Tr.im and the risks of social media

Shortly after starting this blog in January 2008, I copied-and-pasted my first ten posts and emailed them to my parents, who were not blog-friendly but who were very interested to see what I was writing. (Are parents great, or what?) The next month, I emailed another bunch of posts, and from then on, it became a regular thing. By the tenth or eleventh email, I realized that I was inadvertently creating a complete backup of my blog.

Right now, everything I’ve written at Law21 is also stored on Sympatico’s email servers somewhere. I’ve also saved all those messages into a Word file, which is stored on my hard drive and therefore on Carbonite’s backup system too. Later this month, I’ll probably copy that Word file onto a thumbdrive as well. (Printing out all 180,000 words on the blog would require more than 400 pages, so I think I’ll stop short of taking backup to that extreme.)

The reason why I take all these steps was amply illustrated yesterday when URL-shortening service Tr.im shut down with no advance warning. All of the stats it was tracking have disappeared, and all the links it created could be gone by Jan. 1, 2010. If you’ve been following me on Twitter, this could be problematic, since I’ve been using tr.im links for a few months now. (I switched from tinyurl.com and eventually from bit.ly simply because tr.im bought me one extra character to play with,vital in Twitter’s 140-character universe.) It’s a bigger problem for me, though, because I’ve been using Twitter as a micro-publishing tool, so I’ll now need to go back, click on all those tr.im links I posted, and resave them using some other method. That’s assuming, of course,  Twitter keeps my old posts — Robert Scoble, for one, isn’t sure they even exist anymore.

Tr.im’s sudden demise is a wakeup call to every lawyer who blogs, twitters, or otherwise employs social media as marketing, communications, publishing or client relationship tools. (Not to mention those who use URL shorteners for legal citations, as this engaging conversation at Slaw demonstrates.) We all learned this lesson the hard way back in the late 1990s and we may be about to learn it again: the online ecosphere is incredibly fragile.

Massive platforms that appear ironclad-strong from the outside can be hollowed out or ripped up on a moment’s notice. Look at Bloglines, the first and only feed reader I’ve ever used — Michael Arrington notes today that it could be on its last legs. Or look at Friendfeed, which has its devotees among lawyers — it was bought by Facebook yesterday and could quite easily disappear within Facebook’s gigantic digestive system. Twitter itself was taken down with alarming ease last week by a hacker attack aimed at just one blogger (and Facebook didn’t fare much better). WordPress is and has been a fabulous platform for this blog — but if it disappeared tomorrow, what would happen to Law21?

Lawyers are constantly advised to use these new online social tools, as well they should. But it’s easy to forget that Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are not permanent features of the landscape — especially since none of them has yet come out with a sustainable business model. You do take a risk when you invest time and money in them. In no way is that risk big enough to justify giving up on these tools and platforms — but neither should you regard them as failsafe. As Scoble says, “whenever you put your data in other people’s, or other company’s, hands, you are taking a pretty significant risk.”

At ABA TECHSHOW

I’m back in Chicago, my favourite US city, for ABA TECHSHOW. Looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones while picking up the latest in legal technology, practice management, and innovation insights. This year, if all goes well, I’m also going to try some liveblogging, or at least, quasi-liveblogging, from various sessions, building in enough time to correct my two-fingered typing. Where feasible, I’ll also try my hand at Twittering during the conference — if you’re interested, you can take a look at whatever I have to say at my Twitter homepage. No matter how successful (or not) those efforts are, I’ll do another wrap-up post when I get back home.

The future law book

Two thought-provoking posts from the UK shed some light on the future of the printed word in law. Nick Holmes at Binary Law notes the accelerating demise of the printed law review journal and other hard-copy forms of legal scholarship: “Where online equivalents are already paid for out of the budget or where free access materials might substitute, print will suffer severely.” Only practice texts will survive the value cull, he forecasts.

Scott Vine at Information Overlord chimes in to predict that the e-book reader (Kindle, Iliad, Sony, etc.) represents the light at the end of the tunnel for legal publishers: “[I]f I were a lawyer, who could have all the legal journals I wanted and all the legal texts I wanted – displayed as they would be in a ‘traditional’ print run – all on one device that I could keep in my desk or take with me to client meetings etc., then I would be a very happy bunny.”

