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Tom Collins

I've had your "brain in a vat" post rattling around in my head since last week and thought I'd try responding. Your mention of reading print-on-paper makes me think you've already read The Myth of the Paperless Office, by Sellen & Harper (MIT Press 2002). The mention of getting all your info on a wide screen connects to some of my own posts wistfully hoping for exotic displays for viewing and manipulating information. If you haven't seen Speilberg's tech-thriller, Minority Report, rent it and watch just for his vision of a future information society and those really cool wall-sized monitors!

But your suggestion that we "automate all but the thinking" makes me cringe a little. One of my major concerns about the "silver bullet" view of KM is the danger that we'll lose some of what goes into thinking. How many times to we find something important in a file or a reference book (on on the shelf next to them) while we're looking for something else? How often do we suddenly discover a new argument or an alternative way of approaching a problem during the "document assembly" (that process we used to call "writing") phase?

This semester I'm taking an independent study course in my Informatics program. One of the issues we're going to examine under a theme of "personal KM among lawyers" is the phenomenon of information discovery by serendipity and how technology is and/or might be better used to support/induce such discoveries.

If you, or your readers, have any suggestions on resources or starting points, or ideas to contribute (we also may be looking for lawyers/firms to act as guinea pigs), please let me know.

Brint Butchart

Your goal to "automate all but the thinking" is a good one, and I don't believe reaching it is that far off. The market is full of software tools to relieve much of the drudgery that you mention. But there isn't one vendor who offers all of the "features" you mention, and the issue becomes one of systems integration. But what systems, how should they be chosen, and how can they be integrated? A combination of DM systems, research tools, document assembly tools, portals and portal-like applications could provide your solution, all a few mouse clicks away like you envision.

I'm a non-lawyer who has been doing IT and KM in law firms for over a decade. What I've seen at several firms (not just ones I've worked in) is that a solution gets offered and sometimes work proceeds towards an initial or interim solution. Once that milestone is reached, even if it's successful, work often stops or the focus changes. Part of the problem is that most non-lawyers doing this work don't have a clear enough understanding of the goals of the attorneys needing the solution. Also many attorneys often don't understand the technical difficulties involved and get frustrated when they don't have a fix right away. And since "technical difficulties" often translate into $$, those who drive the budgets may balk after the excitement of the initial launch wears off.

One other thought - it might be possible to automate all but the thinking for the attorneys who will consume this knowledge. But in order to ensure that the content is accurate and timely the knowledge managers providing the content and the systems providing the framework will need to devote considerable time and effort into ensuring the accuracy, quality and timeliness of knowledge delivery - another long term cost associated with such solutions.

In closing I'll offer an answer to the "cringe" in the prior post - yes, the process of creative thinking does often lead to ideas not earlier considered. But a well designed KM system should be able to deliver that as well. For me it gets to the heart of the difference between information and knowledge. Information is static and doesn't change. Knowledge, knowledge creation and the conclusions we draw from static information is dynamic and creative. So a desktop KM system that automates all but the thinking should also be designed to allow for the creativity of human thought and provide ways for your mind to wander while you are doing the thinking, advising and writing for your clients.


I'll never forget the look I got when, after making the move from a small to a large litigation firm, I asked the person in charge of my transition, "So, do you guys have a system where everything coming into the firm so attorneys can just look at documents on our computers?" The answer was, of course, "No."

The stereotype I had in my head was that big firms, particularly with their economies of scale, can afford to go "paperless" (as, in fact, my small firm was planning to do just before I left). Reality hit me like a brick wall. My office currently has an entire bookshelf filled with my "top 10 most used hard files" in it.

Michelle Azar

I just wanted to mention that you can achieve at least some of your vision by having two screens for your PC (I do, and I have programs running side-by-side at all times, Westlaw on one side, word processor on the other, for example), which makes cutting and pasting so incredibly easy compared to flipping back & forth on one screen. Then I save everything I write on WP, and can do a word search to find documents I want to use again. All I need now is for someone to scan in every piece of valuable paper.
Yes, it's still cut and paste, but I find it much more efficient than searching for paper files.

Robert Griewahn Jr

I found Tom Collins' comment interesting, and it holds true for me. The serendipity of paper legal research is often missing when using electronic legal research methods. It's impossible to count the number of times I've come across an important idea on one of the pages that resides close to the page I picked up the book to look at. That just doesn't happen very often when I use an electronic legal database. It worries me.


I think you ought to really look at what's available out there – your wants and dreams here aren't exactly fiction. There are wonderful ways you can get into storing your data and files etc. I think you just don't know about it, because it does take a little knowledge of IT etc. to know what's available out there.

Knowing that you're a lawyer, you probably don't have the time to check up what's available. That ought to be someone else's job. Your IT guy, as an example. He ought to be working at improving your office. Thing is, you'll also need to hire someone to scan some docs in but I'm sure those interns can always do it well. Then you need someone to set it up right-- there are companies like e-filing etc. that can probably give you a solution, but they won't come cheap!


Ugh! I think their is a misunderstanding between creative writing and word salads. I would not want the above "BLOGGER" to edit my work. WHAT YA TRYING TO SAY?


Does this story relate to William J. Beggs from Bloomington, Indiana, law firm of Bunger & Robertson? Apparently Mr. Beggs bungled a civil case involving Jan P. Szatkowski and Seth Patinkin, leading to several ethical violations and accusations of participation in a criminal conspiracy to deprive Patinkin (and possibly other Jewish landowners) of the fruits of his rental business. Patinkin is a protege of Nobel prize winner John Nash and was named to the "30 under 30" list of Indiana University last year.

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