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.

  • Dan

    I don’t see it either….

  • I’m curious to know how they expect to reach any sort of mass adoption if it takes 6 months to get approved as a member. If they want to participate in the Web 2.0 networking movement, it should be a matter of hours or minutes, not months. Even if you are an exception, that does not bode well for others.
    The problem with keeping it so closed that only attorneys can get in is that it is often support staff such as marketing and professional development professionals who suss out the value of a tool first, and then encourage the attorneys in their firms or corporations to participate. And before those people hear about it, it is frequently consultants such as you and me who try them out and write about them. What partner or corporate counsel has time to test out the waters in a business networking site to see if it might be generally useful? If they even have time to hear about it and read about it in the first place, that is.
    I’d say by keeping it too closed they are missing the boat on getting word out and getting people using it. Legal OnRamp clued in to this, not sure if Martindale-Hubbell will.

  • Connie points out one of the reasons I am skeptical of using the Martindale database to authenticate. You have to let in the marketing people to help update and manage profiles. (Obviously, it would be better to have the attorneys do it themselves. That is unlikely to be the case for the vast majority of lawyers for a long time.) Where do you draw line for keeping out non-lawyers and non-practicing lawyers?
    The other problem is that the Martindale database is just not that accurate. It’s not Martindale’s fault. But firms just have not been keeping on top of their martindale listings. (I see that the listings from my old firm are not accurate. Lots of departed people are still listed.)

  • I’ve had nothing but frustration in trying to even set up a Connected account. When I log in for the first time and tell it my name is David Shulman, it provides a list of three David Shulmans and asks, “Is one of these you?”
    I just left a firm last month and it has the listing for me at the firm. So the answer to that question is yes. But once I chose the profile that was me, it wouldn’t let me update it to reflect the fact that I’m on my own. The “field” for employer was set permanently to my old firm and was unchangeable. Then I tried to make the change through and that didn’t work either. It didn’t seem like and Connected WERE connected themselves. I think I needed different login IDs for both.
    I sent a number of frustrated public tweets to various Marhub people and of course, no response yet.
    Do they want me to join? Why are they making it so difficult? Why can’t I update my own profile? What’s the point?

  • Edison is quoted as saying he failed countless times to create the light bulb. He only succeed once. Your arguments and that of some comments are understandable, but time will certainly tell if Connected will work. Those who would like to form their own opinion on the likely of success can view this short video.

  • Democratization of the Web is where it’s at. Time and time again, efforts to exclude and control access to information/connections/innovations loses as a “business model”. MH doesn’t get it: the Web is changing faster than any one person can keep up with and the only way to harness that power is to allow community control.
    While the power of vetted approval counts… it is quickly being outstripped the the power of popular approval.
    Popular social psychology theory says that groups do not make better decisions than the smartest individuals… but groups do hold more power.
    My recommendation for MH!? Adapt to emerging business models and join with (rather than compete with) FB, LinkedIn, et. al.

  • Update: On Friday I couldn’t sign up at all because it wouldn’t not let me change my firm information from the big firm I used to work at to my own solo practice. I emailed back and forth with a connected employee who said she was going to “expedite” things for me. Cool.
    Went to log in tonight and while I now can change my firm info, it still won’t let me join b/c they need 3 days to validate my info. Say wha?
    I tweeted to @jonlin98 so I bet it will help.

  • Martindale-Hubbell Launches Today

    With a base of 1 million lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell launches its Connected online social network today. It’s been in beta testing for several months and currently has 3,000 members. Here’s what makes it different from LinkedIn, Facebook, Legal OnRamp …

  • anon

    As an ex-LNMH SEO specialist, I was an early part of the *only* currently (at the time, I suspect that hasn’t changed) profitable part of MH – lawyer markteting. They know they are a dinosaur; the higher-ups know they are late-adapters. Unfortunately they went from beta to success TOO quickly, and cannot expand infrastructure quickly enough, leaving many unhappy clients. Since they are the sole profitable dept, the higher ups are expecting to keep the entire MH empire afloat. So while they charge an arm and a leg, the services get worse and worse as they cut spending to increase profits to keep all of MH afloat. It will ultimately be thier downfall. No offense, but when you hire new SEO ‘specialists’ that don’t know what meta tags are, you’re in trouble.

  • jrproper

    David, my experiences with the authentication are precisely the same as yours. I played with the Connected beta about year ago, got frustrated and forgot about it. I was re-inspired after a Connected CLE and being surveyed by the company and even went so far to complete my profile and etc (including a company name and email change – re-branding) . . . and we’re back to the authentication thing. Can’t change my e-mail address etc without approval. My information on Martindale is wholly out of date and not for my lack of trying. Somewhere I had an old facsimile template I’d send in but its to the point where I could care less – I don’t put a lot of weight in Martindale anymore because if my information is hopelessly out of date I figure so is everyone else’s.
    The other issues I have with Connected are (1) its slow, (2) “lawyer’s only” – if I’m going to put the time and effort into a professional/social network, blog and etc fellow lawyers are good but it is the outside world of business people who are going to pay my bills and give me my next job that I really care about. Time better spent (in my opinion) with Linked-in and etc.

  • Yes, Martindale needs to let us marketing folks in on Connected if they want us to convince our attorneys to use it. How can I train/recommend it, if I can’t access it.