On May 21st Bloomberg BNA will be releasing a new product which focuses on the emerging constellation of issues referred to as “social media law.” The Social Media Law & Policy Report is BNA’s first new “notification product” since 2009. It will cover social media issues emerging in a wide range of legal practice areas  including labor, health, advertising, intellectual property, securities and litigation.

Why Social Media?

Bloomberg BNA’s press release states: “The far-reaching implications of social media disputes and litigation across legal practice areas make it imperative that companies, law firms, and their clients have control over their social media initiatives and understand the potential ramifications as they use these powerful new tools,” said Edwin Jackson, Director of Publishing for Bloomberg BNA’s Legal & Business Publishing Group.’ With social media, we’ve seen time and time again that what you don’t know can hurt you’.”

What’s Different About this Product?

BNA describes the product as a hybrid between the traditional BNA electronic newsletters and the BNA practice centers. Unlike most BNA services, this product will not have a print counterpart and will not be updated on a formal daily or weekly publishing schedule. SMLPR will be a web-only product which is continuously updated. Subscribers can also set up personalized alerts and receive email delivery of all news or custom news updates as they are posted. While some of the materials will appear in other topical reports, the materials selected for inclusion in the SMLPR will all focus on some aspect of social media law.

The Evolving Newsletter Niche

One of my biggest complaints with the major legal publishers is that there are too many “copy cat” products which are only marginally distinguishable from their competitors. I am always asking publishers deliver something new, so I applaud BNA on introducing a product that is delivering new content in a redefined digital “newsletter” plus practice materials.

BNA newsletters were originally developed in a pre-internet world. BNA has a long and distinguished history producing newsletters in very traditional practice areas such as labor, tax, patents. They now have dozens of specialized topical reports. In a pre-internet world, they provided relatively quick access to content that might not otherwise be available for months. They included only documents and commentary that editors determined to be of interest to practitioners in a specialized practice area. BNA was also the first major publisher to deliver their newsletters on a completely digital web enabled platform.

Although speed of access to primary is no longer a problem, SMLPR’s value proposition appears to be the editorial selection and aggregation of the best and most relevant content from across a wide variety of legal disciplines. This focus will allow lawyers to easily monitor legal issues arising from social media. This is an efficiency and productivity play.

Current Awareness Plus Practice Resources

In a move that appears to be targeting the practice support approach of the Practical Law Company (PLC), the “Social Media” platform will move beyond “monitoring new developments and include a variety of practice materials

Sample Policies: BNA will provide access to sample social media polices from top US companies. They currently have policies from Coca Cola, IBM and Best Buy.

Compliance Checklists

Primary Sources: Federal and State Cases, Federal and State Statutes, Federal Regulatory materials including regulations, administrative and agency documents and state ethics opinions

BNA Insights Will include articles written by BNA editorial staff as well as leading practitioners.

Calendar of Events

The Skeptics Response

The skeptics may wonder if such a product is really necessary. The skeptics may remember other highly specialized products and wonder if Social Media is a trendy or ephemeral issue rather than a sustainable and growing body of law that will evolve into a distinct legal discipline introducing new legal principles and standards of its own. Newsletters can suffer both from being too broad and too specific.

Can a Newsletter be too Specialized?

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound causing one of worst environmental disasters in US history. I received a promotional issue of the Alaska Oil Spill Reporter from an unknown publishing house within a week of the disaster. I joked that the tanker’s infamous Captain Hazelwood was still recovering from his hangover… and yet a newsletter has been born. I had to concede that in the pre-internet world – this narrow specialization did indeed fit a need for access to documents relating to both the environmental issues and the growing litigation. In a pre-internet world, specialty newsletters were often the best source for unpublished primary source documents.

BNA also ventured into a tight niche with the Year 2000 Law Reporter, which focused on the potential liabilities which would arise from programming errors triggered by the Millennium bug. A digital Armageddon was expected to erupt at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000 paralyzing everything from traffic lights to global banking exchanges. Not a single catastrophe was reported and the newsletter quietly faded away in the early weeks of the new millennium.

I have long been a reader another inter-disciplinary product, BNA’s Electronic Commerce and Law Report. In my opinion, that product is a good model of how a newsletter can cast a wide net across the legal landscape and weave together an informative array of domestic and international cases, statutes, policies and self- regulatory organization materials. Assuming that the market is ready and the price is right, the social media product with it’s new updating model and practice focus will be worth a trial for practitioners who are trying to track this emerging issues as social media law evolves.

BNA has not yet released pricing information for the Social Media Law & Policy Report.

Wondering Out Loud…

Will the Social Media Law and Policy Report have a Facebook page…And will lawyers “like” it…..