Monday, April 27, 2015

Round Table Law Featured in #CBA National Magazine #Tech Issue

I had the pleasure of chatting with Julie Sobowale who writes for the Canadian Bar Association's National magazine quite a few months ago.  She is one of those kindred spirits who sees the same things wrong with the legal profession that I do.  We talked a long while about many things that have little or nothing to do with technology.
Illustration: Dave Murray/i2i Art, Image courtesy CBA National

But her reason for calling me was an article published recently in CBA National entitled "Put Technology to Work for You."

My part in it is minor, but I'm happy that there are people out there pushing the idea that the thoughtful, effective use of technology to make law more efficient is a norm, and not an exception.

Good  job, Julie.

If you are interested in legal news and technology you can (and should) follow Julie at @nslegal on Twitter.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Alberta Leaders' Debate

I watched the leader's debate today, and clips are avaliable here if you didn't get the chance.

There were a couple of notable moments.  Everyone looked a little sheepish when Notley told Prentice that he should be nicer to his donors, in reference to Jean.  I thought that was compelling.  Notley also jumped down Prentice's throat every time he mischaracterized something in the NDP platform.

Somehow, Prentice managed to sound condescending and sarcastic saying something about "math is difficult" while talking about an error in the NDP platform, and then proceed to confuse a 20% increase in taxes with a 20% rate of tax.

Overall, I was amazed at the quality of Notley's performance.  She was pleasant, witty, but forceful when she needed to be.  I thought she won, and evidently I'm not the only one.  Online polls have her as the winner, with 70% or higher choosing her.

Prentice was unoffensive, but ineffective.  He failed to attack Jean at all, except to say that his budget math was off, and then when he went after Notley she defended herself until he trailed off being spoken over by someone more interesting.  Some of his tactics were also clearly unfair.  Accusing the NDP job incentive program of being one in which the government would pick what sorts of jobs were funded, imputing the positions of labour leaders to her, but she defended herself ably.

Swann, with all due respect, didn't belong there.  He repeatedly threw softball questions to the other candidates, he was having difficulty reading from notes, and at one point he literally inadvertently threw his speaking notes off the front of the podium, and tried unsuccessfully to catch them before they fell, while in the middle of a statement.  Add to that the annoyance of his insistence on stating Liberal policy by saying "The Liberals will..." No, they won't.  An "If elected government" would have demonstrated some humility. Or at least a sense of reality.  It was the most embarrassing performance I've seen in a political debate, ever.

Jean will not raise your taxes.  That much is clear.  Also, the Wildrose evidently think that man made climate change is real.  Not sure how much further than that they have gotten, but it is no longer a point of dispute.  I sincerely believe that given his recent family trauma, he deserves a great deal of respect for continuing to participate in this election. Still, it was a bit strange to have the leader of the party ostensibly winning this election be first so uninteresting to listen to, and second more or less ignored by the rest of the people in the room.

I wonder if he is not being underestimated.

The fight was between Prentice and Notley, with Jean accusing everyone else in the room of raising taxes, and Swann being more or less irrelevant. I think that means that Prentice has polling numbers that show that his weakness in Edmonton is where he can get the most seats back.  Which is very troubling for the PCs, because the lead the NDP have generated in the Edmonton area is... well it rivals the kind of support that the PCs used to get in rural ridings.  If Edmonton, where the NDP are polling between 60-70%, is your best bet?  You don't have a lot of good bets.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Tell the Unviersity of Alberta Faculty of Law to #SaveSteve

A friend posted the above on his facebook feed, and a couple of professors at the law school have been tweeting about it.

Evidently, Steve, the guy who sells coffee at the "Hello My Friend Cafe" in the student lounge at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, has had his lease terminated, with less than a month's notice.

People are upset.  If that's hard to understand, let me try to help.

Everyone in the legal profession goes to law school. Not everyone has a class together, or shares a professor, or studies together. But everybody who attended the U of A Faculty of Law has had their day made better by Steve from Hello My Friend Cafe.

He is a shared experience for us.  A touchstone.

He was not selling coffee and tea, so much as selling comfort.  As a second year with a newborn at home, I couldn't have made it without him. And if you didn't have the money for it, he just gave it away on a promise.

He knew you were good for it, and he was happy to tell you that he trusted you precisely because you were going to be a lawyer. Some people, if you heard them say that, you would think they meant that you were going to be able to afford it.  Somehow, when he said it, you knew that he meant you were trustworthy.

I am personally hurt at the idea that they would kick him out without so much as giving him a month's notice.

The faculty ought to pay the guy to stay there, and sell coffee, and give every student 1 credit for a part-time course in customer service. I aspire to be as good at customer services as he is.

To lose him is stupid, and impoverishes the law school community.  To dismiss him in this way is disrespectful of his contribution to the community.  He deserves so much better.

Please, if you are one of the people who has this shared experience, please tell the Faculty of Law that Steve deserves better, and that none of us deserve Steve, but that we have an opportunity to keep him around a bit longer.

Six Sigma won't help you estimate costs for flat fees.

I recently read a white paper suggesting that six sigma techniques could be used to improve the "process" of estimating the costs of providing legal services (in lawyers' hours, obviously).

It strikes me as all kinds of wrong-headed.  There are things that six sigma can do.  But it is most useful when it deals with an output that can be measured, that has a normally-distributed variation, and where you control the factors that affect the variation.

Your success in estimating client costs in, for example, a litigation matter, fails on the last two.  There is no reason to believe that the costs of a law suit are normally distributed.  And there are myriad factors involved over which the lawyer has no control.

The differences between suing someone and making a widget are so massive that it's hard to see why you would ever hope to get an answer from one for the other.

The analogy is not to widget manufacturing.  The analogy is to something more along the lines of weather forecasting.  You get better at it the shorter the time horizon you apply, and we only understand it well enough to predict approximately the next week unless the pattern you are following is certain type of massive disaster.