Have you heard the news about podcasting? Lawyers have moved into the world of the downloadable audio shows distributed over the Internet known as podcasts. Does podcasting make sense for lawyers? Does podcasting make sense for you? We gathered seven lawyer podcasters and asked them about this new form of media. You can listen in and get up to speed on this new technology. And, yes, we all appreciate the irony of a written article about an audio technology.
1. How do you describe podcasts to people who are not familiar with them?
Dennis Kennedy : Lately, I tend to describe podcasts as "radio on demand." Traditionally, people have talked about podcasts in terms of Internet radio or "Tivo" for audio, focusing on the content of podcasts rather than the technical aspects of podcasting. Wikipedia describes a podcast as " digital media file, or a series of such files, that is distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and personal computers ." That's not a definition I'd want to use in normal conversation, especially with most lawyers.
Sharon Nelson : Dennis, I couldn't agree more. "Radio on demand" is a phrase that lawyers intuitively understand. I like to give them concrete examples of how they can listen to podcasts on their computers or download them to their iPod to listen on airplanes (my customary usage). A lot of lawyers simply need real life examples to imagine how they can truly learn at random downtime moments.
Jim Calloway : I couldn't improve on the above descriptions, but I try to stress to neophytes that neither an iPod or other MP3 player is required to listen to a podcast. In fact, I probably listen to more podcasts on the computer than on a portable device. Since Sharon and I have started our podcast, I have started referring to it as an Internet radio show when people ask what it is.
Evan Brown : Those are all great descriptions and I think they are quite accurate. RSS certainly is integral to the definition of podcasts. Don't forget that for the past year or more, video podcasts have become more popular, probably because of the video iPod and because of the wider availability of online video hosting services like Revver and of course YouTube. These kinds of video sharing sites introduce a new kind of platform from which one can distribute episodic video content. It's as simple as setting up your own channel on YouTube. The RSS feed is built right in and you don't have to operate your own content management software like you do in traditional blogging.
Robert Ambrogi: I like Dennis's phrase. I tell people that Lawyer2Lawyer is a talk-radio program distributed via the Web. As Evan says, RSS is integral -- the ability to "subscribe" to a program and download new installments automatically. RSS distinguishes podcasts from other Web audio.
Denise Howell: Disintermediated media. Media produced by (generally) small organizations for (relatively) small audiences. Long-tail media.
Tom Mighell : I'll join the amen chorus for the above descriptions. One other thing I try to do when explaining podcasts to newcomers is to describe the different types of podcasts that are available -- for example, when I'm talking to someone who is an NPR addict (like me), they are usually excited to learn that National Public Radio has podcasts for most all of their shows. Once a person learns that there are podcasts in his or her area of interest, they are immediately more receptive to the idea of checking them out.
2. Why did you start podcasting?
Denise Howell : I was following the early experiments with RSS enclosures, and was an instant fan of some of the first podcasts (Christopher Lydon; IT Conversations). I started podcasting because it was so easy. I had been blogging for some time, and it was a simple matter to record some thoughts and put them out in podcast form (i.e., as an RSS enclosure). I found I enjoyed having conversations with all manner of people and distributing them, and that people enjoyed listening and provided lots of information and feedback. I have no interest in or time for the editing side however, so the audio quality of my initial shows was pretty painful. Competent audio engineers assist on the postproduction side of the shows I do now, this WEEK in LAW and Sound Policy.
Robert Ambrogi: I had heard about the launch of the Legal Talk Network and contacted them to write a review. Around the same time, J. Craig Williams, a California lawyer and blogger, had also contacted them. Somehow we all started talking and our podcast was born. Originally, it was called Coast to Coast, with Craig in California and me in Massachusetts. But as our audience and our topics became international, we changed the name to Lawyer2Lawyer.
Evan Brown : I started podcasting because it seemed like a natural extension of my blog, which I had just started about a month earlier. So at that point I was still trying to find my "voice" in the written word, and the same was true for the spoken word as well. Developing episodic audio content helped me define the parameters for the written content I wanted to provide as well.
Sharon Nelson : "The Cowboy" (that would our pal Jim Calloway) called me from a hotel lobby and announced that he had a great idea and he was on his way to my room to share it with me. The great idea turned out to be "The Digital Edge: Lawyers and Technology" podcast which we are now doing for the Law Technology Today e-zine of the Law Practice Management Section. We paired an eastern fast-talking lady with a drawl-laden Okie and the pairing worked out real well - we're both legal technologists, but Jim comes at from the practice management side and I come from a consulting background. And we both like to talk - so our only problem has been keeping our podcasts to manageable lengths!
