Last year I wrote this piece in Law Practice Today (“Twitter for the Reluctant Lawyer: How to use the internet’s best newspaper for business development… without a single Tweet.”) My message was enthusiastically received by many readers, especially those leeriest of social media: You need never surface or interact to benefit from this tool. Twitter is a news and information goldmine, a place to listen and learn, a means of gathering as-it-happens knowledge you can share (by email, phone, or in person) to demonstrate your smarts and savvy, add value, and help your clients and prospects.
LinkedIn, by contrast, is a very different platform—more “professional” in tone and decidedly interactive when used as intended. It also is vastly more popular among lawyers, over 90% of whom have LinkedIn accounts. Many law firms and other businesses offer some form of training on LinkedIn, and lawyers are encouraged (if only by business development coaches) to use it to network, read the news, develop relationships with clients, prospects and referral sources, build their reputations, and promote their employer.
Again, very much unlike Twitter, LinkedIn is of most benefit to those who fully embrace its potential, committing to consistent, proactive engagement. Lawyers who prefer to stand back and simply monitor the news and major events in the lives of their contacts are squandering the power of this platform to drive business and brand development, and help them build self-sustaining practices.
Nonetheless, despite its obvious and well-publicized utility, LinkedIn remains woefully underused, serving for most lawyers as not much more than an online résumé. Even lawyers who genuinely want to use the platform fully will, more often than not, fall short of productive engagement, settling for amassing contacts, issuing the occasional “Like” or “Congrats!”, and sharing their firm’s prepackaged announcements of the incoming class of partners.
The goal of this guide is to explore why and how to increase your engagement on LinkedIn and incorporate it fully in your business development strategy, with measurable results. First, we’ll audit your profile (your online résumé) for strengths and weaknesses, then exploit the range of available platform features to upgrade you to “All-Star” status (their word, thank you, not mine, for profiles that are 40% more likely to be viewed than all the rest), positioning you to use the platform for bigger and better things.
Part II of this guide will offer specific advice for using LinkedIn proactively, providing numerous sample posts, comments, and shares. We will answer two threshold questions not normally covered in any detail in social media training:
- How exactly do I create a compelling, memorable LinkedIn post?
- How exactly do I share other people’s content in a way that will grab the attention—and ensure the respect—of my network, helping distinguish me from my competition?
This, in my view, is where the rubber hits the road. These skills are essential to successful engagement on LinkedIn. If you learn how to speak up, what to say, and how to say it… if you get with the proverbial program and make some noise on this platform, you’ll see results. And I suspect you’ll start having a lot more fun as well.
The Business Case for a Proactive Presence on LinkedIn
Many lawyers are dubious about the power of LinkedIn. They complain that most of their valuable connections on LinkedIn, particularly in-house, are eerily quiet—these contacts don’t post or share. Their profiles are spare and uninteresting. Few of them appear to “like” anything at all. Is anyone out there even listening?
They are. Don’t be fooled by the quiet. Plenty of your contacts are indeed watching their LinkedIn feeds and notifications. In fact, the data tells us that 1) the majority of in-house lawyers are logging on regularly; 2) they are reading the high-quality content posted by the members of their network; 3) they favor LinkedIn (unsurprisingly) over Twitter and Facebook; and 4) they use it to gather news, build expertise, and, importantly, research outside counsel.
In any event, you undoubtedly have competitors who are sharing content of value to their (and maybe your) network and who are connecting frequently, strategically, and authentically with their (and maybe your) contacts. They are building relationships and burnishing their reputations. And they’re probably outpacing you.
It’s time to get in the game.
Section One: A Profile Audit for Beginners, Intermediates, and Experts
Let’s first review and update your LinkedIn profile. (Keep in mind that LinkedIn’s Help pages offer clear, detailed instructions on virtually every feature of the profile page, as well as easy-to-follow advice on using LinkedIn’s many features.)
Table Stakes: Your Photo, Heading, and Summary
Remember that, as is true for so much of what we generate for an online audience, most of the people viewing your profile are on the move; they’re just as busy as you are and they may be distracted as well. So, you’ve got to engage them fast and fully if you want your ideal client to take the time to learn more about you. That’s why the Photo, Heading, and Summary (or “Intro”) are the most important parts of your LinkedIn profile, measurably impacting your searchability on Google and other browsers, and offering what could be your only shot at drawing in your target audience.
