Taking the Legal Out of Legalese

“The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer. ”― Will Rogers

The famed American humorist, Will Rogers, was almost certainly going for the laugh when he uttered those words. But they ring true. The fact is that for centuries, the legal profession has been known for its redundant and ambiguous style of writing. For example, in Cervantes’ 17th century novel, Don Quixote cautions, “But do not give it to a lawyer’s clerk to write, for they use a legal hand that Satan himself will not understand.”

The criticism is well-placed. Frequently, I find myself reading a legal document in my personal life — a mortgage, a car lease, a waiver for a child’s school activity — and thinking: “I’m an experienced attorney, and I have no idea what this means.”

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Mumbo jumbo concept.

In the Adobe legal department, we spend a lot of time discussing our brand. This may sound like a strange area of focus for an in-house legal function; however, having a positive brand is not just a reflection of success — it enables success.
Unfortunately, the brand of the legal profession is tainted by the perception that our inkwells are filled with obfuscation. A few years ago, our legal team at Adobe recognized that we have been part of the problem and decided to change things. It has been no small undertaking. As you might expect for a global company with more than three decades of history, we have a great deal of work to do. But, we are making real progress in rewriting our agreements, policies and training materials to ensure that they are models of clarity and simplicity.

We started this undertaking by identifying a small team of attorneys who are passionate about effective writing. (We identified them by whispering the word “shall” and noting whether they responded with an involuntary twitch.) We then asked them to work collaboratively to create a document that would reflect our collective agreement on how we write. The result is something we call the Adobe Legal Department Style Guide (super sexy title, I know). It’s become the core of how we communicate and is integrated in regular trainings and department communications, as well as being part of the process for new hires.

The result of these efforts have been documents that are much more understandable with improved formats that are easier to digest and provide consistency in format and style regardless of who drafted the documents. Better yet, this work has helped us save money — shorter contracts mean less money spent on translation. For global companies these savings can be significant. But, perhaps, the biggest benefit of this work has been a much more positive brand in the eyes of our customers and internal clients.

Now we’d like to help others do the same thing within their organizations. To this end, we are releasing the Adobe Legal Department Style Guide under a Creative Commons license so that other legal professionals can use it as the basis of similar efforts. It’s free and you are welcome to enhance and change it to best suit your department or organization’s needs (but please provide attribution — it’s a small way of showing thanks to the team that created it).

You can go to the Adobe Legal home page to download your PDF of the Guide. Take a look at it and let us know what you think.

Hopefully, it can be a start to ensuring that the Will Rogers of the future run out of material.


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Takin’ a Detour

Before traveling to a new destination I always try to find a book about the place so that I can learn something about its history, culture and environment to  make my visit less superficial. A trip to Turkey was preceded by “A Fez of the Heart”, a vacation in Australia with “A Fatal Shore”, and while canoeing on the Missouri I found myself traveling with Lewis and Clark through the pages of “Undaunted Courage”.

But reading takes time and it’s a challenge finding the right book for a location. It’s also almost impossible to read a book and explore your surroundings simultaneously. Wouldn’t it be better if you had your own personal guide? Not just a person that you hired by the hour, but something that could help you explore a location in depth, but at your own pace.

That’s the idea behind a new app called “Detour“.

My wife and I and a group of friends gave Detour a try on a recent visit to Austin. We downloaded the app and walked to the starting point for the tour – in this case it was about  Austin in the 1880s and a series of murders during that period. Using the phone’s bluetooth capability, our phones quickly synced so that we could all hear the same audio narration. Then we put in our ear buds and began walking as the narrator – an actress portraying a woman from that period – began to describe Austin at the time of the gruesome killings.

The tour guided us through side streets, alleys and along the river as the narrator chronicled the events that unfolded in these locations almost 140 years ago. At one point, we were directed to walk into a store that displayed an original newspaper from the night of the first murder. Later the narrator led us into the Austin Historical Society where a librarian provided us with the original police blotters for the crimes. And, along the way, we saw parts of the city that we would never have visited otherwise.