Like Scott, I think e-book readers are the future of legal publishing, especially if their creators take to heart some of Seth Godin’s many recommendations for the Kindle. The second-most important application for e-readers in the legal context, I think, will be the hyperlink: the ability to leap from the book on your lap to a relevant page on the Net with 0ne click. You could click from a judicial interpretation or expert analysis of a statute or regulation directly to the most current version of the statute or regulation itself; imagine how that would reshape publications like annotated statues or criminal codes. Or think about footnotes on steroids: instead of just a reference to another work of significance, you get a link to the work itself.

But I think the killer app for legal e-books will be RSS. As every law librarian and legal researcher knows, the drawback to law books lies in post-publication developments. Looseleaf updaters have been around for ages, and have never become less laborious to insert one page at a time. Legal publishers tried issuing new CD-ROMs every month, but I don’t think that really caught on. Online research services remain the most reliable source of updated legal information — but not only do they remain expensive, they also require you to seek out the information you want. But what if the information you needed sought you out?

An RSS-enabled legal e-book would update itself. An authoritative Court of Appeal case at the time of publication might later be overruled by a Supreme Court; within days or even hours, the e-book would automatically change to reflect that. The proclamation of statutory amendments or the coming-into-force of regulations would download themselves while you sleep. Bulletins from tax authorities or rulings from securities commissions would appear with that little yellow “New” tag. A legal book — be it a casebook, a reporter series, an annotation — would become a constantly self-refreshing authority, truly the latest word in the law.

Legal publishers wouldn’t be able to sell annual or subsequent editions of popular texts; but they would be able to open up a whole new market of real-time knowledge refreshment. The speed and accuracy of updates could become  points of competition between publishers (a category that could include the established giants as well as upstart individuals or bloggers).  In addition to downloading the new Supreme Court ruling, a publisher could also offer access to an analysis of the decision by its in-house expert, perhaps as a value-added part of the user’s monthly subscription that enables the downloads. Online CLEs regarding a recently revised subject area could be advertised as part of the update.  Or how about access to relevant wikis to which other e-book users contribute?

In ways like these, the legal e-book could become a dynamic, full-scale legal knowledge portal — 24/7 Net-connected, automatically updated, linked to a community of writers and readers, plugged in to a collaborative legal knowledge world well beyond the written word. That would do more than revolutionize the legal publishing industry — it would help change how lawyers view and use legal knowledge.

Information, innovation and a top 10 list

This is kind of a roundup post — a few things I thought might interest you on the theme of innovative information for lawyers.

First, if you haven’t checked out JD Supra lately, you might have missed this handy new feature: a Facebook application for streaming your legal documents. JD Supra Docs allows legal professionals who publish their work on JD Supra to make their documents and professional qualifications automatically available to their friends and contacts on Facebook. Every time you post a new document on JD Supra, it will automatically stream to your Facebook profile. Steve Matthews nicely sums up what JD Supra is doing here with the term “social legal documents.” That’s a concept worth leaning back and thinking about for a while — it represents an important part of the law’s future in a wired world.

And speaking of wired lawyers, Richard Granat of the eLawyering blog dropped me a line to let me know about the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s James I. Keane Memorial Award for Excellence in eLawyering. James Keane founded the ABA’s eLawyering Task Force, which looks at ways lawyers can use the Internet and other electronic resources to deliver legal services to the “latent market” of people of moderate means. One of my core beliefs is that latent legal services represents the future of the profession — lawyers will lose much of their traditional work to technology, commoditization and new competitors, but they’ll gain much more through the innovative provision of proactive or constructive services to currently unidentified and untapped client markets. So I’d like to help encourage the kind of service recognized by this award, about which you can learn more right here.

Finally, Susan Cartier Liebel of Build a Solo Practice LLC, a very deserving ABA Journal Blawg 100 finalist, decided to provide her own “Best of the Blawgosphere” list, on which Law21 is humbled to appear. Then she challenged all of us to do the same: create a list of recommendations of those blogs you believe others should learn about and publicize on your own blog.  Let’s take the idea behind the ABA 100 and expand it.  Let’s make December of every year the month we introduce our readers to new blogs of note. Let’s give everyone who blogs for education or love of writing and who does so with consistency and quality a pat on the back for a job well done.

Victoria Pynchon of the Settle it Now Negotiation Blog was first out of the blocks with this great list, so I thought I’d give it a shot as well. To paraphrase Susan, this is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sampling of blogs that are doing great work and that deserve and will repay your time and attention. All these blogs, to my mind, merited the ABA’s notice, but not all made the final list; I’ve provided a link where you can cast your “people’s choice” vote for those that did. In no particular order, here they are:

the [non] billable hour — Matt Homann has a gift of seeing the legal profession from exactly the right perspective to make us think differently about how and why we practise law.

