Jeff Bennion

Look, e-discovery is not going away. Doc review (at least English language doc review) will never be high paying or sexy. But, as e-discovery becomes more and more prevalent, it will continue to become a larger part of the legal job market. So, how do you get out of the rut of sitting in a windowless room, making $10 an hour (or less), typing the date of each e-mail you read into the date field of your coding software? How about taking your knowledge of the front line ESI issues (document coding) and learn a little bit about managing ESI projects, starting with how to draft discovery? As we learned yesterday, ESI discovery can be tricky and employers mostly know that, so understanding the concepts behind it can help you move through your career.

Since Bryan Garner was just in my town last weekend, and I’ve been spending a lot of time drafting ESI discovery requests and dealing with  opposing counsel’s requests, I have been thinking a lot about drafting proper ESI discovery requests, including proper wording…

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You may have heard about a behavioral science experiment involving monkeys and a ladder with a banana at the top of the ladder. When one monkey would try to climb the ladder to reach the banana, the researchers would spray all of the monkeys with a hose. After a while, when a monkey tried to go towards the ladder, the others would stop him so that they wouldn’t get hosed. The researchers then switched out one of the monkeys with a new monkey who didn’t know about the hose. When he would go towards the ladder, just as before, the others would stop him. The swapping continued, and the new monkeys would join in stopping newer monkeys from going towards the ladder, not knowing about the hose treatment, but learning from the example of the original monkeys that going towards the ladder is bad. The researchers eventually swapped out all of the monkeys so that none of the original monkeys were together, but all of the new monkeys would try to stop each other from going towards the ladder.

There is some debate online as to the origins of that experiment, or whether it ever happened, so I’ll just call it the “parable of the monkeys who just do what everyone else does without understanding why” — or, for short, “the parable of the associate.” If you work in a law firm, you probably recognize the above fact pattern and can analogize it to your colleagues.

I’ve come across a bunch of lawyers since I started my legal career ten years ago. Some of them were really good, some were really bad, and most of them were just somewhere in the spectrum of not being memorable. The lawyers who were bad were all bad for about a thousand different reasons, but the lawyers who were good, almost always shared one quality: they were outside-the-box thinkers….

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Jennifer Lawrence

In case you haven’t heard, over the weekend a whole bunch of celebrities got hacked and nude photos of them leaked onto the internet. Let me just start out by saying that hacking into a celebrity’s phone and stealing her nude photos is just a horrible thing. It’s not a funny joke. It’s not something hackers should be high fiving over. Celebrities have the right to live private lives like everyone else and they have the right to take and keep private photos. On top of the embarrassment of having their private photos available to their parents and all of their fans and every pervert with an internet connection, it could seriously damage their careers. This should be another big warning slap in the face to everyone who stores private or confidential things on the internet, especially lawyers.

What lessons can lawyers learn from this unfortunate episode?

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Isn’t discovery fun?

Attorneys can pretty much be broken down into two categories — those who have experience with doc review, and those who have been lucky enough to avoid it. But, there will be a point in the not too distant future when the latter group will become the ultra minority. I have been preaching for years now to attorneys: “Woe unto you who fails to understand the importance of metadata.” When I am consulting with attorneys on tech issues, be it trial technology related, practice management related, or e-discovery related, I always get a large portion of attorneys who tell me (usually with their eyes), “Look, son, I haven’t needed this is the past, I don’t need it now, and I’ll never need it. Change is bad.”

Finally, I have some authority to back me up….

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A few weeks ago, I discussed whether it was possible to go paperless. I want to pick up where I left off and drop a few more tips for how to go paperless and why it’s important. For me, as a solo practitioner, I have to be efficient. It’s how I keep an edge over other small firms and how I level the playing ground with big firms. But, it’s not all about competing with others. I reduce my paper use because I am just way too busy to spend 3 hours doing something that I could do in 30 minutes.

Also, just to be clear, when I say “paperless,” I really mean “mostly paperless.” It is not possible or practical to go entirely paperless in this current decade, but I think that the less paper we use, the better.