The Detour team has produced a very refined and engaging experience. Both from the quality of the audio narration, music and sound effects to the technology itself. These “location-aware audio walks” use your phone’s GPS to deliver the audio relevant for your location on the tour. If you want to stop and look in a window, the tour pauses until you begin moving again. The combination creates an altogether immersive way to travel; bringing new insights to your surroundings.

The tour we enjoyed in Austin is the first outside of six that have been released in San Francisco. But Detour will be expanding into other cities.

Location-aware stories present so many possibilities. How about location-aware audio tours for those long drives in your car? Or, listening to a geologist describe the land rolling by below when you are stuck in a window seat on a plane? Or listening to a narrative about the flora and fauna of your surroundings on a long bicycle ride. What about easily enabling local communities to create their own tours similar to Story Corps? After all, every place has a story.

It will be interesting to see where it goes; however, it’s clear that travel is about to get much more compelling.


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Finally, Less Time with Paper, More Time with Clients


Today Adobe is releasing something that will make all of our lives a bit easier, and in the legal profession, that goes a long way. But first, a walk down memory lane.

I began my career with blue fingers. You may have as well.

Copiers were not in widespread use at that time and in my first job as an attorney we typed everything using carbon paper. It worked well unless you made a mistake and then it was back to scratch with blue ink marking your hands and clothing as you fed the paper into the typewriter. It made me fantasize about the paperless office, a concept that was then in its infancy.

A few years later, I joined a firm that had invested in a Wang minicomputer. For many of us in the legal profession, it was our first entrée into the digital realm. But it was painfully slow. So slow that I would go out for lunch while the system checked the spelling of a document.

Often, I had time for a very, very long lunch.

In the late 1980s, the proliferation of word processing programs created a professional Tower of Babel. Anyone remember Volkswriter, Easywriter or Word Star?

Market acceptance of Microsoft Word and the PDF standard (On behalf of attorneys everywhere let me say “thank you”, John) helped us improve productivity, but since then efficiency gains in the legal world have been slow. In part this is because of the profession’s often antediluvian acceptance of technology. But, more importantly, it’s because there haven’t been any compelling solutions that free us to spend more time where we add value to clients – instead of on paperwork.

Until today.

This morning Adobe released Adobe Document Cloud creating the next major advance in the way legal and other knowledge professionals more effectively support their clients by working more efficiently with critical documents. Adobe has a 30 year history of innovation, but as an attorney this is the one product that excites me the most. Here’s why.

Where earlier in my career, I battled with blue fingers, with Acrobat DC and Document Cloud services I can actually use my fingers to comment, edit and sign documents across touch enabled mobile devices like tablets and phones. Not only does it provide these capabilities, but when making changes or completing document fields the Adobe technology will identify and recreate the font used in the document and insert your changes using the same font!

And, how about this – with Adobe Document Cloud you can take a photo of a document and using Adobe’s Photoshop technology, resize it, adjust the shading, convert it to a PDF document and sign and share it with others. Board consents, agreement signature pages, and government filings are but a few examples of where this feature will increase our efficiency and responsiveness.  (And, this is to say nothing of personal use – how I wish this product was available when my child forgot to bring home a field trip permission slip. Today, they could just send it to me as a photo and the Adobe Document Cloud would allow me to quickly sign it and return it to the school.)

We’ve all seen this happen. You’re working on a document on your desktop at work. You go home and receive a message that the document needs to be edited and finalized earlier than expected. Because your documents reside in Adobe Document Cloud, you will be able to use your mobile device to access the document remotely and make the final changes.

Here’s another prolific pain point that Adobe Document Cloud also solves. For decades, companies and law firms have employed legions of people to walk around with manila folders circulating documents with signature tabs. Endless delay is caused by this archaic process, with documents frequently lost or forgotten on someone’s desk while they are on vacation.  Adobe Document Cloud avoids this with capabilities that enable documents to be managed, tracked and securely controlled providing visibility into where documents are in the routing process, including who has opened them and when.

