Any site that sets out to become an exclusive online community for lawyers has a tough row to hoe. Lawyers are happy enough with LinkedIn and Facebook and do not seem all that interested in legal-vertical sites. We saw the ABA’s social networking site, LegallyMinded, shut down after barely two years. Another one, Lawford, launched last year and is already gone. Both Martindale-Hubbell Connected and Legal OnRamp are still operating, but the 2012 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report showed that both have only a fraction of lawyers as members — with 1.8% of lawyers saying they personally use Connected and 1% saying they use OnRamp.

So I was intrigued to see two different legal-vertical sites announce their launches this week: and Apart from lowercasing the first letters of their names, and allowing members to earn “points,” the two sites do not have much in common.

jdOasis is aiming for younger lawyers, law students and lawyer wannabes with an irreverent attitude that refers to its members as “monkeys” and “chimps,” lets members earn “banana points” and “silver bananas,” and penalizes members with “monkey shit.” “Our goal at is to become the most entertaining and useful legal community online,” says the site’s “about” page.

So far, the site is nothing more than a collection of discussion forums. There are forums devoted to big law, law school, the bar and “monkeying around.” There is also the JDO Company Database, which users can search to find information on law firms (not companies).

The site indicates that, as it grows, there are plans to add other resources, including:

  • Industry and interview guides.
  • Mock interviews and career mentors.
  • LSAT prep discounts.
  • Professional legal resume review services.
  • A legal job board.

According to an email from the site’s founder, Patrick Curtis, this week’s launch announcement is actually a relaunch. I’m not sure what that means, except that it appears the site has been operating in some shape or form since 2010. Curtis is also founder of a site for financial professionals,

Meanwhile, wireLawyer is a beta site that focuses on enabling attorneys to share documents and share advice. It also plans to enable lawyers to make referrals and to “insource/outsource” work. Its website describes it as “the first dedicated digital network created by lawyers for lawyers” — which, of course, is not true by a long shot — and it says it “brings the big firm practice to all lawyers.”

As it is now set up, its two main features are the DocSwap Pool and SmartQnA. The DocSwap Pool is described as “the first crowd-sourced peer-2-peer exchange for documents.” Of course, this also is not true. It goes on to explain:

For every document our lawyers upload, they receive points that allow them to access five documents from our pool for free.  For every lawyer they refer to the site, they can access one document from our pool for every uploaded document from the referred lawyer.  Additionally, DocSwap Documents are intelligent- NOT templates!  They are drafted by attorneys, rated & reviewed, categorized and tailored by our community of lawyers.  Finally, wireLawyers get more points for “smart” documents.  The higher your document rates and the more it’s downloaded- you get wirePoints that make you more prestigious and allow you to buy more services.  Oh, and when we sell your document- you get 20% of profits (and 2% of referred lawyer documents)!

I take that to mean that the site will be charging for documents, but I could find nothing that explained pricing.

With regard to SmartQnA, here is how the site describes it:

wireLawyer crowdsources smart partner-mentor advice.  There is no practice of the law without the free flowing exchange of ideas.  The SmartQnA allows lawyers to ask questions to their peers.  Noise is controlled by only allowing registered lawyer-users to answer.  Answers are ranked, rated and socially integrated.  And the more you answer and interact, the more wirePoints you receive.  wireLawyer also allows lawyers to form practice groups that exchange ideas (and documents).  No more email list-serves.  Access the conversation when you want and more fully (of course you can set your settings to receive emails/texts tailored to what you want to receive).

The site is the creation of Matthew Tollin, a Harvard Law School graduate whose biography describes him as an Emmy-winning founding partner of The Solarium Group, the former general counsel of NYC Media Group, and a former associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.

So there you have it. Two sites offering you your choice of banana points or wirePoints. As they now stand, neither site earns any Ambrogi points.

Forty percent of state court judges use social media profile sites, with the majority of them on Facebook. Even so, nearly half of judges strongly believe that they cannot participate professionally in social networking sites without compromising judicial ethics.

These are among the findings of fascinating survey conducted over the summer by the Conference of Court Public Information Officers. The survey, New Media and the Courts: The Current Status and a Look at the Future, polled individuals involved in some way with state court systems. Of the 810 who responded to the survey, a third were judges or magistrates.

