I Felt Pretty Secure About Our Computer Server, I Shouldn’t Have

I Felt Pretty Secure About Our Computer Server, I Shouldn’t Have

When I hear people arguing about how secure cloud computing is, or isn’t, I chuckle a little (to myself). I never lost sleep worrying about how secure our computer server was. As a former Information Technology (IT) director, I made sure our systems were password protected and secure behind a firewall.1

I’d Been Locked Out Myself

Further, our computer server was in a locked cabinet. The locked cabinet was in a locked equipment room. In order to get to the locked equipment room, you had to somehow gain access to the locked office. To gain access to the office, you had to get into the building somehow. All the doors stayed locked except the building doors. At six o’clock in the evening, the building doors locked automatically. I’d been locked out myself a couple of times.

In addition to the security system our building had, my office was designed with an independent security system that only allowed access to people with the code – which we changed often. It seemed like I was always having to memorize a new passcode. One long weekend, the office building was burglarized (all 15 floors). The burglars left our office alone, I figure our independent security system spooked them. All in all, I felt pretty secure. I shouldn’t have.

He Carried My Computer Server Out Under His Arm

Rigged backup

In December of 2012, an attorney in the firm walked out the front door with the computer server under his arm. Of all the high-tech cyber-crime scenarios we had guarded against, our computer server just walked out the front door!

Fortunately, he was an attorney and former member of the firm so the data was not at risk like it might have been if the computer server had been carried off by a masked burglar. Unfortunately, as a former member of the firm, he claimed an interest in the computer server so there was no quick ownership resolution. The true cost was in organizational disruption and the time that had to be put into recovering data.

A Sad Backup is Better Than None

At least, we had a backup. It was an old tape cartridge system and as soon as we started extracting large segments of data from it, the power supply died. Since the system was so old, there was apparently not a replacement unit -or replacement parts – on the planet. Our computer tech guy was able to rig a replacement power supply. This image is a sad – but working – backup system. A sad backup system is better than no backup system.

Cloud Computing is Cheaper

Other members of the firm and I had considered several proposals for off-site computing. They seemed expensive compared to our relatively low technology budget. In retrospect, our budget was understated. It did not consider the cost of catastrophic failure (like a hurricane or someone carrying the computer server away under their arm). Also, our budget did not consider the cost of inefficiency due to operating with technology that was two or three generations behind.

In cloud computing, all IT resources and applications are maintained and managed offsite, so your firm pays only for the services it needs and uses. All of the critical hardware, software, maintenance, and management is provided, so businesses have minimal start-up costs and predictable ongoing operating expenses.

There is also the consideration of disruption when the computer server is down or (in our case) missing. Over an average year, our computer server might have been down one full day. We were so dependent on IT, most attorneys and staff were so unproductive during that day, there was little work that could be completed. In the case of a catastrophic event, this unproductive period might last days or weeks. The cost of disruption is simply too high to pay.

Cloud computing offers disaster recovery and business continuity solutions, so you are immediately back up and running in the event of a catastrophic event.

I Have Flip-Flopped on Cloud Technology

Certainly, I was convinced that our computer server was secure. I also had an uneasy feeling about cloud computing. I believed that I could maintain a higher level of security with a legacy system than a private vendor could with state-of-the-art technology.

Today, I have flip-flopped. I’m writing this post on a cloud platform. Cloud computing protects data with state-of-the-art, highly secure US-based facilities that feature 99.99% uptime and up to moment-by-moment backups. It is important that you select a cloud computing vendor that can serve the higher standards placed on law firms. The lawyer must maintain ownership of the data, the data must be kept separate and never shared.

Pay for What You Use – Not What You Might Use

The power of the cloud is that it grows with you – your law firm can scale IT infrastructure up as needed. Your law firm does not need to make a capital call, save or borrow for future requirements. You never have to have another discussion with a technology vendor about more hard drive space, RAM, CPUs, or additional software user license subscriptions. These are simply scaled up on the cloud as you need them.

