Online Social Networking: Is It a Productivity Bust or Boon for Law Firms?


I recently had an article on Faceblocking published in the March 2009 issue of Law Practice Magazine: Online Social Networking: Is It a Productivity Bust or Boon for Law Firms?

Steve Matthews helped me conduct an informal poll to see if  law firms were still blocking access to social networking sites. Our theory was proven in the results. (You can download the raw survey data (.xls) if you want a look at the underlying data.) Of those responding to the survey, 45% said their firms blocked access to social networking sites. The three most blocked sites: Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Those are also 3 of the top 10 most visited sites on the web. We also published some of comments from the survey respondents: Speaking Out on Social Networking.

The survey is very unscientific. Steve and I thought that it would be useful to get some data about what law firms are doing about access to social networking sites. I was surprised that 45% of firms blocked access to some social networking sites. Perhaps those working at firms subject to blocking were more likely to respond to the survey. I was also surprised that the 45% blocking percentage was fairly consistent across firm size. So small law firms were just as likely to block access as big firms.

Although I am an advocate of open access, I do so with the caveat that you need to let the people in your organization know what is proper use and to monitor their compliance. I fear that many firms use blockage as their policy. That may have worked 10 years ago, but not today. You can just as easily access these sites from iPhone or blackberry as you can from a firm computer. Blocking does not stop the bad behavior that you are trying to prevent.

You should set sensible policies and set reasonable expectations for your employees. Social networking sites at their core are communications platform. You should be able to adapt your policies on email, confidentiality, marketing and similar policies to easily include social networking sites. If not, those other policies probably need updating anyhow.


LinkedIn Events versus Upcoming

LinkedIn launched the LinkedIn Events module: Announcing LinkedIn Events. You get event recommendations, you can indicate if you are going and you can see who else is going. Once you mark an event, it shows up on your LinkedIn profile.

This is a great feature, but not a new idea. I have been a fan of Upcoming for while: [Doug on Upcoming]. The site is classic example of Metcalfe’s law. It gets more useful as more people use it.

LinkedIn provides a bigger user base of connections to tie into. I have 323 “connections” on LinkedIn, but only 23 “friends” in Upcoming.

Upcoming is a more open platform. In particular, Upcoming supplies lots of RSS feeds giving you notifications of new events that your “friends” are attending and new events added to groups that you join. It also ties into Facebook and other aggregators like FriendFeed.

With all these new applications, LinkedIn is starting to move closer to the Facebook model of aggregating information. It will interesting to see how the events and other application features evolve.

LinkedIn Has Added Applications

One of my earlier concerns about LinkedIn was that it was very static and was little more than an online rolodex. They just launched a new applications feature that could dramatically changed LinkedIn.

These applications allow you to pull content from other sources into your LinkedIn profile, making it much more dynamic. Just a few minutes ago I added the Blog Link Application. Now it is pulling in blog posts from the three listed on my profile: this blog, Real Estate Space and

One of the reasons I liked Facebook was its ability to aggregate content about you from multiple sources. Now LinkedIn can do the same thing.

Large law Firms and LinkedIn Groups

Greg Lambert over at the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog did a study of large law firm usage using LinkedIn Groups.

He ranked the firms by number of members in the group. Skadden, Arps came in first place with 839 members in the Skadden Alumni LinkedIn group. Goodwin Procter came in 16th place for the Goodwin Procter LinkedIn group with 40 members.

What really surprised Greg was that the majority of members were attorneys. He expected more adminstrative profiles. “[i]t is apparent that they are doing a lot of things outside the confines of the Marketing Departments.”

You can see that my LinkedIn Profile has changed recently: Doug Cornelius in LinkedIn.

Social Networking for Lawyers and Legal IT

I had the pleasure of hosting a lunch meeting for the International Legal Technology Association to talk about Social Networking for Lawyers and Legal IT.

I was joined by Jenn Steele and Bob Ambrogi in talking about Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, Twitter, Legal OnRamp and Martindale Connected. We looked at the ways we each use these tools and how the audience used the tools. We also talked a bit about policy and rules for using these sites.

Here is the slide deck we used. You can also get the slides with our notes on JD Supra: Social Networking for Lawyers and Legal IT.

