Google’s wireless service is good

Google has its own wireless service called Project Fi. Gabby and I signed up about two years ago, and we’re both very happy with it. I think Project Fi can save a lot of people money and improve their cell phone service, so I want to tell others about it.

I also want to take advantage of a referral promotion Google just started. If you sign up for Project Fi after clicking this link, you will get a $20 discount and I will get a $20 discount. That would be a nice boost to our new frugal lifestyle.

Here’s why you should consider Project Fi:

  1. It’s cheap. Gabby and I average $40-50 each month for our combined cell phone service (not including device payments). Unlimited text and voice is $20/month for one person and $15/month for each additional person. Data is $10 per gigabyte; if you use less, you get a credit. As long as you don’t use more than 1 or 2 gigabytes of mobile data each month, it’s very affordable.
  2. It’s a prepaid month-to-month service with no contracts. That means you can try it for one month and cancel if you want. Or switch to another carrier at any time. It’s flexible and doesn’t lock you in.
  3. It has great cell coverage. Project Fi uses three networks: T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. The phone uses whichever has the strongest signal. I’ve never had an issue with reception.
  4. It’s great for traveling. Project Fi works and costs the same in hundreds of countries. When my wife and I took a trip to Paris and Geneva last year, we didn’t have to think about our phones at all. We used them like normal and it didn’t cost extra.
  5. It’s simple and easy to set up and use. There’s a handy app that handles everything you need account-wise.

Sounds great, right? But there’s one major caveat: Project Fi only works with select phones (because they have to support that network-switching). They are all, of course, Android phones—no iPhones.

These are the phones that work with Project Fi (with links to YouTube reviews):

Those are all great Android phones. You can get the first three on installment plans with Project Fi (you can get the Nexus phones second-hand), and you can probably trade in whatever your current phone is (including iPhones) towards one.

So there you have it. If you aren’t in a committed relationship with an Apple or Samsung phone, I think Project Fi is the best service out there. You should check it out; it could save you money and improve your service.

And it could save me money, too. If you use this link.

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Semicolons

I’ve been reading, for the first time, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, that puzzlingly popular little book on punctuation. I found it for two dollars at a local used book sale.

It’s very British, and I mean that in a good way. But I’ve found it a little disappointing so far. Lynne Truss’ rants on apostrophes and commas have been entertaining, but I don’t get worked up about those particular marks.

Now, though, it’s starting to get good. I’m in the middle of her chapter on colons and semicolons; I’m smiling all the way through.

I don’t remember when I first learned to use the semicolon—sometime in college, I think—but now it’s as much a part of my writing as the comma. The book’s quote of Lewis Thomas describes it well:


The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added […] The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with the semicolon there you get a pleasant feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.


Truss warns, though, that semicolons can be addicting. I’ve found that to be the case.

Full Court Press and bar associations

Since Fastcase’s big announcement last week, I’ve continued to think about what it might mean for me as a practicing small-town lawyer in a small state. And the more I think about it, the more I realize it will probably be a long time before Full Court Press publishes much for me.

My Number One Wish is for somebody to compete with my state bar for state-specific treatises and practice guides. (Yes, I know that West, for instance, publishes Wisconsin practice guides—but it’s all low-hanging fruit.) Not because I think the books my state bar publishes are bad or necessarily overpriced, but because they could be a lot better. Competition spurs creativity.

I doubt Full Court Press will compete directly with state bars, though. I expect they will actively avoid it. Fastcase needs state bars to reach the user numbers that allow it to compete with West and Lexis. Bars pay for Fastcase. I doubt Fastcase wants to strain those relationships.

That’s the situation right now, anyway. I have to wonder, though, if Fastcase has a plan to reduce its reliance on bar associations. Many bars are facing tough times and declining revenue. I have to think Fastcase is working on a long-term Plan B.

Full Court Press is undoubtedly a big part of that plan. But for now, I’m guessing its strategy is to gain ground over West and Lexis, bit by bit, while playing nice with state bars.

Fastcase’s new publishing arm

Fastcase announced its own publishing house last week: Full Court Press.

