As I’ve noted before, one of my favorite posts ever on this blog is called “Blawgspace is a Generous Place,” written nearly 3 years ago. I have the feeling that my recent post called “The ‘Unbearable’ Everydayness of Blogging” will become one of my favorites as well.
Both are outside the “normal” subject matter of this blog, yet, like many other bloggers, I’ve found that the most satisfying posts often come when you reach across boundaries or step outside your blog role (pun intended).
In the “everydayness of blogging” post, I started to reflect blogging a bit, something I don’t write so much about anymore. In fact, my last significant writing on meta-blogging was called “Lawyer Blogging Basics – How to Use Blogging Software without Becoming a Blogger” and it’s not exactly about blogging. More than a year ago, I wrestled with the debate over “what is a blog?” and my aversion to definitionitis in a post called “What is a Blog?” That’s the post where I stated my general principle of blogging – “Let thousands of blogs bloom” – and lamented the occasional trend of people wanting to define the “one true blog” and have everyone fall in line to meet some proscriptive norm. I personally like blogs that break the “rules,” so I’m not a fan of that approach.
For what it’s worth, I think I got closer to what I wanted to say about definitions in the recent post “Explaining Blogs and RSS: A Primer.”
However, everything always comes back to “blawgspace is a generous place.” That’s such a core element of my blogging experience and my own blogging philosophy.
It’s Thanksgiving time and I have more people to say thank you to than I could ever imagine. In my little way, however, I want to say thank you to those in blawgspace and blogspace for welcoming me in and making in part of the coolest network of people and ideas going. May it remain as inviting, encouraging and welcoming for years to come. Tend your own flower and be willing to let thousands of flowers bloom in their own unique ways and see what we all can learn, together, in the process.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
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Reed Smith’s loss is our gain. Denise Howell has been writing the best stuff I’ve read in along time about the intersection of law and technology on Bag and Baggage, Between Lawyers and her newest blog, the highly-recommended Lawgarithms.
I wanted to single out her post today on Between Lawyers called “VLFs Should Embrace VRM.” part of an ongoing discussion we’re having over there about virtual law firms and related issues. I’ve listened to two of the three parts of the podcasts she recommended (and found myself longing for a stronger hand at the editing controls on the podcast, but I think my patience will be rewarded in part 3). For those who prefer reading to listening, start with this post from Doc Searls.
The VRM (vendor relationship management) notion, simplified as “the user is in control,” when applied to law has some resonance with the idea of “fourth generation legal technology,” something I posted about and haven’t yet returned to and developed in writing.
It’s a subject I’m really looking forward to discussing with Denise, the rest of the Between Lawyers group, and others. Maybe we can do a podcast on the topic.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
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I first learned about “Reed Smith University” and the other Reed Smith approaches to the practice of law that led me to mention the firm frequently as an example of an innovative law firm from Denise Howell. Given that Denise is a pioneering lawyer blogger and widely-recognized lawyer in digital media, Internet and intellectual property areas, it made sense that she would be part of an innovative firm. I see now that, as usual, maybe it’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.
Saturday, I learned on Denise’s blog, Bag and Baggage, that Reed Smith had fired Denise. I’m revising my opinion of Reed Smith, drastically. As Carolyn Elefant suggests, Reed Smith has probably guaranteed that rather than being known as an innovator or a premier law firm, it will be known instead as “the firm that dumped Denise Howell, one of blawging’s greatest talents.” Probably not the marketing move any firm would like to make, eh?
You might note that Denise’s notes about Reed Smith University mentioned above appeared in The Industry Standard. This is the type of publicity in the type of industry publication that most law firms would kill for. Ironic, isn’t it?
[Disclosure: Denise is a co-founder and co-author with me of the Blawg Channel and Between Lawyers group blog projects and I don’t even pretend to be objective in my comments. I have not talked with Denise, however, about this happening or the events underlying it. My opinions, as usual, are uniquely my own.]
As I’ve said elsewhere, I thoroughly recommend that you read Denise’s post announcing her departure because it is well-written, savvy and raises important issues for the legal profession.
I was struck immediately by the irony that, as an appellate lawyer, Denise would require excellent writing, analytical and organizational skills. These are exhibited in great abundance in her post, making Reed Smith’s decision to fire her even more inexplicable than it first appeared to me.
