Category Archives: Legal IT

Articles on Legal IT

Using a CMS for your website

A question that is frequently asked, is what CMS to use for your law firm’s website. In this article, we’ll first look at what a CMS is, and analyze some statistics. Then we’ll consider whether you need one, and if so, what all to consider when you make your choice.

What is a CMS, or Content Management System? The E-Digital defines a CMS as “a software application or set of intertwined programs that allows you to create and manage your website’s digital content. In other words, a CMS grants you the ability to upload, edit, and delete content from a website without having to know HTML, CSS, or other coding languages.”

Let’s have a look at some statistics. There are close to 1.5 billion websites on the Internet. Of those, about 172 million are active. A majority of websites, 56.4%, use a CMS. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are the most popular CMSs. WordPress powers 34.6% of the websites on the Internet, while Joomla is used for 4.9%, and Drupal for 3.1%. When we look at CMSs on the Internet, WordPress is good of 61% of those, while Joomla is good for 2.8% of the CMS market, and Drupal for 1.7%.

The first question to investigate, is whether you need a CMS, or whether you’re better off without one. There are pros and cons to each.

Pro:

  • With a CMS, no web programming experience is required. Most ISPs have wizards that install your CMS for you, and you can be up and running within a short period of time. Adding content is fairly easy.
  • Easy collaboration and Access: a CMS typically allows several users to publish content, which also allows them to collaborate.
  • Search Engine Optimization: most CMSs have tools, either preinstalled or as optional plugins, to manage and improve Search Engine Optimization.
  • A CMS can – but doesn’t automatically – offer better security. (See below). When there is a serious new security threat, typically within hours a patch may be available.
  • Cost effective and affordable: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all available for free, and will probably offer the functionality you need, without having to hire a programmer to customize them for you.
  • CMSs are constantly being updated. There are quite a number of ISPs who specialize in one or more of the CMSs, and where those updates of the CMS are included in the hosting price.
  • CMSs typically also come with built-in search components that allow the visitors of your website to search your content.
  • The functionality of a CMS can easily be extended with plugins, which may be available for free or at a price.

Con:

  • Overkill: if you just want to create an online brochure of your website, and its content won’t change much for several months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.
  • Bloat: a CMS has a lot of built-in functionality that you may not need but can’t remove. The content you may want to publish may be limited, and with a CMS you may end up with a system that is many times the size of your content.
  • Database access: to run a CMS, you need to have a database included in your hosting package, which may make hosting more expensive.
  • Maintenance: CMSs are constantly being updated, as are their plugins. With a WordPress website that is not hosted with an ISP that does the CMS maintenance for you, you should check at least once a week whether there are updates for your CMS or plugins.
  • Security: if there is a security risk for a CMS or for a plugin you are using, then your site is at risk. Popular CMSs and plugins are targeted constantly by cybercriminals.
  • The themes and plugins that are available for your CMS may not be exactly what you need or want, in which case you will have to hire someone for customizations. That will probably end up costing more than if they were done for a website that doesn’t use a CMS.
  • CMSs allow more people to publish content, but each additional user increases the chances of something going wrong.

So, is a CMS right for you? As a rule of thumb, you can’t really go wrong with a CMS, especially if you plan to have a blog or publish articles, etc. But if you’re only planning to have a website that functions as an online brochure, with content that won’t change much for months or years, then a CMS is probably overkill.

The next question then is which one to choose. For that, several items should be taken into account:

  • The overall cost: there is the cost of hosting, and possibly of configuring your CMS. To get the layout and functionality you want or need, you may have to use themes and plugins that come at a cost. Customizations will add to that cost.
  • Ease of use and maintenance: not only of the actual CMS, but also of the plugins and themes you plan to use.
  • Ability to customize: does the CMS offer what you want it to? Can plugins help?
  • Performance and system requirements: the system requirements for Drupal are typically higher than for Joomla or WordPress.
  • User and permission management.
  • Support for multilingual sites.

Probably each one of the three major players will meet your needs. WordPress typically is the easiest to use and maintain of the three, while Drupal is – by far – the most complex. I would generally not recommend Drupal for smaller or medium-sized law firms, unless you have a whiz kid that’s familiar with it. For bigger law firms, especially if they have their own servers as well as their own IT department and want to use an internal system for documentation or knowledge management, Drupal can be a good fit.

For smaller and medium-sized law firms, WordPress and Joomla are good options, and WordPress is used for far more websites than Joomla. That doesn’t necessarily make it the best fit for your website, though. When you want more advanced user management or if you want to have a multilingual website, that functionality is built in in Joomla, where WordPress relies on third-party plugins. For multilingual sites, to do things properly, WordPress has to be set up as a multi-site WordPress configuration, which complicates things. Joomla supports multilingual sites out of the box.

 

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Legal AI is still biased in 2019

In October 2017, we published an article on how legal Artificial Intelligence systems had turned out to be as biased as we are. One of the cases that had made headlines was the COMPAS system, which is risk assessment software that is used to predict the likelihood of somebody being repeat offender. It turned out the system had a double racial bias, one in favour of white defendants, and one against black defendants.

