Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Cans and The Cannots – The New Social Exclusion

I blogged here about the Ministry of Justice’s program of cuts and, ahem, reform.  You can read the program at the Ministry’s own website here.

This element of the reform of courts and legal aid struck me, as reinforced by a tweet from Richard Moorhead of @lawyerwatch .

Develop options for using technology and alternative dispute resolution to reduce attendance at all courts.

The intention is to commence consultancy in September 2010, concluding April 2011.

As Richard so eloquently put it, is this the “Usual blether about ADR, IT and efficiency?”

The point of Lawyer1point9 is to be curious, provocative and positive about technology and law.  It is not for me to play the luddite and smash the machines.  I do not want to get in the way of progress and technological innovation within the legal system.

But something worries me here.

IT cannot be used as shorthand justification for cost-cutting.

If we run headlong into IT based solutions then we risk prejudicing whole sectors of the public. Some would be hit twice.

The cuts in legal aid availability and eligibility are massive, and ongoing. Many vulnerable people have no access to affordable legal advice or representation.  It is not enough to say to those people “Oh, that’s okay, we’ve implemented innovative technology.”

And this is where the new social divide is emerging.

It is no longer the haves and the have nots.  We need to be aware of the cans and the cannots.

We take our own IT skills and familiarity for granted.  If you are reading this thing called a blog, the reality is that you are way ahead of the massive majority.

Many of the people who will be affected by reforming cuts will lack skills, confidence and competence to access online resources.

This has been highlighted to me by a couple of incidents.

Last week I was trying to talk through to someone, by phone, how to download a PDF.

We were getting nowhere.  I realised that she was putting the web address I was giving her into the google search box and getting bewildered by pages and pages of entries, as opposed to going to the address bar.

To many people, Google IS the internet.

Even when we got through to the page she wanted, the idea of scrolling the page down to get to the necessary link was way beyond her.

In another incident I delivered some of my Conversational Riffs training to a local education authority last week.  I like to put the notes into a passworded blog format so that people can wrestle with the material, comment upon it.

The email I got back from the LEA explained that many people simply were not allowed to access blogs because of local authority firewalls and the like.

So, a cost-cutting dash to IT is not the answer.  We need to keep a broader awareness of what people are able to do and the limits they face from inadequate skills or access to IT.

If we do not, then we risk excluding the less IT literate and the less IT connected from important parts of society.

We will have the cans and cannots.  Who will speak up for the latter?

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Scratching the surface of WordPress

Last Friday I presented one of my conflict dynamics workshop to a Local Education Authority in South Wales.  It was very well received with a very participative crowd.

I have since broken down the participants notes into small “Blog post” size chunks and posted them on WordPress, with password access so that the delegates can re-engage with the material and debate it amongst themselves and with me.

This led me to think what a flexible, beautiful beast WordPress is.

There must be other ways we could use WordPress for our legal work, beyind the obvious blogging.  Networking events could maybe get their own blog with downloadable guest list.  The guests could receive emailed passwords to drive them to the blog and from there to our websites, LinkedIn, YouTube accounts and the like.

WordPress can easily host video from the event, or other resources.

How do you use WordPress, beyond simple blogging?

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Technology is only useful when it is boring.

Apologies at the outset for the above quote.  It is not my line but I cannot recall where I read it.  If you know, of if it was you, please introduce yourself and take the credit in the comments below.

I was discussing social media this morning with freelance marketeer Helen Hammond.

For some reason I was in an unusually downbeat mood. I felt that I didn’t want to talk to about social media.  Sure, I love social media.  I have gained a lot of work from social media and it has massively increased my profile both here in the UK and also in America.  The potential for social media to drive business and new opportunities is immense.

But something was irking me.

There remains an obstructive self-consciousness within social media, where the social media activity becomes the thing itself.

It is not.  It is just the tool, or vehicle, that gets us to our destination.

I recall from my student days reading about how the written word, within literary criticism terms, should be transparent so as not to obstruct what was being described, nor draw attention to itself.  I think that was a liberal humanist approach, but I digress.

Likewise, we need to get used to using social media as a conventional mainstream communication function.  At that point, we will not be fascinated so much with the “Hey, I’m using a new Twitter app” or “Have you tried that new social media hub for… whatever…” and instead we will simply be getting on with the business of communicating by diverse means, including social media, on a daily basis.

The technology itself, at that stage, is as boring and as unworthy of commenting upon, as a telephone.

When technology becomes boring in this sense, it will stop getting in the way of the message we are communicating, and therefore carry the message with less distraction for either the sender or recipient.

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Hey Look! That’s Me! – A Test For Client Confidentiality and Social Media

I spotted a twitter exchange yesterday that caused me some concern.

A case was being discussed on Twitter that referred to identifying features. No names were mentioned and in that sense, at least, the clients were anonymous.  However, the details being discussed, such as appointments, some figures and issues would have been enough for the clients concerned to identify themselves in a flash.

I cannot recall where I learnt this “Hey look, that’s me!” test for confidentiality.  I do not know if it is enshrined in protocol or case law – perhaps a reader might care to tell us – but it makes perfect sense.

If a client can recognise themselves then that is perhaps the lowest cognitive bar we can set.

That is no reason to disregard that low bar, or dismiss it with an argument that “No-one else would know who it was.”  After all, if the client complains to us or relevant supervising bodies, then that will be more than enough to land us in hot water.

This incident also highlighted another issue.  We need to be diligent ourselves in testing confidentiality, but also in pointing out possible problems to one another.

By doing so we can self police effectively.  The alternative is likely to be a blanket ban or some other hysterical over-reaction.

I hope that if I have such a lapse in future that someone would quickly send me a direct message discretely to point out a possible problem.

I also hope that I would receive it with the same good grace and politeness that my Twitter friend did.

In the words of High School Musical “We’re all in this together…”

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Filed under General Technology, Law, Lawyers and Social Media