MHLN–the monster also known as Martindale Hubbell/Lexis Nexis–just paid for a survey that found out that 50% of the lawyers already belong to a social network and nearly 40% want to join a social network.

That’s like saying half the lawyers you know belong to the local Chamber of Commerce, most of the other half are thinking about it and the remaining few think they are way too busy to waste their time at a meeting.

It makes me think: is all this hoopla over social networking sites worth it?

Comparing this to my own personal experience on LinkedIn and Multiply (a private online community open to the public), I have some opinions (really?).

Just yesterday, I was gnashing teeth with a fellow online marketer. He and I met after he heard me give a talk and he accessed me via LinkedIn. We swapped info and when I needed some input on some technology, I reached out. The rest is history . . .

On my personal blog, which resides on Multiply, I have about 20 close friends that I’ve never met. Its a community that actually began on Yahoo360 when I opened a blog to experiment with the medium. I quickly developed a ton of relationships with people all around the world.

So when 360 announced it was shutting down, me and my closest online buddies migrated to Multiply. It has been over 2 years since I opened my personal blog and I have developed friendships with people from all over the world. We have never met, but my “real” friends who have seen my blog are always surprised by what they don’t know about me. I often think my online friends know me better than my “real” friends, frequently “speaking” with them 3-4 times a week.

So what do I think social networking can give to lawyers? Based upon my experience, it is friendship and support.

When does friendship and support turn into business? Well, as any good client development person will tell you: when they want what you have and ask you for it. Ta-da! An agreement is made and a friendship turns into a business relationship.

So I say join a network. Get active. Be a friend. Put yourself out there.

Then maybe when the Next Big Thing comes along in business development, you will be able to say “I’m too busy to join.”