When there is a large swing in client demand, a law firm conducts a return on investment analysis on some level. Is it worth investing in the technology to meet the client demand? If the client demand normalizes or goes away all together, the investment no longer makes a return. This return on investment roller coaster is avoided with cloud computing.

When client demand increases, cloud computing resources are scaled up to meet the demand. When client demand decreases, cloud computing is flexible enough to seamlessly scale down. In both instances, the law firm only pays for what it uses – not what it might use. Cloud computing serves both the client and the law firm budget best.

Empowering People to Work

Offsite accessibility was an ongoing concern for our firm. On the one hand, attorneys and staff wanted the ability to work from home and we wanted to accommodate them. Empowering people to work when they want to work improves productivity. On the other hand, every time someone connects to the computer from outside the office, it is a security risk.

On a cloud platform, authorized users can easily connect to their virtual office from any location and any device with an Internet connection – allowing 24/7 access to your private cloud environment. There are some internal security policies that have to be followed (like not connecting over public WIFI). But with those considerations, remote connections are secure.

Is Cloud Computing For You?

It’s cheaper, more flexible, scalable, and more accessible. Even so, you have to decide if it is right for your law practice. The only real advice I can give you is this, “no matter how many locks you have, somebody can still walk out the front door with your computer server under their arm.”

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Brandon Blankenship
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  1. ©2016 Brandon L. Blankenship, Image Credit: Untitled by Leah Grace CC flickr 19MAR2011.
Three Ways to Have the Most Awesome Marriage Ever

Three Ways to Have the Most Awesome Marriage Ever

According to my wife, I work a lot. Mostly I agree with her. When we first married I worked in technology and it was common for me to work all day, all night, and all the next day. I have had a couch in my office for years because I discovered that I can sleep for 20 minutes and work another four hours productively. Later, the practice of law rewarded hard work. The more I worked, the better result I got for my clients.

To be fair, I did take time off. Over the years, we have taken vacations lasting from three days to a month. In fact, not too long ago I took a year-long sabbatical from working and teaching. Even then, my wife would tell you that I worked on “projects” the whole time.

No Formula for an Awesome Marriage

What I find remarkable is that our marriage today is better than it ever has been. We have been married for 27 years – and we dated eight years before we married. There have been times when I have been a sorry husband, and in spite of that, today we have an awesome marriage. It would be disingenuous for me to say that I had discovered a formula that you could follow for certain success. I haven’t. In fact, as my friends have suffered divorce over the years I am only certain of one thing: you are only married as long as your spouse wants to be.

Even so, during one of our dates, I asked my wife if there was anything – anything – that I got right over the years. Anything that I could share with others that might increase their chances of an awesome marriage. Here is her list:

  1. You go on dates with me often;
  2. You give me your undivided attention every day;
  3. You ask for forgiveness and forgive.

“You go on dates with me often…”

This reminds me of a quote from Alabama’s most prolific movie star, Eugene Walter, “if you have $10, throw a $10 dinner party.” Walter never let mismatched silverware or paper plates stand in the way of a dinner party. The same is true for a date with your wife. If you have $10, have a $10 date.

Before we had children, this just happened naturally. Now, it requires intention. Decide what you are doing, pull out the calendar, write it down and stick to it. Honor this appointment more than you would honor an appointment with anyone else. In ten years, an appointment you rescheduled with a client will be forgotten. Not so with your spouse. And this date has other rules. To qualify as a date:

-it has to be just us;
-phones go in airplane mode;
-the conversation can be about anything except scheduling or logistics. Find some other time to schedule your time, budget and work out who will share which duties.

“You give me your undivided attention every day…”

Imagine the kid who holds his mother’s face in his hands so he can tell her something important.  Even if it is just a few minutes, I work to give my wife that level of attention, every day.

“You ask for forgiveness and forgive…”

All relationships are built on trial and error, mostly error. Everybody I have ever met I started off not knowing. I don’t know what I expect, and I don’t know what they expect. At some point, one of us makes a mistake. Whether the relationship continues to grow is based on our ability to forgive.

