Who’s Minding the Store?

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon occasionally engages in productive activity, and we’re proud to share with you our latest achievement.  You don’t have to be a lawyer to love Effectively Staffing Your Law Firm, 2nd Edition.

Let’s look at the details:

Good law office staff is harder to find (and keep) than clients (and sometimes spouses). Not a mere receptionist, typist, and filing clerk, good support staff can be the lawyer’s alter ego, right arm, custodian, den mother, rabbi, and guardian angel. Could you manage if your staff didn’t show up tomorrow morning?

The average solo or small firm lawyer may spend more waking hours each day with staff than with a spouse or significant other. And in some cases, even years longer. They will devote all kinds of time and money searching for that significant other, courting the person, learning how to live with that person, being trained by that person—but when it comes to staff, an “Oh, that one will do” more frequently than not seems to be the way it is all approached.


Will El Hermano Mayor de Leon be Watching You?

Writing in Fast Company, Austin Carr made more than a few scratch their heads in wonder this evening:

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls "the most secure city in the world." In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners.

Houston-based lawyer Ignacio Pinto-Leon, who is admitted to practice in Mexico as well as New York, smells an urban legend in the making:

  • Leon is a municipality in the state of Guanajuato. I would think the city does not have a budget for the price tag of the technology. The state executive maybe; the federal government for sure. But not a city.
  • City jails house only drunks and prostitutes for up to 36 hours for each infraction.
  • The state and federal government run the real jails. So, the first take of irises on inmates would give a very poor—but probably cheerful—sample.
  • Put  fancy little cameras in public places in Mexico, and most likely they would get stolen quickly. I’m not bashing my countrymen; just guessing. 
  • So, it would flag the "bad guys." Well, the bad guys in Mexico are really bad guys. They have really big guns—we don’t sell guns in Mexico except through the Mexican Secretary of Defense, but have a neighbor nearby who sells everything from grenades and whatnots at good prices. And sometimes the bad guys attack in groups of forty or more. 
  • Kidnappers would routinely include ripping the eyeballs to avoid detection.
  • Is the government going to share the information with stores in the case of shoplifters? Really? Entrepreneurs distrust the government; why would they open their computers to them?
  • The only two sources with information are: the company’s webpage, and a press release published in an online newspaper. The press release is also by the same company and a local partner.
  • No AP, REUTERS, NOTIMEX or any other agency note. Nada.

Having said that, Pinto-Leon commented:

Mexico is Mexico. Few things would surprise me regarding my beloved country. We say that compared to Mexico, Kafka was a costumbrist (Mexico is essentially Kafkian by nature). I don’t know if they have the technology to try it on such a wide population. My guess is that the note is inaccurate. It would be interesting to read more about it. Constitutionally speaking, there could be some freedom of transit and freedom of privacy issues too. 


Are You LegallyMinded?

They’re as plain as the Big Chief tablets generations of school kids learned to write on. They require no terribly sophisticated tools to set up and keep running. Gaining entry usually only means having a working e-mail address, an Internet connection, and the ability to send e-mail. Stashing away an important message is as easy as archiving any other piece of e-mail. Mailing lists, the Model T of electronic discussion, offer up no fancy bells, whistles and alluring features. They’ve duked it out with fancy web forums, and they won.

Last summer, I was invited to be among an august group of private beta testers for a brand spanking new social  networking project for the legal profession. Oddly enough, while I was asked to keep the details of the project "under wraps" without  being asked to execute any kind of non-disclosure agreement, at the same time I was invited to promote the site as something new for  the profession. Just how quiet, secret testing was supposed to take  place in a parallel space with promotion is beyond me. (Contact me  directly if you’re legally minded.)

Promising cutting-edge social networking for the legal community, this project offered up a carnival of blogs, discussion groups, profiles, wikis, the ability to search out other members on  a people map, and a host of articles on practice management,  careers, education, work, life and community. The only things missing were the sounds of an organ-grinder and a ringmaster promising a "really big show."

The exciting new product, which purportedly is intended  to ultimately replace plain ol’ mailing lists, was definitely not as thrilling as watching 1950’s episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show on HD TV. What went wrong? Was the new product a day late and a dime short? Or was it trying to offer each of its potential users everything under the sun, even if it in a watered-down version? As far as the concept of electronic discussion groups, it just plain missed the mark. There are times when the plain and simple, tried-and-true, formats remain the superior product. Mailing lists are going to be around for a long, long time.

That was my September Mailing List Review column for Internet Law Researcher, where I’ve served as a contributing editor for the eleven years last past.

The secret social networking project for the legal profession, created by the American Bar Association is no longer a secret. LegallyMinded has thrown open its doors to the public—and anyone can join in. Yes, you’ve got that right. It’s not limited to ABA members or lawyers. Anyone from your first-born child to Osama bin Laden, from a client right down to the local dogcatcher and Sarah Palin can join right in. While the site has been referred to by some as LegallyBlonde, I’m just not going to comment. It wouldn’t be the proper thing to do. Wouldn’t be prudent. Well, for the the time being. Like they say, the jury’s still out.

