The ABA Techshow: Teaching Technology for the Future of Law Practice

By Artie Berns

I recently attended the ABA Techshow in Chicago. The following are some of the highlights:

Prior to the actual event I attended a Dean’s Roundtable event, Teaching Technology in the Academy: Are We Finally at the Tipping Point. This event was hosted by Chicago Kent School of law and included a lively panel discussion about the modes and methods of teaching technology in the legal academy.  For me, the main take-away was that while we in the legal academy can theorize about what we should be teaching with regard to technology, a better indicator of what is needed is what the firms hiring our students want them to know when they arrive.  This event will be evolving into an actual academic track in next year’s Techshow. For more information about the upcoming academic track contact Michael Robak, robakm@umkc.edu.

More than one program I attended discussed the impact of expert systems on the practice of law.  In this context an expert system is one in which a computer conducts guided interviews to solve a particular legal problem, for instance in the program How to Hire a Robot – or Using Experts Systems in Today’s Law Firm an expert system was designed on the spot which would allow an end user to determine if they can obtain a divorce or annulment under Illinois law. Other expert systems are used to provide services for pro se litigants, for example Illinois Legal Aid Online (www.illinoislegalaidonline.org) uses A2J Author (http://www.a2jauthor.org) to help self-represented litigants to create legal forms for common legal problems.  Here in New England, the Massachusetts-based Committee for Public Counsel Services (https://www.publiccounsel.net/) uses QnA Markup (http://www.qnamarkup.org/) to help guide people to various legal resources. In the long term it is thought expert systems will be used for the automation of boring or repetitive tasks which will allow attorneys to spend their time addressing more complex and thought intensive tasks.

Several programs taught attendees to maximize the use of existing technologies such as Word, Excel, and Acrobat Pro.  Another very interesting program discussed the deep/dark web and how to conduct research there and why you would want to.  I discussed this program on the my law library’s blog, Spot-on Legal Research (http://wnelawlibrary.blogspot.com/2016/03/below-surface-web.html).  All told, I walked away from the ABA Techshow with a much better idea about what technologies we should be teaching to law students both today and in the future.

Legal Tech: Trello

By Carli Spina

Whether you are working on managing a solo project or coordinating the work of an entire team, organization is a key part of project management. But, it can be tough when you have your activities spread across multiple platforms and email accounts. Trello is designed to streamline and simplify this process.

Trello is designed to allow you to split your projects onto separate boards. You can then add “lists” to each board to represent the various stages of the project from planning to completion and put individual tasks on their own “cards.” Though the terminology of this system might seem foreign at first, this structure makes it easy to move tasks from start to finish by simply dragging the corresponding card to the proper list as each stage of the task is completed. Cards themselves can include a wealth of information, from tags to checklists to deadlines. If you have documents from outside Trello that are relevant to the task, you can even attach them to the card.

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Trello

While this can be a useful tool for keeping a solo project organized, it becomes even more useful when you are working with a team. Each level of Trello’s organization from board to card can be shared with collaborators. Each individual can set their own preferences for how they will get updates on the status of the project, including the option to receive regular emails. Trello even supports @-mentions, so you can have targeted conversations with individuals within the platform if that fits your workflow. And, since each board can be private, public, or team viewable, you have significant control over who will have access to each of your projects. To keep your project under control while you are on the go, Trello also has apps for Kindle Fire, iOS, and Android devices.

Another one of Trello’s strong suits is its documentation. It has a detailed guide to help you get started, which includes videos and example boards, a blog with additional tips, and an Inspiration space. Trello is a strong tool for a wide range of types of projects, but if you want library-specific inspiration, Aaron Tay recently wrote a blog post about how Trello is being used in libraries, which highlights great examples of how libraries are using Trello for all sorts of work from website redesigns to vendor negotiations. I highly recommend checking out Aaron’s post for some ideas about how your library might use Trello to manage projects and streamline team collaboration.