To this day, the problems persist. By now, other cases have come to light. Similar to the problems with the COMPAS system, e.g., algorithms used in Kentucky for cash bail applications consistently preferred white defendants. The situation is similar in the UK, where a committee concluded that bias and inaccuracy render artificial intelligence (AI) algorithmic criminal justice tools unsuitable for assessing risk when making decisions on whether to imprison people or release them. Algorithmic bias was also discovered in systems to rank teachers, and for natural language processing. In the latter, there was a racial bias with regard to hate speech, as well as a gender bias in general.

To research and address the problems with Artificial Intelligence, the ‘AI Now Institute’ was created.  Bias is one of the four areas they specifically focus on. They found that bias may exist in all sorts of services and products. A key challenge we face in addressing the problems is that “crucial stakeholders, including the companies that develop and apply machine learning systems and government regulators, show little interest in monitoring and limiting algorithmic bias. Financial and technology companies use all sorts of mathematical models and aren’t transparent about how they operate.”

So, what is algorithmic bias? The Wikipedia defines it as “systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes, such as privileging one arbitrary group of users over others. Bias can emerge due to many factors, including but not limited to the design of the algorithm or the unintended or unanticipated use or decisions relating to the way data is coded, collected, selected or used to train the algorithm.”

The AI Now Institute clarifies that artificial intelligence systems learn from data sets, and that those data sets reflect the social, historical and political conditions in which they were created. As such, they reflect existing biases.

It may be useful to make a distinction between different types of algorithmic bias. Eight different types have been identified thus far:

  1. Sample bias is the most common form of bias. It is when the samples used for the data sets are themselves contaminated with existing biases. The examples given above are all cases of sample bias.
  2. Prejudice bias is one of the causes of sample bias. Prejudice occurs as a result of cultural stereotypes in the people involved in the process. A good example of this are the New York Police Department’s stop and frisk practices. In approximately 83 percent of the cases, the person who was stopped was either African American or Hispanic, where both groups combined only make up just over half of the population. An AI system that learns form a data set like that will inherit the human racial bias that thinks people are more likely suspicious if they’re African American or Hispanic. So, because of prejudice, factors like social class, race, nationality, religion, and gender can creep into the model, and completely skew the results.
  3. Confirmation bias is another possible cause for sample bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to give preference to information that confirm one’s existing beliefs. If AI systems are used to confirm certain hypotheses, the people selecting the data may – even subconsciously – be inclined to select the data in function of the hypothesis they’re trying to prove.
  4. Group Attribution Bias is the type of bias where the data set contains an asymmetric view of a certain group. An example for that was Amazon’s AI assistant for the Human Resources department. Because Amazon had far more male engineers working for them than female engineers, the system concluded that male engineers had to be given preference over female engineers.
  5. The Square Peg Bias has to do with selecting a data set that is not representative and is chosen because it just happens to be available. It is also known as the availability bias.
  6. The Bias-variance Trade-off. This is a bias that is introduced to the system by mathematically over-correcting for variance. (An example to clarify: Say you have a data set where 30% of the people involved are female. Therefore, females are effectively underrepresented in your data set. To compensate you use mathematical formulas to ‘correct’ the results). This mathematical correction can introduce new biases, especially in more complex data sets, where the corrections could lead to missing certain complexities.
  7. Measurement Bias has to do with technical flaws that contaminate the data set. Say you want to weigh people and use scales, but they’re not measuring correctly.
  8. Stereotype Bias. The example given above with Amazon also qualifies as a gender stereotype bias. There are more male engineers than female engineers. That may lead systems to favour male engineers, and/or to preserve the ratio existing in the data set.

The good news is that as we are getting better at understanding and identifying the different types of algorithmic bias, we also are getting better at finding solutions to counteract them.

 

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An introduction to Cloud Solutions for Law Firms

More and more law firms are using cloud solutions. The most recent statistics available show that in 2018 nearly 55% of law firms used cloud solutions. That also leaves 45% who still don’t. In this article, we will give a short introduction to cloud solutions for law firms. We will look at some definitions and at the differences between public, private and hybrid cloud. We’ll discuss what solutions are available for law firms, as well as the pros and cons of cloud solutions.

The following definitions (in quotes) all come from Margaret Rouse from techtarget.com.

Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that’s often used to represent the Internet in flowcharts and diagrams.”

“A public cloud is a platform that uses the standard cloud computing model to make resources, such as virtual machines (VMs), applications or storage, available to users remotely. Public cloud services may be free or offered through a variety of subscription or on-demand pricing schemes, including a pay-per-usage model.”

When we think of the cloud, we typically think of the public cloud: online music and video streaming services as well as social media services are typical examples. Gmail, Google Apps, OneDrive, SharePoint, e.g., all are public cloud services. You probably already use the public cloud to store media (photos, videos, …), document, backups, etc.

