Friday, March 09, 2007

Biggest Hurdles for Law Firm RSS Adoption

Over the past month a number of law bloggers, including Dennis Kennedy, and my fellow Slaw contributor Elizabeth Ellis, have questioned the adoption rate of RSS, and the use of personal feed readers in the legal industry.

Admittedly, the adoption rate for RSS in law firms has been slow. Despite some good coverage in legal publications, many Lawyers still aren't aware the technology even exists. And when they have been savvy enough to know and ask, the reception from many CIOs and systems departments has been luke warm.

So if RSS is as important as many of us believe, why hasn't it received any priority? and why haven't more lawyers adopted? There are no simple answers, but I'll try to identify some of the biggest hurdles below, and how we might respond:

1) What is it?

This is the biggest issue for me: how to explain RSS in a simple way. Doing RSS has always been easier than explaining RSS. Here's how I am currently describing RSS for new or less technical users:

RSS is my newspaper. I can put in whatever information I want to. You want the Globe & Mail business section? no problem. Only stories with the words 'Public-Private Partnerships'? no problem. RSS is my gateway to the world's information, and I can filter it to give me exactly what I need to read. It is the best solution available for those struggling with Information Overload.
2) Will all Lawyers eventually use RSS?

Probably not. Technical skills and generation gaps aside, RSS is still a current awareness (CA) tool, and not every lawyer engages in CA activities. How many lawyers are serious about their current awareness without RSS? Do they appreciate getting email-based case alerts? or is it just more 'noise' clogging up their inbox?

RSS is often described as 'automated surfing', and saves time for users who conduct repetitive tasks. If a Lawyer takes the time each day to read a portion of the paper, or visit the same newspapers, court websites, blogs, stock quotes, etc., a feed reader will introduce them to more sources, in a fraction of the time.
3) Does RSS cause Information Overload?

There is a risk. Go back to my newspaper analogy: if I gave you the business section from every newspaper across North America, think you'd have an information overload situation? of course you would. With the world's knowledge at your finger tips, saying 'no' has never been more important.

Now here's the take away: RSS is the tool to say no! Get those filters up, and restrict what goes into your feed reader: by source, by author, by keywords. Raw feeds (with no filtering) should only be used with your most important sources, or feeds that produce relatively little content - like this blog lately. :-)
4) I can't find the time, or remember to check my feed reader.

It's all about routine. I check my RSS feeds first thing each morning, and try to prioritize what I read by placing them in folders. No time for the latest legal magazine headlines? That entire folder gets marked read, and I move on. Did I miss something? Probably.

Matching one's time available with the number of feeds taken is also an effective strategy. Time yourself. How far do you get reading a half-hour's worth of feeds? Could you pare back? Could you mark items of interest now, and read later?

Could the workload be split? Someone in every firm should monitor the media for mentions of your firm name, but it's a waste of time for everyone to do so.
5) Is RSS a virus risk?

This one's easy: the answer is no.
6) Our CIO doesn't see this as a priority.

There's no solution to law firm office politics, and RSS can be a difficult sell with some CIOs - it isn't always application software, and is a content driven technology rather than a work product production technology. That said, most CIOs have their plate full, and the cycle to getting a new project launched (without a Partner's 'bump') may be more than a year. Unfortunately in many firms, without CIO level buy-in, access to technology training may also be cut off.

If RSS is going to take off, the demand must come from lawyers. If lawyers make it a priority, CIOs will respond.
7) I can't figure this stuff out!

Ask for help. Chances are your law librarian has had a feed reader for several years now. You could provide him or her with a subject list, and work together to reduce the amount of time you spend monitoring. Outsourcing is always an option.

Ultimately, training is the key to adoption of any technology. If lawyers can figure out the nuances of derivatives or insurance subrogation, cutting & pasting a web address into a feed reader won't baffle them. Most lawyers who are using RSS have figured it out on their own - those are your early adopters. Now we need to get the word out beyond those early adopters, identify those users that will benefit the most, and step-up the in-house training opportunities.
I'm still convinced RSS has a lot to offer Lawyers as a personal knowledge tool, and that it is too early to lose faith. Is my patience justified? Who knows. Maybe I'm just remembering the early & mid-90's when the legal industry had 'issues' with the adoption of email and websites. Heck, how many firms were clinging to Wordperfect when the rest of the business world was switching to MS Word? Yes, we are a conservative lot, but given a little time -- we do figure it out. Why should RSS adoption being any different?



Blogger Kevin O'Keefe said...

Agree that adoption rate of RSS by lawyers has been slow.

I see a few different reasons. 1) Not easy to understand until you use. 2) Don't see pressing need to learn & use. 3) No easy to install and use software or easy to understand web based app - we're talking of lawyers here who have apps served up to them by law firm IT.

We're working on making RSS easier for our clients at LexBlog. Just deployed LexBlog Newsreader. Here's the first of a few screencasts we'll have up on it:

5:32 PM  

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