Eryan Cobham

Thinker-tinker. Web Developer.

Introducing Cobwebs Consulting

For those of you that don’t know, for the past six months I’ve been working on getting back into doing web design and development/programming (which I did before law school) and get a portfolio together. I started this journey by working on my very own wedding website in the middle of last year. Then, I was introduced to a couple of non-profit organizations that needed new websites, which I agreed to work on for free as favors to friends. One of those organizations seems to have lost interest, but the other project is moving along, which should give me something to announce in another month or two. Around the same time, I also signed up to volunteer for The Taproot Foundation and through them ended up working on another website redesign project for Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a Chicago non-profit. That project just recently wrapped up (the new website should be launched by the end of January). Along the way I also managed to pick up another client, The South Side Housing Digest and launched their site last week. Keep an eye out for it, as we add more features and expand some of the sections, especially if you’re thinking about living in Chicago.

These six months have culminated with me finally launching my own company website, Cobwebs Consulting LLC. I decided that the three things I want to work on are web design, technology consulting, and technology project management. Web design is pretty self-explanatory, I’ve always enjoyed well-designed sites and want to bring as many more into existence as I can. I’m not just talking about sites that look pretty though, I’m talking about sites that people actually enjoy (or at least don’t hate) using and that help accomplish some purpose for the owners. Those two things should never be in conflict. My interest in technology consulting arose because it seems like a lot of business really have no idea what they should be doing on the internet. They wonder if they need a facebook page, a twitter page, or an iphone app. They don’t know how to put their inventory online and take orders, or whether to build an intranet, or how make sure that their employees all have access to the information they need to do their jobs efficiently. I’d like to be the person that helps them figure out these issues. Project management seems to me like the next logical step after giving the consulting advice. The organization may have a plan of what they want to do, but they’re good at running the organization, not necessarily in choosing the right vendors and make sure the vendors are doing the job to the proper specifications. I can be the person that watches over the project to make sure it progresses properly.

So as of now, I’m fully open for business and looking for new (paying!) projects. If you have know of anybody that needs a website, please give them my info or send them to my website or my Sortfolio profile.

2009 Is Dead, Long Live 2010

I guess around this time of year everybody is required to do a post looking back at the year that’s ending and forward to what’s to come, right? So here’s mine.

My retrospective kind of starts in 2008. I decided pretty early on in that year what my plans for ‘08 and ‘09 were going to be. I wanted ‘08 to be the year when I created some kind of foundation for myself, kind of like a starting point. So I saved up for an engagement ring, proposed to my girlfriend and started saving money like a madman so I could have some more flexibility in my choices. I basically transferred any money that was in my checking account the day before payday into savings, every time. I wanted ‘09 to be a year when I started doing the things I wanted to do.

It seems like the general consensus is that 2009 was a fairly shitty year. With the economy like this, that’s no surprise. Things just didn’t turn out the way people intended or would have liked. This is one of the few years I haven’t shared that same sentiment. I lost a few people this year—a couple uncles and an aunt—but for the most part, 2009 ended up being pretty close to what I wanted out of it. It was full of some fairly major transitions, from beginning to end.

First off, my nephew ended up being born on the day before my birthday. Obviously starting fatherhood was a much bigger transition for my brother than for me, but I think it still counts. The next big thing was no longer working at the law firm. It feels a little weird not to be practicing after 3 years of school, 2 years clerking, and another almost 2 years at the firm. Law school and everything that followed took up the majority of this decade for me, but I think I’m happier now than I’ve been at any point since 2002, despite the uncertainty. Somewhat related was taking the next step of filing the paperwork to start my own business. I managed to realize what I actually enjoyed doing, and start figuring out a way to make a living doing it.

Lastly (and most importantly) I got married. This easily could have been something I said a year ago, because I was ready to marry her on the day I proposed. Most of this year was just leading up to October 3rd. All that planning culminated in one, really fast, day. I don’t think there’s any other time that I’ve been able to have that many friends and family all in one place, and it was even better than I had hoped. The pictures don’t do it justice, so I wish it wasn’t as much of a blur in my mind. I’ll still be savoring it for a long time though, and enjoying the married life.

If ‘08 was me getting my foundation in order to prepare for ‘09, and ‘09 was mostly a transitional year, then I’d like 2010 to be the year that I build on the things I started in ‘09. There may be a few transitions, but nothing close to the level of upheaval in ‘09. So far, I’ve identified 3 areas that I want to work on. The first area is design, something I never paid much attention to. I knew some posters/websites/objects were appealing, but I didn’t think about why things were placed a certain way. This past year I started paying attention. I starting following more designers that I can learn a lot from, and also asking more questions to my brother when I need help. In 2010 I design as much as I can.

The second area is music. I’ve wanted to learn how to play the saxophone since high school. During the summer of 2003 I briefly had both the money and the time to rent an alto sax and pay for lessons, but I couldn’t keep it up. Now, thanks to my lovely wife, I have my very own tenor to practice with, and I intend to work at it throughout the year. So regular practice is my goal.

