What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

By | January 16, 2019

Blockchain for Lawyers eBook HypeWhen I saw the headline on Social Media that read ‘What Does It Say when A Legal Blockchain eBook Has 1.7M Views?‘ I thought that couldn’t possibly be correct.

The article by Mark Cohen on Forbes states:-

Blockchain For Lawyers,” a recently-released eBook by Australian legal tech company Legaler, drew 1.7M views in two weeks. What does that staggering number say about blockchain, legal technology, and the legal industry? Clearly, blockchain is a hot legal topic, along with artificial intelligence (AI), and legal tech generally. It’s also a hot investment; last year a record $1B was pumped into legal tech. The global enthusiasm for tech is manifest in the throngs that attended the Legal Geek Conference, the Global Legal Hackathon, and a slew of events held by legal tech organizations around the world. Tech is the mortar of a global legal community that is transforming law from territorial profession to borderless industry.

Cohen asks:-

But why, with so many blockchain and legal tech books and articles, is Legaler’s eBook capturing so many eyeballs?

He then gives his own answer to that question:-

One explanation is its plain-speak effort to demystify blockchain and analyze its current and future adaptations to law. The book also provides a framework for  understanding how AI, software, the cloud, and other technological advances enable new delivery models to better respond to consumer demand for more transparent, efficient, scalable, cost-effective, and predictable outcomes.  There is a hunger—especially among those in the early and mid-stages of their careers– to understand these tools and new delivery models and, more importantly, how it will impact their careers.

However, not everyone was taken in with the numbers which really just don’t add up.

Jason Morris, in a series of Tweets, on Twitter, observed:-

Ok, guys, our stupid is showing. Let’s talk about this article about an eBook with nearly 2M views.

The author in question wrote an e-book. Then, he went on LinkedIn and said that it was available for free for anyone who commented requesting a copy. This is a very good strategy.

If you comment on something in LinkedIn, that means it will show up on your contacts’ feeds. So if you just offer a download link, you don’t get nearly the publicity boost that requiring people to comment gets you. Good idea.

So where does this 2M number come from? That is the number of time the LinkedIn post has been seen. Not the number of times the book has been read. If we assume that everyone commenting has read it only once, and that everyone commenting read it, and that only commenters read it then it has been read about 2000 times. Not 2,000,000. 2,000. Now, 2,000 reads is nothing to sniff at. But inflating that by a factor of 1000 most certainly is. The fact is that 99.9% of people who had the opportunity to request a free copy evidently didn’t.

And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that most online stats are inflated artificially by bots. How this is a  “blockbuster” is beyond me.

None of which says anything about the quality of the book itself. I haven’t read it. But I have significant doubts. You can read part of why here: http://www.slaw.ca/2019/01/03/blockchain-probably-not/

The author is also an executive for a company that needs blockchain to be widely adopted in legal for their success. So there is a bias, there. When the blog post above was published, someone referred me to the author. I invited him to read the column and tell me if I was wrong. He hasn’t yet. It’s an open invitation. But I’m not holding my breath.

I was one of the 1.7 million who saw the LinkedIn post and replied with “Gimmie” (the phrase that Stevie Ghiassi of Legaler wanted you to type to get access to the eBook). By doing so, as Jason Morris points out, I immediately put Stevie’s LinkedIn post potentially in front of my 1,467 LinkedIn connections (most of whom will have very little interest in Blockchain for Lawyers let alone Blockchain for anyone). But they were all added into that 1.7 million statistic nonetheless.

I wouldn’t, however, be as generous as Jason was in suggesting that everyone who commented on the LinkedIn post (1,729 comments at the time of writing this) downloaded and read the eBook. That is because a closer look at the comments show replies to almost each ‘Gimmie’ by Stevie Ghiassi and then sometimes further replies to Stevie from the original person who said ‘Gimmie’. There are also regular additional comments by Stevie tagging various new people into the post to widen even further its circulation. Each of these entries count as a comment. I have not gone through each of the 1,729 comments but I would suggest it fair to say maybe one-third if that will be ‘Gimmie’. So maybe 576 requests for the eBook.

When I downloaded it I had a quick glance at it and dismissed it as marketing fluff. Many of the other 575 who said ‘Gimmie’ will have done likewise. A good proportion probably didn’t even get around to downloading it.

How many then have actually read it. Possibly less than 500. That makes the suggestion of 1.7 million views one of the most inflated exaggerations I’ve heard in a long time. Trump’s fake news (whether his own or that he imagines to be made by others) pales into the shade.

I have now read the eBook. I thought I better had if I was going to write about it. Doing so just confirms my initial view of it being marketing fluff.

It is full of hyped up jargon and provides a completely unbalanced view of the reality of Blockchain for lawyers.

