The Firms

January 26, 2009 5:30 AM

Welcome to the Future: Would Henry V Have Used Web 2.0 at Agincourt?

Posted by Paul Lippe

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day

When Shakespeare put these words in Henry V's mouth on the eve of Agincourt in 1415, he had in mind the central role that leadership and culture play on any battlefield.

But as Bernard Cornwall writes in his new book, Agincourt, a balanced history would give at least as much credit to Henry's embrace of the longbow, the decisive technology that allowed well-trained English archers to overcome French superiority in knights and armor to gain a shocking victory.

From the perspective of 2009, it may be a bit jarring to hear the longbow referred to as "technology"; but as an old boss of mine used to say, "technology is anything that didn't exist when you were a kid--if it did exist, to you it's just stuff."  So the latest computer program is no more or less "technology" than the pencil or the longbow--all are tools that some humans create and other humans use. 

To say that the history of the world is the history of the interplay between leadership, culture, and new tools is no exaggeration. Vibrant cultures, whether at the level of an organization or a society, find ways to assimilate new tools while preserving core values; sclerotic cultures work to protect the status quo and fear change. As a result, the advantage of new tools goes to upstarts more willing to embrace the new to gain an edge. As I have suggested many times, because law has been in a boom for a generation, it has exercised less of its innate ability to innovate and adapt--it has been slower to adopt new tools than other fields which manage complexity.

I want to offer a brief primer on the set of Web services referred to collectively as "Web 2.0," because I think this collection will be the most consequential tool for lawyers in our lifetime, and because I hear about a lot of confusion, as these tools first emerged in non-professional contexts. I welcome debate as to whether these particular tools will be as consequential as I suggest, or in what time frame.

First, a definition. The term Web 2.0 was popularized by Tim O'Reilly in 2004 to refer to the next generation on the Web. Web 2.0 is generally used to refer to online systems of user generated content, where the software is hosted somewhere, usually by a third party. In terms of its organizational model, Web 2.0 is different from enterprise or PC software, because the software is not resident in the company or on the PC, and usage is generally (although not always, as we'll discuss below) driven by individuals as opposed to organizations. Like any fairly complex thing, Web 2.0 is not amenable to one single definition.The best resource on how lawyers can approach Web 2.0 is the Jaffe white paper.

For our purposes, it is probably best to think of Web 2.0 in three buckets: mechanisms, contexts, and possible consequences. Some folks conflate certain Web 2.0 contexts (e.g., MySpace) with the characteristics of the underlying mechanisms, so it's helpful to start by teasing them apart. In the interests of length, I will address consequences in future posts.


A Wiki is an online editing and collaboration system organized around a document. Think of a Wiki as a version of Word that is Web-based and allows anyone (with permission) to access and work in. The end product is a collaborative document that can be published both online or off.

Blogs are the simplest way to publish online. Blogs typically involve a single author, recurring perspective, periodic publishing.  Anyone can comment, but not edit--think newspaper column. A blog is no more or less likely to yield profound expression than a pencil or typewriter--it is up to the individual author. One nice characteristic of a blog is that because it is ongoing, each post doesn't need to purport to be complete, and is intended to invite conversation.  Law firm alerts and publications will move to blogs because they can be done more cheaply and in a way that will better engage clients.  

A forum is a mechanism for an online conversation. Unlike a blog, a forum is multiauthor; unlike a wiki, the conversation is an end in itself, as opposed to yielding an integrated document. Online forums have been used in one form or other for at least 30 years; their antecedent in law is the work of bar committees or the notice and comment period for a new proposed regulation. In a world where lots of lawyers have knowledge (including clients), sophisticated lawyers recognize that the best way to market themselves is via conversations.

A profile is a Web page where an individual can convey information about themselves (think Martindale profiles or individual lawyer profiles on their firm Web site), define their relationships with others (a 'connection' or 'friend'), or aggregate incoming information. In any setting, lawyers quickly figure out their "network connectivitity" to other lawyers and clients.

Twitter is a way for individuals to share quick thoughts with other individuals who "follow" them - it's referred to as a "micro blog." Twitter combines elements of texting, the extended absence greeting of an e-mail or voicemail system, the 'status' in a social network profile, and a very lightweight blog.

A social network is a community of profiles and other Web 2.0 tools. (See discussion of Facebook and LinkedIn below).

RSS is a mechanism for pushing some of this information to people who want to receive it, so that instead of affirmatively pushing a button to send an e-mail, certainly classes of information are automatically set to subscribers.


Each of the mechanisms described above can be used in different contexts.

Wikipedia is an open community of readers, authors, and editors who use a wiki to create and maintain a comprehensive encyclopedia on matters ranging from the origin of the universe to the latest episode of Gossip Girl. There are tens of millions of readers, hundreds of thousands of contributors, but smaller number of folks who function as editors. Of course there are occasionally inaccurate or polemical edits, but those are quickly corrected.

Facebook is a password protected membership community of profiles which makes use of several of the tools defined above (except for wikis). Because Facebook started at Harvard as a replacement for the traditional Freshman Facebook, it has a youthful flavor, and emphasizes social interaction. Today, most baby boomer parents I know are on Facebook and use it to keep track of old classmates or (when allowed) their kids. Getting updates from your network is often quite engaging, but often the chaff will crowd out the wheat.    

LinkedIn offers functionally that is very similar to Facebook, but its origins are as a "professional" networking tool, so its membership is older and its purpose is generally business-related. LinkedIn is a great resource for keeping track of contact information and finding basic profiles/bios of people you are meeting. LinkedIn suffers from two problems--the network is very large and cross-industry, so there tends to be a lack of focus, and it was started as a tool to help salespeople find contacts within an organization, so it tends to have a lot of "linking up." As a result, more senior people (including in-house lawyers) avoid it because they get lots of requests without much benefit. 

Enterprise systems. Companies like Cisco have begun to use Web 2.0 integrated systems as a collaboration and productivity tool within the legal department and with select outside firms. Cisco uses a sophisticated wiki to manage its Exchange system to track provisions, changes and negotiating positions across its many contract types.  Because it controls access to the system, Cisco can invite outside counsel in on specific conversations to provide privileged advice.    


A thorough discussion of possible Consequences will come in future posts. For now, let me briefly suggest that Web 2.0 will make the legal world more open and more efficient, and in so doing, create some change. And therein lies the rub.

If using a new tool were as simple as plugging in a new toaster oven, everyone would do it; but, as at Agincourt, new tools require training, experimentation, new tactics, and new organizational models. The longbow was not patented, not a trade secret. The French had a few, but since they had won before and enjoyed numerical superiority, they saw no need to go to the trouble to empower the archers at the expense of the knights.

As I talk to various folks in the world of law, they seem to be split 50-50 between those who are seriously developing a roadmap for change and those who have rounded up the usual suspects to reassure themselves that nothing needs to change.

Of course Shakespeare had a term for leaders who ignore new tools and new realities because they don't want to make the effort to change and fear upending traditional hierarchies.

Dead Frenchmen.

Make a comment

Comments (0)
Save & Share: Facebook | Del.ic.ious | | Email |

Reprints & Permissions


Report offensive comments to The Am Law Daily.

The comments to this entry are closed.

By: TwitterButtons.com

From the Newswire

Sign up to receive Legal Blog Watch by email
View a Sample