Web 2.0 for Lawyers?

WikinomicsLast night I had the opportunity to hear Don Tapscott speak about his book Wikinomics and the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Yes, I’m sure the term Web 2.0 will eventually be like “Y2K” or “Information Superhighway” — a term which dates those who use it and places them on the historical continuum of the internet’s evolution. However, for the moment it is a term which captures a certain approach to technology’s possibilities. It’s not new by the internet’s standards. The term was coined in 2004 and has been percolating since then, gaining momentum as a way to define the collaborative and community-based development of internet-related technologies. To think of the internet or the Web as one technology among many is itself a bit contrary to the spirit of Web 2.0 — the internet is becoming seamless with the use of other tools, all of which interact and are interacted with, to the point where it’s not clear where one leaves off and the next picks up.

This brings me to the idea of the practice of law: Web 2.0 for lawyers? Lawyers have been described (by one of their own) as a “medieval guild“; in other words, a conservative profession which is resistant to change. That’s not exactly a revolutionary statement. The question is whether you can teach old lawyers new tricks. The legal bankruptcy of the RIAA’s efforts to sue its own customers into compliance is one obvious example where the old thinking about intellectual property rights has to give way. I have two thoughts on this: first, yes I believe lawyers can and will change the way they do business, particularly as their clients demand it. Lawyers all over the country are already showing signs of change: blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, wikis and client intranets. There’s no shortage of legal information and content. The lawyer’s role will be not only to change the way information is disseminated, but also to continue doing what they do now: provide analysis, recommendations and advice to place that information in context and help clients order their affairs and manage risks. Secondly, the growth and development of Web 2.0 will continue to depend on the underlying foundation provided by intellectual property rights and contract law. Even open sourcing and crowdsourcing depend on copyright law and contract law to function and flourish.

Let me illustrate it this way: health information is more open and available than ever before and patients are no longer passive recipients of health care services: but when you need surgery, all the health information, wikis and blogs won’t replace the role of an experienced surgeon. Some things you don’t leave to the collaborative community.

Calgary – 15:49 MST

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