April 24, 2012 Law Technology News

April 24, 2012 Law Technology News

April 24, 2012
Law Technology News
Robyn Weisman
Tapping Social Media to Give Lawyers an Inside Voice

Social media tools can be used internally in firms to help lawyers and staff collaborate with clients and colleagues.

Social media and law firms seem about as companionable as a tuxedo and a T-shirt. With firms, you think of interrogatories and emails with three-sentence confidentiality statements. With social media, you may not think at all before posting “Mardi Gras 2012 Party!” photos on Facebook.Law firms’ traditional formality is no doubt a by-product of official correspondence, established rules, and the protocols of the profession. But within the firm are people with volubility, opinions, and self-expression, as anywhere else.

Firms can exploit the best of both by using social media tools in-house. Opportunities to use social media tools internally map out pretty evenly with their external counterparts. For example, if your personnel are facile with Twitter — used to post 140-character”micro-blogs” — they likely will easily adopt similar software, such as Yammer and Pulse. These can be used to help employees “follow one” another, and apply hash tags to topics of mutual interest. With MicrosoftSharePoint , users can create collaborative work spaces (“wikis”) for clients, practice groups, and industry topics — and the latest version,SharePoint 2010, offers Facebook-like home pages.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter,and networking site LinkedIn,these internal social media stay secure within the confines of a firm’s intranet. If you’re using Yammer and accidentally send an inappropriate Hipstaprint of yourself to everyone in the firm (a là disgraced Congress member Anthony Weiner), your next stop will be to HR, rather than the Huffington Post.

In 2004, Baker, Donelson,Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz migrated from its ColdFusion-based intranet to Microsoft SharePoint. The firm has 17 offices in the South and Southwest and another in London,630 lawyers, and an IT staff of 43.

Unlike the prior inflexible intranet, Microsoft SharePoint offers a central location to store and present firm information, providing users with a complete overview of a client, practice group, or industry topic. Users can find everything from contact information of fellow practice group members to historical information about a client, and create individual sites for topics, projects, etc.

SharePoint uses “web parts,” which are ASP.NET server controls (aka “widgets”) that help users drag and drop various elements onto a single SharePoint site,explains CIO JohnGreen. “It’s the difference between using Legos and gluing together Popsicle sticks,” he says. To get the same information, “you’d have to dig through the intranet to find it.”

Green says SharePoint is a fundamental fabric in the way Baker Donelson conducts its practice. Each practice group and industry service team has its own SharePoint site, where employees can access directories of everybody in that group, calendars, and sample work products — pretty much anything relevant to the group.

Baker Donelson also has generated SharePoint sites for specific clients. For example, the firm created a SharePoint site that serves as a central repository for a healthcare client,says Green. The firm’s attorneys and support staff can access on-site links to all matters relating to this client, the lawyers involved in the client’s matters, historical transactions, example documents and forms, legal research,upcoming matters, and financials, among other information.

Baker Donelson also has set up an wiki-style extranet, where the client can read posted information and files, and upload to the site, explains Green. This helps reduce work-related mishaps, such as mislabeled meeting times, and outdated versions of important documents.

Green says he is excited about SharePoint 2010, which the firm in is in the process of installing. He expects that the new version will offer increased opportunity for social media interaction within the firm, including Facebook-like pages for every employee.Every user will get “dynamic feeds” of information that is specific to him or her, “even though we’re doing it for 1250 people,” says Green.

Silicon Valley’s Fenwick & West also makes extensive use of SharePoint — especially its wikis. Mark Gerow, director of application development and business practices,is a frequent contributor to Law Technology News.

Gerow cautions that while IT can identify new technologies and make them available, “broad adoption must come from attorneys.” SharePoint is widely accepted within the firm,but the social media components aren’t at the top of the list, yet. Gerow doesn’t see Fenwick’s attorneys making use of SharePoint’s Facebook-style pages or Twitter-like feeds — email is still the dominant mode of internal and external correspondence, he reports. “Because our attorneys spend so much time in email, our email performance is close to real time, like IM (instant messaging). To them, the other channels are just competing technologies,”Gerow says.