Social Networking

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: social km)

(We deleted the slides on LegalOnRamp and Martindale Connected because we “borrowed” them from another presentation.)

Jenn Steele is the Director of Information Technology at Morrison Mahoney LLP.  She holds an MBA from the Simmons School of Management and a B.S. in Biology from MIT, with a minor in Expository Writing.  Prior to Morrison Mahoney, she was the Director of Information Technology at Donovan Hatem LLP from 2002-2007, and the Senior Applications Specialist at Burns & Levinson LLP from 2000-2002.  She has also held positions in the health and human services industry.  She is the author of Leading Geeks, a blog focusing on best practices for leading technologists (

Robert Ambrogi is an internationally known legal journalist and a leading authority on law and the Web.  He represents clients at the intersection of law, media and technology and is also established professional in alternative dispute resolution.  Robert is a Massachusetts lawyer, writer and media consultant and is author of the book, The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web.  He also writes the blog Media Law, co-writes Legal Blog Watch and cohosts the legal affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer.

Social Network Site Survey

Last summer, I surveyed The Firm’s summer associates to see how they use some of the popular social networking sites: A Survey on the Use of Social Networks and Updated Social Network Site Survey. I ran the same survey this summer to see what changes have happened over the past year.

  • 90% of the summer associates have a Facebook account. That is an increase over the 80% result from last year.
  • 66% of those with Facebook accounts check it at least once a day. This is the same percentage as last year.
  • Only 25% of those with Facebook accounts would use it for business purposes. This a big drop from last year, when 75% said they would use Facebook for business purposes.
  • Only 13% had LinkedIn accounts and only 13% have a MySpace account. These are similar numbers to last year.

My take away is that the wave of Facebook users is continuing to roll into law firms and they use it frequently.  If your firm choses to block Facebook, you are cutting your junior lawyers off from their network of contacts.

These summer associates do yet seem to grasp the business purposes for Facebook, but may quickly realize that their Facebook “friends” will quickly become their colleagues, clients and potential clients.

You can download the raw survey data: SocialNetworkSurvey2008[.xls]

What is your take on Facebook for law firms?  Please leave a comment.

Martindale and LinkedIn Redux

In my previous post [LinkedIn is Now For Lawyers] I was impressed with integration of Martindale-Hubbell with LinkedIn.

Steve Matthews of Stem Legal  pointed out that what I thought was a special integration is actually just using LinkedIn’s API. Steve doles out the details in a comment to Kevin O’Keefe’s post [If you can’t beat ’em, join them] and points to this post on the LinkedIn blog: Get Your Inside Connections with BusinessWeek & SimplyHired

Sure enough, I went over to SimplyHired and it has the same functionality as Martindale. In a job search site, the LinkedIn functionality is even more powerful than Martindale. I still give Martindale credit for moving in a better direction. But they lose points for originality.

LinkedIn is Now For Lawyers

The venerable Martindale-Hubbell directory of lawyers and law firms has teamed up with LinkedIn to provide a social networking function to the listings in LinkedIn.

When I go to the listing for Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in Martindale-Hubbell, I see the blue LinkedIn icon next to the name of the firm. If you click on the icon, it asks you to logon to LinkedIn to see who you know at the firm. After logging on I get a pop up that shows my two first level LinkedIn connections (Mary Abraham and Patrick DiDomenico) and a total of 131 connections through the second and third level.

Assuming clients are still using Martindale-Hubbell to find law firms and lawyers, this make the directory much more powerful. (Of course that is assuming that clients still use Martindale-Hubbell.) The interface is a bit kludgy, but the information is great. The LinkedIn connection also appears when you look at the listing for some individual lawyers.

As Kevin O’Keefe says, If you can’t beat’em, join them.

If you have not joined LinkedIn or have not figured out what it is all about, there is a new video out from the CommonCraft gang on what LinkedIn is all about:


LinkedIn is Worth $1 Billion

The New York Times ran an article on LinkedIn in Yesterday’s paper: At Social Site, Only the Businesslike Need Apply. (by Brad Stone)

Most interesting was the value assigned to the company as part of a new capital investment. Bain Capital invested $53 million. Apparently this was approximately 18.9% 5.3% of the company, because they used a $1 billion valuation for the company. LinkedIn also claims that it is already profitable.