TimelineJS

By Carli Spina

Interactive timelines can be eye-catching and educational additions to websites, presentations, and course materials, but they can seem overwhelming to create. Luckily, TimelineJS is a tool that makes it easy to create impressive interactive timelines that can include a wide range of media, such as images, videos, and maps. Your entire timeline is based on content added to a Google Spreadsheet, so the first step is creating a new spreadsheet using the provided template. From there, you can simply replace the existing content with your own text and media. Once you are happy that all of your information is in the spreadsheet, you can publish it to the web and use the resulting link in the timeline generator on the TimelineJS site. When generating your timeline, you have the option to further customize it by selecting a language or font for your project, amongst other options. This feature also includes an option to generate code for use in a WordPress site, which is a nice addition that many other online tools miss.

When you are satisfied with your project, you can preview your timeline and generate the code for it. You will also receive the code necessary to add it to a site via an iFrame (unless you have selected the WordPress-compatible option). This code can be added to any website that accepts iFrames, including LibGuides and many standard content management systems. The entire process is very quick and user-friendly and the result is a dynamic timeline that looks impressive on everything from a mobile phone to a desktop computer. TimelineJS offers options for a range of types of users: you can complete the project from start to finish without ever working with any code or you can get involved with improving the project’s code on GitHub.

If you feel that this doesn’t offer sufficient flexibility for your needs, or if you just enjoy adding all of the bells and whistles to your projects, the new version of TimelineJS, called TimelineJS 3, is currently available in beta. This version of the software offers more features, including integration for Dropbox content and support for even larger timescales. You can see examples of timelines made with this new version on the project’s website.

No matter which version of TimelineJS you pick, you will find that it streamlines the process of creating an interactive timeline. Whether you want to add this to your course materials or integrate a timeline onto your website, TimelineJS will meet your needs. For a great example of this tool in use, check out the timeline Mindy Kent, former LLNE President and Manager of Research Services at Harvard Law School Library, created for our current exhibit, One Text, 16 Manuscripts: Magna Carta at the Harvard Law School Library. You can also see how TimelineJS works in the video below:

Legal Tech: Firefox Hello

By Carli Spina

These days, our patrons are always on the move. Whether this means a lawyer who is traveling for a client or a law student who is studying abroad, law librarians increasingly are faced with providing high quality reference service over long distances. While this frequently means lots of emails, this isn’t always the best way to answer questions or demonstrate techniques. Moreover, email can’t reproduce the personal interaction of a face-to-face meeting. Many libraries have experimented with using video chat to improve these long distance interactions, but often these tools have required that both the librarian and the patron have software pre-installed on their computer, which can be difficult depending on the technological skills possessed by the patron among other variables. Firefox Hello, a new chat tool from Firefox addresses many of these issues and offers a nice way to connect more personally with patrons no matter where they may be.

One of the greatest advantages of Hello is that it requires no login or account. Anyone with the latest version of Firefox installed on their computer may start a Hello session by clicking on a chat bubble icon at the top of the browser window as seen below without having to create an account or install a separate application.

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Clicking on the chat bubble reveals a dropdown menu as seen below. The menu includes your Hello history and the option to launch a new conversation. Each new conversation can be named and then you can email or copy the URL to share with anyone. To join the conversation, the recipient of the link need only be using a WebRTC-supported browser. This means anyone who has access to Firefox, Chrome, or Opera will be able to accept your conversation invitation simply by clicking on the link and then clicking on the join the conversation button in the resulting window.

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Once a chat has been initiated, participants will enter into a video chat window if they have a web camera enabled on their computer. However, at any point, a participant may choose to mute either the audio or the video on their side of the conversation.

While all of these features make Hello very useful and usable, what really sets it apart is the screensharing options that are integrated into this tool. Using this feature, either party can share either the tabs in their browser or any other window they have open on their computer. This makes Hello an invaluable tool for collaborating on projects, troubleshooting technical difficulties that patrons may encounter, or demonstrating tricky navigation or search techniques in databases.

Whether the patron is in another building on campus or in another country, Hello’s features can make online reference interactions more personal and effective. If this sounds like a tool that would be useful to your patrons, you can learn more about the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy or take a tour.