Private cloud is a type of cloud computing that delivers similar advantages to public cloud, including scalability and self-service, but through a proprietary architecture. Unlike public clouds, which deliver services to multiple organizations, a private cloud is dedicated to the needs and goals of a single organization.” Private clouds are typically used by major companies and educational organizations like universities who have their own IT departments. Law firms who use their own private cloud are rather rare. It typically only makes sense for large firms, with multiple sites and with their own full-blown IT departments, to even consider setting up private cloud servers.

What are the main differences between public cloud and private cloud solutions? With a private cloud, you are responsible for the entire acquisition, setup and management of the cloud solution. With a public cloud solution, your data are stored with the hosting provider who does the management and maintenance of the data centre. When choosing what is best for your law firm, you must take into consideration the overall cost (one-time vs. recurring), the data capacity, and the levels of reliability and security. For small to medium-sized law firms, a public cloud solution typically is recommended.

Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms. By allowing workloads to move between private and public clouds as computing needs and costs change, hybrid cloud gives businesses greater flexibility and more data deployment options.”

What cloud applications are law firms using? Most law firms who use cloud solutions use cloud versions of Law Practice Management Software. Most providers of Law Practice Management Software offer a package of standard solutions with optional extra modules. There also are providers who focus on just one aspect like case or document management, or backups, or accounting, … Two other areas where cloud solutions are commonly used are eDiscovery and Legal Research.

What are the benefits of cloud solutions, compared to the more traditional setups?

  • Security: cloud hosting providers typically are more secure than local solutions. It is one of the most important reasons law firm decide to move to the cloud.
  • For most law firms, cloud solutions are more cost effective: there is low upfront cost because you don’t need to invest in servers, and there is a low maintenance cost as the hosting provider takes care of maintaining the servers and the software.
  • Cloud solutions typically have a simple setup and configuration: often it’s as easy as going online and signing up to be able to start working.
  • Cloud solutions have built-in disaster preparedness which include off-site backups.
  • Remote access: cloud solutions are accessible from anywhere and at any time, with any device with an Internet connection. Remote access also makes outsourcing and client portals easier.
  • Scalability: cloud solutions can handle one-person law firms, as well as law firms with hundreds of users.
  • Cloud solutions typically run on any platform.
  • Cloud solutions offer automatic software updates.

There also are some cons:

  • Internet access is required. If you don’t have Internet access, you can’t access your data.
  • Recurring monthly or annual cost per head can be high for larger firms.
  • You have no control over price increases.

 

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Legal Bots in 2019

It has been two years since we published our article with an overview of legal bots. Since then, a lot has happened, and on several occasions legal bots made headlines: We have dedicated articles, e.g., to legal bots beating lawyers at specific tasks, and to the rise of robot clerks, prosecutors and judges. Overall, we have witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of digital assistants who are transforming public service and legal service delivery. We now have bots who offer services for legal consumers, as well as for the various legal professions: lawyers, prosecutors, judges, notaries, and paralegals.

By now, there are so many different legal bots that it is no longer possible to mention all of them within the scope of one blog article. In fact, it would probably be possible to dedicate entire articles to each individual bot. So, we will have a look at how the ones we discussed two years ago are doing, what new players have followed their examples, and at some of the more interesting recent arrivals on the scene.

Back in July 2017, DoNotPay already was the most impressive legal bot. What started as a simple bot to appeal traffic tickets, evolved into a system that assists legal consumers in the UK, the US, and Canada, on a wide range of topics, including seeking asylum, claiming damages from airlines, filing harassment claims at work, etc. Since then it has increased the services it offers, and now also assists, e.g., with divorces. More importantly, DoNotPay has become a platform that can assist you in creating your own legal bots. Early July 2019, Joshua Browder announced DoNotPay had raised 4.6 million USD in seed funding. So, we can expect it to continue being an important player in the market.

Lawdroid started off as an intelligent legal chatbot that assisted entrepreneurs in the US in incorporating their business. Soon after, Lawdroid became a platform to create bots, as it began to create legal chatbots on behalf of lawyers. Since then, it has further expanded its services, and, e.g., now also offers its own divorce bot, called Larissa.

The examples of DoNotPay and Lawdroid were followed by others who now, too, are offering a platform to create legal bots. Worth mentioning are Josef and Automio, and even Facebook. Any lawyer can create a legal chatbot on Facebook Messenger. Getting started is as easy as buying and customizing commercial templates that are available from as little as 50 USD.

Billybot was the first legal clerk that assisted people in finding a lawyer near them to assist them. Its example was widely followed. In a previous article, we mentioned Victor, the clerk the Flemish Order of Bar Associations has created.

In the last 2 years, Lawbot in the UK first changed its name to Elixirr and then to CaseCrunch. They expanded the range of bots they have been offering, as well as the countries in which those bots are available. They made headlines when their Case Cruncher Alpha competed with over 100 lawyers in predicting the outcomes of cases and won. Similarly, LawGeex was better at evaluating Non-Disclosure Agreements than its human counterparts. By now, there are more and more bots available that try and predict the outcomes of cases. One of them that focuses on issues relating to landlord-tenant disputes, e.g., is Procezeus.