It contains classic misleading statements such as:-

The practice of law has famously lagged in innovation, remaining ‘analogue’ while other services like banking and accounting continue to transition online.

This ignores completely the evolution of technology in legal practice over many years that makes it anything but ‘analogue’ today. Blockchain may end up being part of that evolution but it certainly isn’t the Holy Grail of legal technology.

Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, Mark Cohen, who wrote the Forbes hype, contributed to the eBook with a quote on his views of the promise of Blockchain.

The eBook contains a glossary of jargon but I prefer Alex Hamilton’s Law Tech Glossary where he defines Blockchain as:-

A technology for creating and sharing between many parties an unchangeable ledger of historic transactions. Introduced initially as part of Bitcoin, it is now being touted as a technology to underpin a number of legal-related activities. Most, if not all, of these potential use cases would be better served by a database.

If you really want to know if you need a Blockchain just check out doyouneedablockchain.com first.

By the end of 2018 legal technology journalists were being called out for the hype they were creating over Artificial Intelligence. It is disappointing to see, as we enter 2019, that they are carrying on regardless at least where Blockchain is involved.

In a week when another legal tech journalist said “there is no stopping the lawtech rollercoaster” I think that any such rollercoaster is often being created by the journalists. It is they that need to put the brakes on it before it runs out of control.

Suggesting that 1.7 million people viewed an eBook on Blockchain for Lawyers when the reality is that maybe 1.7 million people glanced at an advert for that eBook and only circa 500 actually read it is misleading in the extreme. It does nothing but fuel the hype around AI and Blockchain.

For the novice legal technology start-up such hype makes them think Blockchain must be the band wagon to climb onto. It isn’t necessarily so. Last year the Global Legal Hackathon did the same thing (at least in London) and chances are that Blockchain will unnecessarily while away the hackers time at the event this year.

They need to be woken up and shown the snake oil for what it is. Whilst legal technology journalists continue to peddle the hype and not provide balanced reporting we will have a legal industry that believes tomorrow is going to be very different from reality.

In The Observer this past Sunday (online in The Guardian) there was an excellent article on this by John Naughton entitled ‘Don’t believe the hype: the media are unwittingly selling us an AI fantasy‘.

In this article Naughton states that “journalists need to stop parroting the industry line when it comes to artificial intelligence”. He quotes research that shows that:-

Critically, AI products were often portrayed as relevant and competent solutions to a range of public problems. Journalists rarely questioned whether AI was likely to be the best answer to these problems, nor did they acknowledge debates about the technology’s public effects.

He concludes:-

So lets have no more “soft” coverage of artificial intelligence and some real, sceptical journalism instead.

Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems made the same point at Legal Geek in October of last year where he called out legal tech journalists who promote hyped up legal tech PR fluff without doing proper diligence. He told them to “do real journalism”.

Let’s hope we start to see more real legal technology journalism in 2019 that is properly researched, analytical, informative and not just down right misleading.

On The Time Blawg I will continue (when I can) to call out those that fail to do so.

Update – 29 January 2019

After publishing this post there was a lot of interaction concerning it on social media. This is reproduced below. But also interestingly, although being called out about his misrepresentation, Mark Cohen subsequently reproduced his original Forbes Article word for word on his own blog.

Meantime Stevie Ghiassi created a new LinkedIn post in which he referenced Mark Cohen’s Forbes article and continued to perpetuate the myths created by it. I thought it would be helpful to make his readers there aware of the actual facts involved and posted a comment. Stevie Ghiassi clearly doesn’t like actual facts and figures as he deleted my comment. A tactic known to also be practised by some other AI commentators. “The truth is ill heard” as my late mother used to say. But I did, of course, screenshot my comment before Stevie Ghiassi deleted it:-

LinkedIn - Stevie Ghiassi deletes a comment by Brian Inkster on Blockchain eBook viewing statistics

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the responses in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn there has been the following comments:-

Ivan Rasic (LegalTrek CEO LawWithoutWalls (LWOWX), Eleven Mentor):

Fighting hype with data and common sense. Thanks for sharing!

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Yvonne Nath (Business Strategy Consultant):

On marketing metrics: views per se do not have much meaning, especially if we compare sales to views. More views water down the ratio. If one’s goal is to receive direct sales benefit, one hopes to create content that gets you close to a 1:1 ratio of sales to views. On the other hand, if the goal is to win a position as a thought leader (which may indirectly lead to sales or some other benefit one seeks), then many views, whether genuine or not, can make others perceive someone as a thought leader. Many genuine views will keep them there. Many fake views…people can spot hype soon enough.