The name comes from this New Yorker article about a basketball strategy that gives plucky underdogs a chance against bigger, more skilled, more traditional teams. It recognizes the monumental task of creating a body of secondary legal materials that can compete with West and Lexis.

I’m happy to see Fastcase enter this arena. As I’ve said before, legal publishing is ripe for disruption. Or at least an agile new David taking advantage of the internet to out-maneuver and out-value the Goliaths that dominate the field. Fastcase could be that David.

But there is no shortcut to success here. Fastcase has tried to license good treatises from others, to no avail. I believe they’ve tried to work with state bars as well, with limited success. These traditional publishers, I’m sure, have a hard time giving up their most valuable original content. Everybody has the same primary law; it’s the secondary content that adds value and a unique selling proposition. As Ed Walters readily admits in the announcement, people want access to treatises like Nimmer on Copyright and Collier on Bankruptcy.

That’s why things like adding blog posts from the Lexblog network, though good, will never make up for traditional treatise publishing (as others have already discovered). That content isn’t unique, and it isn’t cite-checked, edited, or part of a greater whole.

There’s no substitute for expert commentary and instruction systematically covering an entire area of law. Fastcase knows this. That’s why it’s entering a field full of Goliaths.

I’m happy about this announcement because Fastcase has shown a willingness to use technology and nontraditional methods to close the gap with West and Lexis. My hope is that Full Court Press will embrace lean publishing from day one. I also hope it will use advanced editing software and simple workflows to reduce the human time needed to write, edit, and produce good treatises.

I have my reservations, though. I fear that Full Court Press, helmed by a Lexis veteran, will turn out more traditional than its David-branding would suggest (after all, Fastcase is still proclaiming its membership in ‘the big three’). I especially fear that small-market states like my own beloved Wisconsin will have to wait a very long time before we see anything published for us.

Still, I’m excited to see any new player in this field. Let’s see what Full Court Press can do.

Lawyers should adopt lean publishing

This morning I read a blog post on Thurott about his Windows 10 book, which is published on Leanpub. Since I used to be an attorney-editor in my state bar’s publishing division (where I spent perhaps too much time thinking about publishing problems instead of editing) I went to the Leanpub site and started digging.

What I found was Lean Publishing:

Lean Publishing is the act of publishing an in-progress book using lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book and build traction once you do.

I think this is a promising concept for legal publishers.

  • Legal guides need to be updated all the time as the law changes; they are always “in progress,” so a publishing workflow for in-progress books should work well for legal guides.
  • The biggest problem my state bar has is that its tools for publishing are decidedly not lightweight. It takes a team of two or three people months of work manually editing Word and XML files to publish even a modest update. If they could simply edit text files and publish to print and the web with the click of a button–which is what Leanpub promises–it would save dozens of hours and thousands of dollars on each book update.
  • The key to lean publishing is that it publishes revisions early and often (it can do this because it uses those lightweight tools). Being able to do that is a huge advantage in the legal world. Imagine legal guides being updated mere weeks–or even days–after the latest Supreme Court decision. Currently it takes several months at least (and most likely one to two years) to get a new update printed.
  • Lean publishing’s method of pivoting based on reader feedback could also benefit bar associations. Currently my bar has to commit many thousands of dollars in resources and take a leap of faith if it decides to publish an entirely new book. Since bar associations are by nature risk-averse, this makes creating anything new rather difficult. But what if the bar association could publish a first draft by an attorney author that only had to be a couple of chapters long; not a finished product, but enough to be useful? That would be easier to try, and would produce feedback that could guide the rest of the book if it gets enough traction–or cut the project without much loss if it doesn’t.

Of course, adopting lean publishing would mean changing the entire publishing workflow. That’s never easy for an organization like a state bar. But if it could be done, it promises huge cost and time savings.

One final thought: with a service like Leanpub, there’s nothing preventing an attorney from self-publishing rather than going through his or her state bar. In fact, it would be easy for a single attorney-author to adopt lean publishing and profit from their work, rather than giving it away for the bar’s profit. And what if a new, mean, and lean legal publisher popped up–could state bars compete?

