Posted Dec 02, 2008 01:50 am CST
Lawyers love text on a page. The single-space letter or memo is the lingua franca of our trade. Our PowerPoint slides are usually dense with text, and even the mention of adding a chart, table or graphic to a document causes consternation.
My radical suggestion: It’s time to rethink the text-based world and think seriously about ways to use audio and video delivered over the Internet.
People of all ages increasingly use audio and video to communicate and to learn. Think how often you hear people (and maybe even yourself) say things like: “Talk me through the highlights of this memo,” “Draw me a picture” or “Can you show me how that would work?” And add in how much radio, TV and Internet audio and video you and the people you know view and hear on a regular basis.
Now, largely due to the Internet and the MP3 player, audio and video have become inexpensive or free to obtain and produce, easy to get and use, and highly accessible.
A few definitions. Although information delivered via audio and video comes in many forms, I’ll highlight two primary ones you probably have heard mention of.
As my example of Internet audio, I’ll highlight the podcast. You can think of podcasts as downloadable audio files that can easily be played on your iPod, MP3 player or computer. (Technically, the term refers to audio files you can subscribe to and that are automatically distributed to you.)
For video, let’s think of YouTube. There are almost 100 million videos on YouTube. You can search for and watch videos on almost any topic you can imagine.
So let’s take a look, starting with the two ways lawyers will most likely use audio and video: learning and educating—or, more conceptually, consuming and producing.
Most lawyers will probably find the greatest short-term benefits from using audio and video as a learning platform. Those large stacks of articles, advance sheets and magazines to be read not only take up space but rarely make it to the “finished reading” category. Audio summaries, audio and video of seminars, podcasts and YouTube videos offer lawyers the same information in more succinct, accessible and portable form. Listening to a short presentation may also be much more effective than reading a 150-page law review article.
The key questions to consider: Where and how do you learn?
Podcasts excel in situations where radio is your preferred medium. In many ways, podcasts can be thought of in terms of “time-shifting” or a “Tivo for radio.” Podcasts let you choose the audio content you want when you want it, whether you use an iPod, or an MP3 player connected to your car stereo or your computer speakers. Listening to podcasts in your car (as simple and cheap as a $10 cassette adapter for your car stereo) can turn your commute into a traveling learning experience. Similarly, you can listen to podcasts when you exercise or play them on your computer as you work. A benefit of audio is that people typically listen while they are doing something else.
In contrast, YouTube or other video systems are like television: They require your visual attention, although video might work for a train commute. Videos enhance the audio experience, and the combination of video and audio has often been shown to be a powerful learning tool.
Video is becoming more portable. Most people, however, find it difficult to multitask while watching video. For law-related content, you’ll find less video currently available than audio.
The potentially revolutionary effect of lawyers using audio and video will be their absorption into communications media. In other words, lawyers will turn into producers rather than consumers.
Many lawyers tend to deliver a large amount of repeatable “audio and video,” only in person: They call it an initial client meeting. What if those introductions and explanations were captured in audio and video, then delivered over the Internet? Or how about capturing part of a closing argument and referring people to it as a sample of your work?
With inexpensive, compact, easy-to-use audio and video technology, capturing that content is simpler than ever. Since even third-graders these days are creating and editing videos, there is hope for lawyers.
Even though the capture process is a cinch, NPR has raised the bar for the expected sound quality on podcasts, and there’s a consensus that lawyers will want to do professionally edited and produced video. Since video also lends itself to short clips, you might be able to get several videos from one session.
Two key factors come into play: your timeline and your audience. Podcasts are simpler and you can go to market more quickly than with video. But can you find—or be—a producer for video or audio? And can you be comfortable or effective as the “talent” for your programming? Moreover, you’ll need to understand your audience. Video might be more effective for consumers and audio more effective for a corporate audience.
I’m a big podcast fan these days. I also expect lawyers moving from text-based content will find the step toward audio more acceptable than video. Yet I’ll also say my commute and preference to learn from audio plays a big role in my own choice.
It’s very clear that young people have a preference for video. Your answer to the choice of audio or video will depend on your circumstances and style, as well as the preferences of your audience.
Over the next five years, I’d guess that video will become a much larger channel for us to convey and receive information. If pressed to pick a winner, I’d place my bet on video. However, there will continue to be a place for audio in the foreseeable future, like during a car commute.
The time to explore these media is now. The central role of text on paper will certainly diminish over time.