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Holger Zscheyge (Legal Publisher, Legal Tech Enthusiast, inquisitive Mind):

Sounds all a bit like sour grapes to me. The eBook is free of charge, written in a concise language understandable for non-technical people (AKA lawyers). Of course, the author wants to spread the word as wide as possible – what use is his effort and the eBook itself, if only 20 people know about it? With all our attention focused on Kim Kardashian’s butt nowadays (which, BTW, got a gazillion times more views), you have to stand out a little bit to have people look your way. Again, in my view, no harm done here. If my followers on LinkedIn are not into blockchain, they will just ignore the mention on my wall – I trust them to be that mature.

Brian Inkster:

You appear to have entirely missed the point of my blog post Holger Zscheyge. No one is suggesting that the author of the eBook cannot spread the word regarding the existence of his eBook as far as possible. Indeed his ‘Gimmie’ tactic for so doing was a clever one and I might use it myself sometime. The harm that has been done here is (after the LinkedIn post) providing misleading information that suggests that 1.7 million people viewed the eBook when they clearly did not. Nowhere in the Forbes article is LinkedIn mentioned. If it had been an article about how you can promote an eBook on Blockchain for Lawyers like you were Kim Kardashian that would have been another matter. It would then have fairly and accurately represented the actual position. It unfortunately did not  and as a result misled the Forbes readership. That is clear from many comments following on from it on social media where people clearly mistakenly thought the eBook had been read 1.7 million times. I note you are a legal publisher and hope, as such, that you would not stoop to such practices.

Holger Zscheyge:

Brian, I hear what you say in your blog post. But again, no harm done, in my opinion. At least not intentionally, as Mark pointed out. Social media metrics are a tricky area, views vs reads vs buys etc. One can argue whether the appearance in someone elses feed, that is followed by other people that are presented with it by LinkedIn’s algoritm, can be considered “a view”. If not, then the whole advertising industry bases its business model on a misconception (which might be true, but try to argue with them). I probably wouldn’t count all visitors to a book shop, where one of my books is on display, as “viewers”, no, but this is “the real world”. And, as I said, I believe that people are generally smart enough to differentiate hype from reality, especially readers on LinkedIn or Forbes. If not, and if they “fell for the exaggeration with 2 million views” and accidentally spent 2 minutes to download the free eBook – so what? Might open their eyes to a totally new subject. So let’s not nit pick – there are real fights to fight in legaltech and life. BTW, maybe Stevie Ghiassi can share the real download figures and put this discussion to bed?

Brian Inkster:

But no one was arguing about LinkedIn until Jason Morris pointed out it was LinkedIn views not eBook view that were involved. Mark A. Cohen not pointing that out in the Forbes article was and remains a huge error. It is truly a pity if “the real world” in your eyes is one where we can misrepresent such matters. I have suggested a misrepresentation of about 99.97%. If Stevie Ghiassi can correct that and confirm that nearer 1.7 million people actually did download his eBook then I will stand corrected.

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Mark A. Cohen (LegalMosaic; Writer, Speaker, Legal Business Consultant, Teacher):

To Brian Inkster’s comment (and others): The last thing my article intended to do is to add to tech hype. My view is–and has always been that human beings, not tech, solves wicked problems. Tech helps and enables new delivery models. You point out gamesmanship used to produce 1.7M views and I cannot speak to that as I don’t know the mechanics of how LinkedIn counts “views.” Note that the title of my article says “Views”–not “Reads.” The more important point raised by the discussion–and seemingly lost in the comment–is that legal tech is mainstream and law is not solely about lawyers or practice anymore. Let’s not become overly enmeshed in internal squabbles and focus on the bigger picture of creating a global legal community that is intent upon solving wicked problems. That’s my take.

Ivan Rasic:

I fully agree Mark that LegalTech is mainstream nowadays. I think auditorium may be growing a bit weary from various articles that use bashing of the legal industry as a means to get more clicks, so your article may have ended up being a collateral damage of the backlash. Not implying that you have done any of that whatsoever. I have, though, seen some authors employing this tactic.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks for responding Mark A. Cohen.

It may not have been your intention to add to the legal tech hype but that unfortunately has been the outcome.

You wrote the article stating that “a recently-released eBook by Australian legal tech company Legaler, drew 1.7M views in two weeks”.

You went onto state: “But why, with so many blockchain and legal tech books and articles, is Legaler’s eBook capturing so many eyeballs?”

You concluded that “Stevie Ghiassi’s  thoughtful book that encourages lawyers to embrace technology as a tool to better serve legal consumers and society is deserving of even more views.”

Thus each time you referenced “views” it was directly linked to views of the actual eBook and not to “views” of a LinkedIn post advertising the eBook.