With Adobe Document Cloud getting signatures from multiple parties on time sensitive documents has never been easier. Instead of faxing signature pages back and forth, Adobe’s eSign service will allow multiple parties to sign a document simultaneously. And, the sender can get real time updates on who has received, opened and signed and the document.

While some of these features and services have been available before, now they are integrated in a single platform with a beautiful, intuitive interface that reflects Adobe’s history of design and focus on innovating with the customer in mind. I encourage you to give it a try.

At last we can finally spend more time focusing on providing value to our clients – rather than paperwork.

Blue fingers are becoming a distant memory.

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The journey…


“The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”

You’ve likely all heard some version of this famous quote from Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. If he were alive today; however, I hope he would consider changing the last word to “wheel.”

One impressive journey began in 1972, when four college students – Dan Burden, Lys Brant, June Jenkins and Greg Siple decided to ride their bicycles from Anchorage, Alaska to the tip of South America. Keep in mind that this was at a time when a steel frame, Schwinn Varsity 10-speed was state of the art, and lightweight toe clips were a source of velo-desire. Back then, this type of trip was the cycling equivalent of Columbus heading into the open waters of the Atlantic for the first time.

Somewhere along their way south, the thought occurred to these cyclists that the U.S. would soon be celebrating its bicentennial. Wouldn’t it be great, they thought, to create and map a transcontinental bike ride to celebrate the event? (Given the enormity of this undertaking, I’m quite certain that this idea came to life after massive amounts of tequila while the group rode through Mexico.)

Nonetheless, they pulled it off. In 1976, with thousands of hours of support from volunteers and local, state and federal governments, the 4,250 mile Trans-America bicycle trail was launched. That summer, more than 4,000 people of all ages traveled it in celebration of the country’s 200th birthday. Since then, thousands of others have continued to ride that same original route.

Based on the success of that endeavor, those original college students formed a non-profit, Adventure Cycling Association, to promote bicycle touring. Almost forty years later, Adventure Cycling is now based out of Missoula, Montana and has more than 47,000 members. To help riders explore other parts of the country, the organization has mapped twenty routes totaling more than 43,000 miles and now runs more than 100 self-contained and fully supported tours for almost 2,000 riders each year. In addition, Adventure Cycling advocates for U.S. bicycle routes, multi-modal travel (trains, airlines and other public transportation) and provides scholarships for young adults to participate in educational courses.

And all this has been accomplished by a very passionate, talented team of less than forty people.

I’m very excited to have been asked to join Adventure Cycling as a member of their Board of Directors. I’ve experienced first-hand the value of cycling throughout my life. It’s an activity that improves health, engages you with your surroundings at a pace that allows you to appreciate them, helps you develop a new community of friends, and, provides perspective and much needed respite from the daily pressures of life. Here’s an example of the type of experience that Adventure Cycling enables. Take a few minutes from your busy day, grab a cup of coffee and take a look.

When you’re ready to begin your journey – whether it’s a solo cross-country tour or even a short ride through your neighborhood – consider joining Adventure Cycling.


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Running the Table

shutterstock_69556762 (2)It’s that time of year. Time to look back over the past twelve months and consider things accomplished and areas for future improvement. Like everyone else, I’ve got a number that come to mind in both categories.

In terms of professional accomplishments, there are many of which I am proud; however, one stands out and that is Adobe’s success in fighting patent trolls.

While we had hoped that we would finally get Congressional action on patent litigation reform in 2014, we were once again disappointed. But, our strategy has never been to rely on Congress (please note my editorial restraint). Instead, over the last year, Adobe has been consciously investing in fighting these cases as aggressively as possible rather than considering them a “cost of doing business” and negotiating a quick settlement.

It’s a strategy not without its costs. We spend millions of dollars defending these lawsuits. So, why do we do it?