The third area is photography. I don’t necessarily want to take more pictures, but I definitely want to take better pictures, and that will certainly involve taking more pictures. I want to bring my camera with me to more places and be less nervous about taking pictures when I do. I’ve enjoyed photography since my undergrad Intro B&W class, and that interest exploded once my wife (then girlfriend) got me a wonderful present a few years ago. For the past few years I haven’t been in many pictures because I’m always the one taking them. I haven’t taken photography as seriously since that class though. I haven’t thought about the composition, the lighting, and learned how to really use my cameras. Next year I take more more photos and better photos.

Obviously this list doesn’t include a bunch of other things I plan on doing in the next 12 months—getting and staying in better shape, improving as a husband/son/brother/uncle/friend/person, continuing to get my business going, etc. I’m leaving those out because those are pretty much constants. I’ve always been trying to work on those areas, and hopefully I always will.

It’s amazing to see what can happen in a year, and I can’t wait to see where I’m at in another 365 days. I hope 2010 is good to all my friends and family members, as well as yours.

Happy New Year.

Comedy Central and Fake Steve Jobs

For the past 10 years or so, it seems like the people whose jobs it is to do comedy/satire do a better job of pointing out what’s wrong in the country/world than almost any mainstream media outlet does. When I say mainstream media I mean primarily newspapers and network television. If you watch almost every episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report you start to wonder how it is that they are the only ones that notice the things they report on. These shows are on Comedy Central, but they really only make you laugh to stop from crying.

Now you have a blog that is written by a journalist pretending to be the CEO of Apple. It’s supposed to just be satire, but still manages to cut through a lot of bullshit and get to what isn’t being noticed or mentioned. Obviously most people don’t really give a shit about Apple, AT&T; or the iPhone, but in his latest post he kind of hits on something more important that any of that.

Essentially the point of the post is that AT&T; has been reducing it’s capital expenditures for the past few years even though it’s been getting a huge influx of wireless data revenue, mostly from iPhone customers that have to pay for a data plan. As a result of not spending that money to build network capacity, we have the problems that AT&T;’s network is plagued with today – bad service in densely populated areas, dropped calls and customer dissatisfaction. The reason, AT&T; has been cutting back on capex is so that it could smooth out it’s earnings, which, as anyone that’s taken an accounting class can remember, need to show steady upward growth for the investors to be happy — not too fast, not too slow, but just right. Since all the executives’ salaries are based on that number, they care about it more than anything.

Contrast AT&T;’s spending with Google’s from a couple of years ago, when their capital expenditures were insane as they built up data centers and all sorts of other things to handle the increasing amount of users they were expecting for all of their different products. I’m not saying every public company doesn’t try to smooth out earnings to some extent, but to do it in the face of increasing customer agitation like AT&T; has is pretty despicable.

Anyway, my point is this: why is this AT&T; information only being talked about in a blog post? Meanwhile you have a bs article in the NYTimes and a segment on CNBC that claim the problem is with the iPhone itself, despite that fact that the very same phone doesn’t seem to have these problems on any other network around the world.

This is why I can’t say I’m all that sad to see newspapers and network TV dying off. It seems like they stopped trying to go out and report actual news years ago. Now I get to hear about Tiger Woods’ sex life most of the time.

Small Business Tools - Project Management Software

I am going to have a series of posts on tools that small law firms and other organizations can use to save money and, hopefully, increase productivity, but I’ll also be noting articles I come across that have real world examples of people using the technology or particular products I mention. This post “Basecamp is the Best Marketing Tool” from attorney Chuck Newton is a good example to start with.

In the post, Chuck explains some of the ways that he uses the project management software Basecamp created by Chicago-based company 37 Signals in his legal practice. Basceamp is a type of project management software which tries to help teams of people (potentially in different locations) to communicate, coordinate their efforts, and share information, including files. There are other types of project management software, but I will focus mostly on the benefits of Basecamp here and give a more thorough explanation some other time. Chuck explains his reasoning as follows:

My group of attorneys decided to use Basecamp in order to coordinate our practice area and to allow each of us to have access to critical documents, notes and time matters concerning the cases that we manage together.

The critical information in your office needs to be available online so you do not have to haul files all over kingdom come, like we use to do. Instead of a complicated and expensive VPN, we tried Basecamp instead.

Project management software can be used by small law firms and solo practices as well as by teams teams of attorneys working together in larger firms. Ant example of a situation it would be useful is with a group of attorneys working on a single case. As the case develops, you are send emails back and forth, research relevant precedents, draft motions, etc., and you need to keep track of court dates, deadlines, contact information for people involved with the case, and tasks that need to be completed. All that information is spread out in several different locations: your calendar, your email program, todo lists scattered around your desk, different folders on your computer, etc.