Anyone reading your article would be likely to assume that viewing an eBook meant reading an eBook. That fact is clear from many responses to your article where the LinkedIn dimension was not known about or appreciated.

Nowhere in your article do you mention LinkedIn. So no one reading your article would have assumed you really meant views of a LinkedIn post advertising the eBook.

If Stevie Ghiassi provided you with information to the effect that 1.7 million people viewed his eBook and you printed that information in good faith then he misled you and you, in turn, unwittingly misled your readers.

If, however, you knew that the statistic was views of the LinkedIn post and not the actual eBook then you misled your readers by not spelling that out.

Either way you should ensure that Forbes publish a correction of this erroneous representation of the 1.7 million statistic.

Knowing the mechanics of how LinkedIn counts “views” is irrelevant when your article doesn’t mention LinkedIn. If you are just going to mention the eBook and not LinkedIn then you should replace the 1.7 million figure with the actual number of downloads (which I guess to be circa 500). If you are going to retain the 1.7 million assertion then it should be spelt out that this is views of a LinkedIn post advertising an eBook.

In either case that wouldn’t be newsworthy. But it would be the truth.

Your approach is no different from say Legaler advertising their eBook during the Super Bowl and bragging that 103.4 million people viewed the eBook when those 103.4 million people only saw an advert for the eBook. The number downloading the eBook on the back of that advert would be a small fraction of this headline figure.

Creating a global legal community that is intent upon solving wicked problems will involve trust within that community to work together to solve those wicked problems. Relationships flourish when partners trust each other to be honest, faithful, respectful, kind, consistent and open to resolving conflict (among many other things).

Misleading that community with information that is 99.97% incorrect is not a good move in building this trust.

Philipp Thurner (Award-winning Legal Innovator and Legal Technologist. Design Thinker | Product Manager | Consultant):

Great example on how data can lead you a stray if you don’t look at the Why. This doesn’t prove that legal tech is mainstream. It’s certainly not yet. This post proves that blockchain is mainstream. You only need to click on the hashtag to see how many followers the tags have. #legaltech about 400 and #blockchain well over 8k. Next thing we need to understand what “Views” are. Well… they are impressions. Whenever someone opens LinkedIn and their feed loads, if it loads that post, that’s an impression or a view. So everyone who follows blockchain got it. Everyone who followed anyone tagged in the post, got it. Everyone following anyone who interacted with the post, got it. It only showed up in their feed.

I think it was quite an achievement for Stevie Ghiassi to get this many organic impressions tho. Smart use of tagging.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Philipp Thurner for commenting. However, I can’t see any hashtags on Stevie Ghiassi’s original LinkedIn post. So I don’t think hashtags have anything to do with the reach of his LinkedIn post. As already discussed it was the ‘Gimmie’ request and offer of something for free that probably swung it coupled by him actually tagging a lot of people and continuing to do so after the post was first published.

Legal Tech is mainstream – amongst lawyers. It has been for a long long time. All lawyers (apart from maybe a very few odd ones) use technology daily. You can read my take on the history of legal technology here: http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/02/11/hack-the-past-how-the-legal-profession-knew-nothing-about-technology/

Blockchain, unlike LegalTech, is not mainstream amongst lawyers. Lawyers on the whole are not interested in Blockchain. Some are playing with it for the sake of it and to look cool: http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/03/01/hack-the-law-to-reinvent-the-wheel/

Blockchain may be mainstream amongst Bitcoin fans but it isn’t elsewhere.

What, however, is your view on someone saying there were 1.7M views of an eBook rather than saying those were views of a LinkedIn post advertsing the eBook that had maybe only 500 downloads?

Phillipp Thurner:

Brian Inkster Good Point. All shares and comments within post included these tags though. Saw many with even bitcoin hashtags. Well… I personally wouldn’t report on impressions a but on actual conversations but that’s my personal opinion.

Is it a little misleading? Everything is open for interpretation and I’m sure that most things we read in papers and articles sounds better than they actually are. I usually make my own picture on what’s actually happening behind closed doors. I do understand tho why people do it coz it sells better and it’s more interesting to read. Hype has positive and negative effects but that’s a different topic all together.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Philipp Thurner. I didn’t notice any shares or comments within the post with those hashtags. Mostly it was just ‘Gimmie’ or ‘Thanks’ and the like. Unusual for anyone commenting on a LinkedIn post to add a hashtag. There may of course have been some but I think they would have been a minority. If anyone was using the bitcoin hashtag in a post about blockchain for lawyers they were clearly confused.

Yes, hype sells but that is not an excuse for fabricating the truth. If you haven’t already read it take a look at Kevin Colangelo’s comment on this thread about ‘Truthiness’. He is spot on.

