Google Alerts

by Charley Gee, YLS Futures Committee chair

What are your former clients saying about you? Does that judgment debtor have a new job yet? How are your competitors marketing themselves? Is someone selling a knock-off of your client's product? What is the other side's expert witness blogging about?

Google Alerts is a powerful, but simple, information gathering tool. The service gives attorneys and their staff a free and easy way to stay apprised, by e-mail alert, any time a desired phrase is "indexed" by Google.
 
What are Google Alerts
Quite simply, a Google Alert is an automated Google search that e-mails you whenever it finds new results for your search phrase. An example would be the Google Alert I have set for my name. Every time a webpage posts new content with "Charley Gee" in it, I receive an e-mail. By doing so I can see what is being written about me, by me, or to me.
 
How to Setup Google Alerts
Setting up a Google Alert is an easy seven step process:

1. Go to www.google.com/alerts;

2. Enter the phrase you want to search for (e.g. your name or the name of your firm);

3. Select where you would like your results to come from (I prefer the shotgun approach of "Everything" to begin with);

4. Select how often you would like to receive an alert. You can always change this, so I suggest selecting "As-it-Happens" and then slimming it down if you get overwhelmed;

5. Select whether you want "Only the best results" or "All results." Google does a pretty good job of cutting down on duplicates while preserving results, so I usually go with "Only the best results;"

6. Select the e-mail address you would like the results delivered to; then

7. Click "Create Alert" and you are done.
 
Tips on Using Google Alerts in a Legal Setting
There are many uses for Google Alerts in both litigation and transactional settings, and your imagination is the only limit. Here are a few of my uses with examples:

Your name and your firm's name. This is the most valuable use for Google Alerts. It gives you an up-to-date glimpse at what others are saying about you and your firm, as well as what others may be seeing about you if they Google you.

What your clients are up to. Is your personal injury plaintiff blogging about climbing Dog Mountain this weekend? It would be nice to know that before next month's deposition. Is your corporate client catching flack in online reviews for a bad product or service? Are they expanding or collapsing? You can use Google Alerts to monitor a wide range of online behavior.

Developments in areas of interest. This is what I "power use" Google Alerts for. Instead of taking time to look for, sort through, and process developments in a certain area, I let Google Alerts bring me the information.

Narrow phrasing can help you focus in on a particular area of interest. My firm is active in encouraging the passage, nationwide, of Vulnerable Roadway User laws that protect bicyclists and pedestrians using the roads. Since "Vulnerable Roadway User" is such a tailored term for what we are interested in, I have set a Google Alert that tells me every day what, if any, new content has been generated with that term in it. Often it is a blog or comment on an old story, but sometimes an alert reveals another state legislature considering Oregon's model as a bill. I can then use that bill number to track it through another Google Alert. A bill number is a narrow search phrase, returning only a few hits a week.

Broad search phrases also return valuable results. I am involved in the Portland bicycle scene professionally (as a "bike lawyer") and personally (as a daily bike commuter and bike-fun advocate). Because of this I have a Google Alert for Portland AND Bicycle. This broad search term returns hundreds of hits a week, but Google Alerts formats their e-mails in such a way that sifting through the results is quick and painless and reveals many stories that would otherwise be buried in Google search results.

Guerrilla Tactics. Most firms don't have the resources to pay someone to keep tabs on all the players in a case. Set a Google Alert for the name of your opposing party in a case and you may be amazed at what they say on the Internet. Set one for the name of opposing counsel to see where they are being mentioned or what they are saying. Set one for the name of experts and maybe you could learn what they are publishing or what others are saying about them.

Using Google Alerts as an information gathering tool can be overwhelming, so you will probably need to adjust the settings based the volume and frequency of alerts. Once you get used to the outpouring of information, though, you can hone Google Alerts into a powerful tool for your practice.