By contrast, Reed Smith attorneys have found email an unsatisfactory and generally frustrating means of handling internal communications, says Tom Baldwin, chief knowledge officer.His firm has 1,700 attorneys and 148 IT staff. Baldwin believes email works best when used primarily for formal two-way client communication,whereas internal communications tend to be conversational in nature.

The so-called “email blast,” where employees send out an email ad-dressed to everyone at the firm, is an inefficient way to obtain information, says Baldwin, a member of LTN‘s Editorial Advisory Board. It’s splattered around to everyone like shotgun pellets, often without consideration that it has no relevance to many of its recipients, he says. Moreover, they’re repetitive, often asking a question that was answered months earlier.

Another frustration, cites Baldwin, is the nature of email itself — with individual .ppt files that aren’t searchable by other members of the firm, and often aren’t accessible by anyone once they are archived.

Reed Smith is about to pilot Neudesic’s Pulse, which was chosen over competing products such as Yammer and Jive. Pulse’s ability to integrate with SharePoint was a key factor in the decision, and Neudesic provided Reed Smith with an on-premise version of its software, giving the firm tight control over security.

“For our users, Pulse renders directly in SharePoint, offering such continuity of experience, they won’t even notice,” explains Baldwin. As they would with Twitter, users can “follow” other employees and search hash tags (such as a client or an industry) to stay abreast of conversations and participate asynchronously in these dialogues, says Baldwin.

Pulse is searchable, which means users can find information through the service itself. “It keeps the exchange alive indefinitely, solidifying information important to the firm and improving our community by replicating more natural communications,” he says.

Baldwin can’t predict whether the firm’s personnel will embrace Pulse, but says he is looking forward to the experiment.”I’m so eager to see what comes out of it, and I am hoping we’ll be able to move off email and onto this platform. After all, our goal is to solve[communications] problems, not create more,” he says.

Several months ago, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz found itself in an awkward situation in one of its markets. The area’s news media was knocking the firm for its involvement with local government on a very sensitive matter.

Jeff Hirka, the firm’s director of marketing, recalls that the situation could have affected the firm’s reputation.

The good news: The firm was using a social media monitoring service, MeltwaterNews. It tracks firm-related keywords that appear in traditional media sources, blogs, RSS feeds, and other social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

“By knowing what was out there, we were able to make sure our talking points were covered and those issues addressed if a reporter called,” Hirka says.

It’s certainly not breaking news that social media is growing faster than Zumba parties. Beyond the usual suspects (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), legal professionals are now answering questions on Quora, pinning infographics onto Pinterest boards, and trying to figure out the utility of Google+.

BlogScope, a visualization and analysis tool designed by the University of Toronto is now tracking more than 61 million blogs, and that’s just a small fraction of the total number of blogs that are published worldwide.

“In the last three to four years, there’s been a push to do social media but there hasn’t been the same attention given to analyzing it,” says Peter Ozolin, CEO of Manzama, a social media monitoring platform geared to the legal industry.

Fortunately, it isn’t too costly or complicated to get started in this area, says Blane Warrene, CEO of social media monitoring archiving company Arkovi. If you’re an intellectual property attorney, and alreadyr eading the trade press, RSS feeds, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, “it’s not a stretch to put your ear to the ground on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and start filtering through it,” says Warrene. “That way you’ll begin to master the most important skill of social media, which is listening,” he says.

But setting up Google alerts whenever your firm or a client is mentioned won’t be an adequate strategy for most firms. After all, game-changing information may show up in unlikely places, such as small-town newspapers and personal blogs.

“Google Search plays to the wisdom of crowds, and because much of this information isn’t volume-based, you wouldn’t be able to find it that way,” Ozolin points out.

Social media monitoring tools, such as Manzama, Arkovi, and Meltwater News, can take the complexity out of searching the entire web. These analyze and organize these large sets of data and glean actionable insights into these realms. “If you’re Walmart, it’s tough to draw conclusions from all the tweets and blog posts about you —let alone all the news stories posted,” says Ozolin. “A monitoring platform will mine, unify, and make sense of that content.”

This article originally appeared in Law Technology News.

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