, can’t hide, can’t hide what has come…♫

Lyrics, music and recorded by Avril Lavigne.

Goodbye

April 8, 2014 is a significant date for users of Microsoft XP and Office 2003. On that date, support ends for both of these venerable and well-loved products.

Microsoft wants its 100 Million XP and Office 2003 users to upgrade to Windows 7 or 8 and Office 2010 or Office 365.

MS has relented on MSE (Security Essentials updates) and will continue these until July 14, 2015 but that does not mean that you should stay with these products.

The time, as they say, has come to say goodbye.  From a management perspective, your choice is to try to upgrade your software on your existing hardware or to upgrade your hardware as well as the associated operating system and Office suite.

What does end of support mean?  According to Microsoft:

It means you should take action. After April 8, 2014, there will be no new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates.

Running Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 in your environment after their end of support date may expose your company to potential risks, such as:

Security & Compliance Risks: Unsupported and unpatched environments are vulnerable to security risks. This may result in an officially recognized control failure by an internal or external audit body, leading to suspension of certifications, and/or public notification of the organization’s inability to maintain its systems and customer information.

Lack of Independent Software Vendor (ISV) & Hardware Manufacturers support: A recent industry report from Gartner Research suggests “many independent software vendors (ISVs) are unlikely to support new versions of applications on Windows XP in 2011; in 2012, it will become common.” And it may stifle access to hardware innovation: Gartner Research further notes that in 2012, most PC hardware manufacturers will stop supporting Windows XP on the majority of their new PC models.

What should you be doing?  The time is short.  Lawyers can not afford the downtime that can come with your computers becoming infected as a result of security vulnerabilities by continuing to use XP.  You need to be proactive.

You need to determine if your hardware can run Windows 7 (download the Advisor here). However, if your computer is an older one, chances are that you will stand to benefit (and indeed may be required) to purchase a current PC (unfortunately most new computers will come with Windows 8 preinstalled – most business users will want to downgrade to Windows 7).

Once you upgrade your operating system you have to reinstall all your software by hand (you will need all the original installation disks). You will then have to test your current software to see if it will run properly under Windows 7.   Peripherals as well may no longer be compatible or may require driver updates.

The point is that time is ticking.  You need to establish a budget and book your IT support time (*they will be in short supply as well as the ‘window’ closes*).  You will want to have the full conversion, upgrades and testing all this completed in advance of April 8, 2014.

Don’t wait.  Unfortunately you can’t hide from what has come.

-David J. Bilinsky, Vancouver, BC.

 

Heenan-SCC

Canada’s legal sector appears to be on the cusp of major change.

From the towers of Bay Street to our courthouses across the nation, we may be embarking upon a bumpy, but perhaps overdue ride of reorganization, re-prioritization and rationalization.

Last week’s sudden collapse of Heenan Blaikie and the Supreme Court of Canada’s January 23, 2014 ruling in Hryniak v Maudlin could be harbingers of the revolution ahead.

While the Heenan, Blaikie debacle may have more, ultimately, to teach us about human shortcomings and hubris than the perils of the immediate legal marketplace, it does underscore the reality that defections, shakeups, acquisitions and takeovers have become the norm among our nations largest law firms.

The formerly stable, blue-chip legacy firms of 30 years ago have, by and large, been assimilated, merged and swallowed up into huge, global legal enterprises in which I suspect the participation of Canadian branch offices reflects a mere footnote in both balance sheets and boardroom influence.

We can only predict that this trend is bound to continue, whether it be because of internal politics and intrigue, changing client requirements and demands, or the mere, unavoidable economies of scale in an era of increasing globalization and resultingly, decreasing autonomy within Canada’s largest firms.

This cannot help but have a significant impact on the environments in which many of Canada’s lawyers work, the way they conduct business, and the expectations they may safely maintain about the future.

For those of us who work in smaller environments, however, our reactions as outside observers may range from gossipy fascination to sheer relief that our professional lives are not subject on a day-to-day basis to such unexpected tremors and eruptions.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hyriniak leaves the rest of us with much to ponder about the future of lawyering in our civil justice system.

The most interesting aspect of this ruling remains our Supremes’ unanimous admonition to the nation’s court administrators and judges that they had better ready themselves and their judicial systems for a flood of summary judgment motions, aimed at achieving cost-effective finality, at the likely expense of the civil trial, as we have long known it.

This may prove to be a revolutionary moment in Canadian civil jurisprudence.

Our lower courts have long played a game of dance and dodge when it comes to harnessing the potential of summary judgment proceedings to render final determinations. With every Rule change that urged increasing use of summary judgment motions, our Courts responded to this mandate by establishing extraordinarily high, often ambiguous thresholds of proof and certainty as prerequisites for their preparedness to rule on a final basis.

Underlying this hesitation was a genuine deference by our judges to the civil trial as a time-honored and tested best methodology for getting to the truth.

The prohibitive cost of civil trials, however, has made such “getting to the truth” a near impossibility for most. As a result, the civil trial remains a relatively rare occurrence in the lives of even the most seasoned civil litigation practitioners.

In Ontario, the costs consequences of losing a summary judgment motion and lengthy delays in the availability of motion dates have effectively thwarted the summary judgment motion as an alternate process for most ordinary litigants.

The result has been an access to justice nightmare.  And for practical purposes, our lofty ideals regarding the civil trial process have been reduced for most to the stuff of folklore and ancient jurisprudential history.

One is left to wonder whether the more ready availability of summary judgment proceedings in civil matters will ultimately lead to more courts ruling in more cases, with fewer cases settling.  Will we observe a corresponding decline in the prohibitive influence of legal fees as a reason for avoiding the legal process altogether?

For lawyers, this change may require a heightened emphasis upon court advocacy, rather than negotiation and mediation skills, as the primary tool in our box for achieving our clients’ objectives.

More broadly, the question remains – will this new world of summary judgment lead to better, more fair outcomes, or will we be left with a “quick and dirty” justice system that will serve to further frustrate and disgruntle the public and the profession?

We are about to find out, it appears.

In either event, the theme of our times in the legal profession will remain “change.”

For new practitioners this may be a daunting experience.  Will our future success stories be comprised only of those who will see and seize the opportunities in the new horizon that is emerging?

How do we plan for a future in which the stability of our largest firms is uncertain, the civil trial will be relegated to the dustbins of history for the average citizen, and changes are now emerging with ever increasing speed?  I don’t know the answer to that questions, but I do suspect that is now particularly critical for law firms and individual lawyers to take stock.

And that is today’s SlawTip: Take stock and plan ahead.

Start drawing the roadmap for your firm ‘s emergence in the new legal frontier we are only beginning to see. Assess where your practice is, where you would like to get, where your talents lie, and what the opportunities and obstacles look like for you and your firm in the future.

And expect the unexpected.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)