A little while back, we talked about our upcoming series on “FreeSources,” free or low-cost tools to help legal marketers find information, learn about industry trends, and improve their ability to add value to their firms. Our first edition is finally here, and we’re starting with the basics: free tools that you can use to educate yourself about the law.
Confession: When I first started working with my firm’s intellectual property practice, the only patents that I cared about were leather…and found in the women’s shoe department. I quickly realized that if I was going to effectively serve the practice and attorneys, at the very least, I needed a basic understanding of IP law.
Asking lawyers who charge clients hundreds of dollars an hour to explain the basics of IP didn’t seem like a great way for me to establish credibility or add value, so I turned to some of the resources below for a quick and dirty J.D. Have they helped? I’ll put it like this: this former English major isn’t going to be prosecuting patents anytime soon, and probably wouldn’t win an argument about the merits of the “machine-or-transformation test” …but now I at least I know what machine-or-transformation is.
Wikipedia: First, the disclaimers: 1. I know that Wikipedia isn’t a huge secret. 2. Because content is user-generated, the information can be suspect. Even with those caveats, Wikipedia is an incredible source for learning the basics of law. Want to know how a litigation case typically proceeds? Click here. Interested in why an attorney may want their case heard in a particular venue? Check this out. Wondering how the Clean Water Act may affect your clients? Bam.
A Wikipedia page is more than just the main entry. The “See Also” boxes at the bottom and right-hand side of a page have links to related entries that offer additional information on the subject you’re researching.
On the left-hand side of the page, under Print/Export, Wikipedia gives you the option to “Create A Book” – a compilation of the Wikipedia pages most relevant to you. Willing to gamble a little? Wikipedia will even suggest pages for inclusion in your book based on the content you’ve already selected. After finalizing the pages you want included, export the book to a PDF or order a printed copy. It’s like your own, personalized – FREE – textbook!
iTunes U: Apple’s contributions to my life aren’t limited to on-demand access to Fruit Ninja and Facebook status updates. In 2007, Apple announced the development of iTunes U, a service that manages and distributes educational audio, video and PDFs provided by accredited, qualified universities, graduate schools and organizations from around the world.
With a few keystrokes, you can access more than 350,000 files on iTunes U, including audio and video lectures and course materials. Like a traditional podcast, users can either download individual files or subscribe to a stream so that iTunes will automatically download new content as it becomes available. iTunes U offers lectures and course materials covering a wide range of practice areas and types of law. If you’re looking to familiarize yourself with the terms and concepts in a particular area of practice or industry, check out a general course like “Making Sense of Banking in the 21st Century” or an overview of The Clean Air Act. When you’re ready to move onto law school classes, a quick search turns up lectures on tax and estate, immigration, healthcare, mergers and acquisitions and environmental law.
Still want to know more? (Teacher’s pet!) Prestigious business schools and professional organizations offer access to courses that can help you raise your business IQ. How about an Introduction to Business Statistics? Or The Ins and Outs of A Successful Biotechnology Company?
Although some content is available only to students enrolled at a particular institution, I’ve listened to introductory-level law classes from Yale, Harvard, the University of California at Davis, the University of Chicago and others…all without that pesky student loan payment.
Podcasts: Podcasting is an increasingly popular way of sharing audio files via the Internet or iTunes, and is a key component of the existence of iTunes U. Podcasts are digital audio files that can be downloaded and listened to with different types of audio file players (iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.), which makes them a great, flexible choice for self-education. Even better, many podcasts are created in series form, providing ongoing education and information. The analogy that I like to use is that a podcast is like an album on iTunes. You can pick and choose the singles that you like, download the whole album, or have iTunes keep you updated on when new songs from that artist become available. When you find a podcast resource that you like, you can manually download a single podcast or pick and choose the “episodes” that you want to listen to, or subscribe to a series for ongoing education and automatic downloads.
Some of our favorite law industry podcast resources include:
Of course, for ease of use, it’s hard to beat iTunes as a resource for finding podcasts. You may need to download their app or check out their “Tips for Podcast Fans” to get the most out of podcasts such as Immigration Basics, Estate Planning, Basics of Copyright Law or Political Law. Other quality podcast offerors include the American Bar Association, The Philadelphia Bar Association, The Legal Toolkit, Law School Podcaster, The University of Chicago Law School Faculty Podcast and the University of Virginia School of Law.
Other resources include law firm websites, which may have podcasts on developments in specific areas of law or developments in legislation. Be creative in your searches- think of organizations that your attorneys belong to or pay attention to, like RIMS, the American Bar Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the American Bankers Association and see what they offer to members. You may find podcasts that will be beneficial to you…and to your attorneys.