More and more companies, understanding the power of collaboration, have turned to starting their own internal, private social networks. It’s an attempt to simultaneously harness the power the social media has for instant, off-the-cuff communications while still maintaining privacy about what’s going on within the company.
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For some professions, though, that’s not a particularly helpful way to do it. Especially in the case of lawyers, who often work and practice solo, in small firms, or as one of just a handful of attorneys in another company. The networks are just too small for those types of networks to be practical. But when lawyers want to brainstorm, get ideas, or help each other out on public social media networks, there are lots of thorny issues that can crop up. State bars are still figuring out social media, to the point where perfectly acceptable practices in some states violate the rules of professional conduct in others.
That’s a problem that Foxwordy, a social network for lawyers, is hoping to solve. The social network comes out of beta this week with nearly a million dollars behind it, and its founder and CEO, Monica Zent, hopes that this will be a tool that lawyers use in their practice to collaborate with one another.
“Lawyers collaborate more than they know but their method has been old-school: via email, phone, random in person chats,” Zent told me. “There also hasn’t been a way for lawyers to cultivate a reputation based on interactions with their peers — a peer validated reputation is the most valuable of its kind for any professional. ”
The network actually has its roots in one of the private, company-only social networks I referred to above. Zent developed the initial platform for internal use in her firm, Zentlaw. But her experience with that led her to build it into its own business.
“There wasn’t one tool that was easy to use, secure, cost-effective, accessible from anytime anywhere, and allowed our lawyers to collaborate with each other in a meaningful way,” she said. “That led me to create one. Early on, we created this private social network just for ZentLaw and use by some of its clients but word quickly spread and we are now set to roll it out for the entire legal market.”
The site has a number of features that are of interest to practicing attorneys. It allows real-time collaboration between peers who are working on issues. Lawyers using the beta version of the product have also been using it to help each other determine good practices and language for legal documents. The site also serves as a kind of mini-LinkedIn focused on attorneys, allowing the publishing of job opportunities as well as giving lawyers the opportunity to manage their reputations.
There are currently only 1,000 members on this legal social network in its beta version. But Zent has already been surprised at some of the ways that it’s been used.
“Members have shared feedback that they absolutely love the convenience of being able to find, pluck and instantly use language when drafting,” she said. “This was something we needed to solve a real-life workflow need at ZentLaw. We knew others would have the same need but never expected it to have quite a profound effect on our members as it has had so far. Secondly, we have been pleasantly surprised by the response to the reputation feature. We have members coming to us asking if they can publish their Foxwordy reputations on other sites, including their own websites.”
Now that the site is out of beta, it plans to grow new memberships. But carefully and selectively – membership is by invitation-only, and it won’t be open to the public. That’s in part to be mindful of the confidentiality issues that arise when lawyers use social media.
“It’s designed exclusively for the legal market,” Zent said about maintaining confidentiality. “On Foxwordy, we have various features that are designed to facilitate and enable our members to share and exchange information selectively or anonymously as well as store information for their own use later. Lawyers are bound by a duty of ethics and so we encourage every member to be thoughtful about the level and degree of sharing in which they engage and what they share. ”
And as far as revenue goes, Foxwordy will be eschewing the advertising that’s ubiquitous on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks in favor of a subscription model. Lawyer’s invited to the network are given a 3-month free trial, after which they’ll pay a standard membership fee of $9.99 per month. There are also upgraded premium memberships that grant access to bonus features, and enterprise-level pricing for larger law firms.
For her part, Zent hopes that the tool will make the practice of law a little less “old school” and take advantage of newer tools that allow for more communication and collaboration among attorneys.
“Foxwordy empowers and liberates lawyers from their offices to collaborate in a meaningful way, get work done and grow their reputation in the process,” she said.