The Professional’s Social Network: LinkedIn

Volume 38 Number 1

By

About the Author

Allison C. Shields is the President of Legal ease Consulting, Inc., providing management, productivity, business development and marketing consulting services to lawyers nationwide. She is the author the Legal ease blog at LegaleaseConsulting.com and was a panelist in the recent aba LPM Webinar, “LinkedIn for Lawyers,” where she discussed the ways lawyers can use LinkedIn to effectively showcase their skills and expertise.

Unlike other, more ‘social’ networks, LinkedIn is known as “the professional network.” More than 40% of its 100 plus million members are a manager, director, owner, chief officer or vice president. LinkedIn users are business-oriented. You won’t find a lot of personal or trivial sharing on LinkedIn. Instead, you’ll find professionals who want to connect with other professionals about business. As a result, LinkedIn is a logical entry point for lawyers who want to use social media for business purposes and don’t want to waste time wading through a lot of personal posts.

Although LinkedIn does have a status update feature, most professionals do not use it to provide Twitter-like posts throughout the day, and there is no mechanism to reply publicly, directly to another member’s update. On LinkedIn, the update is a one-way information-sharing device. For conversations, LinkedIn users participate in Groups.

The LinkedIn Profile

As with other social media tools, on LinkedIn, you begin by creating a profile. The profile contains information about you, your experience and the work you do for your clients. If you are new to LinkedIn, simply sign up at LinkedIn.com by entering a user name and password. LinkedIn walks you through the steps necessary to complete your profile.

First, create your professional headline, a one-line description that often accompanies your name when you interact on LinkedIn. Instead of merely your title (“Associate” or “Partner”), use all of the 120 characters allotted. Describe your practice area, your clients or your services—and make sure you use “lawyer” or “attorney” in your description for those all-important search results.

LinkedIn also allows you to add links to your blog, firm website or other online location for information or content about you. Do not accept LinkedIn’s default link titles. Change “Company Website” to the name of your firm or a keyword description of the site for each of these links. Use all of the links; I use my Google profile as the third Web link on my profile.

To make it easier to find, advertise and share your profile, edit your “public profile link,” which is generated when you create your profile, and looks something like this: linkedin.com/pub/john-smith/26/4a1/114. Click on the “Edit” button next to that link in the Edit Profile screen to change the link to include just your name, a keyword or two, or your name and firm name.

Next is the “Summary” field, which consists of two separate sections. “Professional Experience and Goals” allows 2000 characters (approximately 330 words) of description. Take full advantage of this robust section; most lawyers do not. “Specialties” is a shorter section, usually written in with keywords, rather than a narrative format (think one- to three-word bullets rather than longer descriptive sentences). The “Specialties” title cannot be changed, which raises concerns for some lawyers about ethical prohibitions against lawyers identifying themselves as “specialists” in a particular field. Some lawyers include a disclaimer indicating that rather than specialties, the lawyer has listed her practice areas instead. Check your local ethical rules for specific guidelines and prohibitions.

After the Summary, LinkedIn asks for “Positions,” which display in your profile under “Experience.” List all of your relevant past and present experience and positions (limited to 1000 characters) here. Position descriptions should include important experience or experience that helps to differentiate you from other lawyers in your field.

You may list Bar Association or other community positions here, too. Listing these activities will help others find you when they search for the names of the organization, and it makes it easier to extend invitations to connect to people. But be aware that LinkedIn will list your most current positions first, which may result in bar or other volunteer positions appearing ahead of your law practice. For this reason, I have chosen to list these positions under “Groups and Associations” in the “Additional Information” or in the optional “Organizations” section.

Beyond the basic profile

LinkedIn has made some changes and additions to the profile, so if you have not visited LinkedIn or updated your profile recently, you may want to revisit the site. Two of these newer areas are “Publications” and “Skills.”

Published books and articles, whether in print or online, add to your credibility and help establish your expertise without running afoul of some state’s ethical rules that forbid you to call yourself an expert or a specialist. LinkedIn allows you to list the title, publication, date, a brief description, and a link to articles if they are online. “Skills” is an opportunity to highlight specific skills that potential clients or potential employers may be seeking.

If you already have a profile on LinkedIn, when you click on “Edit Profile,” you’ll see a yellow button on the right side that says “Improve Your Profile,” which will take you step by step through some of their new features and help you add more detail to your profile. I also like the “Add Sections” button that displays underneath your basic profile information and alerts you to new sections LinkedIn has added. You can change the order in which information appears in your LinkedIn profile to put the information that is most persuasive or important to potential clients and referral sources first. Roll your mouse over the section title and then drag and drop to rearrange your profile sections.

Applications make for a more robust profile. JD Supra Legal Updates, which is specific to lawyers, links my JD Supra content and profile directly to LinkedIn. The Slideshare and Google Presentation applications let you share presentations on LinkedIn. The Events application lets you search for events to attend or post your own events and invite your contacts so they can see what you are doing.

LinkedIn Today is a relatively new feature that gives you news from three sources: news your connections are sharing, news industry peers are sharing, and popular news trends outside of your industry. I use LinkedIn Today for ideas to share in my newsletter or blog, on social media or as fodder for networking conversations. It also provides me with competitive intelligence and is a means to learn more about what is important to clients and their industries. In addition to your individual profile, you can create a company page for your firm. All employees of your firm who have a profile on LinkedIn will automatically be attached to your company page. My company page not only gives a summary of my practice, but the “Products and Services” area describes my services and links to my website for more information.

