What Would You Teach a Bunch of Lawyers About The Web?

Later today, I have the pleasure of speaking to a group of tech and VC lawyers at a local law firm (not sure if they want me to say who they are) about why and how they should be using “social media” and the web. I’ve sent them some pre-reading ideas, and I have lots to talk about, but I thought I’d ask you what YOU would teach a group of lawyers about the web?

Here’s an outline of what I plan to talk about, but please add your ideas, links, and recommendations in the comments. I really appreciate it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Web Tools and Techniques

I think a web savvy lawyer (well, actually, I think this applies to everyone) should be versed in the following basic web and social tools. That’s not to say you have to be an expert, but you should at least understand what they are, and how they work in general terms.

  • Feeds and Readers/Aggregators – Know what an RSS feed is, and how to subscribe to one in a a feed reader. Example: Google Reader. Know how to organize your subscriptions into folders, unsubscribe from feeds you don’t want anymore, and share interesting items with others.
  • Social Network Sites – Under the skin, most of them are alike. Facebook is the most popular example. Know what it means to “friend” someone, what a status update is, how to share photos and video, and how to behave yourself well, so as not to annoy all of your friends. Know what a social network site is good for and what it’s not. See also: LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.
  • Sharing and Tagging – Know the popular sites to share photos, videos, and other stuff online. Be familiar with the way some sites allow people to organize and categorize stuff they’ve shared using tags (Example: Delicious for bookmarks and links, Flickr for photos, etc.). Know what a tag cloud is. Bonus points for being able to explain “folksonomy”. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Blogging – In general terms, know what a blog is, some features most blogs have (comments, feeds, categories, etc.), and be aware of the best (free!) places to start a blog, like, Google’s, etc. Be aware that it’s also relatively easy and cheap to set up and host your own blog, if you want more freedom that what you get with a free hosted blog.
  • Twitter – Know that it’s a “microblogging” service that lets people sign up and post short (140 character) messages that their friends/followers will see. Know what it’s good for (conversation, asking and answering questions, getting to know and keeping in touch with people) and what it’s not (pretty much anything that doesn’t work well in short 140 character messages).


There are a few people I consider to be very wise when it comes to understanding and explaining the intersection of law and the web. I highly recommend reading and digesting the things that they say.

  • Cory Doctorow – link goes to his blog, but he mostly writes elsewhere (Boing Boing, columns for other publications, etc.). Luckily he usually links to stuff he’s written, so his blog is the best place to start. He’s published several sci-fi books that, besides being completely and utterly excellent, are prefaced with Cory’s thoughts on why he releases all of his books for free under a Creative Commons license, and why giving his stuff away for free actually makes him more money.
  • Lawrence Lessig – Again, link goes to his blog. A lawyer, professor, and founder of the Creative Commons movement, Lessig is simply “The Man” when it comes to The Law and The Web. I HIGHLY recommend reading his books (which are available for free, thanks to Creative Commons). Start with Free Culture, and move on to, say, Code v2 and The Future of Ideas. Great, great stuff that will make you think hard about copyright and digital rights in general.
  • Bruce Schneier – Famous for his books on security and privacy, he posts great essays, thoughts, and examples of smart (or silly) security practices on his blog. I don’t know of anyone who explains more clearly the risks of giving up our privacy and making dumb, knee-jerk-reaction decisions about security. And privacy is a HUGE part of how the law and the web come together.


  • Creative Commons – every web savvy lawyer should be versed in what Creative Commons is, and how it relates to the future of the web. Creative Commons has changed my life in many ways. It affects what I read, listen to, and watch, and how I share the things that I create.
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – Again, a web savvy lawyer should be familiar with what the EFF is, what it stands for, and cases it’s won (and lost). That’s not to say that you have to support the EFF. But you’d be foolish not to be informed about it.

Sites and Communities

There are a few online communities that do a great job of covering and providing lots of discussion around legal issues on the web.

  • Slashdot: Your Rights Online – The YRO category on Slashdot provides a regular stream of internet-related legal and privacy news, along with vigorous commentary.
  • Groklaw – Applies Open Source principles (interested volunteer experts) to not only provide journalistic coverages of legal issues in the tech field, but also to collaborate on cases, like SCO vs. IBM.
  • Reddit Law – members of the community submit links, vote, and comment on them. There are many, many Reddit communities (go ahead and look – there’s probably one for your favorite topic, and if there’s not, you can start one).

What Would YOU Teach a Lawyer?

Those are the things I plan to share, if I have time for them all. ๐Ÿ™‚ What about you? What web site, book, expert, or community can you think of that a web savvy lawyer needs to know about? I’d love it if you leave your ideas in the comments. I plan to share this post when I give my presentation to the law firm, and it would be great if they could come back once in a while, and see it growing with your suggestions and ideas. Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚


11 thoughts on “What Would You Teach a Bunch of Lawyers About The Web?

  1. Encourage them to truly get involved. They don’t have to start blogging, or tweeting. Just poke around. Read blogs, check out RWW, TechCrunch, and the like. Talk to their friends about ideas they may have. Problems they have that could be solved with technology. Encourage a dialog.

