Ever consider Elon Musk’s goal of having people travel to Mars in ten years? No? Let’s dig in to the topic for a few moments. I was a child who heard President Kennedy’s challenge to land a human on the moon. We did it and it was a big deal. My family named our new purebred Irish Setter O’Grady’s Rusty Moon because he joined our family on the day of the moon landing. Musk’s challenge, as was President Kennedy’s challenge, is audacious and exciting.
To meet his goal, Musk needs money and a collaborative team. You may think I am redundant by including “collaborative.” If so, think back on teams you joined. Were they all collaborative? My guess is no, many were teams on paper and groups of individuals in real life. I was on many of those teams in the corporate world. The CEO would announce a team and charge it with a goal. We would assemble and find that each team member focused on his or her department’s goals instead of the CEO’s goal. That is, his or her compensation targets. Team members were reluctant to devote time to something that lacked a direct connection between action and reward. Turning those teams into performing units was a challenge.
By “collaborative team” I mean a team that will pull on all the oars to move the boat. This is a team aligned behind the goal. Each member will do his or her part to get from start to finish. These are fun teams.
Lawyers are goal oriented, so we exceed expectations as members of teams that have specific goals. We can handle “close the deal,” “win the case,” and “finance the new venture.” We spend a long education career focused on goals—tests, grades, entrance exams, bar exams. Professional goals, like those I named, and career goals, like “make partner,” are part of the gig.
Our success level drops on the collaboration part. We want innovation, we (okay, some of “we”) want change, and we want clients to love us. But, we find it difficult to share with others. This is collaboration.
We can go back to Musk and going to Mars. To accomplish this goal, Musk needs a collaborative team. Your first thought went to building the rocket—he needs a big, powerful, reusable rocket. That sounds like what he does with SpaceX, build reusable rockets for space travel. He needs lots of engineers. Engineers working with engineers is like lawyers working with lawyers. We need broader collaboration.
The engineering team gets the crew to Mars. Remember, it is a 260 day journey. The crew will stay on Mars for three to four months. As we all know, planets travel on elliptical orbits. The nine month journey got the crew to Mars as Mars arrived at the point in its orbit closest to Earth. The crew will want the same advantage coming home. The crew will spend three to four months on Mars doing things as they wait for the right moment to get back to Earth in the shortest period. All in, the crew’s trip will last 22 to 23 months.
This trip requires a powerful rocket. The crew needs plans for food, medical emergencies, clothing, housing, social issues, communication, and travel on Mars. Musk has help to figure all of this out. He has a collaborative team composed of experts from many disciplines (I’m guessing he skipped lawyers). They must collaborate or they will fail and failure means people may die.
Teams Serve Clients’ Interests
Practicing law is serious, but most of the time a lawyer’s failure means something other than a client’s death. It can, however, mean the client suffers some serious consequences. Collaboration would help lawyers do better at tackling client problems. Client’s have problems with legal dimensions. The best solution may involve a small law component and big dollops of other things. Without a collaborative team, delivering that must-part solution is difficult.
Innovation suffers if everyone on the team wears the same “I am a ________” badge. Collaborative teams built with people from many disciplines perform better. Entrepreneurs know this and have focused their time and sponsor’s money building collaborative tools. The network is the thing.
Facebook is a collaborative tool. So is Snapchat, Slack, and even Word is a collaborative tool (it offers “real-time co-authoring to see everyone’s changes as they happen”). I have seen products at various stages of development that try to break the “toss it over the wall” barrier. Lawyer drafts document, tosses it over the wall to opposing counsel. Opposing counsel edits document, tosses it over the wall back to the first lawyer. These products allow both lawyers to be in the document at the same time working through changes.
Outside the legal industry, collaboration takes the form of sharing research, writing, and knowledge. The scholars and practitioners use sharing to advance the domain. New tools have come out to make the collaboration process easier and interesting.
I am not endorsing any of these tools. All sit outside the legal industry. All encourage collaboration outside a single domain. Scholars in natural science prefer some, scholars in social sciences favor others. Some will give you ideas to help collaborate and advance the legal industry. The tools are free (some have premium features). Think of what these tools could be if lawyers became part of the broader knowledge universe, rather than isolating their knowledge.
Authorea is a collaborate writing and publishing tool. But, it goes further than static text. You can combine many types of information into one Authorea document. Text is the basic starting point. To that, you can add interactive figures, data that readers can modify on the fly, and equations. You can use dynamically modified charts. You can use simple writing languages (Markdown) or go to sophisticated typesetting languages (LaTeX). You can improve the document so readers engage with what is on the screen.
Lawyers think they produce text. But, lawyers need to tell stories using all forms of media. An article discussing self-represented litigants becomes interesting with graphs. Interest increases as the reader applies filters to the graphs giving dynamic control over the content. Including video in an article discussing body cameras makes a lasting impression.
Authorea is in Beta as the developers bring on features. It and other software in this category offer a “one-click” submission feature. It partners with journals. Authors can submit their article, formatted for a specific journal, without spending time re-formatting for each submission. Authorea authors can export their articles in various formats (including Word), and preprint articles on Authorea’s site (complete with DOI, a tool I discuss in a few paragraphs).
