Web 2.0 resistance from Law Firms

Why are some Law Firms still not using Web 2.0 applications "behind their firewall"? and do you work at one of these firms? If so you might be interested in reading a summary of the Am Law Tech 2008 survey.

Penny Edwards from Headshift describes this as disappointing and I'm sure many people who are working with Web 2.0 applications on a daily basis will agree with this viewpoint. But why are so many law firms not yet doing Web 2.0? Mary Abraham has some thoughts on this subject in her post "Web 2.0 resistance in law firms" and I'm sure many others will as well.

Is it because as Mary says firms are looking at other areas rather then Web 2.0? or because the benefits of using Web 2.0 tools aren't clear or that there are too many issues associated with using these types of tools. What does everyone think?

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    # by Phil - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    I think that we need to be clear here. Web 2.0 is not really about tools, widgets or anything of that nature. It's about changing a mindset. It's about being able to look at the provision of material and the way that relationships work in an entirely different way. What the tools allow people to do is to share information in new and different ways. This is always going to work in an adoptive culture which has an emphasis on sharing - it's one of the reasons why schools are so keen to get involved.

    It's also one of the reasons why I think law firms will be among the last to embrace these new concepts. If you're in an environment where you eat what you kill, there's little incentive to share information - on the contrary in fact - the larger and more powerful the walled garden you can create the better off you'll be. Both individually and in a company environment.

    Until managements can recognise that Web 2.0 is about a change in working practices they're not going to encourage it. Partly because it's a scary thing to do. Partly because they don't understand it. Most particularly because the group of people who are most interested - the technical department - either know nothing about 2.0 or they see it as a threat to their own jobs and working practices. They've been able to contain and control what people can do for so long that the idea that a librarian can create pages, import news feeds, write their own search engines and so on is too much for them to handle.

    If you want to answer the question of why 2.0 hasn't been adopted more, ignore the tools and look at the working practices.

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    # by Jennie - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    In many firms, I think there's a few reasons they're not using more Web 2.0 tools.

    Time - it takes time to find out about these things, and assess which is the most suitable for your needs. Then it takes time to learn how to best use the selected tool. Then it takes more time commitment to actually use it regularly and get value from it. And in firms, time is literally money - justifying your networking activities on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc is hard to do when it can be demonstrated exactly how much money that time you spent on them *didn't* earn for your firm.

    Technology - often IT treat staff as devious children, who're just itching to download malicious software and dissolve their intranet. Without the trust of IT, any tool that needs a download is immediately unavailable. Software filters block access to certain sites that may have usefulness. For example, I'm not allowed to use Awesome Highlighter (very handy to send links with the useful information highlighted) as it's regarded as a proxy bypass tool (or something like that!.

    Culture - the culture of firms is often stratified: support staff do the 'menial' stuff, fee earners do the 'important' stuff. Gathering information is menial, distributing it is menial, and updating it is menial...the using of the information is 'important'. So any expectation that ALL staff would do the menial work is flawed - fee earners will not use a tool that is not of immediate and direct benefit to them. So while you might get them using the information on a wiki, it's hard to get them to actually put the information on there in the first place, as it's 'not their job'.

    And probably lots more reasons too, that I can't get into proper thoughts at the moment!

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    # by dmason - Thursday, November 27, 2008

    I completely agree with Jennie's post, particularly the part on culture. An example, which I heard about recently, was that a law firm started using the marketing database Interaction (like most law firms now). This is a database that works by lawyers adding information about their contacts and the database uses this information to provide relationship intelligence. It was the intention that all the lawyers would keep this up-to-date by adding their contact data and amending as necessary and full-training was provided. Except very of the lawyers did this and when reminded of the importance of their input the reaction was that they did not have time to be inputting data. Therefore, in the end, a person had to be hired to interview the lawyers and add their information.

    How do you convince lawyers to spend their (chargeable) time updating databases when, as Jennie suggested, this is culturally regarded as menial data processing? Or is the traditional method more effective, where the information is passed to and added by support staff? It would be interesting to here views for and against this argument (particularly from those who have managed to make a cultural change).

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    # by James Mullan - Thursday, November 27, 2008

    Thanks everybody for your comments. I agree that there are some fairly hefty obstacles in the way of more law firms adopting web 2.0 technologies.

    In my mind the culture of a law firm is the biggest issue. Fee-earners aren't generally encouraged to share know-how and in fact are encouraged to protect their documentation , significantly they have the because proving you're the best at what you do and being able to prove is one of the steps to become a senior fee-earner/partner. Most of the tools currently used be fee-earners like document managment systems, also have in built security which protect documents and know-how. Getting past this barrier is just the first step.

    Finding the time to use these technologies is of course a major issue for anybody thinking about using Web 2.0 and not just finding the time but as you say Jennie being able to justify it so that people don't think you're just messing around on Facebook...again!

    Unfortunately I don't believe fee-earners will ever spend huge amounts of time uploading either contacts or content to internal database as you say Dean this is still seen as "data entry" task and one that can and is still done by administration teams.

    My feeling is that it is about encouraging fee-earners to see the value of adding this information (contacts/content) centrally and exploring how best this can be done.

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    # by pj - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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