Jane Thinks Out Loud
Jane Prepares for the Business Blogging Boot Camp

Smart Woman Online: Joy London

Today's Smart Woman Online is a unique individual with a unique background in writing, knowledge management, and the law. As a trainer at Allen & Overy's U.S. law practice, Joy London has responsibilities that cut across different geographical and legal practice areas in various countries.

We will hear about Joy's blog "excited utterances: more than just an exception to the hearsay rule" which she began in in May 2002 as a way of managing the web-based information she found relating to law firm knowledge management. Joy believes blogs are a great source of information, not only for the individual, but also for colleagues who specialize in a similar area. According to Joy, "Blogs are a great way of pinpointing where the most reliable information can be found."

Lip-sticking: We like your blog design very much. Did you develop this blog on your own, or did you have help--either technically or in design? We also think your blog title is terrific...tell us how you came up with it.

Joy: I began excited utterances at the suggestion of a former law firm colleague and dear friend. He recognized that I had something different to offer. As a "recovering lawyer" (I graduated from Temple University School of Law in 1986 and practiced for about 3 years), I sought an alternate career from legal practice. For thirteen years, I worked in law publishing--first as an editor, and then as an online marketer. After joining a major Wall Street law firm, as a knowledge manager in 2000, I obtained a Graduate Certificate in Information Technology from NYU. In 2002, I joined the offices of Allen & Overy.

Although blogs had been around long before I created eu, they seemed to explode onto the scene in 2003. At that time, there were only a few blawgs concentrating on the technology issues of law practice. Instead of following that theme, I wanted to tackle the sociological and psychological aspects of knowledge exchange in law domains--specifically large law firms worldwide.

With Blogger, it was easy to set up a blog within five minutes. I knew very little about the technology behind blog software, but it didn't matter. With a little bit of guidance from a former colleague, I was able to get up and running very quickly. Along the way, I learned a few more techie things--like how to create a blog roll, how to add a place for comments, and how to create an e-mail subscription and a RSS feed for readers.

As a Jacob Nielsen adherent, I was determined to stick to creating a user-friendly interface experience. The template I chose reminded me of the columns in a newspaper. I think that format makes it easy on the eye, allowing the reader to quickly move through the text of the blog. I chose not to add any graphics for fear that they may take too long to download. In today's knowledge economy, no one has the time to wait for a picture to download --not even for five seconds!

As for the title of the blawg--that was an easy one! While in law school, I was fascinated by the doctrine (and the phrasing) of two particular legal "terms of art." One was "attractive nuisance"--a principal of tort law, and the other was "excited utterances"--an English common law exception to the hearsay rule.
For a good explanation of the emergence of the "excited utterances" doctrine, I refer you to the NCWC.edu web site.

excited utterances: this exception to the hearsay rule is " . . . [b]ased on the principle that all human behavior involves planning, reflection, and self-interest. Eliminate that reflection and you've got behavior that isn't always self-interested, and more likely to be sincere and trustworthy. The law has always recognized immediacy as a sign of truth. It takes time and reflection to lie. Also, according to the law, it takes a shock of some momentous occasion to elicit a spontaneous utterance."
"The Federal Rule of Evidence (Rule 803) on this matter prefers to call such things "excited" utterances, and defines them as "statements made to a startling event or condition while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition." In practice, this exception usually involves 911 calls or quick police responses where the victim is found hysterical, in great pain, frightened, and/or bleeding profusely, as with a domestic violence, battery, or rape incident. In such cases, the court will usually allow the police officer to testify on behalf of the victim, and such testimony is not considered hearsay, but 'the event speaking and not the speaker'."

So, "excited utterances" was a perfect name for the spontaneous expressions of energy I wanted to share with an audience. I was more interested in expressing my own non-technical observations about people's incentives (or de-incentives) for sharing information/knowledge within law firms.

Lip-sticking: On Friday, Sept 10th, you wrote a post on office design, discussing lawyers and office space, but we think office layout and design transcends professions and even industries. Lip-sticking HATES cubicles, having sat in our fair share of them. Tell us how your office is arranged. Do you ascribe to the principles of feng shui?

Joy: I don't know much about feng shui, but if it's anything like the science of
proxemics
-- man's appreciation and use of physical space -- then yes, I agree with feng shui principles.

When you consider the significance of proxemics in traditional law firm office design, there is very little opportunity for knowledge sharing. Most law firm's office plans are designed according to the hierarchical division of power among partners, associates and legal support staff. Partners get corner offices with windows and large desks; associates sometimes share outer offices, and legal support staff are assigned internal offices or cubicles.

A number of law firms, however, have rethought their physical spaces to achieve more innovative and flexible knowledge sharing environments. In fact, my firm, Allen & Overy LLP, instituted an open-plan workspace in the London Project Finance practice group. In its newly-constructed building in Canary Wharf (London), Allen & Overy will offer several informal break-out rooms, seating areas (away from offices), and a restaurant/café. The theory goes like this: if people are happy in their work environment, they will be happier and more sociable employees-thus they'll be more willing to share their tacit knowledge and expertise by speaking to each other face-to-face.

