This group explores the risk presented by unfettered postings into social networks. The risk is serious, pervasive, and increasing. Existing policies are unlikely to cover evolving situations, but even assuming existing policies are in place, enforcement can be problematic. The group will gather publicly posted policies and develop a policy template that includes best practices and talking points.
This is a great post and on point in so many ways. We struggle with these very issues in Martindale Connected -- having created such a walled garden on this site we are always asking ourselves what content and content is better exposed to the wider public on the Internet, and what should remain. I'm not sure the answer is obvious, nor that everyone will agree on where the line should be drawn, but it is a conversation worth having.
I'd love to help you improve Martindale Connected.
Is there some way to reach out and let the community help you?
Yes, there are groups on Connected specifically for members interested in providing feedback. Specifically I"d recommend the Connected Design Think Tank Group, where issues of how we can improve Connected are regularly discussed. community.martindale.com/.../default.aspx
Thanks. I agree that there is no obvious answer, and that not everyone will agree on where to draw the line. For a site like this, there are numerous competing interests, from a business as well as a user perspective. It'll be interesting to see what happens as this discussion progresses, and I'm happy to get it started.
OK, so let me start by asking a question. With respect to blogs on Connected (including this one), content from PUBLIC groups, as well as content from PUBLIC forums -- is it better to expose this content outside the registered site and make it visible to search engines non-MH Connected viewers? Pros? Cons?
As a general rule, I think the legal community, as a whole, benefits from a PUBLIC forum... if for no other reason than insights are then available to the entire profession. Of course, Martindale may object that there is little of value to them in such circumstance, but even so, I believe that open sharing of information has a value, because it can be accessed through web search engines like Google. Perhaps the ability to post and respond could be restricted to registered Martindale members only. That would seem fair to me.
What about giving Group and blog owners the choice? Exposing the content to search engines and non-MH members would only draw viral interest back to MHC. But bloggers or group owners might also want a group or forum that is public to MH members only; any reason why they couldn't have this choice?
I see no reason why a choice could not be offered, but I'm wondering what are the exact circumstances which would motivate a blogger or group owner to restrict sharing of info to MH members only. If the blogger or group owner wants a strictly private conversation, aren't there other and better alternatives? Isn't the real value of the MH forums the ability to reach out to the profession as a whole?
Great conversation. I agree that making the public groups, forums and blogs exposed to the open Web is a good idea and we are planning for this right now. The reason I'm asking is it represents a change in philosophy for Connected. Originally our thinking (and research) indicated that lawyers would be more willing to engage on a site like Connected if the site was a trusted "walled garden". That has proven to be the case, as evidenced by this thread.
But it also became quickly obvious that not all activity would be sensitive, and therefore not necessary to hide behind the firewall. Our current thinking is to expose to the open Web all activities labelled "public" in the blogs, forums and groups. All "private" or "confidential" user generated content on the site would remain protected behind the firewall and not exposed. We think this would create a clear line that balances the tension between public and private.
Great thoughts and ideas everyone. To me, however, opening "connected" to the searchable public presents a serious pitfall in my mind. I would anticipate being deluged with questions and posts from the public "masses" too numerous to be handled by one or all, questions on fact-specific legal topics that an uninformed consumer could construe as being directed specifically towards that person and his/her factual scenario (and in some of their minds thereby creating some sort of attorney-client relationship - despite disclaimers to the contrary), and folks in general "hunting" us down in our firms and legal departments to ask "off the record" questions. I sincerely envision more risks than rewards to this, at least these are my "off the cuff" thoughts.
Remember, we are discussing Martindale-Hubbell: being a 'walled garden' is in their DNA and maybe for the right reasons. Look at Facebook, Westlaw and other companies that thrive by restricting access. It looks as if people do not want an open network (too random, too scary), preferring a closed, limited, but tidy system.
Besides, for information-aggregators like Westlaw or Lexis-Nexis their initial gains are made slowly and at great cost. A big part of their value proposition arises from information scarcity: the same viewpoint that motivates lawyers.
The only way things will change is if sharing information becomes more valuable than hoarding it. Anyone want to argue that this has happened?
I don't know about the legitimacy of a blog post creating an attorney-client relationship... but the cure would appear quite simple: posts on the open forums could be stripped of actual IDs like "Steven Weinberger", and an alias substituted "User 467320". The public would not be able to identify who or what jurisdiction "User 467320" represents, and only legitimate registered users could identify "Steven Weinberger" as the actual source of the post. Thoughts?
