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THE INNOVATION ISSUE

 Table of Contents | Features | Frontlines | Technology | Business

April 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 3 | Page 20
TECHNOLOGY

Legal Web 2.0

USING INTERNAL BLOGS TO HEIGHTEN FIRM COMMUNICATIONS AND KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

TOM MIGHELL | Savvy law firms and other organizations have come to realize the amazing benefits an internal blog poses for their employees and the organization as a whole. The structure of an internal blog allows lawyers and staff to rapidly communicate with each other, share knowledge and keep up with the latest firm happenings, while simultaneously building a valuable information archive—and all without using e-mail.

Most readers of this column know about the existence of blogs, and many likely read blog posts about law, technology, current events and other issues on a daily basis. Hopefully, you’re already sold on the idea that blogs are a great way to provide regularly updated information on which others can comment and contribute their insights. In this installment of Legal Web 2.0, however, let’s turn our gaze inward to study a creature you might not know as well: the internal law firm blog.

So what, some may ask, is this creature? That question is easy to answer. Internal blogs essentially function in the same way as the regular blogs you read every day, with one major difference: The content is not designed for public consumption and resides behind a firm’s firewall. The blog is typically accessed via the firm’s intranet, where all lawyers and employees can view and comment on the content posted there.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s explore these questions: Why would you want an internal blog? And how can you get one started in your firm or other organization?

What Can You Do With an Internal Blog?

To find the answer to this question, think first about the ways in which you typically communicate with others in your firm. E-mail, in-person conversations and telephone calls probably are the most common means of working with others in your office. While they all have their usefulness, none are particularly well suited to capturing the internal thoughts and ideas of the firm in a centralized location. An internal blog can help to supplement those other forms of communication, while also serving as a permanent “memory,” or archive, of a firm’s collective intelligence. By encouraging your firm members to blog or add comments to others’ blog posts, you are improving the institutional knowledge of your organization.

There are two main uses for an internal blog: (1) to provide useful information on a regular basis; and (2) to collaborate with others on specific projects, transactions or lawsuits. Here are just a few examples of what law firms can do with internal blogs:

■ Publish firmwide announcements and associated items, so no more firm newsletters or e-mail alerts are clogging up inboxes.

■ Share fresh news with firm members about case successes, such as trial or appellate wins, significant settlements for clients or big transactional deals.

■ Set up practice group blogs, so individual practice group members can share the latest case law, news affecting their areas or practice tips in their particular fields.

■ Set up project or case blogs for teams working on a particular transaction, lawsuit or other type of project, so all group communications live in one place in the firm.

■ Gather collective opinions by, for example, using an internal blog to post information on and evaluations of expert witnesses, mediators and vendors. This further reduces needless e-mail communications. (Just think of how often you’ve received e-mails starting with “Does anyone have information on an expert in XYZ?”)

Internal blogs are especially ideal as collaboration tools for two reasons. First, they provide a single silo of information for collaborators to visit, rather than the usual situation where different pieces of knowledge reside in different e-mail inboxes or on individual computers. So firm members can consume the information on their own time, on their own terms. This can save time usually spent having to check in with colleagues, and it can also save valuable space in everyone’s e-mail inboxes.

Second, because a blog is designed for two-way communication, collaborators can discuss and debate

issues and learn more about what other team members are thinking. Permitting firm members to participate in this manner also helps to instill a sense of community and create a shared vision for the firm.

What are the Key steps for Getting One Going?

Now that you know what an internal blog is and why your firm would want one, let’s turn to some essential to-dos for making the blog a success. Success here means that people participate in the venture—a blog, after all, has no value if no one contributes to it.

Securing buy-in. First, as with any technology initiative, it’s essential to obtain the right buy-in before you proceed to set up an internal blog. But the buy-in needs to go beyond securing executive support from firm management. It’s also very important to determine whether and how other firm members will use the blog, and if a sufficient number will become regular contributors. If only one or a few people are involved, you might as well go back to the monthly firm newsletter.

There are several ways to encourage participation. One way is to start with your younger lawyers. Chances are good they’re already using other, external blogs, so they’re at least comfortable with the technology and the concept of blogging. Encouraging them to lead the way, particularly when practice area blogs are created, will not only ensure a great start for the blog, but it will help the young associates develop their own voices and competence within the firm, too. Remember, though, that regardless of how many young lawyers are contributing to the blog, you must also enlist the participation of more experienced lawyers to help lead discussions and provide the wisdom of their years of practice.

Getting user-friendly software.

The next step is to find the right soft-ware for your blog. If you are in a smaller firm with fewer IT resources, you may want to consider blogging software like Movable Type or WordPress. These applications can be installed and configured within your firm’s firewall, and they are very easy to maintain. Even more important, these blogging platforms are extremely easy for lawyers and other legal staff to use. Larger firms with an IT infrastructure can develop more powerful internal blogs using software like Drupal, an open source content management system.

Some firms are even creating large internal blog networks, where all firm members have their own blog page. By tagging and categorizing individual blog posts, users can then view information in any number of customizable layouts.

Test-driving and training. Another crucial piece of advice: Once you have installed your internal blog on the firm’s system, don’t just launch it and hope for the best. Draft other lawyers as well as firm staff to test-drive the blog first for usability, which will also help to achieve that all-important buy-in. Another invaluable step is to schedule a brief training session for all firm members so they understand how the blog will work. Those who know how to use the software will be more likely to participate and contribute to the dialogue that blogs, by design, enable.

Lastly, you will also want to gently encourage a firm culture that reads, comments and contributes to the blog on a daily basis. Using RSS feeds to deliver the daily blog posts to firm members is a good way to keep them updated and engaged in the blogging process, too.

Internal blogs are a great example of how Web 2.0 technology can help lawyers and firms work together better, smarter and more cost-effectively. With low-cost collaboration tools a hot topic in firms of all sizes this year, it’s an excellent time to consider whether an internal blog can improve the way you communicate with others in your firm—and begin to establish a true archive of the knowledge and experience of the lawyers in it.

Tom Mighell is a Senior Manager of Consulting at Fios, an e-discovery provider. He currently serves as Secretary of the ABA Law Practice Management Section and is coauthor of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together (ABA, 2008).

About the Editor

Steve Matthews is principal of Stem Legal Web Enterprises and a member of Law Practice ’s Editorial Board. If you have ideas to share or topics to suggest, contact him at steve@stemlegal.com. Steve blogs at www.stemlegal.com/strategyblog.

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