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More problems with gated online legal communities : Cannot link to profiles

What do you do when you want to link to the profile of a lawyer or LexisNexis employee who is active in Martindale-Hubbell Connected, the new professional networking and online community for lawyers and legal professionals from LexisNexis? You link to their profile at LinkedIn, a professional and online community for professionals which Martindale-Hubbell Connected is arguably trying to supplant.

It happened yesterday when I wanted to link to the profile of Alin Wagner-Lahmy, the Senior Product Manager for Martindale Hubbell Connected. I was commenting on Alin’s post about MH Connected’s Social Media Policy & Guidelines’ week.

When I link to blog posts I like to link to profiles about the blogger. One it’s good taste, and two, it gives you, as readers, a place to check my sources credentials.

Alin, as a leader of MH Connected, has a completed profile at MH Connected. The problem is you cannot see the profile unless you are a legal professional, you apply for membership, and Martindale-Hubbell approves your membership. And then you need to connect to Alin before you can see her profile.

As such, linking to Alin’s profile would be a disservice to you, as a reader. So I of course link to Alin’s profile at LinkedIn.

Anyone else see the irony and the flaws of not being able to link to online profiles at MH Connected?

If I am building out a profile online, I want as many people as possible to see it. If I want my profile to be seen, I want my profile out in social media. I want people ‘passing it around’ when they reference me and/or what I say online. I want that profile to come up at Google when people search my name.

The heart of social media is linking. We link to stories on news sites, we link to blog posts we read, we link to tweets, and we link to profiles of people. Social media, and in turn networking through the Internet is all about links.

Building out one profile as a lawyer is tough enough. If I am going to build out a social media/networking profile and maintain it, I want to let as many people as possible see my profile. It’s my living and breathing resume. It grows with my online activity and the relationships I build.

A lawyer’s LinkedIn profile is indexed by Google. It is seen near the top of Google search results when you search the lawyer’s name. A lawyer’s LinkedIn profile can also be linked to by people using social media, generally the influencers of the lawyer’s clients, prospective clients, and referral sources.

A lawyer’s profile at MH Connected is not indexed at Google. The profile is not displayed in Google search results when people search your name. The profile cannot be linked to.

I understand LexisNexis’ position that MH Connected is the largest ‘authenticated’ (phrase used by LexisNexis communications director on Twitter today) online networking community for legal professionals. I understand LexisNexis’ desire to serve the many legal professionals who find online networking a scary proposition and want a safe harbor with limited exposure.

But I’m wondering if MH’s Connected philosophy of building a gated community for legal professionals is misguided? Isn’t the future of online networking and social media in open communities? Doesn’t innovation in the legal profession lie with those willing to take legal professionals where they haven’t gone before (even if it is scary at first)?

What do you guys think?

  • http://www.myshingle.com Carolyn Elefant

    Kevin,
    This is going to generate some great conversation. I have mixed feelings about closed legal communities. To me, social networking is really a microcosm of the real world, where people participate in different communities. For instance, when I socialize at a Solosez lunch, I’ll share very different things about myself than I do at energy regulatory events and this is different from what I might talk about if I’m at a school event with other parents. In some respects, the universal nature of social networking blurs some of the boundaries that I have in my real life, forcing me to, for example, share my MyShingle persona with my energy colleagues when truth be told, I’d rather not do so in all cases (because it make me look less serious about the energy field).
    In a closed community, I can segregate myself with less adverse impact. If I’m participating in a group like Legal OnRamp or MH Connected where there are other lawyers and in house counsel, I can tout my energy and appellate experience. And if keeping those communities closed is more likely to attract the kinds of people who aren’t going to be on Twitter or searching for me on Linked In, then all the better because it gives me better access to them.
    Of course, having been online for going on 13 years now, I have so much embedded SEO that I don’t really need the additional visibility that would come from outside links, and so whether Legal OnRamp or MH Connected link to the outside world isn’t realy an issue for me.

  • http://www.compliancebuilding.com Doug Cornelius

    Kevin -
    I have mixed feelings about closed communities.
    The phenomenon that caught my eye was the additional comments that I see on blog posts in Legal OnRamp. It could be a number of factors: too many barriers to comment on the native blog platform, a sense of community ownership in the closed community, or a more comfortable place to comment because the audience is limited.
    I think it silly to create much content or a blog inside one of the these closed communities. Of course syndicated a feed works just fine.
    But as Carolyn points out, maybe you treat different communities with a different focus. I recently stopped syndicating most of my professional content into Facebook (another closed community.) That community is much more focused on my personal side.
    I think it is okay to use gated communities, but you need to own your content and your online profile.

  • Jonathan Kash

    In my experience, attorneys are not likely to participate on-line as other professions. Raising barriers to entry, such as connecting or authenticating, does nothing to help change this behavior. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there should be private spaces to have online conversations. During my time at ACC, members viewed the closed, in-house community as a major benefit. (No bias here as I’ve recently returned to the for-profit world)
    Does the creation of these barriers add any value to MHC or LoR? In my opinion, LinkedIn has a great model: not only can you view a public profile, but groups can be private. Discussions, jobs and news are limited to members. Isn’t this the best of both worlds?