When Zig Ziglar was in his eighties (and had been married over sixty years) he was asked in an interview what the biggest argument was with his wife. He said, “sitting here today – I don’t remember a single argument I had with [my wife].” The interviewer scoffed, “after over sixty years of marriage you never had an argument?” Zig replied, “I didn’t say we didn’t have arguments – I said I don’t remember any of them.” That is the most awesome marriage ever.

My lifelong relationships are peppered with forgiveness. By the way, those relationships are the most meaningful to me. Why would your marriage be any different?

A Closing Thought

When I first started practicing law, I would have heated courtroom arguments with the other side. When we finished, we would shake hands, go eat lunch or get a cup of coffee, or at least just hang out and talk a little while. Sometimes we would apologize right there about letting the argument get personal or pushing this or that – and then it was over. If forgiveness is so powerful at home, why wouldn’t it be in our profession?

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Brandon Blankenship
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How to Investigate Yourself and Avoid the Invisible Gorilla

How to Investigate Yourself and Avoid the Invisible Gorilla

The nagging question for me is the same as it was four years ago, “how could all of that happen and I didn’t see it?” If there was an invisible gorilla, how did I not see it? The complete answer is a moderately sized book. Here, however, is one method you can use to avoid ever having to ask yourself this question. Further, although these facts are concentrated in a law firm, the principle works in most every area of life – business, dating, anywhere an invisible gorilla might sneak into your life.

The question could arise when, like me, a grievance or complaint is filed against your law firm. It was filed shotgun-style against every member of the firm. After meeting to share what facts we knew, we appointed one of our attorneys to conduct an internal investigation and draft a response.

What Is An Invisible Gorilla?

An invisible gorilla is a popularized way of saying a condition known as inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice a fully-visible, but unexpected object because attention was engaged on another task, event, or object.1 Several tests have been done to study this phenomenon with the most popular being the invisible gorilla test.

In the “… Invisible Gorilla Test,2 [a group of subjects were asked] to watch a short video of two groups of people (wearing black and white t-shirts) pass a basketball around. The subjects are told to either count the number of passes made by one of the teams or to keep count of bounce passes vs. aerial passes. In different versions of the video a woman walks through the scene … wearing a full gorilla suit. After watching the video the subjects are asked if they noticed anything out of the ordinary take place. In most groups, 50% of the subjects did not report seeing the gorilla…. The failure to perceive the [gorilla] is attributed to the failure to attend to it while engaged in the difficult task of counting the number of passes of the ball. These results indicate that the relationship between what is in one’s visual field and perception is based much more on attention than was previously thought.”3

Inattentional Blindness – Click Here to Test a Friend

An Invisible Gorilla in a Law Firm?

Notice that the test subjects’ failure to see a gorilla walk through the scene was not related to how obvious or outlandish the gorilla was. A bunch of people were passing basketballs and a gorilla walked through the scene, everybody saw that, right? Wrong! What was relevant was the level of attentiveness the subjects were giving to their assigned task – to count the number of passes. The more the subjects concentrated on their assigned task, the less they saw the gorilla in the scene.

A Particular Threat to Law Firms

Maybe not at first glance, but law firms may be particularly susceptible to invisible gorillas. My first mentor encouraged me to start my day as a lawyer as early as possible. His practice was to start the day sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 in the morning. He was convinced that the early morning hours were more productive and that he could give his full attention without distraction. I learned from him that the more undistracted attention I gave to a matter, the better service I provided for my client.

So, if you have several matters that you are responsible for and you are giving each one of them as much attention as they deserve, how many invisible gorillas might be lurking in your law practice? Doesn’t this research seem to indicate that the better service you provide your clients the more susceptible you are to invisible gorillas?

A Certain Method

Turns out that the attorney that we assigned to investigate was the invisible gorilla. The culpable party was assigned to investigate himself. And, it would be easy to say that is the method: Don’t appoint the culpable to investigate themselves. That may be a method, but it isn’t a certain one. After all, if you knew who the culprit was you probably wouldn’t need an investigation.