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Kevin Colangelo (Vice President, Head of Enterprise Client Engagement at HBR Consulting):

Thanks for highlighting.  There’s a lot of “self-credentialing” in our ecosystem on many topics.  Unlike even 5 years ago, one can read-up on a topic from an armchair (e.g., law schools’ efforts to broaden their appeal to potential students) and offer authoritative-sounding proclamations to a wide audience.  It’s a problem particularly as such pundits & their readers repeatedly share, like, etc. these assertions or if the platform offers built-in gravitas (“It was in [mainstream pub], so it must be true!”).

It’s all evidence of the Validity Effect, which Colbert famously called “Truthiness.”  “. . . the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions” (Wikipedia).

Spot-on for much of the ink spilled recently and this challenges those with real, fingers-in-the-dirt expertise who seek to advance & improve the profession, however expressed (e.g., being tapped for a panel, attempting to sell your expertise to a law firm, etc.).  Hoping ’19 will be better.

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Aron Solomon, JD (Innovation Realist):

This was a TRULY superb piece, and one that got a lot of play on Twitter. It’s 2019, ffs. Let’s finally call out the bullshit in and around #LegalTech.

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In another thread also on LinkedIn, where my post was shared, the following discussion took place:-

Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

For almost two years we’re being swamped by playbook content marketing and big claims in legal … this feels like the line in the sand, let’s get to honest, open, humble and human again please. Read the comments and Brian’s article. Caroline Hill this is along the lines of your Legal Geek talk right? Storytelling and praising small last change with people, process, tech not what we’ve had.

The comments are worth reading …

Caroline Hill (Editor-in-Chief at Legal IT Insider aka The Orange Rag):

Alex you’re right that I’m a fan of back to basics but what concerns me about the hype busting rhetoric in general is that it is very likely to deter people from attempting to educate the market about technology for fear of being shot down in flames. In the same way as Brian Inkster is great at dissecting hype, it’s important to be able to take feedback and that is: steer clear of creating a toxic Donald Trump-like culture where the media or other educators are the enemy. Not that I’m comparing you to Donald, Brian. Oh dear God I’ve brought politics into it now!

Alex G Smith:

So who is educating then? If “we” (certain people held a point) all went too far one way and certain groups lost the trust of people (though incorrect content marketing, overclaiming, etc) who is left to educate? Who is left to build back up. This is a necessary correction because just like when Trump goes or Brexit “occurs” the fall out is that certain parties/groups will be left no longer functioning or in radical need of overhaul. Everyone wanted change but I think everyone wanted only firms to change … in fact change will be across the ecosystem, things may not be needed or need to embrace radical new models. It’s going to be different but painful … just like Brexit.

Brian Inkster:

Caroline Hill When I wrote my “hype busting” post I did procrastinate over the use of the word “fake” in the headline. I knew that using this word can bring out Trump comparisons. But also it can draw people in as headlines are supposed to do. On balance I thought that as it was a mirror opposite of Mark Cohen’s headline I was completely justified in using “fake” when he used 1.7 million instead of 500 (my guess at the real statistic involved). With a reasoned, fact based article that argues Mark Cohen has misled his readers by being 99.97% incorrect, his article was about as fake as it comes.

What Trump does (and I appreciate and am thankful that you are not comparing him to me!) is to shout “fake news” with no argument whatsoever as to why it is fake. He also circulates his own fake news that is not based on any reasoned argument or on any actual facts.

Mark Cohen took a statistic which was possibly true of LinkedIn views of an advert for an e-book but not true of views of the actual eBook itself and wrote an article that implied the latter and not the former.

This was misleading in the extreme. It was the epitome of fake news.

Mark Cohen is not “the enemy” as a result but he has been rather naughty. That naughtiness in my opinion requires to be called out to dampen the hype he was creating.

Others assumed his reporting to be correct and repeated it. Some examples found online include:-

“1.7 Million views in two weeks. No, we’re not talking about YouTube videos. The #ebook Blockchain For Lawyers is breaking the internet.”

“Impressive how this ebook got 1.7m views in two weeks.”

“It’s a wonderful book – but there’s also got to be some masterful marketing behind it. Getting 1.7 million views for an ebook is more interesting to me than blockchain for lawyers.”

“Blockchain For Lawyers. 1.7m views in two weeks. Wow!”

“A little over ten years ago, very few people knew about a blockchain, but in our time, the technology has become a force to reckon with and even have the potential to displace the most feared professionals (lawyers) if they don’t embrace it.

The latter part of the last sentence may seem to be overhyped but it certainly is not, going by the fact that a new ebook about legal blockchain practice amassed 1.7m views in just two weeks!”

