Lawyers, Broadcasters, and Bloggers -- Oh My!

Last week I got a chance to talk to a number of people at a Legal Marketing Association event. If you’re not a lawyer, or if you are a Web 2.0 geek, that probably doesn’t sound like a very interesting conversation. There wasn’t a single mention of Ajax or Flickr or Ruby on Rails. But if you’re me, it’s fantastic getting to explain technology and blogging to normal people who are busy with their professional lives.

The truth is, I’m not as interested in the nuts-and-bolts of technology as I am in how people use this stuff, and lawyers are pragmatic people who aren’t inclined to waste time learning something purely for the sake of geeking out. That struck me as particularly important because of the proposed new regulations in New York which will limit the ability of lawyers to communicate using blogs. Eric Bangeman covers the story well at Ars Technica:

Designed to target the kind of misleading advertising we sometimes see on late-night television (“Were you injured by hot coffee spilled in your lap? You may be able to collect millions of dollars!”), the proposed rule changes would change the definition of “advertisement” to encompass “any public communication made by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm about a lawyer or law firm, or about a lawyer’s or law firm’s services.”

That’s broad enough to bring blogs like Recording Industry vs The People under the rule’s umbrella.

Now, I’m not arguing that a lack of blogging is the most pressing problem facing our legal system today. But the legal industry is vilified by a large segment of our population, and at least slightly mistrusted by most of the rest of us. Talking to people online in a human voice can only help, and lawyers have an imperative to look outside the insular jargon and calcified assumptions of their own community. No community can thrive without the perspectives of outsiders, especially if it’s trying to serve those outsiders.

It’s not just lawyers, of course. Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about media recognize that traditional terrestrial radio is in a world of hurt when it comes to tech-savvy audiences who understand technology. Frankly, most people I know in the technology world don’t hate radio, we just ignore it. The New York Times surveyed the situation this past weekend:

What has set radio apart from other challenged media businesses — like video rentals, magazines, television stations and newspapers — was the swiftness of its fall from grace on Wall Street.

A possible reason is that unlike other media businesses, radio appears to have come late to the game of focusing on viable online business models. Although digital revenues are growing fast, they accounted for only $87 million of the industry’s $20 billion in 2005 revenues, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications.

Just like the legal industry, radio is a huge business that’s not in any danger of going away, but it has inspired a lot of animus or skepticism from its audience. But broadcasters can benefit by actually talking to those of us who prefer iPods or podcasts or satellite radio, and finding out how they can be of service. So I’m going to try to help open up the dialogue. I’ll be speaking on a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show in Dallas this week, along with Jason Calacanis and Bryan Jay Miller of the late, lamented WOXY. We’ll be moderated by Tom Webster.

Of course, I’m lucky to get to talk to people in so many lines of work. But the thing that strikes me as equally important is remembering that even the most powerful, influential, or pervasive lines of business are always in a tenuous position. You can have the power of the legal system at your hands, or the ability to talk to almost everyone in the country at home or in their cars, and still end up in a defensive position if you’re not able to have a dialogue with your community.