If you can read this blog, you’re invited to mosey on over to LegallyMinded. Put up your feet, lean back and stay a while.


No Suspicion Necessary

Your essential stuff – your laptop, thumb drive, cell phone, iPod, and even books and reading material – just got a little less sacred whenever you cross the border into or out of the U.S. And the government can keep your stuff for as long as it wants.

Read the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Policy Regarding Border Search of Information here.

It’s more than just chilling. It’s frightening.


This is Your Brain on Drugs

Fried_egg,_sunny_side_up You remember the threats (or were those promises?) about how drugs would make you stupid? 36 years ago, we laughed at the ridiculousness of Reefer Madness. And we chortle today at the failed fried egg campaign of two decades back.

And even greater danger lurks, and it’s Google, according to Nicholas Carr’s piece in Atlantic Monthly. Credit here has to go to lawyer, writer, code monkey, and Nebraskan Richard Dooling for pointing it out in his blog. How many times a day do you access Google instead of using your brain?

If you ask me, and I know you didn’t, but this is my blog, the real danger lies in Wikipedia. Just think about how many idiots pass themselves off as savants just because they rely upon its entries?


Why We Really Blog

It’s not really about fame and glory – or even the chance to market ourselves. It’s not about the money we earn from those Google ads. Or even warming up before embarking upon some productive activity or preventing it from occurring the first place.

We blog because it’s a good for us.

It’s a brain thing, and it’s cheap therapy, says Scientific American.

Thanks to Two Weeks Notice for turning us on to why we blog.


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Old Lawyers Really Like Us

In his Winter 2008 Making Technology Work for You column in Experience magazine, published by the American Bar Association Senior Lawyers Division, California lawyer Jeff Allen (who also is editor-in-chief of GP|Solo Technology & Practice Guide and Technology eReport) has some good things to say about Staring at Strangers. Including SAS among the interesting blogs he recommends to readers, he writes:

Staring at Strangers. A blog written by two, often politically incorrect, attorneys who comment on whatever strikes their fancy.

It’s too bad that Experience magazine isn’t accessible to anyone online. The Senior Lawyers keep those issues locked up to those who aren’t members of the club. Heck, I’m not even a member of their club.

You Can Keep Your Kindle

My name is jennifer, and I’m addicted to Amazon. Everyone who knows me knows this, catering to me by letting Amazon drop-ship books and books to their U.S. addresses. Each time I come back home from the U.S., my luggage is filled with the latest Amazon order.

Amazon tried to ruin my life by introducing the Kindle. Even though I’m not particularly fond of e-books, there was the appeal of simply possessing the latest toy on the block. Its portability and style weren’t selling points, nor was the idea of even buying books more cheaply. David Pogue of the New York Times always gives trusted advice, and his impression of the Kindle just wasn’t that glowing.

How long would Amazon’s free wireless conductivity last? Surely, not forever.

I read on.

With Whispernet, you can be anywhere, think of a book, and get it in one minute.

Kindle Unless you happen to be in one of the areas not shown in green on the map. That’s most of the U.S.




That wasn’t the end of my worries. Amazon insists that it can’t sell the Kindle to customers living outside of the U.S. I guess it’s worried that foreigners will do something dangerous with the Kindle, like read a book. There’ll be no Kindle under the Christmas tree for people who live in Mexico. That’s OK. I really didn’t want this piece of junk in the first place.

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Online Communities

Online communities predate the World Wide Web and other aspects of the Internet. Since the early days of Usenet (USEr NETwork), developed nearly 30 years ago for university folk to communicate among themselves, lawyers have participated in online communities, both for social as well as professional reasons. And even before that, a Bulletin Board System, or BBS, enabled users to exchange messages in the ether. Because those systems required distant users to dial in on a telephone, incurring long-distance charges, participation was primarily local and, consequently, small. Pioneer users had to familiarize themselves with the likes of gopher, Veronica, Archie, Jughead, FTP, and the Unix grep command, concepts that seem as quaint today as platen, typewriter ribbon, and foolscap. Not surprisingly, most citizens of online communities were computer enthusiasts.

Read on at the Technology & Practice Guide special issue of GPSolo magazine. And yes, I wrote that article.

Sending the Wrong Message

Everyone’s reimbursed for Banff.

Honey, I can do lunch at T.G.I.Friday’s around one.

Oh baby, oh baby, you make me so hot. I want you NOW.

All right, you did it again. You obviously didn’t learn your lesson from the last time you pulled that stunt. It’s all over, bucko. You’re toast. You know perfectly well what you did. You went off and sent that email to the wrong person, said the wrong thing to the right person, or did something perfectly foolish with email. Your face is red. I can see that right from my side of the monitor. You close down your email program, shut off the computer, and skulk away, wondering if your reputation has been damaged beyond repair. All the disclaimers in the world aren’t going to get you out of this one. You’re on email probation now.

Almost everyone has distributed a personal message to the wrong person at one time or another. Those who haven’t are merely waiting for their turn to come. It’s practically inevitable. If you haven’t already done so, you will. I have.

Ross Kodner calls it the “oh-no-second,” that flick of a lapse between your brain and your mouse that sends the unstoppable. You call it disaster.

