Linking In: Growing Your Practice with Savvy Social-Media Skills

As a lawyer, you can – and should – be using LinkedIn better. Here’s how.

Everyone talks about LinkedIn as if it magically pulls clients and referrals out of thin air.

But for many time-pressed lawyers running small firms or solo practices, LinkedIn can feel like a useless time-suck, especially if it doesn’t yield the expected results.

And it’s true, LinkedIn and other types of social media can be a colossal waste of time — but only if you don’t know how to use them properly or don’t have a fully developed social-media strategy to help make that elusive social-media magic happen. You don’t have to hire anyone or be a tech genius, either — you just have to know what you are doing and why.

Unlike other platforms that emphasize socializing with friends and family, LinkedIn’s primary focus remains centred on establishing professional relationships and expanding networks to help users find careers, recruit employees, learn skills, connect with professional groups, attract new clients, and generate referrals. The key to successfully using LinkedIn lies in learning how to leverage the platform’s tools to create a personal strategy aimed at supporting your own professional goals.

In order to do that, however, you must first know what your goals actually are.

Set Goals Strategically

Everyone has general goals, but in order to use LinkedIn properly, you need specifics.

Carve out an hour or so and make two lists: goals for your firm, and goals for your own professional development. But don’t just jot down broad goals, like “Get more clients.” Instead, write a brief paragraph underneath each goal to deepen your own understanding. For instance, identify what kinds of clients you want to attract, and consider what characteristics these potential clients might wish to see in a lawyer (e.g., compassionate, aggressive, organised, thorough, relentless, etc.).

For the above exercise, go old school and use pen and paper. Research shows that we are far more apt to solidify and realize our goals when we engage in reflective writing, by hand. By investing a little time writing down what you seek to accomplish and why, along with what features and benefits you can offer clients, you’ll end up with the outline for a LinkedIn strategic plan.

Perfect Your Profile

Once you’ve framed your goals and objectives, invest a little time learning how to use LinkedIn, specifically, to reify your ambitions. The internet sprouts new videos and blogs just about every day for anyone looking for free tutelage. The trick is to find high-quality tutorials that offer clear, effective, efficient instructions. For lawyers who are willing to devote half an hour to watch an instructive video, the best place to start is… wait for it… at LinkedIn.

Find quick — and free — tutorials at LinkedIn Learning, which is created by LinkedIn staffers. Don’t dismiss tutorials geared towards beginners and even college students, as these are thorough, well-organised, and contain many of the basic principles you’ll need to learn. A simple search for “create a LinkedIn profile” will yield courses for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users. All are designed to help you create an effective LinkedIn profile, or enhance the one you already have.

Start Linking

Once you’ve established a profile and are ready to connect with people, turn again to LinkedIn Learning for information on how to use the platform for professional networking. There, you’ll learn how to expand connections, identify and connect with professional groups, and locate useful communities to join.

For example, if “thought leadership” in your practice area is one of your goals, you can learn how to publish blog posts, share articles, engage in discussions, and otherwise establish yourself as a one-person locus of interesting ideas. For newbies, Maya Pope-Chappell, LinkedIn’s news editor and instructor, delivers a 30-minute course, “Why Publish on LinkedIn?”

Once you’ve identified your goals, created a useful profile, and have begun to create a reliable network, you can start making LinkedIn work for you. Devoting 15 minutes a day to LinkedIn is sufficient to make the effort worthwhile, but the true payoff comes through consistent, thoughtful, targeted interactions with your fellow users. There’s no magic to LinkedIn — but for those who learn how to use it well, it can pay some unexpectedly wonderful dividends.

Creating Your Profile

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and write a LinkedIn profile that attracts clients and establishes a leadership position in your area of practice.

Writing about oneself is difficult, particularly when you’re trying to be your own cheering section. It helps to approach the process with a sense of humour. Wendy Witt, Esq., author of the website Attorney Alchemy, couldn’t be more blunt. In her blogpost, “If You’re a Lawyer, Your LinkedIn Profile S*cks,” she muses about the typical lawyer profile on LinkedIn, asking “Why would you squander valuable free real estate and the opportunity to tell your story?” Witt is right: If you are going to use LinkedIn (and you should), you need to write a profile that lets everyone know what kind of law you practice, what a fine lawyer you are, and — to the extent possible — why you are different or better than others in your practice area.

Before crafting your LinkedIn profile, there are a few rules you need to know regarding how many characters and words LinkedIn allows. First, let’s talk about the basic “architecture” of a LinkedIn profile. It’s pretty simple: name, “headline,” a profile summary, and a photo. You need all four of these features to look like you’ve got your head in the game. We’ll tackle these components one at a time.

Writing about oneself is difficult, particularly when you’re trying to be your own cheering section. It helps to approach the process with a sense of humour.

Name — LinkedIn allows 20 characters for your first name and 40 characters for your last name. LinkedIn calculates character count by including letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and spaces between words. Fortunately, LinkedIn has a character counter built into its software, so you don’t have to actually count, just stay within their parameters.

Headline — You get 120 characters. While your name should be straightforward — just as it appears on your business card — your professional headline deserves a little love. So, indulge in a little free-writing. What do you do, professionally? Who are your typical clients? What do you do for these clients? And how do you stand out? Ask pals who know you well: What makes you special? And why, if they needed a lawyer, would they call you? Pro tip: Short things like headlines are harder to write than lengthier pieces, which is why Mark Twain said: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” If you can’t think of a great headline, come back to it after you’ve finished the summary and try again.

Summary — LinkedIn allows 2,000 characters for the Summary, or roughly 300 words. This is the meat of the matter, so make the most of it. But first, do some homework. Write you’re your answers to these questions:

- What are your favourite types of cases?

- What kinds of problems do people usually approach you with?

- How would you describe your ideal client?

- If you had to list your top three areas of expertise, what would they be?

- Do you have any personal interests?

- What about volunteer work?

- Any awards or special recognition you’ve received?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to start writing your summary. Make the first few lines compelling. On your home page, LinkedIn will only show the first two lines of your summary — roughly 30 words, give or take — so it’s important to nab your reader’s attention. Pro tip: Write your first few drafts in the third person. It’s easier to blow your own horn when you’re pretending to write about somebody else.

Photo — Ask yourself, “Would I ever choose to work with someone who won’t put a photo on their LinkedIn account?” Seriously, an anonymous grey placeholder doesn’t exactly scream “Trust me!” You don’t have to get a professional headshot, but if you have one, use it. A decently lighted phone selfie also will do. LinkedIn profile pictures should be 400 x 400 pixels, and should include just your smiling face, from elbows up, looking directly into the camera. Dress professionally and use a relatively recent photo. Pro tip: Use a background photo for your LinkedIn page, too. If you’ve got a snazzy office suite you’d like to showcase, use that. Otherwise, try some of the sites on the internet, where you’ll find royalty free images that you can use on LinkedIn.

Finally, don’t forget to customize your LinkedIn URL. The so-called “vanity URL” is a great way to both personalize and promote your LinkedIn presence. You can use between 5 and 30 letters or numbers, but no special symbols or spaces. Your URL will look something like www.linkedin.com/in/yournamehere. Still stuck? LinkedIn provides simple instructions on its site.

One last pro tip: Don’t be afraid to visit other people’s LinkedIn profiles, for inspiration and courage. Obviously, you don’t want to use their information or their words — that’s not cool, or legal — but it’s okay to see what everyone’s else is doing, so that you can do it better.

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