Gated Communities on the Net

I received a press release today for a lawyer social networking site called LawLink, which apparently aims to be LinkedIn for Lawyers, or maybe Facebook Without the Kids. Free registration allows you to “network with other attorneys, develop new business leads, share information with other attorneys, develop new business leads,” etc. A lawyers’ social network site is a fine idea — although many lawyers are still unfamiliar with or dismissive of LinkedIn/Facebook (according to an article we’ll publish next month), lawyers are networking and gossip mavens at heart, and I do think this will catch on within the profession soon enough.

LawLink, however, is restricted to American lawyers only — among the required application fields are “Bar Number” and “State,” and can I just say how annoying it is to come across any major online operation that offers access, service or delivery to anyone in the 50 states but nowhere else in the world? I’m looking at you, Kodak. Anyway, LawLink’s press release underlines that this site is “exclusively” for lawyers, and they’re serious: the registration form requires you to “declare under penalty of perjury that I am an attorney licensed to practice law in the United States.” First time I’ve seen a website threaten would-be registrants with jail time.

There are two opposing trends at play here. One is the fact that in the Web’s global village, drawing your admissibility lines across national borders sure looks like a recipe for future irrelevance. But the other is that online communities are, perhaps understandably, anxious to maintain control over who can join — Wikipedia has demonstrated that a completely open-door policy lets in a lot of people with whom you’d really rather not share a room. So we have little gated communities all over an Internet that is increasingly universal in scope and access. Which trend will win out, do you think?


  1. I don’t think either trend is going to go away. Gated communities do have potential, as we’ve seen with Cornell’s wiki Wex. But at the same time, there’s a tricky PR aspect to this. Unless you can justify closing down a community, people are going to call you on it, and definitely cast a shadow over the project.

    As a non-lawyer who would have liked to check things out, I’m trying to understand the secrecy. The concept is good, and building referral networks is a definite plus when it comes to social networking. But at the same time, rendering a couple levels of security (member vs non-member, lawyer vs non-lawyer…), and allowing other business people, and the press, to see what’s going on would have been a better model to follow.

    Remember, Wex is only closed to contribution, not to viewing.