First, because it’s the right thing to do for our stockholders, employees and customers. Adobe is one of the most innovative companies on the planet. Diverting resources and dollars from innovation to paying to settle specious patent claims runs against who we are as a company.

Second, because we believe the odds are on our side. We spend significant time and effort investigating these patent claims. When we decide to fight them, we do so with the conviction that we will prevail at trial.

And, third, because this a long-term strategy. One which we believe over time is the only way patent trolls will have an incentive to think of ways to add value to society, rather than killing investment in job creation.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share how we did in 2014.

TQP Development. Between 2008 and 2012, a patent troll named TQP Development filed lawsuits against more than 200 companies, including Adobe, claiming infringement of TQP’s patent encryption technology. (By the way, I’ve always wondered about their name as we have yet to figure out what these folks “develop” other than lawsuits.)

In many of these lawsuits TQP was represented by a law firm that also represented Adobe during this same period. Under legal ethical rules this creates a conflict of interest. Consequently, we were successful in getting the firm disqualified from the case.

Result: Perhaps because they were not excited about finding another law firm, in March 2014, TQP settled the lawsuit without Adobe or its customers paying them a dime.

Ingeniador. On their website, Ingeniador claims to be “a worldwide team of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs pioneering leading-edge research in mobile, e-commerce and healthcare technologies.” Sounds great, but if it “quacks like a duck”… it’s probably a patent troll. And, indeed, Ingeniador sued Adobe in the Eastern District of Texas, accusing our products of infringing a patent relating to, among other things, web-based editing and publishing of files using a network of client computers. Given that Ingeniador is headquartered in Puerto Rico, and Adobe in San Jose, we didn’t think it made much sense for the trial to be held in Texas. The court agreed with us and, in March 2014, moved the case to Northern California.

Result: Evidently, Ingeniador was not looking forward to a trial in Northern California because one month after the case was transferred, they settled the case without Adobe or its customers paying them a dime.

Select Retrieval. In 2011, another patent troll, Select Retrieval, filed lawsuits in numerous jurisdictions, including Delaware, Oregon, California, Florida, Illinois, Maine and Texas alleging infringement of their patent covering a way of retrieving and displaying information from a database. In these lawsuits, Select Retrieval sued dozens of companies, including eight Adobe customers based on their use of our products. Adobe stepped in and provided full indemnification of our customers and we successfully obtained stays in some jurisdictions while actively litigating on their behalf in others.

Result: Although some Adobe customers chose to settle before we joined their cases, in May 2014, Select Retrieval settled the remaining cases without Adobe or any of its other customers paying them a dime.

CSP. In April 2012, another patent troll, CSP, sued Adobe in the District of Delaware, accusing a number of our products of infringing a CSP patent relating to software that provides product activation. Unfortunately for CSP, Adobe had a license to the asserted patent, and had very strong non-infringement arguments. Undeterred, CSP refused to dismiss the case and Adobe aggressively pursued its defenses.

Result: In July 2014, on the eve of a key hearing in the case, CSP settled without Adobe or its customers paying them a dime.

Anyone see a pattern here?

Tejas. “Tejas” is another word for Texas. It is also the often overlooked fifth album by hirsute rockers, ZZ Top. Unfortunately, what I am referring to here is the name of a patent troll who on New Year’s Eve, 2013, began suing Adobe customers – ultimately five in total – in the Eastern District of “Tejas” alleging that that their use of an Adobe product infringed a Tejas owned patent. In response, Adobe went on offense filing a motion for declaratory judgment of non-infringement action in Northern California and aggressively pursuing discovery in the Texas case.

Result: With upcoming discovery deadlines approaching, in October 2014, Tejas settled the case without Adobe or its customers paying them a dime.

Seriously, do you see the pattern? Come on, concentrate.

