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September 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 6| Page 20
TECHNOLOGY

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Watching the Digital Radar with Google News Alerts

What is the world saying about you? About your law firm? About your clients, their businesses and how they’re faring in the marketplace? One of the best ways to monitor information that can be make-or-break in your practice is through the savvy use of Google News Alerts. I

A few years ago a good friend, a fellow legal technologist, sent an e-mail of congratulations to us for being quoted in an article that had just been published online. It was a well-known publication, so his knowing about it didn’t seem like a big deal. But a short time later, he sent another e-mail of congratulations, this time for being quoted in a small-time rural newspaper. At that point, the realization hit that he was “watching us” through the use of Google News Alerts. We decided to try it out and have never looked back—in fact, these days we check our alerts from Google News first thing every morning. It’s a powerful tool and a jewel for lawyers. Why?

Google goes around hoovering up enormous quantities of data from across the globe each day, trolling many, many thousands of sites while you work and while you sleep. And when you provide your desired search terms to the News Alerts service, it analyzes those sites for relevant information and sends you an e-mail aggregate of the results as often as you like.

There are all kinds of things lawyers will want to do with these alerts, including the following:

▪ First and foremost, enter your own name as a keyword, so you know what the world is saying about you.

▪ Likewise, enter your firm name, as well as the names of your partners, so you can help everyone keep track of news related to the firm (and its reputation).

▪ Monitor news about legislation, regulations and the like in particular practice areas and business sectors.

▪ Keep a weather eye on what competing law firms are doing.

▪ Watch out for leaks about highly proprietary data of significant clients. You would be surprised at how often proprietary data shows up in blogs—just ask Steve Jobs at Apple, whose R&D beans were spilled left and right not long ago.

▪ If your clients sell a well-known product, watch what is being said about it—and perhaps watch for knockoffs.

▪ Keep up with other developments relevant to your firm by entering the appropriate terms, such as “electronic evidence,” “legal marketing forums” or the like.

▪ Gauge your return on investment for marketing activities—for example, if you send out a press release or host a national seminar, enter identifying terms for it and see how often it appears in blogs and on the Internet generally.

▪ Enter terms that might yield “surprise” information relevant to that pending litigation your firm is handling.

▪ Are there experts in your area of law who are always worth reading? Plug in their names, too.

▪ Sometimes it’s places that you want to monitor. If you have an office in Peru, news from there may be instructive.

The foregoing suggestions should serve as a springboard for further thoughts on all the things that you might want to keep an eye on. Use the appropriate terms in Google News Alerts and you’ll be happily surprised to find that you have at your fingertips the most important currency of all—information—in your inbox each morning. We spend the first 10 to 15 minutes of each day looking at our alert results to identify the nuggets of gold we intend to use and then we delete the remainder.

Admittedly, these alerts can be a tad erratic at times—meaning you won’t necessarily get everything you should, and also someone else who has set up the same alerts will sometimes get different results than you. At times, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the differences. However, it is still the best gadget going for tracking specific news.

And here’s the big payoff. You are going to have a rich resource for information that you can pass along to your partners, your clients, the associates you are training, in-house counsel that you routinely work with, bar colleagues and so forth. You become an “in-the-know” person that folks rely on for current information—and Google does the heavy lifting for you. What a deal.

 

How to Set Up a Google News Alert

If you are ready to receive your own e-mail alerts about the news that matters most to you, then here is the ABC version of how to get started. Follow these steps and you’ll be off and running in no time.

First, go to www.google.com/alerts (and when you see the word “beta” there, don’t be afraid—these alerts have been around since 2003).

On the right side of the screen is a box headed “Create a Google Alert,” where you provide four pieces of information. (See Figure 1.)

1. Search terms for the topic that you want Google to monitor

2. The type of alert you want to receive on the topic, with your pull-down options (six in all) ranging from the latest news articles, the latest blog posts, the latest videos, or an aggregate of the results from multiple sources

3. How often you want Google to check for new results for your search terms, be it once a day, once a week or “as it happens”

4. A valid e-mail address to which your aggregated search results are to be sent

Then you simply click on the “Create Alert” button at the bottom and a page confirming receipt of your request comes up. If this is your first time using the alerts, immediately afterward Google sends you an e-mail with a link to click to verify your request as well—good for Google, it likes to cover the bases! And now, your new Google Alert should be all set and ready to go.

Managing your alerts from that point forward is likewise fairly simple. Sign into “Manage Your Alerts” (using your e-mail address and a password of your choice) and you’ll see all the alerts you have set up displayed on a single screen. (See Figure 2.) You can delete, add or edit them at will. It’s a thing of beauty—even a true technophobe will have no problem.

 

Optimizing Your Search Results

As soon as you begin receiving -the e-mail alerts, you’ll know if your search terms are working. If the results are too broad, check the Alerts FAQ page for advice on how to refine your search terms. (Hint: Make sure your spelling is correct.) You might review Google’s Advanced Search page and try out the Advanced News Search page, which offers lots of options to help you zero in on the perfect search. For example, if you want to get fancy, you can limit your searches by source or country. You can also search for exact phrases or exclude words that might make your search too broad.

At Poynter.org you will find a helpful news article about how to limit your searches.

Once you find terms that work, simply go to the edit option for that alert and copy and paste your new query terms into the search box.

Play around a bit and you’ll learn to tailor this nifty tool to your particular needs.

 

Managing Your E-mail Notifications

Here’s another good hint: You may want to create a rule in your e-mail software that will automatically move the Google Alert messages out of your inbox and into a separate folder. This will help to keep your primary inbox clear and, consequently, also keep your smartphone from making noises at you every time a Google Alert comes in. The Subject line for each alert notification will have the words “Google Alert” followed by the terms that you identified for the alert. So just set a rule in Outlook (or whatever e-mail program you use) to move messages with a Subject line that contains “Google Alert” to another folder for future viewing. Creating a rule is particularly handy if you have a very large number of Google Alerts defined.

There you have it! With a few minutes of work, you’ll have everything you need to monitor right there on your digital radar—and you can have your contacts saying “wow” at your knowledge.

About the Authors

Sharon D. Nelson and John W. Simek are President and Vice President, respectively, of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a computer forensics and legal technology firm based in Fairfax, VA. They are coauthors of The Electronic Evidence and Discovery Handbook: Forms, Checklists, and Guidelines ( ABA, 2006).

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