Today young people see mobile devices as lifelines—they can’t imagine a world without the tools that enable their constant social interaction. But what comes so naturally to the younger generation can be a struggle for the older one. Despite this, law firms and their clients are slowly but surely beginning to recognize the benefits such technology can bring to their businesses. Web 2.0, for example, is a technology that many firms already use, and no professional should underestimate how it has already changed the way we communicate and interact with one another. To bring you up to speed on the most relevant terms, here is a crib sheet on the main networking categories in use today.
BLOGS. A blog is a Web site where one can easily publish information on an ongoing basis. In turn, anyone who has access to the blog can add commentary, which in turn can be read and commented on by other viewers. There are millions of blogs on the Web today, in all shapes and sizes. To get an idea of the range of law-related topics that are covered, check out the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100 list. Since their introduction in 1999, blogs have reshaped the way we think about the Web. Today, 25 percent of the top 200 law firms use blogs to communicate with current and potential clients, and the rate of adoption is steadily increasing.
WIKIS. A Wiki is a collaborative Web site that allows multiple users not only to look up information, but also to add, delete or modify content as well. “Wiki” is a Hawaiian word meaning “fast,” appropriate considering the speed with which law firms first spotted the potential of this concept and applied it to their businesses. Wikis have been used by law firms for some time and have been one of their most popular applications. They can be used for a variety of tasks, but for law firms, they are ideal for keeping an internal knowledge base, to collect and disseminate information around the firm. Wikis are easy to use, hence their popularity, but with simplicity of use comes the potential for the quantity of information to overshadow quality. Microsoft Sharepoint is the main wiki application used by law firms and comes complete with a wide range of tools that simplify the start-up process and enable data to be shared both within the firm and also on the firm’s Web site.
SOCIAL NETWORKING. This term took on a completely new face with the introduction of Web 2.0 and includes sites like Facebook, Bebo and Twitter. For those under 25 years old, these sites are some of the most popular tools for communicating with friends and social groups. These Webbased services focus on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. The sites also offer to deliver information directly via e-mail, so users don’t even have to log on to be kept up to date. This category has evolved significantly since the introduction of professional SOCIAL networking sites , which include Web-based services targeted specifically to professionals. The market leader in this group is LinkedIn, with over 25 million members. In second place is Biznik, and in third Professional on the Web. The goal behind posting information on one or more of these sites is to increase one’s visibility, connectivity, Google page rank and general search engine results. As a member, one is also able to research companies and track start-ups, which can be very useful. Large numbers of lawyers are now using these sites to post their expertise in the hope of attracting new clients, and in some cases, new employers. Because most professional networking services are free, their use is rapidly increasing.
INSTANT MESSAGING. Tools such as Google Talk, MSN Live Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) provide even more ways to communicate directly and instantaneously with others. With these tools one has the ability to instantly exchange not only text messages, but also files, live video and other types of information. Lawyers increasingly understand the advantages of obtaining instant answers from team members and other colleagues and some use these tools almost as much as e-mail—ideal when in a meeting or talking to clients. All of this software works seamlessly on PDAs, so you can keep in touch while on the move. BlackBerry’s PIN system enables BlackBerry users to communicate directly with each other in a similar way.
There is no doubt that Web 2.0 has moved the goal posts for us all. What will Web 3.0 bring?
George Brandon is Director of Business Development at Morris Polich & Purdy and a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.