Lawbot probably also was the first to offer a divorce bot. That example, too, got many followers. We already mentioned that both Lawdroid and DoNotPay now also offer divorce bots. Two other ones worth mentioning are the divorce bot on Reddit, and Hello Divorce by Erin Levine, which streamlines and automates the process of divorces in California to the point that in most cases no intervention from lawyers is needed.

Lawbot also offered a legal research assistant, called Denninx. By now, many legal research assistants are available. Best known are IBM’s Ross and Eve. Most legal publishers, too, are providing digital assistants to help with legal research.

Below follows a random selection of other bots that were discussed in the literature.

  • In the US, Coralie is a virtual assistant that helps survivors of military sexual trauma connect with services and resources. It has won the Tech for Justice hackathonduring the American Bar Association’s Techshow.
  • Docubot is a chatbot that can be integrated in lawyers’ websites to help consumers generate legal documents. It also assists the lawyers with client intake through their website.
  • Another bot using the name LawBot comes from the Indian company LawRato. It helps users get answers to legal questions and recommendations of a lawyer.
  • Legalibotin Spain helps users compose legal documents and contracts through Facebook Messenger.
  • In Australia, Leximade headlines. This bot can be used to generate free privacy policy documents or non-disclosure agreements. It asks questions and uses the responses to give general information and create a document with the relevant details.
  • Also in Australia, Speak with Scout is a chatbot that works through Facebook Messenger to provide legal guidance as well as references to a lawyer.
  • Still in Australia, Parker is a chatbot that uses natural language processing and IBM’s Watson platform to answer users’ questions about data breaches and privacy law.
  • In the UK, RentersUnionis a chatbot that provides legal advice on housing issues for residents of London. The bot analyses a user’s tenancy agreement and then helps generate letters or recommends appropriate action.
  • In the US, Visabot is a legal chatbot that can assist with multiple immigration issues.
  • Also in the US, and more specifically in Utah, Solosuit is a chatbot/expert system that handles debt law. It asks for all the relevant information it needs, and then fills out the appropriate legal document.

 

Also worth mentioning is that several bar associations are considering officially recognizing / approving certain bots that offer legal services. That way, legal consumers can have some reassurance that the advice they are getting is trustworthy.

 

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Subscription Billing

In our series on Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs), which focuses on alternatives to billable hours, this article deals with subscription billing.

What is subscription billing? Kimberly Bennett describes a subscription-based law firm as one that “offers clients legal services for a flat monthly fee. Clients ‘subscribe’ to a legal services plan. Depending on the firm and plans available, clients benefit from services such as unlimited legal advice, document review, and business planning.” Basically, the lawyer plays the role of an in-house counsel or legal department for clients who don’t need a full-time legal department.

Why would one consider offering subscription billing? What are the benefits? It turns out there are several.

A first set of benefits has to do with predictability, both for the clients and for the law firm. Unlike with billable hours, the clients know the exact costs in advance, and they know the value they will be receiving for that cost. And the law firm, too, knows in advance exactly how much it will be receiving from its clients with a subscription.

A second set of benefits is partly a result of this predictability. Subscriptions lead to better relationships and increased satisfaction. A client doesn’t have to worry about how long a phone call to his or her lawyer will take, or how often he or she can call a lawyer. As a result of this, clients can be proactive in understanding their legal options. They can reach out to get answers before a small problem becomes a big problem. By developing an ongoing relationship this way, a subscription-based law firm gets to know a client better, as it learns about their businesses needs. The lawyer becomes a part of the client’s team.

Subscription billing also eliminates the pressure to constantly be billing and performing billable hours. As a lawyer, you know how much time on average you’ll spend each month on each client, which in turn allows you to better plan your time, allowing to set time aside for research and development.

Last but not least, there is the aspect of scalability. With billable hours, there is a limit to the number of hours you can charge each month. If you start productizing the legal services you offer, and automating the workflows, there is no limit to the number of clients you can take on.

So, how does one go about setting up a subscription-based law firm? There are three aspects to pay attention to: determining a price model, productizing your offerings, and implementing technology to maximize efficiency. Let’s have a closer look at those.

Determining a price model and setting a price: there are several options. You could work with a fixed monthly flat fee that covers everything. This seems to be the most commonly used model. You could work with different tiers which entitle your client to different amounts or types of work. Some work with a fixed fee that entitles the client to a certain amount of work and charge separately if certain margins are exceeded. The safest way to then set the price is to consider the work you’ve already done in the past for this client and calculate the monthly average. It is probably a good idea to allow for regular evaluations in order to get to a system that everybody is happy with.

Productizing your offerings: it is important to determine the scope of what you are offering and what legal services are covered. E.g., is litigation included? If you don’t determine the scope, clients may try and take advantage of you. In this context, offering different tiers may again be a good option. With subscriptions, law firms often focus on a vertical niche, targeting specific clients with specific needs.

Implementing technology to maximize efficiency: you want to automate your workflow as much as possible, which will result in optimal productivity and profitability. Remember the scalability: greater efficiency allows you to take on more clients with little extra overhead.

