April 30, 2006

I had the misfortune to miss the SCL Lecture in March from Professor Richard Susskind OBE. But I am probably more familiar with its content than all but Professor Susskind himself. Why? Because we have provided the content in five different formats and I have been a consumer of all but the live version. I have seen the webcast, listened to the podcast, edited a transcript and, finally, edited the magazine version. I want to say something about why we have made it available in all those formats – and about what I have learned as a result.


In his lecture, Richard Susskind makes some play of the failure of the legal profession to exploit the potential of multimedia. He says that making text available online is a poor substitute for the fuller experience that can be gained from watching and listening – perhaps to the firm’s leading expert, or even the world’s leading expert, explain how to approach a particular type of transaction or legal problem. He even raised the (nightmare?) scenario of being able to listen to leading judgments being delivered in the judge’s original drone (although I admit “drone” is my word). My initial thought was that he was wrong: I can read what you say in half the time it takes you to say it – so, I thought, I will always want text, text and more text. I have since learned something about demand, delivery and content.


Let me start with the reasoning behind the many formats for publication of the SCL Lecture. It was a major event and was bound to attract a great deal of interest. SCL is very much aware of the fact that not all its members can make it into London for such an event and put in place facilities for recording the event for replay on the SCL Web site in either sound or sound and vision (podcast or webcast). In addition, we thought people might want to refer to a transcript on points of detail. Finally, I felt that the magazine, as SCL’s journal of record, had a duty to reflect such a major event and that, despite the unprecedented length of the piece, it could only do that by running a cogent account, giving a flavour of the main themes and the reasoning behind them (rather than just a snippet reflecting the big idea which you may have seen elsewhere).


The digital files for the podcast and webcast were posted within a couple of days (congratulations to brighttalk for their speedy work) and the existence of the webcast and podcast was widely publicised in the press. So it was not surprising to see a flurry of interest in them. Two things did surprise me: first, the level of interest – we had over 1,000 downloads; secondly, there was a continuing and insistent demand for a transcript which did not go away, despite the fact that it took some time to prepare. So here is one piece of content, and demand for it in a number of formats.


What the increasing accessibility of multimedia formats provides is potential. Organisations such as SCL whose remit includes a publishing role have to take account of that potential – and so do law firms. You may by now be used to coping with the extra complexity of deciding whether client and internal material should be available on a Web site or in hard-copy form, or both. Glossy brochure or e-mailed newsletter? Should it be a pdf or html? You may recall such dilemmas as child’s play. You are now required to consider whether to publish in video, start a blog, prepare a podcast or actually use paper. On top of that, you may have to consider linking the whole to a KM database or a pop-up system that forces the fee earner to consider new advisory materials.


What I have now come to understand is that the decisions are more complex but the decision-making process has not altered much. First analyse the content and then assess the audience. If you have the content to justify it, it is now possible and worthwhile to make that content available in the format that best suits it and its audience. Where either the content or the audience are complex, publish in a variety of formats that reflect that complexity, while keeping a sharp eye on the bottom line. All new formats involve new expenditure of time or money – probably both – so the extra advantage has to be justified and you are making a series of calculations not one. Those rules apply just as forcefully to in-house law firm or chambers content as they do to the SCL Lecture.