Wednesday, February 4, 2009

LegalTech Report: Online Networks and the Twitter Backchannel


Robert Ambrogi, Journalist


John Lipsey, Vice President, Corporate Counsel Services, LexisNexis
Vanessa DiMauro, CEO & President, Leader Networks
Eugene M. Weitz, Corporate Counsel, Alcatel-Lucent
Olivier Antoine, Counsel, Crowell & Moring

My overall impression is that, not surprisingly, lawyers and firms are way behind the rest of the business world in terms of knowledge, comfort, and implementation of the new forms of social networking, as through LinkedIn, Legal OnRamp, or other similar platforms.

I had a vivid conversation after the session with Niki Black, a social-web-savvy food-loving attorney from Rochester NY. As was also apparent from her Twitter stream, she relayed to me she was unpleasantly surprised at the limited understanding and resistance to social networking displayed at the session. She may have had this reaction in part due to audience questions such as “What about conflicts”? and “What about attorney-client privilege?”

Other posts on this panel come from LawyerKM, Kelly Talcott, John Lipsey (podcast included),

I've collected my notes on this interesting panel organized by speaker; below that is a brief discussion of the "back channel" that arose on Twitter.

Bob Ambrogi

If you just looked at this conference, the hottest topic in technology looks like e-discovery. But outside of LegalTech, social media is an important topic. Even companies without a formal policy have employees using social media.

Of companies that have adopted it, 2/3 see improved customer satisfaction, and 2 in 5 can associate increase in sales with adoption of social media.

Only 2% of lawyers think that social media is a valuable tool for client development. Bob thinks this low percentage is due to a misunderstanding, as social media can include client recommendations, alumni relationships, publishing, and more.

Vanessa DiMauro (wikipedia LinkedIn)

Vanessa comes from the Enterprise 2.0 / academic & corporate space rather than the legal side.

She asked, what does social networking mean in the business context?

There have been many new tools emerge—it’s been the “Wild West.” We have had an opportunity to measure it effectively, and can start to move away from the tools towards the values that it can deliver.

There are different rules of engagement on social media sites.

Social and professional networks appear similar, but have very different purposes. With social networks you might want to share pictures or connect with former classmates. With professional networks the goals are to “evangelize your thought leadership” or perhaps make collective decisions. With both you want to make meaningful connections. With both you care about what kind of club you’re joining (remember the Marx brothers-- "I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.").

Yet some of the same social rules we already live by apply equally in the online world. If we know someone personally we may be more comfortable reaching out to them. Space out interactions. Give three times per “ask.” Don’t wait to reach out to your LinkedIn connections until you need them.

Vanessa thinks there are opportunities to find the best of breed from other industries, that have already addressed social media. There is a road map and set of best practices around the most effective use of social media adaptable to the legal industry.

John Lipsey

He is developing “Connected” for Martindale Hubbell (I’m calling it MH Connected but that is not its brand name), a social networking site to be released later this quarter.

His core stakeholders are corporate counsel. How do we get beyond the “tip of the pyramid”? How can we tailor social media to their existing needs?

Key elements of social and professional networking include group and individual discussions (blogs and wikis) and relationship connection / identification. (I would add status updates).

What are the opportunities to provide more value to lawyers in social media? What do lawyers want? He thinks authentication and validation are really important. It may not matter so much that someone on Facebook is who they say they are. But it really does matter where attorney advice or referrals may be at stake.

For instance, you can’t be anonymous on MH Connected because that would destroy the trust model.

Every network in the world is looking for a critical mass. MH Connected is trying to identify relationships using their existing information such as working for same firm, being on a published opinion, or graduating law school together. MH Connected is trying to make it easier to get people together by suggesting people they may know (LinkedIn and Facebook already do this, through formal groups based on education or employment, and by allowing creation of groups by users interested in a particular topic or united in some other way).

Can social networking help in-house counsel manage “preferred provider” programs?

You can’t build this out for the early adopters. It has to help lawyers in everyday practice, including authentication, trust and so forth. What are the technologies that will engage your practitioners?

Conflict or attorney-client privilege risk can be addressed through thinking, what kind of group am I addressing? What is the audience?

John has a decent grasp of social networking principles, and some interesting ideas for what may connect lawyers in particular. It remains to be seen if the previously ossified Martindale Hubbell will truly be able to become a useful and valuable destination for lawyers.