Switching to a subscription-based law firm does come with its own challenges. Finding the ideal pricing model and price may take some effort. You also may have to overcome some client hesitations. And it isn’t always easy for lawyer to shift to a more modern mindset where they see themselves as a company that offers legal services.

 

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How to use Hashtags

In a previous article, we explained what hashtags are, and where you would use them. In this follow-up article, we’ll explain what the best ways are to use them.

Let us recap that hashtags typically consists of one or more words, preceded by the #-sign. They can only contain alphabetical characters, digits, and underscores. They cannot contain spaces. Therefore, if your hashtag consists of more than one word, it is a good habit to start each word with its own capital letter. It is best to keep your hashtags short: don’t combine more than two or three words into one hashtag. It is also best to use them in moderation: for most platforms, the rule is that one or two hashtags per post work best. Instagram and Pinterest are the exceptions to that rule, where it is common to use a dozen or more hashtags.

What hashtags do you use, and how do you choose them? The following guidelines are considered ‘best practices’:

  • Be specific: if you post an article on a divorce settlement, then use #DivorceSettlement rather than #CivilLaw.
  • Use relevant hashtags only: most platforms will punish the use of irrelevant hashtags by excluding them from search results or by ranking them lower.
  • Keep it simple: if you’re writing about human rights violations in Europe, use #HumanRights rather than the article and subsection of the ECHR that most people won’t be familiar with.
  • Use hashtags that your audience is looking for. Look at what influencers are doing, i.e. research what other lawyers are using, and choose those hashtags that are used by people who are considered authorities in the field.
  • See what’s trending: if your post addresses topical items, you will get more readers when you use a hashtag that is trending.
  • If you want to raise brand awareness or name recognition, use a unique hashtag.
  • Mix it up: don’t make posts that all use the same hashtags.
  • Avoid ‘bashtags’, i.e. hashtags used to criticize something or somebody.
  • Track how your hashtags are doing.

Twitter, where hashtags were first used, gives its own sets of Dos and Don’ts that is useful, too.

Do

  • Make it easy to remember — and spell. Don’t leave room for possible typos, which will make your Tweet undiscoverable.
  • Be realistic. Don’t expect people to start using your brand slogan or other one-sided hashtags in their Tweets if it doesn’t fit naturally and there is no incentive for them to do so.
  • Do your research. Check and see what hashtags people are already using when talking about your brand and capitalize on those. Also, make sure to check if your desired hashtag is already being used. If so, ask yourself if it’s still relevant to your brand.
  • Give people a reason to use your hashtag. Whether it’s an actual prize or just recognition in the form of a Retweet, your audience will respond better when it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Partner with influencers. Influencerscan help gain exposure and visibility for your hashtag.

Don’ts

  • Don’t over hashtag. One to two relevant hashtags per Tweet is the sweet spot. Remember: character count matters.
  • Don’t expect your brand slogan to translate to a hashtag. A hashtag is meant to be inclusive, shareable, and discoverable. If it doesn’t organically fit within a Tweet, it’ll feel forced and lose its intended purpose.
  • Don’t expect people to use your hashtag without a reason or incentive. The best hashtags have the ability to draw people in and invoke curiosity to explore and join in on the conversation.
  • Don’t neglect to educate on what it is and how to use it. Make sure you’re clearly communicating the hashtag and more importantly, why someone would want to include it in their own Tweet.
  • Don’t use all CAPS LOCK. Unless it’s an acronym, this feels like shouting and also adds unnecessary work.

Apart from these general guidelines, there are also best practices per platform.

Hashtags are fairly new to LinkedIn, and there hasn’t been a lot of research on metrics to see what performs best. LinkedIn typically suggests up to six hashtags when making a post. It is possible to weave them into the body of your LinkedIn articles, or to list them as article keywords at the end for wider reach. You can also incorporate hashtags into comments you make on other people’s posts. LinkedIn allows you to add hashtags to your profile for more visibility across the platform.

On Twitter, the ideal number of hashtags per tweet is one or two. Make sure to consolidate your tweets. Aside from normal Tweets, other common ways to use hashtags on Twitter include:

  • Using a single hashtag consistently to categorize all of your content over time
  • Hosting or contributing to a Twitter chat
  • Being a part of Twitter Moments to create or curate a story
  • Researching trending or competitors’ hashtags

Hashtags are still not commonly used on Facebook, but they are supported. Anywhere between 1 to 3 per post are recommended. Don’t forget to make the post public if you want to attract readers outside of your circle of Facebook Friends.

If you upload a video to YouTube, you can enter a hashtag in the title or description. These are hyperlinked, and similar to Pinterest, are clickable to bring up related videos with that tag. Here, too, the rule is to add hashtags sparingly and to make sure they’re directly related to your content. The more tags you add, the less relevant they become.

Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags, but research shows that using 9 to 12 creates the highest engagement. Hashtags between 21 to 24 characters perform best. Since many hashtags are allowed, it is best to put the most valuable hashtags first. As is the case in LinkedIn, you can add them to your biography section.