Your Profile Picture
No one needs to be convinced that a current, professional photograph is absolutely essential. Its absence measurably reduces the number of people who view your profile and sends a range of negative messages, prompting in some people the nagging feeling that you might not actually exist at all.
I advise all my clients to upload a high-quality banner photo as well, to create a polished look and to offer some additional information. For example, a healthcare lawyer might use a quality photo taken at her presentation at last year’s JPMorgan Healthcare Conference. But beware of anything too informal or cute in any way, and absolutely no stock photos of gavels or the scales of justice, please.
Most lawyers, even those who are relatively active on LinkedIn, have not thought hard about the 120 characters (including spaces) in their profile heading. And yet it’s the heading that we first see after your name.
So make them count. Tell us what you do and who you help. Venture a bit beyond “Associate at ___,” but not too far. Use one or two of the keywords (practice area, sector focus, special skills) a prospect might enter in a LinkedIn search, increasing your odds of appearing early in the results and be sure to deliver an authentic, informative message. This means you need to select keywords that describe your practice, niche, and target clients, but without selling too hard, sacrificing clean optics, or running afoul of your employer’s expectations for dignified online behavior.
Remember, you don’t necessarily need to use any characters stating the name of your firm, unless its sheer weight justifies two mentions, as is certainly the case for many law firms. Your employer’s name appears at the top of the column to the right of your heading, followed by your law school, contact information, and number of connections.
Consider enlisting a friend, family member, coach, or mentor to help you brainstorm and gut-check your heading. (Do this with the summary as well.)
For inspiration, some examples of dignified, but informative, headings:
- Co-Chair of ___’s Health Care Practice | Advisor to early-stage biotech companies and investors
- Legal, Business and Government Advisor | Former Government Prosecutor
- Employment Attorney | Strategic Advice and Litigation | Counseling C-Level, Professionals and Entrepreneurs
- CIPP/US, CIPM | Partner, ___ LLP | Privacy and Cybersecurity
- Complex Litigation Partner at ___|Chair of White Collar Defense and Investigations Group
Depending on your intended audience and your practice area, consider a more trendy approach. Take, for example (or not), intellectual property lawyer Joseph Baghat, who headlines his profile as “Professional Internet Troll Fighter,” and has an attention-getting summary to match. I will freely and happily admit that this is not my style, but I have no doubt that this heading and summary work exceptionally well for this lawyer, so have made peace with the term “troll.” (Still, I draw the line at pretty much anything that includes the word “ninja.”)
The Summary (or You Had Me at “See More”)
Too many lawyers have a minimalist Heading, from which they leap directly to Experience and Education, skipping the all-important Summary, and squandering what could be their only opportunity to tell the reader what makes them different and how they will add value as an advisor. This is a mistake, even for those who graduated from top-tier schools. Competition is too fierce in our profession, and credentials too easily diluted by performance, to forego the chance to distinguish yourself from the other people with perfect LSATs and awesome school ties.
Smart, busy people (including GCs and referral sources) have little time to waste. Like the rest of us, their email boxes are filled with predominantly extraneous messages, and they have long since adopted a scan-and-exit approach to digital material. You’ll have to grab their attention in the first two sentences of your Summary (270 to 320 characters) or lose them at the dreaded “See more” cliff (20-25 characters on your mobile device).
Writing an exceptional LinkedIn Summary can take time, although—trust me—it can be very satisfying in a head-clearing kind of way. Start with the critical first two sentences. Remember to write in the first person and in a more conversational fashion than you would for your firm website. What kind of lawyer are you? What types of clients do you counsel? What is your unique value to your ideal client? Do you have a niche practice or an industry specialization? Why did you choose it? What kind of person are you?
For inspiration, scan the profiles of the more entrepreneurial lawyers you know, creep on your competitors’ public pages (but really, it is not “creepy” to read what people post on purpose for all to see, so do stop feeling guilty), or read a few of the countless guides on the topic available online. (I especially like this one by social media expert Vivica Hess.)
Your Background and Everything Else
As you work your way through the rest of your profile, be sure to refer to the Edit Your Profile portion of the Help section. Consider these tips as well:
- To start, click on your photo at the top of the left rail of the Home page, then Add a New Profile Section, and browse through the list of options.
- Set a goal of creating a complete, information-rich profile, one that earns you All-Star status (see the top right corner of your Dashboard, which appears below the Summary), not because you’re in need of any additional credentials, but because the search engines like All-Stars.
