Web 2.0 Resistance in Law Firms?

Penny Edwards at Headshift characterizes the 2008 AmLaw Tech Survey as a “disappointing read from a social software/organizational change perspective.” Alan Cohen, who reported on the survey in Law.com’s Legal Technology section, admits that while there’s lots of talk within law firms about social media tools, relatively few of those firms have deployed many of these tools given the ubiquity of these tools on the internet. And, those that have attempted to take a walk on the wild web 2.0 side have limited themselves to “ho-hum stuff by internet standards.” The survey reports that 43% of the firms have at least one blog and 24% have internal wikis, but I suspect that much of this has happened because these tools were bundled (albeit imperfectly) with the SharePoint platforms these firms have deployed. With a few notable exceptions (see Penny Edwards’ post), we haven’t heard about many truly transformative deployments of social media tools within law firms.

Why?

According to Alan Cohen, law firm CIOs and IT directors are definitely thinking about web 2.0, but in the following terms: “What emerging technologies are worth investing in — and which aren’t ready for prime time? ” Prime time? When folks all over the world are diving into social computing with remarkable enthusiasm, can you really treat these technologies as experimental? Perhaps the real issue is that law firms have not yet identified uses for these technologies that feel like incremental rather than revolutionary changes to current business processes. So, to the extent you can use a blog or wiki to do something that is already done by e-mail, it’s a safe option to propose to your firm — provided you can convince folks to leave their Outlook cocoons. For law firm knowledge management programs, the usual approach is to identify and implement these incremental uses of social media tools and then coax your colleagues a little further out of their comfort zone with more ambitious implementations of these tools. Unfortunately, this “substitution innovation” does not take advantage of what Penny Edwards considers the greatest asset of “new technologies like RSS, micro-blogging, social tagging and networking tools, [which] offer possibilities for radical change in the way in which things are done.”

The other significant challenge that results in what appears to be law firm resistance to web 2.0 is that for quite some time now the big IT issue for these firms has been electronic discovery. And, eDiscovery has led to a whole host of new tech problems that law firm IT departments are forced to tackle. Therefore, while web 2.0 tools may be the latest wave to sweep the technosphere, law firm CIOs and IT directors believe that they have more pressing issues to handle, such as … data storage.

Add the inevitable slowdown in IT spending that is emerging in the current economic environment, and you have yet another reason to decide that web 2.0 is not yet ready for law firm “prime time.” To be honest, however, is the real issue that law firm knowledge managers and their IT counterparts are not themselves ready for web 2.0?

[For other helpful analysis of the IT Survey, see Ron Friedmann’s Strategic Legal Technology blog, which reports, among other things, that the survey provides “good confirmation for those struggling with these issues daily.”]

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