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Web 2.0, Law Style

2005 November 29
by John Wallbillich

Following up from last week, a few thoughts about what Web 2.o might mean for the law.

First, a bit of a refresher: here’s two attributes of Web 2.0 courtesy of Wikipedia:

– a transition of websites from isolated information silos to sources of content and functionality

– an approach to creating and distributing Web content itself, characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and re-use

Here’s how Amazon is using the concept, by integrating a Wiki into its website (via Church of the Customer Blog). It allows customers more involvement in Amazon’s web site, and by implication, their business.

If a law firm or corporate legal department (which let’s call the “Law Status Quo” or “LSQ”) tries to embrace some of these attributes, a threshold problem will likely arise: the LSQ didn’t get where it is by openly sharing information. Additionally, it probably isn’t teeming with decentralized authority. Large law firms, for example, are nothing if not hierarchical, and often guard internal information zealously. How do you open up for your clients if you don’t share with your staff?

Corporate legal departments aren’t immune either. Many have a history of being gatekeepers on all sorts of matters that aren’t really related to protecting the company’s legal interests.

I think as LSQ clients see more examples of non-legal businesses opening up and enabling easy two-way communication, they may come to expect a similar user experience from their lawyers.

This could have all sorts of ramifications as to what law firms are really selling (information or insight), how they are organized (partner/associate) and how they are valued (finders over minders over grinders). It may also mean that a corporate legal department lets more work be done by clients themselves.

In any likely scenario, Web 2.0 will be disruptive for the LSQ, because some measure of control will be lost. And its simple technical browser-based attributes will necessarily lower user costs. That is something that always grabs a client’s attention.

After giving it some thought, it is now clear to me that “What Web 2.0 means for the law” is more of a story being written than a question to be answered.

Next Tuesday, what Web 2.0 may mean for legal information merchants like West Group and Lexis/Nexis.

And Friday, I hope to have a “Wired GC — Unplugged” audiocast with one firm that is doing things a bit differently than the mainstream LSQ.

Update: Thanks to Dennis Kennedy for his kind words; we’ll watch with interest to see what’s next.

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