3 Geeks and a Law Blog — For my money, the best new law blog out there. Greg Lambert, Toby Brown and Lisa Salazar are thinking years ahead about lawyers and technology.

Adam Smith, Esq. — Extraordinary insights about global law firm management by Bruce MacEwen, who might be the best pure writer in the blawgosphere. Vote here.

What About Clients? — You don’t throw around a word like “fearless,” but that’s exactly how to describe Dan Hull and Holden Oliver’s blog, which demands unapologetically that lawyers put clients first. Vote here.

Build a Solo Practice LLC — Already mentioned above, but Susan’s blog has joined Carolyn Elefant’s touchstone blog My Shingle as absolute must-reads for solo and small-firm lawyers. Vote here for both.

Empirical Legal Studies — The legal profession has an aversion to metrics. Prof. William Henderson is rectifying that by showing that we can, in fact, measure what we do. Vote here.

Strategic Legal Technology — Legal process outsourcing isn’t about lowering costs so much as it’s about rethinking how legal services are produced. Ron Friedmann is quite simply the LPO thought leader.

KM Space — What I just said about LPO applies equally to knowledge management, the key to the profession’s future. Read Doug Cornelius and you’ll get why KM matters.

Law Is Cool — To my mind, a glaring omission from the Blawg 100’s Student list. I’m politically distant from this student-run blog, but its voice and perspective, especially on social justice issues, is irreplaceable.

In Search of Perfect Client Service — Patrick J. Lamb’s Valorem Law Firm walks the talk on client-oriented legal services, and his blog is an invaluable resource for lawyers who want to follow.

Finally, I’ve been remiss in not yet drawing your attention to three Canadian blogs that made the Blawg 100 cut. You should go vote for them, and you should definitely read them. (Update: please also consider this to be their 2008 Clawbies nominations.)

FP Legal Post — Jim Middlemiss’s team at the Financial Post‘s blog tracks corporate law developments in Canada and worldwide, often irreverently. Maybe the only example anywhere of mainstream media getting the blawgosphere. Vote here.

Precedent: The New Rules of Law and Style — Welcome to the future of legal publishing. Precedent is also a young lawyers’ magazine, the rare one that authentically possesses that demographic’s voice and perspective. The online columns are terrific. Vote here.

Slaw — The talent on this roster, led by Simon Fodden, is unbelievable. The contributors’ list is a who’s who of Canadian (and increasingly, global) law bloggers. It’s not just the best law blog in Canada — it’s one of the best law blogs, period. Vote here.

Decoupling price from cost in legal services

Virtually all the talk these days in client circles is about the cost of legal services. It’s well established that institutional purchasers of these services are under great pressure to reduce costs by, for example, “taking bids, asking for discounts, shopping around for lower-cost options.” Patrick J. Lamb points out that many in-house lawyers don’t care what rates are charged, so long as they can bring back to corporate HQ the trophy of a 10% discount. One of the most popular discussions at Legal OnRamp right now is under the heading “Top Ten Ways for Clients to Save $” — and the list has grown well beyond ten.

What’s interesting is that most conversations about “reducing costs” are one-dimensional. They focus on the client getting the same kinds of services from the same kinds of law firms at a lower price; or, more concisely, the same-old same-old for less. They don’t envision rethinking the source of the services, or more importantly, the ways in which those services are produced. Ron Friedmann points out that when looking at ways to control costs, in-house counsel tend to focus on pricing elements — rate freezes, flat fees, discounts, alternative fees, and so forth — while ignoring the potential savings of reforming the process by which legal services are provided:

Where, for example, are efforts to require matter budgets, application of best practices, automation, risk analysis with decision trees, document assembly, and proper use of KM systems?… Real costs savings mean changing the process, focusing on how lawyers practice. The profession needs to overcome its “I am an artiste” attitude and develop better ways of working.

Both lawyers and clients have succumbed to the long-standing lawyer assumption that the price of legal services is directly connected to its cost. Lawyers produce work today pretty much the same way they produced it 60 years ago: through the individual-focused, time-insensitive application of principles and formulas to fact situations. Some time back, they figured out how much it costs them to do that, built in a percentage for profit, and arrived at a selling price for clients. And every year or so, to reflect both inflation and inflated earning expectations, they raised those prices. It’s an insulated, self-sustaining system in which price = cost + profit margin.

