Interview: Legal Moblogger David Maizenberg

David Maizenberg is an attorney and legal marketing and corporate communications consultant, admitted to practice since 1997. He has helped develop technologies for legal information companies such as Lexis-Nexis and CT Corporation. His articles have appeared in FindLaw, The New York Law Journal and Cyberspace Lawyer. Most recently he started a company - Airdrop, LLC - to develop mobile messaging and blogging tools for lawyers.

1. First of all, what is moblogging?

Moblogging is a recently coined term, short for mobile blogging, the practice of posting text, photos or sound files to web logs from mobile devices, such as cell phones. It is part of the general democraticization of media that we've been seeing accelerate for years and really hit critical mass this year with the blogging phenomenon. Now blogging capabilities are moving out to mobile devices such as phones and PDAs. Now bloggers do not need to be at their desks to post to their weblogs, they can do so from anywhere.

2. What are some of the repercussions of mass mobile blogging?

Well first of all, it will revolutionize fields like journalism. When any person in the street with a phone and a good eye can instantly capture and publish a newsworthy photo (and, soon enough, a video stream) it creates a direct connection between eye witnesses and the rest of the world. It is yet another step in the increasing transparency of culture, the elimination of middlemen and gatekeepers.

3. Is it already a widespread phenomenon?

Well, the first international moblogging conference was just held in Tokyo this month and there are already many thousands of photobloggers, people who post photos from their mobile phones (or download them from digital cameras at home) and keep a running photo log of events that interest them. And any blogger who uses any of the popular blogging programs (Moveable Type, Blogger, Radio Userland, et cetera) can now post from his or her mobile device using a free program such as the one we make or several others available on the web.

4. Blogging has become very popular among lawyers. Do you think mobile blogging will be equally popular. And where do you think lawyer blogging is going?

The top legal blogs get more traffic than most online legal periodicals. Also, some of the top general interest bloggers, such as Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh, happen to be law professors. So law school trained minds are among the leaders of the blog revolution. Over time, top bloggers will emerge for every flavor of legal practice area. As many legal specialties as there are there are spaces for individual lawyers to make names for themselves by building and maintaining high quality web logs. I think lawyers will pick up on mobile blogging to the same extent the general public does, as an adjunt functionality to their traditional blogging habits.

5. How do you think mobility benefits lawyers?

Mobility benefits lawyers from both a personal, lifestyle perspective, as well as a traditional, firm-centric perspective. In terms of lifestyle and personal freedom/productivity, the technology is such that a lawyer can have a true mobile office. The power of current Wi-Fi enabled notebook computers combined with the capabilities of current mobile phones, allows lawyers to do everything they would do in their offices from any place on the globe. All the hype about the mobile office that we were hearing years ago has finally met reality. Because many lawyers these days are downshifting and seeking out flextime arrangements, the mobile office is more important than ever. The same holds true for lawyers who have no interest in flextime arrangements. For those lawyers, who are "always on," the mobile office is a necessity rather than a choice.

6. Does all this moving around help or hurt lawyers' ability to get and retain new clients?

I think it depends on the nature of the lawyer's practice, and whether their specialization is topical or geographic. A local litigator whose attractiveness comes from his experience in, and connections to, the local courthouse, is a very different species of lawyer from say, a specialist in an obscure area of federal securities law who has no ties to any particular geographic region. Mobility tools are probably more important for the latter, because presumably that lawyer will be on the road much more.

Regardless, a lawyer's ability to summon crucial information, to answer a legal question, or to link with his or her peers immediately, from any location, and while mobile, gives that lawyer an advantage in signing a client. The lawyer who makes house calls is at an advantage, it seems to me, over one who doesn't.

The crucial point is that, with modern mobility and connectivity tools, a lawyer that is frequently on planes and trains is still connected to the firm's central nervous system, and by that I mean the firm's knowledge management system. Mobility management is an inherent part of - and should be integrated into - a firm's knowledge management programs.

7. So mobility and knowledge management go together.

Absolutely. Mobility tools enhance KM. Let's say a lawyer discovers some crucial bit of information while on the road; that information can be immediately incorporated into the firm's KM system without waiting for the attorney to return to the office. Mobility tools also help keep other members of the firm community -- legal secretaries, paralegals, marketing and other support staff -- linked more closely. Thus a mobile lawyer, having just met a potential client, can instantly harness his firm's support and marketing staff to create a customized pitch and leverage the firm's KM system to give the potential client some immediate answers. He can do all of this while mobile. The potential client should, hopefully, be pretty darn impressed.

8. It sounds like your vision of the firm is less hierarchical and more decentralized than many firms today.

It's an idea that I like to call, partly tongue-in-cheek, "open source lawyering." And by that I simply mean a law firm culture that, through mobility and connectivity tools, brings all of the firm's resources to bear on obtaining and serving clients.

9. Do you think the open source movement is having an impact on the practice of law?

I think the open source movement is having an impact on society in general. The ethos of open source (and of peer-to-peer networks) has begun to change the way people think. People are less scared of freedom and individuality now, and simultaneously are aware of how much more can be accomplished when individuals come together voluntarily and spontaneously to achieve a goal.

Open source, peer-to-peer, mobility, these are all part of the new wave of freedom and independence - the electronic liberation movement if you will - that is empowering individuals in a way that is very challenging to entrenched interests and traditional systems, but that will, in the end, benefit us all.

10. Are there dangers in all this freedom and individuality? Might it lead to a more insecure and less collegial professional environment -- a kind of legal free-for-all?

For all intents and purposes, that is the environment we have already. Security in the legal profession disappeared some time ago. Even lawyers ensconced in big firms must be responsible for their individual career and client development in ways that were uncommon fifteen years ago.

One major issue that lawyers will have to address is information overload: lawyers will have to learn to pick and choose from among a vast assortment of content to read. The good news is that it is more possible than ever to be a part-time lawyer, to maintain a specialty, stay current, but work far less hours and enjoy a far more reasonable lifestyle than most lawyers do today. Of course that kind of choice means surrendering a certain level of economic compensation, but at least now that choice can be made without fear of losing standing altogether.

11. Aren't blogging tools and mobility tools really apples and oranges? It seems that most people view mobile phones, PDAs, WiFi as productivity tools, but blogging as more of a publishing tool.

There is plenty of affinity between the two. Developments in blogging and mobility tools are all part of the same phenomenon: democratization, empowerment of the individual, and decentralization of the workplace. These tools can be used for strictly commercial purposes - you can blog to establish or maintain credibility in a legal specialty and use the tools of the mobile office to increase productivity. And, you can also use the same tools to change your lifestyle - such as enabling a more flexible and independent practice without sacrificing professional credibility.