Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sniffing out the story – creating your own legal news file

Information overload and email apathy are common symptoms experienced by today's lawyers. With the multitude of online sources of information now available (whether newspapers or free legal newsletters) it can be a full-time job to sift through your Inbox to extract the nuggets of relevance to you both personally and professionally.

Yet, within the growing silo of unchecked mails there could possibly lie something that is of vital importance to your practice and your clients.

Personal knowledge management ("PKM") is a term that's been around for a few years now in knowledge management circles. Essentially, it's micro knowledge management, or taking personal responsibility for managing the knowledge of relevance to you as an individual rather than the management of knowledge of relevance to your firm as a whole.

RSS feeds and alerting services are an important element of PKM. While the technology also has a useful role to play in practice-based knowledge management initiatives, individuals can harness this technology to manage and control the information they wish to receive on a personal basis. Effectively, the technology allows you to receive notifications from websites only of interest to you and also gives you the ability to sniff out stories from the web according to your areas of interest.

Firstly, let's have a look at RSS (Really Simple Syndication):

There are a number of free RSS readers on the web available for download eg Feed Demon, Google Reader, RSS Bandit. Readers allow you to suggest sites from which to receive feeds but bear in mind that the websites you have an interest in must have an RSS facility. Most of the readers allow you to enter search terms or keywords for the type of website of interest to you and will come back with a suggested list of feeds to which you can subscribe. Integration with Microsoft Outlook is a feature of many of these readers so you don't have to go to a separate website to check for new stories. Folders are created within Outlook for each of the feeds to which you subscribe.

I use an RSS reader to receive press releases from Government departments such as the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Environment to ensure that I'm up to date on legal developments when preparing website updates and compiling newsletters on behalf of my law firm clients.

This is a screen shot from Newsgator Inbox to give you an idea of how the feeds would appear to you in Outlook:


Web alerting and search agents crawl the web to find updated web pages containing keywords and search terms specified by you, regardless of whether those sites have an RSS facility e.g. I have set up Google alerts to monitor any new content on the web containing my name or those of my clients. Yotify is another agent which works in a similar way. While I use these services and do find them of use, I don't fully rely on them. With Google Alerts you will only be notified of news stories appearing in the top 10 or top 20 search results, depending on the type of content you have specified, so don't use the service as a replacement for a good old-fashioned Google search. You can also specify whether you want to receive alerting emails on a daily, weekly or 'as it happens' basis. Selection of appropriate search terms will also impact on the results you get, as it will with any search you execute in a search engine.

There are a number of fee-based news aggregation and media monitoring services out there, probably suitable for larger firms with dedicated business development and KM functions or for those firms who are regularly involved with large-scale litigation cases.

I also use Google Alerts for my personal use. As I'm a die-hard, red-blooded Munster Rugby supporter, I've set up an alert for all stories relating to Munster Rugby! This is a Google Alert I received today:

Getting back to the idea of PKM, it's up to you to carefully manage your feeds and alerts. Update and delete them according to your changing requirements, otherwise your Inbox will become clogged up, you'll become a victim of information fatigue and your competitors will be sniffing out the story!

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