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, 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? 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?

This post originally appeared as a post at Slaw on September 18, 2007.