Monica Zent
May 2014

The Big Debate: Open vs. Private Networks for Lawyers

In February, we launched Foxwordy, the first private social network for lawyers, and a debate exploded online. The response came fast and furious. Some questioned whether lawyers need a private social network or whether they could effectively network and do legal business using the open net. Meanwhile, others weighed in applauding that Foxwordy is the only network that finally got it right by offering a private social network that lawyers could call their own.

Some argued that mainstream social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are sufficient platforms for legal professionals to network online as well as conduct business. Others suggested that blogging is “engaging” in social media, and that all lawyers need to do to collaborate successfully and discover new opportunities is to put themselves out there on the “open net.”

Lawyers and similar licensed professionals are held to heightened standards of behavior and ethics. This fact serves as a major filter over how lawyers interact with the general public and impacts the degree to which lawyers engage via mainstream all-purpose social media networks. For lawyers to use social media effectively and productively for the purpose of engaging with their peers, the network needs to be private and have controls over what is shared and with whom.

Social media that is contextualized and private

What Foxwordy offers is a social media experience that is contextualized and private; contextualized so that lawyers can interact with other professionals who are working toward similar goals, and private so that they can feel confident that the information they share will be protected.

Much insight can be gained from interacting with fellow lawyers, and research has shown that lawyers are increasingly using social media outlets like Facebook and LinkedIn. In fact, the 2013 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey found that 59% of lawyers use social media in some form. Yet even though the percentage of lawyers who use social media for personal usage has been rising over the past few years, most do not look to mainstream social media to conduct serious legal business.

Lawyers Need Privacy

One of the reasons for this is that mainstream social media has lacked the privacy controls that are so crucial in the legal world. Lawyers are bound by a code of ethics; they must be discreet about what information they share and with whom they choose to share it. They cannot haphazardly disclose information with a general audience or rules of professional ethics and required disclaimers start kicking into play.

With a private social network, everything changes. We could go so far as to say that, in the professional context, a private network is more liberating than mainstream social media because of the relevance and nexus to those involved in the network.

The Ultimate Private Experience

In a private social network like Foxwordy, criteria must be met before gaining access, which means that members can feel comfortable that they are interacting with other qualified legal professionals. Moreover, once access is granted, members can further control what to share and with whom on the network, ensuring an added layer of privacy.

In addition, members can choose how they wish to share, either anonymously or under their own name. The ability to engage and share anonymously on certain matters is a powerful key to unlocking collective knowledge. Any private network needs a few clearly marked gates, by which members can share information with a more general audience if they choose. In Foxwordy, we put our members in control of that allowing them to decide what to share and with whom on the network.

Why Now is the Time

The timing is right for adopting private social networks because the way we interact and do business is changing.

Culturally, we’ve all come to know and use mainstream social media in our personal lives. Now we need more. We spend the majority of our waking hours wearing our career hat. We need a professional-centric network for that aspect of our lives. Even Facebook is recognizing that people want more privacy and discretion in their experience.

And, in the legal market, we are continuing to see a seismic shift in terms of how law is practiced and expectations of clients. BigLaw continues to crumble, and in-house teams are getting larger, filled with more non-employee contractors than ever before. There is a saturation of supply of new lawyers in the market and not enough demand. All of this creates increasing pressure on lawyers to do more with less and do it better and faster. The majority of lawyers are now practicing independently or freelancing, and their opportunities are declining.

The bottom line

Engaging with our colleagues within private social networks, targeted to our specific markets, will allow our experiences to be more productive via less effort. Foxwordy liberates lawyers from having to worry about ethical constraints on communication and dated methods of showing what they know, allowing them to have more fruitful real-time exchanges with their colleagues.