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Litigation News

Information Overload: Managing Emails, Online News, and Social Networking

By Shanya Dingle, Litigation News Associate Editor – July 15, 2009

Considering the hours devoted daily to emails, online news, blogs, and social-networking sites, it’s a wonder anyone has time to litigate.

The constant flow of information from multiple sources has become overwhelming for lawyers. In a 2008 survey [PDF] conducted by LexisNexis, nearly 80 percent of legal professionals reported feeling increasingly overloaded by information. Developing new skills to prioritize and leverage electronic and online information is essential.

The number one culprit of overload is email. Steve Weiss, Chicago, IL, ABA Section of Litigation managing director designate and cochair of the 2009 ABA Annual Meeting, explains that “the key to managing email is to keep only a few (under 30) emails in your inbox at any given time.

“A second key is to try to read each email only once,” Weiss advises.

To minimize the number of inbox emails, use folders to sort emails into electronic redwelds for different matters. Streamline this process by establishing “rules” in Outlook or LotusNotes that automatically deposit emails from specified individuals or groups into the right folder.

Greg Shelton, Redmond, WA, cochair of the Section’s Technology for the Litigator Committee, writes a rule for “anything above junk mail.” “That way, the documents that I need for each matter collect in their folders, then I can go back and read them at my leisure,” Shelton says.

Active management of one’s inbox is necessary even with diligent use of folders. Shelton suggests treating the inbox as a “to do” list: “the only things in my inbox are things I need to get done.”

“The first time I read an email, I try to either delete it, respond to it, and/or move it to a folder,” Weiss notes.

RSS Feeds and Alerts
News feeds and search alerts offer options for staying on top of news and blogs without regularly checking multiple websites. With RSS feeds, attorneys can subscribe to any number of online publications and blogs, and have the articles delivered to a single browser page.

Services such as Google Alerts, Westlaw Watch, and LexisNexis Alerts deliver customized search results to email at regular intervals or as soon as news is released.

Google Alerts can be used “to search for new web pages with the word ‘patent’ and read those emails that are sent once a day 1-2 times per week,” notes Kim R. Jessum, Philadelphia, PA, cochair of the Section’s Technology for the Litigator Committee.

“I’m actually a big proponent of the Google Alert, where you can program in clients and issues and have the alerts kind of hit as they come,” says Kent A. Lambert, New Orleans, cochair of the Section’s Pretrial Practice and Discovery Committee and frequent contributor to Litigation News.

“Also, for active cases, I set up search parameters on LexisNexis for myself and for clients and send them alerts that affect them,” Lambert says.

Social Networking Sites
Lawyers can leverage social-networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the ABA’s LegallyMinded for networking and firm marketing.

“I have used LinkedIn to find speakers for CLE programs and authors for articles for our website,” Jessum says. Also, “if I’m speaking at an event, I will post a status update” on Facebook and Twitter, Jessum adds.

At least one Am Law 200 firm, Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP, has established a Facebook page to recruit summer associates.

Time Management
Ultimately, dealing with overload requires a combination of email and web skills and time management. “Lawyers have got to come up with a mechanism for not allowing the overload of information to trip them up” says David A. Soley, Portland, ME, cochair of theSection’s Trial Practice Committee.

“What you need to do is designate some time. Each day I have a plan as to when I’m going to sit down and go through all the paper,” Soley says.

Lambert echoes this sentiment: “The most effective tool is not to say ‘I’m going to come back to it,’ but deal with it then and there.”

Keywords: Email, social-networking, RSS


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