On Ally McBeal, they did it in a unisex bathroom. On Law & Order, they often did it behind closed doors in wood-paneled offices with Manhattan views. Back in the day on LA Law they did it while walking to court. In real life, lawyers usually confer with their colleagues by grabbing a colleague, walking down the hall or maybe bumping into them at a trade event or bar association dinner.
It’s an antiquated system, but until recently lawyers didn’t have much of a choice. While programmers and engineers can freely use the web and social networks to solve issues that come up at work, lawyers have been wary of leaving a trail online.
For decades, lawyers have had fairly inevitable workflows that involve collaboration with colleagues although they have never called it that. Lawyers are too competitive for collaboration, right? Well, sort of but not exactly. The thing is, most lawyers are fairly smart and they know what to share, what not to share, and how to get information. Examples of this can be found every day in the life of a lawyer, whether it’s running something by a colleague and getting a “sanity check” on an interpretation or approach, gathering some intelligence on opposing counsel or a judge’s idiosyncrasies, finding a great document or clause to use in drafting, or getting a referral for a client on a conflicted matter. In those situations, lawyers have typically had to pick up the phone, call colleagues, email them, play phone or email tag or worse, try to catch them in the office. (Good luck with that!)
This approach for lawyers just doesn’t work anymore. It’s outdated, time-consuming, inefficient and makes no sense for what is becoming an increasingly mobile, remote, and connected workforce of skilled professionals.
Responding to this market void, I launched Foxwordy in 2014. The original idea was to be the top social network for lawyers, a place where attorneys could gab about their professions without fear of having their comments taken out of context. But my original conception of the product evolved into something more tactical, designed to help lawyers leverage a social platform to get work done. For Foxwordy, it’s about social productivity. It’s about getting something done, learning something new, or at the very least getting a sanity check, resource or starting point when you need it and, in all cases, saving time in the process. It’s about leveraging your relevant (professional) social network to actually get work done. That’s social productivity and that’s Foxwordy.
Like most social networks, joining Foxwordy and getting access to a basic membership is free. Yet, unlike most social networks, membership to Foxwordy requires a vetting to ensure members are legitimately involved in the legal profession, whether, for instance, as lawyers, judges, arbitrators, lawmakers, law professors or law students. Foxwordy is not open to the public. (People often ask if it will be in the future. The answer to that depends on many factors which are not the subject of this blog). The goal with Foxwordy is to create the only truly private network for the entire legal market on which they can discuss topics and best practices related to the law, the legal industry, law practice, exchange clauses, resources and referrals, connect with their most relevant legal colleagues and get answers to legal questions. Foxwordy isn’t the only social network dedicated to a single profession but it is the first one exclusively for the legal market. The Berlin-based ResearchGate is a “social network for scientists.” Sermo, meanwhile, is the “social network for doctors.”
Why a “social network for lawyers”? Why do lawyers need “social productivity”? Here are six reasons why Foxwordy is addressing a market need:
1. Lawyers are naturally collaborative.
Those TV shows don’t lie; attorneys love to kibitz, and most are good talkers. They often want to at least bounce something off someone. They might ask, “I’m arguing in front of this judge. Have you ever argued in front of this judge before? What are his quirks?” Or maybe they’ll be negotiating a transaction and will want to get some info about the other party. Sometimes they will ask a colleague for a document to use for drafting or a clause to use in one while negotiating. They will exchange referrals on conflicted cases and share best practices among each other if in-house.
2. The global nature of business requires moving at warp speed.
Maybe you’re an in-house attorney at Hotshot Tech Co. in Silicon Valley and you need to find a top-flight corporate finance lawyer to set up a subsidiary for your company in a tax haven. Today’s global economy requires a high degree of connectivity that old-school collaboration models simply cannot provide. There simply isn’t time to reinvent the wheel or play phone tag for days to find a resource — the information is needed now! Technology enables this speed and efficiency, giving us access in minutes to what once took days to track down.
3. Lawyers are working more remotely.
A major shift is occurring in the legal market right now. More lawyers are working remotely and as freelancers than ever before and this segment of the market is only growing. In-house lawyers are working with fewer resources and are also opting for more flexible work styles. Law firms are embracing more attributes of Lean Law and evolving their cultural DNA. All of this results in a greater comfort with and reliance upon cloud and mobile technologies and apps as well as social media. Lawyers are embracing social media more and more every day because it’s 24x7x365, they can reach colleagues they might otherwise never have a chance to meet, and they can get useful information in minutes without the concern that everything they do is accessible for public consumption.
4. Lawyers are great deliberators.
It is the lawyer’s job to evaluate various options, look around corners, and consider context. It’s no surprise lawyers are good at doing that, but how they do it is the issue. Deliberating and weighing options is part of any lawyer’s day-to-day practice but doing that is time consuming. Lawyers getting access to the “word on the street” from a wide range of relevant peers has been incredibly inefficient, if not impossible – until now. Foxwordy enables this and that is the point, we are unlocking this peer-to-peer communication pathway that previously didn’t exist. Now, it doesn’t have to take hours or days to gather various options or possible outcomes. Instead, we can gather this information from colleagues on the network, assess that information, pick and choose what we want to rely upon or use and move forward.
5. Language is the tool of our trade.
Lawyers are required to be great communicators. A lawyer who has issues communicating is, well, not a good lawyer. Social media was made for people who are unafraid of communication, yet the beauty of it is in the efficiency – post once and reach many. It’s efficient. And, if you need more control, you have that as well. Lawyers are known for being discreet in their communications. Foxwordy has built-in communication filters allowing members to post what they want and to whom they want on the network, giving them total control with one tap
6. Professional Responsibility.
Lawyers have rules to comply with that most people don’t. The need for discretion and control remains high in a profession known for being legally and ethically bound to such standards. Lawyers must respect privilege, exercise discretion as to client confidences, and comply with rules regarding advertising and conflicts of interest. If a lawyer is conflicted on a case, they must refer it out, but finding another suitable colleague can be a challenge.
A private network that shields lawyers from the peering eyes of the public yet gives them access to each other for referrals and more solves this.
These are regular challenges faced by lawyers, which is why Foxwordy makes our jobs a bit easier. The site has other cool features as well, including the ability to be anonymous or go into sidebars where lawyers can have private conversations on the network that no one else can see except those they have permitted to view that conversation. In a parallel to the world of programming, there’s also crowdsourcing of language like provisions and clauses that lawyers can cut and paste into documents, operating like a GitHub for lawyers.
That juxtaposition may seem jarring to some. Lawyers are usually seen as the antithesis of the freewheeling coder. However, the fact is, these days, pretty much every profession could benefit from better collaboration tools.
Ally McBeal’s unisex bathroom may still be a fantasy, but the “social network for lawyers” is real, and it’s here today.