The Four Tech Groups – Balance in Your Tech Diet

Sham Harga had run a successful eatery for many years by always smiling, never extending credit, and realizing that most of his customers wanted meals properly balanced between the four food groups: sugar, starch, grease, and burnt crunchy bitsTerry Pratchett, Men at Arms

In the spirit of Sham Harga, one runs a successful law practice by always smiling, never extending credit and having your tech properly balanced between the four tech groups: security, redundancy, utility, and cost. These are dynamic forces often in opposition with each other. If I want my systems to be perfectly secure, I must sacrifice utility (for others not to access my tech, I must also limit how I may access my tech) and invest in cost (firewalls, DMZ’s, encrypted communication, and 24/7 monitoring come with large price tags). Should I wish perfect utility – unlimited access, 24/7/365 availability – I must sacrifice security and invest in redundancy and cost. But there is a point where all four forces lie in balance – costs comfortably within our budget, security contained comfortably between extreme paranoia and laxness, and systems that are sufficiently redundant so that they can attend to the tasks required of them now and for the reasonably foreseeable future with only minor, rectifiable hiccups.

While there are undoubtedly precise mechanisms that will spit out one’s ROI when investing $X in amount Y of security or amount Z of redundancy, this point of balance is more than a simple evaluation of a couple of the forces in isolation. This is more a matter of personal intuition for what we are evaluating is a fluid system and the balance we achieve today may not be the right balance tomorrow. It is a bit like yoga – today I find my balance in child’s pose and even though I might find it in mountain or tree tomorrow, right now a simple solution addresses my needs and that is all that matters for the moment; let tomorrow bring a new balance with it when tomorrow comes.

Yet being in tech balance is more than simply being able to find the right balance between the four tech groups – there is finding balance while engulfed in the ever-present white noise of our interconnected tech; of finding those small moments of quiet midst the cacophony of social networks, list-serves, RSS feeds, blogs, and e-mail if for no other reason than to find some time to actually do some paying work. I find that when the din becomes too much and the well-considered advice of the efficiency experts no longer lifts me above the noise I take a retreat from my tech for a few days – deliberately disconnecting from the cacophony of interconnectedness – choosing instead to regress to more primal state of tech. One in which afternoon naps are more likely to be interrupted by the dulcet tones of a landline than the strident chirp of a cellphone and where word processing is a product of ink on paper rather than electrons on phosphor.

Admittedly, putting one’s tech on hiatus is not easy (a small town’s lack of reliable connectivity goes a long way in helping me ignore tech’s siren song) but I find that doing so reminds me to have a more deliberate, purposeful relationship with my tech; that my tech is there to facilitate my mission, not dictate it. Seems everything needs to be rebooted ever now and then.

Mobility

The great thing about a computer notebook is that no matter how much you stuff into it, it doesn’t get bigger or heavier.Bill Gates

Woman working on laptop by lakeOut here in the little law office on the prairie, horsepower and hydraulics rule, so the term mobile is very, very broad; this is farm country where 1200 pound hay bales are stacked in the barn like Lego™blocks, and 2000 pound cows are lifted to table height to save the farrier’s back. Folks out here are much more impressed by the technology that makes large things mobile than they are in lightweight mobile technology – after all, it is far more awe-inspiring to watch a 4 man crew lift a house and move it 60 feet to the right than it is to watch one guy pick up a laptop and walk down the street.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I dearly love those dainty bits of battery sucking silicon that keep me tethered to the outside world. The fact is, I was mobile when being mobile was all about lead/acid batteries and 9 inch black and white screens. It was an era when laptops the size of a suitcase weighing in at 16 pounds were considered sexy enough to rate a swimsuit models for their magazine cover shots. It seems that, back in the day, courting a hernia was a sure path to the halls of übergeekdom and god-like sex appeal.While there were obvious strength-training benefits to those early luggable computers, today’s flyweight devices do wonders for encouraging the road warrior’s cardio-fitness as they allow facile movement between car and coffeehouse, coffeehouse and gym without the need to ever cut that etheric umbilicus cord that links us to our data.

