Smart uses of technology in our work go beyond mastering the most essential software, or using the coolest hardware.  Smart use of technology includes an “old school” focus on one benefit of technology that is grounded in a thoughtful layout of your office and of your desktop: collaboration. Here are some observations on how I foster collaboration by the layout of my new office and the hardware on my desktop.  The goal, of course, is to be better, smarter and faster.  

For those who follow me here at L360, you’re probably asking: “what’s going on this month? Why so few posts? The answer is two-fold: in the last 3 weeks –

  • I’ve given two presentations on (i) “how” lawyers should better use technology and (ii) the technology trends that will impact lawyers.  Each presentation was for a different audience (the annual meeting of the American College of Mortgage Attorneys and at the University of Texas Law School’s Mortgage Lending Institute [MLI]).  This Friday, I’ll give the MLI presentation a second time, but in Austin.  These presentations are a great opportunity for me to sharpen my vision on the ways technology will allow lawyers to work more efficiently, to bring more value to their clients and to collaborate with clients and each other.
  • My law firm (the Dallas office) moved out of one building and into another one.  This is my first move into another building since 1989.  Of course, “how” we work has changed immensely in the 23 years since 1989.  This is an opportunity for me to change the physical attributes and layout of my office and my desktop, in order to be better, smarter and faster.

Today is the third day after the move.   A walk around the floors, and peeks into the other offices,  clearly shows that my brain works . . . differently . . .  than . . . anyone.  (Or at least my office looks very different from the other offices.) My new office focuses on collaboration as the path to better, smarter & faster. (read Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy’s book).  Some of this might work for you:

  • No desk.  Instead, I have a small, round table with chairs (4 chairs – once we “find” the wayward fourth chair).  The table will be kept clean and used for team meetings.  It gives us a place to meet, independent of other meeting rooms.  I use an elevated (electric) computer table as my “stand up desk.”   I still can sit on a stool at the elevated computer table, or use the small table.  However, I never write down information; instead, I’m typing notes, e-mails, document changes, etc.  It is 100% electronic.
  • Stand up work “desk.”  The elevated work “desk” allows 2 or 3 of us to look at documents, maps, plats, and other resource materials (online).  This results in “real time” discussions, decisions and work product.
  • Two large (19″) computer monitors on the stand up work space.  Now we can have multiple items in front of us.  For example, when I review work, no one hands me a piece of paper.  Instead, we pull it up and black line it to show the suggested changes.  On the 2nd screen we make any modifications to the document.  No passing documents with hand written markups.  This is “real time learning” followed by quick execution.
  • Separate notebook computer.  The “stand up” work space is large enough to allow me to also use my MacBook Air, which now gives us yet another tool to access documents, maps, plats and other resource materials.
  • Small projector & larger meetings.  If needed (larger groups or simply needing a larger screen or viewing area), I have a small (2oo lumens) Acer K-11 projector, which allows us to all look at the same content (documents, maps, plats and other materials).  I’ll connect my small projector to my MacBook Air, which will throw the desktop onto the wall.

This layout should achieve my goal: an office where the team, as a whole, will be more efficient and with better collaboration, our work product will be enriched. If you have any suggestions, please comment below.      

As I’ve commented on in the past, legal technology is a tough subject for commercial real estate lawyers. Using the “rule of three“, I will offer up a short, historical perspective, in order to merit their attention on Friday of this week, when I’ll be speaking on legal technology at the University of Texas School of Law Mortgage Lending Institute. Three Defining Points. The first defining point burdens all lawyers.  The second continues to divide them from their clients or customers.  And the third is simmering and heading to a boil. Let’s see if you can identify them. 1.  Who said this?  First thing we’ll do, we’ll kill all of the lawyers.” With this line, the Bard captured the hostility of the underclasses toward those who understand, and perhaps manipulated, the law; and in turn enriched themselves. It is spoken from the perspective of those powerless to effectuate change.  The next defining point triggered a change that transformed this perspective to almost all buyers of legal services. 2.  Name the Gang of 9 who doomed the legal profession to the billable hour? They know it when they see it, and they didn’t like what they saw.  This ruling in 1975 began the slippery slope of the hourly rate, alternative fee arrangements and most importantly, increasing friction between the legal profession and clients. In time, Shakespeare’s line returned, but now with a new focal point by a broad cross section of buyers: legal fees, legal fees, legal fees. 3.  Rock, Paper, Scissors: which one has 2 of these?     Rock (1):  The August 5, 2012 soft landing of Curiosity on Mars joined technology with hard rock – foreshadowing a significant decision by the American Bar Ass’n on the next day.  This decision will impact commercial real estate finance lawyers. Scissors, Paper (2):  On August 6, 2012, the ABA added technology as a topic expressly included in the competency requirement of Model Rule 1.1 (and other ethical rules).  Scissors cutting apart the sole reliance on paper by lawyers. These three promise to change “how” commercial real estate finance lawyers go about their work. Please join me at the MLI later this week for more on this, or please comment below.

