Niki Black

I’m writing today’s column from New York City, where I’m covering Thomson Reuters Vantage 2014, a great conference focused on mid-sized and large law firms’ use of technology. There have been fascinating discussions about how larger law firms are adapting to change and are incorporating some of the latest technologies into their IT infrastructure. Not surprisingly, however, it turns out that like solo and small-firm attorneys, large and mid-sized law firms are often just as reluctant to adopt new technologies and processes despite overwhelming evidence that doing so is the best way to stay competitive.

But the good news gleaned from this conference is that some larger firms are adapting, just as many solo and small firms are. And that’s my goal with this column: to showcase how individual solo and small-firm lawyers are using new technologies in their day-to-day practices. In the process, my columns will hopefully encourage and help other lawyers to do the same.

In today’s column I’ll be featuring Jill Paperno. Jill is a long-time assistant public defender, having worked at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office in Rochester, New York for over 27 years. She’s currently the Second Assistant Public Defender and is the author of Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense (affiliate link). In other words, Jill is a diehard criminal defense attorney and has dedicated her life to defending our constitutional rights.

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Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nicole Black. My column, Today’s Tech, will highlight how individual lawyers are using specific technologies in their law practices. More on my column later, but first let me explain who I am and why I’m writing this column.

Above all else, I’m a total geek. My geekery started back in the late 70s when I was in elementary school and my dad brought home a TRS-80 computer. I had to learn how to program in BASIC to get that computer to play Pong. But trust me — it was worth it.

It was in law school in the early 1990s that my geek status was solidified. That’s when I became a diehard Trekkie. Star Trek: the Next Generation was my escape from the stresses of law school, and I watched it religiously. I was fascinated by the technologies used by the characters and the writers’ vision of the future and remember thinking how amazing — and unlikely — it would be if we had just a few of those technologies available in my lifetime….

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Social media is no longer new. This month, Facebook turns ten, joining LinkedIn, which hit the decade mark back in May. Lawyers have been blogging even longer than that, with the earliest lawyer blogs launched fifteen years ago. Even the book on Social Media for Lawyers that I co-authored with Nicole Black has been out for nearly four years.

Yet after all this time, social media still has limited traction in the legal profession, with few firms using social media for its “best and highest use”: engaging and interacting with colleagues and clients. Instead, large firms treat social media as another marketing channel to disseminate firm news and press releases, according to a recent ATL study, while solos and smalls treat social media as a poor man’s search-engine optimizer.  It’s no wonder that many practicing lawyers deride social media generally as a waste of time and counsel their colleagues to focus on traditional in-person networking, like meeting colleagues for lunch or getting involved in bar associations, to generate visibility and referrals.

Still, I wouldn’t give up on social media yet. The fact that so few lawyers understand how to use social media correctly makes it a powerful tool for solo and small firm lawyers. Here are three ways to use social media to get the most out of traditional, in-person networking, and to create new opportunities for yourself:

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* Are you ready for some concussions?! [The Nation]

* Sorry, wrong song. How about: I’ve been waiting all day for student athlete’s rights, but Stanford’s getting tough like a prime-time fight. California wants to protect injured scholars in cleats. But Stanford doesn’t care for former athletes. (Go ahead, read the article, listen to the song chorus again, then come back here and tell me my fake lyrics were awesome. I’ll wait.) [Legal Blitz]

* Amanda Bynes, charged with hit-and-run. A former child star running afoul of the law, what were the odds? What. Were. The. Odds. [Associated Press]

* Stuff falls from the sky and kills a lawyer. That’s not the start of a joke, it really freaking happened. [The London Evening Standard]

* Note the URL on Niki Black’s response to Brian Tannebaum’s article yesterday, then remember to keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times. [Sui Generis]

* Dealbreaker headline of the day: Bank Of America Makes Policy On Flashing Your Bare Ass At The Office Clear. [Dealbreaker]

* Conservatives in California are against deregulation. The party of Reagan is truly dead. [Slate]

An article came out this week musing on solo practice from resident tech tweeter Niki Black. I felt bad there were no comments, so I thought I would write one.

From Black’s article: “Nowadays, however, it’s much easier to launch a solo practice with a minimal up front investment. All that’s really needed is a small amount of savings, a laptop, a smart phone, and an Internet connection.”

There you have it. We’re done here. All you basement-dwelling “my law school screwed me over by lying to me” bitter and broke lawyers now have the golden ticket: a few bucks in the bank, a quick trip to Best Buy, and voila — a solo practice is born. You heard it here — “[a]ll that’s really needed” is… tech!

And let’s not get into other necessities, like opening an operating and trust account, incorporating, learning the proper way to pay yourself and the IRS, securing appropriate insurances (life, health, disability), maybe having an address to receive mail that isn’t your parents’ house, figuring out how to properly organize and store client files that aren’t in the precious “cloud,” and understanding your state bar’s advertising rules.

I’m sure there are a few dozen other things I’ve missed, but hey, you can only handle so much, right?

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So, I’ve been in New York for a few days now. I’ve eaten pizza the way you are supposed to, I’ve spent a lot of time underground, and I’ve stayed out drinking until 4 a.m. Just the usual stuff people do here.

But I didn’t fly 3,000 miles just for Fat Sal’s. I’m spending this week at LegalTech, a seriously huge conference centered around, you guessed it, legal technology.

On Monday afternoon, everyone was caffeinated, and the halls of the New York Hilton were crowded. I attended my first panel yesterday morning: “Global Trends in Law and Technology.” The panelists covered some familiar topics, and the discussion revealed an important shift in the way attorneys relate to technology.

The times they are a-changin’….

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Daniel de Juan, a sales engineer from Mitratech, summed up perfectly what LegalTech was like for me this year: “Being at LegalTech is almost like being at a casino, in the sense that you lose all track of time.”

Two years ago, I found the conference to be pretty intimidating, and that was when the conference was much smaller due to the weak economy. Last year, LegalTech New York was much bigger, and I found it slightly overwhelming. This year, due to some bad planning on my part, I came home from LegalTech utterly exhausted.

It seems I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. After a quick search on the Internet, I have seen only a few things written up about the conference, so I’m guessing many people went through the same experience. (For example, I spoke with members of The Posse List on the first night, and they told me that they were gearing up to do 36 interviews during the two and a half day conference — so it must have been a whirlwind for them as well.)

That said, here are some musings from my adventure last week….

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