Among the highlights of the survey’s findings regarding judges:

  • Of the 40% of judges who say they use a social networking site, nearly 90% use Facebook and 21% use LinkedIn.
  • Appointed judges are far less likely than elected judges to use social media. Of judges who run for competitive election, 66.7% use social media, while of judges who never run for election, just 8.8% use social media.
  • Half of judges disagree or strongly disagree with the statement, “Judges can use social media profile sites, such as Facebook, in their professional lives without compromising professional conduct codes of ethics.”
  • Judges are more comfortable with using social media sites in their personal lives, with only about a third believing personal use would compromise judicial ethics.
  • Three-quarters of judges who use social networking sites characterized their use as purely personal.
  • Twitter has not caught on among judges. Only 14% of judges report using it at all and even fewer use it with any frequency.
  • Ten percent of judges say they have seen jurors using social media sites, microblogging sites or smart phones in the courtroom.

The survey also looked at use of social media by courts. Among its findings:

  • A small fraction of courts, 6.7%, have their own pages on social media profile sites such as Facebook.
  • About the same number of courts using microblogging tools such as Twitter.
  • Only 3.2% of courts use video-sharing sites such as YouTube.
  • While three-quarters of respondents agree it is OK for courts to use social media, only a quarter believe social media is a necessary tool for public outreach.

The CCPIO’s report on the survey includes an in-depth discussion of social media’s impact on the courts so far and on its potential impact in the future. The report looks at various technologies, actual court cases and ethics rulings. It concludes its analysis with five predictions about the future of social media and the courts:

  • More courts and state administrative offices of the courts will be re-examining rules and procedures.
  • More courts will develop official presences on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites.
  • More judges will be on Facebook, both professionally and personally.
  • Courts will continue to become primary content providers and develop more sophisticated multimedia communications capabilities.
  • Public information officers and information technology officers will form stronger partnerships and collaborative operations.

For any legal professional with an interest in social media, the full, 102-page report is worth reading. An executive summary is also available. Here are the links to the PDF files:

A report this week on social media use by older adults has important implications for the legal profession — even though it never mentions the legal profession or any other profession.

A study by Pew Internet, Older Adults and Social Media, finds that social-networking use among Internet users aged 50 and older nearly doubled in the last year, from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010.

Even more noteworthy, among adult Internet users aged 50-64, social-networking use grew by 88%, from 25% to 47%. That means that nearly half of Internet users aged 50-64 use social networking. And within this 50-64 age group, one in five say they use social-networking sites virtually every day.

Another finding: One in 10 online adults aged 50-64 and one in 20 aged 65 and older uses Twitter or a similar service to share status updates.

The survey is of adults who are Internet users, not of the population at large. Of course, virtually all actively practicing lawyers these days are Internet users. That suggests that the survey’s findings can be applied to lawyers.

If roughly half of adults aged 50-64 are using social networking tools, it seems fair to assume that roughly half of lawyers in that age range are using these tools. That leads to two conclusions:

  1. Social networking is not just for younger lawyers. If you are 50 or over and not using social networking, you will soon be in the minority even among your peers.
  2. Social networking is increasingly becoming an essential skill. Social networking among lawyers is often viewed as primarily a marketing tool. It is that, of course, but it is also a tool for communications, networking, knowledge-management and even research.

From one north-of-50 lawyer to all you others out there, a word of advice: If you haven’t started to engage in social networking, the time to do so is now.

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.

Here are the bar associations I have found with pages on LinkedIn. With the exception of the International Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Associations, I include only U.S. bar associations. Let me know of others that I have missed.

International Bar Associations

National Bar Associations

State Bar Associations

Local Bar Associations

I am in the process of researching how bar associations are using social media. Here is a list of state bar associations I have found with Facebook pages. Not included in this list are national and local bars. Please let me know of any state bars missing from this list. (Some of these links do not work unless you are logged in to Facebook.)

I have been researching how bar associations are using social media. One aspect of that is identifying bar associations with Twitter feeds. Here is what I have found so far. Please let me know of others. As you will see, some are active, some are not.

In conjunction with this week’s official launch of Martindale-Hubbell Connected, the professional networking site asked several legal bloggers to be part of a week-long series on social and professional networking. Today you get me. Tomorrow’s post will be by Monica Bay at The Common Scold. Others who have already posted in the series were Sean Doherty yesterday, Rees Morrison Tuesday and Kathleen Delaney on Monday. We are not receiving payment or any other gratuity for participating in this series.

I wanted to write to attempt an answer to the question I hear often about online networking, “Why bother?” My answer: To build and strengthen trusted relationships.

The goal of all legal networking, I believe, can be summed up in those two words: trusted relationships. Just as consumers buy brand names over generics, legal consumers hire the lawyer their cousin recommended and corporate counsel retain firms based on colleagues’ referrals. In each case, what sways the decision is trust.