The certain method is to hire someone outside of the situation to conduct the investigation. Hire someone outside the firm to give their full attention to the investigation. At least two things are accomplished by hiring someone outside the firm. First, their opinions are not colored by the people involved. Second, since they are being compensated for paying attention, they are certain to see the gorillas.

Broader Use

Consider using the method in other areas of your life. Where you may have thought that it was easy to split your attention across several things, reconsider. For example, if you read something that consumes your attention while you child is playing at the park, takes someone with you to help watch your child (or make your child the focus of your attention).

The examples are endless and one thing is clear. Attention is a limited resource. When you give it to one thing, you take it away from another. Make sure that what you take it away from doesn’t put you at risk of an invisible gorilla.

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Brandon Blankenship
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  1. See Mack, A., & Rock, I. (1998), Inattentional Blindness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Conducted by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University. This study, a revised version of earlier studies conducted by Ulric Neisser, Neisser and Becklen in 1975.
  3. Most, SB; Simons, DJ; Scholl, BJ; Jimenez, R; Clifford, E; Chabris, CF (January 2001). “How not to be seen: the contribution of similarity and selective ignoring to sustained inattentional blindness”. Psychol Sci 12 (1): 9–17. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00303. PMID 11294235.
Inattentional Blindness – Test a Friend

Inattentional Blindness – Test a Friend

Inattentional Blindness

Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice a fully visible, but unexpected object because attention was engaged on another task, event, or object.1

Test a Friend

Skeptical? Test a friend. Testing yourself won’t work as well because you are already aware that this is a split attention test. Knowing that you will be more attentive to unexpected objects. Instead, pick a friend, don’t tell them what they are being tested for, and get them to watch the video below and follow the instructions. The research says that 50% of your friends will fail.

Take It Home

Fun, yes! But don’t leave it at that. Take the opportunity to ask the question, “Is there something in my life that I don’t see because I am paying so much attention to other things?”

Hey, if you aren’t paying attention to stuff that doesn’t matter anyway – great! But, if you aren’t paying attention to something that does matter – maybe it’s time to make a change.

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Brandon Blankenship
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  1. See Mack, A., & Rock, I. (1998). Inattentional Blindness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Law Firms of Endearment

Law Firms of Endearment

Is there such a thing as Law Firms of Endearment? The authors of Firm of Endearment define a firm of endearment as a firm that is reorganizing and optimizing in response to the new age we live in, the Age of Transcendence.1 An example of a non-legal Firm of Endearment would be Whole Foods.

Age of Transcendence

In essence, the Age of Transcendence emerged around 1990 as the adult majority started getting over 40 years old and the internet started making information readily accessible to the masses. With the shifting maturity of the population, views about business started shifting away from materialism and toward meaning. One manifestation of this shift is a consumer who is now motivated more by experience than materialism.2

Law Firms of Endearment

A Firm of Endearment “…strives through their words and deeds to endear themselves to all their primary stakeholders.”3 For law firms, primary stakeholders are clients, benches, bars, clients, employees, suppliers, communities, and partners. “By aligning the interests of all in such a way that no stakeholder group gains at the expense of other stakeholder groups … they all prosper together.”4

Do They Exist?

The answer is, we don’t know yet. Converging market trends seem to indicate that law firms of endearment must emerge for the legal profession, as we know it, to survive. Today, however, no qualitative or quantitative standards have been established to qualify law firms as law firms of endearment. Who will step up and establish these standards? Will it be regulatory agencies like state bars? Trade associations? A consortium of law firms and organizations? More importantly, what role will you play?

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Brandon Blankenship
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  1. ©2016 Brandon L. Blankenship.
  2. See generally, Wolfe, David B., The Third Cultural Age of Modern Times (Retrieved 4March2016).
  3. Sisodia, Raj; Sheth, Jag; Wolfe, David B., Firms of Endearment, Second Edition, p. xxiii.
  4. Supra.