In "Information Technology and Lawyers," Anja Oskamp and Arno Lodder wrote that "information technology is fast, schematic, and futuristic; lawyers are cautious, verbose, and old-fashioned." In what often seems an overcrowded legal marketplace, young lawyers, however, have learned to embrace technology and have a finite advantage over their elder peers in a virtually untapped marketplace: social networking.
LinkedIn is a great networking tool for professionals in all areas of business, including attorneys. If your clients are using LinkedIn, you should be too. This article sets forth five LinkedIn tips to help maximize its benefits as a marketing and networking tool for young lawyers.
Plan Your Profile
Your LinkedIn profile is your digital presence in the online LinkedIn marketplace. It is vitally important to treat your profile as a professional profile.
The first major decision to be made with respect to your profile is the picture. Your profile picture is a potential client's first impression of you as a lawyer. It should, therefore, be the same photographer-style picture posted on firm websites. Pictures of pets, vacations and babies should be saved for Facebook and Twitter.
Next, pay special attention to how you characterize your title on your LinkedIn profile. The job description field is vital because this is how potential clients will search through the millions of profiles on LinkedIn when looking for an attorney. Even if you are a senior associate or a staff attorney, these job titles, while important to you and other attorneys, mean nothing to potential clients searching on LinkedIn for representation. If a married man is searching for a divorce attorney, he is not going to type "senior associate" into the search field on LinkedIn. If a business owner is looking for a tax attorney, she is not going to search for "staff attorney."
Instead, utilize the job or position field as an opportunity to capture as many potential clients searching on LinkedIn as possible. Be as descriptive and detailed as possible and include the terms most likely to be used in a potential client's search. For instance, if you are a criminal attorney, your job description should be something more like "criminal attorney representing defendants in Philadelphia."
The body of the profile should be job-specific and as detailed, but brief, as possible. Consider the body of the LinkedIn profile to be your digital resume. Start with your current position. Provide a pointed and concise description of the services you provide and the types of cases you handle. In addition to the basic employment information, this profile should include a detailed description of the types of law you practice, the types of clients you represent and the types of transactions you have handled. It is also important to capture prior positions here, because it will expand the potential connections you will make on LinkedIn through prior co-workers, clients and supervisors.
The LinkedIn profile also includes an education section. This is important because by adding your educational background, not only do clients know where you have earned your degrees, but you provide another avenue with which to connect with clients, whether they are fellow alumni, fans or have familial connections to your alma maters.
The last and perhaps most important piece of your LinkedIn profile is the contact information section. You may have the most impressive LinkedIn profile on the network, but if you do not provide an accessible method for clients to contact you directly once they find you on LinkedIn, they will likely move on. Sending a message through LinkedIn is not as proactive and immediate as picking up the phone and calling you directly. Provide a phone number and an email address so that clients know you are serious about working with them when they need you.
A great way to increase your LinkedIn connections and your visibility to clients in your business sphere is to join the right groups. LinkedIn permits users to create groups dedicated to certain interests. Groups are great resources for young lawyers because users often turn to groups in their respective professions when they run into issues or scenarios they have not faced before and seek recommendations and advice from other members of the group. Joining in these discussions can create a sense of experience in even the youngest lawyers.
Key in choosing the right groups to join is an assessment of the clients you would like to have. For instance, if you practice corporate law, joining a startup enterprising group on LinkedIn can be a great option to learn more about what issues new entrepreneurs face. Also, consider joining local interest groups. If you are a runner or are training for a marathon, consider joining a running-focused group on LinkedIn. This is valuable because it offers a less serious forum for like-minded professionals to exchange ideas. For instance, one runner may post in the discussion area of this group that a friend or family member is in need of an elder law attorney. Even if you cannot provide such services, if you can recommend a member of your firm or another contact, you have established yourself as a resource and a knowledgeable colleague not only to the requesting member of your group, but to every other member of the group who sees your post.
In addition to industry-specific groups and interest groups, another great group to seek out is your alumni group. Join not only your law school alumni group, where your classmates may search for referrals for their contacts, but also the alumni group of your undergraduate institution. Undergraduate groups often offer a discussion board on which alumni seek recommendations for professionals, ask questions about their businesses and post information about upcoming events.
