Wiki-lawyering: New Industry Trend?

The word “wiki”—not coincidentally—means “quick” in Hawaiian. Wiki sites, or web pages that can be collaboratively and quickly edited by multiple browsers, were first created by Ward Cunningham in 1994.

Cunningham created WikiWikiWeb to facilitate communication between software developers for his company’s website, c2.com. The name was borne from a passing, positive memory of the Wiki Wiki Shuttle at Honolulu International Airport.[1]

Since Cunningham’s site, wiki applications and websites spread rapidly. At first, wikis were known almost exclusively among programmers and web-industry professionals as a way to add, modify, or delete content via a web browser using simplified markup language or rich-text editor.

However, in 2001, wikis became popular among the general public. A new, free content encyclopedia, Wikipedia, placed the common man in charge of the breadth and expertise of encyclopedic information.

Since then, Wikipedia has inspired a variety of other wiki-based sites.

The collaborative nature of wikis, in addition to the sheer size of publicly accessed content systems on the Internet, contributed to the idea’s instant success.

And this same success, initially obtained by wikis from collaborative editing, can also be harnessed by law firms.

Take, for example, the community forum reddit. The website reddit allows users to contribute information and online articles of interest to a roundtable, organized by subject. Then, readers are allowed to respond via comments and “up and down votes,” which determine the contributing individual’s standing within the forum.

Today, in the “law” reddit, a user posed the question: “What is the correct way in contacting a lawyer and requesting he/she create a contract for my online business? I’ve e-mailed about 5 and I’ve got 0 replies. All my e-mails were written professionally but I feel like I’m doing it wrong.”

The 21 subsequent comments—presumably by lawyers—answer the question seamlessly.

1. Call, don’t e-mail for help.

Blackmun responds, “Law firms gets hundreds of scam attempts by e-mail, it’s a really bad way to contact us.”

Further down the forum chain, another user—tgidenver—offers up examples of what spam e-mail lawyers receive:

“Dear Counsel,
I’m in the process of attaining an attorney that will assist me in collecting funds that i loaned a friend that currently resides in your jurisdiction. Please do advise if this is a case you can assist me with, to enable me furnish you with more details.
Truly yours Victoria I. Gottschalk”

It’s true, these days, e-mail is full of spam. As a result, e-mails from real people often get lumped into trash folders with fake, online ones.

The advice on reddit is sound.

Go for the old-school approach and pick up the phone. Calling an attorney will also help clarify the issue at hand. What kind of contract do you need? What is the time-frame? What is your budget?

Furthermore, it’s possible the law firm you’ve contacted doesn’t specialize in the type of contract you are looking for, at which point, a prospective client should ask for a referral.

Over the phone, this process can take as little as five minutes. A series of e-mail chains, however, can take a few days before either party is finally on the same page. In most cases, the digital conclusion will be: please give us a call at your convenience.

2. Get a referral.

The second bit of advice on reddit is also quite valuable: Seek a referral.   In any people-oriented profession—from the doctor’s office to local restaurants—a good recommendation of service is vital.

“Someone you know has used an attorney they like, so get his/her name and call for a referral. It can be any kind of attorney—someone who does divorces will know a good contract attorney and set you up.

It’s no bother, either. Referrals are a big professional networking tool. Giving one is a compliment, some income and will get you referrals. The referring attorney will probably get a lunch from it, too.”

Isn’t that easy?  

3. Seek legal counsel by searching on your State Bar Association’s website.

Finally, if you don’t know who to ask for a referral, a person can always peruse their home State Bar Association website.   But, not all lawyers agree on this issue. Take user 17usc’s advice, for instance:

“In my state, Bar Association referrals come in two flavors: 1) unscreened list of every lawyer in the state; or 2) barely screened (years in practice) list of every lawyer who’s paid to get referrals from the Bar Association.  

I’d suggest finding a business that seems to have its act together and asking who they use; or finding a lawyer you like and trust in any field, and asking who they recommend for this work.”

So, need a contract for your small business franchise? Go to your local Starbucks—that one that always seems to be busy—and see if they’re happy with their legal counsel. Get names and numbers.

Or, does your neighborhood have a family-run restaurant, owned and successfully run for decades? Chat your way into some contact information during breakfast one day.

Reddit—a community forum with real-time, real-people comments and contributions—is a great source of information for both lawyers and clients.

There, individuals receive free advice for their legal questions. And lawyers, for their turn, keep in touch with the issues plaguing potential clients in their area.

So, for tomorrow’s querying user, use reddit (or similar sites) as a marketing and market research tool for your firm. It’s a great way to keep up with the happenings of current and future clients.

Plus, you may just find bountiful resources to your own legal-reference questions. Wiki-lawyering, the next wave of the future?    

-WB

Sources:
1. The history of wikis was aptly taken from Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_wikis

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