There is no denying that Gen X and Y are most comfortable interacting via technology–IMing, texting, emailing–possibly to the detriment of their face-to-face skills, as some contend. Employees in large corporations have come to use this technology, particularly on line social sites, as a way to form community and communicate within vast, impersonal organizations. IMing with the Senior Vice President about favored jazz albums instantly creates up-and-down-the-ladder rapport and also an enhanced commitment to the organization.
Associates at most law firms are also making use of these technological avenues of communication. Most firms have official or unofficial firm social groups on MySpace, Facebook and other sites. Ning is a private interactive social networking site that several IT consultants recommend as a good site for law firms to use. It allows participants to chat real time and also post documents, and the software is free.
Some firms have banned these social groups while others have embraced them. On the positive side are the potential gains in networking, which Paul Lippe, CEO and co-founder of Legal OnRamp, claims "is the number one predictor of a lawyer’s income," as well as an increased sense of community and therefore commitment. Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle uses Facebook as a recruiting tool and an "I’m in Love with MoFo" site probably hasn’t hurt Morrison & Foerster’s recruiting either. Of course, these sites, largely unsupervised and unsupervisable, also provide renegade employees with the perfect weapon to embarrass a firm. As do the multitudes of privately run, individual blogs that comment on particular firms or corporations. See, for example, our February 26, 2008 entry entitled Decorum, Virtue and Other Values in the Age of the Internet, which recounts Skadden Arps public shaming of two Skadden employees for their (unofficial) blog contest for the "Hottest Female Associate."
Microblogging offers an alternative to these social networking sites, with entries that can be relayed not only on line and by email, but also as text messages over cell phones. The degree of privacy varies as to both the individual’s information and that of friends or followers.
Twitter, the leading microblogging network, has become a household name with its contribution to the Obama political campaign and its on-the-spot reports on tragedies like the Mumbai terrorist attack. Started in 2006 and with over 3 million people using its free service, Twitter has no revenue, even from ads. When you log on, the question that first appears and that you can use 140 characters to answer is "What are you doing?" Twitter boasts such regular "twitterers" as Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud Party in Israel and Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, as well as Shaquille O’Neal, Center for the Phoenix Suns and John Cleese, the actor and comedian.
Yammer is a new and smaller microblogging site aimed at business customers with the stated goal of making offices more productive–when a user logs on, the first question is “What are you working on?” Yammer charges $1 per user when a company joins, although anyone with a business email address can use Yammer free. Membership gives the business administrator the decided advantage of some control over security and how the site is used.
Apart from the networking, communication and recruiting advantages, these constant technological interchanges among a growing group of contacts offer a glimpse into the business model that is likely to become more and more the norm for lawyers and their clients. In a global age that threatens individual anonymity, social sites and microblogging permit personal, even intimate relationships to form and thrive around the world, regardless of where the individual IPs or mobile devices are geographically located. And it is relationships, however they are formed, both within law firms and with their clients, that will drive the future of the legal business.