4. Blawgs and RSS feeds
How many of these names are familiar to you? "Ernie the Attorney," "Bag and Baggage," "NetLawBlog," "Inter Alia," "beSpacific," "LawTech Guru," "ethicalEsq?", "tins," "My Shingle," "The Trademark Blog," "George's Employment Law Blog," "GrepLaw," "LawSites," "Stay of Execution," "How Appealing," "The Indiana Law Blog," "Copyfight," and "DennisKennedy.Blog."
These are the names of a relatively small sampling of the blawgs that have given the legal profession a new and vibrant image among the growing number of influential opinion-leaders who have flocked to the world of blogging. A blog, as you may know, is a new kind of content-focused Web site, typically built with blog authoring software, that displays new content as postings or articles in a reverse chronological order. They are cheaper, easier and, arguably, more effective than most standard web sites.
Have you heard of RSS feeds, RDF feeds, XML feeds, news feeds or syndication? These terms refer to a method that allows you to "feed" your content over the Internet as headlines, excerpts, abstracts or full-text (including images). People who "subscribe" to your feed receive new material as soon as you add it, without needing to return to your Web site. Subscribers use a program called a "newsreader" or a "news aggregator" to subscribe to, receive and manage feeds. Feeds are usually associated with blogs, but not all blogs have feeds and not all feeds are sent out by blogs. In fact, many newspapers, publications and services now have news feeds. Some courts and government agencies have, or are working on, news feeds.
I called news aggregators a life-altering technology in the December 2003 issue of Law Practice Magazine in my article, "Beating Information Overload with News Aggregators".
A good way to get your initial exposure to blogs and feeds is to visit the Daily Whirl site, which allows you to see headlines from a large number of legal blogs and other sites with news feeds.
Blawgs will evolve and grow in 2004, and help change the public's impression of lawyers in a positive way, but the news aggregator tools and feeds are a "must investigate and use" technology for lawyers in 2004 for many reasons, not the least of which is how they let you get information you need without sifting through the spam and clutter of your e-mail inbox.
5. The impending security disaster
As Microsoft advises, there are three essential steps that you must take to provide a basic level of security protection. They are: (1) install all updates and patches, especially those designated "critical security updates"; (2) use and keep current at least one anti-virus program; and (3) use a hardware or software firewall. I add a fourth step: back up on a regular basis, ensuring that files can be restored.
The three standard steps are like locking your car doors. Locking the doors does not mean that a determined and skilled car thief cannot steal your car, only that an opportunistic thief looking for an easy target will pass by your car.
The troubling aspect of Blaster is that the critical security update that patched the Windows vulnerability it exploited had been available for two months prior to the appearance of Blaster. There was a lot of publicity about the need to install the update. Doesn't this imply that some, perhaps many, of the affected firms had not followed the first step of standard recommended security practices?
Computer and network security is difficult and specialized work. Many firms are lucky to have a full-time IT person, let alone one with security expertise. Law firms are also vulnerable to walk-in theft of computers, theft and loss of notebook computers, compromised and wide-open access by attorneys at home and on the road, and inadequate screening of new employees and exiting employees. Add to that mix the reluctance of law firms and lawyers to encrypt sensitive data, and you have a big train wreck waiting to happen.
Fortunately, the use of key-chain password generators and biometric login tools will reduce the notorious tendency of lawyers to use common and easily-guessed passwords. New security and patch management software will also help, as will exploring outsourcing options. But, is it too little, too late?
6. Clients fire law firms due to tech shortcomings
Let's consider four facts. First, for the last several years, surveys of corporate general counsels show that 50-60% of them either fired or seriously considered firing one or more outside law firms. Second, the number one reason for firing law firms is "lack of responsiveness." Third, the most common answer to the question of what innovation did your law firm bring to you was "none." Fourth, the overwhelming answer to most important priority was "controlling legal costs."
Do I have to paint the picture for you?
Client patience is nearing its end. The law firms that will do well will be those that use client-centric technologies, especially those who bring cost-saving ideas to their clients without the clients asking. The firms that do not are likely to find more pink slips. Good corporate business may instead be moved to those tech-savvy lawyers leaving big firms to build a new business model on a technological foundation.
7. Are we on the doorstep of the next killer app for lawyers?
The Tablet PC, WiFi, OneNote and Practice-Specific Applications.
I recently spent a few weeks trying out a Motion Computing Tablet PC generously loaned to me by Jeff Danielson, of M7 Wireless Services in St. Louis. The Tablet PC had wireless capabilities and was loaded with OneNote, Microsoft's new "informal" word processor and electronic notepad that allows you to write or draw on the screen into your document, insert audio, and insert text by hand-writing recognition as well as by typing. OneNote works like an electronic version of a legal pad, but you can also search for what you need, move things around and share documents in a way that you cannot do with paper.
My reaction to the combination was overwhelmingly positive. You can be connected all the time, and access and enter information in several ways in a form factor similar the legal pad you carry everywhere.
It gets better. Since it is a full-fledged PC rather than a PDA, the Tablet PC also has your case management software and the programs you use in your everyday practice. If you are litigator, you could have a Tablet PC, enter your notes, check information on the Internet, use CaseMap, find and review information in Summation or another discovery tool, get real-time transcription, run PowerPoint presentations, present audio and video; all from something that has the familiarity of a legal pad. As a bonus, the head-turning factor of the Tablet PCs is sky high. The cost is about $200 more than a comparably configured standard laptop computer.
Is it the next legal tech killer app? It has my vote, and the votes of some of the legal tech experts I trust the most.
Other trends to watch
1. Has Microsoft opened opportunities for competitors? Are Linux, open source and Macintosh becoming real options for lawyers?
2. Wireless + Mobility = Productivity. And what is wrong with working on the beach?
3. E-lawyering, virtual law firms and Internet delivery of legal services start to get very real. Keep up with developments at the eLawyer Blog at http://www.elawyerblog.org
4. Cheap storage makes video, using large databases and carrying your office with you more than a dream. "Oh, I have all of the discovery files here on my key chain."
5. Lawyers at that "Awkward Age" for technology. Do you find that both your children and your parents are more comfortable and adept with technology than you are?
6. Will the unwillingness and/or inability of lawyers to conduct electronic discovery result in malpractice cases? Despite the fact that businesses are moving to electronic records, computer forensics experts report that many lawyers make no effort to discover electronic evidence. Other lawyers who seek electronic evidence often make mistakes in handling it that destroy its admissibility.
Legal technology in 2004 looks really exciting, with lots happening. Firms that saw the down economy as a good time to take a nap on technology better wake up. The blawgers woke up the Internet community in 2003. In 2004, it's morning again in legal technology, and from where I stand, it is a sunny day.
Copyright 2004 Dennis M. Kennedy. All rights reserved.
About the author
Dennis Kennedy concentrates his practice in computer law and also provides legal technology consulting services and seminars. A frequent author and speaker, he was named the 2001 TechnoLawyer of the Year and the 2003 TechnoLawyer Contributor of the Year.
His Web site and blog are highly regarded resources for technology law and legal technology topics. Please contact Dennis for information about obtaining an expanded version of this article.
4. Blawgs and RSS feeds