Mark Cohen himself had the gall to tweet: “International blockbuster? Why has this eBook garnered nearly 2M views?”

This all perpetuated the naughtiness. It is the ‘Truthiness’ at play that Kevin Colangelo refers to here: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6491219432617189376?commentUrn=urn%3Ali%3Acomment%3A%28activity%3A6491219432617189376%2C6491681542815911936%29

Journalists (including legal tech journalists) should be expected to provide articles that are fact based and not mislead. Of course journalists will take different viewpoints and the same point may be argued in different ways as we see for example in newspapers that are right wing compared to those that are left wing in their leaning.

But we cannot and should not allow legal tech journalists to get away with presenting a position that is perhaps 99.97% inaccurate.

You admirably referred to it as “a valid call” following Legal Geek and the popcorn moments that ensued on Twitter after Kira Systems’ founder Noah Waisberg “called for the legal tech press at large to become more discerning in its coverage of ‘AI’ and emerging technology and try to help avoid some of the hype.” The Forbes article is a glaring example of what Noah was referring to.

As I said earlier Mark Cohen is not “the enemy” for what he wrote. But in my mind, and I think the minds of many others, his credibility as a legal technology commentator has been shot to pieces. I, for one, will certainly be approaching future articles by him with a high degree of care. This I already do with certain other legal technology ‘journalists’ due to their poor track record to date. That does not, of course, include the Legal IT Insider.

The message here for legal technology journalists is to fact check the information they are supplied with and present it accurately and fairly.

Any legal technology writers that do so will win a watch in an age where readers clearly want less hype and more realistic reporting.

You should not be “shot down in flames” for realistic reporting or even for the occasional PR fluff piece. You should, however, be shot down for greatly exaggerated and misleading articles that fuel legal tech hype. And if you present a position that is perhaps 99.97% inaccurate and misleading you fully deserve to, and should, be shot down.

Kevin Colangelo (Vice President, Head of Enterprise Client Engagement at HBR Consulting):

Much of this is remediated if an author’s (note: author, not journalist – different vocation) intentions are spelled-out clearly up-front. Prolific authors like Cohen are selling something most of the time. This is not a bad thing – I do it too. It’s admirable that Cohen & others devote so much time and energy to our industry. But make no mistake: every article is intended as sales collateral for something. In Cohen’s case, I assume it’s unique, compelling expertise such that downstream he is retained as a consultant, a retreat keynote, a Board member, or perhaps as an Adjunct at a law school. All worthwhile, non-controversial pursuits.

Problems arise when, as here, an author (1) veers outside of her/his areas of truly qualified expertise (fingers-in-the-dirt stuff) and/or (2) fails to establish the “advertorial” nature of his/her piece. When you know you’re being sold to, bombastic statements like those in the subject article are taken for what they are: eye candy meant to trigger the buying cycle. The intent was to sell expertise not deceive. But absent clarity on his credentials & motivations, a sophisticated audience justifiably called a foul..
Oh yeah. You really should know your audience, too . . .

Caroline Hill:

Alex G Smith so here’s an example of where I think things are going awry – there are a ton of ebooks from vendors and and many are a mixture of fact and useful tips and marketing guff. If we are to tear a strip off one we must tear a strip off all and then we really won’t have time for our day job. Let’s keep our eye on what the ultimate goal is. As you know (and you flagged here), I’m a genuine supporter of the reset movement. Or as Justin North Janders Dean calls it #bringbackboring !:)

Now I’m off to watch my son play rugby and it’s freezing! Happy Sunday.

Brian Inkster:

Caroline Hill I think you might be missing the point of the debate which was nothing at all to do with tearing a strip of the Blockchain for Lawyers eBook but everything to do with tearing a strip of the Forbes article that suggested 1.7 million people had read that eBook when the actual figure was probably somewhere nearer 500. That article suggested that as a result there was a huge “hunger” amongst lawyers to learn about Blockchain. This clearly hypes Blockchain and does not reflect the reality involved.

I downloaded the eBook a few weeks ago and dismissed it a piece of marketing fluff. It was a basic guide to Blockchain for Lawyers but a very biased and unbalanced one. I wouldn’t have wasted my time blogging about that. But when the very misleading and inaccurate article in Forbes came out that was a very different matter.

As I said in my earlier comment I believe that such misleading and inaccurate information should be called out for the benefit of those who may know no better and be taken in by it. If you are part of the reset or #bringbackboring movement (as I am) then I think you have a duty to do so. This is especially so in extreme cases like this one where the information given was potentially 99.97% inaccurate.

