» Messaging platform gives lawyers a place of their own
By TED CARTER
Most lawyers aren’t comfortable discussing their work in public. But that changes when they click on a place exclusively for them, LawyerSmack.com.
“It’s their water cooler,” says Keith Lee, a Birmingham lawyer and self-confessed tech geek who created the messaging platform two years ago from non-proprietary software pulled from the shelf.
For some lawyers, LawyerSmack is more a happy hour place to swap stories and make acquaintances. For others, it is a classroom for enhancing professional expertise. Whatever the reason, lawyer members exchange about 15,000 messages a week on the site, Lee says.
You can’t come in and kick the tires – unless you’re a lawyer, says Lee, a self-confessed tech geek who thought up LawyerSmack as a way to indulge his fondness for both technology and the legal profession.
“It’s like a cocktail hour that never ends,” Lee says. “They are always able to chat or talk shop.”
And do so in private, at least among themselves, Lee says. “It’s not like being on Twitter having a conversation and someone pops in out of nowhere,” he adds.
The site’s 100-plus channels give lawyers a host of specialty categories in which to camp, including Criminal, Domestic, FRCP, In-House, Intellectual Property, Finance, Solo/Small Firm and others. Vendors offering products and services are also a big part of the site’s attraction, according to Lee.
Channels are also dedicated to non-legal topics such as fashion, gaming and pop culture.
In developing LawyerSmack, Lee struggled with whether to keep the ownership open to anyone affiliated with the legal profession. But in the end, he decided it best to limit membership to lawyers. This helps to maintain the platform as a true community, he said.
Lee launched LawyerSmack.com two years ago, initially under the name LawyerSlack.com. The first year, with no fee required, membership reached around 1,000. The site processed one million messages.
Now, in his first year charging a $99 annual fee, membership is around 300 but messaging volume shows no sign of declining. On Sept. 12, the platform had handled 1,688,228 messages.
“I went back and forth,” he says. “Everyone was very adamant, they wanted it to be just lawyers.”
In addition to limiting membership, Lee requires each member to use a real name, real firm name and real photograph. “Having to have some skin in the game changes how people behave,” he says.
Like Facebook, using LawyerSmack can become a home away from home for members. Millions of billable hours can be idled away, Lee concedes. But he adds relationships can be established and referrals exchanged.
This is especially true for IT and patent lawyers, Lee notes. They “are really keen on helping each other.”
One reason? “They are not in competition,” he says.
Lee’s goal, he says, is to make the platform “so sticky” it becomes part of members’ lives. The secret sauce is not the technology, it is the culture that can be created, he adds.
Monthly events around the country and frequent speaker events are also part of LawyerSmack’s strategy to grow its popularity, according to Lee.
But otherwise, marketing and promotion is word-of-mouth, he says. “People join, they tell other people.”
LawyerSmack.com is taking on a life of its own, Keith notes, and adds vendor are calling out of the blue to become part of it.
He even did an interview for a Norwegian legal publication a few weeks back, he says.
The platform is benefitting from the preferences of millennials who are joining the lawyer ranks. This is why LawyerSmack has become a “modern day bar association” of sorts, Lee says.
“A lot of bar associations are considered to be out of touch with millennials,” he adds. “What appeals to a 63-year-old lawyer doesn’t appeal to a millennial.”
Lee, who is 35, says he estimates the average age for a member is 34 or 35.
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