Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Google+ Adds Value to Corporate Legal Management


I thought this was a very insightful article on Google+ and its application to corporate law departments. Enjoy:

"If managing is hard, co-managing can at times seem to be nearly impossible. In-house lawyers are necessarily co-managers. In-house lawyers guide a company having matters, large and small, requiring legal input and permissions, but such matters are always part of a larger business project, the operational aspects of which are managed by business personnel, a group of nonlawyers.
As company lawyers co-manage, they are required to sift through large volumes of information. They view data on operational processes. They consider content concerning regulations covering the activity. They then must deliver either green-light decisions or concise, digestible explanations to their lay audience of some law-based obstacle to the effort.
Corporate counsel are also expected to keep up with their professional development. They engage in their own networking, their own associative activities, not to mention their communities.
Before 2011, company lawyers could, in addition to applying time-tested tools of the legal trade -- long hours and grim determination -- find some aid for their task in rudimentary office technology, a gamut of PC-based tools from email software to word processing and graphic presentation programs, to newish custom-built corporate knowledge wikis. This year has seen these old tricks joined by somewhat expensive new enterprise customer relationship management technologies.
But this year, the corporate legal department has something new, powerful, and ultimately inexpensive, a technology that might allow them to quiet the baying business types and vastly increase their effective participation in companywide projects. A new tool of information distribution, a tool for core management tasks.
The new wonder is Google+.
Google+, sometimes written Google Plus, is new online software connected to the search giant's Google.com website. Originally conceived as a platform for social networking and accepted by the press as a competitor to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the software has been relabeled by diverse and sundry corporate managers as a business tool enabling daily management tasks.
What can in-house lawyers do with Google+, and while we're talking, how does the service even work?
Google+ is software that, once activated, lives in a bar at the top of the lawyer's browser atwww.google.com. Once the browser icon is double-clicked within Windows or MacOS, and the Google homepage displays, Google+ can be accessed in less than a second.
Google+ accounts are opened by individuals, so lawyer by lawyer, and business employee by business employee. The accounts are highly customizable, however, making it no great chore for a single company to direct its individual Google+ users to set up their accounts in a company-designed, standardized way.
A Google+ account presents a user with a white screen divided into three vertical columns. In the left column, the user defines what Google calls Circles, but which the lawyer may more profitably think of as channels, as in cable television or satellite radio channels. The user defines a new Circle, and places anywhere from one to many thousands of her counterparts into it.
The center column is divided into two parts, an interface for sending out content to any or all of the user's Circles, and a display where inbound content from whichever Circle the user selects -- changing Circles feels like changing channels on a television -- scrolls out, in the way that alerts on news sites do. Overall, the Google+ interface is clean and minimalistic, and while at first glance aspects of it seem awfully similar to Facebook, in business use it can have very little in common with the social networking phenomenon.
The content the Google+ user sends and receives is currently limited to text, photos, videos, and HTML links -- there is not yet provision for attaching files such as PDFs to outgoing units of content. Google+ is designed to integrate with Google's popular web-based productivity tools: Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, and Google Docs. Google+ is also free.
The management magic of Google+ lies in the Circles, users' self-defined channels of two-way information delivery. The lawyer manages a small support staff? He now has a Circle they each subscribe to, and he spends the first 60 seconds of the work day advising them of a special meeting in their workspace he needs help with.
The lawyer is tasked with answering outside vendor questions on third-party claims? She maintains a Circle for the vendor contacts she liaises with and sends links to the company's model claim response letters, answers questions, and allows the contacts to post follow-up comments.
Does counsel feel that input from the company's industrial safety expert would aid an exchange? If she does, and the company has set him up with an account, she can include him in the conversation by including his name in her content and adding a plus symbol just ahead of it.
The lawyer needs to discuss a visual image, perhaps evidence of an accident or a security-camera film? Securely viewing and commenting on photo and video images is done with ease, between two people, or among an entire internal task force.
The lawyer sets aside blocks of time to proofread and comment on active litigation pleadings drafted by outside counsel? In yet another Google+ Circle peopled with the lawyers the lawyer manages, he will broadcast, in a matter of seconds, that this coming week he will be able to review work delivered to him between Monday morning and Tuesday at noon, but not thereafter.
Pick any of a hundred other tasks, projects or initiatives that the same in-house lawyer may participate in -- an Association of Corporate Counsel committee, the directorate of a local nonprofit, a school alumni group, a political organization -- and the lawyer as a user of Google+ will find a discrete interest group that may be Circled and thereafter managed with both efficiency and engagement.
To paint a vivid picture of the difference between managing with last year's office technology and managing with Google+, picture the in-house lawyer as the farmer husbanding a very large, diversely planted and terraced farm. Before, she was running here with a bucket, there with a hose, trying to get cultivating water distributed to each of the far-flung fields that make up her holdings before the sun could set. But now, it's as if she has installed an ultra-modern system of precision irrigation. With a tap and a few keystrokes to a single interface, she is now irrigating, distributing precise quantities of water to precisely defined areas at selected times of day and at optimal intervals.
Google+ as a service is the information management equivalent of the agricultural innovation of modern irrigation. The lawyer begins a workday facing a vast estate with endless needs for attention. Against many-numbered issues that need tending with a high throughput of units of lawyer-supplied or enabled information, the lawyer automates, regulates, measures, and times the delivery of what is needed. And does it all faster; in much less time than it previously took to do similar tasks with less automated methods. 
- Michael Cavendish"