Targeted social media can be valuable work tools
By Walin Wong
Chicago Tribune

Evan Brown is a member of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. He blogs about law issues in his spare time. And he has a day job, too, as an Internet and technology lawyer at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Chicago.
It turns out that many lawyers, like journalists, politicians, cat lovers and other subcultures, love using social media to communicate with peers, share news and promote themselves.
“As with any sociological group, there’s a full spectrum when it comes to willingness and readiness to adopt technology,” said Brown, 34, who has been trying a new professional network for lawyers called Martindale-Hubbell Connected. “You’ve got Luddites who don’t know how to turn on their computers and sophisticated lawyers who write their own software applications. … (But) in the last couple of years, you’ve seen a much more robust use of blogging and social networking and even Twitter.”
Last year, online database company LexisNexis commissioned a survey of roughly 650 attorneys worldwide that showed nearly half of them are already members of social networking sites. More than 40 percent of the lawyers said they would like to join a network specifically designed for their profession.
Online corporate networks are nothing new. Companies have their own platforms _ take McDonald’s Corp., which operates a closed site called StationM for its North American workers. There also are social networks organized around specific industries, such as information technology professionals or airline flight crews.
For professionals who don’t belong to such a vertical network, the go-to sites for bumping into colleagues are places such as LinkedIn, where users can create their own interest groups, or general platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
It’s easy enough to find other people in your industry online. You can sign up for LinkedIn or Facebook, then search for people in a certain profession or company. But a professional network should enable a range of meaningful connections that help members do their jobs better. Otherwise, it becomes just another virtual water cooler, and plenty of those sites already exist.
Martindale-Hubbell, a unit of LexisNexis, launched its online network at the end of March. The platform allows members to find colleagues with search filters such as geography and practice area. But it also unearths more obscure or long-forgotten connections, such as those who served as opposing counsel on a case from many years ago. The company has been publishing a directory of lawyers since the late 19th Century, and its peer review system, which also is integrated into the online network, has been around for a century.
“It’s not that there’s a lack of information” for lawyers, said Laxmi Wordham, vice president for Martindale-Hubbell Large Law. “It’s that lawyers have little time on their hands and need a more efficient way to find that information.”
There’s a lot about online networking that’s fun. But when technology is applied in useful ways to an existing group with common interests, a networking site can cross the line from a harmless distraction to a valuable work tool.
Brown, whose firm has been using Martindale-Hubbell Connected for about a month in beta testing, said using social media doesn’t directly generate clients and that lawyers who join sites for that purpose will be disappointed. For him, maintaining a presence on social and professional sites is a way to enhance his credentials and show a little more of his personality.
“I believe the people who come across my content, whether it’s prospective clients or opposing counsel … get some value to seeing that human side of me,” Brown said.
To read more Digital Life columns by Wailin Wong, go to

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