Next month, I’ll be speaking on legal technology topics (with a real estate finance focus) at the University of Texas School of Law Mortgage Lending Institute.  The MLI is “the” annual gathering of outside and in-house counsel on mortgage lending in Texas. The presentation will be a real scramble – too much to hit during 50 minutes. The portion of the tech presentation on my favorite iPad apps, used by me as I work work in mortgage finance, always keeps everyone’s attention. Here’s a link to the PDF  (MLI 2012 Tech Presentation iPad (Sept 10 v3)) of the iPad portion of the presentation.  (This is a the “short” version.) The list of apps and presentation changes every few months. If you’ll be attending any of the two “live” presentations, please contact me.  I’ll enjoy meeting you. And, please tell us about your favorite apps in in the comment section below.

Email is killing us all. At our desks. Following us. 24/7. To survive, I try to manage myself and my e-mail with this approach:

  • watch the clock
  • use folders
  • automatically keep copies of sent e-mail in correct folder
  • when typing is talking . . . talk

Each of us needs to improve our use of the software on our desktops.  Better uses of it will improve our process – returning to us some time to actually think and effectively work. The main culprit or point of pain for many of us is email.  Email is killing us:

  • too much of it
  • wrong uses of it (example: people use it in “conversational” style, forcing us to waste time simply trying to understand it)
  • it is distracting (example: pulling us away from important tasks, and chopping up our time into inefficient pieces)
  • thought leaders sum it up: email is dead
  • it is our shared experience

Each of us learns to cope with email.  Email shapes our process, and often our attitude about our work. With our companies spending more and more on technology, and less and less on training us to use it, the “help desk” on using e-mail now is  a community effort: it takes place in our work groups and with others around our work stations – guerrilla style warfare.

  • we need email survival training
  • we need to share our favorite tips with each other

[Training & Sharing: In the mid-’60s, my Father went through a jungle training course in the Philippines on his way to what he still calls “Southeast Asia.”  (One survival school trick not offered up by the instructor: when the local kid finds you in the field [and they did], give the kid a battery from your flash light, and the kid won’t tell the instructor that he found you.)  He never refers to the Vietnam War, probably because  his helicopter unit abruptly left its in-country base when it “fell off the map” (it was over run).   The balance of his “tour” was based in Thailand – but after his unit officially  “disbanded” – giving him the opportunity to “covertly” visit neighboring countries (and the other one up “up north”), with added off-the-record benefits of wearing whatever clothes he wanted (but never a dog tag) for an extra $1,000 a month.  Sometimes is was “hot.”  Although he was trained going in, the most valuable lessons came from within the unit and from their very experienced passengers.]

  • is email changing you? slowing you down?
  • would your day improve if you improved your use of email?
  • what would you trade to become better at using email?  (30 minutes next Saturday, as you look for more tips on the internet?)

