Thursday, December 04, 2003

New Directions for Paralegals?

Off a google search for paralegal and web log, I found an entry on Robert Ambrogi’s Legal Line that perked my ears up. Ambrogi has an annotated link to a virtual paralegal site that charges for legal support of attorneys via the web. Interesting to think about issues associated with this site. For example, how well is it doing? Could this be a new avenue for paralegals? What kinds of ethical questions, if any, are raised?

A brief note about writing this blog

I just wanted to end with a personal comment about the experience of writing this blog. One of the most frustrating experiences has been the loss of drafted material that disappeared upon saving or upon publishing. (Question: Where do the posts go when they are saved versus published?) So, as with several other posts in this blog, this is an attempt to recreate already drafted material. Aside from the technical blunders, I have enjoyed putting this blog together.

I have begun to learn about the technologies behind blogging and have begun to understand a little the conventions of blogs. I think that the entries below constitute writing against the blogger grain, because the writing attempts to take on essay-like qualities of cohesiveness and academic tone. In future posts, I hope to strike a better balance between personal commentary, humor, and substantive posting on legal issues or sites. I also hope to play with the template design features, to add a page about the author, and to open the page to comments from readers. If you want to add comments to the page, then e-mail me at APinkston@aol.com.

Thanks for reading and Happy Blogging!

(FYI, if you are reading this as my project for Law Office Management, please read the entries in reverse order--earliest post to the most recent. With any luck, it will make more sense that way ;-) )
Sites that Discuss Legal Issues related to Blogs

A reasonably new blog, Blogbook.org, has begun a virtual conversation about legal blogs that attempts to establish some standards of style, content, and citation for blawgs. The site states its purpose as "a self-dubbed 'Open Source Law Project.' These postings are intended to facilitate discussions around the technical, stylistic and ethical components of legal blogging. If you are a legal blogger (or would like to become one), please consider and weigh in on some of these issues." Despite a somewhat limited view of who may author a legal blog ("It's not just a blog written by a lawyer, law student, judge or law professor."--Notice any missing legal scholars or practitioners?), the blog does raise several useful questions about ethical concerns an blogging and has some response commentary from readers. Postings ask useful questions about the level of care that is required for legal practicioners in archiving, tracing, and documenting blogs. It also touches on ethical issues of marketing via blogs. One entry points to a U.S. Court of Appeals case that directly addresses issues concerned with blogging: Batzel v. Smith.

A second site that directly addresses legal and ethical questions that blawgs raise is part of the information from ClickZ's Weblog Business Strategies 2003 Conference & Expo. A portion of the conference dealt with "The Law of the Blog." Unfortunately, neither transcripts nor summaries of the panel's discussion are included in the brief blurb about the panel. The teaser does briefly outline a few areas for discussion:
• Who owns the content, employer or employee blogger?
• The applicability of Federal and State advertising laws.
• Defamation and corporate disparagement.
• Liabilities for advice and opinions: The use and misuse of intellectual property.
• Protecting the company's trade secrets and confidential business information.

More discussions of blawgs and legal/ethical issues surely abound across the numerous blawgs out there; however, I have yet to discover them.

Professional, Ethical, and Other issues for Paralegals Creating Blawgs

While I am not aware of any law suits involving blogs or blawgs, there are several areas where blogs by paralegals could pose problems.

While many might find the genre of journal-like blog posts tempting, in the legal profession it could be tricky. I found through a google search several blogs by paralegals that might, at worst, beg questions of professionalism and, at best, make the workplace tense if co-workers were to read them. Several paralegals keep (or have kept) posts that chronicle their law office experiences. One of the most vehement examples is on Dead Mule Southern Blog. The author provides a somewhat literary rant about how bad their paralegal job was. The degree to which the an author complains, specifically about conflicts at work, calls into question their professionalism and their judgment in posting it out on the web.

As for ethical considerations, bloggers in the legal community need to be careful on several fronts. One method of dealing with confidentiality issues is to discuss cases with all of the identifying details removed. But most avoid discussing personal cases and discuss the legal issues in the abstract. Though blogs can be password protected, I would avoid posting anything that you would not want other eyes to see, ie a draft of your legal memo about a prospective case. I think that annotated lists of useful internet research should not pose significant confidentiality issues. Another potential problem could be the issue of the unauthorized practice of law. Many legal professionals have disclaimer blurbs that expressly deny any use of their content as legal advice. Both Pamela Jones and Denise Howell have good examples of these disclaimers. Many attorneys use blogs as marketing tools, which may have ethical considerations that paralegals may want to research before publishing a new blog for his or her firm.

Other considerations for paralegals are practical. Namely, paralegals may not have the time or the technological literacy to create and publish their own blogs. What makes a blog so dynamic is frequent substantive posting. This entails not only the time to write the posts, but also to read and keep up with the news, blawgs, law reviews, etc. that would be the subject of the posts. Also, it is highly likely that blogging would need to be done on the paralegal's own time away from the office, and many paralegals may not feel that there is sufficient motivation for keeping up a blog. How will it count in their professional standing at their firm? Will the blog (and the technology learning behind it) be considered when the paralegal goes up for promotion or raises?

