YourABA: March 2014
YourABA March 2014 Masthead

Making the most of LinkedIn

Dennis Kennedy

Dennis Kennedy

Allison C. Shields

Allison C. Shields

Founded in 2003, LinkedIn has more than 200 million registered users. In contrast to other social media, LinkedIn emphasizes professional networking over personal interactions.

How can you make the most of LinkedIn? The new ABA book "LinkedIn in One Hour" aims to answer this question and more.

YourABA spoke with authors Dennis Kennedy and Allison C. Shields, who gave their advice on using LinkedIn.

What are the benefits of using LinkedIn for lawyers?

There are many benefits to using LinkedIn, but what lawyers get out of their LinkedIn participation will vary depending on their main purpose for using the platform. When we do presentations on LinkedIn, we like to ask participants what they are “hiring” LinkedIn to do for them.

LinkedIn can be a great platform for lawyers to demonstrate their expertise, differentiate themselves from their peers, provide information in addition to what is available on their law firm’s website, make connections with industry leaders and others, build their network of contacts or develop deeper relationships with existing contacts. Your purpose for engaging on LinkedIn will drive your results.

You’ll derive the biggest benefit from LinkedIn participation by being in front of the audience you want to reach, whether that is colleagues, referral sources, clients or potential clients. Simply put, with 258 million users worldwide, including executives from every Fortune 500 company and 100 percent of the top 50 law firms in the U.S., LinkedIn is a great place to do business. And according to the In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey 2013, LinkedIn is the social media source in-house counsel use most to obtain information and expand their contacts.

LinkedIn’s value and importance in helping with a job search are well known, and some argue that your LinkedIn Profile is already more important in looking for a job than your résumé is. For most lawyers, though, the best benefit will come from creating, growing and nurturing a network of referral sources.

Are there drawbacks of LinkedIn?

We don’t think there are any drawbacks per se to using LinkedIn, as long as attorneys use common sense, have realistic expectations, especially about bringing in new clients directly, allocate their resources appropriately and pay attention to the ethical rules and opinions within their jurisdiction.

Over the past 10 years, lawyers have used LinkedIn in a responsible manner, highlighting their professional personas in professional ways. Questions about ethical lapses or poor judgment have arisen in the more personal social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. However, there are some common complaints that we hear about LinkedIn, mainly related to technical issues like use of the word “specialty” and too much self-promotion.

For example, some people complain that the groups are all about promotion and don’t provide much value. While it is true that there are many groups on LinkedIn that are poorly monitored or are filled with self-promoters, it is also true that there are groups in which valuable discussions are occurring on a daily basis. Choose your groups wisely and drop groups that do not provide value. Mark discussions or comments as spam or report to the group moderator when you see inappropriate posts to help the moderator identify offenders. Or block individual users so that you do not see their posts.

If the frequency of emails you received from LinkedIn is too much for you — another common complaint — you can go to your settings and change the frequency of communications you receive from that group or LinkedIn, or turn off your notifications for that group entirely.

Another complaint we hear is about LinkedIn’s endorsement feature; many people complain that they are receiving endorsements from individuals who they don’t know or that the endorsements they receive do not match their actual skills or practice areas. You can manage your endorsements from the Edit Profile Page to remove skills or endorsements you don’t want to see on your profile, but you can also stop this from happening in two ways: First, only connect with people you have a genuine relationship with, or whom you feel know you professionally, and second, when LinkedIn advises that you have been endorsed for “new” skills and expertise, look carefully at those skills before accepting the endorsement. Once you accept an endorsement for a new skill, it will be added to your profile and any of your connections will be able to endorse you for it.

What are your top tips on how to create a robust, dynamic profile?

First and foremost, lawyers should ensure that their profile is fully complete, including a photo, descriptive professional headline, summary, current and past positions with descriptions, and your educational background. LinkedIn gives you a set of “wizards” to walk you through that process and a helpful “Profile Strength meter” to remind you that you haven’t finished. Not only does completeness give you a better professional image, it makes it easier for people to find you and connect with you.

Second, imagine that you are reading your profile as an outsider who really wants to learn more about you, maybe even because they knew you in school or at a previous job. In a very real sense, your profile is for the reader, not the writer. Don’t use a traditional résumé or, worse yet, the standard internally focused law firm bio language (“a partner in the real estate group at ABC firm”). You’ve got plenty of space to write a plain-spoken, helpfully descriptive bio. Even thinking of the profile as a “bio” or “about” page on a website or blog rather than a “résumé” will help you. Use the words your clients use to describe their issues and how you solve them. Don’t be afraid to take an informal or friendly tone that reflects your personality and your audience.

