Technology: Taking Web 2.0 to the Legal World

If the lawyer won’t go to the information, bring the information to the lawyer. Last year, Toronto law firm Goodman & Carr LLC created a Web portal that centralized and organized internal news, documents and proprietary information from sources like LexisNexis. But attorneys ended up spending far too much time combing the site for relevant information, and sending out dreaded e-mail blasts alerting colleagues to new information on the site.

Elizabeth Ellis, a partner in the firm as well as its chief knowledge officer, thought there had to be a better way of getting the right documents in front of the 110 lawyers in the firm. The answer was RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, the XML file format popularized by bloggers to alert readers to updates posted on their blogs. Using an RSS product from vendor NewsGator, attorneys at Goodman & Carr now subscribe to relevant content, which is pushed directly to their personal homepages. Now, headlines of articles and news on specific practice areas pop up on the homepage of each lawyer, just as headlines about user-selected topics (such as sports or financial news) appear on a commercial portal such as MyYahoo!.

“Our document management system delivers a huge amount of information into the portal, and there is also third-party content that people need to see,” says Ellis. “But people were having problems with e-mail. They get too much of it, and they miss things. RSS lets us centralize the management of information and prepopulate the feeds our lawyers see with stuff I know they should be looking at.”

Many Canadian government organizations offer RSS feeds for their publications, so the lawyers get immediate access to targeted data from those sources, too. Individuals can choose the feeds they see, prioritize their display, and clip and save content to electronic folders.

E-mail remains a valuable tool within this set-up, says Ellis. “It is still the best way of notifying people that something has happened,” she says. Presumably, the value of e-mail increases as it becomes less encumbered with the kind of information better carried by RSS.

The project was important enough to win the backing of the firm’s executive committee, and is seen as an integral part of Goodman & Carr’s knowledge management strategy. The firm began rolling its RSS feeds out in December, but the process has been slower than expected. To her surprise, Ellis found that, despite its eponymous simplicity, the technology needs to be explained to users and tailored to their needs. “Knowledge management is maybe 30 percent technology and 70 percent process,” she says. “I broke a cardinal rule by forgetting that nobody likes change, even if it’s good change, so we’re still in the process part.” Certain lawyers and staffers bought in quickly, but others needed more hand-holding, and Ellis is now beginning personal sessions with each of firm’s 110 lawyers.

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