  2. Something not mentioned in the post, I would definitely introduce them to the cache feature of Google, and the Wayback Machine. Knowing that past versions are around is something they may find very interesting.

  3. I think you have it covered as far as info. EXCELLENT resources all collected in one place!

    Mostly what I think people who are new to social media (or even just any sort of “official web presence”) need to know is that it is ok to have a human face on their corporate identity. That’s what a lot of people seem to resist. It is ok and in fact encouraged!

    Otherwise you FULLY rocked this!! Superb post.

  4. I think I would try to impress upon them the distribution of individual information over the web. Not in a scary Big-brother type of fashion, but just know that information disseminates through all kinds of different methods, people, aggregators, blogs, search-engines.

    Even though I advertise myself pretty prominently on the web, I didn’t think anyone was taking that seriously. We had some friends over for dinner not too long ago and I was a bit shocked to find out they’d gone to my website, and googled me and the like. It never occurs to me to find stuff out about people I know.

    Additionally, I think you might want to lead into the YRO/groklaw stuff noting that there is a portion of people who argue law applied to technology simply because they want to continue to engage in illicit behavior.

  5. Francine Geller says:

    Your outline looks comprehensive.

    I would start out with an overview of what Web 2.0 is including the key element of interactivity that allows them to effectively network and market their legal expertise and knowledge.

    In regards to the web, what about including the important of SEO and SEM in regards to reaching their target markets through all of the noise?
    Search Engine Roundtable at
    Post on comparing results of social media and search

    Good luck today!

  6. Francine Geller says:

    Josh, this looks comprehensive. I may start off discussing what Web 2.0 is and the ability to effectively network and market their legal expertise through various social media chanels.

    In regards to the web, what about the importance of SEO and SEM to allow them to reach their target markets through all of the noise?
    Search Engine Rountable at
    Post on Traffic from Social Media vs. Search

    And… I agree with Kelly’s comment – a personal identity for corporate efforts is key…

  7. I think you’ve covered the finer points extremely well, but I think it would be really important, either before or after you delve in to the info above, to state affirmatively that the real core difference on the Web is that they can’t control it.

    My uneducated guess would be that a lot of lawyers would seek to manage digital interactions and communications with the same rigor that they do their other work. While teaching them about tools, personalities, and organizations influential on the Web is a must, I think the larger point to hammer in is that attempting to manage things online in the same way they do in meatspace is not only likely to fail, it will probably reflect very poorly on them and their clients.

  8. Josh, thanks for the fantastic presentation on social web tools to a bunch of lawyers at Stoel Rives! It was a great introduction and got us 20th century types thinking about social tools in a new way.

    As mentioned, we’re in the process of developing our internal policies, procedures, and guidelines (after all, we are a big stodgy organization that has to control everything :-)) regarding social networking, and I’m hopeful that the powers that be will take into consideration your recommendations for successful community building (openness and transparency, having a personal identity, remembering that social networking is a conversation and not a monologue, etc.) when drafting our policies.

    One of the challenges that lawyers face is that, even though we’d love to keep it real and personal and be open in providing helpful, valuable content, we have to be careful not to run afowl of the ethical rules governing lawyer communications (restrictions on advertising & solicitation and negative consequences of accidentally forming an attorney-client relationship). I’d love to petition the ABA and state bar associations to relax some of the rules that I think are outdated, but that’s just not going to happen in my lifetime.

    Many thanks for the advice!

  9. This goes beyond your area of expertise but I am always wary of the intersection of social tools and the Bar’s ethics rules. For example, when I was still posting on, I was constantly watering down the content for fear that someone would rely on it as legal advice. What I ended up with was not very interesting for the reader and frustrating for me. I found the safest thing was to post legislative updates and a few brief comments on it rather than delving into more substantive issues.

    Twitter is easier to use but quickly becomes over whelming.

    Another potential problem with using social tools is the economic model of most law firms. Most firms bill by the hour. An hour spent blogging or tweeting is an hour not spent billing a client. I’m sure you can see the conflict here. The lawyers that would probably be most capable of utilizing social tools –because the probably already use them in their private life- and integrating them into their workdays are probably junior or mid-level associates. In many firms these associates have hourly billing quotas.

  10. You’ve left out two major areas and a significant resource.

    First major area. I would explain wikis. Lawyers are interested in aggregations of knowledge, and it’s important to understand this (relatively) new approach to collaboration. Lawyers use Wikipedia so you can enter the discussion that way. You can explain that just as a blog is a one-to-many publication tool, a wiki is a way for many people to work on the same project or document.

    Second major area. These tools are not simply out there on the web. Web tools are starting to be used inside law firms as part of the general “Enterprise 2.0” move of social software from the Web to inside the firewall. While large law firms may have the staff to investigate such tools, there may be significant opportunities inside smaller firms and law departments, where there has been less investment and structure around legacy systems, in this area. One Canadian firm for instance implemented a wiki system in place of a traditional document management system.

    Resource. Although it is no longer kept up-to-date, I highly recommend my former colleague Doug Cornelius’ blog KM Space He delves in-depth into each of the tools you mention from a lawyer and knowledge management practitioner’s perspective.

    I’m at @KMHobbie if you want more thoughts.

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