Top Ten Law School Home Pages of 2009

Law schools need web presence just like everyone else. And, with lawyers being the competitive sorts that they are, it is hard to resist a top ten list pitting one law school’s design sensibility against another. Check out Roger Skalbeck’s list of top sites (link here) porting to legal academia, and check out the sites themselves to see what’s happening. Skalbeck, of Georgetown Law, notes in his intro:

The website home page represents the virtual front door for any law school. It’s the place many prospective students start in the application process. Enrolled students, law school faculty and other employees often start with the home page to find classes, curricula and compensation plans. Home page content changes constantly. Deciding which home pages are good is often very subjective. Creating a ranking system for “good taste” is perhaps impossible.

This brief ranking report attempts to identify the best law school home pages based entirely on objective criteria. The goal was to include elements that make websites easier to use for sighted as well as visually- impaired users. Most elements require no special design skills, sophisticated technology or significant expenses.

I am almost as interested in how Mr. Skalbeck designed his “scientific process” for sussing out the best sites as I am the list itself. But my favorite part of all is that the vast majority of schools represented are not top-tier schools. Although my alma mater is sadly absent.

Congrats to the winners and better luck next year to the runners-up!

The Internet Is Over?

Oh, heck, it only just started! According to the man who originally was Prince, then became a symbol (I just learned it’s called “Love Symbol #2) and is now back to being Prince, the Internet is over. Context, please – Prince was being interviewed (link here) by the Mirror and was discussing “internet abuses” relative to his content. He also was talking about the anticipated release of his newest album, 20TEN, for free, exclusively, in the UK via the Daily Mirror newspaper. Via CD. No downloads. None of that pesky, problematic Internet stuff for Prince. Here is the quote:

“The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.

“The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.

“They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

I am guessing that if you are reading this, you might not share the same view about the internet. But rather than chuckle at Prince’s apparent backwards approach to modern technology, consider that this 52-year old pop icon is only one of many others that share a similar perspective. Maybe he had a bad experience on the internet, maybe she is completely unsure how to negotiate it. Whatever the reason, they just don’t GO there.

Maybe these Prince-lings are in your own firm or are your own clients. How do you deal? As you set up your on-line presence, hoping to grow the conversation in that venue, you may be alienating or, at the very least, not reaching the ears of a sizeable number of potential audience members.

Because we have yet not fully adopted the internet and related techn0logy to the same extent as the car or the telephone, the needs of non-Web-based colleagues and customers must be considered. Keep a real life presence, but don’t miss an opportunity to introduce and educate Web tools. Positive experience is the best motivation for adoption.

Maybe you could even show Prince that the internet isn’t such a bad place. Look what it did for Lady Gaga.

Disclaimer: despite my joking tone, let it be known that I am a HUGE Prince fan, eccentricities and all. And I urge you to hit the jump and read the interview – it’s very entertaining. What else would you expect?

Bringing Granular Search to Scholar

Cool new functionality available now in Google Scholar – you can  search within citations to an article! This is particularly helpful for sorting and sifting through the citations to particularly popular piece, like the example in the Google Scholar Blog article announcing the feature: Einstein’s famous paper Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?. When you see the “Cited By ##”  in the search results in your Scholar search, click on it and you will get a new search box:

This allows you to actually search within the articles listed in the citation results so that you can get to the subsequent treatment you are looking for.

What does this mean for lawyers? After pulling up the U.S. Supreme Court Opinion in Meritor Savings Bank, FSB  v. Vinson (link here), I searched within the citations to find “same gender discrimination” and cut my list of citations from 7,258 to 30.

Take THAT, Westlaw and Lexis! Read more on this awesome research tool at the Google Scholar Blog (link here).

