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September 23, 2015 article

Endorse Me, Endorse Me Not: LinkedIn Etiquette for Small Law

By Sam Alba

Last year, I was a recent graduate in a tough legal market. Only a slight advantage meant the difference between getting the job and getting a form rejection letter. I invested time in developing my LinkedIn page to help my job search. I reached out to colleagues and solicited written recommendations and endorsements. I even put a link to my LinkedIn page on a networking business card.

I learned LinkedIn's most powerful attribute is as a business development tool for lawyers. In spending so much time on LinkedIn and speaking with my colleagues about the same, I learned a lot and developed five rules that help make the most of the resource:

  1. Do not be an over-endorser. As an attorney in a small law firm, clients likely come to you because of your excellent reputation in one area of law. You want your endorsement to be respectable. For example, I worked as a law clerk with one attorney who endorsed me for a new skill every week. That was a very nice professional courtesy, but it starts to appear disingenuous. By contrast, I attended a panel with several high-ranking local judges recently, and I was very vocal in the Q & A. One week later one of the judges endorsed me for public speaking. I earned that endorsement, and I want my colleagues to earn their endorsements.

    Avoid accidentally ingratiating your colleagues. If you endorse everyone for everything no one will respect your endorsements. However, if you are selective, an endorsement becomes an achievement for the endorsee.

  2. Update regularly. The most successful small-law entrepreneurs I encounter on LinkedIn consistently develop new connections by posting updates. These posts can be about the small firm's success or growth, can include articles relevant to their practice, or even contain big announcements such as a new office space or new hire.

    Maria-Vittoria "Giugi" Carminati, the principal attorney at Carminati Law, has a LinkedIn page that is a good example of what to do. I asked Guigi to offer advice on the subject, and she says:

    As the owner of a small law firm, you need to focus on two things, with the same degree of energy: growing your network with new connections and increasing the depth of the relationships of people within your existing network. As soon as you meet someone, you plant a seed. So planting as many seeds as possible is critical. But those seeds need genuine human connection and long-term investment to grow. Which is why networking and business development is a huge part of any successful entrepreneur's schedule.

    Another great example is Melissa A. Day, the managing attorney at the Law Offices of Melissa A. Day. Melissa's profile is witty and professional from her title, "New York Workers' Compensation Defense Attorney, with an odd passion for New York Workers' Compensation Defense Issues," to her frequent blog posts on the New York Workers' Compensation Forum, a blog she started which now has over 1,300 members.

    Think about LinkedIn updates like a chapter in a story you are telling your colleagues. Guigi and Melissa have great profiles because you end up rooting for their small firms' success. Consistent posts make your viewers invest in your firm's story. Therefore, the better your posts, the better your story and the more support you will have from your connections.

  3. Do not endorse or congratulate people you do not know. Social media is an intense obstacle to navigate. The easiest way to succeed is to think of it as a social gathering. I once had a law student who attended my alma mater (someone I had never met or spoken to) find me on LinkedIn and endorse me for everything. This is not appropriate in any situation. Moreover, it weakens my profile that a stranger endorsed me for "data entry." Endorsements are compliments, and all compliments should be authentic.

    Similarly, if you do not know the person at all, do not comment on their success. I also encountered one self-proclaimed "doctor-real estate-mogul" who added me in an attempt to sell real estate. He then commented "MY MAN!" when I posted about a new job. I am not your man, I do not know you, and now I am reluctant to do business with you. This does not mean you need to know the people you add, but you should have at least met them.

    A friend of mine from law school, and one of the best networkers I know, developed a system that I believe every current and future attorney should use:

    When I meet someone important at a networking event, I always send a follow-up email, and then I wait two days. After two days, I view that person's LinkedIn profile. I then give them two weeks to add me. I do not add them. This way, I know they see I am following up, but I do so in such a way that I do not appear desperate, creepy, or like I have too much time on my hands.

  4. Don't be an over-viewer. This tip is especially true when you are recruiting. If a candidate for a job sees that the potential employer has viewed their profile, they will get excited. Investigating before the interview is fine—however extensive views after the interview of a candidate you do not plan to hire can come off as unprofessional. LinkedIn has a great feature that lets you see who viewed your profile. Also, many of my female colleagues have mentioned that they are unnerved when older male attorneys view their profile more than once. The rule is simply that you should only view when necessary, and do not accidently give job candidates false hope.

  5. Keep it professional. The legal field is filled with some very opinionated people. The internet is filled with people who like to put phrases in front of pictures to summarize opinions. LinkedIn is where these two phenomena converge. The simple rule is, if you would not say it in front of a new client, do not put it on LinkedIn.

In conclusion, LinkedIn is a powerful tool that can help you earn new clients, find a better job, or even tell your firm's story. Employing simple behavioral etiquette is the difference between being a "LinkedIn Creeper" and a "LinkedIn Master."

Keywords: solo and small firm, litigation, LinkedIn, social media, etiquette, tips

Sam Alba is an associate at Friedman & Ranzenhofer, P.C., in Akron, New York.

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