Law and Technology: Canva

By Carli Spina

No matter what your exact job title is, you probably find yourself working on design projects from time-to-time. Whether you are creating posters for an upcoming event, adding content to your library’s website or blog, or creating internal documentation for processes and workflows, graphic design is a feature of a huge array of different library projects. If you work on these sorts of projects every day, you probably have your favorite (and likely expensive) graphic design software installed on your computer. But, if you only work on these sorts of projects occasionally, you may find the steep costs and learning curves of this software daunting. Canva is a great tool for anyone in this situation. This web-based graphic design tool is free and quite easy to use and offers you the option to keep costs down by finding your own media to add to your project or to use premium Canva images and templates for a reasonable cost (usually $1 per item).

Canva1
When you first log onto Canva, you are given the option to create a design either based on your own custom dimensions or by using one of the available project types. These run the gamut from the dimensions needed for common types of social media posts to the dimensions needed to create slides for a presentation, so you will frequently find an option that meets your needs. Even if you don’t find the size you need, you can easily specify your own dimensions.

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Once you select your dimensions, your new project will automatically open and prompt you to select a layout. You can instead opt to create your own custom layout, but it is nice to have the option to use one of the included layouts as a starting point. Though not all of the available layouts are free, any that are not free are marked, as is true of all premium content in Canva. One of the nicest features offered by Canva is its integrated image search. This tool allows you to search for images from within Canva when you need them for your project. Some of the images that are returned will be premium images (most, if not all, of which cost $1 each), but generally you will also find free images this way. If you can’t find the right image for your project, you can also upload your own images, which allows you to maintain complete control over the final product. Canva also offers a number of fonts and logos that can help to give your project a professionally designed appearance.

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Your project will automatically save as you work on it. Drafts or completed projects can be shared using the unique URL given to each project and you can specify whether you want the shared project to be editable or not. By default, only you are able to edit the project. Canva also has an integrated option to share projects directly to Facebook, Twitter, or email if you want to solicit feedback on your design. You can also download your project as a PDF or PNG file, at which point you will be asked to pay for any of the premium content that you used.

If you are new to graphic design (or have patrons who are), Canva also offers a number of resources to help you get started. Canva users can opt to make their projects public and those projects all end up in the “Design Stream,” which is part gallery and part social network. This can be a great place to look to see what others have done with the tool and to get inspiration. Canva also offers tutorials that are designed to walk even someone who has no design experience through many of the basic principles of graphic design. If you are interested in offering classes to teach your patrons about graphic design, Canva also offers lesson plans that make it easy to integrate Canva into this type of programming. All of this content is free, which makes it a great perk for Canva users. I’ve been using Canva off and on for months and I think it is a great tool for library design projects.

Law and Technology: Haiku Deck

By Carli Spina

No matter what your role at your library, you probably have to create presentations or support patrons creating presentations from time to time. The most popular tool for creating presentation slides is still PowerPoint, but other alternatives have emerged to offer free and online options for creating engaging presentations. One of my favorite of these tools is Haiku Deck.

Available as both a web application and an iPad app, Haiku Deck allows users to create presentations that are focused on images and visual information without the added complication of having to search for these visuals in other sources. Instead, Haiku Deck has an integrated image search feature that allows users to find relevant Creative Commons-licensed images that have been posted on Flickr and integrate them seamlessly into their slidedeck. Once an image has been selected, Haiku Deck even automates the process of properly attributing the image to its creator by including all of this information at the bottom of the slide.


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Haiku Deck also offers some options for creating charts within the application if you would like to present data in your slides, though you can also upload your own charts and images if you would prefer.

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While it is true that Haiku Deck offers more limited features than other tools such as PowerPoint, this is actually one of the advantages of the service. Users can choose from twenty different themes and more than twelve layouts, but beyond this there is little to no ability to further customize the slides. This is a limitation, but the payoff is that Haiku Deck is able to offer a consistent and very professional look to the finished slides.