From eBook to iBook

With an iPad equipped with iBooks (or iPhone with iOS4), I have wondered – how do I get run-of-the-mill variety PDFs and eBooks into iBooks. MakeUseOf has answered my unspoken call to action. Check out their primer (link here) on how to drop or convert ePub and PDF eBooks into an iBook-friendly format. They cover the topic beautifully with screenshots, so that even a dummy like me can do it. Points of interest from the article:

  • If you already have lots of ebooks or PDF formatted material already, you can drag and drop them into the Books tab in the left column of iTunes.
  • You can convert your other digital literature materials into ePub or PDF so that you can put them in the library.
  • Buy books from the iBooks store (see the “store” link in iBooks on your iDevice). Find free ones by typing “free” into the search box in the store.
  • Load PDFs attached to emails into iBooks by tapping on the PDF attachment, selecting “open in iBooks” along the top of the open attachment, and view it there.

Great tips to get you started on your iBookshelf.

Six Tips for Creating Web-Friendly Content

You want readers for your on-line content. And you want them to stick around for more. But, do you read the Internet the same way you read the  latest New York Times bestseller? Of course not! Unlike the book, which forces your attention toward a single story line, the Web is a crazy-quilt cornucopia of news, varying widely in content, quality and length. As a content creator, how do you frame your offerings so that they pull the attention of the reader your way?

Web readers read on-line material differently. Judging from my own experience, I tend to scan headlines and the first few sentences (or blurb) to see if the content catches my eye. Sometimes, I am pulled by an interesting picture. More often than not, my attention is directed toward an interesting hook.

While qualitative style and substance rule the offline reading world (and do play a part in online world as well), readability might be the most important attribute of online content. How easy is it for your reader to scan and latch onto your material? What do you find easiest to read? Here are some tips to consider:

  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Wolfing down huge bites of your lunch leaves your stomach feeling cramped. Wolfing down smaller bites is far more comfortable. Like food, small bits of information are easier to digest than larger ones. Craft smaller sentences and smaller paragraphs. Don’t try to cram too many ideas into one unit of writing / reading measure.
  • Use organizers to structure the information. Use headings in an outline-like structure to reinforce the stream of your argument. If your post is long, you can use links to various sections at the top of your post so your reader is not left to hunt and peck for the valuable nuggets.
  • Bullet points get points. There is a reason that posts titled or structured “Seven Best …” or “Fifteen Pitfalls to Avoid …” get more love – bullet points hit us with the organization our minds crave. Make sure your lists make sense – include an introductory phrase to explain in a few words what follows. And keep it simple.
  • Open up with your best hook. Write your posts like you would write an argument to the Court. Put the best argument up front, phrased in as simple and compelling a manner possible. Reinforce that argument throughout the writing. End with the argument, highlighting the best information introduced in your article that supports the point.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t overlook media, but don’t let the media overwhelm your post. Use images, videos, audio when they enhance and not simply because “they are cool.” I like to use a uniform-sized image at the start of all my posts to help the entire blog layout look organized. You can also use images throughout to underline points – screen shots are particularly helpful on this blog, which highlights technology and web tools.
  • Pay attention to physical layout of the piece. Keep typography in mind. Proper font size, line height, letter and paragraph spacing, white space, a simple color scheme, consistent layout, italics, bold and graphic elements like boxes for important concepts are great aids. When using these devices, always keep the overall look and readability in mind.

If your goal is to gain readers and increase their attention to your Web writing, consider these tips to help attract and retain. A little extra Web-friendly attention to detail goes a long way in increasing your content’s traction.

Lock Down Your Email

If you suddenly find yourself needing secure email, don’t worry – head over to Encrypt Easy (link here), a software purveyor that offers a free web service for encrypting email using the Blowfish algorithm. It couldn’t be easier: select a password for your email, type your message into the Web editor, then select “encrypt”, “decrypt” or “clear.” Give out the password to the desired recipient, and then save your message, email your message or even use it as an instant message.  

While the stripped down web service is free, it supports Encrypt Easy’s paid product: encryption software that protects private data, including files, folders and entire directory trees. The program features fast and simple one-click encryption using secure algorithms, as well as shredder and wipe-out utilities. The beauty of the software (built into the Web encrypter as well) is the fact it creates a self encrypting file, making it usable for sharing secure data with others who may not have their own encryption / decryption software.

Want to know a little more about strong passwords, the best encryption algorithms, or the whys and hows of encrypting? Check out their article links here.