Lawyers and Podcasting

An edited version of the following was published in the January 16th, 2006 issue of Law Times News:

Last month’s column examined the blogging phenomena. This month we examine another related development, the emergence of podcasts.

Podcasts are downloadable audio shows that can be downloaded to and played on an iPod or other MP3 audio playback device. This is in contrast to steaming audio programs, where the entire program does not need to be downloaded prior to listening, but where the listener must remain connected to the Internet for the entire time while listening to the program..

Although it is possible to search and download individual podcasts (see podcasts.yahoo.com), many podcast listeners use special software to automate the process (for example, ipodder or itunes). Such software allows a user to select the podcasts they are interested in from a directory and then pick individual shows to be downloaded based on date, episode title and/or description. Alternatively, the software can be set to automatically download all new episodes of a particular podcast.

The standardization on MP3 as a distribution format means these programs can be listened to on just about any portable music player or MP3 compatible car stereo rather than being limited to specific compatible audio playing devices with as is the case with downloadable books in audio format. CDROM “burning” software can also be used to convert downloaded MP3 podcasts into normal CD format that can be played on any car CD player.

In addition to passively listening to podcasts, some lawyers have also started experimenting with recording and distributing their own podcasts. This comes as no surprise given that many lawyers are particularly fond of their own voice and self promotion.

The quality of legal-oriented podcasts is not consistent. One attorney records her podcasts in her car by dictating into her cellphone, sometimes with sounds from her baby in the back seat. Another attorney records his podcasts in his home sound studio, utilizes a professional introduction and incorporates a musical soundtrack in the background.

While some podcasts are amateur one-person operations, podcasts also include a lot of repackaging of content that is aired on commercial radio stations. One example is a weekly science show broadcast on public radio. A legal-oriented example is The Law Report (Australia) which recently had podcasts on proposed anti-terror laws, surveillance in the workplace and lawyers who sleep with their clients.

Some podcasts tend to spend a lot of time on administrative type matters that are repeated in each episode. Also, many legal podcasts are heavy on the self promotion – that’s what lawyers like to do so don’t be surprised if the first five minutes is just a glorified advertisement for the speaker. All this means that its important to use an MP3 player that can easily fast forward through programs.

Although there doesn’t seem to be a good single source for a list of law-related podcasts, one place worth checking is www.blawgcast.com There isn’t a lot of content currently available on substantive legal topics. However, podcasts can be a useful means to stay current about new developments in industries where clients operate. In my case, I’ve found numerous choices that address new developments in the technology industry.

As a concluding thought, several years ago, the Law Society of Upper Canada started to provide online access to the bar admission course materials. I don’t know how much such materials are being accessed by practicing lawyers but suspect that at least some lawyers who would not otherwise read such materials on a computer screen may be more willing to listen in the car or on the subway. Particularly if such time could be applied towards the LPIC CLE discount on professional insurance fees.