Trust is a strong word, but in the consumer context, it takes only a little to make a difference. Faced with multiple choices, the consumer wants help making the decision. The consumer wants reassurance that the decision will not later come back to haunt. Put another way, the consumer wants a reason to trust that the choice is the right one, or at least a good one.

For general consumer goods, trust comes in many forms. A brand name can invoke trust. Editorial and consumer reviews can build trust. Friends’ experiences with the item reinforce trust. Simple familiarity can build trust.

Legal consumers are no different. In selecting a lawyer, they are looking for reasons to trust one over another. They have little objective help in this. Someone buying a car or a washing machine can find plenty of guidance. They can buy consumer guides, compare test results and read online reviews from others who have purchased the product. Legal consumers have few such reference points.

A recent survey asked lawyers, “What is the most effective method currently in use for finding new business?” The results were hardly a surprise. Fifty-nine percent said that the most effective way of getting new business was through client referrals and recommendations. The second most effective source of new business was peer referrals and recommendations. Other top sources of new business cited by the lawyers surveyed were networking events, alumni relationships, conferences and seminars, responding to RFPs and publishing.

Implicit in these is trust. When a new client walks in based on a former client’s referral, it is because the former client’s experience gave the new client a reason to trust you. When a new client retains you because another lawyer recommended you, it is because the new client trusted the other lawyer and therefore had a reason to trust you. When you speak at a seminar, you demonstrate your knowledge and command of your area of law and give those in the audience a reason to trust you. The same is true when you publish an article in a bar journal or legal periodical.

Online networking is no different than traditional networking – if you overlook the fact that it is plugged in, supercharged and global in reach. When done right and to full effect, social media tools add rocket fuel to all of the ways lawyers traditionally get new business. They support client referrals and recommendations, they support peer referrals and recommendations, they take in-person networking beyond physical limits, they strengthen alumni relationships, they simulate conferences and publishing by enabling you to highlight your knowledge and expertise, they even allow you to respond to RFPs.

In short, social media are a set of tools for broadening and strengthening your network of trusted relationships. Used properly and effectively, social media will enhance your reputation, strengthen confidence in your “brand,” and broaden your professional and personal networks. All of these combine to give others a reason to trust you – and you them.

Next up in the series tomorrow will be Monica Bay.

Last July, I posted one of the first reviews of the beta version of Martindale-Hubbell’s professional networking site, Martindale-Hubbell Connected. Today, the site officially came out of beta and had its formal launch.

For now, it remains open only to lawyers who are in private practice or who work as corporate counsel. Later this year, the site will become open to other legal professionals, today’s announcement said. It launches with 3,000 members from the beta stage and six alliance partners – the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Lex Mundi, the Council on Litigation Management, Pro Bono Net, the National Association of Women Lawyers, and TerraLex.

[The following column originally appeared in print in June 2008. I am republishing it as part of my continuing effort to maintain an archive of my published columns. Important note: I have not updated this since its original publication. While most of the sites remain as described, some may have changed. All information was current as of the date of original publication.]

The problem with networking sites that limit their membership to lawyers is that lawyers are their only members. Compared with sites that are open to all comers, these restricted sites sometimes seem like the proverbial parties to which no one came.

In the first half of this two-part column, I looked at generic social and professional networking sites, ones designed for cross-sections of users. I promised in this second part to follow-up with a survey of sites designed specifically for legal professionals.

But as I looked at these lawyers-only sites, I was struck by how little networking went on within them. Whether online or off, networking anticipates a community, one defined by its members’ mutual interests. Call it symbiosis, call it the profit motive, but networking carries the expectation of mutual benefit. When a networking site is open broadly to lawyers of all ilks, that benefit may be far too attenuated to justify the effort.

That is not to condemn all lawyer-networking sites, particularly not those that are built around this theme of mutual benefit. That benefit is readily apparent in a site whose members are divided between general counsel looking to hire outside firms and outside lawyers looking their flirtatious best.

Such is the idea behind Legal OnRamp. Its members are inhouse lawyers at large companies and outside lawyers mostly at larger firms. The latter get multiple opportunities to strut their stuff and, with any luck, establish or strengthen relationships with those on the inside.

Of the lawyers-only networking sites I looked at, this one seemed to offer the most promise for productive networking. With its three-fold focus on connections, community and content, it struck me as a next-generation iteration of a site that’s been defunct for decade, Counsel Connect, arguably the first networking site for lawyers.

The similarity may not be accidental, given that Legal OnRamp’s advisory board includes David R. Johnson, the former Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering partner who was CC’s chairman. But Legal OnRamp’s more direct lineage is to the general counsel of nine blue chip companies, led by Cisco GC Mark Chandler.