Contacts

Once you have a robust profile in place, it is time to start inviting people to connect with you on LinkedIn. LinkedIn makes this easy to do by allowing you to upload your address book into LinkedIn. But just because your contacts have been uploaded does not mean that you should invite everyone in your address book to connect with you. To avoid doing so by accident, after uploading, click "de-select all" (they will all be selected by default) before beginning to send your invitations.

I usually send invitations only to those who already have a profile on LinkedIn. Those individuals will automatically be identified when you view or upload them. I customize the template invitation that LinkedIn provides to remind my contacts how I know them; this increases the likelihood that my invitation will be accepted. Once your invitation is accepted, you will be connected. I like to further that relationship by sending a quick thank you when people accept an invitation to connect.

Who you connect to depends on your purpose for using the tool and your philosophy about connections. Some professionals believe that connecting to as many people as possible expands their network to provide additional exposure. I prefer to establish robust relationships and create a network that is useful not only for me, but for my connections as well. I need to know enough about my connections to converse intelligently about them, make introductions and referrals. I do not generally accept all connection invitations. We are often judged by those with whom we associate, so do not accept invitations from people you do not like or respect. When I receive an invitation to connect from someone I don’t know or don’t recognize, I will review their profile to jog my memory and see which connections or groups we have in common. I will sometimes reach out to common connections to learn more. On occasion, I will send a response without accepting the invitation to connect, send a private email or make a telephone call to find out more about that person and their business—and perhaps to meet them in person, if possible—before accepting the invitation.

I continue building my contacts by inviting new people I meet in the real world, uploading new contacts to LinkedIn and periodically checking to see if old contacts have joined the service. You can find new people to connect with, identify industry or company leaders and learn more about them using LinkedIn’s robust search feature. You can search all of LinkedIn or just your own connections and groups and filter results by company, expertise, education, location or industry.

Sharing and Participating on LinkedIn

You will get the most out of LinkedIn if you actively participate and use it to create relationships. You can take your online relationships offline, send emails, meet in person or call on the telephone. Make an effort to find out which of your LinkedIn connections will be attending seminars or conferences you attend.

You can build stronger relationships within LinkedIn as well. One of the best ways to do this is through Groups, one of my favorite LinkedIn features. There are LinkedIn groups organized around almost any topic you can think of: alumni, industries, practice areas and many more. If you cannot find a group to suit your needs or interests, start your own.

In Groups, people share information, brainstorm ideas and discuss their interests and challenges and post informational articles or links. This is where you get to know others, and since those participating in a LinkedIn Group are there to participate, you may receive more feedback on your blog article on LinkedIn than on your blog itself.

LinkedIn also has an Answers section, grouped by category. This can be a good place to showcase your expertise, find answers to questions that may have already been faced by others, or identify industry and thought leaders to connect with.

Integrating LinkedIn with other social media

I drive additional traffic to my blog by connecting my Typepad blog to LinkedIn through the Bloglink application, which displays the title and the beginning of each post on my profile, with a link back to the complete post on my blog. There is a similar application for WordPress users. I also post a LinkedIn update with the post title and link. You can connect Facebook and Twitter accounts to LinkedIn to allow cross-posting there as well, but keep in mind that you may use each of these services for different reasons. If you use Facebook or Twitter for more personal conversations and LinkedIn for business purposes, you may not want posts from one site to automatically appear on the other. I have mine connected, but I only occasionally cross-post for this reason.

I use HootSuite (hootsuite.com) to help manage my social media activity. Instead of posting directly to LinkedIn, I post through HootSuite. This allows me to simply check a box if I want that post to also update on Facebook and/or Twitter. One of the best features of HootSuite is that it allows me to schedule posts in advance so if I have several things to share I can space them out over time, rather than overwhelming my connections at once.

Developing a LinkedIn Habit

Building relationships takes time, whether in person or online, and it requires regular participation. I use LinkedIn to identify and gain information about people I would like to meet or to learn more about those I am scheduled to meet, and I am always looking for opportunities to make or request introductions. I review group activity weekly for interesting discussions and opportunities to participate, usually by skimming the emails that arrive from LinkedIn. At a minimum, add at least one LinkedIn update weekly. This can be a link to an article or news item, a comment on an event or conference you are attending or a problem you are working on for a client. Try to get into the habit of posting updates more often, once a day, twice a day or whatever works for you.

Every month, ask or answer questions, provide a recommendation of someone you have worked with, send invitations to new contacts, share slides or other content, or request a recommendation from a client or colleague (where ethically permitted). Update your profile and upload any new contacts to LinkedIn at least quarterly.

Participation in social and professional networking sites can help you identify and learn about potential clients, strategic alliances and referral sources. The websites can be a good way to get the word out about what you are doing, and they can help you build relationships and establish your expertise. As the “professional network,” LinkedIn is a good start for lawyers.

Let your connections see your involvement with LPM by joining the ABA LPM section LinkedIn group. Hundreds of members have already joined– don’t miss out on the great discussions and networking opportunities!

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