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Web Law Predictions for 2012

Creating an annual roundup of legal web technology predictions was never on my personal “to do” list. Rather, it was an accidental offering started here at Slaw a few years ago. Now, much like repeated broadcasts of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it’s somehow become a holiday tradition.

Some of these predictions pick up on current trends, and extend my own perspective of how that trend might play out in the legal market. Others ideas are clearly more “blue sky,” my honest attempts at swinging for the fences (or more accurately, my emulations of the Mighty Casey). Either way, this is always a fun column, and one I now look forward to writing each December.

So enjoy the 2012 forecast attempts, and please consider lobbing in a couple of your own predictions in the comments!

Responsive Web Designs:  I believe 2012 will be the year firms do something to respond to the question: “how mobile friendly is our law firm website?” Cross-browser testing must now include smart phones and tablets; and firms will respond by detecting media and screen size, and delivering a customized design for each interface. Fixed-width and minimum-width designs are finally dying! And the application of fluid grids will allow firms to maximize their website’s presentation for all mobile devices.

Layering of Cloud Tools: In 2011, we saw many cloud services announcing their integration or compatibility with different complementary online products. I see this as a trend that will only accelerate in 2012: more companies will offer APIs to their services, transferring data between cloud products will become easier, and most important, newer layered products will emerge. On a bigger scale, companies like Google are already layering services. But in the legal market, you can anticipate products like integrated client dashboards, or accounting data merged with CRM. Integrations that took place behind the firewall in law firms over the past 15 years will emerge in 2012 as part of the public web infrastructure.

Firms Abandon Content, Blame Subsequent Failures on Social Media: Jumping into a trend midstream has never been easier, and law firms will demonstrate this in 2012 with their social media tactics. Expect more critical mass adoption, with many firms passing on blogging and other forms of professional commentary in hopes that their offline-reputation translates to the web. Few will succeed! We can also expect to see those same firms blame their failures on Twitter and Facebook. Having ‘original commentary that resonates’ may be an old school concept for many of us, but if 2011 was any indication, there’s a boatload of social media failures coming in 2012.

Google-Facebook Bidding War Over Twitter: I’m taking a flyer on this one. Facebook and Google are obviously going toe-to-toe in the social media platform space. Twitter, on the other hand, continues in its simplicity, emerging as the place to grab an immediate pulse on pretty much any topic. This makes me see Twitter as a tipping point agent, the catalyst to being the market leader in social media – a position that Facebook has, and Google wants badly. So my prediction is this: 2012 will see a very public bidding war between Google and Facebook to acquire Twitter. Especially after Facebook IPOs in early 2012, there will be just too much money, too many egos, for one of these companies not to pay dearly.

Non-Lawyer Web Services Will Rise: In the North American market, ‘grey area’ legal services like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer are growing rapidly. And in the UK, non-lawyer Alternative Business Structure (ABS) firms are about to start incorporating businesses in the back of supermarkets and drugstores. These waves of change have already been felt online, but we can expect the competition level to spike further in 2012. More notable, however, is the new approach these companies will take to online legal services – it won’t be standard fare! These companies don’t have the same ethical guidelines that direct lawyers to behave professionally. And while some will get their knuckles wrapped for UPL, still these services will be more aggressive, more consumer focused, and better able to delve into tactics (e.g. referral marketing) most firms avoid.

Google Search Will Be Driven By Local and Social: In case anyone hasn’t noticed, Google is transforming itself to compete with Facebook. Changes can be seen network-wide, but we can point to Google+ and the new navigation bar as prime examples of what’s coming. While it’s hard to believe Google’s homepage, long admired for its simplicity, could be at risk, I would say the groundwork is being set for many dramatic changes in 2012. As for my predictions, I’ll pick two. First, the dial on social circle engagements will be turned up even higher with respect to Google’s search results. Each person’s social network is already showing a growing impact [A related tip here: if you register with Google Webmaster Tools, Google will show you the impact all those +1s are having]. And secondly, local search (Google Places) will become even more important, be embedded in more places, and deliver far more exposure than it ever has in the past.

