Note: You can either read through the entire post to learn more about this experiment, or jump right in and fill out this form to “drop” your business card into the MyShingle Online Fishbowl at Pinterest. If you drop your card before March 15, 2012, you’ll qualify to win one of two $75 Amazon gift cards – plus, you’ll receive a direct link to your website in a MyShingle post, which will confer added visibility and an SEO boost. Read on for details.

Although virtual bulletin board Pinterest has been hailed as the next big thing, most lawyers have been left scratching their heads, unsure what to do with it or how to make money from it. But after I snagged an invite to Pinterest a few months back and spent a few minutes on the site, its appeal to lawyers — or at least, to the solo and small firm legal community — was immediately apparent.

How so? Well, one of the biggest challenges that solo and small firm lawyers face is accessing the working body of knowledge on the minutia of starting and running a law firm — like how to word an announcement or what weight of paper to choose for stationary (if you still use it) to how a nice-looking website should look or where to find a good graphic designer. At large firms or in-house, most of these choices that solos confront are pre-determined by firm policy; if not, they can be researched by staff. And at one time when the small firm legal community was more tightly-knit and collegial, little practice secrets passed from lawyer to lawyer, generation to generation through the solo underground railroad. However, as the legal community has grown and disaggregated, lawyers now learn about products either (1) through bar associations, which often recommend the deepest pocket offering the largest kickback rather than the highest quality provider or (2) through web search which does not always reliably uncover local providers or ethically-compliant goods and services.

That’s where Pinterest comes in. Even though the Internet is wide (they don’t call it the world wide web for nothing), it isn’t deep or customized for individual user preference, making the results of searches frequently dissatisfying (with paid SEO throwing off results even more). Pinterest capitalizes on users’ frustration with generic search. Instead, Pinterest caters to consumers’ preference for options curated to match their unique interests and needs, or alternatively, discovering best-kept secrets through personal recommendations rather than mass marketing.

In essence, Pinterest systematizes the way that solo and small firm lawyers have traditionally traded and shared tips and recommendations. Even though I’ve written about ways that lawyers might use Pinterest for marketing, I’m beginning to think that Pinterest’s most immediate and valuable use for lawyers is as a community for sharing information and gaining inspiration on the day to day details and choices attendant to solo practice.

Of course, that’s all a bunch of conjecture; I’m curious to see whether it works in practice. So with that, I’m launching the MyShingle Virtual Fishbowl for Business Cards , using Pinterest as a platform. (If you don’t get the virtual fishbowl concept, here’s what I mean).

An open, virtual platform for exchanging business cards will accomplish several purposes. First, a virtual fishbowl provides a chance to openly and leisurely examine colleagues’ business cards for inspiration, without the embarrassment of actually reaching into the bowl for a surreptitious peek (Just admit that you’ve done that before!). Further, if you see a card you like, and the owner shared information on the designer and/or printer, you can contact the company directly (though submission of vendor information is optional, if you loved your designer, this is a chance to give ’em a shout-out!).

Second, exchanging business cards can serve as an icebreaker; a way to start a conversation and learn more about colleagues. To spark some interaction, the submission form asks you to share some of the inspiration behind your chosen business card design.

There’s no cost, and lots to gain by dropping your business card into the MyShingle fishbowl. For starters, when your business card is posted, it will include a live link to your website or URL, which will (purportedly) drive increased traffic to your site As an added sweetener, I’ve set up a Pinterest widget in the sidebar at right, so your card will get some brief visibility on a highly trafficked site like MyShingle. Plus, at least for the month of March, I’ll publish a weekly round-up post, with links to each of the lawyers and/or firms that uploaded cards. Finally, if you upload your card before March 15, 2012, you’ll qualify for a random drawing for one of two $75 Amazon gift cards.

A couple of caveats. First, while I anticipate that the MyShingle fishbowl will primarily attract submissions from solo and small firm lawyers, the project is open to all lawyers at large firms, government or in-house, so long as you are actively practicing (you’ll have to so certify on the form). Second, while there’s currently no cost to upload your card, in the spirit of building community, and purely honor-system enforced, participants are asked to either (1) post a compliment or “like” another business card that you see in the fishbowl or (2) drop an email introducing yourself to another practitioner who seems like someone you’d want to get to know. Back in the day, when I maintained a list of “solo shingles” in the MyShingle sidebar, making a connection was the “price” of a listing — and apparently, that policy, along with the added exposure of the list, resulted in the creation of a few productive relationships and even some business.

To upload your card, please complete this FORM. Each submission will be reviewed and posted in bundles every few days on a revolving basis. Submissions that do not comply with the instructions provided in the form will be rejected, with notice of rejection (and instructions on how to re-submit) provided by email. I also reserve final and absolute discretion to decline to post a submission for whatever reason.

With that, the MyShingle virtual fishbowl is open. Looking forward to you dropping in!