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Survey Highlights the Power of Social Networks
As the business world becomes increasingly reliant on technology for communication, the legal profession is also noticing a shift. This has been seen not only in document transfer and communication, such as e-mail or e-filing, but also with knowledge sharing and networking.
The 2008 Networks for Counsel Survey, commissioned by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, has revealed that almost 50 percent of lawyers are members of online social networks, and more than 40 percent believe professional networking has the potential to change the business and practice of law over the next five years.
But what does this mean? With less than 10 percent of respondents saying they can rely on their current network to help them work more efficiently and cost effectively, how important is having a professional networking tool?
Lawyers typically use traditional methods of networking; referrals or recommendations from clients and peers are generally considered to be the most effective means. Relationship-based methods, such as in-person networking events and alumni groups, are also considered powerful. However, given the geographical challenges presented by globalization, as well as time and budgetary constraints, these traditional activities are becoming increasingly difficult for lawyers to engage in.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 52 percent of respondents agreed, or strongly agreed, that it is harder to stay connected with colleagues and peers. In addition, more than 60 percent agreed or strongly agreed that it is hard to connect at conferences, while 61 percent said that networking internationally is both difficult and prohibitively expensive.
These results suggest that the profession would benefit from a more efficient and effective environment through which they can network and collaborate. New online technologies provide a solution through networking Web sites that can help lawyers connect with each other quickly and easily, regardless of location. However, while there is a clear market for online networking, some specific issues remain that challenge its potential to win true acceptance.
Firstly, there is a clear generation gap in attitudes towards online networking. According to the survey, legal professionals are increasingly using online social networking for personal and professional purposes, however, the majority of lawyers using such sites are between the ages of 25 and 35. Sixty-seven percent of 25 to 35 year olds, 49 percent of 36 to 45 year olds, and 36 percent of 46-plus-year-olds reported membership of an online social network.
While it is promising that younger members of the legal profession are relatively accustomed to online networking, a large portion of senior lawyers are not currently participating.
Secondly, the findings suggest that a network specifically designed for the needs of lawyers should be considered. More than 40 percent of all corporate counsel and private practice lawyers report an interest in joining an online professional network designed exclusively for lawyers, and 54 percent of corporate counsel and 41 percent of private practice lawyers view linking to other lawyers as the most important feature an online professional network could provide.
A network specifically tailored to the legal profession could, for example, operate using heightened privacy levels, an area which many within the profession have expressed concerns about.
Forty-three percent of corporate counsel and 53 percent of private practice lawyers report that current versions of professional networks and online communities do not help them work more efficiently and cost effectively. This is clearly a concern that needs addressing. So, what features and content might tempt corporate counsel to join a professional legal network?
According to the Networks for Counsel survey, the top five attributes identified were: