For Lawyers, Web 2.0 = Web NO

If you’re a lawyer and you’re reading this, you’re unusual. If, by chance, you’re reading this on an RSS feed reader, you’re extraordinary. The 2008 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report is out, with results that confirm most folks’ general impressions:

[W]ebsites and e-mail newsletters are still the digital way that most at­torneys stay current with the news. A small minority reports reading blogs; but actually creating a blog is something the geeky lawyer down the hall—or, more likely, across town—is into.

RSS feeds—a technology that displays headlines from many sites on a single webpage, which greatly speeds the consumption of information—are not used by most attorneys. Social networks are only just now catching on. Podcasts and online videos are mostly for the kids—theirs or the ones they hire as first-year associates.

The Report itself is on sale for a whopping US$1,800.00 — no RSS feed, it would seem — but you can read a summary report and see some charted results on the ABA Journal Law News Now website.

Clearly it takes a generation — 30 years, say — for a technology to penetrate the profession. You could argue that adopting only the (much) tried and true in technology is a sensible thing; after all, who wants to tie even a small piece of law’s seamless web to something that will crumble faster than acid paper. On the other hand, this large lag will mean that lawyers will continue to be perceived as — and will be — out of touch with what is actually going on in society. It also means, in my opinion, that there is a fairly large niche opening up here for an even modestly adventurous firm to position itself at the forefront of legal service through the use of even yesterday’s information technology.


  1. Yes, it’s time to get viral. There’s money in it.

    Now do we have your attention?

  2. As a Virtual Assistant who is a paralegal targeting lawyers, I agree entirely with your assessment of the lag between current technology and lawyers today. Outsourcing everyday and time-consuming tasks to a highly-trained and effective worker such as myself saves lawyers both time and money, however I continually run up against a lack of knowledge or trust in the capabilities of today’s technology. Whilst younger lawyers are far more apt to embrace new ways of using the net including the use of social networking sites to promote business, it does make a rather revealing commentary on the status of lawyers in today’s technologically-driven society.

  3. So when do us Slawyers get our official “geeky lawyer down the hall” T-shirts?

  4. Sort of like this, David?

  5. Lawyers are trained to be risk-averse. For many, it’s just easier to turn away from a technology once they’ve determined that adopting it might be risky. What makes a risk-averse person/profession take the plunge? I hope that some of our SLAW-yers will comment.

  6. For many, it’s just easier to turn away from a technology once they’ve determined that adopting it might be risky.

    I agree that this is the excuse most commonly offered. But every concern I’ve encountered can be methodically addressed.

    There’s little or no difference between a firm newsletter, and time-spaced blog posts. Both can be scripted and obtain sign-off, if this is the necessary requirement.

    More frequently I see an aversion to having people publicly comment on their work. But the notion of seasoned lawyers being afraid of others criticizing them seems almost comical. Turn off the comments feature, moderate and approve comments, or do several drafts before posting and be prepared to respond the way you would any media outlet.

    No blogger can have an absolutely impeccable record, even if the minor typo. But that’s why I would prefer to learn and make mistakes now, before I enter the bar and can be liable for what Jordan Furlong today called “Blackberry errors.”

    Lawyers will have to deal with the technology eventually. Building competence over time is strategically better than waiting until being compelled to do so by market conditions.

  7. Great shirt, Simon. One suggestion though. If we are true geeks, it should be “cool*11”.

    (There are 11 kinds of people in the world – those that understand binary, and those that don’t.)

  8. And its late in the day – that of course should be “cool*10” , and 10 kinds of people. – where’s the edit button when we need it?

  9. In my (admittedly limited) experience, I often find myself in the amusing position of receiving from senior counsel “to confirm our telephone conversation of a few moments ago” letters, several days after the fact, when instead we could have hammered out the issue within an email exchange over a few hours — and in fact often the issue has developed in the interim anyway and the letter is redundant.

