With so much evidence that the popular social networks -- Twitter, Facebook, etc. -- are all that lawyers need to double their existing client base, kick their practice into hyperspeed, and become super-rich and successful, I was initially reluctant to accept a friend's invitation to join yet another social network.
Not only has my Twitter habit made me a little short of time, but I was also skeptical about what they were calling this new social network. Twitter sounds a little silly, sure, but I can live with it. After all, it comes with its own fun twerminology that's just about as cute and cuddly as my own five-year-old: tweet, retweet, featherologist, plus a hundred other twitterisms that you can find in just about any twictionary.
But the name they'd given this new social network sounded so old-fashioned to my Web 2.0 ears, so dull and lacking in color, it instantly reminded me of my own drab life and law practice way back at the turn of the century (more than five years ago), when there wasn't an easy way to meet people electronically and I'd sometimes have to meet them in person, which would require me to go outside, even when it was windy or cold or raining.
But it's a new century and a new time and now I have two giant computer screens that are either constantly lighting up with messages from my "friends" or (if I happen to doze off despite this amazing stream of witty comments and useful links) broadcasting bright, colorful pictures of popular vacation spots I don't want or need to visit in person.
But enough of that. By now, you might have guessed the name of the new social network I'm writing about, especially since it's starting to get some buzz from a few social networkers who are getting burned out on Twitter. It's called TheBarAfterWork, and despite my initial reluctance, I eventually decided to give it a try.
It happened after I received some rave reviews from a few of my acquaintances--acquaintances who, I freely admit, are technologically clueless and who I therefore have no use for at all, but who I still keep around anyway so that I have someone to feel superior to. As it turned out, these acquaintances kept persisting about TheBarAfterWork, and they happened to be persisting again on a day when my computer was acting up and Twitter seemed to be stuck. I thought, "What the hell, why not give TheBarAfterWork a try?"
I'm glad I did. After just three weeks of interacting at TheBarAfterWork, I admit to being sold. Those technologically-clueless "acquaintances" are now my friends. So taken am I by TheBarAfterWork that I've even become an evangelist of sorts, someone who is willing to write a long post about it on my blog--a post that urges others to join, rehashes all the pros and cons just one more time, and compiles so much information beneath easy-to-understand headings that I'll get about a zillion links to my weblog from all the other social-networking evangelists who are lacking a new thing to evangelize. (We stick together, but not because we have to!)
What Is This New Social Network Called TheBarAfterWork?
TheBarAfterWork is not a blog or a microblog, but really more of a big room. The idea of a "big room" is not just a metaphor, since TheBarAfterWork really is a big room. For those who are more comfortable with metaphors, however, it is also possible to think of TheBarAfterWork as a "party in a meeting place" or a "recreation and socializing spot."
Whatever the metaphor, TheBarAfterWork is all about participation and interaction. Like many social networks, TheBarAfterWork comes with its own brand of language. When you want to contact someone directly, you "talk" or "whisper" to them while making "eye contact." When you decide to broadcast your message to many people at once, you "shout," which is a little like using ALL CAPITALS in a Twitter post but which is still generally okay, since TheBarAfterWork is all about interacting and making new connections.
Although there is no limit on the length of your sentences, you should generally try to maintain your followers' interest in what you are saying, since you will also be developing your personal and professional brand at TheBarAfterWork and no one likes a bore.
Like Twitter and Facebook, it is important to obtain as many friends and followers as possible at TheBarAfterWork. One way of obtaining many followers at once is known as "picking up the check," which can be a little expensive until you think of it as a marketing expense.
As with any social network, in fact, TheBarAfterWork is all about marketing. As one commentator has noted, TheBarAfterWork is "a tremendous way to circulate ideas, to listen and learn, to demonstrate thought leadership and to build a powerful network."
To Drink or Not to Drink?
TheBarAfterWork is not for everyone. As a long-time lawyer, I know that some members of my profession would run the risk of becoming so tied up in connecting at TheBarAfterWork that it might compromise their existing business relationships. Therefore, at least at first, you should approach TheBarAfterWork cautiously.
On the other hand, as one commentator has noted, TheBarAfterWork is "certainly a useful tool and an excellent way to expand your network, build your reputation, comment on legal issues and trends, and establish a relationship with members of the media and other thought leaders." I also agree that TheBarAfterWork is "an excellent tool for you to research public opinion on many different topics."
Lawyers should be aware, of course, that the usual rules of professional conduct still apply at TheBarAfterWork. Because you can never be certain of the true identity of anyone who is interacting within a social network, it bears to keep in mind that even when you are networking for new clients, you cannot cannot be false or misleading or omit necessary facts. On the other hand, some low-key fibbing is generally permitted when asked the obvious question about how much time you've been spending at TheBarAfterWork.
Will You Actually Meet Lawyers at TheBarAfterWork?
Although some naysayers deny it, many lawyers have been turning to TheBarAfterWork as a way of networking in a down economy. If you decide TheBarAfterWork is for you, you'll almost certainly connect and interact with other lawyers. While one critic has noted that "there may be some over-enthusiasm for the BarAfterWork as a client development tool for lawyers," you probably won't go wrong if all you're looking for in a social network is a chance to interact with other lawyers.
How Lawyers Are Actually Using TheBarAfterWork
In doing research for this article, I've been spending quite a bit of time at TheBarAfterWork, and I've used this time to conduct an informal survey of some of the lawyers who I've met there. How are they incorporating TheBarAfterWork into their own practice? Is TheBarAfterWork generating a lot of business? Do lawyers feel that TheBarAfterWork has become an essential component of a lawyer's practice?
Here are some of the responses I received--
"Lawyers should be at TheBarAfterWork and should be interacting with clients there."
"TheBarAfterWork has an astonishing value. Used well (and relatively soberly), it is a powerful tool for building reputation, leadership, trust and influence."
"TheBarAfterWork can be a tremendous resource for not only connecting with potential clients, but connecting with their influencers."
"Use TheBarAfterWork to interact with clients, referral sources, friends, and colleagues."
"There are many ways to use TheBarAfterWork effectively. To me, interacting with other members is just as important as promotion/marketing."
"TheBarAfterWork effectively? Connect, Communicate, Contribute."
"TheBarAfterWork: monitor conversations in your area of expertise and offer insight when an opportunity arises."
"Use TheBarAfterWork for strengthening relationships and establishing trust by sharing knowledge & new insights."
Where To Go From Here
From here, I'll be going to TheBarAfterWork. Maybe I'll buy you a beer!
[Like this post? It's one of many included in my book How to Feed a Lawyer (And Other Irreverent Oberservations from the Legal Underground). Details here.]
(Author's note regarding this post: The quotes testifiying to the usefulness of TheBarAfterWork were, in many cases, verbatim transcriptions of quotes lawyers have made about Twitter and other social media platforms.)