Digital Reg. of Texas. In April, 2011, Digital Reg. sued Adobe in the Eastern District of Texas accusing a number of our products of infringing patents on software activation. Digital Reg. is a litigation-inspired entity with no connection to the State of Texas other than being formed as a Texas limited-liability company for purposes of acquiring patents used in lawsuits against eight out-of-state defendants. Because of Digital Reg.’s tenuous connection to Texas, and because of Adobe’s strong connection to California (where we are headquartered), the Eastern District of Texas transferred the case to the Northern District of California in March 2012.

Result: In September of this year, a nine-day jury trial was held in Oakland, California during which Digital Reg. claimed damages of in excess of $30m. The jury decided in favor of Adobe finding there was no infringement and that the plaintiff’s patents were invalid. What’s nice about this result is that if the decision is affirmed upon an expected appeal, Digital Reg. will be unable to use these patents against any other company in the future. And, again, we didn’t pay them a dime.

There is one more lawsuit I’d like to discuss, but for a variety of reasons, I’ll keep the names of the other parties confidential. In this case another patent troll sued one of our customers in 2013, asserting three patents. Our customer chose to fight the case and we supported their decision and accepted indemnification and took on the defense of the patent directed to our DRM encryption technology.

Result: This fall, after a 10-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that Adobe’s technology was not infringing.

With the help of our great Adobe legal team and business partners, and talented outside counsel, we ran the table with a positive outcome in every case. Not a bad year.  And, we’re hoping that sharing these examples will encourage other companies to take the same approach.


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Forgive me in advance, but I’m going to go on a bit of a rant here. I simply can’t take it anymore.

One of the little discussed aspects of corporate culture is our affinity for using acronyms*. I’ve worked at a number of different companies and they all had this in common. I used to think it was just a tech thing – some subconscious desire to reduce the spoken word into linguistic “bits”, but my counterparts in retail, manufacturing and communications assure me it is the same in their industries.

A couple of years ago I came across an article that indicated the first recorded use of “OMG” was in a letter from British Admiral Lord John Fisher to, of all people, Winston Churchill in 1917. (As an aside, can you imagine using this expression in a communication with “The British Bulldog” as he was then known? LOL!) With the widespread adoption of texting, Twitter and other social networking, the use of acronyms like this is a trend that is accelerating.

At Adobe we take it to an entirely new level. Acronym usage is so rampant here that an internal market has developed with employees trading lists of company acronyms like they are some sort of corporate Rosetta Stone.

As an example, I recently attended a meeting where we reviewed the performance of a number of our businesses. During one ten minute period, I jotted down the following acronyms that were used during a presentation: “VIP”, “ARR”, “CLP”,” TLP”, “GTM”, “CCM”, “SMB”, “ETLA”, “POSA”, “STE”, “CS6”, “CC”, “EOL”, “STL”,” DPS”, “COGS”, “OEM”, “ROW”, “MD&P”,  “CAGR” and “CCE”. One of the presenters even achieved the linguistic equivalent of running the four-minute mile by using an impressive seven acronyms in a single sentence!

I almost applauded and handed him a towel and a Gatorade.

Upon reflection, however, I realized that I had become distracted from the content of the presentation because I was too focused on trying to understand the acronyms.

And for presenters, that’s a real problem. You put countless hours developing a presentation so that you can inform or influence your audience. That work is wasted if your audience doesn’t understand your message.

So, here’s a novel idea. How about considering the audience you are addressing? Are you certain that everyone in the room understands the acronyms you are using? If not, use the full words or phrase at the beginning of your presentation before you begin using the acronym.

Your future audiences will thank you and your presentations will be far more effective.

Rant over.

g2g – ttyl!


*For you logophiles, I know that the more accurate term is an initialism but I’m going to use acronym in its broadest sense.


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Five Things From: October

– Helps to explain my extreme dislike of meetings.

– Crossing Wasco off my “places to visit list”.

– The power of art to illuminate history.

– Combine this with this and you get the need for one humongous data plan.

– Those canaries in the coal mine? They’re actually walruses.

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