Software developer, entrepreneur, and net thought leader, Dave Winer (@davewiner), tweeted yesterday evening, Winer may have been referring to large companies and their skirmishes dominating the net today. But what he said reminded me of lawyers contributing nothing to the net while expecting the net to be a source of new legal work.

Throw money (thousands a month in some cases) at a large website development company, you get a website, some un-earned links pointing to the website to increase search performance, a blog with content not only not written by you, but with content that’s not befitting the lawyer you are today or strive to become, and someone to lead your social networking so you need not get out and engage people on the net.

Then wonder why it doesn’t work out in the long term.

Sound far fetched? I am not sure it is.

Look at some of what Winer says today in his post, The Internet as a Ecosystem.

The proliferation of corporate networks is like the spreading of corporate everything from coffee to big box stores to airports. Sameness, lack of diversity, individuality withers. What makes life interesting fades away, conformity reigns.

There is another way per Winer,

…[T}here still is art, even if most people don’t live artisitc lives. And you can still use the open Internet even if most people don’t.

……

If you choose something other than what everyone else is using, you’re helping the net. You can still use the stuff everyone is using. But find a way to express yourself that’s unique and that you know has value. And when you do that you’re helping our intellectual and informational planet. (emphasis added)

Box storeThe Internet is a communication network. Look it up.

Communication requires thought and contribution. That’s good for lawyers. Thought, expression, and contribution is what being a good lawyer is all about.

Don’t fall prey to using the same box store legal Internet marketing that every other lawyer is using. Don’t take the easy way out by saying, “I don’t understand the Web and I don’t have the time to learn or act on my own.” You deserve better and so the does the world from you and the legal profession as a whole.

As Winer says, “Think, and act, and do something full of thought, for the Internet. Roll up your sleeves and do some good work.”

Image courtesy of Flickr by markyeg.

I tweeted yesterday that I agreed with Dave Winer that conference panels suck. Thinking I was a fan of open discussion at conferences, I was quickly asked to comment on Jeff Jarvis’s 2006 post on the ‘unconference approach,’ to a conference, a concept Jarvis cited Winer as the master of.

The ‘unconference’ per Jarvis is where the people in the room set the agenda and they’d accomplish this via a conversation, not a lecture. Jarvis had recent success with the concept.

I do agree with Winer that conference panels can suck.

The idea is to have a panel to discuss why panels with people racing to plug their product or pet idea, in competition with four other panelists, followed by the audience asking questions after lining up at a mike, is the wrong way to organize these things. 

Everyone has figured it out but no one wants to say it directly. 

It comes out like this: All the good stuff happens in the hallways.

So my panel would be a discussion about how to bring the hallways into the meeting room. Or to bring the meeting room into the hallways. Your choice.

I’ve been on panels and in webinars where company CEO’s and product cronies drop the name of their company or solution as well note the thousands of customers they have every few minutes. Maybe they have something of value, but spare me and attendees your podium spam. I want no part of it for fear your stench will carry over to me.

I’ve also found that hallway discussions, coffees, dinners, and beers generate the best collaboration and ideas at conferences. One of the greatest ways to learn is to meet new people.

At the same time, the unconference approach is a not a winner for legal conferences.

Remind you, my perspective is coming from someone who practiced law for 20 years and who’s now asked to present at legal conferences on the subject of networking through the net and social media. When I have the good fortune of presenting at one of the conferences or programs Jarvis or Winer references it’s a different story.

If you’ve got knowledgeable panelists and audience members to pull into a discussion and learn from, an unconference can be great. The best thing about panels and group discussions for me is the ability to learn from co-panelists who are smarter than me — and there are lots of such people.

But if you’re asking lawyers and legal marketing professionals to speak intelligently on the use of networking through the Internet, as opposed to using the net as a way to push things at people who don’t want what you’re pushing and SEO, forget it. You’ll have the blind leading the blind, and drown out those who can challenge the status quo, inspire legal professionals to think differently, and touch a few raw nerves that need to be touched.

Legal conferences can also be driven by sponsors and politically correctness. The dualoply of LexisNexis and Thomson sponsorships undoubtedly effects who gets to present, where they present, and who’s on what panel. They’re not fans of entrepreneurs more innovative than their employees discussing more effective and less costly solutions than the dualopoly sell. Unfortunately, some bar associations and conference organizers let them get away with it.

You’ll also have associations getting the ‘right people’ on the panels so as to reward this or that — or even to incent a prospective panelist’s law firm to pay for the panelist to attend so as to increase conference attendance.

Another problem with panels and unconferences in the legal industry is they can be ‘analized’ to death. Lawyers and other legal professionals like precision, lots of planning, and no surprises (lack of spontaneity). The result is multiple conference calls to be calendared with 4 or 5 people in advance with joint documents to be submitted a month ahead. I’ll take doing a one person presentation over that living death any day of the week.

The legal profession, I guess by its very nature of employing lawyers, takes the joy, collaboration, and learning out of an unconference environment. Even an event such as Ignite Law 2010 put on at ABA TechShow, modeled after the Ignite events around the country lacked the spark and spontaneity I’ve seen at other Ignite events. Though the presenters and topics were good, most presenters looked ill at ease, often trying to cram 30 minutes into 5 while reading off note cards or a script. Let alone dressed in coat and tie.

Sure, unconferences – and great panel discussions are a joy when you get them. I have had the pleasure and honor of participating in a few recently and learned a good deal — and I am sure other attendees and panelists did as well.

With the legal profession though there are challenges.

Blog pioneer Dave Winer, who’s always viewed computers as a publishing tool, sees blogging as the leading edge in publishing in the first decade of this century.  

And Dave cites Clay Shirky, a consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, as to what blogging as meant to cost of publishing.

Forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this — the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.

Whether you’re Thomson West publishing legal treatises, ALM publishing legal periodicals, a law firm publishing newsletters, or a law professor publishing law review articles, you ought to be looking at blogging as a very cost effective means of publishing. In addition to reduced costs, blogs offer a means of distributing content. Content that is also more timely than that published in traditional fashion.

It’s easier for users to be vendors than for vendors to be users Dave Winer is telling us this morning. Makes all the sense on the world.

Look at the vendors of publishing and business services products for the legal and professional service industry. We as users blogging on the net have a much better understanding of publishing and marketing on the Internet than the vendors. We’re not encumbered by not being able to see the obvious as is the case with the business people at LexisNexis, FindLaw, Martindale-Hubbell, BNA or ALM.

Dave gave us concrete examples. Dell was created out of a dorm room when Michael Dell as a user saw a better way to build and deliver PC’s. Bill Gates as a user saw the need for a new operating system.

We live in the age of creativity, says Winer. 10 years ago how would one learn about the weather in Seattle for the next 5 days when flying in for Gnomedex. How would you know the movies playing and times? How did we get live sports scores? We didn’t.

Today, expectations are increased and we are not dissapointed. Dave asked how could this happen when newspapers are shrinking? Incredible paradox.

We need to think of the possibilities and not be constrained by this is too hard or you are not supposed to be doing this or that. Dave got tremendous oushback when he started writing on the net. People said you’re not a writer, not a journalist. But how do you get better at writing without writing?

Engadget is a community discussing how to build better products. They know more as users how to build better products than the manufacturers. At some point they’ll go to the manufacturers and say this is the better product but we’re not going to wait 5 years till you build it. Dave believes manufacturers are going to become fulfillment houses for the users spec’ed requirements.

Best of all, Dave says what every lawyer and professional service blogger must realize. You do not sell advertising on your website to make money. Websites are ads for themselves. Presumably, those ads are then a promotion of the products or services we are creating.

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