Don’t ask for help and then say I’m not allowed to answer

keyboardlockMy recent post on lawyers using email discussion lists as gofers has received quite a bit of attention, ironically, on at least one email discussion list. Today, something else popped up that I felt is worth commenting on. (Warning, slight rant ahead.)

A lawyer posted a question to an email discussion list. I replied (to the list and directly to the lawyer), and I received an automatic reply:

Sorry for the auto reply. In an effort to control spam I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand. If you’d like to be added to my list of approved senders, fill out the request form at the link below…

I was a little annoyed. I understand no one wants more spam in their email inbox. (Could I say this spam filter system was spamming me by putting the auto-reply in my inbox?) On the other hand, asking a question and then making me jump through a hoop or two to give you an answer seems a bit, well, off-putting. I quickly calmed down (I went from a 3 to a 2 on the Irritation Scale, so it wasn’t that big a deal) and realized there is an opportunity to share some lessons.

There are ways this type of spam control could backfire. If a judge wanted to email this attorney, could the judge even load the web site provided in the link? Many governmental IT departments blacklist a lot of web sites. If a potential client wanted to contact this attorney, will the potential client feel welcome or like they aren’t good enough to be heard from?

Spam (unsolicited commercial email, if you want to be technical) is a huge problem. Everyone needs some kind of spam filter. The better filters are those that don’t require an emailer to be white-listed. I happen to use Sanebox. Google Mail (the regular and apps for business version) has excellent spam filters. There are add-on software applications that will use databases to assess whether incoming email is spam. None of them require the sender to do anything to make sure her email gets through. Plus, who wants to have to take the time to approve email senders anyway?

I will be the first to admit that I’m becoming a bit of a curmudgeon. But technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not more annoying (yes, it has a long, long way to go in many instances). Making it even a little more difficult for people to communicate with you, in my view, is not worth the convenience on your end. If you’re using one of these “thou must be approved first” systems or services, you might consider looking for a better solution.

Do we really want longer battery life in our phones?

Christopher Mims over at the Wall Street Journal ($) argues that Apple, Samsung, et al. should stop worrying about making smart phones so thin. Instead, he says, give us longer battery life.

I agree. I’d love to have batteries that last longer in my phone.

Mims points to a survey of consumers which found that improved battery life is the “No. 1 thing on their wish list.”

Maybe, maybe not.

I’m reminded of a study I read about years ago. A manufacturer of washing machines surveyed consumers to ask what was important to them. The company wanted to know whether consumers wanted a more basic, inexpensive machine or a full-featured one with a higher price tag. The survey results overwhelmingly said a more basic, inexpensive machine was more desired among consumers. So the company built lots of those.

The company nearly went broke due to poor sales. It turns out that consumers answering the survey wanted to appear to be responsible, frugal stewards of their household resources. But in reality, they wanted the machine that would do it all, even at a higher price.

It seems to me the analysis offered by Mims is on target. We don’t need thinner phones—we can live with the current thicknesses offered by the manufacturers. (Do we really want a phone so thin it could be dropped down into the window space inside your car door? You just know that would happen to someone.) But we do want improved battery life.

It’s probably too late for Apple to make big changes in the iPhone 7 that I expect this fall. That design work is done. Better battery life in the present form factor of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus would be a big win. But Apple’s engineering and  design teams may have already been told “thin is in,” and have created another sleeker, mind-blowingly thin device.

I would happily trade a few grams (or more than a few) and a bit larger form factor if the battery life is noticeably better. Let’s hope the reviewers out there start clamoring for the same and that the phone designers hear them.

Email discussion lists are not your gofers

For too long now, attorneys who participate in email discussion lists have been abusing that privilege. Email discussion lists serve as great forums for debating potential changes in the law, policy issues, or even whether a court made the right ruling. These lists are also useful for kicking ideas around on how to approach a case that presents a dilemma. But these discussion lists are not for:

  • Asking list mates for basic forms. Seriously, if you can’t figure out how to draft a motion for a continuance… (If you really need a form to get you started, I’m betting your local law library has some books that may help you out.)
  • Asking list mates to do your research for you. If you have the Internet connection required to post the question to the list, then you have the same connection required to search Google Scholar, your state bar’s research service benefit (such as Casemaker or Fast Case), or Lexis and Westlaw.

The discussion lists can be a great way to connect with people in your practice area in other parts of your state. But they are also a great way to tell everyone in your state that you are lazy or unable to draft basic pleadings. Do I refer people to lawyers who appear to be lazy or incompetent? Of course I don’t. The other thing you should realize is that many times judges that you appear in front of are members of these lists. They see your questions and form opinions about your abilities.

One last note: Be wary of asking “what would you do in this case” type questions. It just might be that your opposing counsel is part of the same mailing list!


Bad web site behavior

We can all get angry at the occasional news report or tweet that we disagree with, but there is something that drives me into serious anger: web sites that wrest control of my browser away from me. It used to be we had to deal with annoyances like browser windows being resized. Or those that played music (often crappy renditions of something that sound like a reject from a Wendy Carlos album). Pop-up ads and windows became another annoyance, and browser apps soon had a feature allowing us to block them.

But today some web sites feel they have the right to take control of my browser. This morning I had my latest encounter with this frustration. A local news site has a video embedded along with its story. That’s fine, I can watch video of the newscast report if I want. But then the damn thing starts playing an ad—and there is no way to stop it. I have to hit the mute button. Then come the modern day versions of the pop-up ad. You know, those things that show up over the web page, can’t be moved out of the way, and have the smallest darn place to click and close it.

What I don’t understand is the thinking that goes on. Do web site publishers think we consumers like this treatment? If that’s not it, what are they thinking? I understand they are desperate for ad revenues to support their businesses, but web sites that behave this way are the equivalent of restaurants where the servers bring food to your table without letting you order and then force feed the food to you. That model would drive customers away in droves, and the same goes for web sites.

If you are a web site publisher, please—please—don’t do these kinds of things. Let us keep control and make our own choices. If you respect us as readers, we are far more likely to return to your site.

In defense of science

In the last couple of days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul made comments suggesting opposition to mandatory vaccines for children. While they are the butt of many jokes and the target of many snarky barbs since then, they are merely a symptom of a greater problem. People reject science.

Perhaps people do so because a lot of science is complicated, very complicated. We can observe the effects of gravity, but explaining gravity is not so easy. Scientists have expanded the size of the knowledge base to a point where we non-scientists can’t get our heads around it.

Let’s take evolution as an example. I, along with many others, have a hard time fathoming the idea that random genetic mutations over millions of years led to the organ we call the eye. It seems so outlandish, it’s easier to think that there must be some other force at work. And yet the science and the evidence prove otherwise. People can reject the conclusion, but the scientific method requires that they do so with some evidence—not just belief (whether in a deity or the simple “I just can’t believe it”).

If they have some evidence, then others can test the evidence against what we know thus far. If the new evidence proves evolution is wrong (after repeated study and experimentation or testing), then that’s how it’s supposed to work. Copernicus established a predictive model to prove the Earth orbits around the Sun. It was revolutionary, but it became established fact and accepted by everyone. Until something similar happens with evolution—or climate change or the safety of vaccinations—we have to rely on what scientists know at this point. We have to rely on the evidence.

The recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland illustrates that when enough people reject science and refuse to vaccinate their children, there are real consequences.

Let’s hope that we can persuade our friends and neighbors to wake up and begin to rely on those who study these issues as their life’s work rather than blindly accepting the anecdotal claims of others.