Although many lawyers are fairly active on LinkedIn, they often don’t take full advantage of it to grow their practice and book of business. In my experience coaching attorneys, lawyers primarily use LinkedIn to establish and accumulate first-level connections. Thus, for example, a lawyer attends a networking event and hands out a business card or two. A few days later, one of the people the lawyer met sends her an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Occasionally the lawyer will initiate this dance and send out the invitation to connect. Following this pattern, over the course of a few years the lawyer accumulates 300-500 connections. And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
If you are using LinkedIn solely or primarily to build connections you are missing out on the primary benefit that LinkedIn provides. Specifically, LinkedIn is an enormously powerful and largely free way to collect information that you couldn’t have collected at any price 15 or 20 years ago. If you are old enough to remember what a rolodex is, imagine asking a few hundred of your business connections to show up in your conference room so that you could peruse their list of contacts. This is not something you could have done before the advent of social media platforms such as LinkedIn.
And why would you want to be able to review profiles of the people that your connections know? It’s for the most straightforward and low-tech of reasons—to request an introduction. Requesting an introduction is what LinkedIn is all about. It’s its highest and best use and if you aren’t using LinkedIn to ask people you know to introduce you to folks they know, you are making a serious mistake.
LinkedIn is an especially important tool for lawyers who serve businesses. In part this is because LinkedIn has more than 300 million users, making it the largest English-based business social networking platform in the world. More importantly, lawyers who serve businesses want to connect with people who have specific job titles, and LinkedIn makes it very easy to search by job title. For example, a client who is a business litigator and white collar criminal defense lawyer wanted to meet more in-house counsel. In the matter of seconds LinkedIn allowed us to identify a dozen general counsel in the local area, each of whom was known by someone in their network. In the parlance of LinkedIn, this lawyer’s network had 12 second-degree connections with nearby general counsel. It turned out that two of the general counsel were connected to the same person.
This goldmine of information led to the next step; reaching out to the person the client knew to find out how well that person knew the general counsel and whether they would be willing to make an introduction. It’s too early to know whether this outreach will generate a new client. But this much is clear: there is no easier, faster, or cheaper way for lawyers to identify general counsel and other networking contacts. That is why lawyers who don’t use LinkedIn to ask for introductions are making a serious mistake.