Here’s the really important thing that’s happening right now: the price of legal services is finally becoming uncoupled from the costs lawyers incur to produce it. Continue Reading

E-document ethics and the rise of regulation

It’s been a great week for conversations with Law21 readers, because I’ve also had a terrific correspondence with John Gillies, head of Practice Support at Cassels Brock in Toronto. John brought to my attention an opinion issued this past summer by the New York City Bar Association regarding lawyers’ ethical obligations to retain and provide clients with relevant electronic documents.

The obligations set out in the opinion, while not unreasonable in any broad sense, set a markedly higher standard of conduct than many firms are currently maintaining. I think they’re noteworthy for two reasons: one, because firms with offices in New York (which include many global giants) are now bound by these standards (which could well become the de facto standard in other jurisdictions); and two, because we’re going to see a lot more of this: regulation of lawyers’ conduct regarding their work and their clients.

The NYC Bar asked itself the following questions:

What ethical obligations does a lawyer have to retain e-mails and other electronic documents relating to a representation? Does a lawyer need client permission before deleting e-mails or other electronic documents relating to the representation? When a client requests that a lawyer provide documents relating to the representation, may the lawyer charge the client for the costs associated with retrieving e-mails and other electronic documents from accessible and inaccessible storage media?

Read the whole opinion for the complete answer — it’s not long — but the gist is that standards that currently apply to storage and access of paper documents apply equally to e-documents. That might sound like common sense, but think about the impact. The electronic documentation that any given client matter produces is massive: emails to clients and colleagues, draft versions of memos, timekeeping records, Blackberry messages, and so on. If you printed out every e-document and added it to the case file (and please don’t), that file would be about ten times higher.

Here are some highlights of the opinion’s specifics (emphasis added throughout): Continue Reading

Branding, blogging and the attention economy

Every online community loves a meta-conversation, a discussion about the community itself, and the blawgosphere is no exception. But even by those standards, the explosion of posts ignited by a law.com article on women law bloggers was remarkable for its strength and immediacy.

Published yesterday, the article posited a relative absence of women blawggers (rather ironically, considering the term “blawg” was coined by Denise Howell) and suggested various hypotheses to explain the shortage. Within 24 hours, the article had touched off responses across the blawgosphere, from Nicole Black, Ann Althouse, Mary Dudziak, Christine Hurt, Diane Levin, and Laurie Mapp, along with Scott Greenfield and Robert Ambrogi.

The upshot of most of these posts is that the writer failed to look deeply enough into the legal blogosphere, restricting her research to the most highly trafficked sites and those of large law firms. While that’s true, I also think there’s something to be said for male law bloggers’ tendency to link to other men disproportionately more than to women. I think it’s also worth noting that if there is a serious paucity of women bloggers, it’s mostly inside of law firms, especially the larger ones. I may be verging on cynicism here, but I think that’s largely because two things law firms don’t tend to take very seriously are the careers of their women lawyers and the utility of blogs.

Several bloggers also pointed out that until this article asked the question, it had never occurred to them to think about the gender of the other bloggers they read or linked to — it was of the sheerest irrelevance. My own blogroll includes bloggers like Carolyn Elefant, Susan Cartier Liebel, Connie Crosby, Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, and Penelope Trunk, but until I made that list, I had never thought about the male-female breakdown. Ditto for the people I follow on Twitter, including most of the above as well as Victoria Pynchon, Mina Sirkin, Donna Seale, Kelly Phillips Erb, and too many others to list. But just because I haven’t thought about blawggers’ gender before isn’t an excuse to not think about it now, and I’m glad for the opportunity to learn about more women law bloggers worth reading.

But what really struck me among all the posts on this topic, and what I’m really interested in writing about today, came from Ann Althouse. Responding to the suggestion in the original article that women avoid blogging because they’re more prone to professional or personal attack, she wrote: “The internet is not going to coddle and comfort you. In fact, the internet wants you out of here.” [Emphasis in original] While the delivery is a little harsh, I think this is a powerful and profound statement, and every lawyer who intends to build her or her profile and brand online needs to be aware of it and accept it. Continue Reading

Taking up Twitter

Despite my earlier misgivings, I finally decided to break down and join Twitter. I’ve only been there for a few weeks, but so far, I have to admit it’s both a helpful resource and a fun diversion, and there aren’t too many tools out there that can tick both of those boxes. I’ve been directed to a number of interesting and useful sites that I’d never have found on my own, and there’s a remarkable sense of community among Twitterers that keeps you coming back to see what users are saying among themselves.

