Consider this the first ever “State of the Union” for LawyerSmack.
I created a Slack group for Associate’s Mind nearly three years ago after learning about it from a client. I didn’t really get it at first, and it sat empty and unused.
Then I decided to try and something out of it. Nominally for Associate’s Mind, but hopefully for a larger lawyer audience in general. It’s exploded and grown beyond what I thought possible. I used to think a dedicated “social media for lawyers” was a dumb idea, but that was obviously wrong.
Although I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it “social media for lawyers” because that indicates millions of people with lots of weak connections. We have a community with lots of strong connections. So here is a letter to the community to talk about the future.
Community Identity (IP, name, domain)
Associate’s Mind Slack, AssMind Slack, LawyerCabal, LawyerSlack. There have been a variety of names for the community but LawyerSlack has stuck. But it’s also trading on the name of another company. I spent hours brainstorming on this and came up with a variety of names. Law this or lawyer that. Weird Latin phrases. Most of them were bad. Or were being domain name squatted.
But eventually I came up with a simple (and easy) solution. We’re going from:
LawyerSlack to LawyerSmack
Which fits the general vibe of the community anyway.
Community Platform (Slack, other options, directory)
I also don’t want to be reliant on a platform that I don’t control. I was having a conversation with someone else who operates a large community based largely on Slack and he felt the same way. At the moment, Slack provides a free version of their software. But at any point Slack could decide to: eliminate the free version, cap it to 100 users, go out of business, etc. So that means that the community name needed to be unique.
Slack provides a great platform for us at the moment. We’re all familiar with it and it has great integrations. Don’t fix what ain’t broke as they say.
We are continuing to use Slack as our primary platform for community communication.
But if it looks like it’s going to go sideways we’ll explore other options. Discord, etc.
But Slack does have limitations. There are 2 big ones really:
- Directory functionality
- Temporary in nature
Slack’s directory functionality just doesn’t work for us. We need a separate, permanent directory with additional fields: firm type, location, practice area, etc.
And while the “watercooler talk” Slack enables is great, there are times where certain topics and conversations need a permanent home – not ephemeral, temporary conversations. There is too much accumulated knowledge generated by the community not to try and capture some of it for future use for other members.
- a directory
- a permanent forum option
Over the past couple months, I have built both out. Which leads us to…
Monetization (Attention, time, money)
For most of you, LawyerSmack is just a place you hang out. A community of lawyers getting together to discuss work, news, politics, etc. Learn about a practice area, get help with an issue, have someone send you a form document, get or receive a referral.
But for me, it’s work. A labor of love, but still labor.
I process new members and check out people’s back grounds. I spend time sifting through the news every morning to deliver stories of interest (For every news story I post I’ve usually been through 20 I didn’t post). I promote the community and its members, letting people know how awesome and cool it is. And, perhaps most time consuming, I manage the community.
I help maintain the tone and culture of the place. I monitor it constantly. I send private messages to users telling them to chill out, consider a point, or to take a break for a while. 98% of this takes place behind the scenes and isn’t ever seen by anyone. But it has significant impact on how the community maintains its culture.
We’re lawyers. Many of us live and die by the billable hour. If you’re working, you’re getting paid. I’ve been working for the community for a long time now, but not getting paid. So how to best address it?
There are two options:
- Take VC money / Get Huge / Beholden to investors & advertisers
- Charge for access / Stay Small / Beholden to members
Let’s talk about them.
“If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”
This is a common mantra in the social media age. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media offer incredibly complex and expensive tools, for free, to make money off their users via advertising and data mining. Free, useful tools…but without privacy and full of annoying ads.
Personally speaking…I hate advertisements. I think they are a plague. I have every cookie/ad/tracking blocker that exists on my browser. So do lots of other people. Besides, most everyone ignores ads anyway.
Which is why there is so much “sponsored” or “native” content. But actual content and “sponsored” content begin to blur together. You read an actual post, but it reads almost identically to a sponsored post and you begin to doubt and distrust everything you read at the site.
Which is why, despite being offered significant money, I never put a single sponsored post on Associate’s Mind, ever. And the thought of integrating some sort of sponsored content into LawyerSmack grosses me out. Ads and/or sponsored messages would be distracting and violate the trust that has been built within the community.
And that’s just the ads, not to mention the data mining aspects of everyone’s identity, topics of interest, etc. Given much of what is discussed is sensitive information – clients, casework, rabbithole – lawyers don’t want to be data-mined. But lawyer communities are coming. So the question is:
Is the community for the benefit and service of the member lawyers…or the advertisers and service providers who want access to them?
LawyerSmack is here for the benefit and service of the member lawyers, period.
And to be fully transparent, I’ve had VC people sniffing around.
“Are you interested in taking money?”
“You could build a large social media platform for lawyers.”
I told them no thanks. I don’t want to turn our community into a product. I also want it to remain a community. I don’t want to have a sprawling platform for 100,000 lawyers. I’d rather have a focused community of 1000 lawyers.
We’re an online Bar Association of attorneys you actually want to hangout with.
“Damnit Keith just get to the part with the money!”
I researched this for a long time. Monthly v. annual. Costs involved, my time, etc. I looked at what other private, online communities charge for membership access. They range from $10 a month to $100 a month. But given that LawyerSmack is quite similar to a Bar Association, the pricing model Bar Associations use seems like a the best fit.
Personally speaking, I pay:
- State Bar dues: $325 annually
- Local dues: $155 annually
- And while I’m not a member, the ABA current dues range from $146 to $467 annually.
Membership to LawyerSmack will cost $99 annually. That’s it.
Many of the people I spoke with encouraged me to charge more, but I didn’t want to. This seems like the fairest price.
Given the relationships, referrals, mentoring, and much more that people enjoy, $99 annually is a more than reasonable fee for membership access to a solid professional organization. It’s only something like .5 billable hours a year for most people.
Plus, you can expense it, and/or it can be tax deductible.
Over time, the membership fees will increase. But if you sign up by January 5th, I’ll lock you in at $99 forever. You’ll never have a price increase for annual membership. I’ll also be closing applications again on January 6th. I’m not sure when I’ll open it back up or what the price will be when I do.
I am also capping the community at 1000 members. We currently have nearly 600 members. Not all of there people will stick around during the transition to a paid community, but there is limited space available.
- We are continuing to use Slack as a primary means of community.
- There is now a permanent forum and user directory.
- I am capping the community at 1000 members.
- Initial pricing is $99 annually.
- You can lock in $99 annual pricing forever by signing up by January 5th.
- Applications are closing on January 6th.
That’s the long and short of it. This will allow the community to grow and prosper for years to come.
I’m also up setting first annual LawyerSmack conference for late 2018. More details shortly.
P.S. – Members get exclusive deals and discounts. More coming soon.