Here are a few email tips:

  • Watch the clock (not the email folder): only look at your e-mail for 5 minutes at the beginning of each hour
  • Email options: set up your email to automatically “save” a copy of each sent email in the folder from which the email is generated
  • Use folders
    • Create a folder system
    • After you read an email, then:
      • delete it, or
      • move it to your “Action needed” folder (if appropriate), or
      • move it to the deal or other folder
    • IMPORTANT: if you need to “reply” to an email, FIRST move the e-mail to the appropriate folder; and then send the “reply” e-mail (from that folder).  If you use my “email options” tips (above), then a copy of your reply email will automatically be saved in this folder.  No more lost time in dragging your email replies from your inbox (or from sent folder) into the appropriate folder.
  • Talk, Don’t Type:  if your use of email starts to look like a conversation, STOP the email exchange and call the person.
  • Other tips: search the internet for other e-mail tips.  BE AGGRESSIVE in becoming better at improving your use of e-mail.
Confession: I need to be better at all of this.
This fall, I’ll be speaking on technology topics at three different legal conferences (ACMA annual meeting; UT Law Mortgage Lending Institute; Texas State Bar Advanced Real Estate Strategies Course)  Portions of each presentation will focus on tips like these.  I’ll be sharing some of the tips here, too.
(If you’ll attend any of these conferences, let’s get together at the conference.)
If you have other email tips to share, please do so below.

My latest resolution is to be better at giving lists of the “hottest” or top topics on L360 – as selected by you. It gives me a rough sense of the direction we’re heading.

The summer 2012 list now has several topics on “positive” lending issues, which reflects the general up-tick that I’m seeing in “new” commercial real estate lending.  (I file or tag the new loans under my “new” economy mantra: “real money – for real people.”) Several of the posts are 2+ years old – yet they remain “hot” topics. Here’s the list:

Compare the nature of these topics to earlier lists:

Looks like we’re SLOWLY changing our focus.
Slowly.  Just not enough real people, with real money (i.e., equity).
I hope L360 is valuable resource for you (and others at your Company).
Please give your perspective by commenting below.

So long as the software and tech tools on our desktops merely improve the “process” of our work (our work flow), those tools will continue to pile up our desktops – IT is proud but the desktop remains under utilized by the people that matter. But bring us a tool that makes our work product a winner in the market – then the tool strikes like Thunder chasing Heat in a land rush:     The In-house Texas section of the current issue of Texas Lawyer has a piece written by me crafted around this simple approach for in-house counsel (AND for all the rest of us):

  • improve your department’s or team’s performance with a focus on key work tasks
  • associate key tasks with existing software or technology tools
  • use them . . . use them (the easy ones first and when mastered, moving on toward the more challenging tasks & tools)

My suggested plan is both practical and achievable.  The plan points toward hitting the work-place trifecta: be better, faster & cheaper. Unfortunately, the trifecta is probably “why” we all need help, or nudging, to start the painful process of using technology to change our work flow, our pattern, our process, our work day. The trifecta and the current tech tools miss a very important motivational mark for us: we want a tool that –

  • is a game changer for our work product in the market place
  • give our work product a significant advantage over the competition

Until the trifecta is replaced with a market changer on our desktop, at best we’ll plod along with incremental improvements in our use of tech tools. But we all want more at work – something to rush after. If you view this differently, or have an comment, please share it with us.

The dead are beating their lenders in recognizing the value of, and then protecting, their on-line lives – I mean assets. Does the tortoise beat the hare (again)? Even when the tortoise is dead? This perspective rings out in this:

  • The Dead: on-line assets (accounts, sites and materials) are recognized as an important asset by executors, agents, guardians and beneficiaries; and trust and estate professionals are planning for the care of those assets
  • Their Lenders: on the other hand, lenders and their lawyers are not focusing on the ways technology is changing commercial real estate – such as the changes needed in their loan documents in order to appropriately include on-line assets (and access to them) as part of the loan collateral

In the March ’11 issue of Mortgage Tech Magazine, I wrote about a variance of this cognitive dissonance, where one group “gets it” (property owners) and the group financing it (lenders) seems to be blind on the ways that technology is changing commercial real estate.  And periodically here on L360, I offer up my thoughts under my “technology” category (over on the right side of this page). It jumped out to me again in the JanuaryFebruary 2012 issue of the ABA’s Probate & Property magazine, which is published by the section of the American Bar Ass’n populated by trust and estate lawyers and by real property lawyers. The magazine has in interesting article by Gerry Beyer and Naomi Cahn on estate planning for on-line accounts and other “digital assets.”  The article acknowledges that it is a sequel to a paper in 2011, and refers to an influential blog post in 2010. Separately, earlier this month, Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy covered this topic in their Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast.  This is an “old” topic for Dennis – one of my favorite pieces on estate planning and digital assets is a 2010 piece by Dennis Kennedy in the ABA”s “Law Practice Today” monthly webzine. In contrast:

  • where is all of the writing and information on “how” technology is changing legal issues in commercial real estate finance?