Jim Calloway : While it is true that I pitched Sharon Nelson on the idea, it wasn't like she was a tough sell. I had been thinking about it for about a year, but didn't need any additions to my current writing and speaking schedule. But when John Tredennick, editor of Law Technology Today pitched me on the opportunity, it only took me a few minutes to realize that if Sharon Nelson would join me that we could provide a great resource for practicing lawyers and have a lot of fun.
Tom Mighell : Dennis made me do it? (Laughter.) Well, maybe not, but like Sharon, it didn't take a whole lot of encouragement. I view podcasting as a natural extension of ways we can provide educational content over the Internet. Internet users are increasingly finding new ways to consume information online, and podcasting is the latest channel for doing that.
Dennis Kennedy : Tom, have you forgotten that we were scheduled to do a presentation on Podcasting for Lawyers at ABA TECHSHOW 2006 and realized that it would help our credibility if we actually had our own podcast and could discuss` our own experiences in getting started? I did guest appearances on a number of podcasts and spoke on a number of webinars before Tom and I started our podcast. A number of people told me at the very start of podcasting that I should do a podcast (in part, so they wouldn't have to read my longer blog posts). It was a natural progression.
3. What are the potential benefits of podcasting for lawyers?
Jim Calloway : You can showcase your expertise in a format that helps people feel like they really know something about you. Theoretically, you can communicate with a younger audience in a way that few lawyers are even attempting.
Robert Ambrogi : Podcasting is a powerful marketing tool, particularly if your practice relates to technology or media. Podcasting distinguishes you as someone who is innovative and on the cutting edge. It allows you to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise and to provide a more personal view of yourself than potential clients could glean from a simple Web site. You will reach audiences you never imagined -- we've mapped the IP addresses of our listeners and found that they come from virtually every country in the world, even China and Russia. All this, and the cost of entry is minimal.
Denise Howell : As a matter of sad tradition, good lawyers don't talk much. Not publicly anyway, or, if publicly, not in a format that is widely and readily available. I chalk this up to the time constraints of a law practice, and the misconception that a lawyer talking equals a lawyer advertising (and the strict rules governing the latter). Many lawyers seem to get there are practice-building benefits to sharing their specialized knowledge (i.e., they spam CRM lists with newsletters and the like), but there doesn't yet seem to be a broad appreciation that there's a willing audience for what they might have to say, and an attention-friendly means of distribution. Podcasting solves a myriad of problems. Production is accessible and fast, and listeners subscribe because they want to. I assume there's no need to explain the benefits of having an audience who knows you and your expertise, comes back for more, recommends you, etc.
Sharon Nelson : Well, they are certainly great publicity, once they catch fire and you have a listener base. I particularly like the fact that they force me to concentrate very intently on a specific topic and focus my thoughts so that a lot of information can be presented in a short space of time. Another possible benefit is media attention - journalists clearly love blogs and I think more and more of them are beginning to notice podcasts as well.
Evan Brown : Great observation, Sharon, on how developing an episode forces you to concentrate on a specific topic. Writing up some notes or a script helps one crystalize his or her thoughts, and then actually communicating those thoughts is really beneficial. I think podcasting can help a lawyer show a more conversational and personable side as well. I really wish that I had a knack for being funny, because I think it would be a lot of fun to produce some content that would provide some levity to what are, relatively speaking, dull topics. Evan Schaeffer at the Legal Underground has done a great job at this.
Tom Mighell : To expand on something Evan said, I think podcasts have great potential to humanize lawyers. That said, not every lawyer (yes, I'm going to say it) has a personable side. If the thought of a live microphone causes your pulse to race and your voice to quaver, maybe podcasting is not for you. I have listened to podcasts where the speaker was so stiff and formal (often reading strictly from a script), I wasn't able to enjoy the content of their presentation.
Dennis Kennedy : It's a new channel to reach a number of audiences that most lawyers find attractive and showcase areas of expertise. You do personalize or humanize your professional presence. Perhaps most important, many lawyers are great teachers and can explain difficult topics in ways people can easily understand. I really enjoy hearing Marty Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog explain trademark law when he guests on podcasts. You learn a lot and you form a high opinion of Marty's ability.
4. What do you see as the biggest challenges for podcasters today?
Jim Calloway : It really is like both writing and performing a production. If you haven't done broadcast work or given a lot of speeches before, it will be a challenge getting started.