    The problem (if one sees it as such) seems to be equal parts identity-based (“a lawyer is someone who has a secretary to do these things”); financial (there are more billables and disbursements in a dictated letter sent via regular mail and copied to file); and skills-based (lawyers who actually don’t know how to write cogently).

  10. If I had been paid just $10 an hour for the time I have wasted in struggling to make new programmes work or in even achieving a successful download, I’d have enough for a very nice vacation. I simply do not have time to waste in trying out new technologies unless either I can count on IT support in the firm or it is something that I cannot do without. I accepted an offer from Google to upgrade whatever it’s offering and, bang, I have to waste an hour trying to make the damn thing work. I do the same with my Sympatico account and I have to waste about 6 hours, working with Bell technicians—none of whom have any idea what happened—to get back most but not all the functionality I had.

    I would not touch Google Chrome with a 40 foot pole; if I did, I know with absolute certainty that I would waste hours for no discernible improvement. I loathe Microsoft but at least I know how to work with Explorer. I cannot imagine anything anyone would say on SLAW that would induce me to try Chrome or, indeed, any other programme—other than, perhaps, an offer to come to my house to show me what to do and how to work it and then only if we had enough time for a pleasant meal where we could chat!

    I dread the prospect of a new version of Word or Windows—again I know with absolute certainty that it will be a long, frustrating struggle before I am able to do what I can now easily do. In the end, nothing will have improved—other than Microsoft’s bottom line—and I shall have been enraged, frustrated and forced to waste hours of my time. The “Help” or FAQ features of every programme and site that I encounter are so spectacularly useless that I cannot understand what conceivable purpose they serve.

    I know that this may amaze and perhaps offend some people—for which I apologize—but blogs (or blawgs) are usually a waste of time for me. I say this not because I think myself above them but because finding something useful just takes too long; I do not have time to spend on reading stuff that has such a low marginal utility.

    As I have said before on SLAW, most practising lawyers simply do not need to use many electronic resources. Most lawyers are doing routine work which they have done N (where N is a large number) times before; they do not need to do research to be able to do what they know very well how to do. E-mailed information from possibly a small number of places is probably about what they need. Were they to get more, they would just be inundated.

    If my attitudes condemn me as a technological luddite then I shall have to bear that characterization with such fortitude as I can command.

  11. …an offer to come to my house to show me what to do and how to work it and then only if we had enough time for a pleasant meal where we could chat!

    No condemnation needed at all. But I think that was the first invite I’ve seen for a gathering of Slaw contributors and readers. I’m intruiged…

    Angela, the point is not that every lawyer has to be familiar with the technology, but that someone in the firm should be, and those someones should be higher in number as time passes. If nothing else, “N” is modified by technological advances.

    And unless new clients is of absolute no interest to you, your marketing department should be paying attention. In addition to Canadian firms mentioned previously, the Osler and Gowlings OHS podcasts have potential.

  12. I do not take issue with a response like Angela’s – simplifying one’s life has its benefits. But I do often wonder about the negative repercussions of fearing change. Now I’m obviously on the complete other end of the spectrum here, but that too has its challenges. I am constantly tempering my enthusiasm for new technologies waiting for the rank-n-file within the legal industry to come around. And believe it or not… it does happen.

    I’ve been told that typing of any sort is clerical. I have been told that email will never be used by the legal community because clients will ALWAYS expect a considered opinion – not a rattled off response. I’ve been told that websites were great for us techies but don’t have any application for “real” business. And I’ve been told that blogs are a joke and a waste of time.

    In every instance I was told I don’t know what I’m talking about. And in every instance the change still comes.

    My skin may be getting thicker, but I’m now convinced those that choose to adopt slowly, do in fact, make a choice. And that choice has consequences.

    Am I offended? Not at all. The legal industry isn’t nearly as backward as some people seem to think, but it might be bimodal. And those Lawyers who make the choice, can’t be afraid to move forward.

  13. Computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined technology as “stuff that doesn’t work yet”. But blogs, RSS etc do work Really Simply and most users don’t perceive them as technology. Slow uptake of Web 2.0 by lawyers has more to do with culture than with technology.