Would general counsel buy legal radar? Like regular radar, it would provide a picture of the nearby environment and early warning of upcoming hazards. This seemingly outlandish idea may not be so far out in fact.. 

The advent of blogs, the web, and advanced full text technology may provide the basis for it. Adam Smith, Esq. has commented about the current issue of Business Week coverage of blogs (paid subscription required). He notes, as have I (here), that lawyers need to consider writing blogs. But that’s not the point now.

Blogs also provide valuable intelligence about current and future trends. The article notes about the huge volume of blogs:

“The racket is deafening. But there’s loads of valuable information floating around this cafe. Technorati, PubSub, and others provide the tools to listen. While the traditional Web catalogs what we have learned, the blogs track what’s on our minds.
Why does this matter? Think of the implications for businesses of getting an up-to-the-minute read on what the world is thinking. Already, studios are using blogs to see which movies are generating buzz. Advertisers are tracking responses to their campaigns. ‘I’m amazed people don’t get it yet,” says Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s senior vice-president who heads up search. “Never in the history of market research has there been a tool like this.'”

How does this work? One media executive with whom I recently spoke explained how his company used advanced full-text software to monitor blogs and web sites in a particular target audience. The company was able to predict how an upcoming media release would fare, which allowed favorable last-minute adjustments to advertising and promotion.

What does this have to do with law? Why not adapt these techniques to “monitor the horizon” for looming legal problems. Already many companies monitor the web for trademark infringement. Let’s go further, applying sophisticated textual analysis to try to get an early handle on the possible emergence of a new legal problem. Similarly, why not monitor “web buzz” for hints about the outcome of pending trials. I have previously written about creating derivatives for pending litigation. Advanced textual analysis might support better valuations of pending litigation.

Other than jury research, market research concerning substantive legal problems seems pretty limited. The tools may not yet be off-the-shelf, but the stream of blogs is waiting to be tapped. It may yet tell a story that can be very valuable to law departments to avoid and manage problems.