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I spent ten hours in a deposition on yesterday in the office of a large law firm in Los Angeles. Just looking around the room, I noticed two things: 1) they were better dressed than we were, and 2) our computers were so much better than theirs. I stepped out into the hallway and noticed that a lot of their hardware was stuff that a public school would auction off. It reminded me of the first few years of my legal career when I worked in a large law firm. We had all the amenities you could want. All of our legal pads were branded with our firm’s logo, and we wrote on them with pens that had our firm’s logo branded on them. I ate lunch every day in our break room that looked over the ocean. But, when lunch was over, I would go back to my desk and work on Office ’97 on my bulky CRT monitor. This is because large law firms are very big, slow-moving beasts, especially when it comes to technology.

My fellow columnist Nicole Black wrote an article last week about how a small firm is using technology to keep up with Biglaw firms. This is not a fantasy. When I was working at the aforementioned large law firm, my boss told me a story about a solo practitioner. By way of background, we represented a Fortune 500 company, had an army of Ivy League attorneys, and almost unlimited resources. Despite all that, this solo practitioner was able to run circles around us. He was better organized and was able to do things more efficiently. The case we had against him was before my time, so I had no idea if it was true, but the important thing was that, having seen how the sausage was made there, I knew it was absolutely possible.

Here’s why:

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Making people think you are not horrible is a full-time job for lawyers. Gallup did a poll on the most trustworthy professions in the United States and, you guessed it, lawyers are near the bottom. You know who’s the most trusted profession? Doctors and nurses, and they are the number 3 cause of death in the United States. Even historically, two hundred years ago, lawyers were drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence and doctors were using leeches to heal people. I’m pretty sure that, on top of killing fewer people, the average person will be overcharged in their life more by doctors and nurses than by lawyers, but whatever. So, again, making people think we are not horrible is an uphill battle for us.

The Internet is helping some of us tip the scales in one way or the other. Each one of these topics could be their own article, but for now, I wanted to give you a short primer on how to shrug off the shroud of horribleness we have as lawyers.

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The argument in favor of going paperless.

Let me start out with some harsh truth. When I talk about going paperless, it has almost nothing to do with the environment. There are maybe five lawyers in the whole country who really feel that their printing of exhibits is destroying Mother Gaia and are therefore motivated to go paperless.

For the rest of us, it is a matter of two things: (1) convenience, and (2) efficiency/billable hours. I know it’s weird to see efficiency and billable hours used in the same sentence without a negative in there somewhere, but if you have ever had three hours of time written off for looking all over the whole office for that one document that was dropped on the file clerk’s desk last week, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes when you charge by the hour, it is good to work efficiently. So, I want to discuss whether it’s possible to go almost completely paperless and what steps we can take to get there.

Why Go Paperless?

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Dropbox is one of my favorite programs. It certainly changed the way we share files and collaborate on cases. Another one of my favorite programs is TrialDirector, the best program for presenting evidence in trial. It’s got great tools for organizing and annotating evidence. Both programs have their pluses and minuses in terms of price and features.

When those two programs have a baby, that baby is awesome. The baby’s name is TDNotebook.

What Is TDNotebook?

TDNotebook is a cloud-based evidence management tool for collaboration between your office, co-counsel, vendors, and experts. It’s free like how Dropbox is free – you get a certain amount of free storage, and for anything above that, you have to pay.

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About two years ago, I signed up for Office 365, mainly to host my email. My $8.00 a month plan came with a bunch of things that I didn’t really think were that useful, but put it on my to-do list to look into them later.

One of those things was SharePoint. I had heard a lot about SharePoint, but could not figure out what it was. I knew a lot of the bigger law firms and Fortune 500 companies used it. The Lynda.com explanation only made me more confused – it’s not a program, it’s a whole experience and you can’t understand what SharePoint is until you experience it yourself.

I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what SharePoint is, and I am about to spoil the journey for all of you….

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