Tom Mighell : If you're doing it yourself, the actual production (editing, music, etc.) of a podcast can be very time-consuming. Another challenge for a podcaster is finding a topic that elevates yours above the thousands of other podcasts out there.
Evan Brown : Two things: sticking with it, and getting an audience. It's a lot of work. (And unfortunately I haven't done very well at overcoming either of those challenges!)
Sharon Nelson : Podcasts still are not as well established as blogs. They are technically harder to produce and distribute - the average non-geek lawyer would probably have some difficulty figuring the technology out. Podcasts, even though they've been around for a while, are still in their infancy compared to blogs. I think a lot of lawyers are struggling with how best to use podcasts - and how to get them marketed properly. It sure helps that it is free to put them on iTunes!
Robert Ambrogi : Sticking with it. Podcasts launch with great fanfare, only to become dormant after a couple episodes. To do it week in and week out takes thought, time and effort.
Dennis Kennedy : Bob, the term of art here is "podfading." You are right. You can start out podcast like a ball of fire and do two or three of them and disappear out of the podcast universe even though they have an audience patiently waiting for that next episode. I wish the RethinkIP guys would get back to podcasting. Tom and I wanted to do a monthly podcast, but it's still difficult to stick to the schedule. Bob has the best approach - a production team and a weekly schedule. Give me a producer, an audio engineer, and a sponsor and I'd podcast on a much more regular basis. This is a key point that firms wanting to produce podcasts must understand. The other key challenge is to finding ways to make your podcast more like a radio show than a CLE lecture.
Denise Howell : The biggest challenge for podcasters outside the legal field is how to make a living at it. If you're podcasting as an adjunct to a law practice, this isn't a concern -- so rejoice!
5. What tips do you have for those who want to get started in podcasting?
Dennis Kennedy : Listen to a lot of podcasts - lots of them - and make notes about what you like and dislike. Then try to do more of the former than the latter. There all also some very helpful books, articles, blog posts and even podcasts about podcasting. Scott Monty gives some excellent tips in this podcast.
Sharon Nelson : Find a good technologist if you don't fit the bill yourself. Use good recording software, such Podcast Station (about $50) or Audacity which is free. Edit your podcast to get rid of the "ums" and "ers." If you've really gotten yourself in a muddle, re-record. Use good USB headsets/microphones (a Plantronics set for $50 works just great). You can use a digital recording interface connected to your phone system or you can "Skype" your podcast if there are multiple participants.
Jim Calloway : First figure out why you think you should do this, what you would consider a success and how much time you are willing to devote to this project on a regular basis. Then determine who your target audience is and what the primary purpose is. You may want to use it for marketing your law practice to potential clients, establishing a reputation as an expert with other lawyers or providing a service with accurate information to the public. Having a goal in mind will help your focus.
Evan Brown : Be a normal person and try not to sound too much like a lawyer. Use podcasting to show your human side. People already tend to dislike lawyers for their overly complex rhetoric and stodgy or arrogant ways. Do something to overcome that stereotype. And I would advise thinking of podcasting as a direct marketing tool, but instead think of it as something that enhances your online persona and reputation; something that provides another facet into your practice and your personality. Turning a podcast into an infomercial would really be tacky. And I'm not suggesting for a second that podcasting does not have its positive, business-developing attributes.
Robert Ambrogi : Number one: consistency, consistency. Don't launch, then drop off, then pick up again, then drop off again. Number two: include multiple voices. Don't just talk to yourself -- include a guest or, as we usually do, multiple guests. Number three: consider professional production. Any number of tools allow you to record and syndicate a podcast on your own, but a professional can help you put out a more polished product, and that will reflect better on you as a lawyer.
Tom Mighell : I agree with all that has been said above, so I'll only add one thing, which is a personal pet peeve of mine: don't read from a script! Sure, Dennis and I have a scripted introduction to our podcast, but it's not long and we do our best to get through it conversationally without sounding like we are reading it. I have listened to podcasts where a person was interviewing another, and they two people did their Q&A format directly from a prepared script. The spontaneity and dynamic between the two speakers was non-existent, and it resulted in a flat, boring podcast.
6. What's the best podcasting advice you've ever gotten?
Dennis Kennedy : Use a better phone and don't let the mouthpiece move away from your mouth when being recorded over a phone for a podcast. Never use a cell phone. Using a good microphone and calling in over Skype often is the best approach. The best podcasting advice I would give is to pay close attention to sound quality, especially leveling the volumes of everyone on the podcast, and be willing to edit your podcasts. It's easy to edit out "ums" and "uhs" and you sound so much better without them.