- Be alert for opportunities to entice browsers, and your target audience, with rich media. Post pictures, slide shares, podcasts, articles, and, especially, videos at the bottom of your Summary. Like most of us, Google loves the visual. And if a prospect you’ve never met lands on your profile page, curious to know more about you, a quality video of one of your presentations could have a significant impact.
- To be sure you are “indexed” by Google and other search engines, click on Edit Visibility at the top of the right rail, and toggle Your profile’s public visibility to On.
- Before leaving Edit Visibility, take the time to “personalize” your URL for SEO purposes and to achieve a more polished look. (If if I were still practicing law and not paying attention to social media, mine might show up as “linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-munnell7a255b5it/” and I would change it to “…com/in/betsymunnell/in). Most people simply substitute their name, but, just as some specialized or regionally branded lawyers do on Twitter, you might want to claim a branding handle like “linkedin.com/in/jchapmanpersonalinjurylawyer/” or “linkedin.com/in/drosenbergchicagotaxlawyer/”
- On a regular basis, review all of your account Settings in detail, especially those in the Privacy section. Unfortunately, LinkedIn’s default settings include several traps for the unwary.
- One of LinkedIn’s best and most broadly accepted uses is as a research tool, allowing us to learn about the people with whom we wish to build professional relationships by reading their profile pages. If you don’t want to risk being (unfairly) labeled a “stalker” for reading public profile pages in the ordinary course, you can elect to be anonymous. (A very good idea for service professionals, in my view.) To do this, go to How Others See Your Profile in the Privacy settings, then toggle Profile Viewing Options to Private Mode. (Note: If you want to see who is viewing your page, but remain anonymous yourself, you can overpay for a premium membership.)
- Be sure that Sharing Profile Edits is Off, except when you update your profile to reflect a positive change in status (e.g. a promotion, honor, or recent publication). No one needs to know when you correct a spelling error or add a college activity falling short of the Heisman Trophy.
- To be sure your connections know you’re out there, toggle Notifying Connections When You’re in the News to On and say Yes to Mentions or Tags by Others.
- Do you have an unusual name or one that is frequently misspelled? You may be missed when people search for you using an alternate version. This is easily addressed by adding a heads-up line at the very end of your “Intro” that allows you to sneak in the most popular variations on your name and round up the search outliers.
- Edit your Skills section with care. Once you’re out of law school, essential skills like “Legal Research” and “Depositions” are nothing to brag about on social media. Focus on more sophisticated proficiencies, including those particular to your practice area and niche industry.
- Think hard about whether you really want to make your Endorsements public, unless you’ve achieved critical mass for the skills you wish to highlight. Too many well-intentioned connections, especially family members and friends, colleagues, and others simply hoping to do you a mitzvah will endorse you for skills that they know nothing about whatsoever.
- It is unusual to see Recommendations in lawyer profiles, although I can imagine lawyers in niche practice areas who might benefit from including them.
Section Two: Ethics and Decorum
Be sure you know your firm’s social media policy and the rules on lawyer advertising in your jurisdiction. In a number of jurisdictions, a lawyer is not permitted by law to claim to be an “expert” or “specialist” without satisfying the legal requirements for doing so. So watch your step when you write your Heading and Summary, fill in details under Experience, and craft the Skills and Endorsements sections. Note that this restriction extends to Recommendations as well—since it is no less of a concern if one of your clients waxes eloquent about your “expertise.” Don’t accept a profile reference from a connection until you’ve scrutinized the language for attorney advertising violations.
In addition, always keep in mind that attorneys are held to a higher standard of decorum than other citizens. LinkedIn is a public, professional platform, where you will be expected to behave accordingly—and this will certainly extend to the content and tone of your profile page and news feed posts. What that actually means may not always be obvious. But your reputation among your peers (and in the market in which you make a living) is priceless and far harder to repair than to damage. Think carefully before you cross a line.
Section Three: Your Network
Take the time to connect with all your professional contacts, new and old. Import professional email and CRM lists, search college and law school classmates, professors, and former co-workers, and add anyone who has ever sent you business, directly or by referral.
LinkedIn’s advanced search functions are very helpful when you’re putting together a list of the people you want to develop as connections. On the Home page, click inside the Search box, then go to People, then All Filters and review the wide range of options. As an example, if you’re a litigator in a boutique firm and get most of your referrals from BigLaw, you’ll want to connect with classmates who practice in your area and in any other city you consider a source of business. So, filter your search by law school and cities, print out the list to use for future reference, and connect with the lawyers you know, or perhaps, those to whom you have been introduced by a mutual close friend.
