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Taming Email Overload
Law Technology News
Email overload remains one of lawyers' biggest challenges. Overflowing inboxes leave attorneys with a constant sense of guilt for not reading or responding to colleagues or, worse, clients. Then there's the web's content explosion how are busy lawyers to find and read everything they need to serve their clients?
Their challenge translates into an opportunity for those of us who help lawyers meet client needs. We must find ways to help attorneys focus their limited time on the information that's critical now. At White & Case, we divided this problem in two: 1) internal firm information and 2) external news from outside the firm.
Effectively managing attention requires wrangling both external information (aka current awareness) and internal communication. Our firm's analysis concluded that an effective internal approach must include:
» Cultural etiquette: Firms must establish cultural standards that encourage efficient communications, and set expectations for reducing email-dependency by sending and replying to fewer emails. For example, a group of our associates recommended a firmwide email protocol. Even simple rules can help such as when not to reply-to-all, or not responding with only "Thanks," and if you only need the subject line to communicate, complete the message with <end> so the recipient knows she doesn't have to open the email.
» Alternatives to email: Promote the use of collaborative communication tools in lieu of traditional messaging channels, including discussion boards, wikis, and other alternatives to email that help users control participation and frequency of alerts. And don't forget the most social of media phone calls and face-to-face meetings.
» Technology tools: With email, use rules and alerts to manage growing inboxes. See bit.ly/UsingOutlook for recommendations on how to "Communicate Professionally with Outlook." And watch for an exciting new development the emergence of "predictive filing" where, like predictive coding in e-discovery, email systems will deduce filing patterns to help users with email records retention protocols.
While internal emails usually focus on task management, external emails keep us up to date with legal and business developments. Recognizing the daily need "to boil the ocean" of external information, White & Case sought a new way to offer our lawyers the ability to set automatic notifications (alerts) on the developments that are most relevant for their practices and clients.
We wanted to give them the opportunity and ability to control what they read and when they receive it. Our goal is to implement technology that intelligently routes information that is, a system that gathers data from multiple channels, recognizes the intrinsic value of each item, and brings it to the attention of the right lawyer with the right level of urgency. Such a system requires the following:
» Access: Our first goal is to simplify access to relevant information. As information access becomes commoditized, easier to navigate, and relatively inexpensive, the challenge is no longer to find information but to determine what information is relevant and who are the trusted sources.
Our intention is to augment free resources with licenses to fee-based content providers by monitoring a variety of resource types: RSS feeds, web scrapes , email alerts, paid content, free content across news, commentary, cases, legislation, journals and more.
Our librarians identify valuable information sources and guide our lawyers and other professionals about which sources are most relevant and cost-effective.
» Focus: Even after narrowing content flow to only high-value sources, we will still have too much information. We hope to reduce the information pile to the most meaningful data through search and editorial filters:
On the social web, people rely on recommendations from their trusted network. Similarly, as business and information grow, the ability to rely on a professional's judgment is crucial.
Information from trusted external sources will be tailored by team members who are dedicated to a specific practice or client industry. They include professional support lawyers, legal assistants, librarians, competitive intelligence researchers, communications staff, and business development personnel.
» Automated alerts: With our approach of leveraging broad content access and targeted filters, our automated system will then deliver to our internal clients a single daily email with pre-selected, highly relevant content.
We also anticipate these additional advantages:
» Reducing the number of "did you see" emails, as everyone will know that their group received the same "push."
» Leveraging system metrics that show activity for all subscription and free resources. This will help White & Case evaluate effectiveness of our choices and will influence buying decisions in the future.
» Allowing our information personnel to effectively deliver high-value content rather than copying web links, pasting, curating, re-reading, and manually distributing information.
With these goals in mind, we researched the market for an alert/current awareness system that included a search engine capable of reading a wide variety of targeted resources, applying filters, and grouping resources of varying mediums together.
We looked at most known vendors in the field, including Attensa, InfoNgen, Northern Light, Ozmosys, Sysero, and Sydney Plus. We conducted an unsuccessful pilot project with one vendor (but cannot identify which one due to non-disclosure agreements).
We then discovered U.K.-based Linex Systems (Legal INformation EXchange, www.linexsystems.com).
After reading an insightful tweet by Rebecca Gebhardt, Linex's marketing director, I invited her to our New York office, where her demonstration persuaded us to initiate an in-house pilot.
Forty lawyers are currently receiving daily alerts that are created by our personel in White & Case's library and research, professional support, competitive intelligence, business development, and communications units.
The Linex platform is content-agnostic and presents all necessary resources in the same format and in a single consolidated view. Because it is not owned by one of the big publishers, it does not have restrictions on what content can be added. This flexibility allowed us to combine our own resource library and Linex's archive of free sources into a single-search repository.
Editor's note: White & Case declined to provide cost information due to a non-disclosure agreement, so Law Technology News asked Linex about typical costs. Marketing Director Rebecca Gebhardt explained that prices "always depend on the exact package purchased by any client. However, as a ballpark figure, I would say that a 500-lawyer firm would be spending $30,000 per year, coming to $5 per lawyer per month."
Results of our pilot user survey are positive. Based on this encouraging news, we decided to move our pilot test to a live, extended environment to ensure that the system can scale to meet the needs of our 2,000 attorneys in our 38 offices.
As our rollout continues, we will measure our lawyers' satisfaction with how well we're helping them to conquer information overload.
This article originally appeared in Law Technology News.
Attorney Oz Benamram is White & Case's chief knowledge officer, based in New York City. Email: Oz.Benamram@whitecase.com.