Jul 13, 2009

Another New Networking Site for Lawyers

2 Comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

A new online networking site for lawyers and other professionals, HubSTREET, is unusual in that it evolved out of a bricks-and-mortar networking event. The site’s founder, Nancy Fox, is a professional networking and business-development coach. In October, she launched a regular New York City networking program, The MetroRoundTable, to facilitate networking between lawyers and accountants. The two groups, it seemed to her, were a natural fit for referring business to each other. Soon after, she also brought bankers into the mix.

The events were such a success, Fox says, that she began to research how similar networking could be done online. Her conclusion, reinforced by feedback from her clients, was that existing professional networking sites such as LinkedIn were too broad to allow the kind of interaction she saw at the face-to-face events. Finding nothing out there that fit what she was looking for, she decided to start her won site.

HubSTREET went online in June and will not be formally launched until September. Fox describes it as a blend of Facebook and LinkedIn – less social than Facebook and less resume-driven than LinkedIn. From my perspective, I see it more as occupying a middle ground between LinkedIn’s broad horizontal approach to professional networking and the vertical, lawyer-specific approach taken by sites such as Legal OnRamp and Martindale-Hubbell Connected.

Rather than be overly broad or intentionally narrow, HubSTREET targets a narrow slice of the professional services sector – lawyers, accountants and lenders. The rationale is that these three groups share a natural affinity that makes sense for networking. “As natural referral partners, you will now have the opportunity to meet the right people on line to build a richer, more robust referral base and ultimately your practice,” HubSTREET says.

The truth, of course, is that some lawyers’ practices share natural affinities with accountants and lenders and others do not. It all depends on the practice. For me, as someone whose practice involves media and technology law and ADR, accountants and bankers are unlikely to be referral sources for me or I for them. Still, it can’t hurt to hobnob with people whose jobs are to lend and count money.

Why Another Site?

With so many networking sites already available and so few hours in a day, I approach any new site with the question, Why do we need another? For me, the only good answer to that question is that the new site offers me something different than what the others offer and that the “something different” is of value to me in some way.

As noted, HubSTREET’s “something different” is its community – its blend of lawyers, accountants and lenders. Without question, that sets it apart. But does it provide value?

Its claim is that it “takes the work out of networking by bringing you together with the right quality connections – professionals and experts that are relevant to your business.” Therein is the rub. If accountants and lenders are sufficiently relevant to your practice (and if they participate in sufficient numbers and with sufficient geographic diversity), then HubSTREET could prove to be of value. It seems to me, for example, that lawyers who represent small businesses and small entrepreneurs might find this useful.

But if accountants and lenders are not sufficiently relevant to your practice, then why bother? By positioning itself as the networking site for these three groups of professionals, HubSTREET is narrowing the slice of the legal community to which it is likely to appeal. I do not mean to suggest that is a negative — I think “niche” networking sites could come to have an important place in online networking.

One other “something different” HubSTREET offers is what Fox describes as “facilitation.” Until the site grows to the point where it develops a momentum of its own, she intends to help it along. She will do this through two techniques:

  • A site coach. Fox offers members her help as a “site coach” to answer questions “about how to use HubSTREET for your practice.”
  • Virtual meet and greets. Fox says these will be brief, half-hour teleconferences designed to introduce members who have mutual interests in learning more about each other.

I like this idea of facilitated online networking. From what I see, lawyers often hit a speed bump in their online networking where they connect with someone but then have no idea of how to build on that connection. Advice from a biz-dev coach and opportunities to chat by phone about mutual interests could help nudge professionals over that bump.

Apart from these features, HubSTREET looks much like any other networking site – make connections, join groups, participate in discussion forums and post content. Ultimately, the proof of a networking site is in the pudding. Does it attract members and become a vital hub of constructive activity? It is too early to tell for this site. As of this writing, it has fewer than 100 total members. Of its groups, the lawyers’ group is the largest, with 10 members. The accountants’ group has six members and the lenders’ group has four.

Gina F. Rubel, someone whose opinion I respect, wrote a positive review of HubSTREET for The Legal Intelligencer. The site could “serve as yet another excellent social networking tool for lawyers, perhaps one those who tend to be more conservative will be inclined to embrace,” she said.

My gut instinct is that this site will never attract large numbers of lawyers as members. At best, it could prove useful to the subset of the legal profession that wants targeted networking with accountants and lenders. Even then, there are a couple of big “ifs” – if accountants and lenders also buy into using the site in sufficient numbers and if those accountants and lenders are ones with whom the lawyers share some community of interest, be it through geography or industry.

2 comments

  • Jim Calloway · July 13, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Their challenge is that most of those who might be interested already have trouble keeping up with their current social networking sites and other online activites, at least I do! Any new contender at this date is going to have to provide some real value and uniqueness.

    Lawyers are busy. You can only spend so much time online and only so much time networking, online or otherwise.

    Reply

  • Steve Matthews · July 13, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    I must admit I dismissed this site when I saw that their underlying technology was built on the Ning platform. Nothing wrong with Ning, mind you, but the site then becomes all about the audience & community, and any technological innovation will be up to the fine folks at Ning.

    Perhaps we're at the point where blogging, topical groups & friending is status quo tech, and that creating a valuable community is the sole delivery. Maybe, but is also the most difficult task for any website to execute. Successful communities require a really dedicated group of people to constantly seed the discussion, each and every day.

    hubSTREET may get there, and able to build out that type of environment… I don't know. But like every other SN out there, we're once left to wonder: what is the revenue model? can they gain traction? and will it be around a year from now?

    All that said, I wholeheartedly agree that there's a curious middle ground between the Lawyer networks and the bigger SN tools. New sites that can mimic the value of offline professional relationships (tax lawyers & tax accountants being an example) should have an excellent opportunity to innovate.

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