I don’t normally advise connecting on LinkedIn with anyone you haven’t met in person, online, or spoken to over the phone. A notable exception to that rule: LinkedIn, like Twitter, can be a good place to build relationships with journalists, such as the contributors at The American Lawyer, Law360, your alma mater’s or bar association’s bulletin, and your city’s business publications.
“People You May Know”
If you’re not yet in the (essential) habit of connecting with people after meeting them or have not yet reached out to your existing network in a meaningful way, start by clicking My Network on the Home page. Then view People You May Know and systematically add pretty much all your thinking, breathing, and working contacts in business, law (with obvious exceptions for direct competitors), and your community.
To spark your memory, ask yourself: Who has passed along my name and contributed to the good “word of mouth” I need to increase my visibility? Who would speak well of me if asked? Who would help me get an introduction? Who would give me good advice? Reconnect and see what, if anything, you can do to help each of these people and build relationships.
Many lawyers struggle with whether to connect with other attorneys. You may not want your competitors to be able to see your connections or keep close tabs on the content you share. Understandable. On the other hand, if you practice at a small firm you may well get much of your business from larger firms, and if you do white-collar criminal defense work, almost all of your referral sources will be lawyers. Having them as connections can only benefit you.
If possible, go to the person’s profile before connecting, since pressing Connect in the Who You Might Know part of the site will auto-generate a bare, and very impersonal, connection request. Many people find this irritating—sometimes for quite different reasons: “I don’t even know you! At least take the time to tell me where we met!” or, “We’re close colleagues—you could at least take a second to say hello! Are you just tapping on my name when prompted?”
The best reason for adding a comment in each request to connect is to seize the opportunity for the first in many “touches” you will likely need to make before you get to critical “word of mouth” mass, when they know and remember you for what you do best, for how you have helped them professionally and personally, and for the kind of person you are. You have to start somewhere with newer or more remote contacts, and for others you have not adequately developed as colleagues and network connections, you’re already behind and need a chance to say something personal or topical. So why wait?
Section Four: Building a Knowledge Base: Configuring Your “Feed”
Curators and News Sources
Be sure that your LinkedIn feed reflects your interests and those of your network. You can “follow” companies and people (whether or not they are connections—sometimes a less-awkward approach), including those you identify as good sources of news, ideas, and opinions—newspapers and broadcast or cable news stations, magazines, individual journalists, business icons, so-called “influencers” and other lawyers (even competitors; don’t’ forget that you don’t have to connect to follow), and legal professionals.
Figure out who can supply you with practice area updates (Law360 and JDSupra are among the best), news about sectors and industries relevant to your clients or to any important members of your network, and balanced business, local, national, and world news. Follow them.
These “follows” are the key to a robust network. They are your “curators,” sorting through the fire hose of news available on the internet, and identifying the most interesting content, so you don’t have to. High-quality content, quite simply, makes you smarter, supplies you with ways to assist your network and add value, and helps you distinguish yourself on the LinkedIn stage.
Groups and #Hashtags
Check out the second box on the left side of the Home page and join three or four LinkedIn Groups (e.g. a college/law school alumni group, bar association group, lawyers’ affinity group, or targeted niche industry group). Groups can offer valuable connections, information, and news and, along with the companies, schools, and hashtags you “Follow,” support your LinkedIn branding strategy.
You can also search for hashtags (just below Groups on the left rail) representing topics and communities of interest (e.g. #blockchain, #privateequity, #intellectualproperty, #laborlaw, #energyindustry). Many people sharing content on LinkedIn add the relevant hashtags at the end of their posts, just as they do in their Twitter cross-shares.
LinkedIn Help offers a range of other suggestions for customizing your feed so that you receive content relevant to you, your law practice, and your network.
You’ve followed all the steps outlined above. Now, your profile is complete and you’ve made (or plan on making) 500+ Connections. You’re ready to do the real work and make a real difference—by taking your place on the LinkedIn stage. Watch for Part II in the March issue of Law Practice Today, where our focus will be on engagement, going well beyond “Likes,” and “Congrats!” connection requests, and Super Lawyers announcements to strategic and proactive use of the platform. This means learning exactly how to write a memorable LinkedIn post: what to share, how to write it, and how to make sure it helps you implement your business development strategy.
About the Author
Elizabeth H. Munnell is a business development coach and career consultant, advising lawyers of all ages. A partner for 25 years in a large law firm, she chairs the board of the ABA’s Career Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.