Hashtags on Pinterest identify pins about specific topics. Related Pins can then be discovered by clicking on a hashtag in a Pin description, which takes users to all the Pins that share that hashtag. Here, too, it is better to not go overboard, so don’t add more than 20 hashtags per Pin. As with all the other platforms, make sure they’re all relevant, specific, and descriptive. Pinterest hashtags only work within the Pins’ descriptions.

 

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An Introduction to Hashtags

What do you call this sign: #? If you’re a digital native (somebody who grew up when the Internet was already around), you’ll probably know it as the hashtag sign. If you’re older, you’ll probably refer to it as the number sign (sometimes also called pound sign), unless you’re into programming or music. In that case, you may read it as ‘sharp’, as in C#. (On a side note, on a regular basis, music teachers express their dismay that young pupils refer to the note C# as ‘C hashtag’, but that’s a different story).

So, what are these hashtags? What are they used for? And why should you care about them? We’ll find out in this article. In a follow-up article we’ll show you to use them to your advantage.

The Wikipedia defines a hashtag as “a type of metadata tag used on social networks such as Twitter and other microblogging services, allowing users to apply dynamic, user-generated tagging which makes it possible for others to easily find messages with a specific theme or content. Users create and use hashtags by placing the number sign or pound sign # usually in front of a word or unspaced phrase in a message. The hashtag may contain letters, digits, and underscores. Searching for that hashtag will yield each message that has been tagged with it. A hashtag archive is consequently collected into a single stream under the same hashtag.”

Hashtags were first used on Twitter in 2007, upon the suggestions of Chris Messina. Adding the #-sign at the front of a word (or group of words) turns it into a clickable, searchable keyword expression. You can search on any topic you like, like, e.g., #ArtificialIntelligence or #Divorce, and you’ll get a list of relevant recent posts on the topic. They are often used for current events, e.g., like the recent #NotreDameFire or #HongKongProtest. If you make a post on a specific topic, you can just add the relevant hashtag and people can easily find your post.

Because hashtags turned out to be so useful and easy to use, they quickly spread to other social media as well. These days, hashtags are used on all major social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Apart from that, they’re now also used for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) purposes. When you publish an article on LinkedIn, e.g., it suggests and asks for tags. And if conversations on the Internet about a current event are big enough, you can even search for its hashtag on Google and get a live scrolling feed with recent posts. (Some platforms give you live information on which topics are ‘trending’, i.e. are most talked about on that platform).

When and why would you, as a lawyer, use hashtags? There are two sides to this. The first aspect of this is where you do a search on hashtags that others are using to find information. Were you aware that hashtags can be used for legal research, where you can find relevant articles on specific topics? You can even do it on a regular basis to stay informed about recent evolutions in your field of expertise or interest. The second aspect of this is where you start putting hashtags in your posts and articles so others can easily find what you have to say on the matter.

Why are people using hashtags? There are plenty of reasons. Here is a short, not exhaustive, overview:

  • To comment and contribute to a global online conversation. Hashtags provide context and relevance.
  • To stay in touch with your clients and see what they are talking about online (as well as find out what they may be saying about you!).
  • For (legal) research purposes, where they can be used for content discovery and sorting.
  • Hashtags are often used for humour and witty comments. #ButYouDontHaveToTakeMyWordForIt
  • For Business & Marketing purposes, because they are a great way:
    • To build and support your brand
    • To monitor trends and your brand
    • To Boost a marketing campaign
    • To keep in touch with and engage your audience

Mind you, there are some rules to keep in mind when using hashtags. As the Wikipedia pointed out, a hashtag may contain only letters, digits, and underscores. That means “spaces are an absolute no-no. Even if your hashtag contains multiple words, group them all together. If you want to differentiate between words, use capitals instead (#BlueJasmine). Uppercase letters will not alter your search results, so searching for #BlueJasmine will yield the same results as #bluejasmine.” (Mashable). Also forbidden are punctuation marks, so commas, periods, exclamation points, question marks and apostrophes are out. The same applies to asterisks (*), ampersands (&) or any other special characters, all of which can’t be used either.

In a follow-up article, we’ll focus on how to best make use of hashtags.

 

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On Content Strategies

In previous articles, we explained how legal consumers have become online consumers. We also explored how for that reason content marketing has become an essential part of the digital marketing campaigns that are designed to engage legal consumers. Content creation is a powerful marketing tool that contributes to generating business revenue. It also helps in establishing a good online reputation. In order to successfully market your content, you need a content strategy. In this article, you will find an introduction to content strategies.

What is a content strategy? Hannah Smith and Adria Saracino defined it as “the high-level vision that guides future content development to deliver against a specific business objective.” What they are saying is that you shouldn’t just provide content, but you need to first define a specific business objective. Once you have done this, you can start planning your content with this objective in mind.

So, how does one plan a content strategy? Where do you start? In essence, defining a content strategy consists of three phases: identifying your business objective, identifying your target audience, and identifying the content that your target audience needs. The first thing to do is to identify your business objective. What does your law firm stand for, and what do you want to achieve with the content you provide? Be as specific as possible. Then learn as much as possible about your target audience and what you have to offer them that sets you apart from the competition. Analyse what information your clients need. Researching all of this will provide you with the data that will show you what to write, for whom, how and where.

