Doug Cornelius, as savvy a guy as you’d want to know when it comes to knowledge management and social networking for large law, offers his take on LexisNexis’ venture into social networking for lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell Connected.

Formerly a Senior Attorney with Goodwin Proctor and now Chief Compliance Officer with a real estate private equity firm, Cornelius’ take is blunt, matter of fact, and telling for LexisNexis.

Cornelius finds Connected’s story a compelling one.

The lure of Connected is the idea of combining an online networking community, the Martindale-Hubble lawyer listings, and the enormous pool of data in the Lexis databases. Theoretically, your lawyer listing, articles, cases, news, and people connections would be all linked together in one place. As with blogging, you could show your expertise through the stuff you write, the cases you work on, the transactions you work on and the news about you. Then you tie that all information to a central profile and connect with the people you know.

But for Cornelius, who’s been using Connected for months, it’s just that, a story. ‘Either they have a lot of work to do, or the site is intended to be mediocre.’

  • The site is merely a social network site with a connection to Martindale-Hubble listings, there is no connection to substantive Lexis content.
  • The social networking tools are mediocre.
  • Admittedly still in beta, the site is sparsely populated and lacks content.
  • They are having trouble trouble tying blog posts to Connected profiles.
  • Does not have the large population of users like LinkedIn and Facebook.
  • Lacks many of the rich features of LinkedIn and Facebook.

The biggest question I’ve had about Connected is that it’s a closed community requiring authentication by Martindale-Hubbell, and designed to be open only to lawyers. Though Martindale conceded yesterday in a comment to a blog post they’ll let non lawyer large law firm management people in later this year.

Why would I as a lawyer not want to be networking with professionals from 140 industries ala LinkedIn? Why wouldn’t I want more people to get to know me better both as a lawyer and as a person, as opposed to only those people Martindale approves?

Cornelius agrees.

Part of Connected’s approach is create an authenticated community. So that the person is who they say they are. An interesting approach, but to me it seems like a lot of work for little value. (Perhaps they are scarred by the squatters holding LexisNexis in Twitter.) The authentication seems designed around the Martindale listing. So to start you need to be a lawyer to get…

Frankly, I am not sold on having a gated community for a broad legal community. What would I publish or say in Connected that I would not otherwise say on this blog, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn? I am an early adopter, so maybe the general legal population would be more likely to contribute in Connected than on one of the public platforms? I am skeptical.

I just got into Connected last week after first asking Martindale last fall and have not used it other than to start completing my profile. But I’m not impressed at this point. My gut tells me it’s a failure as far as heavy ‘real adoption’ by law firms.

We’re going to hear of some successes. We’ll hear the site is in beta. The marketing pitch will continue. There will be surveys telling us how in-house counsel like Connected. LexisNexis has a lot of money.

But in addition to what Cornelius offers, here’s my take:

  • The UI and development work is of far lower quality than that of LinkedIn’s.
  • It felt slow and clumsy to use.
  • It doesn’t look to be the type of system for which new features can be added regularly, something LinkedIn and Facebook are constantly doing.
  • Unlike LinkedIn and other innovative companies succeeding on the Internet today, LexisNexis’ culture is not one to let lots of users in and make further development based on their feedback. Rather than getting early adopters to help you improve your product and tell others about it, LexisNexis appears to building ill will from other than their closest friends.
  • Lack of clear direction and strategy from Martindale personnel to the legal Internet community. LexisNexis employees, as recently as last weekend, told me all lawyers, including me, can get in Connected. It just may take a few days after registration. Another LexisNexis employee tells me on Monday no, ‘employees were told at a recent national sales meeting, that membership is still limited to corporate counsel.’
  • Inability of LexisNexis engineering and development team to keep pace with the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook, and even legal upstarts like LegalOnRamp and JD Supra.

Most telling for Connected though is a growing large law feeling that Martindale-Hubbell’s value for large law is no longer there. Toby Brown, in Marketing and Knowledge Management at Fulbright & Jaworski, commenting to Cornelius post:

Although MH sits on a goldmine of information, I think it’s in serious trouble. With firms looking to cut non-essential costs, over the next year as MH contracts come due, I predict a major exodus. Frankly I’ve just don’t see the value in MH. Years ago an AV rating may have brought some work in the door. Not today – or at least not much. With so many emerging options that demonstrate ROI, MH is going down. (IMHO)

Guys like Cornelius, Brown, and I could be wrong. Connected could be a huge success, turning everyone’s opinion of Martindale from that of a dinosaur to an innovator. I just don’t see it.