I know that since I published my blog post you have been busy getting hot and bothered queuing to get into Oracle OpenWorld and then freezing watching rugby. You may not have had the time to fully digest the arguments and the debate that has taken place within another thread on LinkedIn and also on Twitter. I have updated my post to include all of those at the end and in one place. You might want to catch up on all of that at leisure over a croissant and coffee in the morning. You can read it here: What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

Mark Wasson (Principal at MarkHitsTheRoad): 

Unfortunately the big claims in legal tech have been coming for decades, and will no doubt continue.  That’s why it’s important to set higher expectations for those promoting the technologies.

In a 30-year-career with LexisNexis R&D I looked into more than 400 3rd party technologies, many referred to me by someone in the company who heard some impressive claims.  Most really didn’t deserve the cost of having staff investigate them.

By the time some technology is mature enough for people to try to apply it to the legal domain, it is sufficiently well-defined in the R&D community to have example successes and failures in other applications, evaluation procedures that can be applied across approaches to that technology, and quantifiable metrics.

Hype is inevitable, but at some point – and fairly quickly – the candidate tech provider must demonstrate real familiarity with the technology space and share real test/evaluations and results using the technology-standard metrics.  (I met with candidate tech providers who claimed their technology could improve search accuracy but had never heard of the most fundamental metrics of search accuracy:  recall, precision and f-measure.)

Their test cases may not align with the buyer’s.  Only testing on buyer cases does that.  But by sharing their experiences with testing and evaluating the technology, the candidate provides insight into their level of expertise and experience with the technology at hand.

It also helps the buyer determine whether the application may be ready for their “prime time”.  A 4% increase in Top 20 search relevance is statistically significant, but will users notice the 1-document difference in Top 20 results if they rarely go past the Top 10, and are they willing to pay the cost?  How fast is “fast” when it comes to processing a large document collection?  The impact on a data center footprint or cloud bill is part of the cost of adoption.

I don’t care how many people saw a link (or even clicked on it), any more than I care how many people saw a demo at some trade show.  Blockchain – like many of the technologies we now call AI in law – is mature enough that providers should now be providing concrete specifics if they want to impress.

Alex G Smith:

It was always a pleasure working with you on this a popping those claims … the lack of metrics and measurements is rife right now.

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On a LinkedIn Article ‘January 2019: Legal Innovation Roundup’ Dan Marcus wrote:-

What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

It would be pretty difficult to write about the legal technology blogosphere this month without including a reference to what has, unfortunately, been one of the biggest stories in terms of engagement. The controversy arose around an ebook on blockchain for lawyers written and cleverly promoted by an Australian startup, Legaler. Shortly after its release, those of us that keep an eye on LinkedIn (we really should find something better to do) started seeing stories that the book had reached 1.7m people. This was pounced on by some as evidence that legal technology is going mainstream before others (such as Brian Inkster in the article linked in the title) pointed out that the 1.7m figure is grossly misleading. You can probably tell which side of the divide I fall, though I would add that I am more critical of the use of misleading statistics than the original viral promotion tactic followed by Legaler.

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And on Twitter we had the following tweets:-

Mark A Cohen‏ @legalmosaic (Legal Education | Legal Delivery System | Future of Law | Legal Supply Chain | Strategy Consultant in Legal Industry):

The article focused on bigger issues of global legal community, new tech-enabled, customer-centric delivery models, investment, etc. to solve law’s wicked problems. Hope focus is not diverted to how views were created–and article title said “views,” not “reads.”

Jason Morris @RoundTable Law (Dad, tech geek, board gamer, Lawyer at Round Table Law, LLM computational law candidate @UAlberta. ABA Innovation Fellow 2018/2019. TEDx, Clio Cloud speaker):

It also said eBook, not LinkedIn post.

If you don’t want attention to be diverted toward falsehoods, don’t repeat them.

And if one accidentally gets repeated, the appropriate journalistic response would be a retraction, and an expression of regret.

The Time Blawg @TheTimeBlawg (The past, present and future practice of law (brought to you by @BrianInkster of @inksters):

Nail. Head. Yet again a direct hit by Jason. #blockchaingate

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Mark A Cohen:

I cannot speak to “fake” views, @TheTimeBlawg and others. Focus of article was to draw attention to global legal community galvanized by tech possibilities to solve law’s wicked problems and what tech means to legal professionals’ careers. Hope that positive message is not lost.

The Time Blawg:

If you are called out for using a statistic in a way that is possibly 99.97% inaccurate you should be able to speak to that. Original blog post now updated to include all the comments from LinkedIn. Surprising how some people think to mislead is ok.

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Mark A Cohen:

“Blockchain For Lawyers” international blockbuster? Why has this eBook garnered nearly 2M views? Here’s what that says about the legal industry.