If you feel like following my own twitter stream, please do. I’m not the busiest Twitterer out there — as I suspected back in May would be the case — but I do use Twitter to post links to law-related articles or developments that wouldn’t merit a full-scale blog post, as well as to ask questions and post neat or unusual stuff that comes my way.

And if you want to get into Twittering in a larger way, I can’t do any better than refer you to a great post today by Adrian Lurssen of JD Scoop, who lists 145 lawyers and legal professionals on Twitter worth following. Many of the names there are already on my Follow list, and many more soon will be. Check it out, and find out where your own Twitter value lies.

The Web is bigger than you think

A watershed moment is occurring at the Beijing Olympics — or more accurately, in the head offices of the broadcasters covering it. Online viewing of Olympic events has shot into the stratosphere — this Globe & Mail article on the subject uses terms like “shattering” and “unbelievable” to communicate the enormity of what’s happening. Here are some statistics to make the point.

CBCSports.ca is averaging two million page views a day. A year ago at this time, the site was getting about one million views a week. The CBC’s live streaming and video-on-demand services are receiving close to 250,000 hits daily. …

At NBC.com, it took only four days to surpass the entire Athens Olympics in page views. Beijing has 291.1 million views so far, compared with 229.8 million for all of Athens. On the first day of the Athens Olympics, NBC had 65,346 video streams. For Day 1 at Beijing, the number was 1.65 million.

The Olympics are the perfect webcast event — numerous events taking place simultaneously, each with its own devoted audience. In the past, networks had to choose the one event likely to garner the highest ratings and televise it, to the chagrin of the long tail of other events’ diehard fans. But with the web, the broadcasters can “televise” as many events at one time as they like on separate streamed web pages, with the added viewer bonus of reruns and replays on demand.

For the last few years, all the major networks have been poking around with the Internet like a new toy that they haven’t quite figured out how to use yet. The Olympics should prove to be the tipping point at which the networks (and their advertisers) realize an important truth: television is only one medium through which content can be delivered, and compared to the web, it’s a limited, inflexible, single-channel medium. The CBC’s Scott Moore reported a conversation with the IOC’s Jacques Rogge: “We both agreed that it is not the wave of the future. It’s the wave of the present.”

Is this still a blog about the legal profession? Yes, it is. And I think there’s an important lesson here for lawyers: we’ve all been thinking about the Internet too narrowly. Continue Reading

Lawyers in the smartphone era

There’s been enough written lately about the iPhone 3G release to choke a broadband stream, especially here in Canada. I ended up reading most of the coverage because I happened to be looking for a smartphone for my wife’s birthday last week (I eventually went with the Treo 755p), and you’ll thank me not to repeat it all here.

But in this mass media morass was a series of interesting articles in the Globe & Mail about the smartphone era we’re now entering. This quote from one of the interviewees expressed a common sentiment: “This marketplace is the most rapid-growing application marketplace the world has ever seen….a marketplace that will completely dwarf the computer industry and its growth.” The smartphone is just about the hottest thing going in forward-looking social, business and technology circles — that’s a tough triple to pull off.

Now, on the one hand, these people are enthusiasts on the bleeding edge who invariably have a lot of skin in the smartphone game. On the other, though, it seems foolish to bet against the continued stratospheric ascent of the mobile phone. When African farmers are using cellphones to check commodity prices and sell their crops, and when we’re on the verge of phones that you can wave at a scanner to pay for your groceries as you leave the supermarket, then you know we’re in the midst of something seriously new.

So it might be time for us to start thinking hard about the impact this revolution will have on the legal industry. I’m certainly not the person to explore all the possibilities, but it seems reasonably foreseeable at this point that two smartphone-related developments will soon manifest themselves in the legal marketplace.

The first is that thanks to smartphones, every lawyer is going to be mobile. It’s true that the Blackberry has already made itself a significant presence in the lives of many business lawyers, for better and for worse. But as a general rule, the lawyer’s center of gravity remains where it’s always been: her office, where she keeps her desk, chair, landline phone, files, books, and desktop computer.

That center of gravity is now shifting to the lawyer herself. With the smartphones of the near future at her command, that lawyer will be able to do everything on the road — call, e-mail, Web browse, review files, read cases, write memos, etc. — that she now does in the office. In fact, it’ll be expected of her. A lawyer with a smartphone is a walking law firm — one that hardly ever closes. Lawyers who obsessively check their smartphone messages are considered antisocial nuisances today, but before long, they’ll be the norm. I’m not saying that’s good, but I am saying it’s pretty much inevitable. Continue Reading