LinkedIn LogoThis is the next post in my Social Networking for Attorneys series. My previous discussions focused on why Google+ is the most important social network for attorneys and how lawyers and law firms can establish themselves on Google+. This article is going to focus on what I consider to be the second most important social networks for attorneys, LinkedIn.

LinkedIn was founded in 2003 and went public in 2011. The media and public exposure from the IPO sent the site’s membership skyrocketing. When the company went public it had amassed a little over 100 million members from 2003-2011[i]. From the IPO to June of 2013 the site grew to 259 million members,[ii] a two-year increase of roughly 150 percent. Many attorneys joined the service during this period. Many of these lawyers approached their joining of LinkedIn in the same way they approached other social media; they knew it was something they “needed to be on” but they weren’t quite sure of what the benefit would be or how to go about using the service. As a result, many attorneys aren’t receiving much benefit from their LinkedIn membership.

I started my law firm in August of 2006 and joined LinkedIn in early 2007. I was introduced to it when I hired my first law clerk and he sent me a LinkedIn invitation to connect (I hadn’t heard of the service previously). At that point there weren’t many people actually using the service. My practice focused extensively on family law and in 2008 I connected with a few marriage & family therapists on LinkedIn and used the network to establish mutual referrals with these therapists. These professionals wound up being a valuable relationship for my firm and it really taught me the value of the service. This article is meant to explain the benefits of LinkedIn, and to discuss how attorneys should approach using the service.

Attorneys and law firms leveraging LinkedIn can quickly establish a referral network.

Professionals at networking event

Good ol’ fashioned networking

LinkedIn provides attorneys with access to numerous referral sources. It is the only resource that provides access to such sources on a large scale and this uniqueness means it is like no other resource in terms of building a referral base. This large scale provides an incredible benefit. This benefit is that you can immediately identify and connect with a large number of referral sources that would otherwise be time consuming and difficult to identify, introduce yourself to, and evaluate as someone you may want to do business with. Let’s look at a hypothetical.

Suppose, for example, you are a criminal defense attorney who wishes to establish a relationship with various bail bondsmen. You would first have to research and list all the bondsmen in your area. You then research each individual one and then start making contact either in person or through email. LinkedIn allows you to quickly generate a list of bondsmen in your area. You could then quickly review their profiles and send an “Inmail” to those who you wish to make contact with and this can all be done quickly from the LinkedIn interface. Those who are interested in meeting with you can then be taken to lunch or coffee and a referral network can quickly develop.  There is no other service/way to develop a referral network with this level of efficiency and effectiveness.

A referral network can be built in this way almost regardless of your practice area. It’s time for you to make a list of professions who could potentially refer your business and reach out to them through LinkedIn.

Attorneys wishing to leverage LinkedIn will see a benefit if they go about it correctly

While there are many lawyers and law firms with LinkedIn profiles the bottom line is that most aren’t using the service to its potential. I can’t suggest enough that you read an excellent book titled The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success by Wayne Breitbarth. For a complete overview on how people can maximize their use of the service I don’t think there’s a better read. That being said, let’s go over a few do’s and don’ts.

  1. Sign up for a premium account. This allows you greater access to the network as a whole and increases your ability to establish connections, both through the increased viewing options and the services “Inmail” feature.
  2. Have your referral sources endorse you and leave good reviews in the “Recommendations” section of your profile. If an MFT, for example, wants to review your profile to decide whether to refer you cases then a glowing review from a connection saying “I’ve referred this attorney many cases” will go a long way.
  3. If you promote yourself through video, which you absolutely should, include your more important videos (such as testimonials) in your profile. This will go a long way towards making others want to connect with you as well as establishing your credibility to those you wish to connect with.
  4. Only connect with those who are putting effort into the network. Suppose you come across a profile for someone that you think may be a good referral source, but that professional hasn’t even included a photo or completely filled out their profile. That person isn’t putting much time into the network and is unlikely to be reading messages received from LinkedIn anyway.

There are also some common mistakes that attorneys make which you should avoid:

  1. Be selective about who you connect with. Most attorneys are using LinkedIn to connect with anyone and everyone. – a former classmate of mine recently connected with the waitress who served him dinner the night before. When you connect with everyone imaginable you’re doing nothing but cluttering up your LinkedIn news feed which means you may miss updates from your truly important connections. If someone isn’t in your potential referral network, and you don’t care what they have to say, then why are you connected with them?
  2. Be careful about connecting with other attorneys. I’m not saying don’t connect with colleagues but be mindful of the fact that your competitors may then be able to connect with your referral sources as a result of your connections with these competitors. If you do connect with other attorneys make sure you set your connections to private. That way another attorney won’t be able to see who you’re connected with unless they’re already connected with that person.
  3. Be mindful of your audience when posting status updates. Most attorneys aren’t marketing to their end consumers through the network. It’s common, however, for attorneys to share their blog posts,etc. even though the audience for whom the network is best used will really have no interest in them. I recently saw an attorney who shared a link to his website saying “Have you been arrested? If so then call [our firm] today!” Assuming that this lawyer doesn’t have a referral network of people recently arrested, it goes without saying that people with whom he’s connecting aren’t interested in this. Share content relevant to the people with whom you wish to establish a referral network.

LinkedIn is an incredibly powerful platform that is not being leveraged by the legal community. Doing so is going to give you a huge leg up in your practice and put you ahead of the game. In my next post we’ll discuss Mr. Zuckerberg’s creation – Facebook.

[i] LinkedIn IPO soar, Feeding Web Boom, May 20th, 2011. Accessed at http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704816604576333132239509622

[ii] LinkedIn Wikipedia page, accessed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linkedin