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Collaboration needed in this '2.0' world

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Published on 12/31/07

The latest technology buzzword is "Web 2.0" — the trend to interactivity on the Internet that is epitomized by the give and take between online users of blogs and social networking sites.

The idea is that the Internet experience means more if the visitor to a site is an active, participatory user rather than a passive viewer. I've found that to be the case with the reader and blawger interaction from my own blog. The give-and-take of Web 2.0 makes it more enriching, and personally valuable.

The 2.0 concept of interaction can, in fact, make the practice of law more meaningful in a number of ways. Consider, for example, the use of a professional coach.

Regular readers of this column know that I believe in the power of coaching to help lawyers improve their practices and their lives, but the coaching process itself must be an active one. Lawyers who passively wait for a coach to give them the answers or a pat on the back do not make proper use of the coaching experience.

At the 2.0 level, lawyers give feedback to the coach, participate in the dialog, and sometimes change the dialog (or the coach) completely. Active participation in the coaching process produces much better results, and in a real sense, it reflects the increasing expectation of business clients that their lawyers adopt performance targets as incentives for greater rewards. When the lawyer has "skin in the game," the result is more meaningful.

Apply the concept in another direction, to a collaborative, enduring lawyer-client relationship. It's the direct opposite of the one-way street that so often exists, where the lawyer tells the client what to do and submits the bill. In a 2.0 relationship, lawyer and client work together to assess needs and develop a proactive, interactive law approach, making recommendations to each other about actions and decisions that are mutually beneficial.

Years ago, one of my most successful trial experiences involved the active participation of my client. He worked with me to develop our case strategy, went over the list of potential witnesses with me, and offered guidance on which ones would best support our approach. Then he truly went the extra mile. Because he and the witnesses he chose were from the same small town, he knew that the witnesses would be reluctant to talk to a "big city lawyer" — so he went with me on the witness interviews and vouched for me to the people we had chosen to interview.

My inclination as the trial lawyer on the case might have been to tell the client to step back and let me handle the process. If I had done so we likely would have lost.

The phrase, "No man is an island unto himself," typifies effective lawyers who make the effort to interact with and learn from coaches, clients and peers. The dynamics of collaboration and communication define the 2.0 world and are essential to any successful law practice.

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