Lip-sticking: We feel we should ask you a 'lawyerly' question...how do you think blogs -- with their up-front, honest, personal style, are influencing intellectual property laws? Are we all just 'giving' away good stuff that we should be charging for?

Joy: Your question raises a number of "lawyerly" issues. First, there is the employer-employee issue of writing a blog in my name without attributing any of my views to my law firm. When I joined Allen & Overy, I, of course, disclosed to my managing partner that I had a blog about KM in law firms. He was delighted with my enthusiasm and gave me permission to state my affiliation with the firm so long as my thoughts were in no way attributed to the firm or any individual within the firm. The managing partner said "you should not feel as though you have to hide your association with our firm, just remember to be careful and don't post sensitive information (or potentially sensitive information) about KM activities at this firm."

Second, there is the issue of writing about the KM and training activities of other law firms. If I find web links describing the KM or training activities of law firms (e.g., in press releases, annual reports, conference announcements/brochures, KM studies, etc.), I assume the information has been authorized for publication by the law firm's managing committee or managing partners.

Third and finally, I believe it is best for law firms to share their KM initiatives with each other. I don't believe that any law firm holds the key to the safe that contains some or all of the answers to KM questions.

Lip-sticking: Do you find technology challenging? We ask this from a woman's point of view, and yes, we realize that may sound a bit sexist...but women are still under represented in the field of technology, so when Lip-sticking discovers another woman who uses technology so well -- such as yourself -- we get all excited and want to know what led you to embrace this complex tool, as an early (female) adopter?

Joy: I'm the first to admit that "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies, or technology!" I do, however, know just enough about technology to know when the IT guys are bull-shitting me. You know the lines--"What you're asking for can't be done" or conversely, "We can have system up and running for you in a month." Yeah, right!

So to answer your question, I would say I find technology challenging not from a lack of "technical" knowledge, but from an organizational culture point of view. In U.S. law firms, KM has been embraced (if at all) by the IT departments. Over the past few years, lots of money has been spent on state-of-the-art law portals, document management systems, accounting/billing systems, intranet/extranet, client management systems and enterprise learning systems. But having the technology is not the answer to capturing organizational knowledge; it is merely a vehicle by which the knowledge is delivered electronically. Without a plan for how to get lawyers to use and benefit from the technology, all the legal technology spent is worthless.

Lip-sticking: Here it comes...the shopping online question. Do you shop online? What kinds of items do you buy online on a regular basis, if any? As a woman, will your online shopping increase, or stay the same, during this holiday season?

Joy: Yes, I shop online. My main online purchases include new or used books from amazonor alibris. I also purchase clothing online for myself or as gifts. Typically, I will browse online more frequently during the holiday season, but if I see just the right gift during the off-season, I'll buy it and put it away until Christmas time.

Lip-sticking: Visiting your blog, we see more links than we can count! Since this is what blogging is all about...building an interactive community, what advice can you give our readers to help them build a solid link list like yours?

Joy: My blog list ("blogroll") includes links to other law firm blogs (aka blawgs) among them Adam Smith, esq. kminlaw, Robert Ambrogi, and netlawblog (law firm KM blawgs), prism legal and law tech guru (legal technology blawgs) and corp law blog and taxprof blog (specialized law practice blawgs).

To build a solid link list, it is important to be selective. Keep in mind--not all blogs are built alike. I will only create a link to a blog that has a proven track record or promises to fulfill a mission I believe in. For instance, in today's posting (October 11th), I note a new blawg called feedmelegal. Although the blawg is less than two weeks old, it already contains blogs of high quality to my readership. I found the new blawg in my site meter traffic report. The creator of feedmelegal had created a link to excited utterances. In this case, a reciprocal link to feedmelegal was in order.

My ability to have a useful link list is because excited utterances has a wide readership. Currently, the blog has over 400 subscribers worldwide, and 30,000 unique visitors since it began. Readers include other law firm knowledge managers, chief information and learning officers, lawyers, law librarians, judges and academic scholars. When I have spare time, I try to provide short commentary, but during my busy work times (which is almost always!), I post interesting links to give readers value. Sometimes, I'll go back to a bare link and flesh out some of my thoughts long after the initial posting.

I've also received much notoriety from excited utterances. In addition to an eu link on other law-related blogs, eu recently received 5-stars (the highest rating) in Robert Ambrogi's, newly updated The Essential Guide to The Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web.
Joy_london3_2

Additionally, in November 2003, eu received the Internet Tools for Lawyers MVP web site award. Jerry Lawson, creator of the Internet Tools for Lawyers web site, described Excited Utterances as: "more than just an exception to the hearsay rule', and "a leading source of information about developments in law firm knowledge management."

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We don't know about you, dear reader, but Joy London has set our synapses firing! Here's someone we consider a prime example of the kind of woman you should, and could, be courting to buy at your website. She's intelligent, busy, Internet savvy, and she buys online. But, she's particular. You won't win her over with pink ribbons, pretty bows, or empty promises. Appeal to her intellect, court her with links to relevant content, show her you've taken the time to learn about her likes and dislikes. An award winning blog writer is a woman of substance. Treat her appropriately, and she may reward you with a sale -- or a link to her blawg!

What's not to like about that?

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