Third, schedule time once or twice a year to update, reconsider and refresh your profile. Think of it as a living document. You will want to refresh your profile when there is a major change or something important to add, but regular attention to polishing your profile is a great way to keep improving your profile and your results.

A few more specific tips:

Edit your “Professional Headline.” Instead of just your title or insider firm descriptions (“associate” or “partner”), use all of the 120 characters allotted in the Professional Headline field and provide information helpful to someone outside your firm. Describe your practice area, your clients or your services in terms that your audience will understand and appreciate. Include your firm’s name in your title.

Make good use of the “Summary” field. You have over 300 words to describe what you do and who you do it for. It appears at the top of the profile and is often read more than the description under your current position. Consider it a chance to give your “elevator pitch.”

Fill out the “Publications” and “Skills” portions of your profile. Published books and articles add to your credibility and help establish your expertise by demonstrating what you know. LinkedIn is returning search results directly linked to the skills listed in your profile, so it is important to add something to this section for the best search results possible. Completing this section is an opportunity to highlight specific skills that potential clients (or potential employers) may be seeking.

Add media to your profile to create the “Portfolio.” Upload or link to documents, articles, presentations, images and video to give your profile visual interest and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. This is especially good for writers and speakers who want to make articles and slides available directly through LinkedIn.

Finally, have some friends, clients or others you trust look at your profile objectively and make some suggestions.

What are some ways to build your connections on LinkedIn?

In the book, we highlight seven different ways to grow your connections using built-in LinkedIn tools. There are three ways we really like to jump-start your number of connections, keeping in mind, of course, that you need to decide where you fall on the quality vs. quantity continuum in terms of number of connections. Whatever method you use, remember to use personalized invitations rather than the default, generic LinkedIn invitation template.

First, you can import your contacts from Outlook or a Web-based email account like Gmail. It’s a simple importing process that will show you a list of the contacts you import into LinkedIn with an icon that identifies those already in LinkedIn. You can check the box by a name and send LinkedIn invitations to them. Perhaps more important, you can import your contacts and uncheck most of the boxes so you invite only the people you most want to connect with.

Second, LinkedIn lets you find people you used to work with at former employers as well as colleagues at your current employer. This makes it easy to connect and reconnect with people who know your work. Personalized invitations to these people, especially former co-workers, might put you back in touch with old friends, mentors and others with whom you might have lost touch.

Third, LinkedIn will generate a list of “Alumni” from your college and law school who are members of LinkedIn and gives you a tool to invite them to connect to you in LinkedIn. The great feature here is that you can see the list for your graduating class or for people who attended the schools during all the years you were there.

There are search and other tools to help you add connections, but using one or more of the three we just mentioned will get you off and running with building out your network on LinkedIn. Also, be sure to watch the “People You May Know” suggestions LinkedIn provides. Note that the quality of the suggestions will improve as you add more connections and complete your profile.

Something many lawyers seem to forget is that whenever you meet someone in person — at a bar association event, networking breakfast or even at a social event, follow up with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Then follow up again by taking the relationship off line; call them on the telephone or meet for coffee to continue the conversation. We often refer to this as bringing LinkedIn into the real world.

What is the importance of participating in LinkedIn via Updates and Groups?

In the book, we refer to the three essential building blocks of LinkedIn — Profiles, Connections and Participation. Participation is the one that most people don’t pay enough attention to.

If you write articles or like to let people know about new legal developments, sending regular updates with links to articles or developments will make sense. If you like to bring together groups of people with common interests, participating in or starting your own LinkedIn Group will make sense. If you network by matchmaking — putting people together who should know each other — LinkedIn’s connecting tools might be a powerful way to use LinkedIn. LinkedIn has a lot of useful features and tools that many lawyers simply don’t realize even exist.

Updates are short messages you share with your network, similar to Facebook status updates. Think of updates as very short marketing or networking messages that you send to your network to keep them informed about not only what you are doing, but also to share content and information that is of value to your audience.

One of the best ways to build stronger relationships within LinkedIn is through Groups. In Groups, people share information, brainstorm ideas and discuss their interests and challenges and post informational articles or links, making it easy for you to get to know other, and for them to get to know you.