Anyone else notice the irony of calling it "Connected" yet remaining (for the time being) "closed"?
Mr. Hedayat, to your point about Facebook being "closed": its recent privacy changes force openness. And I think if people, lawyers or otherwise, didn't want to share information with the public, they won't blog or tweet. Information is becoming less scarce, it just isn't as obvious because a company like Google has come along and caused complete disruption, exposing a wealth of information only known to small, "connected" or "closed" groups. Information that has been hoarded, as you say.
And I agree with others that making Connected blogs and forums open to the public may invite unnecessary clutter, people "hunting" down lawyers which sounds kind of silly when you think about other, already public ways of "hunting" down lawyers.
Who knows, maybe MH Community will serve as an example of balancing "open" with "closed."
I strongly support the openning of the Connected to the general public. I personally see nothing wrong with it. As lawyers, our role is to serve the community with our expertise and skills, not to conceal information from people as if we were members of a superior society of the truth.
In addition, I've personally never seen any discussion here that should be kept only among the members themselves, which is not a surprise to anyone, after all, who would be so naive so as to disclose a client's trading secrets or anything like that? I go even further. To be quite honest, I think that most of what is discussed here every day is completely irrelevant to the great majority of the users. Perhaps this would change if the Connected allowed those who really have a legal issue to present their case and hear a solution from one of us. I think that one of the reasons why lawyers join Martindale is to ultimately increase their clientele, which won't happen if those who actually hire legal services are excluded from participating: the general public
Ironic you say? How about Martindale-Hubbell creating a network that looks like Facebook and lets members post photos but won't let you find lawyers you already know? How about the cosmetic changes being made by companies to appear "social"? Now that's ironic.
Let's face it, the law remains out of reach for those who need it most, and our profession, which is supposed to help people to understand the law, actually thrives on secrecy and complexity. Now that's ironic.
We know the value of keeping information scarce and secret, but what about openness? What is the value of being open? Until we get past that practical question this whole discussion seems a bit ironic, but not at all practical.
- M. Hedayat
As an in-house lawyer who joined this community specifically to share ideas and best practices with other lawyers (both outside and in-house), I have no problem with the discussions on this community being limited to lawyers, law professors, members of the bar, etc. If sections of this community were to be made open to the WWW public, that ought to be fully disclosed so people can decide what to write and what not to write. I do see the difference between "openness" as a value or trait; "openness" on a lawyer-only forum, as a way to discuss legal issues and make professional connections; and soliciting clients and fans and otherwise holding an "open" conversation on the WWW (which is fine if you happen to be a celebrity on Twitter). And remember there is always Twitter.
I don't dispute the ironies you point out. Law itself is ironic, often punishing those who follow it and rewarding those who don't. Someone will certainly call that unjust as well.
Huh. I thought the value of being open was establishing and maintaining trust. We distrust the government so much because it isn't open.
What seems to be the issue is how to define "open," and Michael Chang has explained some different definitions. I don't really think "openness," beyond lawyer-only as Mr. Change describes, will happen unless clients demand it. Basically, I don't see a shift coming from the lawyer side, I see it from the client side. Another Wikileaks v. BJB, with a broader impact, perhaps.
It seems to me the decision to create an "open" vs. "closed" environment depends on the objectives of the site. If the objective of M-H is to create an environment where lawyers are networking and exchanging information with each other, then opening it to the public would be inappropriate. If, however, one of the objectives is to become a public resource, share information with the public, respond to public's questions (i.e., Avvo.com), then opening to the public is appropriate. I don't see that either way is right or wrong, just achieving different objectives and meeting different needs.
I don't see this as an either-or scenario. Under no circumstances would we allow non-authenticated, non-registered strangers to engage and contribute content on Connected. If we expose content from public forums/blogs/groups to the open web, it would only be the content exposed not the ability to contribute.
Our value proposition will continue to be that of a trusted, authenticated community. Thus, even if content is exposed to the open web, if individuals want to participate in the conversation, they would have to register and get authenticated.
The thinking is that this balances these competing interests. If someone is engaged in a "public" discussion -- there are no real repercussions to exposing those discussions on the open Web. But if those on the open Web want to play -- they have to join and become part of the trusted network.
Does this make sense, and if so, how does this impact your opinion?
In general, I agree, but as stated above, it might make sense to mask identities on the open web to overcome objections similar to those stated by Steven Weinberger, above.