Carolyn Elefant @carolynelefant (Power, pipelines & property law #altlaw owner: PowerUpLegal.com ; blogger, author, mom. Early adopter/early widow):

It’s a wonderful book – but there’s also got to be some masterful marketing behind it. Getting 1.7 million views for an ebook is more interesting to me than blockchain for lawyers.

The Time Blawg:

The answer to the “masterful marketing” and the fact it is more like 500 and not 1.7 million is here @carolynelefant: What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

Mark A Cohen:

Let’s not lose sight of bigger issue, @TheTimeBlawg and @carolynelefant. It’s not about what some allege as gamesmanship to boost views but global excitement, investment, & possibilities to solve wicked problems that new tech-enabled models provide.

The Time Blawg:

Global excitement shouldn’t be created by hype that is simply untrue. Bring a bit of reality into your reporting and we will all be the better for it. It may help create trust that will allow us to work together to solve those wicked problems.

Carolyn Elefant:

Thanks – knew I could count on you! It’s hard to know at what point to jump on board in a new space.

The Time Blawg:

Suggest you hold back on this space for now 😉 But if you are publishing an eBook on another topic you can always use the ‘Gimmie’ trick if you want to get 500 or so people downloading it 🙂

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Stephanie Curcio @stephcurcio (IP Lawyer. Co-Founder, @Legalicity):

Battling Fake News in the legal tech space @BrianInkster’s great overview on why the public’s perception of legal technology is skewed by the media @TheTimeBlawg @KiraSystems @wearelegalgeek @ArtificialLawya @LPGravelle

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Alex G Smith @alexgsmith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP. Ex-Lexis platform innovation lead. Geekily into service design, information, technology, law and cricket):

When you see fake legal tech news and fluffery you need to call it … by doing so you send a clear message that as a clever, savvy audience you expect more from your press. Thanks @BrianInkster @TheTimeBlawg and @RoundTableLaw for calling this initially.

Paul Ryan @pjryan51 (Amateur Politician By Night):

Yes but bigger issue in legal tech news is lack of willingness to hold bigger suppliers to account with any kind of critical analysis of their products and performance. So instead usual suspects pat each other on back, get their “client wins” published and we never hear anything more.

Nick Rishwain‏ @NickJRishwain (Legal technology and marketing professional. #LegalTech, Robotics, and #AI fan and advocate. Co-founder of @LegalTechLIVE. Amateur comedian or wannabe. #comedy):

Interesting read. I had not read the Forbes article. However, this reminds me of a discussion I had with some others recently about Forbes articles being mostly fluff.

I should have said, I have not read the Forbes article.

Alex G Smith:

don’t worry @BrianInkster did and made comment in the article. I can’t even be bothered as it (at marketing level) seems to put the solution before the problem which is 50% of the problem at present, but hey-ho one day we’ll learn.

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon (Lifelong watch fanatic who now designs great watches @missionwatchco. I also help startups and huge corporations build cool stuff together):

Thank you. All. Again, I’m able to use

Legal Tech 100 per cent BS Logo

Just in case you missed this, it’s an important, good read about how full of shit #LegalTech can be and how #blockchain, #LawCompany and the like need to be closely watched.

So @TheTimeBlawg updates the #LegalTech piece of 2019 (it’s early, but will be tough to beat) with the comments that highlight #OurStupidIsShowing. (READ THE COMMENTS, FFS)

Of course, were this blog post penned by the lawcompanygentsia, they’d claim 14 million views by now.

The Time Blawg:

Think my blog post may now have been read by more people than the eBook has 😉


3 Comments

Harris Tilevitz on 17/01/2019 at 7:19 pm.

My thoughts, precisely in http://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/sapere-aude-excellence-not-innovation/

Reply

Aron Solomon on 22/01/2019 at 5:26 am.

So I have this discussion almost every damn day when asked “What drives LegalTech?”

The answer is one word: Money

This seems so difficult for people to grasp. You’d think that after years of bullshit conferences and an industry built on a potent cocktail of snake oil and palaver, more people would grasp this.

But they don’t.

This stellar piece leads into but doesn’t touch upon several critical things in its orbit, among them:

– LegalTech startups issuing ICOs, especially under the fantastical guise of A2J;
– A law company shill being merely one torch-bearer of a massive network of paid shills;
– The future of an innovation vertical with rapidly vanishing runway and a mountain reasonably rapidly approaching;
– An industry that should have outgrown the cult of personality when it graduated from its adolescence, aka, Wake Up Mr. West;
– Whether legal blockchain hucksters will simply run their self-driving car into a wall or through a school crosswalk first.

Anyhooo, if 2019 brings more voices willing to call out the tire fire that is the legal technology and innovation industry, it’s a marked improvement upon the vats of empty calories claiming to make law better.

Reply

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