Blawgs by Paralegals

KiMformation is a blawg by litigation paralegal, Kim Plonsky. She describes her blog as "An upstart blog that seeks to create a resource for paralegals, with a focus on emerging technology, and a forum where paralegals can exchange ideas, tips, and tricks." Many of her posts focus on Word processing software, case management programs, Adobe Acrobat, and litigation software. She has links to Louisiana legal links and other publications by her. Her cite is a good example of the kinds of information that experienced paralegals can share with our community.

Groklaw is a blawg that is published by a Pamela Jones and has been favorably reviewed on Blawg.org.
GROKLAW tracks SCO lawsuit
Posted on Thursday, November 20 @ 07:57:03 EST by admin

A great use of the blawg medium is being showcased by paralegal Pamela Jones, who maintains the blawg site GROKLAW. GROKLAW is becoming a go-to resource for the latest information on the SCO - LINUX allegations and lawsuit. Ms. Jones has created an archive of legal documents as well as providing timely updates as to news and information regarding developments in the case.
In reviewing the materials that have been archived on GROKLAW, it is clear that anyone performing legal research on the topic of LINUX licensing and the pending SCO claims, would find the site useful. Stop by at GROKLAW.com.

The Niqabi Paralegal is a blog that focuses on "legal issues facing Muslims in the United States and other topics of interest." The author, Al-Muhajabah, is a volunteer paralegal for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Her posts all center on islamic issues with the occasional foray into gender issues. She cites law reviews, her own memos, and case law. She has an extensive list of law blogs (many of which I am not familiar with and will check out a.s.a.p.) and a list of blawg directories. Her blog also contains search capabilities and a subscribe function that allows readers to get e-mail updates when she makes new posts. The blog is the a tech-savvy representation of a substantive, content rich legal blog.

Paralegals Authoring Blogs

A quick trip to Blawg.org will show you that blogs authored by paralegals are not terribly numerous; however, I think that they will grow in popularity. I want to promote blogs for paralegals as research tools that they author themselves. Rather than relying on filters created by others, paralegals can create their own legal blogs to filter through the mass of information on the web that is useful to them. This information, while likely overlapping with relevant information for attorneys, may be slightly different for paralegals.

Furthermore, paralegals can use private or public blogs to help them to manage their internet research. By downloading Google's toolbar, posting a website and annotation to a blog is as easy as clicking on the "BlogThis!" icon across the top of an internet browser. This makes following a cyber trail during internet research sessions much easier than trying to keep notes in Word or on paper. I know from my own experience that bookmarking in browser software can be less than helpful if you do research from multiple computers and if you aren't careful to organize it well.

Blogs also can be important in legal research for how they can keep an astute paralegal informed. Not only is there a proliferation of news services that use blog technology, there are legal specific news blogs: The Daily Whirl and My deTod. In researching individuals and companies, being familiar with how to navigate the blog phenomenon may help to unearth some interesting posts. Technologies to help keyword search through blogs are being developed but are not yet reliable. Many of the search engines require that you register your blog with them to make them searchable. Here are a few of these: Blog Search Engine, and Technorati.com. You can also view a list of recently changed blogs at Weblogs.com. At this point, the difficulty in really getting useful content searches out of blogs might make it hard to find blogs that aren't terribly popular or well linked to other blogs.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Blawgs as Research Tools

Blogs in internet legal research act as finding tools. Most of the links will point you to secondary sources and mainstream media sources. Many of the blawgs focus on a specific topic, even to the point that some of the entries can look a little foreign to the uninitiated. Since there are so many, it is very difficult to categorize them. The best way to get a feel for them is to browse through several. Some overview articles of legal blogs are:

If you are shorter on time, the following three sites are a good place to start for general legal blog content.

Ernie the Attorney is, according to Robert Ambrogi, one of the most popular blawgs. His new blog has categories to help weed through his posts, lists of books, music, blogs, and web sites he likes, and a photo album. He has an "Outline of Law Blogs" that helps to weed through the growing blawgs. His posts cover a fair amount of blog related technology issues. For example, he has many posts that directly add his voice to debates that he finds in other media about the value of blogs in the legal profession. Just from this entry, you can see Ernie's wide knowledge of the legal blogging community, his style of posting, and the kind of commentary that his posts evoke. Ernie's blog is well-rounded, well designed, and easily navigable, even without a search feature. (If at this point you're furrowing your brow in consternation over this newfangled blog phenomenon, you may want to check out Ernie's brother's post.)

Denise Howell, an apellate and intellectual property lawyer, is the author of Bag and Baggage, a blog that posts on general legal issues and follows blawgs quite extensively. I like this site for the sense of community that comes right off the bat with her picture of her newborn baby and posts thanking contributors to her virtual baby shower. Her professional ethos is supported by posts further down the home page concerning "Today's New Blawg" and her responses to a professional presentation that she attended. Her credibility as a good person to be filtering legal blogs is also bolstered by her contributions to the legal community listed on her "about" page. For example, she was a panelist at a 2002 conference on blogs and the law at Yale University Law School. Other selling points for her site are: she has links to other blawgs organized by content areas and a google search for her site.

