RSS and Lawyers – What’s Real and What’s Not

I try to read (or at least skim) SLAW postings daily, along with 3 other BLOGS whose daily updates arrive by an email in my Outlook in box. Although our firm uses an enterprise RSS aggregator (which allows us to either display RSS feeds in the context of our portal or to show the RSS feeds as folders in Outlook), I personally don’t seem to have the discipline to check either of these locations on a periodic (ie daily or twice daily) basis. I am forced to admit that without the daily emails, I would miss a lot of useful information.

That having been said, I am not prepared to receive email notification for the many other RSS feeds I have added to our enterprise aggregator (which feeds I review on a much less frequent basis).

Anyone reviewing the daily SLAW postings is left with the impression that it is “normal” to follow and share with others information on an amazingly broad range of material (mostly on the Web). Since I personally can’t manage to do that, I feel comfortable in assuming that many other lawyers are in the same position. Without denying the power and potential of RSS, is the current reality a different story – is RSS still a “tool” or “feature” rather than an integrated aspect of how lawyers work on a daily basis?


  1. Elizabeth, my suggestion has always been to match the number of feeds to the time available. Taking too many feeds, or failing to filter those feeds, is a recipe for information overload.

    In Library school we spend a lot of time on information want -vs- information need, and this technology is no different. People only have so much time for current awareness. That’s just a fact. So putting 100+ feeds in front of a Lawyer with a busy practice can’t lead to anything good.

    I also advocate the use of Librarians as personal RSS collection builders, and helping Lawyers match their content consumption with realistic time expectations.

  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    I agree with Steve (not terribly surprising).

    We provide very few and very broad feeds through our intranet – the five most recent Lawyers Weekly News headlines as an example. These feeds are more to promote regular visits to our site than to specificlly deliver content.

    My practice, as a librarian with current awarness service as part of our service platform, is to scan RSS feeds as well as other media that crosses my desk regardless of delivery form and taylor the dissemination of that information based on two criteria:

    1. what have the individual lawyers requested from the standard list of things we can regularly send them
    2. who asked the recent research question or who leads the practice area that the headlines I scan relate to

    I do not forward every headline that I scan to others in my firm, only those that feel relevant. I also filter carefully the amount of information that flows from the RSS collection that I monitor. There is only so much that lawyers with busy practices have time to read. The thing that makes RSS a tool rather than a feature is the ability to plow through a bunch of material quickly by scanning headlines. We take that one step further by scanning headlines as part of the firm library service.

    This is a very subjective method of information dissemination, however, given the general level of adoption of RSS readers by lawyers in my firm (none), the “librarian as personal RSS aggregator” – to take Steve’s advocation one step further – is working well.

    Better for me – with my billing rate – to spend a non-billable hour every week reviewing the web for general content relevant to lawyers at my firm than to have 90 lawyers each spending even half that time scanning the same headlines.

    At some point in the not too distant future, we will move toward personalized feeds for lawyers, but there will definitly be librarian assistance in RSS collection building, with the library responsible for reviewing the general sources as we do now.

    Cheers, Shaunna

  3. I’ve actually thought about Elizabeth’s post a couple of time in the last week, and I really didn’t answer her question. The RSS adoption rate in the legal industry has been pretty slow, and it is still a fringe tool for most. However, by the same notion, how many lawyers are serious about current awareness (CA) without RSS? Do they appreciate getting email alerts with the latest decisions? or is it just more ‘noise’ clogging up their inbox?

    About 10% of our lawyers have personal feed readers, and probably another 5% that I don’t know about. To me, that’s pretty good. If in 3 yrs time, we’re sitting at 30-40%, we’ll probably be capturing the same user segment that takes the time each day to read a portion of the paper, or surf a couple of websites related to professional development.

    Shaunna presents another alternative for many lawyers, and that is to hand over a subject list, and let your Librarian be your filter. To clarify my first comment though, and as an example, I help our lawyers filter RSS content by restricting the quantity & quality of items that show up in their RSS feeds – either by utilizing search feeds which restrict by keyword, source, or author; or using an RSS feed filter tool like feedrinse to construct more advanced filtering. If a lawyer only wants to read stories from the Globe & Mail that have the words ‘public private partnerships’ in it, then that’s ALL they should get.

    Filtering is the saleable function of RSS. If we use it, and sell it properly to those lawyers who appreciate current awareness services, RSS can offer a fantastic time savings. It’s when Lawyers don’t have control over the quantity and quality of their CA sources that they get frustrated. Throw a couple dozen case law alerts into their inbox and we’d probably get the same effect.