Law firms contribute to information overload with their regular updates. Meanwhile, in-house lawyers often struggle to stay current. A solution is possible. 

Imagine the general counsel arriving in the morning, opening Outlook, clicking on her updates folder, and seeing a few high-value items tailored to her needs. The folder does not contain just e-mail. Rather, it aggregates messages and other updates from multiple sources – law firms, legal publishers, web sites, and other third parties – and groups them together, consistently formatted.

All this happens automatically. Some updates are free, some require a subscription, and some are client-specific law firm work product. The GC clicks once to retain or forward an item and the system knows where to save or send it. The system suggests topics to add or delete.

The technology for this vision exists. RSS is one element: “Real Simple Syndication” allows software automatically to fetch updates from web sites; it is widely used in blogging (see my post re using an “aggregator” to read multiple blogs). Tom Gelbman, in Information Flood Warning (Legal Tech Newsletter, Dec 2004) explains the benefits of RSS well.

Gelbman also hints at what I believe is the necessary next step: standards to tag content for automatic filtering and sorting. The way to tag content – XML or the extensible markup language – has been around for several years.

Creating classifications and tagging content takes time and money. It is happening, albeit in the financial world. The Research Information Exchange Markup Language is supported by, “a consortium of buy-side firms, sell-side firms and vendors that have joined together to define an open standard for categorizing, tagging and distributing global investment research.” This standard allows suppliers and consumers of financial research to buy, sell, aggregate, and use research more effectively. The legal market could follow this model.

A first step would be for large law firms to blog instead of to add web pages or send e-mail. (My prior post points to the paucity of large-firm-branded blogs; a follow-up post is coming soon.) Legal publishers have taken some steps. LexisNexis has an RSS feed for Mealey’s and Westlaw delivers IntraClips via RSS. There may well be more; these are merely ones I’ve found.

Innovation is hard, especially when you want to do something new. It may take a consortium of clients, as suggested by a Cisco lawyer early this month, to create the pressure and incentives to realize the vision.