Blawg.org is like a superstore for legal blogs. It has a nifty most popular blawg ranking on it's homepage and blawgs organized by content areas and by types of authors. Noteably, it includes blawgs by paralegals and by legal secretaries. It has tips on starting blogs and posts on blog related technologies. A major selling point is that the site is searchable.

"Blog" Defined

The web log's form is highly tied to its purpose. Essentially, web logs are annotated lists of hyperlinks to various other web sites, essays, documents, etc. Biz Stone in Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content provides a simple definition of web logs, a.k.a. weblogs or blogs. A blog is a web site "made up of brief, frequently updated posts that are arranged chronologically" (Stone 9). While this definition satifies a general description of what a blog is, it does not address all of the common characteristics of blogs as they are in use today.

Blogs are a unique blend of publication on the web, specifically because they can allow direct audience response and thereby create a dynamic space for communal exchange of ideas and information. The community aspect is highlighted in Molly Kilmer Flood's definition of "blog" in "Blog Me", a brief article on the American Bar Association's website: "A blog is a web site that can be continually updated by one or more people. Blogs combine the community aspects of chat rooms or instant messaging and the knowledge sharing of WebBoards and LISTSERV ® with a uniform web design. Unlike web pages, they are extremely easy for computer novices to start and maintain." Public blogs are those that can invite others to participate by posting comments. Not all blogs are public; many are private and content is controlled entirely by one author. Some of the conventions of blog design have also promoted the communal aspect of blogging. For example, down either side margin of the screen, people often post a list of other blogs that they read frequently or that are authored by people that they know (Stone 9). Many of the legal blogs also have frequent entries that review or link to new blawgs on the scene. Entries often address other blog authors in the legal field and their personal acheivements, life changes, professional successes, etc. The mix of personal and professional posting makes the virtual community ethos compelling.

Parablawg--Purpose in Context

I'm limiting the scope of my project by writing this blog as an introduction for my classmates to blogs and their use in the legal profession. I specifically am interested in blogs created both by and for paralegals and professional issues that are raised by the use of blogs in legal work; however, I will address briefly some general legal blogs or blawgs.

My interest in this topic arose from a curiosity about the explosion of blogs that I was running across in another research area. It seemed that all of a sudden blogging was the web publishing medium of choice, and I was completely clueless as to what blogs were, what powers them, and how technologically they differed from regular web sites. So, in the course of writing and designing this blog, I'm learning more about what software and technology literacy is needed to create a blog. With such easy sites as, Blogger, Radio Userland and Salon.com, no real knowledge of html is needed to be able to publish a simple blog. Armed with a little knowledge of html, these simple pages can be made a little more interesting. This is where my technology literacy stops. For those who have working knowledge of FTP, Perl, CGI Scripts, RSS, Javascript, and cookies, other blogging software, like MoveableType and Greymatter, can help create even more complex sites (Stone 45-53). Also, if you purchase software or use opensource software, you will need to have web space that will support the type of web technology that you are using. If you want to have blog space on the Web that does not have advertisements on it, you will likely have to pay for it.

Also, my initial entries run counter to the purpose of blogs as it has evolved in the context of the internet explosion. Most accounts agree that the web logs came into existence in the late 1990s, and the term "web log" was coined in 1997. According to Biz Stone in Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content, these early web logs were:
closer to the media-filter variety. That is, they were a combination of annotated links to news articles and interesting sites with the occasional personal thought or maybe an essay. This was to be a model for future bloggers, or at least a jumping off point.
The typical blogger at this point served as a guide to the Internet, bringing his or her readers to unexplored sites on the web or news artilces on a subject of particular interest. The links would, of course, include commentary. Early bloggers often had an area of expertise and would follow a topic or several topics with their blog, making the blog a valuable resource to anyone else in that field.
Rebecca Blood's essay on the history of blogs begins with a similar account to Stone's of how blogs evolved and then moves to more of a manifesto about a potentially subversive technology gone awry. Historically, then, blogs have been lists of annotated links that provide people with a filter through which to view the growing information on the web. Blogs are meta-analyses of the growing information provided on various web sites.

(As an aside, this begins to sound like an exponential growth in information. Projects, like mine, talk about the blogs that talk about other information sites. It is providing commentary upon commentary upon commentary. Issues such as ethos play an important part in weeding through the blogs, as well as the hyperlinked web sites.)

As you can see, my blog works a little more like an essay and less like a blog, especially in these first few entries. I'm trying to maintain a thread of cohesiveness to provide a presentation of blogs to my classmates in a format that really promotes independent posts. Also, to maintain a narrative thread, readers must read from the bottom of the page (or from the earliest chronological post) to the top of the page (or the most recent chronological post). Usually, blogs can be read in any order with particular attention to the most recent posts. Aside from the underlying essay bent to these first entries, I try to stay pretty true to blog conventions of lists of annotated links with commentary (both personal and "objective") and independent topical posts.

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