Overleaf is another collaborative authoring tool. It uses LaTeX, a typesetting language I mentioned in the Authorea discussion. A mathematician developed LaTeX. He included formulas in his articles, But, available software lacked a way to type formulas. LaTeX has expanded so that today it is a full-fledged typesetting software. But, it has been something of a geek’s paradise. To use LaTeX, you had to love two things: 1) playing with code, and 2) bumps in the road (known as glitches).
Overleaf (and Authorea, and others) bring LaTeX to everyone. They make it easier to use LaTeX without having to know LaTeX. Create a paper on Overleaf with your co-author using a template, and you have a publication ready document. You can include graphs, images, video, and formulas. It includes version and change tracking (as does Authorea). You can use it to create presentations, brochures, and other documents.
Ken Grady is a popular name. One Ken Grady does research in biology. One Ken Grady is a chief information officer and one is a teacher. I have seen links on Google to others, though at least a few seem to have had experiences with law enforcement on the other side of the bar. How is a poor software package going to tell us apart? Enter ORCID.
“ORCID provides a persistent digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher and, through integration in key research workflows such as manuscript and grant submission, supports automated linkages between you and your professional activities ensuring that your work is recognized.” It is like a universal bar license number system. ORCID gives a computer a way to distinguish me from other Ken Gradys.
ORCID is a transparency tool. If each litigator used an ORCID, we could run a search to find all the cases involving that litigator. We could review briefs filed to measure quality. We could track what each lawyer wrote through articles, blog posts, briefs, and so on. For many lawyers, the thought of accountability could be scary. For others, it would be an advantage. For clients, it would mean transparency.
DOI stands for “digital object identifier.” It is the ORCID for digital material—a unique identifier for digital matter. The International DOI Foundation is the governance and management body for the DOI® System. The DOI System meets the ISO standard 26324:2012 (Digital object identifier system). What does all this mean?
Lawyers use an outdated system for referring to materials built on hard copy publications. Instead, lawyers could use a persistent, standardized, and open identifier system. This system works in the electronic world. Citing to a case as “XXX F.3d XXX” tells us something if we use books published by West Publishing Company, part of Thomson Reuters. Today, most law libraries and law firms have disposed of the books. They use online tools, such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Fastcase. We cite books no one has, instead of DOIs that take us to the case. Law reviews stick to hard publication cites for the journals rather than using DOIs. Switching to DOIs would encourage broader readership and remove another obscure citation format.
The Social Science Research Network advertises that it provides “725,614 research papers from 334,913 researchers across 30 disciplines.” It includes economics, law, humanities, accounting, and cognitive science. You can find papers from authors seeking feedback. You can find papers accepted for publication. You can find conference papers and research papers the authors will not submit for publishing. This is an information dissemination network.
SSRN has had some controversy in recent times. Elsevier, owner of the scientific paper publishing site Mendeley, acquired SSRN in 2016. That changed SSRN from a non-profit entity into a part of a for-profit publisher. Many have expressed concerned that SSRN’s open source content may change to pay-for-access content. SSRN has changed, but it remains open source.
One of the claimed benefits of the move is the association with Mendeley. The argument is that the connection between the areas covered by SSRN will become integrated with the areas covered by Mendeley. We will see what happens, but it is a sign that greater collaboration among disciplines fits with the mood of the times.
SocArXiv is new, having started in July 2016. The founders announced it following Elsevier’s acquisition of SSRN. It is open source and focuses on social sciences. For many, it stepped into the space SSRN had occupied as the founders (and others) feared Elsevier’s impact on open source publishing.
SocArXiv focuses on preprints. It uses the preprint definition from the Open Research Glossary, “a manuscript draft that has not yet been subject to formal peer review, distributed to received early feedback on research from peers.” The legal industry has avoided peer review. To lawyers, preprints include “papers that have been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal, but not yet been ‘printed’ (on paper or electronically).”
Embrace Collaborative Teams
Lawyers live in a world of confidentiality and privilege. That makes it easy for us to confuse sharing with professional responsibility. They write papers, articles, and blog posts every day. They file briefs in open court. They do public presentations.
Lawyers need to share with other lawyers, with clients, and with those outside the legal industry. Lawyers should collaborate on what they do, to get the benefit of many ideas. They need to create and leverage teams, to get something greater than what each can create alone. Lawyers must move past the gladiatorial battle cry of “my ideas will crush yours” to “how can our clients benefit from what we do.”
This is an essay on these details of publishing papers, presentations, and other materials. I avoided telling you how reading it would satisfy the “will this help me in the next 30 minutes.” If I frustrated you, I am sorry. Lawyers must work on their need for immediate gratification.
If you are outside the mix of developments in your area that interest your clients, you have lost relevance. Simple computer automation can take a big load off your back. Use the time to understand what your clients need and find value. That value lies in the world of material published every day, and to which you contribute, that is hard for all of us to access.
In my class on Entrepreneurial Lawyering, we discuss the idea of an “unfair advantage.” This is an advantage your competitors will find difficult to match. Ubers app is a good example. Taxi drivers may have a local app, but will find it hard to have one app you can use worldwide to hail and pay for a taxi. Being a lawyer educated in the developing ideas relevant to your client in your domain would—strangely—give you an unfair advantage. To succeed in that world you need to collaborate.