Update:Fixed my math calculating the percentage.

Martindale-Hubble, LinkedIn and Legal OnRamp

Over at the The Official Blog of Martindale-Hubbell, John Lipsey; VP Corporate Counsel Services, comments on Larry Bodine’s Crowded but Silent piece in Law Technology News: Corporate counsel and Online professional networking.

Larry is right to point out that the power of any social network site is derived from the number of people using it. That power to you is relative to the number of people you know that are using that social network site. That is Metcalfe’s law.

In the last few months, I have seen lawyers poring into LinkedIn (Doug’s profile in LinkedIn). As lawyers see more and more of their fellow attorneys joining LinkedIn, it becomes a more useful tool.

Lipsey misses the point of social networking sites. I do not expect anyone to contact me just because I have a listing on the site. That is not networking. That is just advertising. (Just like a listing in Martindale-Hubble.) The power of social networking sites is your ability to create a flow of information about yourself. Networking is about contributing useful information to the people you know and keeping your name in front of them.

I assume that Lipsey’s post was to try to proclaim the value of Martindale-Hubble, but in the end his description of what corporate counsel are looking for sounds a lot like Legal OnRamp:

[Corporate counsel would] be willing to use a professional networking site to make it easier to get to those referrals. But that network must be trusted, limited to other legal professionals, and protected from relationship “spammers” who litter strangers with relationship requests. . . . . What they would find valuable is a trusted professional community of lawyers, and a “safe place” that enables corporate counsel to find each other, and outside counsel. They want the tools develop their own communities within these sites to exchange information and collaborate – away from the watchful eye of would be vendors, competitors or hostile counsel.

And sounds like LinkedIn:

“If a professional network can allow a corporate counsel to get the lawyer information as well as connections linking him or her to that lawyer – voila.”

But does not sound like Martindale-Hubble.

LinkedIn for Companies

LinkedIn has launched a new feature offering profiles for companies. Up until yesterday LinkedIn only had profiles for individuals.

So I went in and checked out the profile for The Firm.

The LinkedIn profile is showing 345 people in my network as employees of the firm. So LinkedIn is not creating a directory employees. You only have ready access to those people in your LinkedIn network.

LinkedIn also gleams some interesting statistics from the profiles. For positions of those in LinkedIn from The Firm, 30% are associates, 22% are partners and 15% are attorneys. The median age is 31 years. It is a 50/50 ratio of male to female listings. I have the fourth most popular profile at The Firm.

The LinkedIn company profile also shows the most popular places that our employees came from and where they went. For incoming, it is the now defunct firm of Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault, LLP.

This is an interesting approach. I am curious to see how the company profiles start appearing in search results. For attorneys, I have found their LinkedIn profile to appear in the top five search results. In at least one instance, the attorney’s LinkedIn profile appeared above The Firm’s own web page for the attorney.

LinkedIn to My Facebook on My Blog

I co-authored an article with Jenn Steele of Leading Geeks entitled LinkedIn to My Facebook on My Blog. The article is on social media for lawyers and law firm staff.

The article appears in the March 2008 white paper from the International Legal Technology Association entitled Marketing Technologies – Putting Your Best Face Forward.

The article is reprinted here with permission.

For more information about ILTA, visit their website at

Bill Gates jumps from Facebook to LinkedIn

In a previous post, I wrote that Bill Gates has left Facebook because he was overwhelmed with is “friend” requests through Facebook. Mr. Gates has now resurfaced at LinkedIn. His profile:

Given that Mr. Gates has only three connections, he clearly is not using LinkedIn. He did post a question in the LinkedIn Answers section: How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?

As I am writing this, the question has been up for 42 minutes and there are already 32 answers posted. Mr. Gates certainly attracts attention.

The cynics among you have probably noticed the new wealth of Microsoft advertising now showing up in LinkedIn.

Social Networks and Social Media

Joel Alleyne put together a great piece on Social Networks – Why You Should Care. Joel draws a sharp distinction between social networks and social media. Social networks being the connections and social media being a method of communicating with a social network.