I agree with John,
The real value in my mind of MH Connected is the fact that it is closed. If an attorney wants to post a "public" or "open" opinion on any legal topic, there are plenty of other outlets on the web to do so, including a firm's web page. Attorneys need a social networking site where they can share their thoughts without the glare of public scrutiny and ask perhaps for a second opinion.
I am also concerned about charges of practicing law without a license when we answer "generic" questions to non-lawyers outside our jurisdictions that could be perceived somehow as a establishing an attorney client relationship. Masking identities I guess addresses this concern, but seems like a messy solution. Keeping the network closed is a better approach in my opinion.
Wow - I can't believe that my back-to-back meetings yesterday kept me away from this thread!
First off, Gwynne: thank you for the great post.
Mazy: scarcity of information is a diminishing commodity. With Google doing what it does we all need to rethink the value of freemium and what contributing more can do for our bottom lines, both as Legal Tools Providers and Lawyers. I for one, am advocating that we make more LN information public and free, while putting the proper focus on what should be kept private.
Steve, Daniel, and John: my position on the future of Connected has been and will continue to be that "Public" discussions need more visibility, both in Connected itself and on the open web. The vision as I understand it is this:
1. Content posted in Public forums and groups will be searchable on the open web.
2. ONLY registered users can comment (to register they need to authenticate - a weeding out process in itself)
3. Contact details for Connected members who post in Public areas are not revealed to the public (similar to Linkedin public profiles)
4. Connected members have the ability to hide contact details even from registered Connected members (restricting ability to view to 1st and 2nd degree connections), but this is something you need to activate in your privacy settings.
Some possible directions for the opening up of Connected:
1. Set default privacy settings that contact details are only viewable by 1st degree connections (make it clear that you would need to change this if you want greater visibility)
2. Create "ON THE RECORD" and "OFF THE RECORD" buttons for every post, regardless of the visibility of the forum (public v. private). The originator of the post could choose whether they want the post to appear in search engines or not by choosing one of the options before they post. A prominent banner at the top of the post would alert users of whether this is an ON THE RECORD or OFF THE RECORD thread.
3. Use more visual/icon cues to inform members of the difference between posting in public, private, and confidential forums.
What other suggestions or ideas on this do people have?
For me Daniel has hit the nail on the head. There are no laws, even duties, which impel us to make public any comments posted on MHC. It is precisely because it is ringfenced that it becomes valuable to share thoughts and ideas ona global scale. What needs to be remembered is that social networking is not new at all. It's as old as civilisation and before technology intervened a decade or so ago people would choose their networks and gain advantages from them. What was discussed was never broadcast unless there was some particular reason to do so. Likewise if people want to form more private circles within MHC I don't see where the problem is. That's just a social circle within a social circle: that has always existed pre and post internet. Let's face it: isn't it just brilliant that MHC, and other networks, allow us communicate quickly and cheaply anywhere in the world. That's what's new and exciting. So as to the basics there is no need whatsover to start changing the rules.
I think the distinction between "open" and "closed" is too basic. It's an understanding of who can see the information and who can add/edit information.
People behave differently and provide different information depending on who can see the information. For example, I keep Facebook limited to a close circle of people that I know well. So I am willing to post pictures of my kids there, but am not willing to post them on a more public site. I control who sees the information.
As for closed community for legal professionals, I prefer it. Discussion among peers, limited to peers, is much more interesting than when others are included. Compare it to any in-person communication. You share much more with your friends than with strangers.
As for attorney-client communication, that is another story. You should take a look at a recent opinion in Arizona: www.myazbar.org/.../opinionview.cfm
One of the reasons I enjoy attending bar association meetings, CLEs and the networking that results with attorneys is the chance to have an "off the Record" (whatever that means) discussion on a legal topic and how it should be properly resolved. Because these discussions do not involve a client or potential client's participation, the feedback I have received is very candid and open. Connected takes this same concept and makes it possible instantly on the web. This is the real value, in my mind, of Connected. I can think of no other social networking forum where lawyers have that opportunity on such a broad scale. I would make this the corner stone of Connected's marketing plan.
I have invited Connected attorneys to join my network on LinkedIn and have been told they prefer to limit themselves to just Connected for this very reason. I'm on Facebook too, but I limit this to personal friends, not business associates.
With respect to Mike's comments, my gut response is to run this all past a few professional liability carriers and get their input. If they will insure this potential risk, and they may, my opinion is "open" (pun intended) to change.