Project management software would allow you to keep all the necessary information associated with that case in one place. You can upload files for everyone to see (helpful if you’re collaborating on a motion and sending drafts back and forth), keep a calendar with important milestones, send messages to everybody associated with the project, and delegate tasks to specific team members. If you need to see the latest draft of a response, check a deadline, find a pdf of a case you cited in a previous motion, or see what the next item on your todo list is, you check the folder for that matter and it is all right there. You don’t have to wade through the emails concerning other cases, mailing lists you joined, forwarded jokes from your parents, and other miscellaneous items you receive daily, and you don’t need to remember where on your computer you saved that important file. Everything in one place, and no confusion about what’s been done and who’s supposed to do what comes next.

37Signals software is a favorite at Cobwebs Consulting. We use Basecamp, Backpack, and Highrise daily. I also personally used Backpack when I was practicing to keep track of a case I was assigned. I had a page with all of the court documents filings from the beginning of the case, as well as an explanation about what happened at each hearing. Since the most recent items are automatically added at the top of the page, everything was already in chronological order without me having to do anything. Any time the partner had a question about what happened on a certain date or wanted to see a particular motion, response, or order, I’d just consult the Backpack page and be able to tell him right away. No need to search anywhere else. It ended up being a huge timesaver. I highly recommend it to all of you associates struggling to stay organized. More on Backpack and 37Signals software to come.

As with anything, there are pros and con to using services that are hosted on computers you don’t own. Interested in finding out whether project management software is right for your company, or already thinking of implementing project management software to help organize your business? Contact Cobwebs Consulting LLC at We can help.

Law Firms Trying to Be More Progressive?

Just saw a story that I found surprising. Law firms are notoriously resistant to change, but is that resistance weakening? Some unnamed Atlanta law firm is looking for a “Director of Social Media.” The job requirements for this position are:

  • Must have general knowledge of managing Twitter, Facebook and the internet

  • Effective written and verbal skills

  • Action-oriented and drive for results

  • Must be able to work independently with little management

  • Knowledge of current events in general practice groups in the legal world

  • Must have a college degree and an interest in current events.

The person’s primary responsibility will be to “actively promote our growing law firm using a variety of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and our existing web-site.”

This is an interesting development for law firms. It is certainly a good thing for them to take notice of “social media” and experiment with using it, but I have reservations about doing it this way. My first question is, what is the primary purpose of hiring this person? Is the goal to attract associates by showing how progressive the firm is? To attract clients by demonstrating the firm’s expertise in certain areas? To keep their clients informed of developments in that area? An overall strategy is necessary to focus the efforts of lucky person that lands this job.

I’d also like to know how much the Social Media Director will interact with attorneys. Will that person will be on an island by herself, researching and posting whatever she comes across? Will she have a good idea of what projects people are working on and need to specifically talk about those? She will probably find out about some big case the firm wins, but that is basically just another press release that nobody pays attention to. What about an important legal tidbit that an associate came across while researching a memo or drafting a motion? Will the associate talk to the social media person about posting that information? The ad says the person will “communicate through social web-sites about all specific practice groups and their developments,” but the person will only know about developments through weekly or monthly practice group meetings, which cannot encompass everything that is going on.

So here is my opinion on a better way. Law firms already have employees that know enough about the Internet and social networking sites. RIght now they just call most of them associates. Almost all of them have facebook profiles, and some are probably on Twitter too. Many partners at least have a profile on LinkedIn. The attorneys also happen to be the ones finding information that can add some value to the firm’s presence on the web. Why not just empower them to post something to twitter, or a blog, saying “Hey, I just found an interesting little case that would be of interest to a few clients in a certain area. Check out this case, here’s what it says.” Posting to the website could even be a condition of employment as an attorney at the firm, maybe included in an attorney’s non-billable hours.

Something like that would have appealed to me when I was an associate—do research, and if you want, write a short blog post about something interesting you find. If you need to encourage people a little more, requiring one post per month, or year, per attorney would be more than enough. If you’re worried about giving associates that much responsibility, require that a partner approve it beforehand. Attorneys are already getting daily or weekly updates about significant cases in their practice area, so it won’t require too much extra effort to write up a paragraph about a significant case they find.

A method like this could have multiple benefits. It helps the firm because fresher and more relevant content on the website improves search rankings and prevents the website from seeming stale. This could help the firm attract new clients by showcasing its expertise in certain areas. The attorneys may also benefit personally by getting another outlet to hone their writing and (if their name is attached to the posts) building up their personal brand as an expert in that subject matter. It’s an easy way to get young associates into the habit of publishing and promoting themselves. Being able to show a potential client several pieces you’ve written about their industry and issues that affect them establishes your credibility.

I doubt this is something that will happen in firms for a long time, but I can hope. In the meantime, if anybody is looking for Director of Social Media, I’m definitely available.