If I were still in legal publishing at my state bar, these thoughts would worry me.

If lean publishing intrigues you, here’s a great introduction from the founder of Leanpub.

Garner’s business writing basics

Bryan Garner just shared this video of five writing tips. It’s a great start to writing better in your job, whatever it is. I, for one, will try to use weouryou, and your more.

As Garner states, good business writing “is a skill you must cultivate to succeed.” William Zinsser made much the same point in On Writing Well:

Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts. Remember that what you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money or good will you need. If what you write is ornate, or pompous, or fuzzy, that’s how you’ll be perceived. The reader has no other choice.

Most lawyer-writing is muddled. Not just in court, but in emails, letters, and legal documents. This is a big part of the legal profession’s negative image; our clients can’t understand us. Is it any wonder they think we’re arrogant and pompous?

For example, wills and trusts (the documents I work with) are chock-full of jargon and vagueries. This should not be. We should all have wills we can read and understand without a $200/hour interpreter. If estate planning documents were drafted in plain language, fewer people would need to hire a lawyer for probate or trust administration when it comes time to actually use those documents. That might be bad for repeat business, but it’s good for clients.

I want to be a lawyer who always writes and speaks in a way my clients can understand. As Zinsser pointed out, that takes hard work and hard thinking. (It will probably be a while before I can muster the time and energy to edit multiple 30-page trusts.)

Thankfully, that’s just the kind of work and thinking I enjoy most.

Bar associations are missing a big opportunity

Bar associations are missing a big opportunity. Their members have a need: to turn the practice of law into a successful business. Doing so is a real challenge for many solo and small firm attorneys.

So far bar associations have tried to address this need by playing it safe. They’ve added practice advisors, who give members free one-on-one advice and answer questions about running a firm. This is thinking too small. It’s nice to have help deciding on practice management software or what to pay a new associate, but those decisions do not a successful business make.

A successful business is exactly what many new private companies offer lawyers. These companies have figured out what it takes to make a law firm make money. They’ve figured out all the systems and details and wrapped it up in a tidy package. All the lawyer has to do is follow the system, and he’ll be successful. Lots of lawyers are willing to pay lots of money for that.

I know because I used to work in my bar’s book division. When deciding whether to accept my current job and return to practicing law in a small firm, I asked for details about the business—I wanted to make sure it was set up to succeed. What my employer showed me was Lawyers With Purpose, an estate planning business-in-a-box group he pays for. I was skeptical at first, but quickly saw that it provided a well-thought-out business model, complete with detailed systems for everything—processes for marketing, processes for referrals, processes for the legal work, etc. Everything was clearly done by someone who knew how to run a firm as a business, and that reassured me greatly. It just required following the system.

Bar associations need a new source of revenue. Revenue from traditional books is falling; pressure to keep dues low is higher than ever. Members won’t pay $200-300 for books and CLE, yet they will pay many times that each month for a successful business model. Seems like a no-brainer.

Of course, developing this kind of product is hard and risky. This business is all or nothing; either you have a complete system figured out or you have nothing to offer. It would take multiple bar employees months or years to put it all together. That’s a big leap to take.

The payoff, though, would be huge—for both the bar association and its members. Bar associations already have a wealth of knowledge about practicing law, and ready access to member-volunteers who are experts in their areas of practice. No one is in a better position to figure out what it takes to be a successful law firm doing x type of legal work. It just requires investigating: find the successful practices and figure out what makes them tick.

Imagine a bar association that could offer its members, as a package deal, a successful and well-thought-out family, criminal, estate planning, consumer, small business, personal injury, or civil litigation practice model. Not only would this be a source of revenue for bar associations and a useful service to members, but it would also raise the quality of representation and service for the public. It would give the bar association a way to directly influence how law is practiced in its state. It’s a win-win for everybody.

It’s a big challenge, too. But the concept has already been proven by private businesses all over the country. It’s not a question of will it work, but of making it work.

I hope bar associations will take the risk and try to make it work.