We are pleased to have received an excellent post from Kate O’Toole, a former colleague of mine at the Massachusetts Bar Association. Kate has written on Google Wave, and her take on the system appears below. Kate has also been kind enough to agree (and cannot back out now) to provide us with another post, that one covering Google Buzz, which post, to be the second in this short series, should release sometime in April, as the weather, hopefully, continues to warm.

Kate works as a law clerk for Rawson, Merrigan & Litner LLP in Boston, having previously worked in communications for the Massachusetts Bar Association and Shawmut Design and Construction. She is a third year evening student at Suffolk University Law School, and is a bit of a tech geek, who loves learning about creative ways to market using Web 2.0 technology, like Twitter.

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Launched last fall, Google Wave generated a ton of buzz before its release. Technology bloggers published “first looks” and initial reviews, hailing it as “a compelling and potent collaboration tool that promises to boost productivity, help increase levels of integration with existing IT systems and capture/share greater amounts of institutional knowledge.”

But, What is Google Wave? In a nutshell, it’s like a love child of e-mail and Twitter and AOL Instant Messenger. Instead of zipping someone a quick e-mail, you start a “wave”, which is like a thread that includes every attachment, message and chat conversation you have with someone relative to whatever subject you choose. A wave is more versatile than a regular e-mail. With a wave, you can: insert unique, interactive gadgets, such as maps and polls; drag and drop files from your desktop and plop them into ongoing conversations; and, even export an entire wave and embed it into a blog. For a solid introduction to what Google Wave is all about, and some insights on the lingo, I suggest reading this guide, from the social media gurus at Mashable.

For now, the technology is still in preview, and requires an invitation to register. To get an invite, you can try signing up through Google; although, I signed up about a month before Wave was launched, and still haven’t received anything from Google. In the days immediately following the product’s release, people were so desperate for invitations that they even bid on them on eBay! Personally, I had better luck searching on Twitter for “google wave invite” and stumbled upon a woman who was giving some away. I recommend this method, and there should be plenty of invitations floating out there in cyberspace. (In fact, if you’re interested in trying Google Wave, Jared and Rodney have invites to spare.)

When I was finally able to snag an invitation and to log on, I was disappointed, though not very surprised, to discover that only about two people on my GMail contact list also had access to Google Wave. I was impressed that Wave automatically pulled in my GMail information and contact list, and also liked how the interface closely mirrors Google’s other applications (GMail, Docs, etc.). However, three months later, while I have about 200 contacts in my GMail account, only about 12 of them have popped up on my Google Wave list. I imagine that someday, if Google’s dreams come true, all e-mail will phase into the Google Wave format. For now, Google Wave just feels like another account that I have to monitor, or at least to check on. But, I never check on it–because very few people I know use it.

But things have to start somewhere, right? While this tool is obviously a work in progress, it does seem to have plenty of promise as a communication mode of the future. Hypothetically, if it becomes mainstream, like regular e-mail, here are some ways that lawyers could benefit from it:

Client Communication

Jay Fleischman, at “The Untethered Lawyer”, offers a scenario where Google Wave helps to improve the lines of communication between attorneys and new clients. Through a single wave, an attorney can start talking to a client and discuss some potential issues. The client can easily drag and drop documents, maps, and photographs into the wave. Once you determine that there is a potential claim, you can drag your paralegal or associate into the thread to add more information or insights. Whenever you need to communicate with your client moving forward, you simply add to the original wave, and the entire record of your communications is in a single place.

Attorney blogger Dan Friedlander of “Law on my Phone” also envisions Google Wave as an easy way to work on interrogatories with clients. Having an ongoing, working draft of a set of interrogatory answers would eliminate saving a string of documents ranging from “ints – client”, “ints – revised”, “ints – revised 2,” and “ints – revised 2, final v.3”, etc.

While these scenarios would be remarkable timesavers, there are still many clients who don’t even use e-mail. Clients who are on board with the Wave would likely be few and far between, at least for the foreseeable future. But, Twitter grew 1382% in the course of a year, so you never know!

Group Collaboration

This is where Google Wave can really shine. Google Wave features real time collaboration using technology it acquired from EtherPad. EtherPad had established a neat website that created a public notepad where multiple authors could collaborate on the same document in real time, with different contributors highlighted in different colors of text.

Imagine pasting a draft of an assented to motion into a wave, where opposing counsel can make suggested edits as necessary, either at their leisure, or while working on it with you in real time, rather than collaborating through the exchange of phone calls and multiple e-mails with a million different attachments. After the completion of revisions, you can play back the wave like a video, so you can see the sequencing of edits and comments. You can apply this same process to contract drafting and negotiation, as well as to memos, to research, or to any sort of project management within your firm.

So, where do we go from here? Unfortunately, the only option is really to start slowly, because the technology is still in its early stages. I suggest that you scrounge up an invitation and at least get your account set up, and find a friend or colleague who is interested in using it with you. Start a wave, and see what it’s like. Try doing some online collaboration, play with t
he gadgets and test out the real-time chatting/editing.

My only disclaimer is that, since the product is still in beta release, the security and stability may not be perfect. I do not suggest starting waves that include sensitive, privileged information, just to be safe. Internet security is certainly not my area of expertise; but, if you are concerned about the security of your communications, here is some suggested reading:

http://googlewavesecurity.com/

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/security/?p=2748

http://theharmonyguy.com/2009/10/19/first-impressions-on-security-in-google-wave/

Still haven’t had your fill of Google Wave? The blog community has a plethora of insights, tips and information to offer about this new tool. A quick search will yield many, many hits. Good luck, and happy surfing!