9 July 2001
Talking with the client enables one to get a feel for the case and the myriad of political nuances that can make or break a deal. Talking with colleagues enables one to hone the strategy for a case or a deal. And then, of course, there's the matter of billing hours. Yes, the business of the law is premised on discussion.
And in the brave world of new media, discussion equates to chat. Internet chat has been around for a long time, but of course it has been the province of the geek, or let's be honest, the creep.
Internet-based chat is big business - the top sites rely on it for eyeballs to feed to their advertisers, but now it's set to invade big business.
Yahoo! Is getting ready to release a version of its chat software Yahoo! Messenger. The company aims to target large organisations as part of its aim to turn its consumer services into software that it can sell to businesses.
The news follows hot on the heels of a survey from analysts Frost & Sullivan, which claims that web-conferencing services are about to take off in Europe, allowing flexible working and a reduction in travel costs. In its report, Frost & Sullivan predicts that revenues for conferencing providers will rise to more than $500m (£353.1m) by 2007.
The slow roll out of Broadband in the UK has hampered the take-up of the technology, and the UK culture of business lunches and face-to-face meetings creates some resistance, but the analysts believe business will soon be chatting online.
Video-conferencing has been around for some time, allowing managers to cut back on Concorde flights, teams to see each other and amateur psychologists to study body language. But web-conferencing lifts the process to a whole new level, allowing teams to not only see and hear each other, but also to work on a common document or even a virtual whiteboard.
Both sorts of internet-enabled collaboration are versions of that old favourite peer-to-peer networking, which will open up a new space built around common ownership of space and time.
Now the more paranoid of practice managers will be reaching for the memo pad and the nanny software at the very thought of unauthorised and uncontrolled communication spaces opening up, but they would be wrong. Not only do these technologies enable more effective working, particularly in firms where the concept of a single head office is a nonsense, but the new virtual workspace also promises closer relationships.
One of the few clear things that has emerged from the new media e-volution is that networks make powerful relationships, and if a business goes along with that network effect it prospers; and if it fights, it fails.
If firms give their lawyers new ways of communicating and working with colleagues seamlessly and powerfully, and also ways of developing relationships with those colleagues in the increasingly impersonal world of the modern firm, they will have closer and more effective teams.
They may chat about Big Brother. Yes, they might flirt, or, heaven forbid, talk about the firm. But they will also talk about the case and develop the sorts of relationships and networks that they can use when they need help, support or advice. And as Yahoo! knows, they will develop a loyalty to the company that made their chat and their lives easier.