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Jerry Lawson is a leader in the world of legal tech. After years of working as a civil service lawyer, Jerry has returned to the legal tech field to serve as President of New Strategies in Legal Tech LLC. He also has extensive experience in legal marketing and served as a charter member of the American Bar Association’s eLawyering group. His familiarity with legal tech shows in his personable and informative blog, New Ideas Legal Tech. Since retiring from practicing and launching the blog, he has also set up a personal blog entitled Netlawtools, where he shares his personal musings on legal tech topics.

Knowledge Management projects live or die on the quantity and quality of information that system users share. Intuitively, the higher percentage of users participate would seem like a critical factor. This is one of the situations where intuition can lead you astray

Pareto’s Law: The 80-20 Rule

A century ago, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that roughly 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Roughly 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pea pods in his garden. The Pareto Principle, also known as the “80-20 rule,” or “the law of the vital few” is believed to at least very roughly apply across a wide variety of endeavors: 80% of the arrests come from 20% of police officers, 80% of sales come from 20% of customers, and so on. 

Most likely, your intranet contributors will sort themselves out similarly. The more contributors the better, but it’s not a mark of failure if a relatively small number provide a disproportionate share of the value. Don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time trying to motivate the unmotivatable. Concentrate on getting a healthy level of contributions from your “vital few,” and don’t be too disappointed if most contribute little.

 

I used to think of “vanity press” condescendingly, viewing it as primarily for authors whose work was not good enough to interest a “real” publisher. Dennis Kennedy’s new books Make LinkedIn Work for You and Successful Innovation Outcomes in Law, have changed my attitude. Rather than go with a conventional book publisher, Kennedy self-published both books, working through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. This includes an option for on-demand paperback publishing as well as eBook).

There are multiple advantages to self-publishing, including speedier development and reducing the cost to purchasers. It is yet another example of how the Internet enables “disintermediation,” or cutting out the middleman, in this case conventional book publishers.

Kennedy is in a better position to self-publish than most authors. Having a respected third party (in this case, an established conventional publisher) select a book for publication serves a sort of credentialing function, “validating” the book for potential readers. Kennedy’s track record as a recognized expert and author allows him to “self-validate.”

Dennis found the results of self-publishing so beneficial that he explained in an interview posted at his podcast, the Kennedy-Mighell Report that the odds are 95% that he will self-publish his next book.

Changes in the book industry make self publishing an attractive option for many lawyers, including those who have a high profile that lets them self-validate and who would improve their reputation by having a book in print.

With these books, Kennedy demonstrates that he does not merely preach innovation, he practices it. Many ambitious lawyers would benefit from following his example.

No doubt, allowing lawyers and other contributors to law firm knowledge management databases via intranets and other techniques to “brand” their contributions by having their names attached is a powerful motivation technique. However, there are times when its complete opposite, anonymity, has greater power.

Some of your best lawyers may have great material, but be too cautious to post something they don’t have time to vet thoroughly. Maintaining an area of your intranet for anonymous contributions can make these lawyers more likely to contribute. It will also encourage those who fear that their supervisors may resent any time they spend contributing to a group effort instead of concentrating solely on tasks more likely to improve the supervisor’s next performance appraisal.

It’s true that anonymous information tends to be less reliable, but this need not be a showstopper. Many times lawyers just need a lead, a tip about a legal theory that would not otherwise occur to them. Once they learn about an idea, they can usually can confirm or refute it.

Good lawyers verify the most important information they use. Even authors of respected treatises can err. The fact that a source is anonymous merely serves as a reminder to do the vetting I would usually do with any other critical piece of information.

Freida Riley at Blackboard
Freida Riley in action

Jerry Lawson‘s new book Knowledge Management for Lawyers: Creating A Culture of Success is scheduled for publication in August 2021. We will be publishing selected sections here to obtain feedback. The first section is the Preface, in which Mr. Lawson explains the origin of his interest in maximizing efficiency:

PREFACE

I first learned about the joy of efficiency from my high school Geometry teacher, Miss Frieda Riley. On submitting a proof for her approval, her usual reaction would be: “It’s OK. Can you do better?” What she meant was make it simpler, more streamlined, more efficient. If better insights came to me, I would hear words every student yearns to hear: “That’s good, Jerry. That’s what we are looking for.” Miss Riley prized efficiency, what mathematicians call “elegance.” She showed me what poet Edna St. Vincent had in mind when she wrote “Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.”

Valedictorian of her high school and college classes, Frieda Riley could have been a star teacher at virtually any school in the country. She chose to return to her home in the southern West Virginia coal fields. She blessed the students of Big Creek High School with new insights, better ways of thinking and approaching problems. Freida Riley died of Hodgkin’s Disease at age 31. Today she is honored in the National Museum of Education, but her most important legacy is the countless students she inspired–and equipped–to meet challenges.

October Sky Movie PosterHomer Hickam was one of these students. He escaped the coal fields to become a NASA engineer. Miss Riley played a prominent role in his memoir, “Rocket Boys.”It was later made intothe 1999 movie named “October Sky.” Laura Dern played the Miss Riley role. Dern did a great job, but the real Miss Riley was oh so much better.

Photo of Frieda Riley
Freida Riley

My Miss Riley-inspired yearning for efficiency accompanied me to many places, including a private law firm and later several federal agencies. I observed many attempts at knowledge management, good and bad. Efficiency was a rare commodity in most knowledge management efforts, effectiveness even more so. The main feature most had in common was a failure to meet expectations. Many were complete failures.

By this point the more impatient reader will be asking, “What does one man’s idiosyncratic fetish for efficient knowledge management have to do with me and my law firm?” The answer is simple: Improved, more efficient knowledge management is probably the most promising way for most law firms to become more effective, to improve their bottom line.

The grail of knowledge management is elusive. There are more potential pitfalls than easy shortcuts. In this book I have done my best to provide tools that can help you find the best approaches, the ones most adaptable to you and your law firm. We hope you enjoy the adventure and find it rewarding. Our challenge to you is: “Can you do better?”

Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers, 2nd Edition (ABA Publishing, 2020) by Carole A. Levitt and Judy K. Davis. 352 pages.

The Cord-Cutter’s Guide to Legal Research?

By Jerry Lawson

Is it time to cut your legal research expenses? New alternatives make this an intriguing possibility, especially for small to medium-size firms. The newest version of “Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers” is the single best resource I know for lawyers interested in exploring this option.

Continue Reading Review: Internet Legal Research on a Budget, by Carole Levitt