Resistance to RSS?

It is human nature that people are resistant to change – moving house, working in a new job or dealing with a different culture. For years law firms have struggled with change: Xerox, Windows, faxes, Blackberry. However, as they adjusted, they realised how helpful it became. The feared element eventually became a blessing.

RSS, commonly known as Really Simple Syndication, is a new method of gathering information from online resources in a quick, convenient manner. It would seem that law firms would like to keep current and active in new data mining techniques, but introducing RSS can be tricky for some firms – old habits die hard.

In an informal survey among some of the large Dublin law firms, we noted that most current awareness responsibilities lie with PSLs or the library staff and none of them really use RSS feeds. Daily bulletins that summarise the headlines, newsletters that add to our influx of e-mails and occasional checkups on various websites seem to be the order of the day.

RSS does virtually the same routine, without email flooding and in less time. However, whilst larger firms around Dublin seem to stick with tried-and-trusted methods and resist progressing beyond the daily printed newspaper, it appears that the smaller law firms are the ones to grasp the RSS concept – some even broadcast their own feeds and use them to promote their bulletins on particular subjects.

For those of us still trying to introduce solicitors or trainees to RSS, the resistance to learning another new technology is part of the struggle. It becomes extremely frustrating when one is consistently refused from taking a mere 10 minutes out of someone’s schedule to demonstrate how feeds work – and yet they could save so much more than 10 minutes if they just learned how to use it!

It seems that the idea of saving time, reducing email, getting a jump on the competition and staying current with new developments is welcomed from a theoretical viewpoint. But “working smarter, not harder” is rarely capitalised on ”¦ unless it’s too late, costs a lot of money and/or is mandated by upper management.

Getting the message across

So how could you help convince your firm to start using RSS feeds?

Find the technology-savvy partners and/or associates in the firm. Also, try to take advantage of the learning curve of the trainee solicitors. Then have a lot of patience, because they’ll be sceptical about another new thing to learn.

Try to convince people to look beyond the printed newspaper (if your firm has a subscription). To start reading the online version can be a struggle for them, but a little push in the right direction can work. It could come to a matter of timing where you need to pounce on the opportunity when someone cannot find the information they need – let’s just say, hypothetically, if the physical newspaper isn’t available.

Create a short, concise slideshow or Powerpoint presentation to show the use of RSS in legal research, news gathering and current awareness. Or show one of the many videos such as “RSS in Plain English” which are available on YouTube and Send occasional emails to specific people informing them about recent stories, “breaking news” or “something that just came over the wire” if it appears on a pertinent RSS feed. If they ask how you knew about it so quick, then take this opportunity to show them your presentation.

Locate the staff members who write, edit or compile in-house bulletins (for current awareness or specific departments). Tell them how they could save a lot of time in news gathering – assure them that they can do it themselves via RSS technology, not that you will do the work for them.

Obviously, with new technology, there will be some people on the other side of the spectrum – the overly-ambitious or highly-demanding ones who expect dramatic changes but are not aware of RSS’s limitations. Be sure you know what technology is currently available at your firm, so you can determine how to handle these types of situations.

One person may ask for a specific feed to be broadcast firm-wide, one department may ask for a feed for the intranet only and another may think that RSS will create the daily/weekly bulletins for them. These options are possible, with some creative insight, technical programming and a lot more time. But RSS is intended to save time, reduce repetitive emails and prevent information overload, not add to it!

If it feels like you opened a Pandora’s box, then you might want to consider backing down and maintaining the status quo for a while. There could be several things going on: a new document management system, a transition to a new library catalogue or the installation of Microsoft Office 2007. Unfortunately, even when there’s a drive for more technology or advanced ways to handle information, it can be better to keep things as they are for a while rather than rattle more cages.

Other people may still be interested, just not at that particular moment. Make sure you don’t risk losing your job or overstepping your boundaries because you’re trying to make things “more progressive” by using RSS. It’s a careful balance of suggestion and influence.

But if you can break through and show at least one solicitor, barrister or trainee how RSS can prevent information overload and help lighten their workload, then you’ve reached a plateau. Once the word gets out, the idea will spread among those willing to adapt to another technology and RSS will progressively be accepted.

Craig McMahon is the owner of After Hours Research LLC. He is currently working with a law firm based in Dublin, Ireland, assisting with their knowledge management needs.