Three LinkedIn groups feature discussions related to contract drafting. “Contract & Commercial Management” caters primarily to contract-management professionals; you have to ask to join. I think anyone can join “Contract Drafters,” but the members I know are lawyers. “Drafting Contracts” is the newest of the three; it caters to lawyers, and you have to ask to join. (For anyone who’s counting, Contract & Commercial Management leads the pack with 15,076 members, Contract Drafters has 2,605 members, and Drafting Contracts has 1,588 members.)
In this 2012 post, I said that answers to questions on Quora about contract drafting feature too much misinformation to be useful. That echoed this 2010 post, in which I described as cacophony the discussion about specific contract provisions on Contract & Commercial Management. I recently joined Drafting Contracts, so I thought I’d revisit the question of what LinkedIn groups are good for and not so good for.
The defining characteristic of LinkedIn groups, even those that are ask-to-join, is that discussions are a bit of a free-for-all, with any moderation happening behind the scenes. So contributions to a given topic are likely to vary widely, in terms of relevance and insight offered.
How that affects the discussion depends on what’s being discussed. When the topic is technical and the ostensible aim is to establish some sort of best practice, the disparate voices can be counterproductive: those looking for guidance have a hard time making sense of the chatter, and the more experienced lose interest in doing so. And the odds are against systematic exploration of a topic. In particular, you can’t count on discussion building on existing knowledge, as opposed to starting with a blank slate.
What I’ve seen of discussion on Drafting Contracts is consistent with that. For example, a discussion of that old chestnut, and/or, doesn’t mention other recent online discussion, notably this post on Slaw by Ted Tjaden. And some commenters attempt to summarize in a line or two the meaning of or; that’s a topic that occupies around 16 pages of MSCD.
And in the discussion of represents versus warrants, many of the commenters offer, with conviction, the sorts of distinctions that I’ve analyzed at length and found unhelpful.
But perhaps advancing the state of knowledge isn’t the primary function of this group, the other LinkedIn groups, Quora, Legal OnRamp, or any other online group. Instead, it’s about conversation. It’s a cocktail party. You don’t do research at a cocktail party, you mingle.
Many of those adding comments to discussions on Drafting Contracts have never commented on my blog, and I’ve never corresponded with them. I’m not surprised: my blog ain’t no cocktail party. Instead, it might be a bit like a never-ending seminar chaired by a somewhat pushy postgraduate student. I set the agenda. I welcome comments, but I’m likely to tell you what I think. And I dealt with the juicy topics years ago; when I revisit them, it’s primarily to explore a particular wrinkle or to discuss some new development. Instead, I devote most of my attention to exploring what uncharted territory remains, and some of it is rather narrow. As I said, my blog ain’t no party, and there are plenty of people who won’t find it appealing.
But that kind of control is part of the tedious business of research, cogitation, and writing, repeated endlessly over many years, that’s required to advance the state of knowledge in a systematic way.
But LinkedIn groups function better when the discussion is less technical. Here’s what I said about that in my 2010 post:
I find productive those discussions that are conceptual—the idea isn’t to establish what is the correct answer or the most efficient way to address an issue, but instead to sound each other out and exchange ideas. I’d put in that category a recent thread on “What is Contract Management?”
And I imagine that this group and others can be useful when you have a narrow question, or are looking for a specific piece of information, and you’ve come up empty after consulting other sources, from Google on up.
With that in mind, I recently started this discussion on Contract & Commercial Management in which I posed again the question raised in this post, the one about whether changing from lawyer to contract-management professional is a one-way street. It garnered some helpful responses. And because the topic isn’t technical, it’s simple to skip over those responses that were less helpful.
So, whether you find LinkedIn groups helpful depends on the nature of the conversation and what you’re looking to get from it. Shocker!