More than a third of the almost six thousand mid-level associates who responded to The American Lawyer’s most recent survey reported that they use social networking tools for job-related purposes, more than ever. Of that third, 94% said that they use LinkedIn, “the one social network most lawyers feel most comfortable in using,” says Glen Gilmore, a lawyer and social media expert who ranks near the top of the Forbes list of “Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers.”
But many of the attorneys who join LinkedIn do so because they are “supposed” to have an online presence, and they appear reluctant to be fully committed members. Their LinkedIn contacts languish in the double (or even single) digits. Their pages do not have a professional picture (or, often, any picture at all). And their profiles lack enticing headlines that capture who they are and summaries that provide a synopsis of what they do…
Why the reticence? In part, because social media takes time, so the return on investment and the skeptical nature of lawyers make it a hard sell, says Gilmore, who teaches Social Media Law, Digital Marketing, and Crisis Communications at Rutgers University. But “[t]he reality,” he notes, “is that social media is where everyone turns to assess trustworthiness.”
Lawyers who are not online “are missing an important opportunity by not connecting with social media,” says Gilmore. “If lawyers don’t make it a point to become social and understand how to communicate in social media, they will not be able to effectively join the conversation.” And, because it’s a conversation in which most of their clients are engaging, Gilmore says that being active on social media is “the new ‘law’ of marketing success.”
So what should you do if you signed up for LinkedIn but haven’t done anything since? Here’s a step-by-step guide to making sure you have a complete profile. (How attorneys should be engaging with others on LinkedIn will be addressed in my next post.)
NOTE: Worried that the contacts in your network will be notified of the changes that you are making to your LinkedIn profile and get suspicious? Author of the “Ridiculously Awesome LinkedIn Kit” Jenny Foss recommends going into your privacy settings and turning off your activity broadcasts. Here’s how to do it: Hover over your profile picture in the upper right-hand corner to access the pull-down menu. Go to Privacy & Settings, then Privacy Controls towards the bottom/middle of the page. Click on the link for “Turn on/off activity broadcasts” and uncheck the box.
CONSIDER WHAT YOUR PURPOSE IS
Why did you join LinkedIn (beside the Marketing Department’s instruction that you do so)? To create a powerful brand on LinkedIn, you need to understand your audience. What do you hope to get out of it? A new job? A connection with a potential client? LinkedIn recommends that users, “Ask yourself whose attention you’re trying to get and tailor your LinkedIn profile to speak to them.”
WRITE A HEADLINE THAT WILL MAKE USERS CLICK ON YOUR PROFILE
Clicking on the “People You Might Know” link in the top right corner of the home screen brings up snapshots of users with their names and a one-line description underneath. If the user has not customized the headline, it will default to the user’s title and employer (e.g., “Associate at X Law Firm”). A recruiter or client looking for an attorney with specific expertise — say, an associate with specific patent litigation experience — is less likely to click on a generic headline than a descriptive headline that maximizes the 120 characters and uses key words specific to attorney’s expertise to make a “mini elevator pitch,” e.g., “IP litigator with ANDA experience.”
That said, it is possible to be too clever. I pulled up the profile of an attorney who was referred to me; as Gilmore says, I use LinkedIn to initially assess a candidate’s bona fides. I was mortified to find a title more appropriate for a superhero or Silicon Valley start-up than a candidate for a position at a white-shoe law firm. At my urging, he changed it to reflect his real world, non-superhero day job — but a search using his name and LinkedIn still lists the cached version in the results. Hopefully prospective employers will have a sense of humor….
Unfortunately, his is not the only inappropriate attempt at humor on a site designed for professional networking. Among the headlines in use are: “Crime fighter”; “Underpaid, Slave Attorney”; “Legal Slave”; “The Guy in the White Hat”; “Crazy Ass Leader”; “Wage Slave”; and “Slave at The Evil Empire.”
UPLOAD YOUR PICTURE
LinkedIn is about as far from online dating as you can get. But if an OKCupid user would not click on a profile without a picture, why would a LinkedIn user? Foss, who also offers career search advice at jobjenny.com, points out to her clients, “People will wonder what you’re trying to hide by not having a photo posted.” Not only does not having a photo decrease the likelihood that a recruiter will click on a profile, it also makes it less likely that other users will accept your invitations to connect.
When deciding which picture to post, remember your purpose and choose a photo that is appropriate to that audience. Think about what a potential employer would be looking for and try to present yourself accordingly. Foss recommends that users post a professional picture that is “clear, friendly, invites conversation and aligns with your target industry.” The photo should be a high-quality, current one of the member, not something or someone else (even if only part of the other person is visible). Not grainy. Not a selfie. Not an out-of-date photo of your younger, thinner self. And the pose should not remind its viewers of a mug shot or DMV photo. While it need not be formal or stuffy, it should be professional; no “duck face,” smirks, or inappropriate gestures. If you cannot afford a professional photographer, enlist a friend or family member with a real camera to take a picture in front of a neutral (but not necessarily white) background.
SUMMARIZE YOURSELF OR OTHERS WILL DO IT FOR YOU
Many users skip the summary, which is a mistake. Foss points out that, “When you bypass the summary section on LinkedIn and, instead, launch right into your experience, you kill your opportunity to share your brand story to your professional audience. In other words, you leave it in the reviewers’ hands to figure out who you are, what you’re great at, and why they should care about you.” LinkedIn management consultant Andy Foote (who trained as a lawyer in Scotland) explains on his blog, LinkedInsights.com, that the summary should be “a short version of why you do what you do, in your own words.” Similarly, LinkedIn advises users to “[u]se the summary area of your profile to provide a snapshot of your professional journey and aspirations.” Write it in first person (third person didn’t work for Bob Dole, and it won’t work for you) and aim for a conversational, but not-too-casual tone. The summary should not simply recap your experience and education sections; consider it a cover letter for the rest of the profile or an old-fashioned resume “objective.” Many conclude the summary with a “call to action” — or at least an invitation to contact the user.
SKILLS & ENDORSEMENTS (DIDN’T YOU GO TO LAW SCHOOL BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T HAVE ANY?)
Below “Experience” on the profile, is a section where users can identify key skills for which contacts can endorse them. And the number of endorsement that a LinkedIn user accumulates for each skill will impact where the user ranks in searches for that skill, according to Donna Svei of AvidCareerist.com.
However, before you hit up your network for every endorsement you can garner, realize that ethics rules prohibit lawyers from claiming that they “specialize” in a particular area of law unless they have some type of state-bar sanctioned certification. Other regulations include prohibitions against statements characterizing skills, experience, reputation, or record unless they are objectively verifiable.
Gilmore cautions that, “Lawyers who do tap into the power of LinkedIn must be attentive to the Rules of Professional Conduct and any guidance governing lawyer advertising. For example, many states have restrictions on the representations a lawyer can make about law specializations or comparisons with other attorneys. Lawyers need to carefully scrutinize LI recommendations before allowing [endorsements and recommendations] to be posted so as not to inadvertently violate those restrictions.” Therefore, before claiming that they have specific skills, lawyers and law firms should review relevant lawyer advertising rules to make sure they comply with the requirements.
(DISCLAIMER: Although the author of this article is an attorney, this discussion of social media law is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. For legal questions, please consult an attorney from your jurisdiction.)