Sharon Nelson : Keep it short and jam-packed with useful information.
Evan Brown : Get a better microphone.
Robert Ambrogi : Everyone thinks their own voice sounds goofy.
Tom Mighell: Get the best microphone you can afford (notice a theme here?)
7. What keeps you podcasting?
Denise Howell : I love the conversations, and others seem to like them too.
Robert Ambrogi : I'm waiting for the call to move up to NPR.
Sharon Nelson: I'd be afraid to quit. "The Cowboy" is a BIG guy. (Laughter.) OK, I like it too. It's fun to record a podcast with a good buddy and we've gotten great feedback from listeners.
Jim Calloway : And here I thought Sharon was the reason that I couldn't quit. Well, hopefully we both won't get tired of "the show" at the same time and will have a nice run at podcasting.
Tom Mighell : Vanity, I suppose. I enjoy the thought of having a podcast. But as I said before, I love to interact with others on the topics Dennis and I cover in our podcast, and it's just a great new way to deliver that information to a potentially large group of people at very little cost.
Dennis Kennedy : I like talking with Tom about technology, especially the Internet stuff. We don't usually get time to talk about these topics in depth when we talk on the phone. I also really enjoying editing the recordings.
Evan Brown: Well, technically, I don't podcast anymore, but I do still create episodic video content, for Viral on Veoh . So the pressure of having a producer ping me a few days before the deadline, inquiring about the script, giving feedback on lighting, audio, etc. keeps me going in that regard. But I think the key here is accountability, which means that if you want to maintain a consistent schedule, you should consider collaborating with someone else, so that you both can put your energies into keeping the series moving forward. Like what Sharon and Jim are doing.
8. Blog, podcast, or both?
Evan Brown : Blog, podcast, Facebook profile, Twitter account, a Flickr photostream, shared feeds . The available components for one's online persona become more various and sundry with each passing day. And as we move toward a Web 3.0 world -- a world of "applications that are pieced together" -- the differentiation between these various forms of online publishing will dissolve. One's web presence will be a mixture of a bunch of these elements that started out as blogs, podcasts, etc.
Robert Ambrogi : Everything and anything. Marketing is a multifaceted endeavor. The more avenues you explore, the more potential clients you reach.
Tom Mighell : Ditto.
Sharon Nelson : Both, definitely. I'm a writer, so I particularly love blogging. Recently, I read a statistic that said that the average reporter quotes from a blog at least once every two weeks. Anecdotally, I think writing really helps - I've been interviewed by all the major networks, NPR, CNN, a flock of radio stations and newspapers, and even "O" magazine. Anything you can do to get your expertise out there is going to reap some benefits.
Jim Calloway : For me, both. The blog is an extension of my writing, Internet research and review of law practice management materials. The podcast is an extension of my speaking on technology and practice management issues. However, if I was advising a practicing lawyer which would best publicize and enhance a law practice, I would recommend blogging. It will be a while before podcasts have the impact that a frequently-updated blog indexed by Google and the other search engines will have. Plus blogging requires less effort than podcasting.
Dennis Kennedy : Maybe I disagree with others - just slightly. You want to use the channel that best fits you. All of us are both writers and speakers. I suspect that most readers will find that one medium is better for them than others. Like Evan, though, I'd suggest investigating everything and then experimenting with what feels most right.
9. Looking into your crystal ball, where is podcasting for lawyers going?
Sharon Nelson : I think I'm going to surprise Dennis with my answer, but I don't know. It isn't clear to me whether this is a technology that will zoom into popularity or one that will remain a niche market. To the extent that some podcasts can qualify for CLE credit in some states, that will help. However, there is so much information in every lawyer's life that we are all constantly on information overload. Technology has moved so fast that there will clearly be a "shake-out" where the audiences will determine in what form they want their information. If I had a Delphic oracle, I'd have invested in Microsoft years ago and be somewhere on the Mediterranean in my yacht. I'm afraid only time will tell us where podcasts will rank among the various methods of learning.
Dennis Kennedy : I'm surprised that we've found something that Sharon doesn't know. If the recent Nixon Peabody example is an indicator, I can confidently predict that we will not see or hear many more law firm music audios or videos. My best guess is that audio (whether or not it is called a podcast) will increasingly become a channel that lawyers use to communicate with clients, especially for educational materials. It only makes sense to record spoken presentations and then re-purpose them as podcasts. Audio material is easier and cheaper to produce than video, and both are far more interesting and effective than 12-page, single-spaced letters.