Young lawyers are slower to develop networking skills because they feel it is too early to seek out clients and they do not know what area of the law they will be practicing when they are ready to take on their own clients. These concerns are irrelevant with respect to LinkedIn. It is such a fluid networking investment that it permits users to evolve over time and change their focus as their professional career advances. For example, even if you do not know what type of law you plan to practice, joining an industry-specific group on LinkedIn can be a great way to learn more about that industry and to follow some of the legal issues people in that industry face on a daily basis. If it turns out in three years you are not practicing in that area, you can remove the group from your LinkedIn profile.
Connect to Real-Life Contacts
LinkedIn also offers users another point of contact with existing relationships. It is extremely important to connect with existing colleagues on LinkedIn. Not only does this expand your network by exposing you to all of your colleague's contacts, but it also allows you another communication tool to keep in touch with potential clients and target clients.
It is also valuable for young lawyers to keep tabs on the professional lives of their peers. While your college classmates may not be CEOs or CFOs just yet, by connecting on LinkedIn, you can monitor your friends' careers so that when your connections do start to ascend to positions of power in their professions, you will know about it.
Even if you meet someone in person at a networking event, it is important to reach out to that person on LinkedIn, and use it as your means of following up with that person. Invite him or her to connect on LinkedIn and include a short message about your excitement in meeting that person at future events. This way, your email will not be lost in the flood of emails received from other people your contact met at the same event. Rather, it offers you the opportunity to put your picture in front of the contact's face the very next morning and remind that contact of the connection made the previous evening.
Endorse Your Peers
LinkedIn offers users the option to endorse each other for specific skills or abilities. As referenced above, when you complete your profile, you will be offered the opportunity to select certain skills that you utilize in your practice. For instance, if you are a family law attorney, you will want to check off such skills as prenuptial agreements, divorce and custody. Once these items are added to your profile, other users are able to endorse you for these skills. This is important because it offers both clients and your peers the simple option of supporting you for these specific skills. The more skills you add to your profile, the more people will be able to validate your abilities.
It is also important to return the favor. Endorse your colleagues, clients and contacts for skills. Supporting your peers has double benefits. Not only does it increase the chances that such person will view your profile and potentially endorse you for skills, it also reestablishes contact with that person and puts your profile in front of that person.
Like endorsements, LinkedIn also offers users the ability to recommend other users for services. This is perhaps the most valuable tool LinkedIn offers young lawyers. It allows your clients to basically write a review of you and your services, and hopefully recommend you to their contacts and others who visit your page. Recommendations are vital because if a potential client stumbles upon your profile, whether by searching for a certain profession or through a joint group, the potential client has instant validation of your ability to serve clients. Recommendations are more in-depth than endorsements and offer an opportunity to expand on a client or colleague's evaluation of your abilities and reputation as a young lawyer.
As with endorsements, it is also important to return the favor and recommend your contacts and clients. If you have worked with a client professionally, it speaks volumes, both in the client's mind as well as in the minds of the client's contacts, if you take the time to recommend that client to others. It shows you care not only about the business you received from that client, but about supporting your client's business and taking the time to learn about what your client does. For example, if you represented a restaurant in obtaining a liquor license, but have also eaten at the restaurant, recommending that restaurant owner or chef on LinkedIn lets the owner or chef know you appreciate him or her and believe in his or her business. It also increases the chances that the client will recommend you on your profile page and in person.
A Level Playing Field
Social networking is a great tool that young lawyers should embrace and utilize as they build their practices. It creates a level playing field for young and experienced lawyers alike because social networking is a relatively new avenue for networking with clients. While building a large network on LinkedIn may not lead to a large book of business by year's end, it sets the groundwork for a stream of business that will continue to grow and expand over time. LinkedIn is just one tool that young lawyers can utilize in their marketing mix to build their professional network.
Katherine Missimer is a member of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel's business and finance department, where she focuses her practice on representing businesses, nonprofits and for-profit corporations and health care entities in corporate, real estate, financial and regulatory matters.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.
Reprinted with permission from the July 31, 2014 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 347-227-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com. # 201-08-14-03