Joel puts together 10 ways to leverage social media. Four of my favorites are:

  1. Use social sites for alumni.
    Instead of creating your own silo of internal alumni databases, use the social media where your firm’s alumni may already be.
  2. Use social sites for recruitment.
    Stay in touch with young recruits. They will be more interested in real communication and interaction than slick videos.
  3. Keep an eye on your brand on social media.
    Every law firm should be scouring the web and news sites for information about the firm. Every professional should be doing the same. It is easy to set up persistent searches on any of the major internet search engines.
  4. Look for internal opportunities to use social media.
    These tools are inexpensive and easy to use. Setting up a wiki or blog is quick and easy. If it does not work, little time or money was spent. It is a “safe fail” project.

All about the links

Gary Beach, the Publisher Emeritus of CIO Magazine, writes about his excitement as a user of LinkedIn: A proud Member of the LinkedIn Generation. His grand vision is have every CIO, CTO or CSO become one of his connections in LinkedIn. (Why are CKOs not invited?) He calls this having “some fun.”

Unfortunately, he dismisses Facebook as the “domain of Gen Y.” That Boomers like him need not apply. He compares Facebook to the Tom Wolfe bestseller, I Am Charlotte Simmons, about “a young woman who discovers that college ia all about booze, sex and bad behavior.”

Clearly he has just read about Facebook and not tried to use it.

LinkedIn is a great tool to share connections and create an online resume. And it is a good first step into social media. I encourage everyone to start with LinkedIn as their first foray into social media.

But LinkedIn is not “fun.” You can hunt down “connections” to people in your firm, former classmates and contacts in your address book. But once you make the connections and finish your LinkedIn profile, there is not much else to do. There is a very limited ability to share information with your connections.

That is where Facebook comes in. It is the second step I encourage people to take in social media. Facebook allows you to share information about yourself, both personal and professional.
If Mr. Beach tries Facebook maybe he would see that Facebook is a communications platform. Social media is about empowering people to distribute information about themselves and about things that interest them. Facebook is powerful tool for distributing information to your “friends.” It is powerful enough that at least one firm has chosen to use Facebook as its Intranet.

Of course there is a lot of frivolous communication in Facebook. (Just as there is lots of frivolous communication in your company’s email) There is also lots of personal communications and lots of professional communication in Facebook. Where do you draw the line? One person may view a set of pictures as a drunken party. To others it is just the company holiday party.

You should not dismiss Facebook just because it was originally created by college students for college students. Now it is a multi-billion dollar company with over 50 million users. Some of those are bound to be people you know and some of them are letting you know more about themselves and publishing some useful information.

Lawyers in Social Media and Internet Advertising

Two new decisions were issued on internet advertising by lawyers: Nebraska Ethics Advisory Opinion for Lawyers No. 07-05 and Oregon State Bar Formal Opinion No. 2007-180.

These two opinions affect what lawyers can do in social media and social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or LawLink.

The Nebraska opinion was based on whether a Nebraska lawyer can advertise in an in internet-based lawyer directory.

“A Nebraska lawyer may advertise in an internet-based lawyer directory as long as: (1) the Directory does nothing more than list lawyers and appropriate information for the benefit of those who access the Directory; (2) no recommendation is made as to a particular lawyer; (3) any fee paid by the Lawyer for participation in the Directory is reasonable and is fixed for a certain period of time; (4) the Directory contains a disclaimer that it is a directory of lawyers, not a lawyer referral service or prepaid legal plan; and (5) no other Rules concerning lawyer advertising in general are violated.” (My emphasis)

In LinkedIn, people you know can make recommendations. It looks like a Nebraska lawyer needs to make sure that nobody makes a recommendations. Many states have similar restrictions on recommendations.

In Oregon, the opinion was focused on whether the lawyer can The interesting point to note from the opinion is the statement:

“Lawyer is responsible for content that Lawyer did not create to the extent that Lawyer knows about that content.”

Combining these two trains of thought, lawyers need to monitor what is being said about them in social networking/social media sites. Effectively, you need to make sure that there are no endorsements or recommendations for your legal services.

As I have pointed out before, lawyers should be checking the internet for what is being said about them. It is very easy to set up a perpetual search through Google, Yahoo and many other search providers. Set up a search for your name and see what is being said.