They sought a tool by which to automate collaboration and content-sharing among inhouse and outside counsel. It had to allow sharing among broad communities of lawyers while also maintaining secure areas for privacy.

The end result is a multi-purpose platform that cherry-picks the best parts from multiple platforms: extranets, Facebook, news aggregators, research libraries, document-management systems and the proverbial water cooler.

CEO Paul Lippe, himself a former GC, calls it a dynamic social system. It is also a selective, invitation-only system. Only about half of private-firm lawyers who request entrée will be allowed in, and then only if they agree to pony up – not cash, but substantive articles or FAQs to be shared with other members.

Once inside, Legal OnRamp looks like other networking sites, revolving around connections among users. Unlike other sites, it puts as much emphasis on content as on connections. Up front are various news and blog feeds. Deeper in are libraries of FAQs, law firm bulletins, research materials and legal forms.

Within this networking superstructure, users can create private areas, called “ramps.” Most ramps are created by companies. Cisco has one, for example. These closed-access ramps have their own, secure layers of networking tools, content libraries and collaboration tools. Cisco’s, for example, includes a database of its contracts and another of its patents, among other items.

The beauty-pageant aspect of Legal OnRamp is a strong allure for private-firm lawyers. By posting content, contributing FAQs, and participating in discussion groups, they get to show their stuff in front of an elite group of potential clientele. There is even a Marketplace where GC can post RFPs.

“We’re starting at the high end,” said Lippe. “It’s easy to move from elite to non-elite. It’s not so easy to move from non-elite to elite.”

Legal OnRamp may soon have some weighty competition. Later this year, Martindale-Hubbell will roll out a networking site, Martindale-Hubbell Connected. Like Legal OnRamp, a key focus will be on networking and knowledge-sharing between inhouse and outside counsel. For now, the service is in early beta testing with limited functionality and membership. A more in-depth review will follow in a subsequent column.

On Life Support

While the symbiosis between inhouse and outside counsel provides Legal OnRamp its fuel, the absence of immediate benefit may explain why sites that lack focus seem to falter. An example is one of the first of the current generation of lawyers-only networking sites, LawLink. A key measure of a networking site is its vitality – and this one was nearly comatose.

LawLink’s structure parallels that of LinkedIn. Users build networks of “trusted colleagues,” with networks extending through three degrees of relationships. The concept works well on LinkedIn, but not at all here.

Searching for lawyers from my state of Massachusetts, I found 107. Of those, fewer than a quarter had made even a single connection. Of those, only six had more than one and the most anyone had was five. These are some of the same people who are on LinkedIn and have hundreds of connections there.

LawLink hosts discussion forums around various topics, but these, too, are largely dormant. An umbrella “open forum” had a total of three posts, the most recent from November 2007.
Without more reason for its members to engage with one another, LawLink holds little promise for taking off. At least it still has a heartbeat.

A similar site, Lawyer-Link, appears to be comatose. The site’s front page remains, but my repeated attempts to register failed. Attempts to contact the site’s administrators by e-mail and phone did bring a voicemail from someone who said the site remains in operation. I’ll have to take his word for it, given that I was never able to get in.

Communities of Interest

If the success of a networking site is tied to its support for a community of interest, then a recent launch that holds promise is Still in beta, its target is a subset of the legal community: e-discovery and litigation professionals. The mission, according to Isaac Cooper, the company’s president, is to provide a platform where users can connect with each other individually and in common-interest groups.

Key features of the site include individual profiles and connections among members, group connections, forums organized by case phase, individual blogs, instructional and promotional videos uploaded by members, an industry events calendar, industry news headlines, and job postings.

Another promising group of networking sites are those designed for lawyers within a single state. The Minnesota State Bar Association, for example, is piloting a site for lawyers the
re called MyPractice. Still in testing, it was built using Ning, the make-it-yourself networking platform backed by Netscape cofounder Marc Andreesen.

For professional networking with an international flavor, sample Launched in September 2007 by a German company, its membership is distinctly international, with members from more than 100 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

One unique feature is an international directory of law firms. Each firm’s listing includes its practice areas and international offices, along with news and updates about the firm added by members of the community. Click on a particular office location and get contact information and maps specific to that office.

If retro is your thing, may be your site. It describes itself as a private meeting place for attorneys to ask questions, learn more about the law, and make new acquaintances.

It seeks to accomplish this by taking a giant step backwards to an age of chat rooms and message forums. Legal message boards rarely take off and these prove the point. The bulk of the forums devoted to legal topics had no posts. The chat rooms, likewise, were empty. So much for networking.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2008 Robert J. Ambrogi