As a friend of mine – an excellent writer – said after reading Denise’s post – “why can’t I write something that good?” Indeed, I was involved in hiring at law firms for many years and I’d be willing to hire Denise as an appellate lawyer on the basis of seeing that post as a writing sample.
All of which leads to speculation about what Reed Smith is thinking.
Let me say first that law firms obviously can and will make business decisions, especially personnel decisions, for reasons they believe are in the best interest of the firm. Others, of course, are free to second-guess those decisions. It is certainly fair to reach Carolyn Elefant’s conclusion: “Because if you’re a talented woman planning on having kids, why in the world would you EVER choose to work there?”
I’ve been thinking about what lessons we might be able to learn from this situation in our increasingly interconnected and Internet-focused world.
Based on my experience in law firms, inexplicable firing decisions (and sometimes inexplicable hiring decisions) almost invariably result in people inside and outside the firm drawing one of three conclusions:
1. The firm is slimming down for a merger. One standard approach in a pre-merger setting is to strip away people who will not fit into the new entity. Often that may mean of counsel and other lawyers in non-traditional arrangements. Since Reed Smith has engaged in some merger activity recently and there were stories of another one “on the street” at the end of last year, you might reasonably conclude that something along those lines was involved. If you saw other departures or departures from another likely merger candidate, this theory would be reinforced. Even if nothing is in the works, this type of decision invite exactly that kind of speculation..
2. The firm simply made a bad business decision. Hey, law firms don’t always make good business decisions. I suspect that the negative economic and PR consequences of this move will far outweigh the savings from eliminating Denise’s salary. However, I agree with Denise’s assessment of the business acumen of the managing partner of Reed Smith, so I think this conclusion is less likely than #1. However, since Denise is the classic example of a person around whom to market an innovative or Law 2.0 approach, the decision seems to reflect a commitment to an “old school” practice of law. “Old school” may prove the best way to go, but I question the approach and think that signaling a commitment to an old school approach undercuts efforts like Reed Smith University. Ironically, the fact that Denise was an appellate lawyer who did a lot of brief writing and was incredibly tech savvy made her the perfect test case for innovative approaches to dealing with work that could have served the firm well as a model for the future.
3. The firm may be having financial problems. Almost any time an experienced lawyer gets fired, people start to wonder about the finances of the firm. I was a partner at a firm where we might have a partners’ meeting in which we learned that we were having our best financial year ever, but also make a decision to terminate an associate, and then would see the staff and other associates worry that the firm was about to padlock the doors and go out of business. It’s just the way people react today. One of the most interesting presentations I attended this year was given by Alan Rich of Thomson Elite on why law firms go out of business. It’s a thought-provoking presentation that had a lot of resonance for me. In most of the cases, you saw firms that were riding high closing their doors in remarkably short periods of time. In each case, there seemed to be one of more management decisions that, in retrospect, made no sense and reflected a decision to go with “business as usual” when business was no longer usual. I think that this is the least likely of the three conclusions, but I also think, based on my experience, that it will be the one that people spend the most time speculating about, especially if there is even one more departure. I don’t think that law firms give that result enough consideration these days before taking actions.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m flummoxed by this decision, but suggest that we all look at it for lessons that we can learn about how we deal with talented people with non-traditional approaches and how to retain them, and for lessons about how best to run a law firm. As my title says, I’m mainly left with this question: “Is this what they teach at Reed Smith University?”
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
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[Note: This article from late 1998 is one of my favorite little articles. It covers a topic that I often struggle with. Re-reading it, I was struck at how applicable it is to the new world of Web 2.0 apps.]
The Best is the Enemy of the Good: Making Good Technology Choices
I have recently been rereading Harry Beckwith’s wise book on marketing called Selling the Invisible. I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is a collection of short kernels of wisdom on much more than marketing that will make you stop and think on nearly every page.
I had dog-eared a page that contained a short section called “Fallacy: Perfection is Perfection,” where he says “You can easily get stalled from the shift from strategy to tactics because you are paralyzed by the desire for excellence.” He goes on to say that here is a good way the rate the “Best Plans” in order of desirability:
Very good
Not good
Truly god-awful

This list gets my interest. Why does good rank above best? “Because,” he says, “getting to best usually gets complicated.”
Indeed it does. Beckwith says we start to face issues like can we agree on what is best, how long will it take to agree, and will reaching best in one area require sacrifice in other areas? The most important of these questions is “will all that excellence really benefit the person for whom it is intended?”
