Forums: How We Communicate Now

The school of hard knocks taught me that written correspondence delivers news, information, and legal notices very effectively, but it usually ruins complex conversations. Written communication insulates people from a sense of accountability for civil and professional discourse. That lack of accountability often deteriorates into a mob dynamic that can crowd logic and reason from conversation. Truth and facts have no room in such an environment.

Handfuls of people engaged in conversations about the list to forum transition in our E-discussion lists through the past week (I understand that less than 50% of all ISBA members subscribe to the lists). All participants engaged in the conversations with professionalism and civility. At some point, however, to quote a favorite Tom Hanks line from the movie “The Ladykillers,” the conversations began “to flog a horse, that if not dead is at this point in mortal danger of expiring.”

The ISBA staff has mostly refrained from engaging openly in list conversations because of the concern they would be unproductively consumed and immobilized by them. Members should not interpret the apparent staff silence on the lists as ambivalence or lethargy. Our small staff (about one staffer per 650 lawyers) engaged all week in membership training, technical support, and troubleshooting. We trained and recruited dozens of volunteer members as forum guides, and we will train more members in the days ahead.

Some conversations about the transition implied mistakenly that each discussion list is independent and mutually exclusive of every other list, and that each section could decide whether to keep its list independently of the rest of the association. To the contrary, all of the lists are part of a single communication platform. It is untenable to maintain both systems. One system, the more antiquated list system, must go.

Our Elder Law and Probate, Trust & Real Property Section lists demonstrated their malware vulnerability this past Friday. Apparently, a computer virus infected and hijacked a very honorable section member’s email to broadcast a distasteful joke through the lists. A few list members encouraged our beleaguered friend and noted the virus propagation could not have spread in the forums because the forums have no connections to individual members’ email accounts.

Jeff Dible, my friend, frequent list contributor, and fellow “Jeff,” offered these remarks to the Probate, Trust & Real Property Section list on Saturday, March 7:

From my vantage point, the current e-discussion list has been “broke” for several weeks because of changes made by [the list vendor]. When I want to “reply to all” to a message on a thread and when I am using a computer, “reply to all does not work when I click on it. I have to remember to add the list as a “cc” recipient.

Secondly, but only when I am reading and replying to  e-discussion list messages on my iPhone, absolutely every post and reply appears (in the “from” field at the top of the message) to come from Gary Banet at Wyatt Tarrant & Combs. Everyone. Now I like Gary just fine, but I have to open the message to see who it actually came from.

I just posted my first substantive reply on a thread on the new forum. If you tell your browser to remember your login and password for the forums main page (Google Chrome will prompt you to do this or to say “Nope”), you can bookmark the forums main page and bring it up instantly from the bookmark, without having to log in.

Starting almost a decade ago, and for about 5 years (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I had more free time), I was a regular participant on a couple of on-line forums (non-legal content, and clean!). I got used to the format, which made it easy to save or e-mail permalinks to particular posts, and to do very specific searches of the archives, by sender, by topic by words in a post, etc.

All of those familiar features appear to be in the new forums, including the quote function and the ability to send either quick replies or replies using the “full text editor.” On most on-line forums, using the full text editor allows the participant to control fonts, use italics and bold, numbered and bulleted lists, and that is what the ISBA forums full text editor does . . . . apparently without having to know BBC (bulletin board code) or HTML tags. I also see that the full text editor for replies appears to make it easy to link to the URLs for video elsewhere on line.

There are a couple of bothersome “features.” On  the “forum subscriptions” page, if you are subscribed to Instant Updates or to the Daily Digest for a forum that you have joined, this will be indicated by a red X next to a link that you can click (as it says) in order to “unsubscribe.” If I am reading the content correctly, the red X means that I AM subscribed to that feature, and the link next to the red X is what I click if I want to unsubscribe. 

Will I be posting less on the new forums, to the current e-discussion list? Possibly. Time will tell whether I will prefer to receive only the daily digest or only the instant updates, instead of both.

We have noted Jeff Dible’s critique of the early forum quirks (and improvement suggestions from other members) and will seek refinements accordingly. We welcome other refinement suggestions so that we can improve the forum user experience for all members.

Many of us had analog mobile phones in the late 1980s and early 1990s that failed to work when the phone companies upgraded to the digital systems that we now take for granted. Those of us whose phones suddenly became worthless grumbled that the phone companies did not discuss with us whether we wanted to upgrade to a more advanced system. In hindsight, however, which of us would want to carry a staticy, low powered phone that requires its own luggage now that we can conduct business faster on our smart phones than our desktop computers could muster at that time?

No technological transition feels good to the people who must pass through it. Please understand, however, that the ISBA is irrevocably committed to completing this transition on Monday, March 16, 2015.

Our dedicated staff wants to help all members migrate to the forums smoothly and staff members welcome your telephone (800-266-2581) and email requests for help. We have created an instructional guide and a web video virtual tour of the basic forum experience brief that includes tips to streamline forum logins and simplify forum usage. I encourage tech savvy members to seek training and help other members navigate the transition.

If we cannot adapt to this relatively small change, how can we as a profession hope to survive the much larger economic, technological, and competitive challenges of this technologically evolving world? I am confident that we will master this change like every other professional challenge and we will grow stronger together.

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