The article 11 Steps to create a Content Marketing Strategy to Grow Your Business provides an excellent approach that breaks the process down in 11 steps:

  1. Set your mission and your goals
  2. Establish your Key Performance Indexes (KPIs), i.e. establish what the measurable factors are that define your success and that will allow you measure that success
  3. Know your audience
  4. If you already have content available, assess your current position by doing a content audit: what do you have, how successful is it, what channels and content types are you using?
  5. Figure out the best content channels for the content you’re providing (which platforms, social media, etc.)
  6. Decide on content types: are you going for a text blog only, or will you provide videos and/or static visuals like infographics, etc.?
  7. Identify and allocate resources: define team roles, i.e. define who will write what, who will create graphic materials, who will create videos? What will the hosting cost?
  8. Create a content calendar: brainstorm your content ideas in advance, and plan when to publish what, so your campaigns stay on track.
  9. Create your content
  10. Distribute and market your content: use more than one channel, write guest articles, bring your content to the attention of ‘influencers’, etc.
  11. Measure the results. Checking the Key Performance Indexes to measure how successful your content is, is a step most law firms pay insufficient attention to.

In his articles, Jay Harrington from Attorney at work gives several practical suggestions. In the remainder of this article, we’ll have a cursory glance at them.

When it comes to defining the actual content you will be providing, Harrington suggests thinking in terms of “wisdom marketing.” The best way to get your audience’s attention, is to provide them with high quality content. By sharing your wisdom, you can build a foundation of trust, loyalty and respect. Harrington also suggests focusing on ‘Evergreens,’ i.e. on high quality content that has a timeless character, rather than paying attention to current affairs, which typically has a relevance that is limited in time. Evergreens include how-to lists, resource lists (i.e. compiling lists of other articles that are relevant to your audience), and FAQs.

Harrington also advises using a ‘divisible strategy.’ With a divisible content strategy, you strategically and intentionally blend written and visual storytelling for the purpose of more effectively spreading ideas to specific audiences. In this approach you first define a core idea and create a single content asset, typically an article or white paper, that then functions as the foundation from which you create multiple forms of visual storytelling content: infographics, animated videos, SlideShare decks, social media motion graphics, etc.

Finally, Harrington suggests repurposing existing content: “A substantive 1,500-word article can be repurposed to a white paper or e-book or repurposed down to a series of blog posts or infographics. A presentation can be given as a webinar. A blog post can be made into a podcast.”

 

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A chatbot, a robot prosecutor and a robot judge

No, this is not the first line of a joke about three robots that walked into a bar. It refers to three items that were in the news recently. We already were familiar with chatbots and robot lawyers. Now the Order of Flemish Bar Associations have launched their own chatbot; San Francisco is running a pilot project with a robot district attorney; and Estonia plans a robot judge to handle small damages claims. Let’s have a closer look at each.

The chatbot of the ‘Orde van Vlaamse Balies’ (Order of Flemish Bar Associations)

On 10 April 2019, the ‘Orde van Vlaamse Balies’ announced the launch of its new chatbot, called Victor. The initiative was taken by some bar associations, and the chatbot is meant to facilitate access to legal assistance. It does this in two ways. On the one hand, like its British counterpart Billybot, Victor helps you find a lawyer. He asks some questions to determine what area of practice your legal issue relates to. He then suggests some nearby specialist lawyers, based on the topic and the region you live in.

But Victor does more than that. The chatbot can also check whether you are eligible for a pro bono lawyer or for other types of legal assistance like reduced fees. He will ask the relevant questions, and if you are eligible, he will let you know what documents are required. If you have further questions he can’t answer, Victor will give you the contact details of the bar association that can provide you with additional answers.

Victor can be found at www.advocaat.be, as well as on the sites of the bar associations that were involved in its development: www.baliewestvlaanderen.be, www.balieprovincieantwerpen.be, and www.balielimburg.be. Victor is only available in Dutch.

The Robot District Attorney in San Francisco

About a year ago, in May 2018, the office of the District Attorney in San Francisco decided to launch a pilot project to clear convictions using algorithmic justice. Let’s give some background information first. In November 2016, recreational use of marijuana was legalized in California. For decades before the legalization of marijuana, thousands of people had received convictions for marijuana use. And now that it had become legal, the idea was to clear those preexisting convictions, and to use an algorithm to determine which cases were eligible for record clearance. As such, the algorithm is a triage algorithm. Once it determines a case is eligible, it automatically fills out the required forms. The San Francisco District Attorney then files the motion with the court.

Since the pilot project started, it has reviewed 43 years of eligible convictions. This has led to 3 038 marijuana misdemeanors being dismissed and sealed, and to recalling and re-sentencing up to 4 940 other felony marijuana convictions.

Given the success of the project, the plan is now to expand it, to eventually clear around 250 000 convictions.

