Tech Audit

Embracing the Pod

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Los Angeles attorney Denise Howell was looking for a way to kill time on her commute to work when she got interested in podcasts—amateur audio recordings downloaded from the Internet.

In fact, she got so interested, she now has a miniature sound studio in her house to create her own audio presentations, offered through her Web log Bag and Baggage and other sites like IT Conversations.

“I think there will always be a demand for interesting content you can listen to in your downtime, and I think there’s enormous room for lawyers to do this,” she says.

Over the past few years, lawyers have been some of the most enthusiastic proponents of Web logs, joining millions of self-publishing writers on the Net. But as the blog becomes a less novel way to make a name online, some of these writers have jumped to self-broadcasting. “Legal blogs are now five years old in some cases and not so distinctive anymore,” says Robert Ambrogi, a media and technology attorney in Rockport, Mass. “I think podcasting is an obvious evolution.”

Podcasting gets its name from Apple’s iPod music player, but the device isn’t the only way to access these recordings. Podcasts can be downloaded free via the Internet, and listeners can play them on a computer or burn them to a CD or any other digital recording device. A few people are even experimenting with video recordings that can be played on a computer or portable video player.

Podcasting is easy to do, just not easy to do well. All a podcaster needs is a microphone that can connect to a computer to create the sound file and software (like the popular free program Audacity) that can turn it into an MP3 file. These recordings can be uploaded to the Net for free using Web sites like Odeo and Podomatic. When uploading a podcast, the creator inserts key words that anyone using software like iTunes can search, just as is done for Web sites.


Podcasters offer a few keys to good podcasts:

• A true podcast is syndicated, which means that people who become interested in podcasts from a particular source can automatically download new programs when they become available.

• Many podcasts are poorly recorded rants. For a more professional sound, podcasters can invest in microphones and mixing software to edit music and effects into the recording.

• It helps to use a rough script or an outline to keep the program moving.

• Listeners prefer panel discussions or interviews—formats with multiple speakers—rather than a monologue. “When we started, we were much more self-conscious—‘Boy, does my voice sound like that?’ kind of stuff,” Ambrogi says. “Now we’ve realized it’s all about the guests and making sure they sound good.”

Finding guests can be challenging until a show catches on, says Ambrogi, who produces a podcast called Coast to Coast with Newport Beach, Calif., attorney J. Craig Williams. The two have spoken mostly to local attorneys, but they have snagged some higher-profile guests like former ABA President Michael S. Greco of Boston. They do the show for free for the Legal Talk Network, but are seeking sponsors.

St. Louis attorney Evan Schaeffer self-produces podcasts as part of his own blog, Legal Underground, and has several hundred subscribers. But he thinks podcasts are still too difficult for most people to download.

“Nobody wants to sit chained to their computer to listen to these things, and I think it’s still too difficult to separate them from the computer,” Schaeffer says.

But like blogging, podcasting raises a firm’s profile and humanizes it with a real voice. “This is not a mass-market endeavor; it’s more of a micro-market media,” says Howell. “But if you do it well, it’s a way to have a dynamic Web presence that will keep people coming back.”


Where to Find Law Podcasts

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