  • http://www.virtuallawpractice.org Stephanie Kimbro

    I appreciate what they are trying to do with the closed community, but I don’t agree with it personally. I think lawyers tend to socialize too much with other legal professionals and that it might benefit them to make additional connections with other business professionals.
    For example, one of the main benefits of using Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking tools that are open is that they give me the opportunity to learn from IT professionals, entrepreneurs, small business owners, marketing specialists, etc. What I learn from those contacts on a weekly basis has been valuable in growing and managing my own law practice.
    As with gathering any research or information online, we should be cautious about the background and source of the information we read. But attorneys should be good at this skill already. Closed may be comforting to some, but I don’t think it is as beneficial in the long run. I don’t think it will help move our profession to progress forward in terms of using technology to provide legal services and to collaborate online within the legal profession.

  • http://www.gulbransen.net/preaching Dave!

    I think there are benefits to both, although I think MH could provide a better experience. There is value in being able to “network” with other legal professionals in an environment where you know the other participants are verified legal professionals, too.
    However, there’s no reason MH couldn’t provide a simple “Public Profile” on the service that offered limited information to the public. It would be trivial, technically speaking; allow anyone to link to your MH Connected profile. If you’re a logged in member, you get the full profile. If not, you get a limited profile which displays items that the member chose to make available to the public.
    Problem solved.

  • John Sirman

    Participating in a gated community is not to the exclusion of building an online profile through public tools like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
    Our closed network at the State Bar of Texas, Texas Bar Circle (open only to Texas lawyers), continues to grow both in the number of registered users and user engagement. We’ll see where it goes, but as Carolyn Elefant suggests there may be a unique value in a community where members can talk shop in a context that’s not just about building their online profiles or reputations.
    At the same time, we’re encouraging our members to participate on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, for all the reasons that you (Kevin) and others so passionately express.

  • http://sleeplessinny.wordpress.com Alin Wagner-Lahmy

    This is a great question that goes to the heart, the core values, of a community: what is the right framework for a community to be useful to the audience?
    Reading the post and comments, seems like there’s a great mixture of views and no one solid decision to which is ‘better’. The clear answer I’m hearing is that both formats work – with tradeoffs – all depends on what your goal is as a member. Open community lacks the security and confidence the Closed one gives its members (which echoes through different comments here) while Closed communities are limiting exposure of content to ‘the outside world’ (as you have pointed out). It’s the member’s preference and goals that determine what to do where.
    Personally – I enjoy being in different types of communities, becasue I am using a different mix of voices and aspects of ‘me’ for each network I am a member of. We hear this all the time: Facebook calls for different ‘behavior’ than Linkedin than Twitter than one’s blog than Connected. And so it reaffirms the need for different frameworks, which we’re lucky to have to allow us to emphasis each aspect of our ‘Venn Diagram personality’ (Chris Pirrilo’s metaphor of the individual as a community in its own right).
    Variety of community types calls out our different personality aspects.
    Historically, I would even argue that Closed communities, from ARPANET to Facebook, had succeeded more than open ones, because they were initially and intentionally constructed to offer a great level of assurance and protection to the member and/or the content created within its walls.
    Specifically around Connected I have a few key points to share and clarify:
    Connected was designed as a closed community because this was the very clear need heard from our audience.
    Secondly – and this is key – Martindale Connected is offering 3 layers of visibility letting members have full control of what to share with whom:
    1) Public – a martindale.com public profile, which is available to all, SEO optimized, LinkedIn integrated and Google indexed (Dave – this is to your suggestion of martindale Connected offering a ‘public’ profile, this is already in place).
    2) Closed – Within Connected, one has their own profile, and can participate in the community discussions whether in Blogs, Forums or Open Groups. This also allows member control of networking management.
    3) Confidential – Within Connected, one can participate in private and confidential Groups, providing even more protection and security for those concerned about visibility of content. I have found these as key, thriving areas, btw.
    Stephanie, Dave – Just a correction, *all Legal Professionals* can join Connected and participate in the conversation.
    Kevin, You are asking “Doesn’t innovation in the legal profession lie with those willing to take legal professionals where they haven’t gone before (even if it is scary at first)?” I would question the definition of the word ‘take’, and who is the ‘star’ of this process – it’s not the platform – it’s the community. Just like one can’t determine what a plant would look like when first seeding it and cannot make a plant grow by pulling its seedling – one cannot determine for the community what it is going to look like, it is the community itself that makes up the rules, we’re there only to water it and give it some sunlight – provide the environment (Etienne Wegner’s community framework).
    The core values we heard from members were trust, security, protection – that’s the starting point of this community and these are the foundations of its framework (that I find reaffirmed here). Important to note that Connected is constantly evolving based on members feedback, so I am curious to see where it goes.
    Thank you for an great topic for discussion.

  • Ohad Reshef

    Glad to join this great discussion.
    It is interesting to raise this point as Facebook recently launched their public profiles, possibly mimicking Linkedin. In both networks, the profiles can be set to public, but the discussions and community features are behind login gates. Martindale-Hubbell is doing the same thing for Lawyers – there are public profiles (Kevin, as you know the directory is in it’s 141 year…) and MH Connected community & legal content, which requires registration/Login. You are correct in the sense that we do not have public profiles for non-lawyers. I believe that if we add Martindale-Hubbell public profiles to everyone in MH Connected, there would be some confusion to who is a lawyer, as Martindale-Hubbell is the most trusted brand in finding lawyers (see the latest story/gossip on http://abovethelaw.com/elizabeth_wurtzel/ to see why it is still important to know who is a lawyer.) If anyone has suggestions for us on how to make MH Connected profiles visible without creating this confusion, please let me know.
    Ohad Reshef
    MH Team
    @oresh