Thanks so much Gwynne for starting this discussion. I am a LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell user researcher new to this group. All of your views on this are critical to us making informed decisions about the future "openess" of Connected.
As John Lipsey mentioned, we have a Connected group where we float alot of user experience design ideas to get feedback: community.martindale.com/.../default.aspx
If you have any interest, I am sharing early prototype test designs with volunteers. If you have any interest in participating in these 30 to 45-minute telephone conversations, please feel free to contact me.
In terms of the current discussion and how that fits in with what we have heard thus far, where the line (or fence) is drawn is diffierent for different people and I think many times, situation based.
I find the point Doug made about human behavior very interesting; so which is it, do members write a post and then decide who to share it with, or do they make the decision of to whom they want to communicate with first and then write the content accordingly. It may sound like a nuance, but understanding this will help us design the appropriate function in the product to accomodate all users. Thoughts?
Karen: Your question is not, or at least should not be, a nuance. Again, it gets back to my previous comment regarding the purpose of the site: what is the purpose of the communication? For marketing purposes, you must identify your target market and write to them, otherwise you're wasting your time. If you feel compelled to write about a particular topic with no expectation of outcome for it (other than hopefully generating conversation or obtaining information), then the reverse is true. As a freelance research & writing attorney, I have the luxury of writing to my target market who are also other lawyers (B2B). But those lawyers who are writing for consumers have a different agenda (B2C & B2B for referrals).
I think Donna is exactly right. What is the purpose -- of the site, but also the members of the site. I think based on what type of member we're talking about -- purposes may differ. Private practice lawyers are interested in increasing their clientele. That is not what corporate counsel care about.
Perhaps the discussion should be framed based on the role-type of the user.
It appears that the corporate counsel on this thread are arguing in support of keeping the network closed as a walled garden, and the private practice lawyers, marketers and others favor opening it up a little bit. Is this a fair assessment? Do others agree or disagree?
What are your comments about this?
Do law firms want free client development and marketing solutions?
"I practiced law for 20 years. I found that lawyers and law firms who invested in themselves to improve themselves as a lawyer and invested in their marketing and business development did markedly better than other lawyers.
I laud Avvo for what they are doing in offering lawyers a free directory. While serving as a VP of Business Development for Martindale, I could never get Martindale to send their people out to educate lawyers on Internet Marketing. Avvo and Britton are doing a good job of such lawyer education. There's probably 200 lawyers sitting in front of me in Seattle at Avvo's Internet Marketing Conference."
I'd LOVE to go out to educate lawyers about Internet marketing!
I agree Donna; this is similar to user experience design: you need to design for your target audience. But there are varying needs and situtations that need to be taken into account even within the same target (legal) population.
Analysis is right on.
Inside lawyers like corporate counsel want to speak freely and know their words will not come back to haunt them. Lawyers in private practice and marketers want to see and be seen by the prospects.
Both groups are driven by predictable forces. Corporate counsel have little motivation to consort with anyone outside work, much less to market; the opposite is true of the other constituencies we identified.
Does that make the question of open v. closed networks a coin flip or is there a preponderance of one type of Martindale-Hubbell user over another? Inside v. Outside. Who pays more attention? Who pays more money into the Martindale/LexisNexis system? Should the answer matter?
Of course I don't expect Martindale to actually answer but it's fun to ask.
But how much "sharing" is actually going on? It strikes me that one of the underlying assumptions to this thread (BTW, great thread) is that "closed" networks encourage the sharing of more confidences. The thinking is that in a closed network there is less risk that something you say will come back and bite you.
Having once been part of the YPO (which used to meet in monthly groups of about 10), I think this assumption is flawed. In my experience, people share based upon their level of trust in their communities. In the YPO, some people never shared. Being in a small closed group does not create sharing if a member doesn't trust something.
In other words, I agree with Doug and Daniel that reducing this discussion to "open" or "closed" networking is too basic. It's like talking about healthcare reform and only focussing on the cost of prescription medication.
I think another approach would be to ask how much we want community members to share. This is not a trivial question. The whole "sausage eater" and "sausage maker" analogy comes to mind. Participation is one thing. But how much content do we want to share?
Once we settle on that issue, then we can design an environment to encourages that level of sharing by focussing on building a given level of trust. An environment that can ask questions like whether a forum should be "open" or "closed".