If you set up an account on a social network site, you need to go back and make sure that your profile remains true and does violate the ethics rule for your jurisdiction. If you do not maintain the profile, delete it.

Thanks to Michael S. Frisch of the Legal Profession Blog for pointing out these ethics opinions.

Legal Ethics and Social Media’s Legal Technology section has a great article by C.C. Holland to get you thinking about the ethical limitations on a lawyer’s involvement in social media: Mind the Ethics of Online Networking. The article focuses mostly on Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn and lawyers use of these social media sites.

As a lawyer who uses these tools and other social media tools, I am always cognizant of not soliciting for business and not directly answer legal questions. As the article points out, the various state bars do not have any bright-line rules on the use of these tools. To further muddy the waters, each state has its own rules on advertising and solicitation.

I use Facebook and LinkedIn as part of my professional brand. They are places where you can find more information about me. Hopefully, the information you find there and find on my blogs will give you a better understanding of my professional background and me as a person.

There are some basic principles that I adhere to and that other attorneys need to adhere to:

Be truthful. False or misleading communication about a lawyer or the services a lawyer provides are always going to be an ethical violation.

Put up a disclaimer. At the bottom of my page there is a notice that the blog may be considered advertising and that I am not rendering legal advice.

Be careful of direct communication. Posting on a blog is just making information available. Directly communicating with someone opens the door to the creation of an attorney-client relationship, even if you did not mean to create one. I posted a few months ago about the Massachusetts position on putting emails on a website: [Problem with Email on Law Firm Websites], [Problem with Email on Law Firm Websites] and [Problem with Email on Law Firm Websites].

None of this is a reason not use social media tools. If you are an attorney, you just need to remember that you are an attorney when using them.

Social Networks Update

Back in the end of July, I posted a story: Does anyone know ____?: CRM vs. LinkedIn vs. Facebook comparing the features and powers of three social network tools that I use. One aspect of the post was the number of people I knew in each system.

InterAction is the firm’s Contact Relationship Management software. In the system I am identified as knowing 1362 people, up from 1300 on July 23. The system can identify who knows who so it is a social network tool. This includes people inside and outside the firm.

In LinkedIn, I now have 114 “connections” up from 62 in late July.

In Facebook, I now have 40 friends, a huge increase from the 8 I had in late July. Of those 40 almost half are people who work at my firm. Almost all of them have joined Facebook since late July.

Email is still the dominant form of business communication and has been for many years. It was no surprise that the contacts in InterAction (which is largely driven by email) continue to grow at a steady pace.

I am really surprised at the growing numbers in Facebook. Surprised is not the right word. I was surprised by the communication powers of Facebook. I think most people find that communications power to be a great tool to use. The big barrier is wading through the media coverage to try Facebook out for themselves and see what it can do for them.

I ran into one of my Facebook “friends” in the hallway. Although we had not run into each face-to-face for weeks, we both remarked how it felt like we had been talking to each other everyday.

That is the real power of social network tools: the ability to enhance personal communications.

Updated Social Network Site Survey

Even with the warm weather here in Boston, the summer has ended. So I decided to look back at my survey of the summer associates. I posted the preliminary results a few weeks a go.

For those of you interested in viewing the detailed data you can download a file with the full results: Social Survey (.csv file)

I had 56 responses from the 75 summer associates.

77% had a Facebook account and most of them checked Facebook at least once a day.

Of those that checked Facebook at least once a day, the average college graduating year was 2004. For those who checked it less frequently or did not have an account, the average college graduating year was 2003.

Of those with Facebook accounts, 79% would use Facebook for business purposes.

There was a sharp drop off from Facebook to LinkedIn. Only 19% had a LinkedIn account. That does not surprise me. Facebook offers a much more dynamic way to communicate and network than LinkedIn. That is shown by their usage. Only 9% checked LinkedIn weekly, the rest answered rarely.

There were similar usage numbers for MySpace as there were for LinkedIn.

I would expect that the survey numbers were skewed downward on usage of these sites. In my request, I stated that the results would be anonymous (and they are). But, I think they may want to downplay their use of the site to appear more “professional” given the way many members of the media portray these social sites as frivolous.

To me it looks like next year’s lawyers are using Facebook actively and see it as a business tool. We better figure out how to meet their expectations.