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Douglas Hagerman may be general counsel of Rockwell Automation Inc., a provider of information solutions for manufacturers, but his teenage children are more technologically advanced than he is.
Before 2007 Hagerman had little experience with Web 2.0 tools, a second wave of Internet technology that focuses on the power of collaboration between individuals. He had been using the user-populated online encyclopedia Wikipedia since its inception in 2001 but never really engaged in creating content for the site. Meanwhile, his kids were busy uploading
pictures, writing blogs and creating profiles on social-networking sites such as Facebook.
"The younger generation has already adopted the way of thinking required to operate these social-networking sites," Hagerman says. "The obstacle for those of us who aren't so young is that we have to understand how to make connections with colleagues and see the value of those connections. That's what we're still learning--not how to use the site, but how to interact with each other on the site."
Hagerman is not alone in his confusion. Although most older adults have heard of social-networking sites and some have minor experience using them, few have reached a full understanding of the powers of this new form of online collaboration. But now a number of Web sites are targeting professionals, and a few are specifically reaching out to in-house counsel. For corporate counsel who want to remain relevant, engaging in these sites could become a necessity.
"Lawyers, to a very substantial degree, live in the cloud; they live in their network," says Paul Lippe, CEO of Legal OnRamp, a social-networking site for in-house counsel. "For GCs, that's people in your company, law firms and other companies. So you want to be as energized and engaged with that network as much as possible. And Web 2.0 is clearly a better way to do that than e-mail."
What's Web 2.0?
To understand Web 2.0, it's necessary to take a look back and define Web 1.0. Before programmers realized the full power of the Internet, namely its ability to facilitate large-scale collaboration, the Internet was a one-way resource of information. Someone would create a Web site and populate it with content, allowing users to go out and find that content. E-mail was the Web 1.0 communication tool of choice, with information passing from individual to one or more people in a manner similar to writing a letter and sending it through the postal system.
Web 2.0 takes this model of top-down information delivery and turns it on its head. Sites that use this model are more like the frame of a house, and it's up to Internet users to fill in the gaps and furnish the site with information. In addition, there is no separation between Web 2.0 sites and Web 2.0 forms of communication. For example MySpace, a social-networking site popular with teenagers and young adults, is both a Web site and a multifaceted communication tool that allows users to not only create content on their personal pages but to make connections with peers, share information with one another and post messages on one another's sites.
One company that realizes the full potential of such social-networking tools is Alcatel-Lucent, which has been at the forefront of innovative legal departments with the development of an internal wiki that allows its in-house counsel to share information.
"Because we have a globally dispersed legal department, global knowledge management is a key part of our communication efforts," says Eugene Weitz, corporate counsel for Alcatel-Lucent and leader of the department's global KM team. "Web 2.0 facilitates that."
Mainstream sites don't offer much professionally, however. The most robust offering dedicated to in-house counsel right now is Legal OnRamp, a members-only social-networking site. The site claims about 2,000 members, predominantly in-house counsel. Users create a profile, allowing them to link to their colleagues. This creates a personalized network of other in-house counsel who can communicate via e-mail-like messages and bulletin-style comments. The site has additional features such as a law firm updates repository and frequently-asked-questions forums.
The site added a new function in February that allows users to create personalized subgroups within their network of colleagues. These groups can be public, allowing any Legal OnRamp user to join, or private, which requires the group creator to grant permission to join.
"To get small ad hoc groups of lawyers together to share ideas about common issues has tremendous potential," says Hagerman, a Legal OnRamp member. "For example, you can get a group of lawyers together to talk about protecting your IP in emerging markets and have them share best practices, comment on each other's ideas and refer each other to various resources."
It's not just newer upstarts that are seeking to revolutionize the legal landscape. Older established legal sites are getting in on the Web 2.0 game, too. LexisNexis' Martindale-Hubbell site announced in November 2007 that it had gone Web 2.0. The site added the ability for users to create side-by-side comparisons of lawyers and law firms. It also has created a peer review function that lets in-house counsel post comments about their experiences with outside counsel.
"Currently these reviews are anonymous and are aggregated, meaning that we won't publish something until we can aggregate enough reviews to preserve the anonymity of a particular company," says Barry Solomon, vice president client development for LexisNexis.