A quick hit on “send,” and before your finger levitates a single millimeter from the mouse, you realize that a personal messages is now zooming through space to the screens of unintended eyes across the world. There’s no postmaster from whom the missent missive can be retrieved. You can only dream that the recipient will think that an evil someone spoofed your address.

PRIVILEGED – ATTORNEY CLIENT CONFIDENTIAL began one lawyer’s email to a client, outlining strategies not meant for the eyes and ears of others. But a slip of a click led the message to distribution to a mailing list of over a thousand lawyers. The errant lawyer immediately caught her mistake, and sent forth a second message, bearing the subject line “Emergency! Do Not Open, and Delete if You Do,” confessing her sin of sending confidential mail to the list, asking recipients to delete the mail, not to forward it, and to treat it otherwise with the respect usually reserved for toxic waste. And then she followed up with a plea to the list manager, asking that the missent missive be wiped from the archives and offering to pay all expenses associated with its removal. The lawyer did all that could reasonably be done to control the damage on a Sunday morning.

“Judge Juan Fulano is big fat idiot and his breath stinks” your message read. You intended to send it to Lisa Loopner, but it went off to Lisa Loopinski instead, because you relied upon the autocomplete feature to dredge up all of the Lisas in your address book, letting it finish the address after you’d typed in L-i.

No autocomplete for you. You used it, and it abused you. Give it up. All the careful keyboarding in the world won’t save you from its dangers. Jim Calloway, Oklahoma State Bar Association Practice Management Advisor, describes how to disable autocomplete in Outlook at Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips Blog. In Eudora, it’s as simple as Tools | Options | Auto-completion.

Eudora also has the BossWatch feature, which warns users before sending email to selected addresses.

Email encryption is widely available and easier to use than ever. So, why aren’t more lawyers taking the time to encrypt email? Or does the problem lie with the recipient who can’t figure out how to use the Captain Magic decoder ring?

It’s possible to prevent those potentially humiliating situations.

• Let the mail season at least a few minutes before sending. Disable Immediate Send, sending off email after enough time has elapsed for the ink to dry. A few minutes isn’t going to make a great difference in the grander scheme of things. Even a couple of hours.
• Check, check and double-check what goes out. Oh, but lawyers are always in such a rush.
• Slow down.
• Edit messages carefully, paying proper attention to grammar and punctuation, and verify the recipient’s email address more than with a cursory glance.
• If you still can’t trust yourself, use a completely different email address for mailing list mail than you use for important client mail.
• Hire an armed guard to monitor your email habits.

When your fingers fly off in the wrong direction, it’s not the end of the world. Recall the message, hoping against hope. Apologize and mean it. Take that pledge to be careful the next time seriously. Realize that everyone makes mistakes.

On the other hand, there’s always Paraguay. Change your name, undergo some serious plastic surgery, enter the Witness Protection Program, and move to the unnamed city populated by bus drivers who’ve fled the scene of horrifying accidents in third world countries.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GP|Solo, receives her email at jjrose@jjrose.com in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. This column originally appeared in Technology eReport, published by the American Bar Association General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.

Marshmallows in Your E-mail

In 1920, bringing a Jell-O mold to a church supper marked the bearer as a sophisticate, because only those with refrigeration could do so. In the early days of online communication, everyone appended a favorite quote or ASCII art to the end of a signature. Doing so bore a mark of sophistication – that the sender possessed the ability to automatically include something special. 

Valuable information – the sender’s name, firm, address, phone number, e-mail address and URL for a home page – can be found in a signature, but frequently those signatures can become old and tired when repeated time after time after each post to a mailing list. Cute quotations and ruminations on the sender’s philosophy of life, along with ASCII art have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced with pager and cell phone and VOIP numbers, efax and plain ‘ol fax numbers, alternate e-mail addresses, and everything short of the sender’s Dun & Bradstreet rating. 

I counted 181 words among 27 lines in one frequent correspondent’s signature – setting forth the dates and place of the poster’s schedule for the next year, all current and former professional board chairmanships, a reminder to read the poster’s columns in various publications, and three quotes. The only information that seemed to be missing was his height and weight.
In professional correspondence, it’s important to convey a certain amount of contact information, and publicizing the sender’s website is part of that. Even then a long and clever signature really isn’t necessary. A savvy e-mailer should check the default signature to make sure that the same old signature doesn’t automatically follow each and every e-mail.  Those long signatures convey as much information as maraschino cherries and marshmallows provide nutritional balance in gelatin mold. And both genuinely signal that the bearer’s really behind the times.

Take Robin, a lawyer practicing in Baltimore. Her signature includes the address and telephone number of her office, the URL for her websites, Cohan & West, P.C. and Qui Tam Online Network, and, because she’s concerned about the environment:

                    Please don’t print this e-mail unless you really need to.

She exercises enough restraint not to force that upon every e-mail message that she sends, so the icon and message don’t become worn out.

In the The Wall Street Journal, Katherine Rosman, in The Rise of MeMail, explores the alternatives available to users enchanted with Smileys, emoticons, and other crap who still want to convince the rest of the world that they’re amateurs and buffoons.