Olivier Antoine

Social networking brings key information for inside and outside counsel. The new value being generated is the new type of information, such as who is connected to who, who has recently looked at your profile, and so forth.

Law firms are conservative environments and are very slow to adopt new ways of doing things, as is required to some extent for social networking.

Understanding who knows who can be important for the substance of the work he does (he defends companies accused of price-fixing, which entails understanding all of the information being shared between parties about prices).

Olivier recently noticed that a number of firm lawyers had linked to a lawyers at a firm being acquired just a few weeks before the deal was announced. Social networks make it easier to share information; the type of risk and precautionary steps are may be the same, but the magnitude of the risk greater.

Social media adoption is unavoidable. It has to be addressed.

Eugene Weitz

He compartmentalizes his business and personal connections. In either case, what is the value compared with the amount of time required?

Alcatel Lucent is a “global law division” of over 200 people, all over the world. As part of their knowledge management program, they are trying to figure out better ways to communicate.

In-house counsel have to stay current on the law and have to know the business. Martindale Hubbell and LinkedIn offer ways to communicate with the outside world. He’s also with a NJ counsel organization that is all about in-house lawyers talking to each other.

They choose to have discussions only with certain people. He doesn’t want a direct sales pitch from outside counsel, but he does want discussion and information sharing.

He works in the field of IT. He wants to know what the market is in outsourcing or other trends. If social media can help inside counsel understand law, benchmarking, and communicate, it will have a place.

Eugene expects that there will be substantive legal content on MH Connected in the same way that there is content on law firm web sites. The difference is that it will be collected and shared in one space.

I was surprised there was no mention of Legal OnRamp, which purports to provide similar functionality in terms of sharing online content. Doug Cornelius, who has previously posted twice on that platform, came through on Twitter however.

Live Discussion

John thinks that the value proposition might vary greatly between in-house and outside counsel. Eugene identified what in-house counsel want. Outside counsel want to attract people to them and build business through demonstrating expertise.

Bob said that beginners should look at LinkedIn simply as an online directory of professionals. You need to be in many different places to be visible as part of a high profile.

We’re getting to the point where the social media tools can be matched to the particular business or strategic goal.

Twitter Discussion

Mary Abraham has posted on how interesting the "back channel" of Twitter discussion became. At one point she relayed live a tweeted question from Doug (who was in Boston). I agree with her that it provided a whole new perspective, hitherto unavailable, of an audience's reaction to a session. It's a step up from blogging in terms of immediacy, but a step down in terms of thoughtful analysis.

You can see most of the posts on this session by searching Twitter for #LTNY and networking.

Obviously these are not my posts, but I thought it would provide readers some insight into the audience reaction to see some of the spicy comments on Twitter that arose during the session.
  • GabeAcevedo #LTNY online networking panel. This is not what I expected. Must either leave/kill self soon as possible.
  • nicolecaccamo: And that "safe" networking would exclude us non-lawyers presumably - missing out on a lot of value/connections #LTNY
  • CherylMcKinnon: #ltny John Lipsey - authentication and validation needed for safe professional networking
  • brucecarton: Uh oh, bloggers getting restless. RT @GabeAcevedo #LTNY networking panel. Martindale mentioned now 10 times in martindale sponsored panel.
  • dougcornelius: @VMaryAbraham #LTNY Social networking is about community. You want to hang with your friends. Are your friends in that site? Connected?
  • dougcornelius: @kdtalcott "Best Practices in Online Networking"? But Legal OnRamp is already doing what MH Connected wants to do #ltny
  • CherylMcKinnon: #ltny John Lipsey - authentication and validation needed for safe professional networking [This post was "retweeted" or rebroadcast within a few seconds by two others]
  • kevinokeefe: Session re online networking & social media has had 25% of audience leave. Turned exciting topic into something boring. #LTNY


Doug Cornelius said...

Thanks for sharing your notes on the panel.

What is your take on M-H Connected?

Unknown said...

I think the ways they are thinking of leveraging their existing content and other public content about lawyers is quite interesting. John seems to get some of the key aspects of online social networking. Whether that translates into something useful remains to be seen.

Marc Solomon said...

The comfort zone might be small for attorneys but the attention paid to information architecture more than compensates from inside that thick, prickly firewall!