The vintage legal blogger and tweeter, Charon QC [“veteran” surely? Ed] features on every list of legal commentators worth following. His 81,000 or so tweets encompass everything from what he had for breakfast, through television reviews and political comment, to (which is what really matters) focused and timely commentary on the big legal issues, driven by a very strong sense of the supremacy of the law, a feeling for what is right, and a sharp eye and pen for the follies of mankind.
One of his recent tweets offered a rebuke to a public relations person who had sent him not one, but two, copies of a press release, apparently in the hope that he would promote some product. As with most other areas of business life, legal technology PR contains a few who are absolutely excellent and those, too many to mention, whose continued existence in this market is a source of constant amazement. Too many of them have no idea what they are trying to promote, no idea about the market, and no idea about relating to people, and they were clearly in another room when the basics of grammar and spelling were taught at school.
Down at the bottom of my list are those who, knowing that I have some interest in legal technology but having no idea which bit of it I focus on, send me everything – billing and time-recording are obviously my favourites. I once got an e-mail clearly intended for Charles Christian – my e-mail address but the heading included Charles’s name or, at least, a recognisable variant on the spelling of Charles’s name. I was once sent, presumably in error, a spreadsheet of all the intended recipients of legal technology mailshots, complete with (in some cases) a commentary about them. My own entry was sadly lacking in detail, but I would like to think that it would read something like:
Grouchy, picky, does not suffer fools gladly, intolerant of material which is either irrelevant or likely to alienate any recipient. Has world-wide audience, does not hesitate to use it, and is likely to be read by the clients. Catch him on the right day with a topic of interest to his readers and he will do his best to make it interesting. Handle with care.
Anyway, Charon QC’s tweet said that he had sent the offending public relations person a bill for his time spent on reading the unsolicited press release. Presumably the fee doubled because he had been sent two copies of it.
A whole new and valuable type of application sprang fully formed into my head on reading this. If you were to take the power of Outlook rules and combine it with some of the very sophisticated technology available in the e-Disclosure environment, you could easily automate the process of reacting to this type of spurious communication. Software capable of extracting meaning and context as well as keywords could identify it as a press release and establish whether its subject matter was of interest. If it failed to meet the specified criteria, a bill could be generated automatically and either submitted for review (to make sure that you did not send it in error to your best client) or simply sent out with a suitably worded e-mail.
Some organisations automatically pay any bill rendered to them, and Charon QC might keep himself in Marlboros and Rioja on the proceeds. One might at least stem the flow of inarticulate junk. I will call this app PissOffPRs 1.0.
My objection is not based solely on my own wish to cut down the crap in my InBox – I can deal with that with simple Outlook rules which send most of it straight to the oubliette unread. What really offends is that the lawyers will devise similar avoidance strategies which will not distinguish between targeted material – stuff they might actually want to read – and the grapeshot.
Charon QC and I have both been victims today of a related problem. These are untargeted streams of #ffs – a Twitter device called Follow Friday by which one shows appreciation for the output of other tweeters and recommends them to others. Now, some #ffs give one a warm glow – one this morning, from the eminent editor of a well-respected legal magazine, included me in what was evidently a hand-picked list of “Bright sparks” which I was touched by and much appreciated. The ones which arrive in a pack have no such discrimination; I did not realise until this evening that you can get apps which generate these automatically and spew them out to all and sundry. I have had two such floods today and, since TweetDeck shows only the most recent 200 tweets in your timeline, this auto-garbage drives out things you might actually want to see. Twitter is said to be working on a way of suppressing the misuse of #ffs, presumably using algorithms similar to those which I refer to above.
Inspired by this, Charon claims to have his own app which, he says, writes his blog posts and tweets. He is working on PissedBot 2.0. Perhaps we could package PissedBot 2.0 with PissOffPRs 1.0 and provide a “unique and revolutionary” (as they ALWAYS say in PR-land) end-to-end (ditto) solution for creating our own dross and dealing with that created by others.