John Barker (@contentbarker), Vice President of Strategy & Competitive Intelligence for Wolters Kluwer, asked this week, “What Can Legal Citators Learn from Facebook?

Barker’s point being that social networking and social media drives discussion and collaboration around all topics today. We benefit from crowd wisdom. Why couldn’t our legal profession learn from Facebook as to how we could advance the law and surface secondary authority referencing primary law?

As way of background, a legal citator is a citation index of legal resources.  The best-known of which is Shepard’s. Given a case, code or regulation, a citator allows you, as legal researcher, to find newer writings which cite the original source and thus to reconstruct the judicial history of cases, codes, regulations etc.

Well today with open publishing (blogs) and memorialized discussion of the law (social networking and social media), linking one book or one piece of paper to another, even if by a computer, is a bit antiquated. It also slows down the advancement of the law and the connecting of the like minded.

From Barker:

Think a moment of how Facebook works. Members of the social media network can make a post or share an article, reply to it, share it again, comment on it, etc. Who can see the post and those subsequent annotations depends on permissions set by the poster: specific friends, all friends and the public. Those comments and shares can be seen as a sort of commentary.

Barker sees the Facebook model working in the world of legal citation indexes in a few different ways.

  • Collaborative annotations in the citator as a marketing tool. Lawyers, law professors and law students might welcome sharing their insight and commentary for the influence, authority and word of mouth they would build. Citator customers could even set up alerts to follow certain lawyers.
  • Intelligent filtering: not all comments are desirable. Citators could use algorithms and sentiment analysis just like Facebook to surface the most valuable and relevant commentary.
  • Wisdom of the crowd. Facebook enables likes, shares and comments to determine the most popular commentary. Citators could enable paying customers to vote. I differ with Barker here as I’d leave it open to the masses to capture the best sentiment with filters/algorithms eliminating the static.

When it comes to major legal publishers, Barker’s been ahead of the pack in driving discussion on the role of blogs and social media in legal publishing and research. His comments are sound and signal where we are headed.

To think we are going to continue to do legal research in ways similar to the way we are doing it now is nuts. Lawyers, law students and law professors are walking around with a computer in their pocket conducting legal dialogue on an open network that’s world-wide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Social signals (huge data) will soon eclipse editors as the means of surfacing the most relevant and valuable information. This is already happening in e-discovery.

Information services and publishers like Wolters Kluwer can learn a lot from a guy like Mark Zuckerberg (and his thousands of engineers). We all can.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Scott Beale