For the rural lawyer, mobile technology’s promise of 24/7 access is but a siren’s song; luring us ever forward in the hopes of finding true connectivity only to dash all hopes upon the rocks of rural realities. For all that rural life offers – bucolic vistas, the tranquil peace of a meandering brook, the intoxicating smell of newly mown hay – the reality is that all this rural beauty comes at a price. The one thing those vistas, brooks, and hay fields have in common is that they are usually found at some distance from areas of high population density and all the wonderful infrastructure that blesses modern suburbia. So, as one travels those scenic country roads that wind their way through woods and over hills on your way to meet a client, you will find your path to be strewn with potholes both in the road and in the ether and its even odds that your destination will lie in one of those areas that cellular cover maps label terra incognita and warn travelers that hic sunt dracones. Continue reading

Beyond Our Field of View

In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work and love. The other 99 percent is due to our efforts. — Peter McWilliams

In his March 14th, 2011 article in Forbes, Glenn Liopis talks about the concept of earning serendipity – that by actively seeking out unexpected good fortune it becomes easier to reach out and seize that life changing opportunity. Mr. Liopis points out that in a country of boundless possibilities, we have become myopic; unable to see the opportunities available simply because we are unwilling to pull our focus away from our narrow definition of a successful career path.

While Mr. Liopis writes in general terms about this shift in mindset, I was reminded of the opportunities that lie out there in the dark of the night sky – those opportunities that await the lawyers willing to broaden their field of view and look towards small towns and small firms for that great career opportunity.

Now, I will be the first to admit that rural living and a rural practice are not for everyone – this is not a “go rural young lawyer” call to action. But, perhaps, as you lift your eyes from the metropolitan law firm partner track and gaze out toward those small quiet places that interrupt the space between real cities you will discover that there are other opportunities, unexpected opportunities waiting.

Myopia

There are certain presumptions that spring to mind when one hears the phrase “small town lawyer”; the stereotype seems to be a lawyer  (himself a strange amalgamation of Matlock, Atticus Finch, Lincoln, and Oliver Wendell Holmes) who has set up shop in some bucolic backwoods town and divides his time between tending to client matters and whittling. The trouble is that an exact definition of the breed is hard to come by; well the “lawyer” part is fairly simple, it’s that “small town” part that gives one fits. Even the US Census Bureau has problems with defining what a small town is, preferring to use classifications like “micropolitean” (a rural area that contains at least one urban area with a population of at least 10,000) or “place” (a territory, population, or housing unit not classified as urban or designated as an extended city). It’s always nice to know that one’s place in the world is defined more by what one is not that what one is.

Even my definition of the small town lawyer – the lawyer practicing beyond suburbia’s sprawl – is fairly generic, and when you consider Michael Sylvester’s argument, perhaps a bit short sighted. Mr. Sylvester practices in Shenzhen, China a bustling metropolis of 10+ million (not exactly the first place that springs to mind when one thinks “small town”) providing services to the Shenzhen expatriate community – a small (500,000?) city within the larger community. Now out here on the prairie, when a half-million people congregate in one spot we tend to consider that either a metropolis or a really fine turnout for the church potluck (everybody bring a dish to pass), but in a country of 1.3 billion, in a town of 10 million, 500,000 must seem like a tiny drop in a very large bucket.Water Drop

Monday’s Gleanings

A few bits gathered from across the web:

  • The Career Services Office (CSO) at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law provides this information interview lawyer Mike Akerly. Mr. Akerly started his career as a small town lawyer.
  • It appears that I’ve missed the performance dates, but it is still good to see that the most famous fictional small town lawyer in America is once again receiving rave reviews in Sag Harbor, NY, in the Bay Street Theater‘s performance of To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • For those of you interested in another small town lawyer’s perspective, J. Burton Hunter III is offering just that in his blog “A Small Town Lawyer’s Perspective“. Mr. Hunter is a bit more direct with his prose than I, but is still a good read (if you want to peruse another opinionated rural lawyer’s blog).