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SmallLaw: Have Social Networks Already Jumped the Shark?

By Mazyar Hedayat | Monday, March 16, 2009


Originally published on March 2, 2009 in our free SmallLaw newsletter.

Happy Days was a great show — it always had a happy ending but Fonzie provided an edge. But when the Fonz jumped over a great white shark wearing a bathing suit and leather jacket, I lost interest.

So imagine my disappointment when I realized recently that social networking has jumped the shark in the legal profession. How can I tell? A number of telltale signs exist, but first let's review where we've been.

The Rise and Rise of Social Networks …

Given their potential as tools for collaboration, information dissemination, and the creation of a knowledge-base, social networks should be a natural fit for lawyers; they certainly were for me.

In 2000 I went around advocating intranets, extranets, even online discussion groups, to affect lawyer-to-lawyer collaboration. By 2002 I got tired of taking about the subject and deployed an extranet of my own, increasing throughput ten times over by reaching into client offices.

In 2004 I jumped on the collaboration bandwagon again but once more my recommendations were rejected. The typical complaint: lawyers deal with subjects too sensitive to be discussed online. Besides, went the conventional wisdom, social networking was for kids.

Of course when News Corp. bought MySpace for a princely sum and Facebook's valuation exceeded that of most automobile manufacturers, lawyers across the country were left scratching their heads. What a blow it must have been then, when Twitter burst on the scene and changed the game once again. While Twitter's value remains to be calculated, it recently rejected a $500 million offer from Facebook.

I was cheerleading all along as evidenced by my SmallLaw column, Twitter and Friendfeed: They're Not Just for Britney Fans.

Jumping the Shark …

Have social networks become critical tools for lawyers or have they already jumped the shark? A few observations to help you decide:

Feel the Love

Social networks have the potential to create a place in which lawyers can exchange information, ideas, documents, referrals, and other resources. But a check of Facebook, LinkedIn, and the other places where lawyers congregate online reveals the same kind of "you show yours first" behavior that have always plagued collaboration outside of law firms. Remember people: both parties have to contribute before it can be called "sharing." Otherwise it's just "taking," even if you do it online.

It's the Economy Stupid

How the mighty have fallen. I can't go 24 hours without being approached by some Big Law refugee who wants to network. Really? Because I could swear that when times were better these same Ivy League desk-jockeys wouldn't give me the time of day. Now, however, through the magic of social networking, they can become my "friend" without being my friend … if you know what I mean. Isn't technology great?

A Bridge Too Far

In December 2008 I applauded the ABA's experiment in all things Web-based, LegallyMinded.

Indeed, the Web site could have been the first step towards a national conversation among lawyers, especially as firms cut hundreds of associates. However, just a few months after its launch, LegallyMinded could be mistaken for the ghost town known as Second Life. Whatever the fate of the project, the ABA certainly created a national laboratory with this offering. It remains to be seen how the experiment will end.

The Kiss of Death

The final sign that the social networking phenomenon has bitten the dust? Twitter and Facebook are being touted by county and state bar associations as well as by the ABA. In the famous words of a past president at my county bar, "Hey, I'm on Facebook! Now what?"

Hope Springs Eternal …

Although social networking may have jumped the shark as a way for the legal profession to collaborate, internal social networks continue to thrive. As usual Big Law has lead the way, gravitating towards pricey solutions such as Microsoft SharePoint. And predictably, many small firms use the hosted version of SharePoint.

But where does that leave cash-strapped sole practitioners who don't have anyone else at their firm with whom to share ideas and documents? If this need to share really exists, then perhaps I've jumped the gun. Maybe the legal-specific social networks will improve and gain critical mass. And maybe lawyers can learn how to properly use the big three — Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Maybe, just maybe, social networks haven't jumped the shark after all. Aaay!

Written by Mazyar M. Hedayat of M. Hedayat & Associates, P.C.

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Topics: Collaboration/Knowledge Management | Law Firm Marketing/Publications/Web Sites | Online/Cloud | SmallLaw
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