Clearly, the trust & estate lawyers (in their care for the dead) are way ahead of the real estate finance lawyers (in their care for the [living] lenders). Long live the dead tortoise. Please post your comments below.  

If, like most financial services companies, your department or work team only receives nominal support from your technology group, then my piece in the April issue of Law Practice Today  should interest you: it lays out  a fourfold strategy for better utilizing tech tools.  With fewer people doing more (the new workplace mantra), access to tech tools become our life vest. Clearly, in the struggle to win dollars for use in technology tools to support business platforms, most (all?) financial services companies pour money into the retail or consumer side of the platform.  And what is the level of technology spend available to the investment side of the platform?  Bare-bones.  Just enough to get by.  Or, perhaps more when the retail side is full (as it digests the latest and greatest up-grade). Although my piece is directed at in-house counsel, the content is relevant to all of us on these topics:

  • embrace collaboration
  • increase face time
  • standardize documentation
  • collect important information

This is a high level overview, with a few practical tips.  I’ll burrow done into these topics in the future. If you have advice or questions, please comment below.

Please come join us on Weds, April 25 at the 7:45a meeting of the Dallas Area Real Estate Discussion Group, at the Belo Mansion in downtown Dallas. I’ll “show” you  “how” I use an iPad in my work, with a focus on the top 10 apps used by me – and we’ll cover much more.  The focus is practical stuff. Here is the presentation, which gives you a good jump start in using your iPad at work: iPad presentation (April 23 2012 v1) DAREDG final. I look forward to meeting you. Keith

Today I’ll share my 10+ favorite apps, and some tips and resources, on “how” I use my iPad as I work in commercial real estate finance.  The sessions will be a short hour “break” for the leadership of the American College of Mortgage Attorneys.  This group is sharp.  So the session will be quick witted, pointed and fast moving. Attached is a iPad presentation (April 20 2012 v1) ACMA Regents final Just to make the session a little more  . . . interesting, I’ll be doing it without the use of a projector or any other AV device.  I have a handout for the group, just in case this approach flops:

  • I’ll use the “idea flight” iPad app, which will allow up to 30 people (or “passengers”) to view the presentation on their iPads, as I remotely “drive” it from my iPad (as the “pilot”).

I have two iPads with me, and it has worked great in my practice runs.  (And “thanks” to Tom Mighell for directing me to this app – and yes, I strongly encourage people to buy Tom’s two iPad & app books, and follow his iPad blog.) Why simply “talk” about using an iPad at work, when idea flight gives us a collaborative experience? Each of us holding, and then test driving apps, is a much, much, much better than the standard “sit there and listen” experience.  Indeed:

We won’t be “toying” around in this presentation.  Each of us will put our iPads to work.  (Do you know of any other real estate or finance industry group that has done this?)  (Yes . . . I’m nervous.) Here’s my top 10 apps for use in commercial real estate finance:

  1. Flipboard – “personal” magazine-style news, blogs, twitter, Facebook, etc. (free)
  2. Documents to Go Premium – view and edit Microsoft Office documents ($16.99)
  3. CloudOn – Word, PPoint & Excel in the “cloud” (free)
  4. Note Master – note-taking app; syncs with Google docs ( $3.99)
  5. Noteshelf – handwrittng note-taking app ($4.99)
  6. “new” iPad Voice Dictation
  7. iAnnotate PDF – save files to PDF 8( annotate ($9.99)
  8. PDF Converter – save files to PDF format ($6.99)
  9. Fastcase – legal research (free, but full use requires Fastcase subscription)
  10. GeeTasksPro – task and deal lists; syncs with Google Tasks ($7.99)

I hope this is helpful. Please post your favorite apps below, or your comments on the attached presentation.