Is trust among members something that Martindale-Hubbell can control? I thought we were talking about how the company could foster the flow of information. If so then all they could possibly do is create an environment where members feel secure in sharing their input.
Sure a free exchange depends on trust, but for a lot of lawyers it seems as if trust can only be built once they know that they will be in the company of like-minded people (i.e. other lawyers).
I've always taken it for granted that the most a company such as Martindale, Facebook, Twiter, Avvo, or whoever can do is create a forum; so their first decision would have to be whether they intend to go about creating an open environment like Twitter or a closed one like the one we are using today.
Mayzar's comment about the differences in the needs of inside counsel and lawyer's in private practice on MH Connected is a good point.
As a business professional, I use LinkedIn as my major social networking outlet to market and develop business opportunities for my employer with others in the same industry, not necessarily with other attorneys. Although I am not an open networker, I will accept invitations from business professionals I do not know in my industry if we know people in common or belong to the same groups. That's the equivalent for me to meeting someone at a trade show and keeping their business card. You never know when this contact may come in handy. I have also used LinkedIn to track connections as they have changed employers, something very valuable in these difficult economic times, especially in real estate development or real estate finance.
I know one private practice attorney however who seems to make it a point to answer every "law related" question on LinkedIn to promote his firm and expertise. I really don't know if this approach works for him or not in generating new revenue but I suspect it does not, since he may be addressing only one person in that group with a very specific need and his well thought out response may then get lost. However I do know that one of the major advantages of being active in a bar association, such as the ABA, is self promotion through the publication of one's writing or by speaking at a CLE. This material is widely promoted and distributed among attorneys and in the case of a national association such as the ABA, it finds itself eventually into every major law university library and many libraries of major law firms. This proven approach does generate work through referrals from other attorneys in other jurisdictions or fields and through the reprinting of articles by the author for clients, helping to "brand" the attorney as an "expert" in that field. Getting published or being invited to speak is not as hard as it may seem. Just get active in your bar association and volunteer.
I think MH Connected can expand this same marketing opportunity for private practice attorneys to "brand" and promote themselves in a less formal and more immediate way by giving both inside counsel and the public both information and the names of "experts" in a particular legal field through information that was clearly written online for public consumption on Connected while maintaining a closed circle on Connected for other discussions limited to legal professionals for information meant to be kept "confidential" or not intended for the general public.
Designing MH Connected forums as either "private" or "public" in order to clearly designate those who may read that information or particular thread may be the answer to the "open" vs. "closed" question posed? Companies do that today with their internet web page open to the general public including competitors vs. their internal intranet company pages open only to employees. Passwords do the trick. I don't see the two approaches as necessarily mutually exclusive, but as I stated before, there are other outlets to promote oneself in private practice, but I know of no other significant outlet for attorneys to share "closed" information on a national scale other than MH Connected. That's a huge distinguishing benefit of MH Connected.
One of the challenges is the nature of MarHub. They have traditionally focused on being a marketing platform, helping lawyers get in front of their potential clients. An open platform is much more useful for marketing purposes.
I think what Connected is trying to do is move from the one way, marketing focus to a two-way collaboration platform.
(I would prefer to discuss substantive issues instead of social media issues, but the most talked about thing in social media is social media itself.)
If a platform wants to move to a collaboration platform, that is going mean you need to close it. You need to know who is involved. Both in attendance, who they really are and the nature of their involvement. Those are the first steps in creating the trust needed to have a substantive discussion.
One of the problem with an online community is that it is hard to develop that trust. The best method is to take an existing community and give it an online platform to continue the discussions when they can't be in the same room.
Doug is so right. What I'm seeing is the evolution of networking sites into closed collaborative environments, while virtual law platforms evolve into more sophisticated ease of collaboration as well. I think we're seeing the beginnings of a separate platform entirely for collaboration (i.e., see the new www.collaboratingentreupreneurs.com). This is a different environment from social networking for marketing & referrals. Then, from the virtual law office/case management perspective comes emphasis on ease of collaboration (i.e., listen to Niki Black's episode 7 on www.LawTechTalk.com, showcasing www,Mavenlink.com and www.Firmex.com). Also, my blog post to be published later today at www.FreelanceLawFirm.com discusses a fairly new lawyer site called www.MyLegal.com, that offers a hybrid environment for both on a closed site. I think this evolution takes the function of networking sites one step further, so that once users make their connections and decide to work together, they can then take their project off-site to the collaborative-based site.