The Lawyers’ Toolkit: LinkedIn

Social-Media Apps  Lawyers aren’t generally known as early adopters of technology, but even those not at the cutting edge are learning what LinkedIn can do to expand their professional reach.  From business development to case research, from seeking local counsel to seeking new employment opportunities, LinkedIn is a valuable tool you should be using, if you are not already doing so.

With over 300 million users (over 100 million in the United States), LinkedIn offers tremendous (and free) learning, networking and business development opportunities.  Consider this:  What if a potential client is looking for your profile on LinkedIn and you don’t have one? She may figure that if you are not keeping current on professional social media, you may not be keeping current on relevant areas of the law, and go elsewhere.  As with all social media, however, there are precautions you will want to take to make sure you are projecting the professional image you intend to, and protecting sensitive information as well.

Tips for Using LinkedIn:

1. LinkedIn isn’t Facebook.  Be careful about putting too much personal information or news on LinkedIn.  Pictures of your family, cat videos and inspirational quotes don’t belong on your LinkedIn site.  What should be there are the key skills and experience that will differentiate you and inspire others to hire you, refer business to you, or collaborate with you. Leverage the digital nature of LinkedIn by making sure that your profile will appear in searches. Other things to consider:

  • Definitely include a profile picture.  People react to photos and remember faces more easily than names.  Use a professional-looking headshot—nothing too far away or with a distracting background.
  • Include recent projects.  You won’t want to include any information that could be connected to a particular client (it may run afoul of Rule 1.6 prohibiting a lawyer from revealing information relating to the representation of a client), but this is the perfect place to include links to recent articles, blog posts or presentations.
  • Include ways for your connections to reach you, such as your email address and phone numbers.
  • Use the Summary section.  Think of this as the headline to your story or as the cover letter to your resume.  If the reader reads no further than this section, what about you do you not want them to miss?  Make sure clients and potential referral sources know what you have to offer.  Include your practice areas, firm name, and searchable key words and phrases.

2. Privacy settings matter.  Lawyers place a high value on privacy.  You will want to make sure you are not sharing information you’d prefer not to share, nor sharing with a broader group than you’d like to. On the other hand, you don’t want to be so closed and cautious that you become invisible and ineffective. Find “Privacy & Settings” by hovering over your profile picture at the upper right of your LinkedIn home page.  Go through each “Privacy Controls” and “Settings” button to make sure they are set correctly. Other things to consider:

  • Customize your Public Profile, making sure that the sections that will allow people to find you are visible.  At the very least, include your name, industry, location, picture and current position.
  • Privacy and sharing settings options may change over time.  Do a rigorous check of your settings every 2-3 months to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
  • If you are sharing articles or blog posts that would be of interest to a larger group than your network, make sure you have checked the broader category under the setting “Select who can see your activity feed.”

3. It’s your reputation.  Just as you wouldn’t go into an important meeting unprepared, you shouldn’t just put up a quick profile, or a copy of your firm biography, and think you’re done. Other things to consider:

  • Watch what you post.  Off-color language, typos or the wrong tone project a negative image.
  • Watch what you repost.  Quickly sharing an article without reading it can reflect negatively on you if it is unprofessional in content or tone.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is consistent with your “real-time” profile, as well as other online bios.  Your profile should include keywords that potential clients and referral sources would use to find you online.
  • Don’t simply include past employers and positions. Make certain that your skills and experience in each role are incorporated so that they are searchable.

4. Manage Your Connections. You may choose to connect with as many people as will connect with you, but, depending on your goals, mass connecting may dilute the value of your LinkedIn network.  Give some thought to the level of engagement you require to connect with someone on LinkedIn.  You may decide, as I have, that you want to actually know or have worked with new contacts so that you can comfortably make a connection when someone asks you for an introduction to them.

Feed your network regularly. As with so many other things, the value of your set of LinkedIn connections depends on what you invest in it.  There are several ways to do this, but here are a few easy ones that you can do in less than half an hour a week:

  • Follow each of your schools, and your current and former employers.  Some school classes and companies have alumni groups, and joining these can be a quick way to add individuals you know.
  • Check the “People You May Know” box in the upper-right-hand corner of your Home page.  LinkedIn uses your connections, companies and schools to suggest people with whom you might want to connect.
  • Consider your connections’ connections.  People you know are likely to know others you know, or others you’d like to meet.
When you reach out to invite others to connect, don’t simply use the standard default greeting.  Remind them how you know each other or, better yet, explain briefly why you believe that connecting will be of mutual benefit.

5. Keep it fresh.  Make sure that you regularly check your profile to make sure it reflects your current experience, clients and goals.  Check your groups and companies you connect with and delete any that no longer fit.

6. Know the Ethics Rules.  As is the subject of a variety of articles and posts, lawyer advertising and other ethics rules apply to your online activities just as they do elsewhere.  You will want to be certain that you are in compliance with your state’s ethics guidelines with regard to disclaimers, use of terms like “specialist” or “expert” and endorsements and recommendations, and that you are not sharing any information that would violate client confidentiality.

John Edwards, our intern from Loyola Law School, contributed to this post.

Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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