The greater the push for the perfect plan or result, the more chance what we will instead find is delay. Beckwith says that a “paralysis” sets in from the “fear that executing the plan will show that the plan was not perfect.” As he says, “too often, the path to perfection leads to procrastination.”
I was reminded of this again because I am in the “buying a new computer” mode, a time when my friends know that it is best to avoid me, at least on that subject. I’ve read every article on laptop computers, checked all the comparison ratings, talked to everyone who will listen to me, and . . . done nothing. I even tried to break the spell by writing an article for Lawyers Weekly USA on how an attorney should choose a laptop computer, but still haven’t been able to follow my own advice in my article – even though my advice really makes a lot of sense to me.
It’s the curse of The Best. Not the best computer, mind you. Instead, the best decision about a computer. I’ve fallen into the perfection trap. My quest has become finding the best performance and features for the lowest price, a goal that, even if achieved, will probably be mooted within a week or two.
In the technology arena, many people are motivated primarily by avoiding the truly god-awful decision. With research, consultation and reasonable efforts in the decision making process, you can get into the “good” choice range pretty easily. According to Beckwith, this is a result that ranks above Best. Ironically, often the only “truly god-awful” choice is standing pat with obsolete technology and doing nothing.
Often, it doesn’t take much more effort to get from “good” to the “very good” category. Think about it, really: either Word or WordPerfect, by any standard, are very good choices, as are Novell or Windows NT on the network side, Netscape Navigator or Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as browsers. You can’t go too wrong. A choice can be made pretty quickly and then efforts focused on making it work for you.
Unfortunately, especially in a committee setting, that’s easier said than done. Inexorably, you start to move toward the Best. The tip-off is when you start to talk only of specific features and move away from discussing benefits to users.
This movement toward the Best moves you away from reality to a fragile construct that finally barely can stand on its own. An example? I did all this research, came to a decision about a laptop computer. I mentioned the brand I was considering to a friend and the friend made a comment about how the on/off switch on his laptop of the same brand really annoyed him. Boom, I tossed away my decision and went back to square one. And I didn’t even try the on/off switch for myself.
You will recognize this phenomenon at your law firm. Months go into making a decision and one day someone reports that a friend’s law firm tried the same approach and it was a disaster. All the work you did gets thrown away and yesterday’s consensus gets tossed into the trash can.
How many reviews do you have to see to convince yourself you are right? Your focus can easily turn to an abstract notion of the perfect choice and you get stuck.
I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the implications of handheld computers (e.g., the Palm computing devices). What intrigues me is that these devices are moving us to a place where we can choose a device that reflects how we work best instead of being forced to accommodate our working patterns to the technology. You like to write out things – get a computer that has handwriting recognition. Like to dictate first drafts – speech recognition.
Here is a clue to dealing with the curse of the Best. Turn the focus back on to what you need, what will help you and what will make you work better. Move away from an endless comparison of features, especially those features you probably won’t use. Do the same thing on a firm-wide basis and keep those questions at the forefront as you make decisions. As Beckwith says, focus on what will really benefit the person for whom the technology is intended.
This approach should move you comfortably into the zone of the good and very good. You can then move forward and focus on making what you’ve chosen work better for you.
When you start to drift into the nether worlds of the Best and find yourself stuck, turn to the practical, not the ideal, the real-world concerns, not abstract test results, and filling your needs, not the often esoteric concerns of reviewers.
As Beckwith says, “Don’t left perfect ruin good.” Or, as my wife says, “will you just buy a computer?”
An earlier version of this article appeared in the November 1, 1998 issue the Legal Technology Strategies Newsletter.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
This post brought to you by LexThink!(TM) – The Conference, Re-imagined. LexThink! – Think big thoughts, do cool things, change the world. November 11 & 12 – LexThink BlawgThink – the legal blogger unconference.

I’m so proud of what we are doing on the Between Lawyers blog and the attention we are attracting.
Lately we’ve been revisiting the issues raised by the Creative Commons licenses and asking and answering questions about the whole “blogs for legal marketing” thing.
I’m still such a fan of blogging and have so much respect for the pioneer legal bloggers that it’s a thrill to see Denise Howell post on her blog: “My Between Lawyers co-author Dennis Kennedy has been on a roll during the last day or so.”
Ah, the intangible rewards of blogging are beyond measure.
Congratulations, too, are in order for Between Lawyers co-author Marty Schwimmer for entering his fourth year with The Trademark Blog. Nobody does blogging better than Marty does.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]