PBworks (formerly PBWiki) launched today (28 April 2009) a legal market version of their signature collaborative Wiki. I had a pre-launch demo and it looks very good. 

The company already has many AmLaw 100 firm users. A private group of large law firm KM professionals in which I am involved happily and successfully used PBWiki to organize a recent meeting.

For any law firm interested in wikis and collaboration, this product is worth considering. I do not review products and indeed that is not my goal here. Rather, this product release makes me wonder about the direction of legal applications generally. (PBworks legal launch press release here.)

Any new product, no matter how wonderful, faces three structural challenges:

  • 1. The components of most of BigLaw IT infrastructure have been stable for sometime. SharePoint is the most recent widely adopted addition. Most IT departments avoid adding applications, especially where similar functionality is available. (In the case of PBworks, SharePoint offers some similar features.)
  • 2. Lawyers, partners especially, famously spend most of their time in Outlook and a bit of time in a browser. Persuading lawyers not only to learn but regularly use another application is a big challenge.
  • 3. Even if you can overcome 1 and 2, keeping content current in an inherently content-driven application is a chronic challenge.

Large law firm CIOs must decide when and whether new features warrant adding a new and possibly better app. So let me ask you two questions. Is there a principled basis for deciding when the cost and effort of a new app is worthwhile? And who ultimately should or does decide? These are important questions to consider, irrespective of your views of wikis.