Kevin O'Keefe, "Facebook patents method to determine a lawyer’s expertise," Real Lawyers Have Blogs (Feb 17, 2015), bit.ly/1ENVW8v
This is the visual breakdown of Facebook's 2012 patent for identifying experts and influencers in a social network. Though the patent does not focus on lawyers and Kevin acknowledges as much in his post, Kevin is dead on that if (when?) this patent is used to vet lawyers, it could be a professional game changer.
Essentially, with the patented method, Facebook can track both the rate of sharing of information and its root (the original share). Based on that information, Facebook expects to identify influencers and experts (emphasis added).
Why I nearly gagged on my tea:
- The patent is strictly in service of Facebook advertising. The patent abstract states that the information gleaned would "[use] the identified experts and influencers for advertising, social grouping and other suitable purposes." Hint: those suitable purposes are NOT access to justice, improved access to accurate and current legal information, or even improvement in the delivery of legal services by attorneys and other legal service providers.
Thus, the patent method only highlights the influencers to improve targeted marketing. Which is FINE, since this is Facebook's business. But let's not overstate the value of what this method does. Which brings me to:
- Influence is not expertise. Influence is at best an indication of engagement, and at worse is merely savvy marketing. In a perfect world, the only legal information that would be shared via Facebook would be, you know, accurate. But at times - in the parlance of passive wrongdoers - mistakes are made. And sometimes items are shared precisely BECAUSE they are wrong to illustrate a point about the person or organization who originally shared it.
Now I'm no programmer (as my frustrating quality time with Code School determined last summer) but if the patented method (algorithm?) ONLY tracks rate of sharing and origins (or the "root") of the share, but fails to glean the accuracy of the information shared, then Facebook needs to stop calling this a patent for identifying "experts."
BUT if Facebook figures out how to partner with services that CAN glean accuracy and currency (e.g. Cornel Legal Information Institute, Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, or Lexis) then this really could become a helpful service for clients seeking to use Facebook to find attorneys with relevant substantive expertise and for attorneys seeking to demonstrate their expertise. Granted, there may be issues with respect to ABA Model Rules 7.1 - 7.6, which address how and where attorneys should share information about legal services, particularly where an attorney "thinks out loud" on Facebook.