Tuesday, February 03, 2009

LegalTech Panel: "Five Things Every Practice Should Know About Web 2.0 Technology"

This was an information-packed session presented by Mary Abraham (lawyer and “knowledge manager”) and Lee Bryant (director at Headshift, London). The focus of this presentation was on tools used within the enterprise.

The presentation began on an ironic note – with a wifi signal freely available, no password codes were available for those hoping to live blog. This was not an auspicious start for the first of a set of three presentations focusing on “Web 2.0 Technology.” That said, once the presentation was underway, passwords were distributed to those who were blogging. That said, I couldn’t get my connection going. Perhaps I digress (but please, in the future give all LegalTech conference attendees a strong, free Wifi signal.)

If this session suffered from anything it was information overload. I was very impressed with both panelists; they kept things moving quickly, and each had a lot of information to share.
Some of the points they made follow.

-- Web 2.0 makes sense in a downturn

The recession provides perfect conditions to move forward with these tools and strategies. We have to demonstrate value quickly; but that doesn’t mean a retreat into existing projects or a failure to start new projects. Adding a “social layer” to existing enterprise tools can rejuvinate old, unloved systems. Existing systems can do the heavy lifting well – the data management. What they don’t do too well is the last mile – connecting the information and the users. The new tools should build on the existing systems.

-- There are several levels of collaboration tools. These were presented in the form of a “social stack”:

-- at the base level, these consist of public feeds and flows; RSS feeds, and email;

-- the next level includes bookmarks and tags that create “signals of relevance” for users to share and comment. Clay Shirkey talks about information overload; bookmarks and tags help users filter information for each other.

-- the third level includes blogs and networks, with items or topics shared within networks or discussed in blogs. This information can come from the bookmarks and tags. Professional bloggers typically self-filter this information; they will take in many news feeds, tagging some of them (for later review, in my experience), and then will blog about a lesser number. (Consider the “old” way of doing this, where someone in the firm would circulate an email with some piece of relevant information).

-- the fourth level involves group collaboration – groups or teams that organize knowledge in wikis and group systems, with features such as reviews and voting. The hard part here is getting things started, getting that first draft down. This is becoming popular, with in-firm wikis being managed within groups or subgroups of firms.

Michael Idinopolous says that it’s best to leave knowledge workers “in the flow” of the information to make it easier for them to share useful information. We shouldn’t workers to step “out of the flow” if we want them to share. Our systems should try to make it easy for people to share, and to see what’s been shared. Asking people to share day-to-day just for the heck of it is not going to work.

-- the fifth level: personal tools allow people to organize their own information by tags, or a portal, or a newsreader (for example).

(I wonder whether the fourth and fifth levels should switch places. It seems to me that group collaboration is some higher order byproduct of the use of Web 2.0 tools, sort of the ultimate goal here, the most focused result of the use of the other tools.)

There are many tools available for this. Reading, writing, collaborating, messaging, sharing, and some all-in-one.

-- How to make the business case.

The fact that the tools are relatively cheap and easy to roll out make it easier to sell. They can replace expensive systems (for example, the typical “intranet project” or CRM tool can sometimes be replaced with cheaper, more effective tools).

The key is to select the right tools – many of which are open source. Mallesons in Sydney is an example of a firm that has done very interesting things using social networking tools. There were failures, but they used cheap tools, rolled them out quickly, integrated user feedback, and worked fast.

-- Some examples are as follows:

-- Internal wikis allow multiple users to view, comment, and modify the same document: using something called “Confluences” – seeing hundreds of edits a day to wikis, 1000 page views.

-- Social tools are not about personal blogs, what you’ve had for lunch, etc. Often a group blog is adopted. Freshfields has adopted groups of wikis; only certain people have permission to edit. Trusted editors are a premise behind much social software. You have to trust people to act in a responsible manner. Many existing systems are built on a platform of distrust.

Lawyers don’t seem to be so worried about sharing knowledge; it’s more like projecting ego. It does depend on the context – internal sharing is going to see much more sharing than external.

There was additional discussion of some of the tools available to help implement these projects. Frankly, this moved a bit quickly for my notes. Suffice to say there are more than a few layers of collaboration tools available to those seeking to increase the level of internal collaboration.
This was an excellent session, with more information presented than your humble narrator was able to repeat. My takeaway point: it is past time to begin thinking about ways to manage information flow. The technology is now at the point where it is feasible to start implementing some of those “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if . . .” projects from the past.


  1. Thanks for an excellent summary of this session Kelly! I'm covering some other sessions at http://caselines.blogspot.com/search/label/LegalTech%202009

  2. Kelly -

    Thanks for a great overview of our session. You're absolutely right -- there was a ton of information to digest. In fact, while I do intend to blog the session, I suspect it will be over a series of blogs. I'm not sure I can pull off your trick of doing it in a single post. In the meantime, I'm very grateful for your notes.

    - Mary