There are LinkedIn Groups organized around almost any topic you can think of, including alumni, industries, practice areas and many more. To get the most benefit from Groups, you have to be an active participant — discussing, writing, commenting and connecting with Group members. When you participate, other Group members will see your picture and a mini‐profile with your name and headline, and they can click to see your full profile. Participating in Groups helps you to establish your knowledge and expertise, but it also gives you access to individuals you might not be able to connect to otherwise.

When seeking out Groups to join, think about the groups you belong to in “real life” and find the corresponding LinkedIn Group. Then think about your ideal clients and referral sources and the Groups they are likely to participate in. Look at the profiles of the kinds of individuals you would like to connect with and see which Groups are listed on their profiles. Join those Groups to connect directly with your target audience.

What are some guidelines you would offer for how lawyers can use LinkedIn without violating ethical rules?

Many jurisdictions do require disclaimers, and if your jurisdiction requires it, you must include it. Regardless of whether lawyers include a formal disclaimer on their profile, it probably makes sense for all lawyers to include some form of disclaimer on their LinkedIn profile. We’ve suggested that lawyers put required disclaimers at the end of the summary section of their profiles.

All lawyers should be aware that as a general rule, lawyers are prohibited from making false or misleading statements about themselves or their services and they should take care to prevent creating unjustified expectations in the mind of the website visitor. Unauthorized practice of law could come into play if lawyers are conversing with individuals outside of their jurisdiction, but as a general rule, lawyers should refrain from giving any legal advice on any online platform.

The “hot” ethical issues with LinkedIn involve disclaimers, the use of recommendations or endorsements, the use of the word “Specialties” (in some older LinkedIn Profiles and in the description of services on a firm’s LinkedIn Company Page), and the “Skills and Expertise” section of the profile. Many jurisdictions prohibit lawyers from calling themselves “experts” or “specialists” unless they are certified in a particular area, which might preclude lawyers from using these portions of the LinkedIn profile, since they cannot control the titles LinkedIn has given to those sections.

Anything else you’d like to mention about your book?

LinkedIn is simultaneously the most used and most underused social media platform for lawyers. Many lawyers approach LinkedIn in a passive way, and they simply aren’t familiar the main features of LinkedIn. In the book, we talk about the three building blocks of LinkedIn — Profiles, Connection and Participation. Often, lawyers are completely unaware of one or two of those three key features.

When we speak about LinkedIn to lawyers, we see them begin to understand how LinkedIn really works and the ways it can benefit real world networking efforts. In simplest terms, LinkedIn attempts to map the professional connections and relationships you have in the real world to the Internet and then gives you some powerful tools to connect to your network and, this is the key insight, to participate in your networks. Once lawyers understand what LinkedIn does, they always seem to see the ways they can use it to increase the value. It’s funny how often lawyers will tell us after hearing us talk about LinkedIn that they realized that they had missed the point of LinkedIn and planned to start to use it better.

Bring LinkedIn into the real world. Think of LinkedIn like you would any other “real life” networking group: to get the most out of it, you need to participate. If you just set up a bare bones LinkedIn profile and passively sit back and wait for invitations to connect to arrive in your inbox, or invite connections without giving any thought to why they would want to connect with you or how you can help them, you’re just like the lawyer who attends networking events and hands out business cards, but does not follow up. In either case, business is unlikely to follow.

Networking is about building and fostering relationships. Relationships, whether online or in the real world, need to be nurtured. To gain the most benefit possible from LinkedIn, you need to be actively engaged. You need to send personalized invitations, follow up with your connections, make an effort to help others and provide value to your network.

To get the most value from LinkedIn, you need to keep your profile up to date, add connections consistently and participate on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of time on LinkedIn, but it does mean that in order to get results, you’ll need to be more than a passive participant.

Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer, widely published legal technology author and frequent speaker. Kennedy writes a technology column for the ABA Journal and co-authored with Allison Shields, the books, "LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers" (currently in Second Edition), " LinkedIn in One Hour" and "Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers." He also co-hosts the legal technology podcast The Kennedy-Mighell Report on the Legal Talk Network.

Allison C. Shields is the president of Legal Ease Consulting Inc., providing practice management, productivity, marketing and business development coaching and consulting services for lawyers and law firms. Shields writes the Simple Steps column for Law Practice Magazine and is the co-author, with Dennis Kennedy, of "LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers," "LinkedIn in One Hour and Facebook in One Hour for Lawyers." She is also the author of the Legal Ease Blog.

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