Social networking in the legal profession has been around for a long time. It just has become more social and more networking in recent decades with the advent of technologies such as the PC, e-mail and the Internet.
To see the beginnings of legal social networking, one has to go back more than 100 years ago to when Martindale and Hubbell launched the concept of legal networks in the United States with publication of printed directories. One might ask, were printed directories really social networking? I would argue that yes, they clearly were. For literally a century, attorneys found each other and came to a better understand their respective capabilities through the pages of information available in these guides. Armed with such information, attorneys did not need to waste precious time with socializing and figuring out if a prospective attorney or law firm was compatible with ones own needs, thought processes or areas of expertise. Over the years this legal network grew to be the most complete one in the world.
Jumping forward into the 21st century, Martindale-Hubbell has entered cyber world by bringing the traditionally print directories online with the launch martindale.com and lawyers.com. However, so much has changed even the past 10 years that even that is not enough to be effective legal social networking today.
That’s why we’re getting ready to launch a true online social networking platform for the attorneys. It’s about who you know, how you know someone and why you want certain individuals in or out of your “network.” One of the great benefits of online social networking platforms generally speaking is instant gratification – I can find that long lost friend on facebook, or a colleague on LinkedIn. In the legal profession…what about law school buddies or former colleagues? Well, their information is all on martindale.com, not to mention updates about how they’ve gone on to turn into judges, corporate counsels, federal prosecutors and sometimes, “regular” executives!
Furthermore, the ultimate value of a database like that is not just in the data but how you turn that data and information into insight and foresight to make better decisions on who to work with, when and on what subjects. How you can link with the people with most relevant knowledge to your cases and context to drive to the goals you have at hand? We believe this is what’s needed in today’s marketplace and we’re going about changing our offerings to meet that need.
In the end, traditional in-person networking just for the sake of networking…or even referencing those printed directories…still offers a lot of value. But I do love a platform that reduces the “sweat equity” needed to do those things regularly. Building a dynamic online network and helping the people who I know when I have an opportunity is the key to being able to draw from the “social network” when I desperately need the support. That’s the spirit behind what we’re building now.
Finally, a note of advice from years of networking…always “deposit” more than you “withdraw” from any social network (online, in-person or otherwise) and the network pays back exponentially – just like the real life physical relationships.