Happy holidays to all my friends here at Slaw!

Cheers,
Steve

 

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Comments

  1. I certainly haven’t got any better estimates, Steven. But perhaps in your first 2012 column, you could talk more about the ‘social media failures’ from 2011. Also perhaps explain, as Jeremy Irons’ character says in Margin Call, as if you were speaking to a young child or a golden retriever, just what benefit a law firm might get from using Twitter.

    I ask from the point of view of a potential reader. Why would I follow a law firm? Otherwise how would I come across its tweets? Assume I know of, say, 20 lawyers whose observations or news items I would be interested in – and there may be many more. If I follow them all, and they all do a couple of tweets a day, that puts 40 tweets (and links) in my stream. But if I have to follow the FIRM, then there could be hundreds, and thus unlikely I will happen to step into the stream when something useful comes by.

    And if I search by hashtag, I get all the nonsense and noise of the twittersphere.

    I suppose there is a way to search only the tweets of whose one followws, by hashtag. Even then … and I then miss topics whose hashtags I didn’t happen to guess.

    And would there not be a lot of pressure to tweet routine public relations spin stuff, as there is in government? So: what benefit to me the potential reader, and thus what benefit to the law firm that wants to impress me?

    No doubt there is material on Slaw on this already, and in your blog and Jordan’s and others’, but in the context of ‘failure’, maybe you could elaborate. OTOH you may already know what your future columns will be about, so others could step into the breach. I can’t be the only one wondering, can I?

  2. Thanks, Steve. I always look forward to your predictions, and they helped to inspire my blog post today.

    Mobile friendly websites *and* services are going to be key. I expect lots of folks are going to be receiving mobile devices (smart phones and tablets) this holiday season as gifts or buying them themselves. We are just days away from looking at each other and asking “Why isn’t our site mobile friendly?”

    I look forward to learning more about fluid grids–thanks for the link!

    The other area I believe we are going to hear about in 2012 is accessibility. Ontario has legislation in this area and I believe we are going to see an increase in focus on this, especially for everyone re-doing their websites for mobile access anyway.

  3. John, I think you’ve asked some fair questions regarding the SM value proposition for both law firms and the reader. Your column request is duly noted, and I’ll take a run at your topics in early 2012.

    With respect to ‘failures’, here’s my golden retriever answer: Firms can’t offer their ‘sizzle’ all the time, without any ‘steak’ behind it.

    There’s lots of fluff and PR/spin out there, as you suggest — and everyone’s got a bit of that going on, frankly. But firms who refuse to temper their ‘look at me’ online presence with at least some substantive contributions are slowly killing their reputation.

    Professionals need to do something that reflects on their services and differentiates quality — write an article, paper, blog, teach a class, critique a decision, improve your service delivery and tell me how. But doing nothing to build your professional reputation, and then adding social media to the mix? makes no sense.

    In online circles, these individuals come off looking like socialites, while their law firm counterparts seem less trustworthy or fly-by-night. For me, that’s the potential ‘failure’ I’m speaking to.

  4. Good stuff Steve. Especially:

    Google Search Will Be Driven By Local and Social

    Firms are well-served to focus on content development and getting in front of audiences who are interested in it, as well as, ready, willing, and able to further “publicize it” (i.e. link to it, share it, write about it, etc).

    Search is also getting crazy local. Which makes a lot of sense to me.

    If I type in “lawyer” do I want:

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics entry for lawyer: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos053.htm

    maybe.

    The Wikipedia entry for Lawyer:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawyer

    perhaps.

    A list of lawyers near me? Also likely.

    When a searcher types a search into Google, there are a vast number of search intents that they might have.

    And Google is getting better and better at delivering results for more and more search intent.