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Extras - Book Review: The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers by Jerry Lawson

By Dennis Kennedy, Published on April 18, 1999

Dennis Kennedy is Director of Legal Technology at NetTech, Inc., a St. Louis-based technology consulting company that specializes in law firms and legal technology. Dennis writes the legal technology column for Lawyers Weekly USA and writes and speaks frequently on legal technology and Internet topics. He also edits and publishes "Legal Technology Strategies," a free monthly legal technology e-mail newsletter.

(Archived May 17, 1999)

If you have been looking for that one great book about how to use the Internet to recommend to lawyers and others in the legal profession, your search is over. Put Jerry Lawson's new book, The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers, at the top of your list. It is complete, it is definitive and it lives up to its title. You will want a copy for yourself and your library as well. I suggest you also consider using the book as part of your Internet training for attorneys and staff.

One of the many things I like about this book is that, all at the same time, it is valuable for beginners, intermediate users and Internet experts.  Lawson has concentrated on providing lots of solid, practical tips and techniques, recommending a few important resources, giving short, lucid explanations of technical issues, and stressing concrete benefits of using the Internet. Interspersed among the practical discussion are some of the most perceptive and thought-provoking analyses of the implications of the Internet that you can find in print today. Another good feature: unlike other Internet books, there are no long lists of URLs that are out of date at the time the book is printed. Instead, the book will have a companion Web site that will serve as an up-to-date reference source.

Lawson focuses on the practical issues and, at the same time, explores the real-world implications of each of the twenty different aspects of Internet he covers. For example, the chapter on Internet discussion groups starts out with a section called "A New Research Paradigm?" and explores the implications, utility and benefits of discussion groups rather than starting with a technical definition of "listserv" or "majordomo." He follows with a short explanation of what e-mail discussion lists are, how to get started, why they work and how to act when you join a list. He includes an actual example of doing research using a discussion list. After whetting your appetite with the concrete benefits of using discussion lists for research, he then provides you with the more technical details, alerts you to some of the problem areas and how to avoid them, and compares e-mail lists to similar resources like newsgroups and Web-based message boards.

If that's not enough, he explains the etiquette of the lists, how to ask questions, and your obligations to answer and participate in a discussion list community. He talks about how to manage high-volume lists (some lists have an overwhelming number of messages on a daily basis) and how to start your own private discussion lists. He ends with some creative suggestions for using lists and a prediction that this type of "community" research will become even more powerful in the near future.

As I suggested earlier, he uses a similar approach on twenty different Internet topics ranging from Web pages to e-mail, from research to marketing to privacy to ethics and collaboration, and earns the right to use the word "complete" in the title. This format works for all types of Internet users.  For the beginner, it's a great way to learn what's out there, the benefits of each type of Internet usage and how to get started. For the intermediate user who is usually clamoring to know how to use the Internet better, there are practical examples, resources and techniques. For experts, there are many pearls of wisdom that you will wish you knew years ago (some tips reminded me of mistakes I've made and wish I could forget) and many thought-provoking discussions and predictions about where the Internet is taking us. I thoroughly recommend the last three chapters, which form a section called "Putting It All Together," for anyone who is interested in thinking about where the Internet will take us.

A highlight of the book is what I know is Lawson's favorite part of the book: a section he calls "Other Voices." In it, Lawson includes a series of "top ten" tips lists from over thirty experts on various Internet topics.  The experts do not hold much back and the lists will give you some of the very best tips for using the Internet currently in print. There are lists of best resources for practice areas, for new users, for law librarians, for judges and much more. Throughout the book, Lawson emphasizes that the value of the Internet arises out of the communities and collaboration it creates.  This section shows both that he practices what he preaches and the power of collaboration. This section is extremely useful and is a welcome change from the usual long lists of resources organized by subject areas found in many popular and standard Internet books.

Those of us who've been on the Internet for a long time have generally learned things the hard way, by trial and error, with many embarrassing mistakes along the way. From time to time, though, we've found a Web site, an article, Burgess Allison's book (written in 1995 and, unfortunately, becoming less useful as time passes), a discussion on an e-mail list or a conversation with another Internet expert that's made a world of difference to us and helped us out. Lawson has given newcomers to the Internet a great gift of a collection of Internet lore and wisdom that will help them avoid all the same mistakes. Instead, they can use the Internet more effectively more quickly and start to go beyond where the early Internet pioneers have already taken us.

As you probably guessed, I know Jerry Lawson and have long enjoyed his articles, e-mails and conversations. He's done a great job of pulling together a huge amount of practical information, tips and techniques and starting a dialog on the implications of the Internet in the profession.  He's one of the people who really "gets" the Internet and who conveys a passion and excitement about its possibilities. The book reflects that passion and excitement and is very readable and well organized. The first time I started to skim through the book, I noticed that an hour-and-a-half had passed before I tore myself away. You can dip into the book at almost any point and be rewarded with what you find.

A final comment. Lawson dedicates the book to "the teachers." And he generously names the ones who have mattered to him. With this book, he honors those teachers and joins their ranks. We can all only wish that we would have been taught by them as well. We are lucky, though, to get the chance to be taught by Lawson. A great book by a great guy and a great teacher. I recommend it most highly.

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The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers

Click here to order this book from Amazon.com,

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Contact the American Bar Association Service Center (800-285-2221 or its Web site for ordering information (price: $49.95). The companion Web site can be found at http://www.abanet.org/lpm/netbook/.