Finished slides can be shared online, either publicly, privately, or under a limited option where only those with the link can find the slides. Users can also opt to make their slides reusable so that other Haiku Deck users can use these decks as a starting place for their own work. Decks can also be shared via social media, email or as an embeddable slideshow. If a user would prefer to export slides, Haiku Deck also offers the option to export as a PDF or as PowerPoint slides. This also means that slides from Haiku Deck can be integrated into a presentation that has been created in another tool.

Recently, Haiku Deck has also debuted a new tool called Haiku Deck Zuru. This ambitious product uses artificial intelligence to take an existing presentation or even a simple outline for a presentation and generate a completed slidedeck automatically. Slides can be imported from PowerPoint, Keynote, or Evernote, with more import options planned for the future. This feature is not included in the free Haiku Deck accounts, but is instead currently available for an annual pre-order price of $30, which is a 50% discount on the planned price of $60 per year. While I have not yet tried this tool, it is an intriguing possible option for the future. If you frequently create slide decks and are interested in new technologies, it may be an interesting option for automating some of your slide creation process. You can see a demo of Zuru below.

An Update on Ello

By Carli Spina

In the most recent issue of the LLNE News, I wrote about the new social network Ello. Since that article was published, Ello has continued to add some new features to respond to user concerns, such as settings that will make sure that you don’t encounter “not safe for work” content and the ability to block or mute other users. Perhaps even more interesting to LLNE blog readers, Ello also changed its legal status to address concerns that it would ultimately sell user data or allow ads to be placed on the network. In an effort to alleviate these concerns, Ello has converted to a Public Benefit Corporation (“PBC”) under the laws of Delaware. In a letter posted on the site, the founders and investors argue that this will bind them to their stated mission of remaining ad-free. Specifically, the letter states,

“Ello’s PBC’s charter states that Ello shall not for pecuniary gain:

  1. Sell user-specific data to a third party;
  2. Enter into an agreement to display paid advertising on behalf of a third party; and
  3. In the event of an acquisition or asset transfer, the Company shall require any acquiring entity to adopt these requirements with respect to the operation of Ello or its assets.”

This is an interesting and fairly high profile use of the relatively new (at least in Delaware) Public Benefit Corporation structure to alleviate a specific public relations problem for a company. Under Delaware law, a Public Benefit Corporation is “a for-profit corporation organized under and subject to the requirements of this chapter that is intended to produce a public benefit or public benefits and to operate in a responsible and sustainable manner. To that end, a public benefit corporation shall be managed in a manner that balances the stockholders’ pecuniary interests, the best interests of those materially affected by the corporation’s conduct, and the public benefit or public benefits identified in its certificate of incorporation.”[1] This provision was enacted on August 1, 2013 and on the first day Delaware saw a record 17 businesses file to become PBCs. However, after that initial rush to become a PBC, the incorporation of new PBCs or the conversion of other entities to PBCs slowed and in the end only 55 PBCs existed in Delaware 90 days after the effective date of the provision.[2] It remains to be seen how popular PBCs will become, but with several states offering this kind of corporate structure, it is important to understand the basics of how they differ from other corporate entities.

But, what does converting to a PBC mean for Ello? As a Public Benefit Corporation, Ello will have to state its principles in its certificate of incorporation and at all times balance these principles with stockholder interests when making decisions. This type of organization is specifically intended to benefit organizations that are not nonprofits but nevertheless wish to commit to a purpose beyond pure monetary gain, so it seems like a good fit for Ello, but at the same time, there is not much law clarifying exactly how this balancing should be done and, as some critics have noted, the company could always convert away from PBC status in the future if a sufficient number of shareholders agreed to the plan. Ultimately, for Ello, this conversion will likely have the desired effect of reassuring users to at least some degree that the company will remain true to its stated principles. And, the plan seems to be succeeding in at least one way: the company has already received $5.5 million in venture funding.

 

[1] Del. Code tit. 8, §362.

[2] Alicia E. Plerhoples, Delaware Public Benefit Corporations 90 Days Out: Who’s Opting in?, 14 U.C. Davis Bus. L.J. 247, 259 (2014).