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January 2005

Could Podcasting Be CLE's New Wave?

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Its name evokes images of some sort of sci-fi fly fishing, but podcasting may just be the next big thing in CLE.

Think about all the hours you waste driving in your car, sitting on a subway or waiting at an airport. What if you could use that time to listen to up-to-the-minute and substantive broadcasts covering news from your practice area or jurisdiction?

You won't hear it on NPR. You won't even find it on satellite radio. But you may someday soon get it through podcasting.

The "pod" in this context refers not to alien life forms but to the Apple iPod portable music player. Simply put, podcasting is a way of distributing digital audio files, usually MP3 files, for playback in an iPod or other MP3 player. Of course, you don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts - you can listen to them on your computer or burn them onto CDs.

Although still in its infancy, podcasting is becoming increasingly popular among bloggers, who have adapted the syndication tools used to distribute their written postings to allow them to record and distribute audio files.

Just as you would use a news aggregator to track the RSS or Atom syndication feeds of your favorite bloggers or news sites, you can use podcast aggregators to track and automatically download your favorite audio feeds.

The number of podcasts is growing rapidly, but, so far, only a handful cover law. Of course, podcasting has been around only since last summer. Odds are the number of law-related podcasts will multiply rapidly over the next year.

Getting Started

So what is it? Wikipedia defines it this way: "Podcasting involves the recording of Internet radio or similar Internet audio programs. These recordings are then made available for download to portable digital audio device. You can listen to the podcast Internet radio program while you are away from your computer or at a different time than the original program was broadcast."

Podcasting came about through the collaborative efforts of Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ and popular blogger, and Dave Winer, founder of Userland Software and author of the RSS syndication protocol. RSS - for Really Simple Syndication - is the format that enables news headlines, blog postings and other Web content to be sent automatically to news readers on local computers.

Winer created a method for attaching digital audio files to RSS feeds. Curry spearheaded development of open-source software to monitor these feeds for new podcasts and then automatically download and install them on a local computer or digital audio device.

The software, iPodder, is available as a free download at http://ipodder.sourceforge.net. It runs on Windows, Macintosh and Linux systems. Others have developed podcast aggregators of their own. A list of these programs can be found at iPodder.org, Winer and Curry's Web site devoted to all things podcasting.

Having installed iPodder and with MP3 player in hand, you will want to begin immediately downloading all the law-related podcasts. Unfortunately, the pickings - at least as of this writing - are slim.

The 'Plawdosphere'

Denise Howell, a Newport Beach, Calif., lawyer who blogs at the site Bag and Baggage, is credited with having coined the terms "blawg" for law-related blogs and "blawgosphere" for the community of legal bloggers. More recently, Howell - whose blog frequently tracks developments in podcasting - coined the term "plawdosphere" for the community of legal professionals with podcasts.

On Jan. 9, Howell herself became a podcaster. Her first program touched on finding the perfect cell phone and using it to record a podcast. She also reviewed the week's highlights from other blogs.

Among lawyers, the most consistent podcaster is J. Craig Williams, also a lawyer in Newport Beach, Calif., who writes the blog, May It Please the Court. In addition to posting to his blog, Williams creates at least one podcast virtually every working day. His podcasts mirror his written postings, commenting on the day's legal news and offering observations about the practice of law.

In fact, Williams is so committed to podcasting that he recently set up a process for listeners to post their own audio comments, much like blog readers post written comments. They call a phone number listed on Williams' blog and record their comments. The audio files containing the comments are sent by e-mail to Williams, who has them posted on his blog.

You can find links to Williams' podcasts directly on his blog, or subscribe (using iPodder or something similar) to one of two syndication feeds Williams maintains for his podcasts.

Another legal podcaster is Ernest Miller, a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School who writes the blog, The Importance of . Miller has recorded a series of podcasts on The Importance of Law and IT.

His 30-to-45-minute podcasts cover recent developments in topics such as the INDUCE Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. His programs are structured like talk shows (or CLE programs), featuring lawyers as guest panelists with whom Miller discusses the topic at hand.

IT Conversations, the site that hosts Miller's podcasts, also is home to other podcasts about legal issues, which you can find at www.itconversations.com/series/law.html.

Bret A. Fausett, a technology attorney in Los Angeles who maintains the blog Lextext, offers podcasts of a different sort. Through the site Internet Pro Radio, Fausett makes available radio programs he has produced featuring an eclectic selection of his favorite music - ranging from Dwight Yoakam to Steve Earl to William Shatner.

But recently, Fausett skipped the music to over a podcast explaining the law of podcasting music - in other words, how to podcast RIAA music lawfully under license.

Podcast Directories

As of this writing, this is the universe of lawyers who podcast. But there are many other podcasts available, some professionally produced - such as Morning Stories, from a Boston public radio station, or On the Media, from National Public Radio - others delightfully unpolished.

To find podcasts, begin with these directories:

  • All Podcasts. A searchable index of podcasts that also organizes titles under a rudimentary categorical index.
  • Audio.WebLogs.com. Lists the 100 most recent podcasts.
  • DownloadRadio.org. A directory of radio programs available as podcasts.
  • iPodder.org. A directory of podcasts arranged by categories, including law.
  • iPodderX Podcast Directory. A searchable directory that is also indexed by category. It includes listings for law.
  • PodcastAlley.com. Lists podcasts by genre, but has no category for law.
  • Podcast Central. An underinclusive and uncategorized list of podcasts.
  • PodCasters.org. General information on podcasting, with a short list of podcast feeds.
  • Podcasting Directory. A list of podcasts.
  • Podcasting News. Includes a directory of podcasts by category, including law and government.
  • Podcast.net. A directory of podcasts arranged by topic, it includes "Politics and Government" and "Crime and Law."
  • PodFly.com. Calling itself "The Podcasting Portal," it includes a topical directory of podcasts, but no headings related to law.
  • Potkast.com. A nicely organized topical directory of podcasts, but with no categories for law.
Portable audiocasts for lawyers are nothing new. At least one company, LawCast, has offered subject-specific legal news programming for years on cassettes and CDs. But podcasting, like blogging, offers both immediacy and personality - features prepackaged audio recording can never duplicate.

Is it the future of CLE? Time will tell.


© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.