Jim Calloway : In the legal community, podcasting will serve a niche market and grow slowly but steadily. VBlogging or video podcasting will also attract a small segment of viewers. Audio books are a valuable resource, but they haven't replaced print books. The reason I say it will be slow is that so many lawyers are so busy, it is difficult for them to quickly add anything new to their routine. I recall explaining RSS Newsfeeds to a gourp of lawyers and one asked me, "I already have an e-mail inbox. This sounds like I'll get a new inbox with even more things to read in it." But for lawyers who want to make more productive use of travel or exercise time, this new conduit of information will be early and gratefully accepted and embraced.
Evan Brown : I incorporate by reference what I said above about moving in to a Web 3.0 world and the dissolving of the differentiation between the various forms of online publishing. And to add to that, shows will get shorter and longer. Biglaw will probably release some pretty slick-looking and slick-sounding stuff that will be well produced and will contain some great in-depth content. Content that will look great on your HDTV at home. At the same time, we'll see more "microcontent" -- shorter, pithier observations contained in a few seconds of audio or video, and probably targeted to smaller groups within a social networking context. Stuff that is easily consumed on a PDA. Some lawyers are already starting to do stuff like this. New York lawyer Nicole Black of Sui Generis posts neat little videos on her Facebook profile every once in awhile.
Robert Ambrogi : I've long believed podcasts will grow as a medium for CLE, given that lawyers can listen to them anytime, anywhere. Our podcast is already being used for CLE and any number of bar associations have incorporated podcasts into their CLE programming. Yes, large firms will put out slick podcasts but I also agree with Evan that we will see an increasing number of shorter audio and video pieces coming from lawyers. Some lawyers are creating podcasts targeted directly at potential clients while others aim theirs at the audience of legal professionals. Podcasts will evolve along these two different tracks.
Tom Mighell : You're right, Bob -- and as you know lawyers are even creating videos on YouTube, to market their practices by video; all they have to do is post a link to the YouTube video right on their website. As the technology becomes easier for lawyers to adopt and use, I think we'll start to see more and more audio recordings on law firm websites -- not necessarily podcasts, because getting lawyers to understand RSS (one of the distinguishing features of a podcast) is a lot harder than getting them to understand the value of audio on the Internet.
10. What are your favorite podcasts that you'd like to recommend to our readers?
Evan Brown : Colette Vogele's Rules for the Revolution is a terrific legal podcast. And I listen to a lot of non-legal podcasts as well. I enjoy the Croncast (they're friends of mine), and it's good to check in with This Week in Tech from time to time. Jimmy Justice is doing some hilarious "vigilante journalism" from his channel on YouTube . And to wind down from the long hours of practicing law, I enjoy Dave's Lounge .
Denise Howell : My subscription list (160+ mostly non-defunct feeds) is here.
Sharon Nelson : What a devious question! How can I answer anything other than "The Kennedy-Mighell Report?" Honestly, that's the podcast I started with - my only complaint is that the authors don't record often enough (hint, hint). Besides that, I really enjoy Lawyer 2 Lawyer (Coast to Coast) with Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams. They have a great variety of topics and guests - they record regularly, so you can just pick and choose among the podcasts that interest you. I must really like podcasting, because in the next month, I hope to debut a podcast to compliment my blog, "Ride the Lightning: Electronic Evidence". The podcast will have the same name for branding purposes. You do different things with podcasts than you do with blogs so I think it will be interesting to work with both mediums. Then again, a rather large contingent of my friends think I should "get a life." Trouble is, I like the life of a datahead - and technology always gives dataheads another mountain to climb!
Dennis Kennedy : Tom and I mentioned some of favorite podcasts in a recent podcast we did and Tom put them in our show notes here. Denise's shared list is a good starting place, although it might initially seem a little overwhelming. It's also fascinating to see how much has changed in the two years since Tom and I wrote an article about legal podcasting. You'll be off to a good start if you listen to the podcasts of the other contributors to this article. If you pressed me to pick one legal podcast to start with, I'd definitely pick Bob's Lawyer2Lawyer podcast that he does with J. Craig Williams -it's been around for a long time and they've got a great format, great topics, great guests, and great hosts. We're also happy that Bob has gotten a better microphone. To be honest, I listen to many more non-legal podcasts than legal podcasts. My best advice is to seek out podcasts on topics that interest you most. If you do that, you'll quickly understand the power and attraction of this (relatively) new medium.