The Robot Judge in Estonia

Finally, inspired by the success of the DoNotPay chatbot that offers free legal assistance in 1 000 legal areas, the Estonian government decided some weeks ago to create its own robot judge. The robot judge is meant to adjudicate small claims disputes of less than €7 000. Officials hope that the system would help clear a backlog of cases for judges and court clerks. At present the project is still in the earliest stages, but a pilot project that deals with contract disputes is scheduled for launch later this year. Parties are expected to upload the relevant information and documents, which the system will then analyze and come to a verdict. Parties will be given the option to appeal to a human judge. AI systems have been used before to assist in the triage of cases and to assist judges in their decision-making process. An autonomous robot judge, however, is a first.

So, we now have online courts, robot lawyers, prosecutors and judges. The idea that we might one day have cases handled without intervention of human lawyers suddenly has become a lot more real.

 

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The Two Faces of Legal Innovation

When legal innovation is mentioned, we typically think of legal technology and process automation, etc. Most articles on the Internet focus on how the practice of law can be further automated, which then leads to increased productivity and profitability. As such they focus on legal technology and on the legal market. Some articles take a wider view and talk about innovation in law enforcement and in the judiciary. There too, however, the emphasis is on technology, automation and productivity.

But legal innovation is more than that. In an interesting synchronicity, two authors, Carolyn Elefant and Bill Henderson, each published an article on the two types – or faces – of legal innovation, within days of one another. The examples mentioned above all fall in the category of what Elefant calls ‘Innovation of Form’, and what Henderson refers to as ‘Service Delivery Innovation’. There is a different, and equally important, type of legal innovation, which the authors call ‘Innovation of Substance’ and ‘Substantive Law Innovation’ respectively. This type of legal innovation focuses on finding new legal solutions.

Elefant uses the example of Henry Ford to explain the difference. On the one hand, he invented the Model T. On the other hand, he came up with the design for the assembly line. The invention of the Model T is an innovation of substance. The design of the assembly line is an innovation of form. The emphasis in Legal Innovation tends to be on the innovation of form, which probably explains why lawyers often struggle with legal innovation. As Elefant puts it, “‘I went to law school to build a more efficient client intake process….’ said no lawyer ever.” Lawyers are more interested in innovation in substance.

So, how do we define these two types of innovation? Henderson gives the following definitions:

  • Substantive Law Innovation (which he calls Type 0 Innovation) deals with adapting law to fit changing social, political, economic and technological conditions.
  • Service Delivery Innovation (which he calls Type 1 innovation) deals with improving the quality, cost and delivery of existing legal solutions.

Everybody is familiar with Service Delivery (Type 1) Innovation. As Henderson points out, the vast majority of Legal Evolution content is focused on service delivery improvements (data, process, technology, etc.) that aim to increase legal productivity. Let us have a closer look at its counterpart, Substantive Law (Type 0) Innovation.

Society is changing fast, and the law needs to adapt to be able to handle these new conditions. The rise of Artificial Intelligence and the emergence of different new technologies are clear examples that demand an innovation in substantive law. Think, e.g., of cyberbullying, or of Robot Law. Henderson gives the example of synthetic biology, which impacts intellectual property, regulatory law, consumer safety. There are many more such areas: Carolyn Elefant wrote a book on 41 Practice Areas that didn’t exist 15 years ago. (You can find the table of contents here: myshingle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/TOC-from-41PracticeAreas.pdf). She compiled the list to prove the point that new practice niches are growing at an accelerating rate.

In such periods of disruption, “we also need lawyers who can take on the hard work of substantive innovation — devising the kinds of new case theories and arguments and perspectives — that will allow technology to progress while preserving our democracy and our freedom.” (Elefant).

Henderson explains that Substantive Law Innovation “happens organically when a lawyer has the opportunity to immerse herself in the business and legal complexities of a new or changing industry. Although it often produces the same economic benefits as a major R&D initiative, lawyers and law firms seldom frame it that way.  (…) Virtually any lawyer has the intellectual tools to do it.  It requires zero additional training. Yet it’s undertheorized almost to the point of being invisible to practicing lawyers.”

In his article, Henderson refers to a presentation by Patrick McKenna that connected the lifecycle of law firms to the different types of innovation. McKenna explained that successful new law firms typically find the source of their growth in type 0 innovation, i.e. in finding new legal solutions in niche markets. As the law firm matures it starts paying more attention to type 1 innovation. It is however important to continue focusing on type 0 innovation: if the firm doesn’t, it loses its edge because the market it was active in becomes saturated. Henderson gives the examples of securities or debt collection as market segments that are saturated.

Henderson concludes that it is obvious that Type 0 and Type 1 innovation are both distinct and interdependent, and that the legal profession’s tool box needs to include both types of innovation. He advises lawyers and legal professionals to specialize in one or the other, while retaining the ability to effectively collaborative across the two types.

Henderson: “Neither Type 0 nor Type 1 innovation are easy or costless.  Both require continuous learning and an investment of time and resources without a guaranteed financial return.  Yet both add immense value to clients and form the basis for challenging and rewarding careers.  Thus, for both lawyers and legal professionals, the future is bright.”

 

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