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Most lawyers receive e-mails from people in their firm looking for a contact at an organization being pitched for new business. Many of those e-mails go unread, and valuable information is potentially lost. Recently, Foley & Lardner announced it will take a different approach to managing the firm’s relationship capital by rolling out Visible Path, a corporate MySpace-type social-networking program. Founded in 2002, Visible Path provides enterprise software to companies like Verisign Inc. and WebEx Communications. The software uses social-network analysis to give individuals access to an entire firm’s set of contacts without raising privacy concerns or compromising personal associations. Since receiving a $17 million round of funding from venture capital firms Menlo Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Integral Capital Partners and Silicon Valley Bank in April, Visible Path has been offering the Professional Edition of its software to law firms for free. The professional version allows firms to set up a private social network and invite attorneys into the network by e-mail. A user-friendly interface, which integrates with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and other programs, lets an attorney or staff member search the data to see if he has a “path” to someone he would like to reach or learn more about. If he does, he can make a private request for information or an introduction. Visible Path says it hopes firms will have so much success with the Professional Edition that they will eventually upgrade to the Enterprise Edition, which requires a license fee, includes the ability to invite people outside the firm into the network and provides tools to analyze the strength of the firm’s relationships in key industries. “What we discovered is that the problem of mapping social networks is a search issue,” says Visible Path CEO Antony Brydon. “These networks look a lot like the Web, but instead of linking Web pages, we are linking people,” he adds, saying that the algorithms Visible Path uses are similar to those used by Google, another company in which Kleiner Perkins has invested. Foley began testing the software in the fall of 2005 in an effort to deal with e-mail traffic concerning contacts. “People are having e-mail fatigue,” says Kyle Heath, Foley’s chief marketing officer. “If individuals do not see these e-mails, opportunities to connect critical relationships across the firm may be lost.” Andy Kieffer, vice president of business development at Visible Path, points out that people use e-mail because of its simplicity. “The problem is that an e-mail only reaches those individuals who are willing to make a connection,” he says. “They are the eager people, not necessarily the effective people.” In addition to Foley & Lardner, Carr & Ferrell, Morrison & Foerster and six other AmLaw 200 firms are among those using Visible Path. “It’s a wonderful tool in terms of figuring out the best and most effective relationships and the most direct introductions,” says Jeffrey Capaccio, a partner with Palo Alto-based Carr & Ferrell. Capaccio, along with 10 other partners at the firm, has been using Visible Path since the fall of 2005. “What’s really neat about the product is that it measures the strength of a relationship by tracking recent correspondence,” he says. After successfully using it in his practice, in April of 2006, Capaccio introduced Visible Path to the Silicon Valley Italian Executive Council, a group he founded comprised of 350 top Italian and Italian-American executives and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. The success reported by users is compelling. According to Brydon, 80 percent of invitations in a firm between colleagues are accepted and 65 percent to 70 percent of requests for introductions are granted. He credits offering the best path to an individual and also offering alternatives for these statistics. “Visible Path is a better way,” notes Heath. Despite Visible Path’s position as purported market leader, there is competition. San Mateo-based Spoke Software’s Spoke Lead Generation tool is used to create sophisticated lists of individuals for followup in the sales context. US Venture Partners, Sierra Ventures, Partech International and Doll Capital Management are some of Spoke’s investors. San Francisco-based Leverage Software’s Leverage Community Platform enables active-relationship networks. Its customers include Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and the New York Times, among others. Law firms are not currently using the program. OnDemand Venture Capital Fund, run by CNET founder Halsey Minor, and John Stanton, an angel investor, are prominent backers of Leverage. Much of Visible Path’s so-called competition comes in another form. “The biggest competitor,” says Kieffer, “is misused CRM and messaging systems.” Ari Kaplan is an attorney and freelance writer based in New York. He can be reached at www.arikaplan.net. This article was originally appeared on Law.com. � Practice Center articles inform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact Sheela Kamath with submissions or questions at [email protected].

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